Wikileaks Docs Expose Famed Serbian Activist’s Ties to ‘Shadow CIA’

Carl Gibson and Steve Horn December 2, 2013

An Otpor resistance movement poster in Belgrade shows a portrait of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic above the slogan, "Who is guilty?"

Serbia’s Srd­ja Popovic is known by many as a lead­ing archi­tect of régime changes in East­ern Europe and else­where since the late-1990s, and as one of the co-founders of Otpor!, the U.S.-funded Ser­bian activist group which over­threw Slo­bo­dan Miloše­vić in 2000.

Less­er known, an exclu­sive Occu​py​.com inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that Popovic and the Otpor! off­shoot CAN­VAS (Cen­tre for Applied Non­vi­o­lent Action and Strate­gies) have also main­tained close ties with a Gold­man Sachs exec­u­tive and the pri­vate intel­li­gence firmStrat­for (Strate­gic Fore­cast­ing, Inc.), as well as the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Popovic’s wife also worked at Strat­for for a year.

These rev­e­la­tions come in the after­math of thou­sands of new emails released by Wik­ileaks’ Glob­al Intel­li­gence Files.” The emails reveal Popovic worked close­ly with Strat­for, an Austin, Texas-based pri­vate firm that gath­ers intel­li­gence on geopo­lit­i­cal events and activists forclients rang­ing from the Amer­i­can Petro­le­um Insti­tute and Archer Daniels Mid­land to Dow Chem­i­cal, Duke Ener­gy, Northrop Grum­man, Intel and Coca-Cola.

Referred to in emails under the moniker SR501,” Popovic was first approached by Strat­for in 2007 to give a lec­ture in the fir­m’s office about events tran­spir­ing in East­ern Europe, accord­ing to a Strat­for source who asked to remain con­fi­den­tial for this story.

In one of the emails, Popovic for­ward­ed infor­ma­tion about activists harmed or killed by the U.S.-armed Bahrai­ni gov­ern­ment, obtained from the Bahrain Cen­ter for Human Rights dur­ing the régime’s crack­down on pro-democ­ra­cy activists in fall 2011. Popovic also penned a blue­print for Strat­for on how to unseat the now-deceased Venezue­lan pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez in Sep­tem­ber 2010.

— See more at: http://​www​.occu​py​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​/​e​x​p​o​s​e​d​-​g​l​o​b​a​l​l​y​-​r​e​n​o​w​n​e​d​-​a​c​t​i​v​i​s​t​-​c​o​l​l​a​b​o​r​a​t​e​d​-​i​n​t​e​l​l​i​g​e​n​c​e​-​f​i​r​m​-​s​t​r​a​t​f​o​r​#​s​t​h​a​s​h​.​u​y​X​2​l​b​E​S​.dpuf

Serbia’s Srd­ja Popovic is known by many as a lead­ing archi­tect of régime changes in East­ern Europe and else­where since the late-1990s, and as one of the co-founders of Otpor!, the U.S.-funded Ser­bian activist group which over­threw Slo­bo­dan Miloše­vić in 2000.

Less­er known, an exclu­sive Occu​py​.com inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that Popovic and the Otpor! off­shoot CAN­VAS (Cen­tre for Applied Non­vi­o­lent Action and Strate­gies) have also main­tained close ties with a Gold­man Sachs exec­u­tive and the pri­vate intel­li­gence firm Strat­for (Strate­gic Fore­cast­ing, Inc.), as well as the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Popovic’s wife also worked at Strat­for for a year.

These rev­e­la­tions come in the after­math of thou­sands of new emails released by Wik­ileaks’ Glob­al Intel­li­gence Files.” The emails reveal Popovic worked close­ly with Strat­for, an Austin, Texas-based pri­vate firm that gath­ers intel­li­gence on geopo­lit­i­cal events and activists forclients rang­ing from the Amer­i­can Petro­le­um Insti­tute and Archer Daniels Mid­land to Dow Chem­i­cal, Duke Ener­gy, Northrop Grum­man, Intel and Coca-Cola.

Referred to in emails under the moniker SR501,” Popovic was first approached by Strat­for in 2007 to give a lec­ture in the fir­m’s office about events tran­spir­ing in East­ern Europe, accord­ing to a Strat­for source who asked to remain con­fi­den­tial for this story.

In one of the emails, Popovic for­ward­ed infor­ma­tion about activists harmed or killed by the U.S.-armed Bahrai­ni gov­ern­ment, obtained from the Bahrain Cen­ter for Human Rights dur­ing the régime’s crack­down on pro-democ­ra­cy activists in fall 2011. Popovic also penned a blue­print for Strat­for on how to unseat the now-deceased Venezue­lan pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez in Sep­tem­ber 2010.

Stratfor’s Glob­al Activist Connector

Using his cel­e­brat­ed activist sta­tus, Popovic opened many doors for Strat­for to meet with activists glob­al­ly. In turn, the infor­ma­tion Strat­for intend­ed to gain from Popovic’s con­tacts would serve as action­able intel­li­gence”—the firm billed itself as a Shad­ow CIA”—for its cor­po­rate clients.

Popovic passed infor­ma­tion to Strat­for about on-the-ground activist events in coun­tries around the world, rang­ing from the Philip­pines, Libya, Tunisia, Viet­nam, Iran, Azer­bai­jan, Egypt, Tibet, Zim­bab­we, Poland and Belarus, Geor­gia, Bahrain, Venezuela and Malaysia. Often, the emails reveal, Popovic passed on the infor­ma­tion to Strat­for with­out the con­sent of the activists and like­ly with­out the activists ever know­ing that their emails were being shut­tled to the pri­vate secu­ri­ty firm.

In the U.S., this inves­ti­ga­tion’s co-author, Carl Gib­son (rep­re­sent­ing US Uncut), and the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum had a meet­ing with Popovic short­ly after their two respec­tive groups used a media hoax to play a prank on Gen­er­al Elec­tric, ridi­cul­ing the com­pa­ny over its non-pay­ment of U.S. tax­es.

The pair gave Popovic infor­ma­tion about both groups’ plans for the com­ing year and news lat­er came out that Strat­for close­ly mon­i­tored the Yes Men’s activ­i­ties.

Dur­ing the Arab Spring, in Egypt in Jan­u­ary 2011, Popovic received an inter­view invi­ta­tion for an appear­ance on CNN. The first peo­ple he turned to for talk­ing points were Strat­for employ­ees, who pro­vid­ed him with five talk­ing points to lead with.

Strat­for said Popovic’s main use for the firm was his vast array of grass­roots activist con­tacts around the world.

A lit­tle reminder that the main util­i­ty in this con­tact is his abil­i­ty to con­nect us to the trou­ble­mak­ers around the world that he is in touch with. His own abil­i­ty to dis­cern sit­u­a­tion on the ground may be lim­it­ed, he main­ly has ini­tial con­tact with an asset and then lets them do their own thing,” reads a May 2010 email writ­ten by for­mer Strat­for Eura­sia Ana­lyst Marko Papic. He does him­self have infor­ma­tion that may be use­ful from time to time. But, the idea is to gath­er a net­work of con­tacts through CAN­VAS, con­tacts that we can then con­tact independently.”

Popovic was so well-received by Strat­for that he even got his wife, Mar­i­jah, a job there. She worked for a year from March 2010 through March 2011 as the week­end open source intel­li­gence ana­lyst at Strat­for. The oth­er can­di­date for the job, Jele­na Tan­cic, also worked for CAN­VAS.

The Can­vas guy [Popovic] is a friend/​source [for Strat­for], and rec­om­mend­ed her to us,” Stratfor’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Analy­sis Scott Stew­art said in a March 2010 email, leav­ing out that the two were dat­ing at the time.

Popovic and his wife grew so close to Strat­for, in fact, that Popovic invit­ed numer­ous mem­bers of the Strat­for staff to their wed­ding in Bel­grade, Serbia.

Help­ing Strat­for Man­u­fac­ture Revolutions

Strat­for saw Popovic’s main val­ue not only as a source for intel­li­gence on glob­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary and activist move­ments, but also as some­one who, if need­ed, could help over­throw lead­ers of coun­tries hos­tile to U.S. geopo­lit­i­cal and finan­cial inter­ests. So use­ful was Popovic to Strat­for that the firm gave him a free sub­scrip­tion, dubbed legit sources we use all the time as a com­pa­ny” by Papic.

In a June 2011 email, Papic referred to Popovic as a great friend” of his and described him as a Serb activist who trav­els the world foment­ing revolution.”

They … basi­cal­ly go around the world try­ing to top­ple dic­ta­tors and auto­crat­ic gov­ern­ments (ones that U.S. does not like ;),” Papic says in one email. Reply­ing to a fol­low up to that email, he states, They just go and set up shop in a coun­try and try to bring the gov­ern­ment down. When used prop­er­ly, more pow­er­ful than an air­craft car­ri­er bat­tle group.”

In response to the air­craft bat­tle group” email, Strat­for Vice Pres­i­dent of Intel­li­gence Fred Bur­ton sar­don­ical­ly said that per­haps they could be sent into Iran. Emails also reveal Popovic served as an infor­ma­tion source inter­me­di­ary for on-the-ground activists in Iran, also inform­ing Strat­for of the fund­ing strug­gle for democ­ra­cy pro­grams” there, as the U.S. gov­ern­ment pushed a soft pow­er” agenda.

Anoth­er March 2010 email from Stew­art to Bur­ton said that CAN­VAS was try­ing to get rid of Chavez,” refer­ring to the late Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez. In 2007, CAN­VAS trained activists to over­throw Chavez.

If I remem­ber cor­rect­ly, we use hush­mail com­mu­ni­ca­tion to con­tact him regard­ing Venezuela due to the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of using a rev­o­lu­tion­ary NGO as a source con­sid­er­ing we have clients who oper­ate in coun­try,” Papic said in a Jan­u­ary 2011 email of Popovic.

Strat­for grew so enam­ored of CANVAS’s abil­i­ty to foment régime change abroad that it invit­ed Popovic to its Austin head­quar­ters in 2010 to give sem­i­nars on the sub­ject, and paid for his trip there.

CANVAS’s Gold­man Sachs Cash

One of CANVAS’s major allies is Muneer Sat­ter, a for­mer Gold­man Sachs exec­u­tive who stepped down from that posi­tion in June 2012 and now owns Sat­ter Invest­ment Man­age­ment LLC. Strat­for CEO Shea Morenz worked for ten years at Gold­man Sachs as well, where he served as Man­ag­ing Direc­tor in the Invest­ment Man­age­ment Divi­sion and Region Head for Pri­vate Wealth Man­age­ment for the South­west Region.

Sat­ter is mean­while a major fun­der of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, giv­ing over $300,000 to Karl Rove’s Super PAC Cross­roads GPS before the 2012 elec­tion, and anoth­er $100,000 to the Repub­li­can Gov­er­nors Asso­ci­a­tion in the first half of 2013 pri­or to the 2014 mid-term elections.

Liv­ing in a mas­sive, $9.5 mil­lion man­sion in Chicago’s North Shore sub­urb of Lake Michi­gan, Muneer also gave $50,000 toward Pres­i­dent Obama’s inau­gur­al fund in 2009.

When it came time to con­nect Muneer with the glob­al intel­li­gence firm, Popovic served as the mid­dle man intro­duc­ing Sat­ter to Strat­for Chair­man George Fried­man.

When­ev­er I want to under­stand the details behind world events, I turn to Strat­for,” reads an endorse­ment from Sat­ter on Strat­for’s web­site. They have the most detailed and insight­ful analy­sis of world affairs and are miles ahead of main­stream media.”

Otpor!: A Counter-History

To under­stand how Popovic came to aide Strat­for in its intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing efforts, it’s cru­cial to exam­ine Otpor! and CAN­VAS crit­i­cal­ly. A close exam­i­na­tion demon­strates that Popovic was a nat­ur­al choice to be a Strat­for infor­mant and close advisor.

Often val­orized by grass­roots activists and West­ern media, there was far more to the Bull­doz­er Rev­o­lu­tion” that led to the over­throw of Miloše­vić and sub­se­quent East­ern Euro­pean regimes than meets the eye.

In prin­ci­ple, [Ser­bia] was an overt oper­a­tion, fund­ed by con­gres­sion­al appro­pri­a­tions of around $10 mil­lion for fis­cal 1999 and $31 mil­lion for 2000. Some Amer­i­cans involved in the anti-Milo­se­vic effort said they were aware of CIA activ­i­ty at the fringes of the cam­paign, but had trou­ble find­ing out what the agency was up to,” explained a 2000 inves­tiga­tive piece appear­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The lead role was tak­en by the State Depart­ment and the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, the gov­ern­men­t’s for­eign assis­tance agency, which chan­neled the funds through com­mer­cial con­trac­tors and non­prof­it groups such as NDI and its Repub­li­can coun­ter­part, the Inter­na­tion­al Repub­li­can Insti­tute (IRI).”

Papic’s state­ment about CAN­VAS being more pow­er­ful than an air­craft car­ri­er” wasn’t mere hyper­bole, but was based on the Otpor! Ser­bia expe­ri­ence in the late-1990s.

In fact between 1997 and 2000 the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy and US gov­ern­ment may have accom­plished what NATO’s 37,000 bomb­ing sor­ties had been unable to do: oust Milo­se­vic, replace him with their favoured can­di­date Vojislav Kos­tu­ni­ca and pro­mote a neolib­er­al vision for Ser­bia,” inde­pen­dent schol­ar Michael Bark­er wrote for Z Mag­a­zine. In much the same way as cor­po­rate front groups and astro­turf groups recruit gen­uine­ly com­mit­ted sup­port­ers, strate­gi­cal­ly use­ful social move­ments can poten­tial­ly dom­i­nate civ­il soci­ety when pro­vid­ed with the right resources (mas­sive finan­cial and pro­fes­sion­al backing).”

Otpor! was so suc­cess­ful that it was ush­ered into Ukraine to help man­u­fac­ture régime change there in 2004, using the tem­plate applied orig­i­nal­ly in Ser­bia with $65 mil­lion in cash from the U.S. government.

We trained them in how to set up an orga­ni­za­tion, how to open local chap­ters, how to cre­ate a brand,’ how to cre­ate a logo, sym­bols, and key mes­sages,” an Otpor! activist told U.S.-funded media out­let Radio Free Europe-Radio Lib­er­ty. We trained them in how to iden­ti­fy the key weak­ness­es in soci­ety and what peo­ple’s most press­ing prob­lems were — what might be a moti­vat­ing fac­tor for peo­ple, and above all young peo­ple, to go to the bal­lot box and in this way shape their own destiny.”

The over­throw of Miloše­vić was accom­pa­nied by U.S.-funding for the cre­ation of a robust media appa­ra­tus in Ser­bia, and Popovic’s wife worked at one of the U.S.-funded radio and TV out­lets as a jour­nal­ist and anchor B92 from 2004 – 2009.

By help­ing Radio B92 and link­ing it with a net­work of radio sta­tions (ANEM), inter­na­tion­al assis­tance under­mined the régime’s direct and indi­rect con­trol over news and infor­ma­tion,” a Jan­u­ary 2004 pol­i­cy paper released by USAID explained. In Ser­bia, inde­pen­dent media sup­port­ed by USAID and oth­er inter­na­tion­al donors facil­i­tat­ed the régime change.”

Crit­ics point out that what hap­pened in East­ern Europe was régime change, not rev­o­lu­tion in any real sense of the term.

“[They] were not rev­o­lu­tions at all; actu­al­ly, they were lit­tle more than intra-elite pow­er trans­fers,’” Port­land State Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor of Urban Stud­ies and Plan­ning, Ger­ald Suss­man, explained in his book, Brand­ed Democ­ra­cy: U.S. Régime Change in Post-Sovi­et East­ern Europe.”

Mod­ern tac­tics of elec­tion­eer­ing were employed to cast régime change as pop­ulist, which took advan­tage of the unsta­ble and vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tions in those regions fol­low­ing the breakup of the Sovi­et Union,” he wrote.

Giv­en Otpor!’s ties to pow­er­ful fac­tions in the U.S. gov­ern­ment, per­haps it’s unsur­pris­ing that Popovic felt com­fort­able giv­ing a lec­ture to the Air Force Acad­e­my in May 2010, and attend­ing a Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil meet­ing in Decem­ber 2009.

A pow­er­ful indi­vid­ual who lob­bied the U.S. gov­ern­ment to give mon­ey to CAN­VAS ear­ly on was Michael McFaul, the cur­rent U.S. Ambas­sador to Rus­sia for the State Depart­ment and some­one who worked close­ly with” Popovic while serv­ing as a Senior Fel­low at theright-wing Hoover Insti­tu­tion at Stan­ford University.

Crit­ics Chime In, Popovic Responds

Maryam Alkhawa­ja, direc­tor of the Bahrain Cen­ter for Human Rights, said she had known Popovic for sev­er­al years as an activist and had no knowl­edge of his out­side rela­tion­ships before the Wik­ileaks release of Strat­for emails.

Srd­ja is some­one I’ve met more than once. He was very sup­port­ive of the Bahrain rev­o­lu­tion, sup­port­ive of the human rights fight,” Alkhawa­ja said in a phone inter­view. When he gave me their infor­ma­tion, that’s what sur­prised me the most.”

Alkhawa­ja said that at the time she wasn’t aware of what kind of firm Strat­for was, but she became imme­di­ate­ly sus­pi­cious after read­ing Stratfor’s ques­tions to her. She nev­er cor­re­spond­ed with Strat­for due to what she felt was the sus­pi­cious nature of the emails com­ing from the firm.

It was a series of real­ly weird intel­li­gence agency-like ques­tions, giv­en that they knew I was work­ing in a human rights group. They were ask­ing ques­tions like, who’s fund­ing the par­ty coali­tion, how many mem­bers do they have, ques­tions that even I didn’t know the answers to,” she said. The fact that they asked ques­tions like that, made me ques­tion the motive behind the email I received. Thats why I nev­er responded.”

When­ev­er we get emails like that or were con­tact­ed by peo­ple who seemed very inter­est­ed in ask­ing intel­li­gence agency-like ques­tions, we usu­al­ly block them, because we know they prob­a­bly work for the gov­ern­ment,” Alkhawa­ja con­tin­ued. Jour­nal­ists know the kind of work we do so they wouldn’t ask those ques­tions in the first place. I just found the email very weird and thats why I actu­al­ly nev­er responded.”

In a Skype inter­view, one of Otpor!’s co-founders, who left the move­ment and asked to main­tain his con­fi­den­tial­i­ty, said his pri­ma­ry con­cern from the Wik­ileaks emails was that Popovic was giv­ing out activists’ infor­ma­tion to a third par­ty with­out their pri­or consent.

An inter­view with Popovic sang a dif­fer­ent tune about CAN­VAS. He stat­ed, We def­i­nite­ly wouldn’t jeop­ar­dize any of our activists’ safe­ty, so we always fol­low their lead and nev­er expose them to any­body with­out their consent.”

Popovic also said CAN­VAS would speak to any­one and every­one — with­out any dis­crim­i­na­tion — about non­vi­o­lent direct action.

CAN­VAS will present any­where — to those com­mit­ted to activism and non­vi­o­lent strug­gle, but also to those who still live in the Cold War era and think that tanks and planes and nukes shape the world, not the com­mon peo­ple lead­ing pop­u­lar move­ments,” he said.

If we can per­suade any deci­sion mak­er in the world, in Wash­ing­ton, Krem­lin, Tel Aviv or Dam­as­cus that it is non­vi­o­lent strug­gle that they should embrace and respect – not for­eign mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion, or oppres­sion over own pop­u­la­tion – we would do that.”

Yet, giv­en Popovic’s track-record — and specif­i­cal­ly, who but­tered his bread dur­ing the long pro­fes­sion­al career he pur­sued in activism — crit­ics say Popovic fit like a glove at Stratfor.

A group of Serbs can­not lead a protest move­ment any­where out­side Ser­bia, but his tech­niques are nonethe­less instru­men­tal in help­ing achieve cer­tain polit­i­cal aims,” Pro­fes­sor Suss­man said in an inter­view. He also serves as an intel­li­gence gath­er­er in the process — of use to pri­vate and state intel­li­gence agen­cies. That’s what Strat­for saw as his use.”

This piece was pub­lished orig­i­nal­ly at Occu​py​.com.

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