OPEC

Tapping the Oil Industry

Remember when it was outrageous that the Iranians had (allegedly) hacked Aramco? In addition to wiping hard drives (though in ways that left the computers recoverable), they also took and threatened to release documents.

In news that I earlier predicted, NSA and GCHQ have hacked OPEC, including Saudi Arabia’s OPEC Minister (though NSA managed to detask him when he came to the US).

Spiegel doesn’t provide much detail of what they’ve gotten — just a tantalizing overview, particularly given the likelihood that the speculation claim pertains to the skyrocketing prices in 2008, which (among other things) the Saudis used to get us into a new security cooperation agreement.

None of this is surprising. But as we try to fearmonger new wars based on one party hacking another, it’s probably safe to assume we got there first.

It stated that OPEC officials were trying to cast the blame for high oil prices on speculators. A look at files in the OPEC legal department revealed how the organization was preparing itself for an antitrust suit in the United States. And a review of the section reserved for the OPEC secretary general documented that the Saudis were using underhanded tactics, even within the organization. According to the NSA analysts, Riyadh had tried to keep an increase in oil production a secret for as long as possible.

Our TCA with Saudi Arabia (and the fact that we (Booz, in fact!) are now providing it with cybersecurity) may well be one reason it is no longer a top NSA target.

OPEC appears in the “National Intelligence Priorities Framework,” which the White House issues to the US intelligence community. Although the organization is still listed as an intelligence target in the April 2013 list, it is no longer a high-priority target.

Who needs to hack when you’re in charge of cybersecurity?

And guess which company has a lot of that business? Edward Snowden’s former employer, Booz.

Time to End the War in Iraq

The War Powers Resolution 6-Month Report has gotten unusual attention because it officially announces we’re at war in Yemen and Somalia (though I suspect the Administration has only finally officially announced we’re at war against al Qaeda in Yemen precisely because we’re not, just).

While everyone’s looking, let’s look more closely at this bit:

MILITARY OPERATIONS IN IRAQ

The United States completed its responsible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in December 2011, in accordance with the 2008 Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq.

Jeebus pete. Can’t we avoid propaganda like “responsible withdrawal” in even these bureaucratic communications? (Or “working closely with the Yemeni government to operationally dismantle … AQAP”?)

Nevertheless, even dripping with propagandistic language as it is, this passage seems to be official notice to Congress that the war in Iraq is over, done, kaput.

So now can we repeal the Iraq AUMF?

As you’ll recall, over six months ago, Rand Paul proposed an amendment to repeal the still-active Iraq AUMF. It failed miserably, 30-67. During the debate on it, a bunch of reasonable Democrats (and all the usual suspect unreasonable ones) stood up and blathered on about why we need an AUMF for a war that is over. If you asked now they’d probably point to the bad crowd Iraq is hanging out with in OPEC circles.

Iran and Iraq are forming a strengthening alliance inside Opec, raising concerns among moderate Arab Gulf producers like Saudi Arabia and increasing the potential for discord in the oil producers’ group.

[snip]

A particular bone of contention was a proposal by Venezuela – backed by other Opec hardliners like Iran, Iraq and Algeria – that the group should protest against the EU sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme. The move was rebuffed by Saudi Arabia and other moderates including Nigeria, Libya and Kuwait, who argued that such protests were the preserve of foreign ministers, not oil ministers.

(Yes, you read that right: Saudi Arabia is considered a “moderate” state in this context.)

Or they’d point to the series of bombings al Qaeda in Iraq has claimed credit for recently.

But the real reason they won’t repeal an AUMF for a war that has officially ended is because that AUMF expands the authority to fight terrorism beyond simply al Qaeda to whatever “terrorist” groups the President claims is in armed conflict with and poses a threat to the US. Indeed, in Mark Udall’s effort to “fix” the NDAA, he even suggested the Iraq War AUMF pertained to “covered persons” who could be detained indefinitely under that law.

I know it sounds funny, having to insist on ending a war the Administration just informed Congress is over. But it’s not over.

The Oil Weapon and the Fight for Hegemony of the Middle East

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to get OPEC to raise production has foundered on opposition, mostly from those on the other side of the fight for hegemony of the Middle East and the world, starting with Iran. The vote came down to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE against Iran, Iraq (!), Libya, Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

But as that breakout makes clear, this is as much about making things difficult for the US as anything else.

Analysts said that while there were opposing views on whether markets required more crude, the backdrop to the disagreement revolved around political tensions in the Middle East and North Africa and differences over how to respond to consumer demands.

“One factor is a diverging market view. Another is politics,” said analyst Samuel Ciszuk at IHS. “At times of heated politics/ideological debate, Saudi struggled to dominate as much as it could have given its size vis-a-vis others in OPEC.

Gulf Arab producer Qatar has given support to Libyan rebels fighting the government of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. And Saudi Arabia has angered Shi’ite Iran by using force to support the Sunni Bahraini government in suppressing a Shi’ite rebellion.

Easily OPEC’s biggest producer, Saudi Arabia normally gets its way.

But this time those in OPEC politically opposed to the United States — led by Iran and Venezuela — found enough support to block Riyadh.

“Saudi is the cartel member most interested in earning political points’ with consuming countries, and maintaining its image as a reliable supplier of last resort,” said Katherine Spector at CIBC World Markets.

“Venezuela and Iran likely feel they have less to gain politically by increasing quotas as a symbolic gesture.”

The IEA responded by begging Saudi Arabia to increase supply anyway.

“Of course what really matters is actual supply, which should move in line with seasonally rising demand, and we urge key producers to respond accordingly,” the IEA said.

It also once again made oblique reference to the only real tool it has at its disposal to battle high prices — the 1.5 billion barrels of government held oil inventories that it coordinates on behalf of its 28 members, a reserve meant to be used only in the event of an emergency outage.

“The IEA stands ready to work with its member governments and others to help ensure that markets are well supplied,” the agency said in an email.

And Ed Markey was the first member of what will surely be many members of Congress advocating to tap the Strategic Reserve.

“OPEC, led by Iran and Venezuela, has snubbed its nose at the United States and the rest of the Western nations addicted to OPEC oil,” said Markey, the top member of the minority party on the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives, said in a release.

“This is a clear sign that America must engage in a long-term plan to break our ties to this OPEC-controlled market, and prepare to deploy America’s oil reserves now to head off an economic collapse from continued high gas(oline) prices.”

Well, if there was any doubts Congress would find the Libyan war legal yesterday, those doubts will be dispersed today. And fracking? Expect more of it in your local drinking water.

Breaking: Persians Still Better at Chess than Americans

Is it any surprise that Iran chose this moment to ditch the dollar?

Iran, the second-biggest producer of crude oil in the Middle East, has “completely halted” all oil transactions in dollars, the state-run ISNA news agency said, citing Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari.

No, I don’t think so. After all, the release of the NIE this week will make it very difficult for the US to respond with full-scale war–as some believe the US did when Iraq moved away from the dollar. The Administration has been telling us for weeks now that Iraq is all peachy keen, which will make it hard to claim that Iran is destabilizing Iraq. And now the Administration has just said Iran has no active program to develop nukes–the other convenient excuse to start a war. Moreover, by pushing Europe to strong-arm Iran, all the while hoarding the information that Iran didn’t have the nuke program we claimed they did, has really pissed off our European allies.

And, at the same time, Iran has picked a moment that may have maximum effect on OPEC as a whole.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has set up a team to study pricing oil in another currency, the INSA cited Nozari as saying. The measure is designed to prevent further losses in revenue to oil exporters, ISNA reported.

The group’s findings will be announced at the next OPEC meeting, Nozari said, according to ISNA.

IANAE, but it seems that each time an oil producer moves away from the dollar, it’s going to be more and more tempting for others to follow. So by moving while the issue is under consideration, it may pressure those on OPEC (our Saudi bankers) who want to help the US out.

Two weeks ago, the Annapolis Conference looked like an opportunity for the US, the Saudis, and the Israelis to forge some kind of agreement that might counter Iranian power. But things haven’t gone so well for them in the interim two weeks.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @runtodaylight Doubt it will go criminal, too many complications.But I do have a client who is a Dr. there from a previous matter.
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bmaz @FalguniSheth @adamsteinbaugh @emptywheel No calves. I have my cows all grazing on Uncle Sam's land up in Nevada. Beer smooth.
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bmaz @adamsteinbaugh @emptywheel @FalguniSheth Never had Founder's beer before. Pale ale is killer.
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bmaz .@emptywheel @FalguniSheth My Founder's beer from our patio bar seat tonight: http://t.co/T9gB3HT7iB
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bmaz @steve_vladeck @ACLU_NCA Yeah, and neither will the FISC and other courts apparently.
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bmaz In the not even close to news dept, breaking or otherwise, The Blue Angels are a bunch of rowdy fighter jocks http://t.co/17tfetOJAh
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bmaz @gideonstrumpet @nancyleong @ntswanson Is that a hospital in CT is it?
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bmaz RT @erinscafe: If you come to the premiere of Follow Friday the Film Friday at 5:45 pm, you can meet @LynsieLee, my fav stripper. http://t.…
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bmaz @yvonnewingett @barrettmarson @JimSmall Hey, I think I made that point already!
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bmaz I'd love to convict this Blackwater fuckstic; but the Stated Dept tanked the case w/Garrity statements at the get go http://t.co/d1zH3nNR2k
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bmaz @barrettmarson @JimSmall "Innocent"??
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bmaz @APribetic @gideonstrumpet @ScottGreenfield @kashhill @adamsteinbaugh My media strategy is "don't talk to the media". Nothing good happens.
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