Daily Archives: February 29, 2012

The Real Scandal Behind Wikileaks and STRATFOR

STRATFOR, or Strategic Forecasting, is in the news of late because Wikileaks managed to obtain what it says are five million internal Emails from the self-described “private intelligence” firm.

Let me be clear about the real issue here:  Though it’s titillating to get a peek into how corporations are paying for information, especially about activists who endanger them, that question is mostly of interest to the shareholders.  The real issue is why anyone in the U.S. government – that means, U.S. tax dollars – would be interested in buying something that is available for free, of questionable value, and could (and should) be provided by the intelligence agencies.  That is the scandal.

The news media also seems split on how to portray STRATFOR (and Wikileaks), mostly I note, because the mainstream media loves to use the Wikileaks material but also loves to downplay the significance of anyone else’s findings, particularly that of an “activist” organization.  Hence the Associated Press can say that “the first, small batch published Monday contained little that was particularly scintillating.”

On the other hand, screamers and special interest “media” love to overplay Wikileaks (and, by extension, STRATFOR) as blowing the lid off of government and revealing the darkest of the dark.  Thus Amy Goodman can say:

“The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun publishing what it says are 5.5 million emails obtained from the servers of Stratfor, a private U.S.-based intelligence-gathering firm known to some as a “shadow CIA” for corporations and government agencies.”

The only people who refer to STRATFOR as a “shadow CIA” are those who love to say shadow CIA.

Michael Ross in The National Post (Canada) has a more apt analysis of the actual substance of STRATFOR’s analysis, though he is both too kind in glamorizing the skills of government intelligence agencies.

I haven’t seen anything yet on how much STRATFOR gets from the U.S. taxpayer for its information, but I note that the Air Force’s Services Agency (for the Air Force library system) paid STRATFOR $124,950 last August – for ten concurrent users (they paid $119,950 in 2010).  Other government entities, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) headquarters in Hawaii, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Air University in Alabama, have solicited recent bids for access to STRATFOR’s materials, the Air University for 1,500 unlimited users (at the Air Force library rate, that would be over $1 million).

The PACAF justification and approval letter to enter into a limited competition contract with STRATFOR claims:

“Stratfor’s web portal provides access to real-time, critical political, economic and security related events and developments.  Stratfor’s forecasting capabilities are supported by an internationally-recognized team of experts and analysts.  Government and military leaders use Stratfor to gain insights on triggers affecting geopolitical events and potential movements around the world.”

What a bunch of crap.  Isn’t this what the intelligence agencies are supposed to be doing?

The news reports say that the Marine Corps, the Department of Homeland Security, and even the Defense Intelligence Agency additionally subscribe to STRATFOR’s materials, though I could find no trace of their contracts on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website.

So, millions of tax dollars, to support what?  It’s not shadow CIA, though if STRATFOR’s materials are any good, that’s an insult to them.  Even if STRATFOR’s materials are excellent, you gotta question the wisdom of the government pay even for students at the academies and war colleges to “get access” to something like this.

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Jock Straps and Coffee Mugs

I know when billion dollar defense programs are being discussed, jock straps and coffee mugs seem pretty minor.

But I couldn’t help but notice last week that West Point issued a contract solicitation for “Athletic Supporters/White.”  The Army is looking for a vendor to sell them not any kind, but 2″ or 3″ wide waistband size jockstraps.   The actual solicitation is 29 pages long for this purchase.  I haven’t acquired one in quite some time, but I went on Amazon just to see how much we’re talking and they are all of $9 to $10 each retail for the premium types.  According to the 29 page solicitation, West Point is looking for 144 small, 300 medium size, and 730 large.

So, why can’t the contracting office at West Point, or even the athletic department, just pick up the phone to buy $12,000 worth of jock straps, which I imagine in that quantity is actually a purchase of well under half that amount?  To be clear, even though most of that 29 page solicitation is boilerplate language and includes admonitions about not supporting diamond smuggling or Iran, someone on the government payroll wrote it, passed it on to a supervisor, got it approved, someone registered it with an official number, sent it out to Federal Business Opportunities website to advertise, will receive and examine bids, etc., etc.

I guess I don’t need to ask why there is a need for so many large.

And then there’s the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland 28 page solicitation to buy four (4)  Guinea Pigs cages — “CAGE GUINEA PIG UNIT” officially — that has something to with chemical or biological warfare research.  Yuck.

Which brings me to the camouflage “Army Strong” mugs being purchased by the Army Accessions Command at Ft. Knox, Kentucky: “15 oz, made in the USA coffee mug. Mug shall be equal to H.F. Coors, Chief Mug blank white ceramic mug, model number 1864. Mug shall be decorated via Dye Sublimation, microwave, dishwasher and UV safe, and Proposition 65 compliant. Mug shall be printed with the Army Camouflage Uniform (ACU) digital pattern.”  According to the 33 page solicitation, the Army wants 43,200 mugs in 2012, in boxes of 12, with the pallet size specified for shipping.

With an 800-number and the Army website address printed on each mug as specified in the solicitation, I suppose each is being given to prospective recruits.  Glad they’re camouflaged.

Again, someone has to administer all of this, and each prospective bidder in the case of the coffee mugs is even required to produce a sample.  And these oddities of everyday military life is from one day of perusing contracts.   What I see is  millions if not billions being spent on the contracting process alone, making the products grotesquely more expensive.   Why, for heaven’s sake, isn’t this centrally done?  And why can’t it be simplified?

When I read that the Defense Department is adding thousands of new contracting officers to better oversee contracts, what I see is fewer typos in these forms, not any kind of reform.