Our Man in Beirut
To navigate the murky world of Arab politics, Stratfor analysts rely on English-language media, Google translations of Arabic articles, and the insights of “human intelligence” sources on the ground.
For the Levant, Senior Analyst for the Middle East and South Asia (MESA), Reva Bhalla, gains the bulk of her human insights from a single main source. Codenamed ME1, the identity of this valuable source is protected even in Stratfor’s own internal source listings (All the files listing the informants names and contact information were conveniently entitled “source lists.”) We don’t yet know who ME1 is, but Reva describes her relationship with him as follows:
“I have been working with ME1 for more than 4 years now. He needs ego stroking and is very defensive, but very well connected. I have caught several instances though where what he has reported is in the OS verbatim. When you inquire about it, he shows classic defensive tactics. He has great sources, but his source information can be difficult to evaluate b/c I can't tell when he might be fabricating the information to justify his pay. Known since 2003. Tempermental. Sometimes his immediate reaction is suspect. Often good info but hard to tell when it is and isn't. Emphasized quantity over quality.”
[ “Classic defensive tactics.” Wallaw, Reva? Me pass off what it says in the Arabic press as top secret?
“Temperamental.” Ayb, ya Reva. I will stop cooperating with you if you say this again.
“Ego stroking.” Aha! Didn’t I tell you one year ago that the Israelis were going to bomb Gaza? I told you I get you only THE BEST information. ]
ME1 appears to also be Reva’s liaison for many other sources in the Levant, including a supposed Hezbollah media officer, a Hamas politburo member, an advisor to Hariri, an Iranian diplomat and a Syrian businessman described as close to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. He also provides second-hand accounts from “sub-sources” — mostly journalists. In addition to ME1’s insights, Stratfor has a monitor on the ground in Beirut—Nick Grinstead— whose dispatches mostly consist of forwarded articles from the Daily Star and Now Lebanon and whatever he can glean through conversations with social acquaintances. This is how half a dozen undiscerning Stratfor analysts will end up spending the better part of an afternoon pondering the significance of Lebanese army tanks supposedly spotted rolling down the Corniche by Nick’s friend. Nick, himself on the ground in Beirut, says he’ll check out the scene on his way to the gym. In other reports, Nick, who is enrolled at AUB, files an “insight” based on what his professor said in class about Hezbollah’s rocket capacity. ( doc-id 1580322)
On another occasion, in October 2008, ME1 is summoned to investigate the claim, published in Haaretz, that Nasrallah has been poisoned and is seeking critical care in Iran. Stratfor analysts on the MESA and Counterterrorism listservs are whipped into a frenzy over this juicy tidbit. Briefer Anya Alfano says she would not be surprised if the Israelis “tried to take him out.” “There is no doubt he needs to die,” she concludes. Senior analyst Reva finally dismisses the news, because Nasrallah is no longer “high on the target list” for the US and Israel, having “fallen out of favor with Iran” due to his moderate views. (doc-id 221046)
ME1 finally reports to duty, deeming the Haaretz article “wishful thinking.” He writes:
“If he were truly poisoned, one would have to blame the Iranians for it. I asked a colleague of mine (XXXX), who is a toxicologist at XXXX (actually he is Lebanon's best toxicologist) and he dismissed this piece of information.
He said if Nasrallah were truly poisoned, HZ would have contacted him first.”(doc-id 213487)
ME1 knows everyone, including the best doctors. Next time Nick contracts alcohol poisoning after a late-night intelligence gathering expedition in Gemayze, Stratfor knows where to send him.
It doesn’t require the expertise of an ME1 to know that explosive news published in Haaretz — claims that weren’t reported elsewhere (save for by the original source, the Iraqi daily Al-Malaf, which cited “western diplomats in Beirut”) — can be safely ignored. The irony of this is that the intended psychological impact of planted rumors, a tactic to sow confusion and uncertainty, are likely misleading the wrong audience.
Lebanese can take comfort in the fact that their country’s politics remain largely perplexing to the seasoned analysts at Stratfor. As for ME1, who enjoys a cushy salary of $6,000 per month for services rendered, Stratfor will probably be recruiting new sources after their “secrets” were spilled all over the Internet. Send your resumes/qualifications to [email protected].
- Blog: Strat4Dummies