Psychological Control in the Information Business

Something of a slow news day so time for something older I’ve been meaning to touch on for a while.

The leak of all the emails from Stratfor a little while ago included one that exposed a little-seen aspect of that sort of work, in founder George Friedman’s now-infamous quote about taking “financial, sexual, or psychological control” of sources.

Friedman neatly illustrates the degree to which psychological control plays a role in that sort of work. It’s so central because, unlike just about any other industry, so much of that business involves getting people to do things they feel are morally wrong.

It’s no good to have someone in position to grab the secret plans, drug a latte, or help arrange an “accident” only for the guy to say “no, I can’t bring myself do that, I just can’t.”

As a result, people that sign on for such things can look forward to an invsible but very slippery slope away from basic human freedoms, as their new employers seek to cement their ownership.

(What the Stratfor email mentions only obliquely is how this applies even as you go up the chain of command, or into branches that rarely make it ‘into the field.’ Those controlling the operatives or maintaining the servers give up still more freedom, even if their collars and leashes tend to be more subtle. This makes sense, if you think about it — it’s the managers that give the orders to be nasty, and it’s the techies that make it all possible. And given that both tend to have far more knowledge in their heads than the field people, they would have far more leverage should they someday say “enough, I quit.”

And, yes, getting out is possible. There are no bars, walls, or chains (and even then, we all know those can be bypassed). As fans of “the Prisoner” well know, the information business attracts a certain sort of mind that renders quitting the business a serious challenge. In some ways it becomes a question of focus and determination: a matter of Gulliver cutting the threads holding him down faster than the Lilliputians can distract him and add new ones.)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46555168/ns/us_news-security/t/leaked-emails-shine-rare-light-stratfor/ http://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/201031_.html

“If this is a source you suspect may have value, you have to take control od him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control to the point where he would reveal his sourcing and be tasked. […]

Each meeting would be planned between you and your handler and each meeting would have a specific goal not built around discussing the topic of interest which would ideally be hidden but in analyzing him personally and moving toward control. The justification for the op would be specific classes of information and on gaining control the first step would be determining his access.[…] the problem of analysts in the field is that they tend to want to discuss the topic, which raises the targets awareness, rather than focus on establishing the control relationship.

So from a professional point of view this target knows your affiliation, understands your interests and you have not established any control which is defined as a high confidence in his obedience.”

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