Steven Chu

Mohammed bin Nayef’s Remarkable Prescience about Obama’s Second Term Cabinet

Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu just resigned.

Which got me thinking about my latest obsession: the Technical Cooperation Agreement beween Saudi Arabia and the US, under which (as far as the agreement admits publicly) the US helps the Saudis protect their critical infrastructure (read, oil fields) and borders. While the TCA is managed by State, it includes significant involvement on the part of DOD — particularly CentCom, DOE (because in Saudi Arabia infrastructure is energy), and Treasury (which handles the magic bank account at its core). In addition, a new focus on cybersecurity (presumably a response to the recent Aramco hack) gives DHS and NSA an increasing role.

So check out the list of people MbN met with while he was in DC from January 14 to 16, in significant part to “renew” the TCA (four months before the old one expired).

Prince Mohammad also met with a number of senior U.S. officials throughout his visit, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Robert Clapper, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller, and Director of the National Security Agency General Keith B. Alexander.

Remarkably, MbN didn’t waste his time with any outgoing cabinet member — not TurboTax Timmeh, not Chu, not Panetta — except for Hillary, with whom he was signing this agreement. While TurboTax Timmeh and Panetta’s departure was known, Chu’s was only rumored.

John Brennan is moving, sure, but I suspect his move won’t change his interactions with MbN — who has been a key stovepipe for Brennan — one whit.
The most interesting person MbN managed to not waste his time with on the visit, apparently, was General James Mattis, who was about to be, but had not yet been, ousted several months early the week MbN was in town.

I’m not suggesting this is all that meaningful, mind you. I just find it notable that MbN seemed to have a better sense of what was going on with Obama’s top national security leadership than most of the journalists in DC.

Another Breach of Contractor-Protected Critical Infrastructure

In my never-ending campaign to document all the ways the private sector is a bigger risk to our critical infrastructure than terrorists, hackers, political activists, or average citizens, take a look at the job Raytheon’s $100 million security system for JFK Airport has done.

Daniel Casillo, 31, was able to swim up to and enter the airport grounds on Friday night, past an intricate system of motion sensors and closed-circuit cameras designed to to safeguard against terrorists, authorities said.

[snip]

“We have called for an expedited review of the incident and a complete investigation to determine how Raytheon’s perimeter intrusion detection system-which exceeds federal requirements-could be improved. Our goal is to keep the region’s airports safe and secure at all times,” the Port Authority said in a statement.

This comes just weeks after an 82 year old peace activist was able to breach the security provided by failed Olympic security contractor G4S. In response to that failure, POGO is calling out Energy Secretary Steven Chu for his history of outsourcing to poorly-overseen contractors.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement provided to the Knoxville News Sentinel on Monday: “The department has no tolerance for security breaches at any of our sites, and I am committed to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable.” But there is no denying that Y-12 [the actual part of Oak Ridge breached] was a giant failure of federal oversight. Now the people being axed are lower-level employees rather than those who have allowed the security standards to fall far below acceptable levels, such as Secretary Chu, himself.

Secretary Chu should be the first on the chopping block. He has been preaching for years that government overseers should get off the back of the contractors and everything will be fine. Then, of course, he is shocked when Y-12 is successfully attacked by an 82-year-old nun.

After only one year in the position, Secretary Chu’s deputy secretary, Daniel B Poneman, sent a memorandum (PDF) to the department with a safety and security reform plan aimed at curtailing pesky government oversight. “Contractors are provided the flexibility to tailor and implement safety programs in light of their situation without excessive Federal oversight or overly prescriptive Departmental requirements,” the memo said.

It should be clear by now that the current culture at DOE and its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is to take their orders from contractors and provide little or no oversight. Continue reading

Our Industrial Policy Needs to Do More than Arm Dictators

Spencer has a useful catalog of all the war toys Egypt buys with our military aid.

Whatever Egypt’s military does next, chances are they’ll do it with American weapons.Al-Jazeera showed M1A1 Abrams tanks carrying Egyptian soldiers through Cairo in what its correspondents called “a show of force.” Those iconic American tanks have been co-produced in Egypt since 1988; the Egyptians have about 1000 of them. As was endlessly re-tweeted, canisters containing tear gas that the police used on protesters — before the hated police melted away over the weekend — had “Made in America” stamped on them. (Our colleagues at Ars Technica take a look at what’s inside the Pennsylvania-manufactured tear gas.)

On Sunday, fighter jets flew low over a Cairo crowd, turning on their afterburners to deafen their audience. Most likely they were part of Egypt’s fleet of 220 F-16s.

Most of the $1.3 billion that the U.S. annually provides to Egypt in military aid goes for weaponry to defend Egypt against foreign assault, like Patriot air-defense missiles, Multiple Launch Rocket System rocket pods and TOW anti-armor missiles. That’s not particularly relevant for crowd control against protesters.

He’s right: the spectacular images of the Egyptian military showing its presence amid protesters serves to highlight the war toys at the heart of our influence with the Egyptian military, and therefore at the heart of our relationship with Egypt. No more spectacular, of course, than the video from al Jazeera, above, showing US-made F-16s buzzing thousands of protesters in Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Meanwhile, in far less spectacular news, today Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will quietly be rolling out the White House’s effort to “Startup America,” which is either an effort to focus an investment on jobs or a cynical election year stunt.

The contrast, though, is instructive.

We have long publicly forsworn anything that resembles an industrial policy here in the US. But we actually do have an industrial policy; it’s called the Military Industrial Complex (recently enhanced with the Intelligence Industrial Complex). While we refuse, as a country, to invest in technologies and jobs in manufacturing peaceful goods, an enthusiasm for investing unlimited amounts in military technology (the jobs are a critical side benefit) is almost a requirement among our elected leaders.

Not only do those toys provide desperately needed jobs around the country. Not only do these toys allow us to extend our empire around the world. But just as critically, they serve a critical role in maintaining our hegemony. We give millions and (in the case of Egypt) billions in aid to friendly leaders, and they turn around and spend it on our war toys. Many of these friendly leaders are dictators that use the toys as a veiled threat and occasionally a blunt instrument to sustain their own power.

Which leads to uncomfortable moments like these, where a dictator’s last gasp consists of unleashing American war toys against his own people.

While the juxtaposition of those F-16s buzzing the brave protesters with this latest attempt to try to solve the jobs crisis in the US is just an odd coincidence, it needs to be instructive as the Administration tries to “Startup America.” Not only do we need a more proactive jobs policy, an investment in goods that someone besides friendly dictators will want to buy. But if we don’t do that–if we don’t find something to make that won’t inevitably end up playing a starring role in a dictator’s brutality–then we’re going to have a lot more problems down the road.

Obama may really believe that we will “Win the Future” by out-innovating, out-building, and out-educating our competitors. Good. Because it’s increasingly clear the way to “Win the Future” is not by brutalizing other countries’ mobs.

Nixon The Obama Campaign Goes to China

One of the most telling anecdotes in this must-read Edward Luce skewer of the way a small circle of Obama advisors (Rahm, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, and Robert Gibbs) dominates his Administration is this story about his trip to China.

On Mr Obama’s November trip to China, members of the cabinet such as the Nobel prizewinning Stephen Chu, energy secretary, were left cooling their heels while Mr Gibbs, Mr Axelrod and Ms Jarrett were constantly at the president’s side.

The White House complained bitterly about what it saw as unfairly negative media coverage of a trip dubbed Mr Obama’s “G2” visit to China. But, as journalists were keenly aware, none of Mr Obama’s inner circle had any background in China. “We were about 40 vans down in the motorcade and got barely any time with the president,” says a senior official with extensive knowledge of the region. “It was like the Obama campaign was visiting China.”

Coming as it does in an article that compares Obama’s Administration to Nixon’s…

And barring Richard Nixon’s White House, few can think of an administration that has been so dominated by such a small inner circle.

The story really highlights the dangers of such a close-knit group dominating Administration policy: on a visit to China, our relationship with which is one of the most challenging policy issues we face, we’ve got tourists dominating the policy, not experts.

As much as I’m thrilled the story repeats calls to replace Rahm, I think the real story is the suggestion that Obama’s cabinet members are growing tired of being treated as “minions” by Rahm. The story names four by name: Kathleen Sebelius, Ken Salazar, Janet Napolitano, and (above) Steven Chu.

Perhaps the biggest losers are the cabinet members. Kathleen Sebelius, Mr Obama’s health secretary and formerly governor of Kansas, almost never appears on television and has been largely excluded both from devising and selling the healthcare bill. Others such as Ken Salazar, the interior secretary who is a former senator for Colorado, and Janet Napolitano, head of the Department for Homeland Security and former governor of Arizona, have virtually disappeared from view.

Administration insiders say the famously irascible Mr Emanuel treats cabinet principals like minions. “I am not sure the president realises how much he is humiliating some of the big figures he spent so much trouble recruiting into his cabinet,” says the head of a presidential advisory board who visits the Oval Office frequently.

With the suggestion that Sebelius, for example, has been “excluded both from devising and selling the healthcare bill,” are we to understand that all of these cabinet officials are not intimately involved in setting policy? We’ve got Steven Chu, one of the best cabinet picks in the Administration, cooling his heels rather than the climate? And what are Sebelius, Salazar, and Napolitano advising that is not being heard? Is Sebelius growing tired of Rahm fucking up what should be her portfolio (after which, as happened last week, she has to go to Congress and get grilled on it)?

And then, of course, there’s an even more notable cabinet member that goes unmentioned: Hillary Clinton. She showed up prominently in the pictures from China, but she is not mentioned in this story as either one of those (like Joe Biden) who regularly gives Obama counsel but is not part of this inner circle, or one of those prominent cabinet members that Rahm treats like a minion. But the story does note how Arab-Israeli peace took a back seat to Rahm’s failed attempt to pass health care reform. Whether or not Hillary (or, more likely, her inner circle; John Podesta is one of the few named sources for it) is a source for this article, I can imagine how seeing a failed attempt to pass healthcare stall attempts to bring peace to Palestine would rankle Secretary Clinton.

So, yes, this is another story pointing to growing dissatisfaction with Rahm from allies both inside and outside the Administration. But note clearly, it appears to be very high level dissastisfaction.

James Jones on the NSC Under Obama

A number of you have been talking in threads about this WaPo article describing the NSC’s "expanded" power.

President Obama plans to order a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Council, expanding its membership and increasing its authority to set strategy across a wide spectrum of international and domestic issues.

The result will be a "dramatically different" NSC from that of the Bush administration or any of its predecessors since the forum was established after World War II to advise the president on diplomatic and military matters, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, who described the changes in an interview. "The world that we live in has changed so dramatically in this decade that organizations that were created to meet a certain set of criteria no longer are terribly useful," he said.

[snip]

The new structure, to be outlined in a presidential directive and a detailed implementation document by Jones, will expand the NSC’s reach far beyond the range of traditional foreign policy issues and turn it into a much more elastic body, with Cabinet and departmental seats at the table — historically occupied only by the secretaries of defense and state — determined on an issue-by-issue basis. Jones said the directive will probably be completed this week. 

I actually think this is a good thing–indication that Obama will not view national defense to be exclusively a military thing. How much better off will we be, for example, if Steven Chu is at the table with Bob Gates and James Jones and Hillary Clinton when they’re discussing energy issues and climate change? I’d like to have the Nobel Prize winning scientist participating, thank you, and this reorganization appears designed to do just that. 

Today, Jones described some of these changes in a speech at the Munich Conference on Security Policy (via email). Here are the bits addressing changes to the NSC:

I would like to take just a moment to speak to you about his approach to national security and in fact international security and the role that I see the National Security Council playing. First and foremost the President’s strategic approach will be grounded in the real understanding of the challenges we face in the 21st century. We must simply better understand the environment that we are in. The President, if nothing else, is a pragmatist. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel Or better yet, @SenCarlLevin should have Hagel testify abt force-feeding before both depart.
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emptywheel .@SenFeinstein should make Hagel testify abt force-feeding b4 leaving, since he's responsible for Dhiab being there http://t.co/KooDSQrb4Z
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emptywheel RT @astepanovich: US not among sponsors of UN resolution on safety of journalists http://t.co/lpb9PnBd7T
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emptywheel Actually sort of sympathetic w/Schumer's comments abt ACA. Except it's HIS donors on Wall Street who're responsible for economic malaise
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emptywheel RT @csmcdaniel: Dorian Johnson on what he and Mike Brown discussed on the way to the store: https://t.co/OlE5SNhCGQ http://t.co/ZIqikEbnZC
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emptywheel RT @SiCarswell: Galway man to introduce Obama shortly at Chicago immigration rally http://t.co/EpvT0vpg8G via @IrishTimes http://t.co/fgWHv
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emptywheel @Popehat Which in reality means a danger to the counterinsurgency cause if you're talking with targets you get in the way of the shooting.
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emptywheel @Popehat Got same treatment Anthro PhDs they sent to Afghanistan to try to actually learn who we're killing: deemed a danger to themselves
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emptywheel I think I just saw 10 top Neocons cast their 2016 presidential vote for Hillary. Doesn't she have to collect signatures first?
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emptywheel @Popehat Don't forget counterproductive escalation! Perfect expertise!
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emptywheel RT @Popehat: Reuters: Obama to nominate Jay Nixon as Secretary of Defense, citing governor's background in counterinsurgency, rapid reactio…
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emptywheel Shorter Michelle Flournoy to Obama: I don't want to be in charge of losing your wars. http://t.co/QcffRcLvBp
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