Stratfor, Where’s My Truck?

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by Douglas Lucas

stratfor

Guard at Dell shareholder meeting AP Photo

Thanks to his friend at the intelligence firm Stratfor, a director for Dell’s fulfillment operations reaped information from government surveillance for the private purpose of hunting down his stolen truck. The previously unreported story is revealed in internal Stratfor emails obtained by WikiLeaks. In an investigative partnership with the megaleak publisher, Revolution News conducted interviews and acquired documents from the Austin police department to corroborate what happened.

Stratfor’s unscrupulous search for the truck of Dell’s highly-placed manager is just one of many revelations from the attack on Stratfor by the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which began defacing the firm’s website four years ago today. The five million-plus emails that Anonymous exfiltrated from the private spies and gave to WikiLeaks expose, among other things, the DEA, a law enforcement agency, requesting National Security Council permission to kill drug lord El Chapo, a development Stratfor must have watched for advising its clients about their business operations in Mexico; corporations such as Dow Chemical and Coca Cola hiring Stratfor to monitor protesters; and, perhaps most helpfully, the strategy the firm advises corporations to use to defeat grassroots activists. The big picture from the leak is one of corporate actors wielding undeserved power, and the stolen truck story is a very concrete example of how this can work day to day.

Bro, Find My Truck

On January 10, 2011, as reported in Austin police documents, John McDonald of Dell had his ’04 red Chevy Silverado stolen from the bottom floor of a parking garage for The Domain shopping mall in the Texas capital. According to the police report, “these type and style of trucks [were]being commonly taken from public locations”—in other words, the theft was, as far as can be determined, just a typical crime.

Most people whose truck gets stolen can turn only to the cops—not so McDonald. He had a well-connected buddy who could help out: the notorious Stratfor “Vice President of Intelligence” Fred Burton, once a counter-terrorism agent for the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service. McDonald told this writer he knew Burton “for a while” and because “our kids were together in some activities.”

The Dell employee admitted to this writer that he “could have” contacted the Stratfor executive for help finding his truck, and the WikiLeaks cache clearly shows that, about two weeks after the vehicle was stolen, he did in fact email Burton about it (Email-ID 374982):

Date: January 23, 2011

From: John_A_McDonald@Dell.com

To: burton@stratfor.com

Subject: Stolen Truck

Fred,

The case number with the Austin PD for my stolen struck [sic] is 11-0101759.
It was taken from the Domain shopping mall on Monday Jan 10th…APD
doesn’t sound optimistic we will see it again.

Thanks for any help.

John A. McDonald
Dell | Global Relationship Business Operations | Americas Fulfillment
office +1 512 723-8325, mobile +1 512 507-6024

Burton, referring to the Texas state police, quickly replied to the Dell director: “Ok, let me see what DPS can do.” [Email-ID 374982, January 23, 2011]

The Stratfor executive next forwarded McDonald’s query to his contact Aaron Grigsby, then a Texas Ranger in charge of the Border Security Operations Center, twice. First with this note: “Aaron: Good friend of mine has his truck stolen. Anything you guys can do? Thank you.” Second, with this question: “Aaron – Think there is anything worth following up on or is the truck in MX [Mexico] by now? Thanks much, Fred.” [Email-ID 371861, January 23, 2011, Email-ID 372888, January 25, 2011]

Grigsby, who confirmed to Revolution News that he has emailed with Burton in the past, replied (Email-ID 372888):

Date: January 24, 2011

From: Aaron.Grigsby@txdps.state.tx.us

To: Fred Burton

Subject: RE: Stolen Truck


If it is a truck, it is probably already in Mexico by now. He may see it involved in a shootout soon in Nuevo Laredo or Monterrey. Wish I were kidding. Sorry. Has he tried running the tags through EPIC [El Paso Intelligence Center] and the southbound license plate readers?

Aaron Grigsby
Staff Captain, Texas Rangers – HQ Austin
Border Security Operations Center
Joint Operations Intelligence Centers / Operation BorderStar
512-424-7348 work
915-345-2190 cell

Burton answered that he didn’t know what Austin police had done; Grigsby replied by asking for the vehicle’s license plate number, which the Stratfor executive rapidly provided. [Email-ID 372888, January 25, 2011]

The Border Security Operations Center chief then ran the license plate number through surveillance systems, as he explained to Burton (Email-ID 372888):

Date: January 24, 2011

From: Aaron.Grigsby@txdps.state.tx.us

To: Fred Burton

Subject: RE: Stolen Truck

There is a little hope – it checked negative on all southbound LPR’s [license plate readers]including the photo ones at the CBP [Customs and Border Protection] checkpoints and the OFO [Office of Field Operations] ones at the ports, maybe it will be found locally after someone joyrides it. Doesn’t look like it went to Mexico – yet. Remind me to check it again tomorrow.

Aaron Grigsby
Staff Captain, Texas Rangers – HQ Austin
Border Security Operations Center
Joint Operations Intelligence Centers / Operation BorderStar
512-424-7348 work
915-345-2190 cell

After trimming off “Remind me to check it again tomorrow,” Burton forwarded Grigsby’s final message to McDonald. His luck eventually panned out: the Austin PD records say the case was cleared by arrest, and McDonald told this writer the vehicle was recovered.

Business As Usual

Why was Burton helping McDonald at all?

The intelligence executive may have helped McDonald in order to lubricate the close relationship between the two men’s companies—after all, Dell was a client of Stratfor’s. In 2010 and 2011, and possibly other years, Dell paid Stratfor $8,000/month for “protective intelligence monitoring.”
[Email-ID 1406201, February 11, 2011, Email-ID 5375180, February 11, 2011, Email-ID 1443189, February 23, 2011, Email-ID 1427685, February 17, 2011, Email-ID 2838791, October 17, 2011, Email-ID 2921623, November 1, 2011]

As a customer, Dell asked Stratfor for intelligence on various matters affecting the computer company’s bottom line. In one email, a Dell vice president for security asks Stratfor what threat Greenpeace might pose while the environmental activists were targeting rival technology firm Hewlett-Packard. Another exchange shows a Dell employee requesting that Stratfor create a custom report about what security risks the computer company might face by launching a trucking network in China and Southeast Asia. A third message from Dell, regarding security implications of the economic downturn and other topics, prompted Burton to warn his underlings to over-perform: “Can’t afford to loose [sic] the Dell account.” [Email-ID 5450104, August 6, 2009, Email-ID 5303574, June 7, 2011, Email-ID 5308390, March 10, 2009]

Analysis

Stratfor’s hunt for McDonald’s stolen truck is an example of a corporate higher-up having government surveillance resources used on his personal behalf—with no hesitation or doubt expressed by any of the parties, including about the need to obtain legal authorization for the search. While surveillance is generally employed to suppress the public, this case shows that those who ally with global corporations may be treated differently: they receive special privileges. One wonders what other help Stratfor’s business friends gain from associating with the intelligence firm, and what risks activists face when corporate actors have such easy access to government resources.

Stratfor

Free Jeremy Hammond – Write, donate, send a book

The Anonymous hack of Stratfor—for which hacktivist Jeremy Hammond is doing ten years—and WikiLeaks’ publication of the firm’s emails turned activists’ attention to corporate wrongdoing. Some in Anonymous have recently argued that corporations, particularly resource corporations—such as Stratfor clients Hunt Oil and National Oilwell Varco—are the primary cause of injustice, whereas the daily nattering of politicians that steals so much focus is just a symptom. We can expect the disease to continue until activists target the root of the problem and deliver consequences to the wrongdoers.

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About Author

Douglas Lucas is a freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared at Vice, Salon.com, WhoWhatWhy, and other venues. Follow him on Twitter & support him with a donation. Twitter - https://twitter.com/douglaslucas Donate - http://douglaslucas.com/donate