Hosni Mubarak

If the Saudis Take Their Toys and Go Home, Have They Still Won the Arab Spring?

David Ignatius adds something to the reporting on the Saudis’ snit that has been missing: situating it in America’s decision in 2011 to let Hosni Mubarak fall.

The bad feeling that developed after Mubarak’s ouster deepened month by month: The U.S. supported Morsi’s election as president; opposed a crackdown by the monarchy in Bahrain against Shiites protesters; cut aid to the Egyptian military after it toppled Morsi and crushed the Brotherhood; promised covert aid to the Syrian rebels it never delivered; threatened to bomb Syria and then allied with Russia, instead; and finally embarked on a diplomatic opening to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s deadly rival in the Gulf.

Of course, Ignatius depicts the Saudi version here, not reality. US condemnation of Bahrain’s crackdown has been muted, and the US has started shipping arms again. This litany doesn’t mention the Saudi-favored policies the US supported: overthrowing long-time Saudi annoyance Muammar Qaddafi, resolving the Yemeni uprising in such a way that largely maintained the status quo. And it’s not the Brotherhood so much troubles the Saudis (indeed, they’re supporting Islamic extremists elsewhere), but the notion of popular legitimacy (which is not to say Morsi had that when he was overthrown).

But it does reflect what I think is genuinely behind Saudi disengagement. After some setbacks in 2011 — notably, Mubarak’s ouster, but also the need to increase its bribes to its own people to ensure stability — the Saudis found a way to use the rhetoric of popular uprising selectively to pursue their own hegemonic interests. They believed they were on their way to do so in Syria, as well.

With the coup in Egypt and Obama’s tepid response to it, however, the cost of popular legitimacy started to rise again. And with the US backing out of its efforts to use “rebels” (including foreign fighters) to oust Assad, Saudi’s feigned support for popular legitimacy disappeared. That notion reverted to being just another force that might endanger the throne. And as the US gets closer to a deal with Iran — a development that significantly threatens Saudi leverage in our “special relationship” in any case — I suspect the Saudis decided a temper tantrum was necessary. More importantly, I worry they disengaged from the UN because they are considering alternative means of pursuing their interests, means that would be loudly condemned in that body.

The Saudis are running out of money and oil to ensure their own stability, and asserting greater hegemony over the Middle East presented a way to retain it. I assume they intend to keep pursuing that greater hegemony with us or against us.

Is Chinese Elite Looting More Newsworthy than Middle Eastern–or US–Looting?

NYT has a really good article today on how the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has gotten enormously wealthy while he’s been in power. The Chinese government has already started censoring the story itself and discussions of it.

And while I applaud NYT’s coverage of the corruption of the Chinese elite, I was left wondering whether NYT would print the equivalent story on Middle Eastern dictators or–even more unlikely–American elites.

While there has been some coverage of how Hosni Mubarak, Moammar Qaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh, or Zine El Abindine Ben Ali looted their countries of billions now that they’ve fallen, one of the only times we’ve heard about Saudi looting came after Riggs Bank got busted.

And while we’ve had reports on Countrywide’s VIP program and the general process by which members of Congress get enormously wealthy on our dime as well as stories focused on those (like Maxine Waters), we rarely see maps like the one NYT drew of the business connections involved.

Partly, I wonder whether the US is just better at hiding these connections. Some of this kind of work would stumble on America’s shell corporations, for example.

In the case of Mr. Wen’s mother, The Times calculated her stake in Ping An — valued at $120 million in 2007 — by examining public records and government-issued identity cards, and by following the ownership trail to three Chinese investment entities. The name recorded on his mother’s shares was Taihong, a holding company registered in Tianjin, the prime minister’s hometown.

The apparent efforts to conceal the wealth reflect the highly charged politics surrounding the country’s ruling elite, many of whom are also enormously wealthy but reluctant to draw attention to their riches. When Bloomberg News reported in June that the extended family of Vice President Xi Jinping, set to become China’s next president, had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, the Chinese government blocked access inside the country to the Bloomberg Web site.

“In the senior leadership, there’s no family that doesn’t have these problems,” said a former government colleague of Wen Jiabao who has known him for more than 20 years and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “His enemies are intentionally trying to smear him by letting this leak out.”

And partly it may be lack of self-awareness. NYT complains, for example, that Chinese disclosure laws don’t apply to extended relatives.

In the winter of 2007, just before he began his second term as prime minister, Wen Jiabao called for new measures to fight corruption, particularly among high-ranking officials.

“Leaders at all levels of government should take the lead in the antigraft drive,” he told a gathering of high-level party members in Beijing. “They should strictly ensure that their family members, friends and close subordinates do not abuse government influence.”

The speech was consistent with the prime minister’s earlier drive to toughen disclosure rules for public servants, and to require senior officials to reveal their family assets.

Whether Mr. Wen has made such disclosures for his own family is unclear, since the Communist Party does not release such information. Even so, many of the holdings found by The Times would not need to be disclosed under the rules since they are not held in the name of the prime minister’s immediate family — his wife, son and daughter.

Eighty percent of the $2.7 billion in assets identified in The Times’s investigation and verified by the outside auditors were held by, among others, the prime minister’s mother, his younger brother, two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law, daughter-in-law and the parents of his son’s wife, none of whom is subject to party disclosure rules.

But when Congress finally passed a bill cracking down on insider trading this year, it didn’t even cover the spouses of members of Congress and we’re exempting some Executive Branch members on national security grounds.

Maybe I’m being churlish. But I really wonder if such a superb article would come out to expose graft of our allies that got deposited into American banks. And I wish we saw more of this kind of reporting about our own corrupt elite.

In somewhat related news, Silvio Berlusconi got sentenced to four years for tax fraud today (though appeals will probably save him from jail time). And we still haven’t seen Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

The Imperial Overlords Giveth, the Imperial Overlords Taketh Away

In the US yesterday, the big press outlets were reporting on a big push to give Egypt “aid” to get its economy back on track. (WaPo, NYT) Though the NYT’s URL (and original title, I think) used the word “aid,” what we’re really planning on doing is offering Egypt debt relief.

Nearly 16 months after first pledging to helpEgypt’s failing economy, the Obama administration is nearing an agreement with the country’s new government to relieve $1 billion of its debt as part of an American and international assistance package intended to bolster its transition to democracy, administration officials said.

In addition, we’re talking an IMF loan, economic liberalization of the sort that brought about the revolution in the first place, and a dog and pony show for the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.

The day before, on the other side of the pond, the Guardian and some other outlets reported on the loot Hosni Mubarak’s cronies stashed in England which hasn’t been frozen (and/or wasn’t before they hid it somewhere else).

Britain has allowed key members of Egypt’s toppled dictatorship to retain millions of pounds of suspected property and business assets in the UK, potentially violating a globally-agreed set of sanctions.

[snip]

Three days after Mubarak’s downfall, with popular pressure to recover Egypt’s ‘stolen billions’ mounting in the street, the interim government in Cairo requested that western authorities freeze the assets of several former regime members who were suspected of embezzling public funds and hiding them in property and business interests.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, told MPs the request would be co-operated with, and government ministers promised “firm, decisive and prompt action”.

Yet although Switzerland took only half an hour to begin freezing Egyptian regime assets following Mubarak’s overthrow, the UK took 37 days to follow suit – a delay which critics say could have allowed assets to be liquidated and illicit funds to be moved offshore.

And while Switzerland has frozen almost £500m of suspect Egyptian assets, the UK has frozen less than a fifth of that and returned none of it to Egypt.

Read thew whole thing–the Guardian describes how some of Mubarak’s cronies are opening new businesses in London.

The Guardian also reminds that one of the things that facilitated all this looting was the kind of “free market liberalizations” that the US is now applauding more of in Egypt.

An aggressive free-market reform programme instituted by the Mubarak regime in the 1990s and 2000s saw previously state-owned companies and landholdings shift into the hands of private businessmen at an astonishing rate. Prominent “big sharks” within the ruling NDP party – including Mubarak’s playboy son and assumed successor Gamal – amassed huge riches.

Now, the “news” that England has been sheltering Egyptian loot is not news. I posted this 18 months ago.

The New York Times heralds that,

Swiss Locate Funds Linked to Mubarak

But what the story really reports is that the Swiss have located just “several dozen million Swiss francs,” which works out to less than $38 million of the up to $70 billion Hosni Mubarak reportedly looted from Egypt. The real headline of the story ought to be…

Former Western Allies Dragging Feet on Mubarak’s Millions

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You Don’t Suppose All These Dictators Have Been Looting with SCB’s and HSBC’s Help?

It happens every time. Around about the time it becomes clear a corrupt Middle Eastern dictator will fall, but before he has actually fallen, the press begins to report on the hunt for the money the dictator looted from his country. There was the “discovery” of Hosni Mubarak’s up-to $70 billion in February 2011. And reports, in March 2011, of the up to $200 billion that Moammar Qaddafi looted.

And today,

Even as the war in Syria rages and Bashar al-Assad clings to power, the race to find the regime’s vast—and mostly hidden—fortune is already underway. Experts say al-Assad and his associates have amassed as much as $25 billion through investments in banks, state industries and other concessions, and has stashed the money in offshore tax havens and in investments across the Middle East.

I don’t mean to slight Eli Lake (or any of the other journalists linked) for reporting this. It’s important the world remember that these dictators rule by and for the looting of their countries. Indeed, Lake’s report is particularly useful in the way he maps out the industry that charges big fees to help bring looted money back to its rightful owners.

Finding the money is of keen interest to the modern-day treasure hunters who specialize in recovering the wealth of fallen dictators. Sometimes called financial intelligence or forensic accounting, the industry comprises lawyers, accountants, ex-spies, former law enforcement investigators and even some retired journalists, all of whom look at the unrest in Syria as a business opportunity. Some firms charge several thousands of dollars per hour for the sleuth work of a team of six to eight investigators. Others get paid a “success fee,” a small percentage of the overall haul.

It’s just that few people ever want to talk about the looting that goes on–often with the assistance and for the profit of American and/or European banks–while it’s occurring.

Which is one of the reasons why the flap over Standard Chartered is so interesting. It revealed that most of the regulators overseeing our sanctions and money-laundering enforcement really wanted SCB to reach a settlement on transactions that SCB now admits represent just a fraction of a percent of the affected transactions. And that’s just the Iranian transactions; it doesn’t include the Libyan transactions that Benjamin Lawsky alluded to in a footnote of the report.

And while there’s no evidence in the DFS report that SCB was helping Assad loot his country, the Carl Levin-led investigation into HSBC describes several examples of HSBC evading sanctions so as to keep its Syrian business even after sanctions were imposed. In particular, there’s the way HSBC apparently decided it wouldn’t tell the Office of Foreign Asset Controls about the trust relationship its Cayman Island affiliate had with Rami Makhlouf, whom Lake singles out as a key Syrian target of the loot-hunters.

Another account involving an individual on the OFAC list was housed at HSBC Cayman Islands. On February 21, 2008, a Syrian businessman by the name of Rami Makhlouf was placed on the SDN list by OFAC. One week later, HSBC Cayman Compliance personnel contacted HBUS to report that HSBC Cayman Islands currently held a trust relationship with Mr. Makhlouf and to inquire as to “what actions if any HSBC Group has taken in relation to the above mentioned individual.” An HBUS Compliance officer asked the Cayman Compliance officer for more information about the Makhlouf accounts, and the head of HSBC Cayman Compliance responded: “The Trust is administered by HSBC Geneva. We raised concerns with this client in August 2007 however we were assured by David Ford that the relationship had been reviewed at a Group level and a decision had been taken to continue with the relationship.” Ultimately, HBUS determined that it did not have any connection to Mr. Makhlouf and did not need to report any information to OFAC.

Maybe the loot-hunters should ask HSBC and SCB where Qaddafi and Assad put their money? Maybe that’s what they bill out at such high rates to do?

The thing is, we can only point to these details because SCB and HSBC, because of Lawsky and Levin’s efforts, have undergone more transparency than all the other banks helping dictators strip their country’s wealth.  Regulators apparently want to keep us from knowing how much purportedly respectable banks help these dictators to shore up their own power and loot their countries. Moreover, they only want to penalize these banks for a tiny fraction of the business they do with these dictators even after they’ve been sanctioned.

It’s as if the regulators wanted to permit this kind of looting to happen, only to acted surprised at the sheer scope of the looting after the dictator’s demise.

We Drone Strike, Ergo We Are at War

Check out the logic top pundit David Ignatius employs here:

The United States just decided to step up its drone war [in Yemen], which is a sure sign that al-Qaeda poses a significant, continuing threat.

Ignatius has long served as a mouthpiece for the CIA, so it’s not like he lacks sources he could ask about why we’re going to start using signature strikes in Yemen. If he asked, he might find out that we’re using signature strikes because the civil war Ali Abdullah Saleh’s leadership failures incited is considered a threat to the US (or to the Saudis), independent of any threat AQAP might represent.

But instead, David Ignatius, DC insider, says we’re ramping up drone strikes, ergo al Qaeda must pose a significant, continuing threat.

The line actually serves as the punch line of a larger, equally poorly argued piece “proving” that because people are rebelling against the dictators who used the war on terror as yet another excuse to oppress their people, Osama bin Laden has won.

Egypt is a case in point: This has been a year of mostly nonviolent democratic revolution. But it has brought to power some Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood groups that share common theological roots with bin Laden. And the al-Qaeda goal of driving the “apostate,” pro-American President Hosni Mubarak from power has been achieved.

I would dismiss all this as more beltway inanity. But Ignatius wields this (il)logic even while he waves around those OBL documents he got in an authorized, exclusive leak from the Administration.

As Wednesday’s anniversary of bin Laden’s death approaches, I have been going back over my notes of these messages. I found some unpublished passages that show how bin Laden’s legacy is an ironic mix: His movement is largely destroyed, but his passion for a purer and more Islamic government in the Arab world is partly succeeding. In that sense, the West shouldn’t be too quick to claim victory.

The message the Administration has deemed Ignatius solely worthy to interpret and read is that OBL turned to unifying Muslims behind reformed governance at the end of his life, and therefore reformed governance must be opposed because it would represent a victory of what he calls “electoral bin Ladenism.”

And by pointing to documents that have purportedly been declassified but the rest of us aren’t permitted to see, and deploying the logic that says just because we’ve resumed targeting drones at people whose identity we don’t know, Ignatius “proves” there must be a reason to target those people and that reason must ultimately be OBL.

Our Torturer, Omar Suleiman, Wants to Be President–Will We Help Him?

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After earlier stating he would not run in the upcoming Egyptian Presidential race, Omar Suleiman announced on Friday he would file to run for President (with the Army’s help gathering the 30,000 signatures he would need to collect in just one day).

Omar Suleiman, one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak’s regime, had said earlier this week that he would not run. But he said he changed his mind after hundreds of people rallied in Cairo to support a bid.

[snip]

Hundreds rallied Friday in Cairo to call for him to run for president.

Suleiman said that helped change his mind.

“I can only meet the call and run in the presidential race, despite the constraints and difficulties I made clear in my former statement,” he said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency on Friday. He said he faces administrative obstacles, but did not elaborate.

The AJE piece above describes how the Presidential race has devolved into all sides responding to Islamists–who had a big win in Parliamentary elections–deciding to run. Suleiman’s decision seems to be just another step in that process.

Mr. Suleiman’s decision raises the possibility that, one year after an uprising that was spurred in part by the Mubarak regime’s brutality, torture, and oppression, one of the architects of that repression could become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president.

Some see his candidacy as a response by Egypt’s military rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent decision to field a presidential candidate – a decision that broke a year-long promise to stay out of the race. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, says Suleiman’s candidacy raises the possibility that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is currently ruling Egypt, may rig the elections to favor the former intelligence chief.

Some observers suggest Suleiman’s move is just be an effort to make Amr Moussa look credible by comparison.

But as Jeff Stein reviews, in many ways he’d be the most palatable candidate to the West, largely because of our long history of cooperating with him on things like torturing Ibn Shaikh al-Libi to generate propaganda with which to start the Iraq War. People predicted Suleiman might succeed Hosni Mubarak long before the Arab Uprising.

“An open question is whether he can count on help from his longtime friends in the CIA,” I wrote back in January 2011.

“Ask who they posit as a possible successor,” a State Department expert on the region told me then. “Bet you a beer, the name Omar Suleiman comes up more often than most.”

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Our Counterterrorism Policies Will Make Impact of Climate Change Worse

What place does this sound like?

Ruling elites … do not see climate change as an immediate threat to their authority. They therefore feel free to take an opportunistic attitude toward climate change, supporting climate change mitigation policies that have collateral economic or political benefits to their particular interests.

Though it could be, it is not an indictment of our own country’s refusal to do anything about climate change. Rather, it’s one of a series of climate change studies and conferences the National Intelligence Council contracted to have done. This one describes the self-serving actions of the pre-Arab Spring authoritarian elite of North Africa.

As Steven Aftergood reported, the CIA is hiding the climate change analysis they’re doing. They just rejected a FOIA for their climate change reports based on a claim that everything they have done is classified. So these reports, prominently labeled, “This paper does not represent US Government views,” are one of the only public reads about what the intelligence community is doing with climate change.

Those contractor studies are interesting for several reasons. First, check out how they define their regions:

  • China
  • India
  • Russia
  • Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands
  • North Africa
  • Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America

The impact of climate change on the US, Europe, much of the Middle East, and most of Africa are all missing (or, at least, not public).

Shouldn’t someone (not the CIA, which can’t, but perhaps DOE) start thinking about how climate change will affect security in the US? How do you rationalize not including the Middle East (where water is already is source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors) or the Horn of Africa (where climate-related issues discussed in the North Africa studies have presented predictably catastrophic problems in countries that already pose other national security challenges to the US)? Why study India rather than South Asia as a whole, particularly given that Bangladesh will be one of the most impacted countries and (as reflected in the India report) will present India with a serious refugee problem. In short, there are real, critical gaps in the way the intelligence community at least publicly thinks of the potential impact of climate change.

I checked out the North Africa reports (commissioned report, conference report) to see how the intelligence community viewed the region two years before the Arab Spring. True, these reports analyze the impact of things like drought on agriculture and the impact of that on stability, but such analysis largely parallels the impact of neoliberal economic policies on agriculture and therefore on stability. Here’s what the NIC was hearing about climate change and Ag and stability two years before the Arab Spring (these quotes come from the conference report):

An acute state failure to address climate change that results in intolerable conditions for significant segments of the population may constitute a sociopolitical tipping point, in essence a breaking of the social compact between North African states and civil society. At that point, civil actors may determine that fundamental systemic change is necessary. The results of such a situation will depend on the specific reactions by state elites and by the public; reform, repression, or revolution are all possibilities. A combination of climatic stress and inadequate state responses over the next two decades could prove the catalyst for a major sociopolitical shift in North Africa. On the other hand, North Africans tend to hold a religiously based view that “what will be, will be.” Owing to this fatalistic mindset, North Africans are unlikely to blame the state for climate related stresses, making it more difficult to attain the aforementioned tipping point.

Much later, the report predicts that the ancillary effects of climate change will be the cause of social stress.

The implications of climate change in North Africa—notably migration, stress on both rural and urban areas, unemployment, and increased resource competition—are likely to generate volatile sociopolitical conditions that will pose significant threats to the existing political structure. The responses of North African states to these threats may be more decisive for the fate of the region than their direct responses to climate change impacts. North African states have robust capacity to maintain social control in the face of domestic challenges and destabilization. Regimes depend on a combination of entrenched patronage systems, robust mukhabarat (security) apparatuses, and the support of external allies—a combination that has proven highly effective at maintaining political control. They have a track record of effectively suppressing dissent and unrest or remaining resilient where unrest has persisted, such as the civil conflict in Algeria.

States in the region may seek to suppress or distort information on climate change-related challenges. They seek to control access to any information that could provide a basis for opposition to the state, even information as seemingly innocuous as census data. The proliferation of new media and alternative information sources, however, will make it difficult to maintain such censorship. [my emphasis]

Particularly given our own IC’s failure to take the warnings of unrest expressed via social media social media seriously, I find the warning that North African regimes would find it hard to censor this social unrest prescient.

And I find it richly ironic that the IC notes other countries would “seek to suppress or distort information on climate change-related challenges” when the CIA is doing just that in the US.

But I also find the description of these regimes’ reliance on their allies chilling. This report always describes these regimes, several of them key allies of ours, as badly repressive regimes.

Although the level of repression varies between states, with Tunisia and Libya the most extreme, and has varied cyclically over time, authoritarian regimes are well entrenched in every state in the region.

The conference report acknowledges that the US focus on terrorism has narrowed its diplomatic focus with these countries, which in turn has strengthened the security apparatuses in the region–precisely the source of the repressive strength of the countries.

Security issues are the primary focus of US relations with North African states. The predominance of security and military concerns has led to disproportionate US engagement with security apparatuses in the region, strengthening regimes in ways that may damage long-term prospects to meet the challenges of climate change. US policy in the region has become even more security-centric as a result of the continuing struggle against radical Islamic terrorism. While terrorism has deepened US security ties with states in the region, it has also narrowed the scope of US engagement, which may not be in the long-term interests of either party.

And then the report incorrectly suggests that the only likely challenge to these regimes if they fail to respond adequately to climate change would be Islamists.

Islamist groups have emerged as the only viable opposition force because they have resisted state cooptation and because the state has blocked other avenues for social mobilization. In addition, they have established a track record of effective humanitarian responses to mudslides, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, often providing immediate medical, shelter, and food aid that are normally the responsibilities of the state. In many cases Islamist groups may fill the void left by inadequate state responses or the weakness of other types of potential civil responders. Moderate Islamist groups could play a constructive role, providing highly visible humanitarian assistance that empowers autonomous civil actors and contrasts with ineffectual state responses, thus pressuring state actors to respond more effectively. Moderate Islamists could use the climate change mitigation issue to bolster their argument that existing North African governments are illegitimate and exploitative, creating momentum for political reform.

On the other hand, Islamic extremists across the region may exploit climate change’s destabilizing impacts and ineffective state responses to promote the spread of militancy and anti-regime violence. Indeed, Islamist militants could point to climate-induced catastrophes as evidence of God’s wrath against “apostate regimes” whose un-Islamic behavior has plunged the region into desperate circumstances.

In other words, while the report doesn’t lay out the the logical case it makes explicitly, it nevertheless argues that:

  • The repressive nature of these regimes may make them less likely to respond adequately to climate change
  • Our single-minded focus on terrorism tends to make these countries even more repressive
  • If these countries don’t respond to climate change, it may provide an opportunity for precisely the Islamists our single-minded counter-terrorism focus is designed to combat

In other words, this conference report suggests (though does not say so explicitly, perhaps because it was written by contractors intent on getting paid) that in the presence of a stress like climate change, our counter-terrorism approach may be self-defeating.

Now, again, this report wasn’t written by our spooks and it “does not represent US Government views.” Our policy makers may not agree with this report’s analysis, or they may be ignoring it (seeing no “collateral political or economic benefits to their particular interests”). And if you buy my premise that the stress of climate change is similar to the stress caused by an embrace of neoliberalism, then the report badly underestimated both the success of those challenging these regimes and the centrality of Islamists in these countries.

There’s a lot else that could be said about these reports (such as their too-narrow focus on the Ag in each particular country, when recent food price shocks make it clear such stress will play out at broader levels).

But more generally, the report suggests that our counterterrorism policies are making countries around the world less resilient to climate change (and so presumably to a range of other stresses as well).

As the Arab Spring Gives Way to the Sunni Summer

The AP has a interesting–and interestingly timed–story on the help we’re giving Saudi Arabia to build a “facilities security force” to protect, among other things, its oil fields and planned civilian nuclear sites. The story is based, in part, on this WikiLeaks cable.

Note the date of the cable: October 29, 2008, less than a week before–everyone already knew at the time–Barack Obama would be elected President.

That makes the actual content of the cable all the more interesting. It describes a meeting between US Department of Energy representatives and Mohammed bin Naif, the Assistant Minister of Interior and the son of the long-time Minister of Interior, Naif bin Abdul-Aziz, as well as other representatives from Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. Basically, the DOE folks gave a presentation about the vulnerabilities in the Abqaiq oil processing plant, after which bin Naif agreed to a broad security program, including the FSF.

Remember, DOE was giving a presentation about an oil facility that had already been attacked by al Qaeda as part of plan to get Saudi Arabia to agree to this 35,000 person force in Saudi Arabia.

At the meeting at which this cooperation was agreed to, CENTCOM handed bin Naif a document describing the exact language Saudi Arabia should use request CENTCOM’s help establishing the FSF. The plan was that Saudi Arabia would then present that request (the one the US wrote) to General Petraeus when he came to Saudi Arabia on November 8 (which would be after Obama’s expected election, but not by much).

The draft [Letter of Request] for OPM-FSF prepared by CENTCOM was presented to MBN. This draft explicitly lays out on one page the exact wording for the SAG’s formal request to the USG to establish OPM-FSF. MBN directed his staff to prepare such a letter for his signature. Once we receive this letter, CENTCOM will then respond with a Letter of Acceptance (LOA) which will allow CENTCOM to begin building up OPM-FSF’s personnel and equipment structure. MOI indicated they plan to present the formal Saudi LOR to GEN Petraeus when he visits the Kingdom, currently scheduled for Nov. 8.

In addition, the cable describes bin Naif’s urgent desire–expressed privately to the US Charge d’Affaires–to solidify this partnership quickly, also mentioning his plan to travel to the US on November 5-7 (that is, the days after Obama’s expected election).

In a private meeting between MBN and the Charge’, MBN conveyed the SAG’s, and his personal, sense of urgency to move forward as quickly as possible to enhance the protection of Saudi Arabia’s critical infrastructure with the priority being its energy production sites. MBN related how his grandfather, King Abdulaziz, had the vision of forming a lasting strategic partnership with the United States. MBN stressed he shared this vision, and wants the USG’s help to protect Saudi critical infrastructure. He commented that neither the Kingdom nor the U.S. would be comfortable with the “French or Russians” involved in protecting Saudi oil facilities. “We built ARAMCO together, we must protect it together.” MBN also confirmed his travel dates to Washington will be Nov. 5 to 7.

In other words, the whole thing seems like something formalized quickly just as Obama was being elected President.

One more interesting detail about the cable? Note who appears at the top of the distribution list: Dick Cheney.

WHITE HOUSE FOR OVP

Okay, so that’s the cable. Using the fear that al Qaeda would attack Saudi Arabia’s oil fields in a repeat of the 2006 attack on Abqaiq, the US (presumably largely directed by Cheney) pushed through the agreement for this 35,000 person elite force just as Obama was being elected President.

So let’s return to the AP article. The article provides some key context for the FSF–notably that it seems to have been a quid pro quo tied to our agreement to give Saudi Arabia civilian nukes.

The new arrangement is based on a May 2008 deal signed by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef. That same month the U.S. and Saudi Arabia also signed an understanding on civil nuclear energy cooperation in which Washington agreed to help the Saudis develop nuclear energy for use in medicine, industry and power generation.

So we give Saudi Arabia nukes that it wants (in part) because Iran is working hard to get them, and it lets us “train” a 35,000 person elite force to guard its critical infrastructure in the name of counter-terrorism. Are you having an Erik Prince moment, yet?

The rest of the article–that part not reliant on the WikiLeaks cable, that is–only partly focuses on the FSF itself–at least on the troops tasked with defending oil infrastructure. In addition, it focuses on missile defense and other arms targeted at Iran.

The U.S. also is in discussions with Saudi Arabia to create an air and missile defense system with far greater capability against the regional rival the Saudis fear most, Iran. And it is with Iran mainly in mind that the Saudis are pressing ahead with a historic $60 billion arms deal that will provide dozens of new U.S.-built F-15 combat aircraft likely to ensure Saudi air superiority over Iran for years.

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One Way to Make Sending Frank Wisner to “Negotiate” with Mubarak Look Smart

CNN is reporting that Curt Weldon, the ethically and legally challenged former Congressman with ties to Manucher Ghorbanifar, has gone to Libya to try to negotiate with Muammar Qaddafi. In a NYT op-ed, Weldon makes the case for why he’s the guy to persuade Qaddafi to step aside.

Seven years later I am back in Libya, this time on a much different mission, as the leader of a small private delegation, at the invitation of Colonel Qaddafi‘s chief of staff and with the knowledge of the Obama administration and members of Congress from both parties. Our purpose is to meet with Colonel Qaddafi today and persuade him to step aside.

[snip]

First, we must engage face-to-face with Colonel Qaddafi and persuade him to leave, as my delegation hopes to do. I’ve met him enough times to know that it will be very hard to simply bomb him into submission.

Simultaneously, we must obtain an immediate United Nations-monitored cease-fire, with the Libyan Army withdrawing from contested cities and rebel forces ending attempts to advance.

Then we must identify and engage with those leaders who, if not perfect, are pragmatic and reform-minded and thus best positioned to lead the country.

[snip]

The world agrees that Colonel Qaddafi must go, even though no one has a plan, a foundation for civil society has not been constructed and we are not even sure whom we should trust. But in the meantime, the people of Libya deserve more than bombs. [my emphasis]

Noah Shachtman elaborates on the history Weldon and Qaddafi have in common. The short version? At a time when Weldon served on Qaddafi’s “foundation,” he was pitching selling arms to him.

It wasn’t long ago — April, 2008, to be exact — that Weldon was boasting in a report that he had become the “1st non-Libyan Board Member of the Ghadaffi Foundation.” During a trip to Tripoli the month before, the self-proclaimed “friend of Libya” carried “a personal letter from Libyan Chamber [of Commerce] President to U.S. Chamber President.” Weldon also visited with with the country’s “Nuclear Ministry Leadership and agreed to reinforce U.S. nuclear cooperation/collaboration.”

Finally, Weldon agreed “to quickly return to Libya for meetings with [Gadhafi's] son Morti regarding defense and security cooperation.”

Two weeks later, Defense Solutions — a company which, at the time, counted Weldon as a key executive and adviser — drew up a proposal to refurbish the country’s fleet of armored vehicles, including its T-72 tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles and BTR-60 armored personnel carriers.

Now, granted, Weldon says he is undertaking this trip with the knowledge–not the endorsement–of the Obama Administration. Still, I can’t help but wondering whether this is an elaborate plot (with Weldon, there’s always a plot) to make Obama’s decision to send Frank Wisner–also a business associate–to negotiate with Hosni Mubarak look remarkably smart by comparison. After all, both Wisner and Weldon have troubling conflicts that make them poor choices to represent our country’s interests. But Wisner, at least, is diplomatic and sane. Weldon? I’m not so sure.

Nouri al-Maliki’s Retirement Fund?

All this talk about Hosni Mubarak’s looted billions must really piss off our other client rulers, the ones who have not yet set aside such rich stashes for their retirement.

But someone in Iraq has already made the move, disappearing $40 billion from Iraq’s development fund.

Around $40 billion are “missing” from a post-Gulf War fund that Iraq maintains to protect the money from foreign claims, its parliamentary speaker said on Monday.”There is missing money, we do not know where it has gone,” Osama al-Nujaifi said at a news conference in Baghdad. “The money is around $40 billion in total.”

[snip]

Nujaifi did not say when or how the discovery had been made regarding the missing money. He said two investigative committees had been formed to track down the cash.

But then, why should Iraq be any different from Afghanistan, where Hamid Karzi’s cronies have been looting the country since they got into power?

I’m so glad we’ve decided to spend trillions on our imperial wars rather than funding teachers and roads. The money is going to such a good cause, don’t you think?

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz Okay, CNN International simulcast is great. Just did a report on the scary clown ban in France. Now that is news I can use. #BanClowns
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bmaz @LegallyErin The report I just saw on CNN looked pretty awesome. Wind and waves onto roads and all kinds of good stuff.
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bmaz @LegallyErin Bundle up baybee!
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bmaz @LegallyErin Say, my tee-bee says you have some kind weather thing going on there.
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bmaz @walterwkatz @gideonstrumpet @ScottGreenfield @LilianaSegura @roomfordebate Yes, that was a nice little touch, no? Jeebus.
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bmaz RT @LegallyErin: There's something very sexy about Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal. I always date the worst guys.
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bmaz @imraansiddiqi You seemed like such a respectable chap, and now here you are talking about Kardashians. #Shame
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bmaz @cody_k I went as a Pando journalist blowing shit out of my ass about Greenwald.
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bmaz @dcbigjohn @erinscafe In or out of the furry costume?
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bmaz RT @AntheaButler: Hands up, don't shoot. RT @deray: Superhero protest. #Ferguson http://t.co/ejnhDLq7jv
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes And I ask because that was why I blew off the injunction+contemplated whether were provable damages.
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bmaz @JoshuaADouglas @rickhasen @chrislhayes Question since you are in state there, is hearing even possible before the injunction would be moot?
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