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In my questioning of the Administration’s case on Syria, I have focused on holes within their own story — inconsistent numbers, claims about chain-of-command even while boasting of a hundred defections, false assurances about the reliability of the rebels. Note, too, Jim’s catch about the timing of a rebel advance.
All the while I’ve been reading the several strands of stories alleging that rebel-tied people, not Assad, caused the attack. There’s the story that hacked emails show a recently retired American Colonel assuring his wife that the dead Syrian kids were just for show. There’s a new letter from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (who warned about the Iraq WMD) warning that Syria is a trap.
I’m not confident yet I buy these stories — and besides, there’s plenty of evidence that Vladimir Putin is waging as heavy a propaganda battle as the US government, so it could well be Russian propaganda.
But given all this, there’s one more item that deserves far more attention. Back in early August, I noted a Reuters report of a meeting between Bandar bin Sultan and Putin, in which Bandar offered Putin a lot of things he couldn’t deliver so long as Putin would give up on supporting Bashar al-Assad.
The day of the CW attack, what is clearly Putin’s version of the story got published. In addition to it depicting Bandar basically concluding (at the end of July) that “there is no escape from the military option” in Syria, it also alleged that Bandar claimed he could shut down jihadist influence in Syria and suggested he could prevent Chechen terrorists from attacking the Sochi Olympics. Or not, depending on whether Putin cooperated.
Bandar told Putin, “There are many common values and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. … As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.”
Putin thanked King Abdullah for his greetings and Bandar for his exposition, but then he said to Bandar, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”
Again, this is clearly Putin’s version of the meeting. We should assume it is at least partly propaganda.
However, the allegation that Bandar either implicitly or explicitly threatened the Olympics does very closely resemble a threat Bandar is documented to have made in the past.
Back in 2004, the British Serious Fraud Office started to investigate the Al-Yamamah arms deal under Maggie Thatcher, in which BAE would bribe members of the Saudi royal family to sell arms (as a special side deal, the bribes became a slush fund to run covert ops). In 2005, BAE started pressuring SFO to drop the investigation in the public interest, at first citing the business BAE would lose if SFO continued the investigation. Then in December 2006, Bandar flew to Britain and threatened Tony Blair that the Saudis would stop counterterrorism cooperation unless SFO dropped the investigation. Within weeks, SFO dropped the investigation.
Over the last week, two perennial stories have again dominated the news. China continues to be able to hack us — including top DC power players — at will. And the F-35 has suffered another setback, this time a crack in an engine turbine blade (something which reportedly happened once before, in 2007).
The coincidence of these two events has got me thinking (and mind you, I’m just wondering out loud here): what if China did more than just steal data on the F-35 when it hacked various contractors, and instead sabotaged the program, inserting engineering flaws into the plane in the same way we inserted flaws in Iran’s centrifuge development via StuxNet?
We know China has hacked the F-35 program persistently. In 2008, an IG report revealed that BAE and some of the other then 1,200 (now 1,300) contractors involved weren’t meeting security requirements; last year an anonymous BAE guy admitted that the Chinese had been camped on their networks stealing data for 18 months. In April 2009, WSJ provided a more detailed report on breaches going back to 2007.
The Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35 Lightning II, is the costliest and most technically challenging weapons program the Pentagon has ever attempted. The plane, led by Lockheed Martin Corp., relies on 7.5 million lines of computer code, which the Government Accountability Office said is more than triple the amount used in the current top Air Force fighter.
Six current and former officials familiar with the matter confirmed that the fighter program had been repeatedly broken into.
William Arkin has a post on the proliferation of what he calls the “counter-everything” trend–organizations targeting transnational organizations that sell drugs or people or whatever. He ends it by wondering why this is all getting worse–why borders are more porous after 10 years of purportedly combating transnational whatevers.
Finally, one has to ask, with all of the enhanced intelligence collection and sharing and border control that is part of the post 9/11 world, why is this problem getting worse? How is that possible, that borders are more porous? So much for the war against terrorism.
You might start with the fact that in response to a threat posed by unprivileged enemy combatants (AKA terrorists) we sent out a bunch of men, not wearing uniforms, to engage in warfare that mirrors those other unprivileged combatants.
But the problem becomes even more apparent when you read Arkin’s list of contractors getting rich of the pursuit of transnational criminal organizations.
Other contractors providing intelligence support to the trafficking empire include: BAE Systems, Celestar, Delex Systems, Duer Advanced Technology & Aerospace (DATA), FedSys, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 STRATIS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Prosync Technology Group, and SAIC. Parsons Corporation is working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.
My favorite among these is BAE, which almost caught money laundering to set up a slush fund for covert ops, until the Saudis threatened to stop partnering with us to combat the terrorism that Saudis citizens were then and probably are still funding.
I guess DOD wanted to bring in experts on transnational crime.
Then Tim Shorrock got into the laugh, and pointed out that SAIC recently got caught running a giant kickback scheme to defraud NYC. Lucky for SAIC the Obama Administration hasn’t ended the fetish for Deferred Prosecution Agreements that let companies like this continue chasing transnational thieves.
And then there’s the really seedy pick: of Parsons Corporation–they were literally deemed the “most wasteful” Iraq contractor, making them a bit of a poster child for corruption–“working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.” Mind you, when Parsons was last robbing federal taxpayers and even now, they billed themselves primarily as a construction company (they’re famous for schools in Iraq that started crumbling before they were finished)–though they have branched out into the spook business. And yet they’ve sold themselves as drug experts to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
I simply can’t imagine why the transnational crime problem continues to grow.
A number of people have pointed to this interview for Richard Clarke’s suggestion that the US, not Israel, bears most of the responsibility for the StuxNet attack.
But I’m just as interested in his assessment that hacking threatens to undercut our ability to deploy our fanciest war toys.
“I’m about to say something that people think is an exaggeration, but I think the evidence is pretty strong,” he tells me. “Every major company in the United States has already been penetrated by China.”
“The British government actually said [something similar] about their own country. ”
Clarke claims, for instance, that the manufacturer of the F-35, our next-generation fighter bomber, has been penetrated and F-35 details stolen. And don’t get him started on our supply chain of chips, routers and hardware we import from Chinese and other foreign suppliers and what may be implanted in them—“logic bombs,” trapdoors and “Trojan horses,” all ready to be activated on command so we won’t know what hit us. Or what’s already hitting us.
“My greatest fear,” Clarke says, “is that, rather than having a cyber-Pearl Harbor event, we will instead have this death of a thousand cuts. Where we lose our competitiveness by having all of our research and development stolen by the Chinese. And we never really see the single event that makes us do something about it. That it’s always just below our pain threshold. That company after company in the United States spends millions, hundreds of millions, in some cases billions of dollars on R&D and that information goes free to China….After a while you can’t compete.”
But Clarke’s concerns reach beyond the cost of lost intellectual property. He foresees the loss of military power. Say there was another confrontation, such as the one in 1996 when President Clinton rushed two carrier battle fleets to the Taiwan Strait to warn China against an invasion of Taiwan. Clarke, who says there have been war games on precisely such a revived confrontation, now believes that we might be forced to give up playing such a role for fear that our carrier group defenses could be blinded and paralyzed by Chinese cyberintervention. [my emphasis]
The other day, I suggested that our inability to protect our defense and defense contractor networks means we’re wasting billions on hacking-related rework.
That’s not the only way our vulnerability to hacking will rot our national security supremacy. As Clarke notes, it will make all the defenses we build into our weapons systems less effective. All of which won’t stop us from dumping the national treasure into already-compromised toys. It’ll just make those toys more expensive.
I’ve long complained that the government’s obsession with WikiLeaks is badly misplaced. After all, DOD and some of its contractors simply can’t keep their networks secure from Chinese hackers. So if our chief rival can take what it wants, why worry so much that actual American citizens have access to what China can take with abandon?
CHINESE spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, to steal details about the design, performance and electronic systems of the West’s latest fighter jet, senior security figures have disclosed.
The Chinese exploited vulnerabilities in BAE’s computer defences to steal vast amounts of data on the $300 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a multinational project to create a plane that will give the West air supremacy for years to come, according to the sources.
One of those present said: “The BAE man said that for 18 months, Chinese cyber attacks had taken place against BAE and had managed to get hold of plans of one of its latest fighters.”
This plane will have taken more than $385 billion to develop and will take $1 trillion to sustain. It is the most expensive weapons system in history. And yet for 18 months, the Chinese were just living on (at least) BAE’s networks taking what they wanted. How much of the considerable cost and rework on this program comes from the data on it China has stolen along the way?
In fact, I’m wondering whether China isn’t borrowing from our own playbook: during the Cold War, we made Russia go bankrupt by engaging in an arms race it couldn’t afford. China doesn’t need to do that. By hacking our data, they can just make us go bankrupt by setting up an arms race between our contractors and its hackers. With the result that we build a trillion dollar plane that it can already exploit.
And yet the government’s priority seems to be shutting up leakers who reveal its crimes, not networks that reveal our biggest military secrets.
How stupid was Moammar Qaddafi, who reportedly hired the same mercenary firm that tried to take out Equatorial Guinea’s dictator in 2004?
A total of 50 private soldiers, including 19 South Africans, are reported to have travelled to Libya on instructions to smuggle the former dictator from his birthplace of Sirte over the border to Niger.
Among them were said to be members of the team led by former SAS officer Simon Mann on the “Wonga coup” to unseat Equatorial Guinea’s dictator.
In addition to Simon Mann, after all, those plotters also had ties to Mark Thatcher, Maggie’s kid. And in addition to Sir Mark’s involvement with that coup attempt, Thatcher was involved in the BAE kick-back scheme with Saudi Arabia. And that scheme reportedly funded covert operations … presumably things like the Wonga coup. Led by the same Saudi family the head of which Qaddafi allegedly tried to assassinate.
Perhaps, after Qaddafi’s “secret” deal with Britain on the Lockerbie bomber, he thought he could trust the same mercenaries tied to a very British coup. Or perhaps he was just in a pinch and couldn’t get any more reliable mercenaries to help him escape Libya.
But it appears Qaddafi shouldn’t have trusted these particular mercs.
It has been alleged that one of the security firms who provided mercenaries for the mission may have acted as a “double agent”, helping Nato to pinpoint Gaddafi’s convoy for attack, and that the dictator’s escape was “meant to fail”.
A source in the private security sector said it was “highly likely” that one of those involved deliberately recruited mercenaries who were ill-equipped to handle the mission.
“These guys did not have the experience to be successful,” he said. “The formation of the convoy, the way they tried to leave Sirte, it’s clear they were meant to fail.
“Someone got paid to protect him and at the same time to deliver him.”
Which makes it all the more interesting that Hillary was hanging out in Libya they day before Qaddafi was assassinated. I have noted how convenient it is that Qaddafi didn’t survive to testify at the ICC about how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided so conveniently; the same is true of his Lockerbie deal. I guess if you own the mercs “protecting” someone, it becomes a lot easier to arrange such convenient assassinations?
I guess dictators today can’t find mercenaries like they used to.
A WikiLeaks cable dated March 5, 2007 has raised new interest in the BAE bribery scandal (AP, WSJ, Telegraph). While no one seems to have noted this, the cable shows that the British lied to their counterparts at the OECD about details of the bribery investigation into BAE.
As the Guardian (which led the reporting on this story) reported three years ago, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office started investigating evidence of an elaborate kickback system by which the Brits would give money to the Saudis for BAE contracts in 2004 (it turns out those kickbacks were allegedly used to fund covert operations). In 2006, Prince Bandar bin Sultan flew to London and threatened Tony Blair the Saudis would stop sharing information on terrorists if the SFO continued its investigation. As a result, in early 2007, the SFO stopped its investigation, citing public interest. The US settled its investigation of the same bribery scheme for $400 million last year.
The cable appears to be preparation for the March 2007 OECD meeting of the Working Group on Bribery; it serves as a review of what had happened in the previous, January 2007, meeting regarding the British decision to stop its investigation of the BAE bribery scheme. Much of the cable reviews the stance of each country regarding the UK decision, with France vocally complaining that the British decision violated the Convention on bribery’s prohibition on invoking relations with foreign countries as reason to spike a bribery investigation, and Australia fully supporting the UK decision. According to the cable, the American delegation was in between those two positions (they were basically arguing for putting off a conclusion about the appropriateness of the decision until the March meeting for which this cable served as preparation):
The U.S. delegation took note of the experience and professionalism of U.K. delegation members. The US del inquired into what appeared to be inconsistent accounts relating to differences in views of the SFO Director and Attorney General regarding the merits of the case, reports alleging British intelligence agencies had not joined the government’s assessment that the case raised national and international security interests, and whether the SFO could provide WGB members with assurances that BAE would not continue to make corrupt payments to senior Saudi officials.
The U.S. delegation commented that it was not appropriate at this juncture to conclude that Article 5 does not contemplate the proper invocation of national security interests.
Ultimately, the cable reveals, the group developed a consensus to revisit the issue in the March meeting after further review of the British investigation.
The cable is perhaps most interesting because it gives us a glimpse of what the British publicly told the international community about its investigation, the targets, and the reasons for dropping the investigation.
The SFO Deputy Director falsely portrayed the decision to end the investigation as voluntary
Most interestingly, the cable shows that SFO Deputy Director Helen Garlick portrayed SFO Director Robert Wardle’s decision to terminate the investigate as entirely voluntary.
Garlick started by underscoring the U.K. delegation’s willingness to answer as much as possible the questions of the WGB, bearing in mind pending litigation in the U.K. Garlick reported that SFO and MOD Police investigators had expended more than 2 million pounds sterling on the BAE investigations. She said on December 14, SFO Director Robert Wardle had decided to discontinue the joint SFO/MOD Police investigation based on his personal, independent judgment.
The French doubted this (I’m guessing they were suspicious partly because Wardle did not brief the group himself). Shortly after the January meeting, the Guardian reported that Wardle disagreed with Lord Goldsmith’s ultimate decision to spike the investigation and in 2008 Wardle testified that he strongly disagreed with the decision.
Wardle told the court in a witness statement: “The idea of discontinuing the investigation went against my every instinct as a prosecutor. I wanted to see where the evidence led.”
All of which suggests the French were right to doubt that Wardle made this decision himself.
The Brits may have kept Bandar bin Sultan’s role in the bribery scheme secret
In addition, tt appears that the Brits may have kept Bandar bin Sultan’s rule in the bribery scheme secret–though it may be, instead, that the cable didn’t record the details of the briefing pertaining to Bandar. The cable describes the Brits exhorting their partners to keep the contents of the briefing on the investigation classified.
U.K. delegation head Jo Kuenssberg said the U.K. recognized the level of interest of WGB members in the case and stressed the need to respect the confidentiality of the information contained in the U.K.’s briefing,
And then, among the details revealed in the investigation, the Brits described an “unnamed senior Saudi official” and “another very senior Saudi official” as recipients of some of the bribes in the scheme.
Third, payments made under the al-Yamamah contract to an unnamed senior Saudi official: Garlick advised that in October 2005, the SFO had demanded BAE produce documents including payments related to the al-Yamamah contract. The company made representations to the AG on public interest grounds (political and economic considerations) as to why the investigation should be halted. The AG undertook a Shawcross Exercise and sought representations from various British officials regarding the case. The SFO Director wanted to continue the investigation. On January 25, 2006, the AG agreed that there was no impediment to continuing the investigation. The SFO sought Swiss banking records regarding agents of BAE. The SFO found reasonable grounds that another very senior Saudi official was the recipient of BAE payments. The SFO was poised to travel to Switzerland in connection with its Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) request when the decision to discontinue the investigation was made;
The cable explicitly named Turki Bin Nasir, then the head of Saudi Arabia’s Air Force and already by that point publicly tied to the bribery scheme. So these two must be others. I’m guessing that Bandar–whose receipt of $1 billion via the scheme would be broken by the Guardian in June 2007–is the “very senior Saudi official” mentioned, not least because his involvement seems to have been exposed at the Swiss bank account stage of the investigation. So the only question, then, is whether the Brits kept his name–as they did the “unnamed senior Saudi official”–secret from their counterparts at the OECD. It appears, however, they did.
In addition, the British review of the investigation far underplayed the amount involved here.
Via AmericaBlog, the Guardian reports that Bandar bin Sultan, adoptive member of the Bush family, is alleged to have threatened Tony Blair to convince him to spike the investigation into BAE-related bribery of Bandar.
Saudi Arabia’s rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.
Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.
Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.
He was accused in yesterday’s high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family. [my emphasis]
Now, it appears that Bandar threatened to "hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists" in the UK–I don’t think this suggests that Bandar was going to direct terrorists to attack the UK. Here is what the Poodle said about the meeting:
The critical difficulty presented to the negotiations over the Typhoon contract … All intelligence cooperation was under threat … It is in my judgment very clear that the continuation of the SFO investigation into al-Yamamah risks seriously damaging confidence in the UK as a partner … I am taking the exceptional step of writing to you myself
And here is what the British Ambassador (to Saudi Arabia, I guess?) said to the Serious Fraud Office:
We had been told that ‘British lives on British streets’ were at risk … If this caused another 7/7, how could we say that our investigation was more important? … If further investigation will cause such damage to national and international security, [the head of the SFO] accepted it would not be in the public interest
Trying to prevent NeoCons everywhere from corrupting the world?
In this case, it was Lord Goldsmith, trying in vain to prevent the Poodle from spiking the investigation into BAE. I’m most struck by the language reportedly used in the letteres Tony wrote to override Goldsmith.
But Blair wrote a "Secret and Personal" letter to Goldsmith on December 8 2006, demanding he stop the investigation. He said he was concerned about the "critical difficulty" in negotiations over a new Typhoon fighter sales contract, as well as a "real and immediate risk of a collapse in UK/Saudi security, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation".
Blair told him "higher considerations were at stake". He also personally vetoed a proposal that BAE could plead guilty to lesser corruption charges, saying this would "be unlikely to reduce the offence caused to the Saudi royal family".
It’s been clear for some time that NeoCons consider military contracts, "higher consideration." It’s been clear for some time that the Saudis had us by the nuts. Glad to see Tony make that so clear, though.