There is really on one source of reliable information on this war - and it's coming from Russian spies
Monday April 7, 2003
Every day, as the war rages, there are winners and losers. Not just on the battlefield, but in the stock market. The indexes and the exchange rates swing wildly as euphoric Pentagon briefings ("Basra is Ours!", "Victory in Days!") turn sour.
The Dow Jones is 200 up on today's headlines, 200 down on tomorrow's. Currencies soar and crash with every Qatar press briefing. Truth is not the first casualty of current war reporting, it's the daily casualty. Place your stock-market bets according to CNN and you'll be broke in a week.
Successful traders nowadays do not rely on hunches. They use the mathematical and computing skills of the best brains they can hire. Nerds rule. They crunch numbers and create dynamic models that allow them to shave tiny profits off the marginal and fleeting fluctuations of stocks and currencies.
The fluctuations have never been more volatile than in the past couple of weeks. Guess right and get rich. But, as one mathematician trader put it to me: "How can I model madness?" He went on to give the answer.
You don't factor news into your model, but intelligence. There is a surfeit of war news, but reliable intelligence is hard to come by. The canny trader in these parlous days has a first port of call - GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye), the espionage arm of the Russian military.
GRU is the most sophisticated agency of its kind in the world. And, since Glasnost, the most transparent. GRU has thousands of agents worldwide (especially in countries such as Iraq, where Russia has traditional trade links). Intelligence has always been a top priority for Ivan. The number of agents operated by the GRU during the Soviet era was six times the number of agents operated by the KGB.
Russia, superpower that it was, still has spy satellites, state-of-the-art interception technology and (unlike the CIA) men on the ground. The beauty of GRU is that it does not (like the CIA) report directly to the leadership but to the Russian ministry of defence. In its wisdom, it makes its analyses publicly available. These are digested as daily bulletins on www.iraqwar.ru.
The Russians have a contrarian view on the current conflict. What was it Kissinger said about the Iran-Iraq war - "Ideally we'd like both sides to lose"? That's what the Kremlin thinks about Operation Free Iraq.
From its neutral stance, GRU offers detailed, top-grade, and wholly unspun analysis. The bulletins are in Russian (bilingualism is suddenly in demand on Wall Street). You can get English translations a day later on Venik's Aviation website (www.aeronautics.ru).
Excellent as Suzanne Goldenberg's dispatches and Dan Chung's pictures are, anyone who wants to know what is really going on at the gates of Baghdad should click on to Venik (it's a pseudonym) before reading their newspaper. Check it out. GRU has been absolutely right about every pendulum swing in the fighting. It gave, for example, the true picture of the ambiguous on-off "occupation" of Basra as it happened. Traders made a killing using that GRU intelligence intelligently rather than sucking up the generals' lies and politicians' spin.
On GRU you will find the sobering information that the supply of Tomahawk missiles on US warships is at 25% "criticality" level (the arsenal they have to reserve for the North Koreans). The US can't bomb smart any more.
There are other sources of high-grade intelligence available to the trader wanting to be two days' head-up on the opposition. You can buy bootlegged Chinese intelligence reports in Hong Kong (apparently the Chinese have bought that downed Apache helicopter the Iraqis were dancing on) and Israeli analysis in Tel Aviv.
But why waste money when the Russians are giving away the best stuff free? Invest intelligently and get rich.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003