How To Win The Media War Against Grassroots Activists: Stratfor’s Strategies

The playbook: isolate the radicals, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. Then co-opt the realists.

Mintpress July 29, 2013

By Steve Horn

The home page of the Stratfor website is seen on a computer monitor in London Wendesday Jan 11, 2012. Security analysis firm Stratfor has relaunched its website after hackers brought down its servers and stole thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information belonging to its clients. Stratfor acknowledged Wednesday that the company had not encrypted customer information  a major embarrassment for a security company. (AP Photo/Cassandra Vinograd)

(AP/Cassandra Vinograd)

Part 1 of this exclusive Mint Press News investigation examined the strategies employed by Stratfor precursor Pagan International. So named for its founder Rafael Pagan, corporate clients hired the company with the aim of defusing grassroots movements mobilized against them around the world.

Part 2 takes a closer look at how Pagan International’s successor, Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin (MBD), revised and refined these strategies — and how what began as a corporate public-relations firm evolved into the private intelligence agency Stratfor, which wages information warfare against today’s activists and organizers.


Rafael Pagan — who died in 1993 — was not invited to be a part of his former associate’s new firm, Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. His tactic of conquering and dividing activist movements and isolating the “fanatic activist leaders” lived on, though, through his former business partner, Jack Mongoven.

Mongoven teamed up with Alvin Biscoe and Ronald Duchin to create MBD in 1988. While “Biscoe appears to have been a largely silent partner at MBD,” according to the Center for Media and Democracy, Mongoven and Duchin played public-facing starring roles for the firm.

Duchin, like Pagan, had a military background. A graduate of the U.S. Army War College and “one of the original members of [Army] DELTA” — part of the broader Joint Special Operations Command that killed Osama Bin Laden — Duchin had jobs as a special assistant to the secretary of defense and as spokesman for Veterans for Foreign Wars prior to coming to Pagan.

Duchin served as head of the Pentagon’s news division during “Operation Eagle Claw,” President Jimmy Carter’s failed 1980 mission to use special forces to capture the hostages held in Iran.

Referred to by The Atlantic as the “Desert One Debacle” in a story Duchin served as a key confidential source for — as revealed in an email in the “Global Intelligence Files” announcing Duchin’s 2010 death — “Eagle Claw” ended with eight U.S. troops dying, four wounded, one helicopter destroyed, and President Carter’s reputation in the tank. The failed and lethal mission served as the impetus for the creation of the U.S. Special Operations.

Largely avoiding the limelight while working as Pagan’s vice president for Issue management and strategy — the brains of the operation — Duchin became a notorious figure among dedicated critical observers of the public relations industry while co-heading MBD. During MBD’s 15 years of existence, its clients included Big Tobacco, the chemical industry, Big Agriculture and probably many other industries never identified due to MBD’s secretive nature.

MBD worked on behalf of Big Tobacco to fend off any and all regulatory efforts aimed in its direction. Philip Morris paid Jack Mongoven $85,000 for his intelligence-gathering prowess in 1993.

Get Government Off Our Back,” an RJ Reynolds front group created in 1994 by MBD for the price of $14,000 per month, serves as a case in point of the type of work MBD was hired to do by Big Tobacco.

“The firm has developed initiatives for RJ Reynolds that advocate pro-tobacco goals through outside organizations; among other projects, the firm organized veterans organizations to oppose the workplace smoking regulation proposed by OSHA,” explains a 2007 study appearing in the American Journal of Public Health. “[It] was created to combat increasing numbers of proposed federal and state regulations on the use and sale of tobacco products.”

Paralleling the Koch Family Foundations-funded Americans for Prosperity groups of today, “Get Government Off Our Back” held rallies nationwide in March 1995 as part of “Regulatory Revolt Month.”

“Get Government Off Our Back” dovetailed perfectly with the Republican Party’s 1994 “Contract with America” that froze new federal regulations. The text of the “Contract” matched “Get Government Off Our Back” “nearly verbatim,” according to the American Journal of Public Health study.

‘Radicals, Idealists, Realists, Opportunists’

While its client work was noteworthy, the formula Duchin created to divide and conquer activist movements — a regurgitation of what he learned while working under the mentorship of Rafael Pagan — has stood the test of time. It is still employed to this day by Stratfor.

Duchin replaced Pagan’s “fanatic activist leaders” with “radicals” and created a three-step formula to divide and conquer activists by breaking them up into four subtypes, as described in a 1991 speech delivered to the National Cattleman’s Association titled, “Take an Activist Apart and What Do You Have? And How Do You Deal with Him/Her?”

The subtypes: “radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists.”

Radical activists “want to change the system; have underlying socio/political motives’ and see multinational corporations as ‘inherently evil,’” explained Duchin. “These organizations do not trust the … federal, state and local governments to protect them and to safeguard the environment. They believe, rather, that individuals and local groups should have direct power over industry … I would categorize their principal aims … as social justice and political empowerment.”

The “idealist” is easier to deal with, according to Duchin’s analysis.

“Idealists…want a perfect world…Because of their intrinsic altruism, however, … [they] have a vulnerable point,” he told the audience. “If they can be shown that their position is in opposition to an industry … and cannot be ethically justified, they [will] change their position.”

The two easiest subtypes to join the corporate side of the fight are the “realists” and the “opportunists.” By definition, an “opportunist” takes the opportunity to side with the powerful for career gain, Duchin explained, and has skin in the game for “visibility, power [and] followers.”

The realist, by contrast, is more complex but the most important piece of the puzzle, says Duchin.

“[Realists are able to] live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue.”

Duchin outlined a corresponding three-step strategy to “deal with” these four activist subtypes. First, isolate the radicals. Second, “cultivate” the idealists and “educate” them into becoming realists. And finally, co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.

“If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution,” Duchin outlined in closing his speech.

Bringing the ‘Duchin Formula’ to Stratfor

Alvin Biscoe passed away in 1998 and Jack Mongoven passed away in 2000. Just a few years later, MBD — now only Ronald Duchin and Jack’s son, Bartholomew or “Bart” — merged with Stratfor in 2003.

A book by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton — “Trust Us, We’re Experts!” — explains that MBD promotional literature boasted that the firm kept “extensive files [on] forces for change [which] can often include activist and public interest groups, churches, unions and/or academia.”

“A typical dossier includes an organization’s historical background, biographical information on key personnel, funding sources, organizational structure and affiliations, and a ‘characterization’ of the organization aimed at identifying potential ways to co-opt or marginalize the organization’s impact on public policy debates,” the authors proceeded to explain.

MBD’s “extensive files” on “forces for change” soon would morph into Stratfor’s “Global Intelligence Files” after the merger.

What’s clear in sifting through the “Global Intelligence Files” documents, which were obtained by WikiLeaks as a result of Jeremy Hammond’s December 2011 hack of Stratfor, is that it was a marriage made in heaven for MBD and Stratfor.

The “Duchin formula” has become a Stratfor mainstay, carried on by Bart Mongoven. Duchin passed away in 2010.

In a December 2010 PowerPoint presentation to the oil company Suncor on how best to “deal with” anti-Alberta tar sands activists, Bart Mongoven explains how to do so explicitly utilizing the “radicals, idealists, realists and opportunists” framework. In that presentation, he places the various environmental groups fighting against the tar sands in each category and concludes the presentation by explaining how Suncor can win the war against them.

Bart Mongoven described the American Petroleum Institute as his “biggest client” in a January 2010 email exchange, lending explanation to his interest in environmental and energy issues.

Mongoven also appears to have realized something was off about Chesapeake Energy’s financial support for the Sierra Club, judging by November 2009 email exchanges. It took “idealists” in the environmental movement a full 2 ½ years to realize the same thing, after Time magazine wrote a major investigation revealing the fiduciary relationship between one of the biggest shale gas “fracking” companies in the U.S. and one of the country’s biggest environmental groups.

“The clearest evidence of a financial relationship is the note in the Sierra Club 2008 annual report that American Clean Skies Foundation was a financial supporter that year,” wrote Mongoven in an email to the National Manufacturing Association’s vice president of communications, Luke Popovich. “According to McClendon, American Clean Skies Foundation was created by Chesapeake and others in 2007.”

Bart Mongoven also used the “realist/idealist” paradigm to discuss climate change legislation’s chances for passage in a 2007 article on Stratfor’s website.

“Realists who support a strong federal regime are drawn to the idea that with most in industry calling for action on climate change, there is no time like the present,” Mongoven wrote. “Idealists, on the other hand, argue that with momentum on their side, there is little that industry could do in the face of a Democratic president and Congress, and therefore time is on the environmentalists’ side. The idealists argue that they have not gone this far only to pass a half-measure, particularly one that does not contain a hard carbon cap.”

And how best to deal with “radicals” like Julian Assange, founder and executive director of WikiLeaks, and whistleblower Bradley Manning, who gave WikiLeaks the U.S. State Department diplomatic cables, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and the “Collateral Murder” video? Bart Mongoven has a simple solution to “isolate” them, as suggested by Duchin’s formula.

“I’m in favor of using whatever trumped up charge is available to get [Assange] and his servers off the streets. And I’d feed that shit head soldier [Bradley Manning] to the first pack of wild dogs I could find,” Mongoven wrote in one email exchange revealed by the “Global Intelligence Files.” “Or perhaps just do to him whatever the Iranians are doing to our sources there.”

Indeed, the use of “trumped up charges” is often a way the U.S. government deals with radical activists, as demonstrated clearly during the days of the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program during the 1960s, as well as in modern-day Occupy movement-related cases in Cleveland and Chicago.

‘Information economy’s equivalent of guns’

Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, The Austin Chronicle published an article on Stratfor that posed the rhetorical question as its title, “Is Knowledge Power?

The answer, simply put: yes.

“What Stratfor produces is the information economy’s equivalent of guns: knowledge about the world that can change the world, quickly and irrevocably,” wrote Michael Erard for The Chronicle. “So if Stratfor succeeds, it’s because more individuals and corporations want access to information that helps them dissect an unstable world — and are willing to pay steady bucks for it.”

When it comes down to it, Stauber concurs with the “guns” metaphor and Duchin’s “war” metaphors.

“Corporations wage war upon activists to ensure that corporate activities, power, profits and control are not diminished or significantly reformed,” said Stauber. “The burden is on the activists to make fundamental social change in a political environment where the corporate interests dominate both politically and through the corporate media.”

Stauber also believes activists have a steep learning curve and are currently being left in the dust by Pagan, MBD, Stratfor and others.

“The Pagan/MBD/Stratfor operatives are much more sophisticated about social change than the activists they oppose, they have limitless resources at their disposal, and their goal is relatively simple: make sure that ultimately the activists fail to win fundamental reforms,” he said. “Duchin and Mongoven were ruthless, and I think they were often amused by the naivete, egotism, antics and failures of activists they routinely fooled and defeated. Ultimately, this is war, and the best warriors will win.”

One thing’s for certain: Duchin’s legacy lives on through his “formula.”

“The 4-step formula is brilliant and has certainly proven itself effective in preventing the democratic reforms we need,” Stauber remarked, bringing us back to where we started in 1982 with Rafael Pagan’s remarks about isolating the “fanatic activist leaders.”

This article is the second part of a two-part series on Stratfor. Check out the first part, “Divide And Conquer: Unpacking Stratfor’s Rise To Power.”

[Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist. His writing has appeared in multiple publications, including The Guardian (UK), AlterNet, The Nation, Truth-Out, CounterPunch, Nation Of Change, Common Dreams, and PR Watch, and ThinkProgress, among other publications]

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