June 26, 2019 / by 

 

Hot and Cold Running Bandar

Yesterday, just weeks after the time Al Arabiya announced Prince Bandar bin Sultan would resume his duties as head of Saudi intelligence (and therefore the mastermind of the Saudi-backed effort to oust Bashar al-Assad), Bandar was replaced by a little-known deputy.

He had resumed his position in March, just two days before the President visited the Kingdom.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan is on his way back to Riyadh where he will resume his tasks as head of Saudi Intelligence,reported news portal NOW Lebanon.

An informed Saudi source confirmed the report to Al Arabiya News.

“This is without doubt bad news for Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah, particularly that anti-Saudi media has been propagating false information for the past two months that Prince Bandar’s absence has been due to his dismissal and due to a Saudi decision to back away from its policies regarding the regional conflict,” said the source in Riyadh.

The source confirms that Prince Bandar has actually been away due to medical reasons, however, he has resumed his activities this week from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh; where he has been recovering and where he has met with former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed.

But today he’s out.

Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan has been relieved of his post at his request, the official Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

The royal decree announcing that Prince Bandar was stepping down as president of General Intelligence gave no reasons for the move. He has been replaced by General Yousef Al Idrissi, the decree said.

I’m not sure anyone knows what these tea leaves mean. It may be that the “shoulder” injury Bandar had been treated for remains a serious health issue. It may be that — as one piece suggested — he retains some power here and has not ceded it back to Mohammed bin Nayef, who had taken over before Bandar’s return in March. It may be that this and King Abdullah’s designation of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in succession were done to time with Obama’s visit, to signal that America’s more favored successor, Mohammed bin Nayef, was not going to take over any time soon.

But it also comes among two other developments that may be related. First, since about the beginning of the year and increasingly in recent weeks, the Saudis are actually cracking down on terrorism, both real — including those who went to fight in Syria — and imagined. Perhaps the former, too, was a show for the US. But it did seem to reflect some concerns that Saudi efforts in Syria were increasing security concerns for the Kingdom (as well as other countries in the region and not).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that the same day that Bandar got “sacked” videos started showing opposition figures in Syria with US made anti-tank missiles, which is the kind of thing Bandar has decades of experience arranging. We’ll see whether those disappear like Bandar or represent a new escalation of efforts to oust Assad.


After Petraeus Paid Them For Peace, Are Sunnis of Anbar Now Paid by Bandar For Killing?

Iraq has been seeping back into the headlines lately, as civilian deaths there have now reached a level last seen in 2008. What is striking about this increase is that it did not occur until almost 18 months after the last US troops left Iraq.

Here is a screen capture of the latest data on civilian deaths in Iraq by Iraq Body Count:

IBC

Recall that the final US troops left Iraq in the middle of December, 2011. The civilian death rate had leveled off in 2010 and remained steady throughout all of 2012, not rising significantly until May of 2013. Recall that earlier this week, conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan were leaked, suggesting that should the US completely withdraw troops from Afghanistan as we did in Iraq, the situation would deteriorate very rapidly. With Iraq now at high levels of violence, it would be very easy for politicians to lose sight of the very long gap between withdrawal of our troops and the rise in civilian deaths. Iraq should not be used as a cautionary tale against complete withdrawal though, since there was such a long gap between the withdrawal and the degradation of security.

Recall that David Petraeus was quick to accept praise for the drop in civilian death rates that began in late 2007 and continued throughout 2008. Many attributed this calming to Petraeus’ surge and others ascribed it to the “Anbar Awakening” that Petraeus exploited:

Controversially, he even started putting some Sunni groups – including some that had previously fought the U.S. – on the American payroll. The “Anbar Awakening” of Sunni groups willing to cooperate with the Americans had begun in 2005, but at a smaller scale. Petraeus recognized that the groups had real community influence and ability to bring security, whether he liked them or not, and brought them on board. At the program’s peak in 2008, the U.S. had “contracted” 103,000 fighters who were now ostensibly paid to assist an American-dominated peace rather than the disrupt it. That same year, according to Ricks, the U.S. signed ceasefire deals with 779 separate Iraqi militias.

Other analysts, especially Daniel Davis, came to the conclusion that most of the decline in violence was due to Sunni citizens in Anbar rejecting the extreme violence to which al Qaeda had sunk and especially its toll on fellow Muslims.

As is well known, the turning point in 2007 Iraq came when the heart of the Sunni insurgency turned against al-Qaeda and joined with US Forces against them, dramatically reducing the violence in Iraq almost overnight. The overriding reason the Sunni insurgency turned towards the United States was because after almost two years of internal conflict between what ought to have been natural allies – al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the greater Sunni insurgency – a tipping point was reached whereby the Iraqi Sunnis finally and decisively turned against AQI. Had this unnatural split not occurred, by all accounts I have been given on both the Iraqi side and the US military side, “we would still be fighting in Iraq today,” in the words of two officers I know who fought there.

Although there likely are many factors that contributed to the eventual outbreak of violence in Iraq that elevated civilian death rates, one possibility that intrigues me is that the timing fits reasonably well to be a part of Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan’s play for regional dominance. Marcy noted this week that the recent bombings in Russia fit with Bandar’s warning delivered to Putin in a secret meeting last July. But if we go back to the report on that meeting, we see this about Bandar’s regional plan and especially how it applied to Syria:

Bandar discussed the Syrian issue at length. He explained how the kingdom’s position had evolved on the Syrian crisis since the Daraa incident all the way to what is happening today. He said, “The Syrian regime is finished as far as we and the majority of the Syrian people are concerned. [The Syrian people] will not allow President Bashar al-Assad to remain at the helm. The key to the relations between our two countries starts by understanding our approach to the Syrian issue. So you have to stop giving [the Syrian regime] political support, especially at the UN Security Council, as well as military and economic support. And we guarantee you that Russia’s interests in Syria and on the Mediterranean coast will not be affected one bit. In the future, Syria will be ruled by a moderate and democratic regime that will be directly sponsored by us and that will have an interest in understanding Russia’s interests and role in the region.”

So, back in July, Bandar was feeling confident that Assad would be overthrown and that those who established a new government would be firmly under Saudi control. That would suggest that Bandar felt he already had the proper forces in place and under his control.

As we know, things didn’t quite go the way Bandar expected in Syria, as the US backed off an attack at the last minute and chose a diplomatic approach with Syria surrendering its chemical weapons. Bandar has continued his meddling, though, and one of his charges just got arrested for activity in Lebanon:

Lebanese military authorities have arrested the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, the offshoot of al-Qaeda that claimed responsibility for the double suicide bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November, according to Lebanese news media.

The leader, Majid al-Majid, is a Saudi national whose radical Sunni group is closely allied with al-Qaeda in Iraq. The reports did not say when the arrest took place.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades came into being years before the conflict across the border in Syria, but the group has allied itself with extremists among the rebels fighting President Bashar Assad there and threatened more attacks if the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah did not stop sending its fighters to support him. Recently, Al-Majid reportedly pledged allegiance to the Nusra Front, another al-Qaeda-linked group fighting in Syria.

Hmm. Saudi support for a group in Iraq that is meddling both in Syria and Lebanon. Have a look at the CIA map of the regions we are discussing here:

803336.ai

 

The Anbar Province of Iraq (along with the much more peaceful Jordan) is what separates Saudi Arabia from Syria. It’s looking to me that Bandar decided that if Petraeus could pay off the Sunnis of Anbar to be peaceful, he could find a price at which they would help him with his plan for regional dominance.


Just on Time … Bandar’s Promised Terror Attacks?

Back in July, Bandar bin Sultan met with Vladimir Putin. As part of an effort to buy off Putin’s support of Bashar al-Assad, Bandar allegedly promised to be able to prevent terrorist attacks tied to the Sochi Olympics.

As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.” [my emphasis]

Admittedly, this version of the threat was Putin’s version of it, and admittedly Putin has his own history of allowing attacks to happen.

But Bandar has made such threats before, with more reliable countries. And Bandar’s surrogates have been issuing implicit threats since his July “warning.”

So as we follow the aftermath of the two attacks in Volgograd in two days, and as we get closer to the February start date for the Olympics, it’s worth remembering that Bandar boasted of controlling the Islamic terrorists in Russia.


“Bandar is now clearly the tip of the spear”

Back in October, in response to the Saudis taking their toys and going home from the UN, I warned, “I worry they disengaged from the UN because they are considering alternative means of pursuing their interests, means that would be loudly condemned in that body.”

Yesterday, Dick Cheney lackey John Hannah wrote a remarkable screed about Saudi complaints. It starts by warning that Obama’s Iran deal’s “greatest impact is not ensuring that Iran doesn’t get the bomb, but that the Saudis will.” In part to support this, he describes Mr. Tip of the Spear’s close consultations with the Pakistanis (who not only have the bomb but have thousands of our troops held hostage to supply lines through Pakistan).

Bandar is now clearly the tip of the spear in King Abdullah’s efforts to combat the Iranian threat around the region — not to mention the principal point of contact in the kingdom’s thick relationship with Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment.

Then after laying out the Saudi complaints (basically, that the US is not serving as meat in its efforts to extend its hegemony over the region), and after condemning John Kerry with a mix of emasculation and Saudi distrust, Hannah issues the threat Bandar likely suggested he issue:

An atmosphere this poisonous is dangerous, to say the least. The incentive for the Saudis to engage in all kinds of self-help that Washington would find less than beneficial, even destructive, is significant and rising. Driven into a corner, feeling largely abandoned by their traditional superpower patron, no one should doubt that the Saudis will do what they believe is necessary to ensure their survival. It would be a mistake to underestimate their capacity to deliver some very unpleasant surprises: from the groups they feel compelled to support in their escalating proxy war with Iran, to the price of oil, to their sponsorship (and bankrolling) of a much expanded regional role for Russia and China at America’s expense.

Ultimately, Hannah is warning that the Saudis will get — and, the suggestion is, with his language about “a very, very high price in blood, treasure, and U.S. interests,” use — the bomb.

But I can’t help but return to his focus on Bandar bin Sultan, who had financial ties (via donations to charities) and potential foreknowledge of Saudi ties to the 9/11 attacks. Former Senator Bob Graham has renewed his effort to bring attention to the Saudi role in the attack, though that never seems to go anywhere. And whether you consider ops like Iran-Contra terrorism or not, Bandar is clearly the master of covert ops.

What kind of self-help has Bandar insinuated to Hannah he plans to pursue?


Did Chuck Hagel Cut Off Poor Bandar?

I’m working on a longer post on how Saudi King Abdullah took all his toys and went home because we wouldn’t start an illegal war at his behest.

But for the moment, I want to look at a passage from this article reporting a Bandar bin Sultan tantrum.

Diplomats and officials familiar with events recounted two previously undisclosed episodes during the buildup to the aborted Western strike on Syria that allegedly further unsettled the Saudi-U.S. relationship.

In the run-up to the expected U.S. strikes, Saudi leaders asked for detailed U.S. plans for posting Navy ships to guard the Saudi oil center, the Eastern Province, during any strike on Syria, an official familiar with that discussion said. The Saudis were surprised when the Americans told them U.S. ships wouldn’t be able to fully protect the oil region, the official said.

Disappointed, the Saudis told the U.S. that they were open to alternatives to their long-standing defense partnership, emphasizing that they would look for good weapons at good prices, whatever the source, the official said.

In the second episode, one Western diplomat described Saudi Arabia as eager to be a military partner in what was to have been the U.S.-led military strikes on Syria. As part of that, the Saudis asked to be given the list of military targets for the proposed strikes. The Saudis indicated they never got the information, the diplomat said. The Pentagon declined to comment.

“The Saudis are very upset. They don’t know where the Americans want to go,” said a senior European diplomat not in Riyadh.

So, in the second anecdote, we have a European diplomat revealing that “the Pentagon” refused to share targeting information about our planned strikes in Syria. It’s a smart decision, mind you, but I wonder whether something specific precipitated that, particularly given the allegations Bandar was engaging in disinformation and worse. Withholding such information from him, for example, would have prevented him from ensuring a few bombing runs led to further involvement.

Then there’s the first incident, in which the Saudis were shocked that the US hadn’t included protecting its Eastern Province in any war plan for Syria. Again, it’s a lot easier to sow a full-blown war in Syria if you know you’re protected from Syria’s sponsors at home.

But I do think Saudi Arabia’s oil industry would have been the most logical countarattack for Syria and its allies, though probably using hacks rather than bombs.

Moreover, this gets to the expectations of the Technical Cooperation Agreement, in which the Saudis keep funneling us dollars and we protect its most vulnerable parts. Certainly, the Saudi threat to bring its weapons dollars elsewhere sure seems like a threat to discontinue it.

Still, this, too, was partly about sharing intelligence.

Has someone decided that the Saudis have been misusing the intelligence we’ve shared with them?


Bandar’s Hot and Cold Running Jihadis

As a reminder, it is fundraising week Chez Emptywheel. Please help support our work if you can.

In my questioning of the Administration’s case on Syria, I have focused on holes within their own story — inconsistent numbers, claims about chain-of-command even while boasting of a hundred defections, false assurances about the reliability of the rebels. Note, too, Jim’s catch about the timing of a rebel advance.

All the while I’ve been reading the several strands of stories alleging that rebel-tied people, not Assad, caused the attack. There’s the story that hacked emails show a recently retired American Colonel assuring his wife that the dead Syrian kids were just for show. There’s a new letter from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (who warned about the Iraq WMD) warning that Syria is a trap.

I’m not confident yet I buy these stories — and besides, there’s plenty of evidence that Vladimir Putin is waging as heavy a propaganda battle as the US government, so it could well be Russian propaganda.

But given all this, there’s one more item that deserves far more attention. Back in early August, I noted a Reuters report of a meeting between Bandar bin Sultan and Putin, in which Bandar offered Putin a lot of things he couldn’t deliver so long as Putin would give up on supporting Bashar al-Assad.

The day of the CW attack, what is clearly Putin’s version of the story got published. In addition to it depicting Bandar basically concluding (at the end of July) that “there is no escape from the military option” in Syria, it also alleged that Bandar claimed he could shut down jihadist influence in Syria and suggested he could prevent Chechen terrorists from attacking the Sochi Olympics. Or not, depending on whether Putin cooperated.

Bandar told Putin, “There are many common values ​​and goals that bring us together, most notably the fight against terrorism and extremism all over the world. Russia, the US, the EU and the Saudis agree on promoting and consolidating international peace and security. The terrorist threat is growing in light of the phenomena spawned by the Arab Spring. We have lost some regimes. And what we got in return were terrorist experiences, as evidenced by the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the extremist groups in Libya. … As an example, I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us. These groups do not scare us. We use them in the face of the Syrian regime but they will have no role or influence in Syria’s political future.

Putin thanked King Abdullah for his greetings and Bandar for his exposition, but then he said to Bandar, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism that you mentioned. We are interested in developing friendly relations according to clear and strong principles.”

Again, this is clearly Putin’s version of the meeting. We should assume it is at least partly propaganda.

However, the allegation that Bandar either implicitly or explicitly threatened the Olympics does very closely resemble a threat Bandar is documented to have made in the past.

Back in 2004, the British Serious Fraud Office started to investigate the Al-Yamamah arms deal under Maggie Thatcher, in which BAE would bribe members of the Saudi royal family to sell arms (as a special side deal, the bribes became a slush fund to run covert ops). In 2005, BAE started pressuring SFO to drop the investigation in the public interest, at first citing the business BAE would lose if SFO continued the investigation. Then in December 2006, Bandar flew to Britain and threatened Tony Blair that the Saudis would stop counterterrorism cooperation unless SFO dropped the investigation. Within weeks, SFO dropped the investigation.

That threat is documented this way in the paperwork describing the efforts to drop the investigation.

Similarly [REDACTION] approach to [REDACTION] via the [REDACTION] appears to have been confined to the effect on the Typhoon and Al Yamamah contract. [REDACTION] raises the prospect that Saudi co-operation on counter terrorism and the relationship on Iraq and the wider Middle East will suffer. The Cabinet Secretary has raised the possibility of harm to intelligence gathering, [REDACTION] and to multinational initiative to try to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict concluding that “if the Saudis are already starting to take such steps in relation to the Typhoon programme, then we must anticipate that they could follow though (sic) [REDACTION] in relation to counter terrorism and the bi-lateral relationship.”

But subsequent reporting of the meeting (based an investigation of SFO’s decision described the threats as even more explicit predictions of a repeat of the 7/7 Tube attack.

Saudi Arabia’s rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced “another 7/7” and the loss of “British lives on British streets” if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

The threat — at least as portrayed — is about withdrawing intelligence and in doing so ensuring the Brits get attacked. It’s not — as alleged in the Putin meeting — about controlling terrorists. And maybe that’s what Bandar really threatened Putin with, that he would stop sharing intelligence leading up to the Olympics.

Still, the BAE background makes it clear that Bandar does and has made such threats in the past. Which lends credence to the claim that he made some kind of similar threat here.


Louis Freeh Defending Iran-Contra Type Arms Deals Along with Bandar

There’s an aspect of the Louis Freeh interview on Frontline I find fascinating.

In defense of his client, Saudi Prince Bandar, on allegations that Bandar received billions in bribes associated with a huge BAE defense contract, Freeh mostly tries to pretend there’s a meaningful distinction between the Saudi family and high government officials in it. Thus, the plane and estate that Bandar got in connection with the BAE deal are actually government-owned facilities he has use of.

And conveniently, Freeh hasn’t looked at the Swiss Bank Accounts or the Yamamah contract, so he can’t comment on their legality.

But I’m also fascinated by a more subtle tactic Freeh uses–to implicate high ranking Americans (and Brits) in the use of the funds. 

He explains away that structure of the al Yamamah contract to Congressional intransigence during the Reagan Administration. Congress wouldn’t let the Administration sell planes to Saudi Arabia, so what was Reagan to do except encourage Margaret Thatcher to set up a big corrupt contract to bypass this restriction?

Freeh: In other words, the United States, was not able to sell the Saudis F15s, and I think you understand the origin to this contract. The King sent Prince Bandar, my client, to President Reagan with very specific instructions, “Buy F15s.” And of course the United States had armed the Saudi armed forces for the last 20 years before that.

President Reagan said to my client, “Congress will never approve the sale of F15s.” My client then went up to the hill, spoke to senior leadership on both sides of the aisle, and they said, “We can’t authorize the purchase of F15s by the King of Saudi Arabia.” He went back to President Reagan who said, “Go talk to Maggie Thatcher,” which my client did. That’s how Tornados and the treaty, not the contract but the treaty between the two countries, was originated.

He wanted to buy the planes in the United States.

[snip]

So there was only one bidder here by default and that was the British Aerospace Systems and the Toranado, at least as the contract began. So the way the treaty was set up, if the Ministry of Defense and Aviation wanted to purchase U.S. arms, U.S. arms could be purchased through BAE and DESO, which was the U.K. Ministry that did the purchasing, and that was sort of a way to purchase arms, transparent way to purchase arms, but in a way that did not deal with the objection of the U.S. Congress to the selling of American equipment to the Saudis.

While we knew that was the purpose of the contract, I still find it galling that Freeh dismisses Reagan’s effort to bypass Congressional restrictions so easily.

And then Freeh makes a point of listing the Presidents who flew on Bandar’s plane the plane the Saudi government allowed Bandar to paint and use almost exclusively. 

Louis Freeh: No, absolutely not, absolutely not. The plane was assigned to him. He traveled more than the Minister of Foreign Affairs because of the intricate relationship he had between three United States presidents, Lowell, and the King of Saudi Arabia. But the king used the plane, three of our U.S. presidents used the plane, prime ministers used the plane. The fact of the matter is, you know, whatever arguments and inferences you want to make, he did not own the plane.

I’m assuming the three Presidents were Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. But is this news? I mean, last I checked, the President–whichever one you’re talking about–has his own plane, Air Force One. But apparently all our presidents make a habit of flying around on Bandar’s own plane.

Why?

In any case, I find Freeh’s inclusion of those two details rather curious. At one level, he spends a lot of time excusing the Brits for dismissing the investigation after Bandar threatened to stop cooperating on terrorism.

Louis Freeh: No, not necessarily. If the President of the United States told the FBI, maybe this former supervisor’s equivalent, “Look, I know this is an important criminal investigation but for political reasons and for foreign policy reasons, we don’t want the Department of Justice to continue the investigation because there are very dangerous and impactful consequences that will flow from that investigation” the prosecutor is required to close that investigation.

The prosecutor can’t conduct totally unrestricted inquiries particularly if it impacts on the national security or the foreign relations of a country. So I think that’s what happened in England, not in the United States by the way, and I don’t find that to be unusual, given my experience and given the sensitive issues that were involved in this case. 

At the same time, neither Lowell Bergman nor Freeh mentions the allegations that this contract created a slush fund used to fund covert operations.

Freeh seems intent in raising details of those ops–and implicating all our recent presidents in them–along with his more general defense of Prince Bandar.


Bandar Bush Kicks the Poodle

Via AmericaBlog, the Guardian reports that Bandar bin Sultan, adoptive member of the Bush family, is alleged to have threatened Tony Blair to convince him to spike the investigation into BAE-related bribery of Bandar.

Saudi Arabia’s rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

He was accused in yesterday’s high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family. [my emphasis]

Now, it appears that Bandar threatened to "hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists" in the UK–I don’t think this suggests that Bandar was going to direct terrorists to attack the UK. Here is what the Poodle said about the meeting:

The critical difficulty presented to the negotiations over the Typhoon contract … All intelligence cooperation was under threat … It is in my judgment very clear that the continuation of the SFO investigation into al-Yamamah risks seriously damaging confidence in the UK as a partner … I am taking the exceptional step of writing to you myself

And here is what the British Ambassador (to Saudi Arabia, I guess?) said to the Serious Fraud Office:

We had been told that ‘British lives on British streets’ were at risk … If this caused another 7/7, how could we say that our investigation was more important? … If further investigation will cause such damage to national and international security, [the head of the SFO] accepted it would not be in the public interest

This explains why Bandar has, in the past, boasted about how critical the intelligence he provided to the US and UK about ongoing terrorist activities. By reminding–or claiming–that the biggest successes in thwarting terrorism have come only with the cooperation of Bandar Bush, it increases his ability to wield that cooperation to such great effect.

Still, if the allegation is true, it demonstrates the degree to which the Saudis (or at least Bandar) are willing to use Saudi-based terrorism as a weapon to retain the upper hand in its relations with the US and its allies.

It sure makes you wonder why Bandar didn’t make similar threats against the US–or if he did, why Bush didn’t respond?

Update: Here’s another description of how the investigation might affect relations with Saudi Arabia:

[REDACTION] raises the prospect that Saudi co-operation on counter terrorism and the relationship on Iraq and the wider Middle East will suffer. The Cabinet Secretary has raised the possibility of harm to intelligence gathering, [REDACTION] and to multinational initiative to try to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict concluding that “if the Saudis are already starting to take such steps in relation to the Typhoon programme, then we must anticipate that they could follow though (sic) [REDACTION] in relation to counter terrorism and the bi-lateral relationship.

Read that passage and contemplate the fact that the Poodle is now the Middle East envoy, purportedly in charge of negotiating a resolution to the Palestinian problem. Why do we need someone who has been threatened to go easy on the Saudis in charge of these negotiations?


Bandar and DOJ


Five Data Points on the Sessions News

As you no doubt have heard, Jeff Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year, then told the Senate Judiciary Committee he had either not talked about the election with any Russians (a written response to Patrick Leahy’s question) or not talked with Russians as a surrogate of the campaign (an oral response to Al Franken).WSJ describes the probe as reviewing stuff in spring of last year, so before the July contact with Kislyak. Thus far, Sessions, his spox, and anonymous Trump official have offered three conflicting explanations for Sessions’ non-disclosure, including Sessions’ own, “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”

Already, Democrats are demanding Sessions’ resignation and more Democrats and some Republicans are calling for him to recuse himself for the FBI counterintelligence investigation. The Twittersphere is calling for prosecution for perjury.

Update: WSJ had originally said Sessions and Kislyak spoke by phone, then corrected to in-person. According to this, he had one of each, with a phone followup several days after the in-person. Which means there’d be a transcript.

Jeff Sessions will almost certainly not be prosecuted for perjury

Which brings me to my first data point. Jeff Sessions is not going to be prosecuted for perjury. And that’s true for more reasons than that he is the AG.

First, it’s a hard crime to prove, because you have to prove that someone knowingly lied. Right now Sessions is all over the map, but he’s also dumb enough to be able to feign stupidity.

Plus, lying to Congress just doesn’t get prosecuted anymore. Remember, Alberto Gonzales lied in his own confirmation hearing in 2005, claiming there were no disagreements about Stellar Wind. It was always clear that was a lie, but even after Jim Comey confirmed that was the case with his May 2007 SJC hospital heroes performance, AGAG stuck around for another three months. And while his lie has often been cited as the reason for his departure in August 2007, I believe that the proximate reason is that he refused to do something Bush wanted him to do, at which point the White House threw him under the bus.

Plus, there are already at least three Trump officials who lied in their confirmation hearings — Mnuchin on his role in robosigning, DeVos on her role in the Prince family foundation, and Pruitt on his use of private emails. None of them are going anywhere.

Finally, in 2013, Holder’s DOJ went way out of its way to protect former DOJ official Scott Bloch from doing time after he lied to the House Oversight Committee. That precedent will make it all the harder to hold anyone accountable for lying to Congress in the future.

The timing of this roll-out gets more and more interesting

Now consider the timing of how all this rolled out.

In another blockbuster (revealing that the Obama Administration squirreled away information on Trump’s advisors to protect informants IDs from him, but also to ensure incriminating information would be available for others), NYT reveals that, after Putin’s non-response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions raised concerns, the FBI found Mike Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak on January 2.

On Jan. 2, administration officials learned that Mr. Kislyak — after leaving the State Department meeting — called Mr. Flynn, and that the two talked multiple times in the 36 hours that followed. American intelligence agencies routinely wiretap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, according to multiple current and former officials.

On January 10, the Trump dossier began to leak. Al Franken actually used that as the premise to ask Sessions about contacts with the Russians.

On January 12, David Ignatius published the first word of the Flynn-Kislyak calls, alerting anyone dumb enough not to already know that the FBI was going through Kislyak’s ties with Trump officials.

This had the effect of teeing up Flynn as a target, without giving Sessions (and other Trump officials) that their contacts with Kislyak were being scrutinized. And only after Flynn’s departure has this Sessions stuff come out.

I imagine someone in the White House Counsel’s office is now reviewing all the metadata and transcripts tied to Kislyak to see who else had curious conversations with him.

The claim Kislyak is the top spy recruiter

CNN’s version of this story and a separate profile of Kislyak insinuates that Session’s contact with Kislyak by itself is damning, because he “is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington.”

Current and former US intelligence officials have described Kislyak as a top spy and recruiter of spies, a notion that Russian officials have dismissed. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that “nobody has heard a single statement from US intelligence agencies’ representatives regarding our ambassador,” and attacked the “depersonalized assumptions of the media that are constantly trying to blow this situation out of proportion.”

Even aside from the fact that two Democrats — Joe Manchin of his own accord, and Claire McCaskill after she claimed never to have spoken with Kislyak — have also had contact with him, this seems like a red herring. No matter what Kislyak’s intention, it is still acceptable for someone to meet with a person presenting as a diplomat (for example, no one used to care that Saudi Arabia’s Bandar bin Sultan was running ops when he was Ambassador to the US).

Moreover, if current and former US intelligence officials are so sure Kislyak is the master spook in the US, why wasn’t he at the top of the Persona Non Grata list of 35 diplomats who got ejected at the end of December (though, as I’ve noted in the past, the Russian press was talking about him being replaced).

The delayed preservation request

Yesterday, AP reported that Don McGahn instructed White House officials on Tuesday to retain information relating to Russian contacts.

One official said McGahn’s memo instructs White House staff to preserve material from Trump’s time in office, and for those who worked on the campaign, relevant material from the election.

But the timing of this actually raises more questions. Preservation requests first went out February 17. Reince Priebus admitted knowing about it on the Sunday shows February 19. Sometime during the week of February 20-24, Sean Spicer with Don McGahn conducted a device check with White House staffers to see whether staffers were using Signal or Confide, the latter of which automatically deletes texts, the former of which can be set to do so (after Spicer warned everyone not to leak about the device check, it leaked).

And yet, McGahn only gave preservation instructions on February 28?

Now it’s possible the White House didn’t receive one of the letters sent on February 17 (which would raise other questions), which seems to be the implication of the AP report. But if it did, then McGahn sat on that preservation request for over 10 days, even while being involved in activities reflecting an awareness that staffers were using apps that thwarted retention rules.

Some things can’t be prosecuted

Contrary to what you may believe, thus far none of these reports have confirmed a smoking gun, and the NYT pointedly makes it clear that its sources are not claiming to have a smoking gun (which may not rule out that they have one they’re not yet sharing).

The nature of the contacts remains unknown. Several of Mr. Trump’s associates have done business in Russia, and it is unclear if any of the contacts were related to business dealings.

But consider that smoking guns may be different depending on what they are. That’s true because somethings may be perfectly legal — such as investments from shady Russians — that nevertheless pose a serious counterintelligence risk of compromise going forward.

Its all the more true when you factor in the role of Sessions and Trump. For some of this stuff (including the September meeting with Kislyak) Sessions will be protected by Speech and Debate. It’d be very hard for DOJ to prosecute Sessions for stuff he did as a Senator, even assuming you had someone else in charge of the investigation or department.

Likewise, other crimes may not rise to the level of criminal prosecution but would rise to the level of impeachment. Which is why this passage from the NYT is so interesting.

Obama White House officials grew convinced that the intelligence was damning and that they needed to ensure that as many people as possible inside government could see it, even if people without security clearances could not. Some officials began asking specific questions at intelligence briefings, knowing the answers would be archived and could be easily unearthed by investigators — including the Senate Intelligence Committee, which in early January announced an inquiry into Russian efforts to influence the election.

If FBI judged it could not prosecute Trump or his close associates for something but nevertheless believed the evidence constituted something disqualifying, what they’d want to do is preserve the evidence, make sure SSCI could find it, and provide tips — laid out in the NYT, if need be — about where to look.

And any things that did rise to the level of criminal charges would be a lot easier to charge if someone besides Sessions were in charge.

This seems to be very methodical.

Update: February for January preservation date requests corrected. h/t TN.

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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/?s=Bandar