[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Something Smells — and It’s Not Burning Oil

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Others have offered more trenchant responses after Trump’s tweets as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham’s warmongering, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s drivel about the apparent attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing facility this weekend. Let me offer my two cents about the attack.

This is an early assessment of what happened by a Bloomberg correspondent:

Do open the tweet to look at both images in it; this is the one on the right in the tweet.

Here’s a another image of a portion of the damage from a Bloomberg article (click to expand):

Note carefully this color image as it appears on Bloomberg’s site is an expanded, rotated view of the damage shown in the black-and-white marked up photo on the left in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. The pond at the right hand of the area under smoke is the point of reference.

Now note the detail from the color satellite photo. The color image is attributed to Planet Labs, Inc. at the Bloomberg article while the black-and-white ones are attributed to Digital Globe. The detail is pretty good but not as good as the image taken of the Iranian launch site explosion Trump tweeted on August 30.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not an expert on missiles, munitions, explosions, or oil processing systems. But something about these images doesn’t make sense to me. They don’t look like what I’d expect from missile damage targeting oil facilities.

Below is an image of a BP refinery explosion in Texas from 2005; the cause was blamed on exposure of flammable vapors to a spark from a running motor.

No missile involved. No drone dropping an explosive, either. Some leak and a spark and *FWOOM* (love the technical term).

Granted, the satellite imagery didn’t catch the Abqaiq facility immediately after the explosion when there would have been more flames. But the damage afterward doesn’t look as extensive as the BP refinery explosion.

Note the size of the holes in the rounded tanks in the second black-and-white satellite image to the right in the Bloomberg correspondent’s tweet. Awfully small, more like something used on an automobile-sized target, in my uninformed opinion.

Now note the shadows in the images. These were taken before solar noon over the location; shadows appear on the north-northwest side of any object with adequate profile above ground.

What ever hit the tank-like features came from the northwest and not from the east.

Iran is to the northeast of Saudi Arabia across the gulf.

One more wrinkle — check this map from the Indian Defence Review circa February 2015, analyzing Saudi Arabia’s defenses.

The Abqaiq oil processing facility is located between Riyadh and Dammam.

How would 17 separate missiles or drones from either Iran or Yemen get by the defense network to hit the facility from the northwest?

Pompeo has now said the attack didn’t come from Iraq’s direction.

A whole cascade of questions arises from there on out if you think about it. For grins use Twitter’s search tool and look for “abqaiq.” If you scroll through you’ll see many people are noting similar issues and posing similar questions.

Recommended additional reading: Connecticut’s Sen. Chris Murphy tweeted a thread last night related to the other culture issues involved in the regional tensions. It’s worth your time.

Treat this as an open thread.

133 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    This map from Strafor is pretty good, shows the range of drones.

    Found it in this thread which is also pretty good.

  2. P J Evans says:

    Agree: not enough damage for the missiles being claimed. Fires/explosions are actually fairly common at refineries, or so I was told by a friend who grew up in Wilmington, CA, near several of them. (In fact, they were so common that when she first hear the rocket-engine testing at the now-closed Santa Susana facility, she though it was a refinery going off.)

    I wonder if the more remote damage at this site was caused by flying pieces of refinery hardware.

  3. Bruce McDonald says:

    If it’s for real, the Saudis should be asking for a major rebate on their Patriot Missile defense system. I’m no expert but nothing about this feels right. With Bolton out of the picture, would MBS fake such an attack to get Trump on board w/a strike (or worse) on Iran? I think he would.

  4. NorskieFlamethrower says:

    Wow, the Dumpster’s divers are trying their very best to party like it’s 2001. This time though I don’t think they’re gunna be able to get away with it. Any congress critter or Senator who is up for re-election who supports a Saudi/American response to this thing will be out of a job quicker than the Dumpster can say “you’re fired”. That’s if there is an election in 2020 of course. Keep the faith all they’ve got is our money.

  5. Vince says:


    Houthi rebels have released a video they say shows THEIR drones taking off to attack Saudi oil facilities. That throws a monkey-wrench in the so-called “evidence” Pompeo and Racist Donnie claim to have against Iran.

  6. Thebuzzardman says:

    So, no expert, but I recall at least 35 years ago, my cousin was an AWACS air force tech stationed in Saudi Arabia and he talked about how he did maintenance on the Saudi owned AWACS as well. In any event, I also recall the US of A selling AWACS to Saudi Arabia was kind of a big deal at the time, for their ability, back then, to be able see most everything in the sky. Um, I’d have to assume the technology is a tip better now. :-)

    So why didn’t these very expensive, very capable aircraft, who’s whole job is about detecting and warning stuff in the air, fail to detect and warn?


  7. Raven Eye says:

    What kind of drone are they talking about? Military grade UAVs like Global Hawk (or a little smaller) that are capable of long range remote operation? Or smaller short range models (of the thermite grenade variety likely used against Ukrainian weapons depots) that might be similar to FPV drones?

    The small holes in the tanks seem more kinetic or shaped charge in nature. Strictly kinetic would likely require a larger launch platform, but which could support final targeting using satellite navigation and live imagery. Anti-tank rockets could be a possibility. Accurate delivery of a thermite grenade by a smaller drone would be dodgy using GPS/GLONASS alone.

    • P J Evans says:

      Something like very small cruise missiles, I gather, possibly based on Iranian or NK designs, maybe sourced from them. But that’s assuming they’re Houthi.
      It’s possible most of the parts are imported, and the rest is locally sourced and assembled.

    • Rayne says:

      The map in my first comment from Stratfor says the Houthi have two drones they use most often — UAV-X (long distance) and QASEF-1 (short distance).

      *IF* it was the Houthi who attacked and they used a UAV-X, they could drop small missiles like those used to “intercept” vehicles. I haven’t done my research yet but I think these are a bit smaller than a Global Hawk.

      I also haven’t seen mention of the exact time of the attack; I think it was after midnight/before dawn. Makes me wonder if they had inside help because how did the targets get selected so accurately? They didn’t hit pavement, they hit those dome-like structures. We don’t know if they were aiming for something specific inside the structures; each of the domes were hit in the same spot.

      Which is another reason why this all smelled funky to me.

      • Raven Eye says:

        Thanks all for the UAV clarification. Funky smell is likely an understatement. The BBC images are pretty easy to view…


        …and the way those hits on the spheres line up shows some impressive marksmanship. The kind you develop through serious time practicing — and time is money and man-hours. Spheroids usually indicate pressure vessels, so the steel is thicker and of good quality. Spheroid shapes also represent a challenge because off-center strikes are more likely to deflect.

        I can understand an administration that doesn’t want to show too many cards in the interest of security. But with this one you wouldn’t be surprised to find a pile of blank cards and a desk mug full of Sharpies.

        • P J Evans says:

          Inside cooperation, or even entirely an inside job, if it’s a dog-wagging plan to get us to attack Iran. (I’ve seen elsewhere that all the damage is from the side away from Iran, which would indicate Not Their Doing.)

    • Yogarhythms says:

      OT, maybe offensive,
      Thank you for the thread. Trump says locked and loaded. Could be bumpy ride, anyone with vestibular balance issues may want to exit off of this ride sooner rather than later. microscopic examination of KSA tissue supports cancer diagnosis but the bombardment of tumors/spheres may have harmed functioning processes complicating identification. One surgeon is locked and loaded waiting for word from childlike surgeon MBS. Prognosis of commodities futures = poorly differentiation of spheroid tissues; future unknown. Contract workers needed.

  8. orionATL says:

    and the reference in a tweet to armor-piercing rather than explosive shells/missiles which should have caused fires.

    who pays for this weaponry and who sees it is transported it to the houthi are always questions that need answering, as in, e.g., north africa.

  9. clairence says:

    Since this is also an open thread, I will ask (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) if it might have been satellite lasers.

  10. mrtmbrnmn says:

    Considering the repulsive Saudis are born thieves, liars and murderers, I wouldn’t believe anything they said about ANYTHING at first blush.
    Whoever or whatever blew up their main refinery, it should have happened the day after their bought and paid for 9/11 attack. The pathetic excuse for a country should have been invaded and their make-believe “Royal Family” (all 50,000 of them!) should have been dragged off their golden toilet seats and Najibullahed in the main square of Riyadh. For nearly 20 years, we have been bombing, killing and displacing the wrong people and laying waste the wrong countries. “Hypmotized” by the Saudis and the Israelis for 2 decades now, it’s about time we awoke from this terrible trance.

  11. Dan Porter says:

    It’s as though the Crown Prince ordered sabotage at one of their own sites and the Trump administration knew in advance.

    Putin thinks Hillary did it.

  12. orionATL says:

    try drones based in shia territory in iraq on for size:

    “…It gets worse. Reports from Kuwait say the drones that hit the Saudi oil installations at the weekend overflew the country, suggesting they came from Shia militia bases in Iraq. In this developing regional war, Israel and the Saudis are, in effect, on the same side. Iraq’s government wants no part of it. But, thanks to the vacuum left by the US after the 2003-11 occupation, Tehran wields considerable influence in Baghdad….”


    trump could have left Iran alone, but no he had to go bumbling around in the middle east just as he did with international trade.

    this is what happens when you have a president who smokes in the powder magazine.

  13. AitchD says:

    Who or what aside for a moment, the U.S., beginning with FDR’s partnership with King Saud, there followed the Truman Doctrine, reiterated with the Carter Doctrine. An attack over there is an attack on the United States.

    I think we still import most of our oil from Canada and Mexico, though at market prices.

  14. OldTulsaDude says:

    The great tragedy of this regime is that nothing that comes from the White House, the State Department, or from the Saudis can be trusted as reliable by the American people.

  15. Lebowski says:

    Hi Rayne, first time poster here. I’m a former contractor for Aramco, both in Dhahran and Abqaiq. The notion that the attack had inside cooperation is not all that far-fetched. Not in the dog-wagging sense – the upcoming IPO of Aramco is too important to the kingdom for any kind of self-inflicted shenanigans.

    But consider that the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where most of the oil production occurs, has a large (often brutally oppressed) Shiite population. The Shias have close religious ties to Iran, and Iran has been an instigator of trouble in the province for decades. The Qatif uprisings, the Khobar Towers bombing, internal Shia protests and subsequent suppressions are all part of that. Many Shias hate and deplore the Saudi royals and the savagery of their police and National Guard.

    So, they align themselves ideologically with thought leaders from Iran, Hezbullah, and the Houthis. They’re basically desperate for outside support, and their religious affinities are more important to them than their allegiance to country. Exploiting that anger wouldn’t be hard.

    Maybe “painting” laser-based target signatures on nearby oil infrastructure would not be that hard for local collaborationists. And if that’s the case, it really doesn’t matter where the attack originated – Yemen, Iran, Iraq – the internal divisions in the KSA are very much worth looking into as a Shia vs Saudi royal family matter.

    Of course, on the other hand, I’m just an old fool who’s spent too much time in the middle eastern sand.

    Ps the Abqaiq facility is notoriously vulnerable to attack. A few low-level al Qaeda car bombers almost did a big number there in 2006.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks very much for your insight. I’d added Sen. Murphy’s thread in my post because there are so many layers Americans don’t understand. You’ve peeled back a couple more layers in your comment.

      It seems obvious to me that the US has been caught up in a very old — near ancient — dispute between religious sects. And we’re completely clueless that so much of our time and resources have been allocated to this; our leader’s Muslim travel ban has merely been a part of this ongoing conflict.

      Welcome to emptywheel. Thanks again.

      • P J Evans says:

        I suspect few of the GOP-T in Congress – and a lot of the Democrats, really – don’t have a clue about Sunni/Shia/other Muslim differences. That they’re as deep and even older than Orthodox/RC/Protestant (mainline)/Protestant (fundy) completely escapes a lot of people.

        • Eureka says:

          That type of dominant-white-American (et al.) cultural essentialism as to the ‘other’ is pretty common.

          Jonathan Marks makes great examples of how we also homogenize diverse “Africans” yet have all sorts of differentiating names for European groups (including pejoratives; i.e. even the racism is “meta”).

        • P J Evans says:

          I guess I’m unusual in that I see the differences (at least part of the time). Niece’s partner from Ethiopia, cousin married to a young man from Gambia, worked with Nigerians, went to college with a guy from Egypt…

    • Eureka says:

      Thanks for the comment including the note about the upcoming Aramco IPO. Fraught history there apparently:

      Some changes through time per search quote snippets:

      Saudi Aramco IPO: Why it might slip into 2019
      Mar 12, 2018 · Upgrading Saudi Arabia’s stock market. Saudi Aramco’s first listing will be on the kingdom’s own stock exchange, the Tadawul, in Riyadh. But before proceeding with the IPO, Al Falih said the kingdom was waiting for the Tadawul to be granted emerging market status by MSCI. The index compiler is not due to carry out its next review until June.

      Saudi Aramco’s $2 Trillion Zombie IPO – Bloomberg
      Jul 07, 2018 · Aramco has yet to announce a permanent replacement for al-Saadan; another executive is working in an acting capacity as CFO. Motassim al-Maashouq, another key executive on the IPO project, has …

      Remember That Aramco IPO? Prince Mohammed Does.
      Jun 17, 2019 · An Aramco IPO may very well happen, but it may not happen until the prince, the government or the PIF needs cash again. Another note: last week, news came that SABIC is embarking on a partnership …

      Saudi Aramco IPO: Here are Three Burning Questions – Bloomberg
      Aug 09, 2019 · Aramco is restarting the IPO process, and is in talks with banks over it, although shares of the company may not hit markets until 2021.

      • Lebowski says:

        I believe the Aramco IPO is a big factor in middle eastern politics. The eventual publicly traded company will have the largest market cap by far of any company on the planet. Let that sink in. The last thing the Saudis would want to do is allow damage to the Abqaiq asset, one of their crown jewels. People may disagree, but I think this has Iranian fingerprints all over it. Shot across the bow and all that. Scary times…

        • Eureka says:

          To expand your comment, I can see it being a big factor in global financial markets, besides ME politics. For that reason– plus just a superficial glance at some of the history re this IPO, including the Dubai meetings last week just before the attack– I can reason out a broader list of potential culprits or by-proxies (were tampering with, or once-again-resetting, this deal the motivation).

          The valuation was already in dispute– still so last week as far as I can tell– with oil price being one key.

          As to insuring against future risk and the valuation issue (for purposes of the IPO), well…that puts Trump’s eager “locked and loaded” tweets in a different, perhaps clearer, light.

          I’ve seen hardly any of the lite-politics (cable news type) coverage, and what little I have seen has not integrated the (recent) goings-on with this IPO and e.g. Trump’s ready-to-help behavior (which may have more to do with keeping this IPO on schedule). The impending IPO (and its importance to the House of Saud, and beyond) I think more directly answers the Q of why Trump is so interested to rescue, and quickly; as his eagerness may be to protect the deal, not jump to war with Iran, that may explain Trump’s other, more ambiguous (well, 180-and-back-round-again), statements.

          I’m glad you commented.

          Also note that I am not arguing that this wasn’t an act of the Houthi/ Iran/ Shia-allied actors. However, there are other geopolitical players who might be incentivized to “meddle” or make a house call here (even from inside), especially given predictably cascading events.

        • Eureka says:

          Recent coverage excerpts (worth reading in whole):

          Aramco Said to Stick to IPO as Strikes Put Pressure on Valuation

          For financiers hired to get the deal done, the real difficulty in finding buyers to pay top dollar in the world’s biggest initial public offering will emerge only if there are follow-up bombardments, the people say. Those would heighten the risks that bankers say are just a cost of doing business in the region and that some analysts say are being ignored for the sake of completing this trophy transaction.

          For now, the energy giant aims to hold analyst presentations as planned and hasn’t signaled any delay to executives in a listing envisioned on the Saudi stock exchange as early as November, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is sensitive. Aramco was considering holding presentations the week of Sept. 22, Bloomberg News previously reported.

          Dozens of bankers from Citigroup Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. descended on the heart of Dubai’s financial district on Thursday for the kickoff meeting at the opulent Ritz Carlton hotel. Representatives from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and finance ministry were also spotted at the five-star property.

          Aramco picked Bank of America Corp., Citigroup, Credit Suisse Group AG, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley for top underwriting roles on the deal along with some Middle Eastern banks, Bloomberg News reported last week. Lazard Ltd. and Moelis are also advising Aramco, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

          The on-again-off-again plans for an Aramco listing had been put on hold as the firm focused on a $69 billion deal for a majority stake in petrochemical maker Saudi Basic Industries Corp. When the preparations were revived this year, many of the banks that won roles initially had to start over, leading some to wonder whether it was worth the effort.
          (internal link removed)

          New security fears jeopardize Saudi Aramco’s IPO following attack

          Reuters reported last week that the kingdom plans to list 1% of Aramco on its local stock exchange before the end of this year and another 1% in 2020, as first steps ahead of a public sale of roughly 5% of the company.

          The oil giant has delayed its IPO, originally scheduled for 2018, reportedly over Saudi concerns about public scrutiny of its finances and because of the complexity of its corporate structure. Crown Prince Mohammed has touted a valuation of as high as $2 trillion, while a number of bankers recommend a figure closer to $1.5 trillion. The oil price will be key to this.

        • Rayne says:

          This IPO has been years in the making; not certain why KSA needs its own exchange in order to launch the IPO. Certainly no corporation does. KSA hasn’t needed an exchange to run its sovereign wealth fund — just a bank-like state institution.

          By now KSA has had enough time to create an auditable Aramco entity; if public scrutiny is a barrier, it may not be the business’s finances which are problematic but the inherent business proposition. What happens to this IPO if the world rapidly migrates away from oil?

          (p.s. I see you nipped that excerpt at 293 words. LOL)

        • Eureka says:

          Yeah, there are many square peg/round hole/shove hard aspects to that whole thing.

          (LOL you didn’t sign up for my Personal Training Services for your scrolling finger?

          Seriously tho, it was just a late-nite pasting accident, noticed (with mild panic) too late to do anything about it. _Then_ counted and saw it squeaked by.)

        • Lebowski says:

          The proven oil reserves have a long and profitable run ahead of them, if the Saudi’s can convert. I think what’s uncertain – and what makes this attack so problematic for Aramco, and the royals – is that their facilities now appear so much more vulnerable, and there’s nothing worse going into an IPO than nervous investors who lack insight into what’s really going on in the field. Whoever is behind this attack – and certainly Iran is a player if not the button-pusher – knows the Saudi’s military weaknesses and economic pain points very well.

          How did the drones and / or cruise missiles make it past Saudi defenses? That is an interesting question. As I posted upstream, having inside assets at the Abqaiq facility itself is not so far fetched. Saudi Arabia is a kingdom with many internal hatreds ready to explode.

        • Vince says:

          “How did the drones and / or cruise missiles make it past Saudi defenses?”

          German TV (DW) is reporting that the drones flew very close to the ground. Then, as you mentioned upthread, someone near the installation could have electronically ‘painted’ those domes.

        • Americana says:

          How quickly do you think this situation would roll back if Trump threw out the Iranian sanctions on oil sales? Trump doesn’t seem to wish to acknowledge his saber rattling might have contributed to any of these latest aggressions.

          Most recent story I read Trump was thinking of increasing Iranian sanctions even more… But as far as I can tell this attack is part of the continuing escalation of aggressions by Iran of a series of planned demonstrations of resolve in the face of ever more adamant U.S. anti-Iran actions.

        • bmaz says:

          Yeah, sure, how dare those Iranians plead to not have their children starved to death by Trump and Israel when the JCPOA they were in complete compliance with was trashed by Trump and the United States? How could they possibly object?? Americana, you are mostly a troll at this point.

          Since you are such a Kreskin, maybe you can tell us what was in the mind of Javad Zarif. Assuming you even know who he is.

  16. Eureka says:

    I can’t even (read the headline and vomit; but then see the replies where the sharp American snark-wit lives on):

    Noah Shachtman: “Team Trump compares Saudi attack to 9/11 [links DB below]”

    Team Trump: Saudis See This Attack as Their 9/11

    Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran, made the 9/11 [sic] during a telephone briefing on Capitol Hill about the administration’s latest thinking on the attack. Hook communicated the reaction from Riyadh and said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would be headed to the country soon. Several individuals on the call said Hook’s update was thin, but said the administration had made available to lawmakers intelligence about the attack that they could review under a classified setting.

    CNN first tweeted that Hook told Congressional staffers that the Saudis view this as “their 9/11.”

    The 9/11 reference, made less than a week after the 18th anniversary of the attack which killed over 3,000 Americans, came despite the uncomfortable fact that 13 of the 19 hijackers who attacked the U.S. on that day were Saudi citizens. Last week, the Trump administration pledged to reveal the name of a Saudi official investigated by the FBI for a possible role in the 9/11 attacks.

    The White House did not provide comment for this story. However, a source with direct knowledge says that Trump was briefed on the situation in Saudi Arabia with an official using the same 9/11 comparison. Trump appeared “unmoved” by the analogy, the source noted.

    I’d’ve been “moved” to say some things given that analogy.

  17. Gil Moore says:

    My 2 centavos. A lot of the damage shown does not jive with the experience I had with the 1984 Romeoville refinery blast (off). Monday late afternoon explosion and I wound up there for a year and a half, starting that Wednesday, 36 hours later.

    Initial blast area was annihilated but different units where fire had been were trashed. Pickup trucks were skeletons that were mostly just frames and thick metal. Springs from car seats were gone (melted). Area smoked and steamed for many days. 2 or 3 unit operators died when the “safehouse” (concrete building meant to withstand blast fire) super heated them.

    Spheroids with punctures makes no sense to me. If they had the surgical capability to puncture four of those in a row, why not make sure they wouldn’t explode ? No warhead or explosive was used in those punctures. Even if they were empty it’s likely residual materials and vapors would have ignited with minimal accelerant from “drone”. Fixing a hole a lot easier than removing debris and rebuilding from scratch. . . Where are the firetrucks / emergency equipment surrounding the damaged units.

    Widespread use of contamination suits NOT required as only very limited areas contain nasty ass chems. Initial thoughts anyway.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for your comment. That’s exactly why I pointed to the 2005 BP refinery explosion. There are other examples — even chemical plant accidents — which show much more extensive damage one could only imagine being visible to a commercial-grade satellite. There certainly didn’t appear to be much activity on the ground in response to the attacks.

      Welcome back to emptywheel.

      • bmaz says:

        Gil Moore’s thoughts are a much more detailed take on my own reaction, which was “Hmmm, this looks strangely orderly. Why isn’t the place totally blowed up?”

        • Gil Moore says:

          bmaz wrote: Why isn’t the place totally blowed up?”

          Oil refineries are compartmentalized. Sometimes, even without the assistance of a Houthi or Iraqi drone (perhaps even a Saudi ?) these things go *FWOOM* . They are divided into units and each one is segregated by distance and mechanical controls. Each unit performs a different process in oil production “stream”.

          Distance doesn’t look like much sometimes, but they make it work. The mechanical controls are things like backflow preventers, special valves and expansion joints / tanks. Some work without any intervention, some are manually activated and others from main control room / safehouse. These (hopefully) prevent the fire going from one unit to the next.

        • bmaz says:

          Sure. But, as a kid, I lived a couple of residential blocks away from a Textron “research facility” that had numerous bunkers hidden out back. I knew about the huge mounds of dirt because I rode my dirt bike in the area behind it, but had never given it much thought.

          One night it all blew up massively. Like it put shock cracks in our brick ranch style house and lit up the sky like it was daytime for a brief period. No, it was not contained to one bunker. And anybody that made it to a “safe house” there, well, I dunno. Locally we did not know for certain. But employees there who lived locally said it was catastrophic, but highly secret. So, I am still dubious about the current issue. We shall see, or not; time will tell, or not.

          Thank you for joining us, and please do so more often. It is a good forum for intelligent discussion.

        • Gil Moore says:

          I feel I know why the fire didn’t spread, but I believe the damage shown is not the havoc / destruction of what 17 drone missiles would have created. Something’s fishy !

          The damage Raine provided via the BP fire in TX should be illustrated on each of the 17 hits in Abqaiq. Those fires would still be burning as they wouldn’t have the equipment to fight 17 of these.

          NPR was reporting that most of the damage will be fixed within a week. Sorry, don’t believe that. I also don’t think the satellite photos are post fire. Sharpie or pencil mark ups as damage shown doesn’t equal what is shown. Again where are the fire trucks ?

          P.S. I’ve commented before and lurked during the legal happenings of Mueller. This is a great forum for intelligent discussion. I’m not always able to provide it. . . Peace.

        • bmaz says:

          Something IS fishy. It may be more, or less, than any of us picture, but something is not right. The images do not generate much confidence in the point they were intended to support.

          And you are doing more than fine, I am pretty confident you can do so on any subject we discuss.

        • Rayne says:

          That’s a disconnect right there: if cruise missiles were used, why have we only seen damage in commercial satellite images so far which doesn’t match cruise missile output? It’d be worse than we’ve seen which more closely matches drone damage.

          And how are they supposed to have the damage repaired inside a freaking week? Do they have a clone of the existing plant just sitting around? As you pointed out, where are the fire trucks? How can they repair the site so quickly if they don’t even have people working in the field — firemen or others — the day after the attack?

          I’m with you, something’s still fishy.

        • bmaz says:

          Not just in the interior plaster, though there was that, but in the actual facing brick wall. Many, if not most, of the people on our street went outside wondering what in the world happened. Most in pajamas I think. It was nuts. This was not that many years after our initial “duck and cover” training in school where we were told that a plywood desk was our best option in the face of a nuclear strike. Was a spooky night.

    • P J Evans says:

      i can see spheroids not blowing up if they were completely empty – just plain air inside. Or nitrogen. Otherwise, yes, there should have been much more damage. (My friend who lived in Wilmington said that one explosion threw a tank lid – not a large one, I gather – well away from the tank, and it was there for quite a while.)

  18. Chris C says:

    Given the number of U.S. military/CIA personell in the area, couldn’t this be a DIY Gulf of Tonkin style attack?

  19. joel fisher says:

    Why should we have an increased level of concern? And what should our concern be about? Saudi Arabia? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this a country (birthplace of terrrorists) run by a degenerate savage which has been armed to the teeth by us? Iran? A state sponsor of terrorism with plenty of weapons and people? And now Trump is going to tell us we need to retaliate? At the end of the day, maybe the worst thing Trump has done: utterly destroyed any confidence the American people might have had in pronouncements in the foreign policy/national defense area. I grant you after W and Chaney there wasn’t much left, but that little is gone. If Trump thinks he’s going to “wag the dog” to a 2nd term he’s making a big mistake. I think his various handlers, direct and indirect, in Moscow, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv know this, but might be in a mood to do stuff (Iran kind of stuff) while he’s still in office. I don’t give a shit what size the holes are or the drones were in the attack on the oil refineries. I’m not buyin’ anything Trump is selling: condos, vodka, steak, wine, “no collusion”, or foreign fucking policy.

    • bmaz says:

      “At the end of the day, maybe the worst thing Trump has done: utterly destroyed any confidence the American people might have had in pronouncements in the foreign policy/national defense area. I grant you after W and Chaney there wasn’t much left, but that little is gone.”

      You will get no argument from me on the entirety of your comment. But this quoted part is especially spot on.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Masaccio and William Ockham are both taken, so if I ever learn to twtr, I’ll stick with the name I brought to the dance, thanks.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The phrase is Elizabeth Warren’s, she’s already on twitter.

          I repeated it here because it seems true, and because Ms. Warren is being pissed on by the mainstream media.

          NPR, for example – ever playing Avis to the real MSM’s Hertz – described her speech in front of more than 20,000 people in Washington Square Park last night as if it were “delivered by a history professor, but with more energy.” Committed to not taking big money donations, she spent four hours last night taking selfies and sharing pinky swears.

          NPR’s characterization is it joining the MSM to put the fix in, presumably to give SafeHands Joe to the Democrats and the election to Donald Trump. I can’t imagine why she puts the Democratic establishment and its largest donors’ panties in such a twist.

        • BobCon says:

          NPR ties itself into knots to avoid any negative characterizations of GOP figures, but then pulls stuff like this.

          We’re approaching the point where we’ll be seeing similar disparities in size and enthusiasm between Democratic campaign rallies and Trump rallies on a regular basis, but NPR et al will be straining to explain how it’s either not true, or a good thing for Trump.

  20. viget says:

    I almost wonder if this is the first overt sign of the fraying of the alliance that got Trump elected.

    Saudi Arabia and UAE are still pursuing nukes with the admin’s help. Netanyahu got his embassy. Military support is still flowing in to the middle East. Leviathan field drilling is proceeding and is going to be online soon.

    Where is Russia’s sanction relief? Deripaska, sure, but what about all the other oligarchs?

    • bmaz says:

      It is highly doubtful that the “alliance that got Trump elected” is fraying. Irrespective of how many of them know what a destructive agent Trump is, they just do not care. Some of them actively want that. The others are fine with looking the other way in service of their goals. And Trump has served both factors well, so they will maintain.

      When you say the Sauds and UAE are “pursuing nukes”, you ought be more specific. There is a difference between civil power programs and military weaponization. And this kind of sloppiness and ambiguity is exactly what lets demagogues howl about Iran, and the JCPOA.

      • Rayne says:

        There’s not a lot of separation between nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons development. That’s exactly why Stuxnet was developed — to take out the uranium purification systems used in either program. (And in an autocratic monarchy there’s no civil versus military — it’s all for the monarchy.)

        A country with a massive expanse of desert spending money to invest in much more expensive nuclear power generation when solar power is cheaper is either stupid or lying.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          If obtaining durable sources of electric power were the aim, the Saudis would be the world’s leader in solar and wind farms and storage batteries.

          Installing a string of nuclear power stations would seem to be about building a supplement and an alternative to oil as a base for global influence.

          It spreads hundreds of billions of wealth to American (and possibly European) firms and governments. It keeps the Saudis at the center of their attention, especially through lifetime security, service, and support contracts. It also creates the probability that the KSA would become a nuclear weapons power.

          That it heightens the threat of war and increases its destructiveness, in the most unstable region in the world, a few seem to regard as a feature. Lord only knows why, but she’s not telling.

  21. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Tom Sullivan at Digby’s place – https://digbysblog.blogspot.com/ – highlights this Eugene Robinson OpEd in yesterday’s WaPo. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-hardest-job-for-the-next-president-may-be-fixing-trumps-mess/2019/09/16/e16216fe-d8bf-11e9-ac63-3016711543fe_story.html

    Robinson covers Trump’s corruption of the entire executive branch: his use of acting heads; ignoring some rules while violently misreading others; driving some agencies into the ground and thousands of people with essential skills out of government service; and packing the federal courts with obscure, inexperienced, arch-conservative FedSoc acolytes.

    Sullivan extends Robinson’s discussion to state GOP moves to destroy democracy, as a counterweight to their declining share of the popular vote. The stellar, indeed, global example is the Republican legislature in North Carolina. From Andrew Reynolds, political scientist at UNC (emphasis added):

    “When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”

    They can’t win unless they cheat. No safe pair of hands longing for a return to a time of mint juleps on the veranda will fix that. It will take a generation of hardworking, hard networking women and men, who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and their hair mussed. I pinky swear.

  22. Frank Probst says:

    I’m not following this story too closely, so I have to ask: Are we still at “No casualties.”? Is that normal for refinery explosions, particularly at the largest and presumably well-guarded one on the planet?

    • BobCon says:

      Of course, it’s not particularly well guarded. The Saudis spend a ton on the military, but it’s pork barrel stuff.


      They can’t field an effective defensive force for their oil fields because that would mean creating an extensive network of professional, independent-thinking military facilities, and if there is one thing the Saudi rulers fear above all else, it’s the risk of a coup by an effective, independent military.

      That’s why they want Trump to fight Iran for them. The Saudis know Iran would embarrass them, and the hawks in the White House are kidding themselves if they think the US will be doing anything but stuck in an Iraq War scale commitment, if not much larger.

      • Tom says:

        No casualties. yet all that reported damage? Sounds like the place was deserted, not just poorly guarded. Is it possible the refinery workers on the ground received some advance warning?

        Also, back in June when the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone and the President ordered a retaliatory strike, he called it off at the last minute once he realized there would be about 150 Iranian casualties (or so he said). Trump explained that he decided the loss of 150 lives would be disproportionate to the destruction of a piece of military equipment. That’s the same argument Trump should be making with MBS right now to avoid the U.S. being dragged into a ‘let’s-you-and-him-fight’ scenario orchestrated by the Saudis.

        • Tom says:

          And if the House of Saud is unwilling to develop an effective armed forces to protect themselves, then perhaps Trump should pretend they’re a NATO member and tell them to shape up and start paying their dues or they’ll be on their own.

        • Tom says:

          My mistake. According to NPR, it’s the Saudis who are taking a cautious approach; i.e., wanting to get the UN involved, and Trump is the loose cannon.

  23. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “It’s out there.” Cokie Robers, a longtime national political reporter and Washington insider, who was much revered by the MSM, has died at 75. Less than a month ago, after a cancer scare, she commented that she was, “doing fine.”

    She came from the quintessential power family. Her father was Democratic Majority Leader in the House. Her mother entered Congress after his death in 1972. Her brother co-founded powerhouse DC law and lobbying firm, Patton Boggs.


  24. James Scaminaci III says:

    I was a senior, civilian, all-source intelligence analyst for the US Army. All-source intelligence means that the analysis is not based solely on a single collection platform or discipline. Ordinarily, it would combine open source reporting, imagery (IMINT), signals (SIGINT), and human (HUMINT) sources.

    What I have noticed that is missing from the newspaper reporting is actual intelligence assessments.

    For example, given that the strike was against the Saudi center of gravity–a major oil processing center–we have no intelligence assessments stating that cruise missiles were tracked from across the Persian Gulf, from Yemen, or from Iraq. That beggars belief. The Trump regime wants us to believe that no US platform was collecting radar data for airborne threats.

    The Trump regime would also like us to believe that in the context of heightened threat of hostilities against tankers and possibly US forces in the region, that not one single US collection platform, national or theater level, picked up Iranian preparations for a cruise missile strike against the Saudi center of gravity.

    Rayne is correct to raise doubts based on the imagery. But, what is missing is/are the all-source intelligence assessments based on SIGINT and IMINT and other sources to indicate that the attack was from cruise missiles or drones; the direction the attack was launched from; the probable launch sites.

    And Rayne raises a reasonable question: is that the level of damage an oil refinery would sustain from a cruise missile strike?

    Before we conclude Iran was responsible, we need much better and thorough all-source intelligence assessments.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yes, thanks and welcome.

      Your point about the lack of public data concerning the tracking of the weapons used in this attack, if aerial, is excellent. One would think the Saudis, Russians, Americans, Brits, Chinese and Japanese have it, and probably several others who monitor the region. One would think the American Navy, for example, has precise data about anything that overflies the Persian Gulf.

      That would mean lots of people have some idea if missiles were used here and, if so, where they came from. The American public and presumably Congress do not have that information. Yet, they are expected to back an administration that has a poor track record of honest, fair, and competent dealing. Perhaps not.

      Separately, I should think cruise missiles would carry a payload big enough to do more damage over a wider area. But a cruise missile attack is such an obvious, open act of war, it seems unlikely. The limited imagery from this attack suggests damage more consistent with smaller missiles.

      As you say, air traffic within miles of this facility would have been closely monitored. Is everyone doing a Sgt. Schultz, was the response negligent or inadequate? Congress should have answers, and from more than the King, before any American response is warranted.

      • James Scaminaci III says:

        Thank you all for the positive comments.

        I would not expect that classified data to be made public. But, I would expect a declarative statement from an authoritative source, like the DNI, CIADIR, or CENTCOM, that cruise missiles were tracked from Point X to Point Z, or to Point Z from W direction at Y time. To me, it is unbelievable that Trump and Pompeo want us to believe their assertions absent known unknown facts.

        When we bombed Bosnian Serb positions, I had to transmit all the BDA annotated images to decisionmakers. I am not an imagery analyst, but I think Rayne is right to raise a question that the House Armed Services Committee should ask: are these post-strike images of damage to the Saudi facility consistent with known cruise missiles or drones in the region? To my untrained eye, they do not. But, that is based on a SWAG.

        What we do not have in the public domain, in terms of declarative sentences, are tracking data for cruise missiles or drones, and, a BDA report(s) that determines the weapon system.

        More suspicious. The Saudis are not screaming at the US or CENTCOM for not protecting the facility. We have major CENTCOM bases in the region. We are to believe that even major US facilities in the region can suffer a surprise attack? Instead of asking CENTCOM how vulnerable we are, Trump says, well when Saudi Arabia tells us Iran did it, we’ll do something, maybe, because we are “locked and loaded.”

        Those are the dogs that do not bark. We need much more data from authoritative sources.

      • e.a.f. says:

        Yes, everyone else has been rather quiet about this. Just the S.A. and dumb donni flapping their gums. :This time if the Americans threw a war, no one might come to the party and that may include their own armed forces. People may be getting tired of being killed or having their family members killed for very little reason.

    • Rayne says:

      Great. Cite some resources to validate this.

      How do you reconcile KSA’s airbases not detecting cruise missiles regardless of their ability to circle/approach from any direction?

      How do you reconcile the rather minimal damage according the commercial satellite images?

      Welcome to emptywheel.

      • Doug Fir says:

        From Wikipedia, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruise_missile :

        “A cruise missile is a guided missile used against terrestrial targets, that remains in the atmosphere and flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed. Cruise missiles are designed to deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision. Modern cruise missiles are capable of travelling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.”

        Modern cruise missiles, depending on the model, can be quite maneuverable and very precise. Sophisticated models are capable of flying at low altitude on highly variable courses that can be designed to maneuver around obstacles and avoid anti-aircraft radar. Circling a target to make impact from a specific direction would be well within the capabilities of this sort of weapon.

        Two things about the holes in the tanks seem hinky to me: First, a cruise missile usually delivers an explosive load, but those tanks didn’t explode. Second, if the cruise missiles were used as ballistic weapons only, to damage the tanks but not blow them up, where are the exit holes? ‘Cuz those suckas woulda busted right out the other side. There’s gotta be forensic remains inside those tanks that will help identify the weapons that made the holes and their likely provenance. Unless the holes were made by space lasers. (-;

        • Rayne says:

          Thanks. I can read that wiki doohickey all by myself.

          Tomahawk missiles — which are cruise missiles made for U.S. military — carry a 1000 lb. class explosive warhead. But folks can also read the description provided by the U.S. Navy. Cruise missiles used by other nation-states may be different in terms of payload but likely have similar navigation capability.

          They may be used for pinpoint accuracy but NOT pinpoint narrow destruction with such a large explosive payload.

          U.S. cruise missile damage would look more like this (post-strike, April 2019, Shayrat air base in Syria):

          Russian cruise missiles produce damage like this (post-strike, )

          The post-strike damage below is attributed to Israeli cruise missiles (Latakia, Syria, September 17, 2018):

          The satellite photos seen so far from Abqaiq don’t reflect similar damage — especially when a number of the objects hit are LNG storage tanks.

        • Doug Fir says:

          Yes, exactly. It’s highly unlikely that cruise missiles, or ballistic missiles for that matter, were involved. Much more likely drone launched armaments or something more locally deployed.

          Therefore the positioning of the holes on the tanks provides little-or-no evidence of who is responsible for the attack.

        • Rayne says:

          There’s still value to noting the position of holes on the tanks, in addition to the amount of damage. Together they rule out cruise missiles *from* Iran to the east (though not other kinds of missiles with Iran’s direction or aid). Nothing that overtly obvious.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I find it credible that cruise missiles – and drones – could have the ability to fly any track. I do not assume that the Yemenis or Iranians had access to such technology and used it here.

      Regardless, the indirect flight path you suggest is still only part of a flight path. Going from A to C (the Saudi refinery) via B (indirect route) starts with an undisclosed A.

      An indirect path, by definition, is not the shortest route, which means the attacking aircraft was susceptible to electronic monitoring for a longer period. Not having basic information regarding that in the public domain is suspicious, not least because lives may be lost owing to claims and actions that depend on it.

  25. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Every so often, Detroit automakers negotiate labor contracts with the UAW. Normally, one company alternates as the target and the others agree on the deal with the union. This time its GM.

    Playing hardball in Detroit is old hat. Facing a strike by the UAW, GM cut off the health care benefits of striking workers, effective today. During the strike, the UAW – meaning its members – will pick up the tab via COBRA.

    GM made over $8 billion – in profits – last year. It paid its CEO more than $20 million, or about 295 times the median comp paid to GM’s UAW workers.


    • P J Evans says:

      I see absolutely no reason why anyone in business needs to be paid more than $2 million per year, especially when most of them seem more interested in cutting workers’ time, pay, and benefits while maximizing their own.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The perverse irony is that Mary Barra’s comp will go up the more she drives down the comp of her workers, and so will that of the team of managers who help her do it.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yep. Senior management comp gives them every incentive to revoke a benefit at will; if labor doesn’t like it, GM will threaten to go bankrupt, close the plant, or find a loophole.

        Not a dime will come back to workers if M4A comes into force. It will all go to management or shareholders. Something the UAW ought to consider, since healthcare, like every other benefit, is either deferred comp or compensation in-kind.

        • P J Evans says:

          Start asking people if they’d rather keep paying the insurance companies on top of what’s being taken out of their paychecks *and* the money the companies spend on health insurance that *doesn’t* show up on their checks, or spend less but in taxes for the same care through ACA or M4A or whatever program can be gotten through. (ACA works, but needs some fixes – not going to happen with Moscow Mitch in the Senate.)
          There’s no reason why we pay two or three times as much for less care than you can get in Canada or Europe.

      • BobCon says:

        The US auto industry continues to be haunted by their ideological fight against Walter Reuther’s push for a national health care system in the 1940s and 50s.

        Reuther had the vision to see that the industry would be vastly stronger with it, but the owners were hung up on stupid fears of socialism, and now their companies are in much worse positions than they could have been.

  26. James Scaminaci III says:


    This latest from the WaPo is about the Patriot air defense systems not picking up the cruise missiles. Ok. But, are we to believe that the Saudi and/or US AWACs failed to detect the cruise missiles?

    Interestingly, the WaPo article does not even raise the question that our CENTCOM bases in the region may be vulnerable to a massive cruise missile strike. Have we heard anybody in DC talking about it?

    The less information that comes out over time, the more I’m suspicious that something else is going on.

    That said, the NYTimes indicates that somebody is looking at tracking data and communication intercepts, to see if Iran was involved. In other words, Trump, Pompeo, and Saudi Arabia pointing the finger at Iran was based on what exactly?


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      The basics should be known: The missile tracks were picked up at what time, moving at what altitude, course, and speed, with what apparent destination and point of origin.

      I concede that parsing the details of that could take time, but the basics should be there already. Otherwise, there was no factual basis to claim what they already have done.

      What should take more time is determining a response. According to international law, that ought to be proportional and direct, with a minimum of collateral damage.

      What seems clearer is that that is not how Trump or Pompeo think, and that that may not be convenient to their or the Saudis’ political aims.

      • Eureka says:

        Yes, the whole tenor changed. It was like ~’sit up straight and pay attention’ time (though there were a few of the dems who had good sessions/got good info).

        • Pjb says:

          It was a classic cross of a hostile witness, professionally done. The questions told the story irrespective of the dissembling answers. CL looked like a jack off and obnoxious liar to any fair minded viewer. Of course, no one saw it because the Congressmen had to do their 5 minute switchback nonsense for 5 hours first. So frustrating.

  27. orionATL says:

    “whodunit” to the saudis is important as a challenge to our forever-and-another-lie president donald j. trump.

    even more important, though, are the possible consequences of retaliation by saudis, israelis, or another u.s. “coalition of the willing”, specifically, worldwide damage to economies poor and rich and a precipitous end to the long period of recovery from the prior economic disaster of 2007-09.

    in the 1970’s there were two oil disruptions (’73 and ’78) that played havoc with oil supply, world inflation, and politics.

    the critical and easily disrupted oil supply line that is the straits of hormuz is about the last place in the world a competent american (or saudi or israeli) leader would choose to start any sort of armed conflict:


    this eia paper comparing pipelines and ships from 7 yrs ago makes me wonder why it would be any better now after years of recession:


    • Vince says:

      ” ‘whodunit’ to the saudis is important as a challenge to our forever-and-another-lie president donald j. trump.”

      Just ask yourself, which public discussion do the administration and the Saudis want to have ? The Houthis fighting back against the genocide of the Yemeni population by the U.S.-armed Saudi butchers OR the evil Iranians did it!

  28. Eureka says:

    Yikes the dreaded spotted lanternfly! I saw bmaz rt’d an article about them; I had been meaning to drop a warning note about them here as an invasive crop-destroying species for people to BOLO (over 70 agricultural essentials they harm, from stone fruit trees, other hardwoods, *hops* (they are coming for da beerz), to grapes and so forth. It’s one of those things where you want to spot them early and call your state agriculture dept. or cooperative extension if they show up (for real). They are very distinct-looking at all stages.

    They are in four states so far (PA, DE, NJ, VA) and seem to be moving right along. I think this one might be worse than the marmorated stink bug and the gypsy moths. The wiki sux (vague); there is good info here and pix of all life stages (with the wings closed, the adults actually look like medium-dark brown with black spots, about the size of a june bug +/-):

    Spotted Lanternfly Management for Homeowners

    • bmaz says:

      Right?? Old story: The first time, now somewhere 30 years ago give or take, that I went with my girlfriend, now wife, back to Potomoc where she was raised, her father pointed out Kudzu. Said it was invasive and taking over. I thought was just greenery. No, it was maliciously invasive. People initially laughed at the Asian Carp headed to the Great Lakes. None of it are jokes. Including the freaking Spotted Lanternfly.

      • Eureka says:

        Yep, *high five* on calling out the Asian carp and the kudzu (similar story, it was explained to us when we moved to an invaded area; this made later learning about the *expletive* English ivy that invades our current locale so much easier) (tho tbh the ivy is always winning).

        Plus the Eurasian milfoil that’s taken over various lakes, and I forget that bad mollusk that gets transferred to waterways via boat hulls.

        Oh the zebra mussels!

        Keep your eyes open and your traveling boats and vehicles clean, people!

        • bmaz says:

          Future father in law was rather alarmist about the Kudzu. Me, being basically a tourist dope, thought it not much different from the greenery that grew on similar slopes in Pasadena (which I had just recently been in for a few days). Man did I get that wrong.

  29. MMJ says:

    If it is anything that needs to be actively controlled..ie a drone, wouldn’t the belligerent power need to have access to satellite communication? Today Saudi Arabia did a briefing and said it was something like xx drones and y cruise missiles. So are these fire and forget devices then? Or does Iran have the ability to actively control and has access to satellite communication for its military?

  30. e.a.f. says:

    Upon hearing of the “blow up” my first thought was, well they murdered Kashoggi, karma is a bitch and one could consider this a down payment in the get even scheme of things in life.

    My next thought was, best get to a gas station to fill up before the prices rise, again.

    Third thought, they could have done it themselves because some one would like to go to war with Iran. Iran in my opinion has played it fairly well to date. If dumb donni and his friends can’t get Iran to start a war, perhaps they’ll create a situation, where the U.S.A. can start the fighting and then the refinery blew up. dumb donni’s announcement that he would use the American reserves to keep prices down, omg, how stupid is that. Reserves are for emergencies, not to keep prices down/stable.

    so thank you for the article with the photos. It certainly gives us something to think about.

    In centuries gone by leaders of countries frequently led the armies into battle. Its about time we got back to that system. It might slow down politicians calling for wars. Why donni wants a war with Iran is beyond me. We have enough pain and suffering on the Earth. We don’t need more.

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