The Intelligence Gaps Where the Saudis Hid Their October Surprise

NYT has a story on Joe Biden’s serial surprise as he discovered the Saudis were reneging on what the President thought was a deal to keep pumping oil.

Here’s the timeline:

May: Amos Hochstein and Brett McGurk believe they make a deal for a two-part increase of production

June 2: OPEC announces the first part of production increases and Biden announces his Saudi trip

June 3: Trump travels from Mar-a-Lago to Bedminster for Saudi golf tournament

June 7: Adam Schiff and others send Biden a letter warning about Saudi Arabia

Prior to July 15: Briefings for Intelligence Committees on secret plan

July 15: Biden meets with Mohammed bin Salman

August 3: Saudis announce half of production increase promised (“the first public warning”)

September 5: OPEC announced production cuts

Late September: US officials begin hearing of deep production cuts on October 5

September 24: MbS says there will be no production cuts

September 27: Abdulaziz argues cuts would impede diversification plans

September 28: Saudis inform the US they will announce production cuts

October 26: Jared Kushner speaks at Saudi investment summit

NYT emphasizes the Saudi expression of self interest and hints at influence from Russia.

American officials say they believe that Prince Mohammed was particularly influenced by a high-level Sept. 27 meeting in which Prince Abdulaziz, the energy minister, argued that oil production cuts were needed to keep prices from plummeting to as low as $50 per barrel. The U.S. officials said they learned Prince Abdulaziz asserted that, under such as scenario, the Saudi government would lack the resources to fund economic diversification projects at the heart of Prince Mohammed’s domestic agenda.

Some U.S. officials believe that the Russians influenced the Saudi about-face, pointing to Prince Abdulaziz’s strong working ties with top Russian officials close to Mr. Putin, particularly Alexander Novak, the deputy prime minister who oversees energy policy.


On Tuesday, speaking on stage at the annual investment forum in Riyadh, Prince Abdulaziz said that the kingdom would do what was in its best interests.

“I keep listening to, ‘Are you with us or against us?’ Is there any room for, ‘We are for Saudi Arabia and the people of Saudi Arabia’?” he said. “We will have to deliver our ambitions.”

But the story focuses more on how the Americans repeatedly got caught by surprise.

The Americans came away from the summit with the belief that the agreement was on track and that Prince Mohammed was satisfied. But in Riyadh, top Saudi officials were privately telling others that they had no plans for further meaningful oil production increases.

Indeed, the first public warning of this came on Aug. 3, when OPEC Plus announced a paltry bump in production for September of 100,000 barrels a day — half of what U.S. officials believed the Saudis had promised them.

American officials said they did not understand why that decision was made. Then OPEC Plus announced on Sept. 5 it would cut production by 100,000 barrels per day — retracting the increase it had announced a month earlier. After that, U.S. officials were increasingly confused and concerned about the kingdom’s direction.

In late September, American officials began hearing that Saudi Arabia could get OPEC Plus to announce a deep cut to oil production at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 5. [my emphasis]

There’s no comment about Trump’s ongoing meetings with the Saudis as this transpired, not even the one the day after Biden announced his visit, the same day (as it happens) that Trump refused to give back all the classified documents he stole. There’s no comment about MbS’s repeated, publicly stated preference for Trump over Biden.

The story describes Biden’s surprise as the result of wishful thinking. And the US wasn’t totally surprised. They got advance warning of the October cuts with enough time to send Janet Yellen to attempt to reverse the cuts.

But as depicted, the Saudis were saying, from the start, that they intended to renege on the deal with Biden, and the US went on believing the deal would hold for months.

There is no way the US should be taken by that much surprise: not by the Saudis, not by the Israelis, not even by the Brits. If they genuinely were this badly surprised, it would suggest significant intelligence gaps on the part of the US. The US spends billions to avoid such surprises.

One of the last times the IC had a surprise this big came when Vladimir Putin decided, after secret phone calls with Mike Flynn, not to respond to Obama’s 2016 sanctions. (They quickly found an explanation for the surprising turn of events, which intelligence collection Trump’s Director of National Intelligence burned years later.)

Perhaps it’s the paranoia fostered by a man who repeatedly intervenes in US foreign policy to obtain personal benefit, but I can’t help but notice these intelligence failures followed Trump’s meeting with the Saudis in Bedminster.

85 replies
  1. Rugger_9 says:

    I think your spidey-sense is on target here about the IC, Individual-1 and KSA motives. No one in the KSA leadership nor Jared / Individual-1 will do anything without benefit to their interests. Jared’s presence today is not an accident, and FWIW the swirling rumors about the incomplete accounting for missing documents after the M-a-L search takes on a more ominous tone. TFG ran interference for MbS on Khashoggi’s murder, and doubtless MbS wanted some quid for his pro quo so what did Individual-1 trade here?

    I’m sure the idea was to cause enough havoc to get the GQP into power and perhaps force an extralegal return of TFG either in 2022 or 2024. There’s a lot of chatter by MAGA types that Biden will be out in 2023, so maybe all of that noise wasn’t just wishful thinking. Biden’s tapping of the Strategic Oil Reserve will need to continue, as well as pursuing the policy of going renewable. The sooner we can tell the KSA and its ilk to perform physical impossibilities the better.

    • skua says:

      “… perhaps force an extralegal return of TFG either in 2022 …”

      Anyone care to share a process by which this could happen?

      • Dark Phoenix says:

        About the only way it could happen would be for the Republicans to win control of the House, name Trump the Speaker (no rule says the Speaker has to be a member of the House), and then impeach and remove both Biden and Harris at the same time (something they’re openly saying they’re going to do anyway). Speaker is third in line for the Presidency.

        It ain’t gonna work, but it’s not like the Republicans deal in reality…

        • skua says:

          Thanks Dark Pheonix.
          I won’t nitpick. You’ve provided what appears to be a legal pathway. Which is even worse than an extralegal pathway.
          As for reality – I knew Trump could never get elected.
          Sure would be nice if Dems hold the House.

          • Rugger_9 says:

            It will be harder because of the gerrymandering done after the 2010 wave and intensified in 2020 redistricting. However, the GQP candidates are awful and I am very encouraged by the very high early voting turnout which will do more to move the needle than the polls.

            FWIW, I also think the D’s keep the Senate.

  2. Tom-1812 says:

    A few weeks ago I heard Glen Kirschner state in one of his “Justice Matters” videos that Trump’s “45 office” at Mar-a-Lago is fitted up as “a mock-up of the Oval Office”. So Trump has his own Presidential office and likely still has his own collection of classified documents giving him influence with foreign countries including America’s adversaries. He has his rallies where his adoring followers feed his ego and support his continued Big Lie about winning the 2020 election. Moreover, Trump has his lawyers and coterie of flunkies and fart-catchers who still call him President and treat him as such. It also appears that he is trying to conduct his own shadow Presidency. Then there are the heavy hints he is dropping about running again in 2024.

    So Trump is presenting himself and behaving as if he is far from just being a former President, he is also the President-in-waiting, the President-to-be, the Once and Future President.

    • LadyHawke says:

      And yet – the attendance at ex-president Trump’s recent rallies have been mostly underwhelming.

      • Marinela says:

        There should be no rallies since he is not officially a candidate yet. More so, there should be no people showing up at a Trump rally not after four years of Trump presidency. The fact there are so many people at rallies with no good purpose indicates something deeply rotten in the current political fabric. We already elected President Biden, for four years most everybody should rally around the elected President as he is doing his best to help the Americans. What purpose serves the Americans that attend Trump rallies? What is he going to do for these people? We know Trump pays a lot to have these rallies, but still why so many people…

        • P J Evans says:

          Officially, the rallies are in support of GOP candidates, but as they always turn into the former guy’s usual ranting, they aren’t all that effective.

        • Rayne says:

          They’re mostly campaign rallies for his endorsed MAGA candidates — like this rally for Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz in PA running for governor and senator respectively.

        • Rugger_9 says:

          Individual-1 doesn’t pay, his PAC does…maybe. After all El Paso still is out just under 600 k$ from a 2017 rally held to dump on Beto in TX.

          As for the rally sizes they are indeed down (continuing the 2020 trends), and IIRC even Faux isn’t broadcasting them live. However, I will not look over there to find out for sure. It would be interesting to analyze the word salad and see how much is kept from site to site.

      • Tom-1812 says:

        Yes, smaller crowds at smaller venues. I’ve also heard that Trump’s fundraising campaign isn’t taking in as much $ as before. And yet the smaller rallies seem to contain the distilled, concentrated essence of the MAGA-pathologies of the former larger Trump gatherings, and Trump’s tirades are becoming ever more sweat-soaked and extreme.

        • posaune says:

          I read somewhere that DJT has been stiffing the rally vendors, some of whom are dropping out. DJT gets paid first and sometimes there’s no $ left over.

  3. Fraud Guy says:

    The Saudis are just making sure that their investments pay off, both in oil and in former administration officials.

  4. Tom Maguire says:

    I completely agree we should not have been surprised, and that Trump would have been delighted to meddle. That said, the Times story gives very short shrift to a seemingly valid Saudi concern – without production cuts, the oil price (which had fallen from $120 to $100 over the summer) might plunge to $50 (as noted in your excerpt).

    Spot oil is now around $85; Mar-Jun 2023 futures are low $80s to high $70s. The CW is that the Chinese COVID lockdowns and looming fears of a global recession (thank Vlad and Jerome) are cutting demand for oil.

    Closer to home prices, at the pump in the US are well off their summer highs. The recent uptick has been attributed (in part) to refineries going off-line for overdue maintenance.

    My pedestrian paranoia links this Times piece to the recent debacle with the now-withdrawn “Give Peace a Chance” House letter on the Ukraine – a narrative that Team Blue is the gang that can’t shoot straight on foreign policy may have prompted a Times pile-on (Reporting turn-around seems damn quick, unless they’ve been working it and liked the new news hook.)

    Or put it this way – just how was Biden supposed to announce that he was OK with the OPEC+ decision and took no action to prevent a production cut? Politically it has to be easier to blame duplicitous Saudis than Powell. (Dumping on Putin and Xi would also be accurate but Old News.).

    • bmaz says:

      Hi Tom! Also, too, people across the board were clamoring for Biden to fix the high gas prices, which of course is not really within the powers of the Presidency. So he did the only things he really could do – tap the strategic reserve and try to cut a deal with the Saudis, who basically run OPEC+. The latter did not work out, but not for lack of the Administration trying.

      • EwanWoodsEnd says:

        A few years back, during Trump I think I remember Saudi Arabia was trying to buy Westinghouse, which is the uncontested leader in civil nuclear. On October 11th, a new deal between Cameco and Brookfield was signed, cementing its ownership in North America, and moving it further away from Saudi Arabia. Considering the strategic importance of their business, it must have needed an agreement from Washington. But maybe it is just a coincidence.

      • smf88011 says:

        There IS something that Biden can still do but it would kill his prospects of re-election in 2024 – price controls. Nixon did it with an EO and it caused the dollar to drop against other world currencies. The US dollar is just too strong right now – look at the exchange rates against the Euro and the Pound.

        • bmaz says:

          He can unilaterally do that without Congress? Even if he could under some bastard remnant relic of the Economic Stabilization Act, he would have to be an idiot to do so. Besides, it would be very short term. In the end, what Nixon did was catastrophic. That is not a viable arrow in Biden’s quiver. There are very few such arrows.

          • smf88011 says:

            Please note how I worded my reply. You stated that “So he did the only things he really could do – tap the strategic reserve and try to cut a deal with the Saudis, who basically run OPEC+.” That isn’t completely true. There are other options he can take BUT they might not be good ones.

            • bmaz says:

              Yes, I read your comment just fine, thanks. You get awful preachy and testy with people here, we don’t need your lectures.

            • timbozone says:

              Flexibility of mind, policy, and response does require that all viable options be on the table, tis true.

              Does anyone know how far down the strategic reserves are at this point? Is domestic production ramping up more officially, now that the Saudi’s and Opec have balked?

              • bmaz says:

                Currently it is reported domestic is not particularly ramped up because several critical parts of the required infrastructure are still getting long overdue maintenance because of long term overuse. I don’t personally know that, but it sounds more than possible.

                • timbozone says:

                  Nominally, this is maintenance delayed because of the pandemic economic and work slowdown no doubt? Still, it does not explain the profiteering in California that has been going on now for several months…it got so bad the other day that even Gov. Newsom started complaining about it (it being an election year and all)… :/

              • Becker says:

                As of October 7, 2022
                US emergency oil stock dropped from over 638 million barrels to about 416 million, as Biden released reserves to ease gas prices

                • timbozone says:

                  I wonder what the situation is like now that summer demand is over. Politics in election cycles and the strategic reserve are an interesting area. Seems like almost every important cycle some monkeying with gas prices and the reserve occur these days (particularly when the DP is in the White House).

              • CostalNomad says:

                First time posting. Thank everyone at EW for all you do!

                I had an engagement 25 years ago in the North Slope Burrow. Five members from five different consulting companies were assigned to the project. We went through security clearances and were forbidden to speak to each other. I was assigned to Service Area 10.

                Getting to know the Deputy Director and supplying his wife with a variety of spices from California, he finally told me what we were doing there. Evidently the North Slope had estimated they has 21 years of oil extraction available. But at the time, the readings returned only 7 years worth of available extraction. This was of great concern as they had no time for reorganization and preparation for the reduced extraction rate. No one wanted to work there if they were not making serious money and merely guarding the oil reserve was not enough to keep a group in the harsh elements.

                The DD said the North Slope held 20% of the US reserve supply. Naively I asked how many barrels is that? He explained it was not in barrels and not measured that way. They had to maintain 20% of the current consumption rate which changes/increases year to year.

                I asked him to quantify 20% and he said the NSB has 120 years worth of oil – representing 20% at the current consumption rate. That meant that at the time, the US has enough domestic oil for 600 years out. I was sickened thinking about the wars over oil when we have enough to last until we could figure some alternative for oil.

                Have never heard of this since, and have never read more about it. So have at it EWers! Please help me understand.

                • Rayne says:

                  First, the history of the North Slope Borough’s oil was among the website materials the Trump administration tried to delete; it went 404 sometime after May 2019. Fortunately someone made sure there was a summary archived at:

                  Second, North Slope production has fallen almost steadily since its peak in 1988. On the face of it, it looks like the easy oil is gone.

                  The cost of the rest of the oil may be prohibitive for a variety of reasons, but one of them is the cost to maintain infrastructure in an ecosystem dramatically affected by climate change. Kind of difficult to budget for ice road construction when there’s suddenly no ice, or massive sink holes from methane thawing rapidly beneath the top soil.

                  I don’t think you should bank on what you think you knew about US oil reserves back then — which if it was so secret then, not certain why you’re sharing it now — since conditions have change substantially in 25 years and the downward production trend since 1988 has been steady.

                  Welcome to emptywheel.

        • PieIsDamnGood says:

          Price controls are one of the stupidest economic actions a government can take. Gas won’t actually get cheaper, you’ll just have to pay in time as well as money. Or a thriving black market will develop. All great outcomes!

          • timbozone says:

            Price controls can work quite effectively if the situation warrants it. They were imposed, along with rationing, in WWII, with some modicum of success. But, as many here say, Nixon’s attempt was an abysmal failure and it is unlikely that Biden, short of an escalating military confrontation with China or Russia, would even attempt it, particularly considering the current economic and political instability in US close ally Britain.

            And, yes, price controls always lead to an increase in black market profiteering as a side hussle. Ironically, there were rumors that Nixon was involved in such things during WWII.

        • Rayne says:

          Oh jeebus with the “US dollar is just too strong” crap. Why aren’t you complaining the pound sterling is in the toilet? Or that Xi has mucked up China’s economy which is reflected in its currency?

          The dollar is strong because there’s a flight to quality. Oil appears volatile; real estate prices may tank because of global recessionary pressures and the Russo-Ukraine war. Add self-inflicted fuck-ups like Truss’ GBP crash and of course the dollar will be strong.

          Buy a lot of materials abroad to bring home and pay Americans living wages to build back better using the cheaper materials. We could buy a lot of materials for a solar-powered economy and get clear of fossil fuels.

          • Rugger_9 says:

            I think it’s ITV (definitely the India global channel) that frequently runs doomsaying stories about the PRC economy, with a massive mortgage crisis and lots of debt creating an opportunity for a huge wipeout. The mortgage story is interesting, in that people there can’t invest officially in much else and were willing to pay mortgages on housing not yet built (but scheduled years in advance). Many of them got tired of paying for a place they can’t see yet, and it went downhill from there.

            It’s been ‘disaster is a couple of weeks away’ for a couple of months now, but if the fundamentals of the reporting are sound, it’s a financial time bomb.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      One point of her post is that the US was not caught off guard, so much as the Saudis reneged on a deal because it served their interests. One of them is to put the GOP back in office, because it caters more toward KSA and Russian interests than American.

      It’s assumed the Bedminster meeting was about Trump interfering in American foreign policy, which would be a Logan Act violation. It seems just as likely that KSA was telling Trump/Kushner what it expected for its past and future support, including continuing to allow financial support for Kushner and not disclosing more about whatever their relationship has been.

      • Thomas_H says:

        Has Kushner registered as a Foreign Agent? Trump himself? It seems to me that, if we’re reading the tea leaves accurately (?) there might be FARA violations as well as Logan Act. The usual caveat: IANAL (a perpetually aspiring cartoonist instead).

      • viget says:

        All of this. No way USG was caught off guard, indeed they probably expected this. Obviously, there were few choices here, but the more MBS channels Lucy from Peanuts, the more the world realizes he is a duplicitous snake, not to be trusted.

  5. EwanWoodsEnd says:

    It is hard to believe that unnamed American Officials are that naive, frankly. It is known that the Saudis are not happy with Ratney, and nevertheless he was chosen. It is also clear that they showed their preference when it comes to US presidents. I agree with Tom Maguire, this is just an article to make Biden look weak.

  6. Zinsky123 says:

    Trump brokered a three-way deal with KSA and Russia in April of 2020, right after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, to reduce OPEC+ production by 20 million barrels a day. In return, Trump promised things he could not possibly deliver on (in his usual bloodless transactional manner), saying Mexico would remove 100,000 barrels a day from production, and the U.S. would remove an additional 300,000 barrels a day. [However], ‘OPEC+ officials and others involved in the talks said those extra barrels simply didn’t exist.’ This dishonest man always bargains in bad faith, thinking only of his personal gain. As someone suggests above, Trump meddling in international affairs solely for his own benefit would not be a new development.


  7. smf88011 says:

    It amazes me how much influence OPEC has with the US when we only bring in 11% of our oil from them these days. US oil companies are still producing 200k fewer barrels of oil today than they did before the pandemic. Back in March, 59% of oil company executives stated that Wall St. was the cause of it. What can we do about that? Price controls like Nixon did might help in the short term.

      • gmoke says:

        Here’s one look at what’s happening in Europe around oil and gas:

        It is interesting to me that I know of no organized effort anywhere to push energy efficiency and conservation to reduce what everyone expected to be a brutal winter heating season after Russian started their carbon war last February.

        Well, there was one group which did so, prematurely, starting in September 2021, Insulate Britain, but they were just environmentalists blocking highways with about 18% public support. “Premature energy conservationists”? Their plan was estimated to cost £5 billion for insulating all public housing and planning to insulate all the private housing by 2030. The Truss government (rest in pieces) estimated their energy plan for this winter alone at £9 billion, mostly, I gather, for subsidizing the higher cost of energy.

        More on Insulate Britain at

        • timbozone says:

          Germany has temporarily stopped decommissioning its nuclear power plants, and has begun looking into recommissioning more of its coal mines should that be necessary. Other European powers have similarly modified their energy policies. How bad their winter will be in Europe remains to be seen but no one there is pretending that energy policy can be ignored.

          As for your joking about Truss, Truss cut taxes across the board arrived just in time to announce that she was a deficit extremist. Not even conservatives, and especially not national banks and related global lending institutions, would buy her nutso notions of “fiscal responsibility”. Truss was a fantasist and is out. (One more Brex-idiot bites the dust?)

          Britain’s north Atlantic oil platforms couldn’t save Truss’s odd dreams. We now hold our breaths about whether those derrick’s will help Britain weather the storm they have gathered upon their own shores; a cold day has come to Britain, and of it’s own making. Not to worry though—the incoming Tory PM graduated from Stanford… ;|

          • gmoke says:

            Sunak’s Stanford degree is an MBA, a business degree, which means he probably knows the price of everything and the value of nothing except ££££££££.

    • Rayne says:

      Oil is a global market as are most commodities traded on major exchanges. The US also has a nasty problem of too many fossil fuel assets owned by foreign entities, including its largest refinery bought by Aramco during Trump’s term in office.

  8. Troutwaxer says:

    This is a little speculative, but I can’t help wondering if Trump passed the names of some of our agents in Saudi Arabia to the Saudis, who either fed them bullshit or just straight-up eliminated them. This would explain why our intelligence wasn’t any good.

    • StringOnAStick says:

      Seems more than likely given how interested he was in obtaining the names of all our foreign intelligence assets.

    • Rayne says:

      How about the same access to intelligence by way of cell phones which burned Jeff Bezos? They don’t need to eliminate anybody, they just need to stay ahead of us and be willing to burn us.

  9. Rugger_9 says:

    Tom Maguire’s post above identified something that has been nagging me for a while now about the House Progressive Caucus (HPC) letter, it is likely another October Surprise of sorts. So, if one believes Jayapal, the letter was written in July, at which time the Russians were already pushed away from Kharkiv, threatening the nuke plant, and were already being busted for war crimes among other events. It was clear at that time that Putin was not going to win in Ukraine and Ukraine was rolling the Russians back. Both Balloon Juice and Daily Kos among other sites provide day-by-day updates. All of these known-at-the-time details do not support a negotiated settlement with a dictator that has invaded a country in order to absorb it, in a redux of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938 (note the Czechs were not allowed to participate then). The Ukrainians have only improved their position since July so such an appeasement letter makes less sense now in combination with what Putin (and his army) has also done since July.

    FWIW, it does not appear that the HPC has disavowed the letter as fake, and the staffers are pushing back on Jayapal’s blame (Politico cites ‘people involved in the matter’),the letter refers to the annexation attempt by Putin which is more recent and the staffer said Jayapal personally released the letter. My guess is there is a mole similar to a Project Veritas sting and/or someone has gone full ‘tankie’ (h/t LGM) in search of peace. Either way, the one to stop this Ukraine war is Putin and he is too far committed to allow any change of plans now. If Putin leaves Ukraine now he will need to stay away from windows for the next 50 years at least even in the Maldives.

    So, this is another opportunity for the courtier press to barf up the ‘Dems in disarray’ stories their editors have been itching to release, so let’s see how the usual suspects (NYT, WashPo, WSJ, CNN) will follow this story.

    • bmaz says:

      This has nothing to do with your favorite term “courtier press”. Somebody handed it to them, whether Jayapal or whoever, and it is certainly news. We bitch at them when they sit on known news, and now they are being bitched at for publishing known news? Seriously?

      • Rugger_9 says:

        I would advise that you wait until you see the stories and Sunday shows first. We’ll see whether the courtier press has learned how to report actually important items in politics. This letter isn’t important (the HPC still voted for Ukraine aid unlike the GQP) but makes great clickbait.

          • Doctor My Eyes says:

            Both important and impotent. What a stupid non-story compared to what is going on in the world. The released copy is not actually signed–it is a draft copy and the signatures, and in some cases SIMPLE INITIALS, indicate not support but that the letter has been read. This is NOT an official document that was sent to the WH, as is obvious by mere perusal. This is some (imo idiotic) project that was in the works. Furthermore, the letter asks for nothing more than that diplomatic avenues be pursued in addition to unwavering support of the Ukrainian military–hardly a radical idea. My guess is that the letter was considered as nothing more than an idea to pursue in case some poll or other showed it would play well with a certain part of the public. In terms of effect on US policy or any new idea–this is the nothing burger of nothing burgers.

            I have no idea how this letter came to be produced and made public, but it hardly reflects well on Democratic strategists. Another disgusting side aspect is that it provides an opportunity for the corporate Dems on Dkos to trash talk hated progressives (progressives are retards, remember?), in the process making them look stupid all the while decrying how much damage the letter has done.

            I’m embarrassed to be spending time thinking about this. Sigh.

            • timbozone says:

              It’s a nothing burger for the most part.

              The GOP has stupid crap like this happen all the time, the only difference being that most GOP folks just roll over and agree with whatever it is they don’t actually believe in. “Yeah, I signed it! Could have been worded better but I entirely agree that John Deere is run by the Chinese syndicate and that they really need to be more patriotic!” Does the press go gaga over that? Nope. They just get every GOP schill on record with saying they agree and move on…

  10. P J Evans says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that the former guy tells his Saudi and Russian buddies that Biden is weak and senile. That’s certainly the message his followers use.

    • timbozone says:

      I mean, it’s easy to see that a 2 billion dollar investment in your son-in-law’s new business can certainly buy a lot of outspoken agreement to whatever investors want, right?

  11. StringOnAStick says:

    I saw some discussion that this letter was the product of a think tank, the Quincy Institute, a somewhat both sider-y group that had financial support from the Kochs (no longer) but also from Soros’s Open Society think tank. This does seem like it could be anything from naivete’ to infiltration, and everything banal or sinister in between; in other words, a successful operation. I know from Ukrainian contacts that it was met with derision and scorn in their country. Perhaps that was part of the idea of whoever set off this October surprise; the Ukrainians already know that the R’s will gut their funding if they take over the House, and now they can worry about D’s being less supportive thanks to this weirdly sourced letter. Who benefits? is likely the best question here.

    • bmaz says:

      So, you are saying the 40 signatories are “October surprising”…themselves? That’s quite a theory, and has become a tedious and way overused phrase.

    • Matt___B says:

      There seems to be some murkiness as to whether Jayapal’s after-the-fact explanation was a cover story or not. She said that the letter was drafted in June and signed then, but not forwarded to the WH. And that some aides “accidentally” forwarded it to the WH.

      Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA) has publicly stated that she would not sign such a letter now.

      Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN) released her current policy stance on Ukraine to clarify her position:

      Ro Khanna (CA) tweeted his clarification.

      Mark Pocan (WI) questioned the timing of the release of the letter.

      Etc. Etc. Etc. Could be CYA – who knows.

      The only mention of Quincy Institute is in the comment section of the Daily Kos article (the article itself only talks about staff pushback):

      • bmaz says:

        They all look like fucking idiots, and they are, irrespective of their too cute by a half clarifications and walk backs. Every one of them should be laughed at and primaried. What a bunch of idiots.

    • Doctor My Eyes says:

      What frustrates and depresses me to no end is that we will discuss in endless detail whatever the powers that be tell us to discuss. There is absolutely nothing important or interesting about this letter.

      – It does not threaten withdrawal of support for Ukraine.
      – Its recommendation to pursue diplomatic channels is in no way controversial..
      – It is not a final copy of anything.
      – It was never sent.
      – It had zero effect on policy. ZERO!
      – The principles have made their actual positions clear, and there is little controversial or of interest in those positions.

      Meanwhile–to throw out one example of many things that actually matter–armed thugs are intimidating voters at drop boxes in Arizona with plans to extend this thuggery to every swing state.

      • bmaz says:

        You have to be kidding. It plays straight into Putin’s hands for propaganda purposes. Irrespective of whether there “is anything in it”, it is one of the dumbest and most ignorant things ever. And now that they have withdrawn it, the Dems look like even more disjointed and feckless than normal. It is extremely bad.

        • Doctor My Eyes says:

          I agree with you as to its effects. I think by talking about it, and analyzing, and buying into its being a big deal, we amplify those propaganda effects. It’s not really that big a deal, propaganda-wise, unless it becomes one. We help that by treating it like a big deal. The only story is the story, and when shit like this is sprung on Dems, we take the bait every time. Liberals are so predictable in our responses as to be easily manipulated in this way, playing a role in the promulgating propaganda against us.

          And the Dems, when asked, act like they’ve been caught masturbating. Here’s what I would suggest as a response from one of the Dems.
          “We are constantly watching events in Ukraine and constantly looking for meaningful, appropriate actions. The letter contains some of that discussion.” And then move directly into “Here are my current views about what we should do in Ukraine blah blah blah.” This propaganda operation, as I think it to be, is a golden opportunity to hold forth with confidence about what should happen in Ukraine rather than about the meta of the letter. I think the issue of Ukraine favors Dems. But they are unlikely to talk about what a masterful job Biden has done, I’m guessing, because Biden’s ratings are low so advisors advise them not to talk about Biden.

          In short, talk about the issues, and don’t act like there’s anything wrong with having complex thoughts on the subject, or working drafts circulating among Representatives.

    • Doctor My Eyes says:

      To be clear, I’m not defending Dems for political reasons. It is ridiculous that this ammunition against them made it to the media at this time. Horrible own goal. I’m just saying that there is nothing of actual significance in the story.

    • Rayne says:

      Cite a link the discussion you mention. Your comment isn’t factual enough, may contain disinfo, amounts to “People say.” Not good enough.

      One could even ask Cui bono when it comes to a question like yours.

  12. DefendOurConstitution says:

    World crude oil prices are complicated, but one thing is clear, they are driven by greed. IMHO that same greed will collapse crude oil prices soon. I expect by mid-November they’ll be in the mid $70s and by early 2023 they’ll be in the $60s. The greed of US oil producers will drive them to increase output before the price collapses and they are likely to be pumping 13 million BPD before the end of the year. This increase of 1 million BPD (from where we are now) is half of the cut that the Saudis are trying to put into effect and, along with SPR draws, will dampen any significant oil price increases. Add to this that OPEC has never been very cohesive or disciplined since the 1970s — also because of greed, they also want to pump out as much oil as they can before prices drop. The Russians will pump/sell every drop they can because their economy is destroyed, many countries like Venezuela will refuse to cut any production because they are in bad shape, and the Saudis may cut a cosmetic amount of 50k-100k BPD just to say that they are “leading.” Most oil price crashes since the 1980s have been driven by greedy producers (countries and corporations) trying to grab a larger share of the profits — i.e. they have been self-inflicted and I believe that we will see this happening in the near future, though probably not in time to help Democrats with the 2022 election.

  13. Peterr says:

    I can’t help but read this story and think of Trump’s big $8.1B arms deal with Saudi Arabia in 2019 — a deal in which he invoked a loophole in the law to sell these arms on an emergency basis without congressional approval. Here’s how the folks at PBS’s Frontline described things in July 2019:

    What is inside the emergency arms deal?

    There are approximately $8.1 billion of military equipment in the emergency transaction. It includes some of the world’s most sophisticated warfare aircraft, including precision-guided bombs, advanced F-15 fighter jets and laser-guided missiles. There is also about $1 million of small arms, such as semi-automatic rifles.

    The deal includes a coproduction provision that allows Raytheon, a top U.S. weapons manufacturer, to team up with Saudi Arabia and build high-tech bomb parts, potentially sharing technology that has been closely guarded for national security reasons.

    During a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in June, Cooper downplayed concerns raised by Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., that Saudi Arabia might steal sensitive U.S. defense information as a result of the coproduction. He said that the technology was already in the “ecosystem” and “not new to the partner.”

    An official with the State Department confirmed with FRONTLINE that this arms deal would not introduce new technologies or capabilities to Saudi Arabia.

    “If the Saudis were to really get significant capabilities to produce weapons as a result of these partnerships, that would be a longer-term problem,” said Bill Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at Center for International Policy. “They’re not going to stand up a full-fledged arms industry overnight, but it’s still concerning.”

    Raytheon did not respond to FRONTLINE’s request for an interview, but spokesperson Mike Doble stated that their weapons sales reflect the foreign policy and national security interests of the U.S.

    Cooper has indicated that some of the munitions, including thousands of the advanced Raytheon bombs, may already be on their way to the Gulf countries. Much of the other equipment will take months or years to be delivered to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    A year later, in May 2020, Trump fired the State Department Inspector General, Steve Linick, because of the IGs investigations of then-Secretary of State Pompeo’s role in greenlighting this arms sale and other problematic acts by Pompeo. In August, the acting IG who took over suddenly resigned, with no reasons stated. In September, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings looking into all of this, chaired by Eliot Engel (D-NY). Engel’s opening statement was blistering. Among his comments were these:

    Mr. Linick’s firing was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. While Mr. Linick was told on May 15th that he was being pushed out, his temporary replacement, Ambassador Steven Akard, had already been lined up for a month or more. In his affidavit to the Committee, Mr. Akard says, that Mr. Bulatao contacted him either on April 9 or April 15, saying that Mr. Linick’s ouster was imminent and asking him if he would assume the IG’s responsibilities on an acting basis. Over the next few weeks, Mr. Bulatao and Mr. Akard spoke several more times, including on May 14th and May 16th as Mr. Linick’s removal was going forward.

    We know that at the time Mr. Linick was fired, his office was conducting two investigations involving Secretary Pompeo’s conduct.

    The first probe dealt with allegations that the Secretary and his wife misused government resources for their own personal benefit.


    The second probe dealt with the Department’s May 2019 use of an emergency provision of the Arms Export Control Act to push through more than $8 billion in arms sales to Gulf countries. The OIG finished its work on this matter and released its report last month.

    There’s a lot to unpack here, and it’s important that we lay it all out.


    The report also indicates that most of the arms packages have not been delivered yet, and likely won’t be during this calendar year. Again, what kind of wartime emergency can be addressed with weapons that arrive two years later. The answer obviously is none.

    There’s a lot more to Engel’s statement – as I said, it was blistering. He also noted that a sizable amount of the IGs report that eventually came out was in a highly classified annex, 40% of which was redacted even for members of Congress. But for the purposes of this post, this unusual arms deal is yet another data point in the Trump administration’s odd relationship with Saudi Arabia. The co-production element of the deal is especially troubling (again, from above: “potentially sharing technology that has been closely guarded for national security reasons”), insofar as Saudi Arabia’s actions in cutting oil production involved coordination with Russia.

    • Peterr says:

      I dug up the OIG report as it was released to Congress, including a cover letter from the new Acting IG Diane R. Shaw. She opens her letter with this:

      Prior to completion of OIG’s review of the Department’s Role in Arms Transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Inspector General Steve Linick was removed from office and, on May 15, 2020, the President appointed Stephen Akard as Acting Inspector General.[1] Acting Inspector General Akard subsequently recused himself from this matter, delegated full authority to me to make final decisions pertaining to this review, and played no role in any aspect of the review.

      So she’s the Acting-in-this-matter who replaced the Acting-but-recused who replaced the IG who opened the investigation. Got that? OK.

      Her conclusion was especially interesting:

      The Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.” While OIG continues to favor release to the greatest extent possible, the privilege belongs to the Department and OIG is not in a position to overrule the assertion but must instead rely on the good faith of the Department. Accordingly, OIG will make available to Congress a version of its classified annex with the Department’s redactions applied. OIG notes that when the Department initially explained its position with regard to the assertion of privilege, it stated its willingness to engage in discussions with Congress to accommodate interest in the underlying information.

      The phrases “. . . must instead reply on the good faith of the Department . . .” and “. . . it stated its willingness to engage in discussions with Congress . . .” are a nice touch by Shaw.

      Translated from the original Bureaucratese, Shaw is saying “We disagree with the assertion of executive privilege, but that decision is above our pay grade, so you’re own your own in getting that annex declassified. And good luck with that.”

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, “It includes some of the world’s most sophisticated warfare aircraft…”. Turns out they were F-15s. Guess DOD has figured out that said description will never apply to the insanely expensive F-35, which continues to not work very well. They are right, the F-15 Eagle is still a better plane.

      • Rugger_9 says:

        Planes, like ships perform better if designed an built for specific roles (like the F-14, F-15 and A-10 Warthog) as opposed to trying to do everything at once (the F-35 ‘flying Swiss Army Knife’, h/t Charlie Pierce). The USA is wealthy enough to fill in the niches with planes, but a smaller nation might make use of the 35 (if it worked better) since they can afford fewer planes.

  14. Greg Hunter says:

    Oil is the Economy…..Jimmy Carter was right but we went the way of the shoe salesman son. Buying Congress was easy for American companies in Ronald Reagan’s day, now they are all international and want a compliant US bending toward fascism and not towards justice…..the audacity of hope.

  15. narp says:

    “One of the last times the IC had a surprise this big”

    How about the sudden and complete collapse of Afghanistan’s expensively and extensively trained security services the moment foreign troops left? That seemed to come as a big surprise to the IC too.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use a more differentiated username when you comment next, selecting a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • Rayne says:

      We do not know if this was a surprise, and if a surprise how much of one. Biden was hamstrung by limitations Trump set in place before he left office. There may have been an understanding based on these limits that there would be problems but size/scale may not have been quantifiable before pull out.

      Seeing you’re commenting from the UK (which our community members can’t discern), I might ask why the UK as a FVEYs partner was likewise deficient in intelligence, and did any of the UK’s intelligence/lack thereof contribute to the manner in which collapse occurred? It’s not as if there weren’t indications of problems with regard to UK’s role.

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