Nothing Happens in a Vacuum: Diplomatic Scuffles and Academic Speeches in Moscow

In front of a brick building one pre-dawn summer morning, a security guard tackled a man as he walked toward the entrance after exiting a cab. The security guard slammed the man onto the building’s concrete steps, choking him as he restrained the man. The man managed to open the door and gain partial egress into the foyer without use of his hands while the guard continued to choke him.

The guard was Russian.

The man was an American.

The building was the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

The two-man scuffle happened June 6, 2016, exactly one month before Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page would view the EUFA Portugal vs. Wales semi-final match at a Morgan Stanley-hosted event in Moscow.

On June 26, WaPo’s Josh Rogin wrote about increasing harassment of U.S diplomats across Europe by Russia. Episodes included breaking into diplomats’ homes and stalking diplomats’ children. Norm Eisen, U.S. ambassador the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014, called this harassment “gray war.”

On June 29, Rogin wrote about the June 6 scuffle; the American was not identified by name or by employment. He may have been a diplomat or a spy under diplomatic cover; different sources gave different possible explanations.

But the guard who beat up the American was an FSB employee. The American’s shoulder was broken; the severity of his injuries required a flight out of Russia for urgent medical care.

On June 30, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova issued a statement* and claimed WaPo, the U.S. State Department and ‘special services’ had spread false information about the June 6 event. The FSB guard acted when the American didn’t show his ID; further, the “police officer on duty was attacked” and can be seen in surveillance video.

On July 7, Josh Rogin wrote that Congress had begun to investigate the June 6 event, concerned the FSB guard’s actions violated the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. The Obama administration had refused comment though State Department’s John Kirby said the Russian’s statements were “inaccurate” while administration officials quietly briefed members of Congress about the episode.

This same day Carter Page gave a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow, the day after he attended the EUFA semifinals viewing party, meeting Rosneft’s Directer of Investor Relations Andrey Baranov, Gazprom Investproekt’s CEO Oleg Nagovitsyn, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, and members of the Duma. A video of Page’s speech is uploaded that day to YouTube by a think tank.

On July 8, RT (Russia Today) publishes on YouTube a tightly edited excerpt from a surveillance camera videotape which captured the June 6 scuffle. The FSB guard clearly had the upper hand from the moment he slammed the unnamed diplomat to the concrete.

This same day Carter Page would give a commencement speech at the New Economic School; it, too, is captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, though not until months later.

How odd that it took a little over a month for RT to acquire the video and upload it to their YouTube channel.

How odd that RT never asked Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser, what he might recommend to Trump to prevent future “gray war” events like the June 6 scuffle.

How odd that the “gray war” episodes which concerned Republican members of Congress so much are now inert about the sanctions they placed on Russia, with little concern for the effect on NATO.

“The problem is there have been no consequences for Russia,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who serves as president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. “The administration continues to pursue a false narrative that Russia can be our partner. They clearly don’t want to be our partner, they’ve identified us as an adversary, and we need to prepare for that type of relationship.”

What changed since June 2016 besides the presidency?

* Open with caution; link is to a Russian government site.

 

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Ruin a Movie with a Name: Get Carter (Page)

[Get Carter by MGM c. 1971]

[NB: As always, check the byline before reading. ~Rayne]

After all the Nunes memo hubbub and the impending Democratic counterpart, erstwhile Trump campaign adviser Carter Page looks sketchier than ever after TIME reported this past Saturday that Page characterized himself as an “informal advisor to the Kremlin” back in 2013.

The FBI warned Page that same year that he was being recruited by spies; Page blew them off. During the following year the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page.

Page thought the FBI had retaliated against him — he knew his blow-off was pretty arrogant — but as much as he asked for trouble by saying they should focus on the Boston bombing, then as now, the body of his actions asked for more scrutiny.

Let’s take a step or two back and take a look at the bigger picture surrounding Page; the timeline here is a work in process and will be updated.


2010 — In New York City, Russian spies Igor Sporyshev, Victor Podobnyy, and Evgeny Buryakov began work on several economics-related objectives on behalf of Russia’s SVR ‘Directorate ER’; their efforts started shortly after guilty pleas by members of Russian ‘Illegals’ spy ring and their expulsion.

14 DEC 2012 — Bipartisan Magnitsky Act (Pub.L. 112–208) passed and signed into law.

XX JAN 2013Carter Page met Podobnyy in New York City at an Asia Society meeting where the topic was China and Chinese energy development. (specific date TBD).

2013 — Podobnyy and Sporyshev attempted to recruit Page. Special agents with the FBI’s New York Field Office Counterintelligence Division surveilled and investigated spies and Page.

XX JUN 2013 — FBI interviewed Page about his contacts with Russians and cautioned him he was being recruited (specific date TBD).

25 AUG 2013 — In a letter this date sent to an academic press, Page refers to himself as “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.”

13 APR 2013 — In response to the Magnitsky Act, Russian lawmakers banned 18 Americans from entering Russian Federation, including Preet Bharara, a judge and 12 other DOJ/DEA personnel from the Southern District of New York. Russia also barred adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

2014 — FBI obtains a FISA warrant to monitor Page‘s communications (specific date TBD).

26 JAN 2015 — Russian spy Buryakov arrested; he had non-official cover as an employee of Vnesheconombank. Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy had already left the country; both had diplomatic immunity. Case was under U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office for Southern District of New York. Page‘s identity was masked and appeared in the complaint against the spies as “MALE-1.” (See Buryakov, et al complaint (pdf))

DEC 2015 — George Papadopoulos began work for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

Late 2015 — New York’s GOP chair Ed Cox was in contact with Page. It is not clear from Page‘s testimony how this contact occurred; Page uses the word volunteered more than once.

JAN 2016 — Page had at least one meeting with campaign officials based on his contact with Ed Cox; in his HPSCI testimony he said he met Corey Lewandowski. Page was an unpaid adviser. Unclear from testimony if Sam Clovis had Page sign an NDA now or later in the campaign, before the July trip to Moscow.

FEB 2016 — Papadopoulos left Carson’s campaign.

Early MAR 2016 — Sam Clovis recruited Papadopoulos to work for Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

06 MAR 2016 — Clovis relayed to Papadopoulos that “a principal foreign policy focus of the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia,” according to court records related to Papadopoulos’ eventual indictment. Clovis later denied saying this.

14-21 MAR 2016 — Prof. Joseph Mifsud met twice with Papadopoulos; Mifsud brought to the second meeting “Olga” who posed as Putin’s niece.

XX MAR 2016 — Page had breakfast in “March-ish” timeframe with Sam Clovis in Falls Church, VA to discuss NDA and “general foreign policy topics.”

21 MAR 2016Page joined Trump campaign as one of five foreign policy advisors, including George Papadopoulos.

MAR-APR 2016 — Dialog continued between Papadopoulos, Mifsud, Olga Vinogradova (referred to as Olga Poloskaya in some earlier reports). [link, link]

24 MAR 2016 — Papadopoulos sends an email copying campaign foreign policy advisers and Sam Clovis, offering to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump.”

28 MAR 2016 — Article: Donald Trump Hires Paul Manafort to Lead Delegate Effort

26 APR 2016 — Papadopoulos learned the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton consisting of “thousands of emails.”

05 MAY 2016 — Trump is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Page emailed fellow foreign policy adviser Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, asking them to contact him via cell phone or iMessage, adding “P.S. I forgot to mention that I also have the Middle East staple of [redacted]* as well. So that’s another global connectivity alternative if you want to get in touch there.” (* Believed to be the name of a regionalized communications system. See testimony transcript (pdf).)

16 MAY 2016Page sent an email to Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, suggesting that Trump visit Russia  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

24 MAY 2016Page emailed J.D. Gordon: “FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room when you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third-World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on the receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge. Rather than saying too much, I’ll just refer to the seven points on my list which I sent last night.” (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

26 MAY 2016 — Page emailed J.D. Gordon and another foreign policy team member, Bernadette Kilroy, letting them know he will be speaking at the New Economic School’s commencement alongside Russia’s Sberbank’s chair and CEO  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

27 MAY 2016Page may have met Paul Manafort associate Rick Gates at Trump’s North Dakota speech event (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

Early JUN 2016Page called Putin “stronger and more reliable than President Obama” and “touted the positive effect a Trump presidency would have on U.S.-Russia relations” according to attendees of a meeting of campaign foreign policy team members with India’s Prime Minister Modi. Modi’s trip was five days long, beginning June 8.

09 JUN 2016 — Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya et al., ostensibly about Russian adoptions.

XX JUN 2016 — After back-and-forth and an initial refusal with Corey Lewandowski, J.D. Gordon, and Hope Hicks, Page finally  obtains approval from Lewandowski to travel to Russia as a campaign team member (specific date TBD). In HPSCI testimony there is an exchange about an email he sent asking for feedback about the speech he was going to give in Moscow; same email mentions Russia’s Minister of Economics and Trade Herman Gref was expected to speak at the same event.

30 JUN 2016 — On the Thursday before his Moscow trip Page attended a dinner meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in DC at which both Sen. Jeff Sessions and George Papadopoulos were present and seated next to each other. Page testified to HPSCI this is the last time he saw Papadopoulos, and that he (Page) wasn’t going to Russia as part of the campaign team.

05 JUL 2016Page‘s trip to Russia. (05-09 JUL 2016; in his HPSCI testimony he said he left Sunday night, which would have been July 3.)

06 JUL 2016 — In his HPSCI testimony Page admits to meeting Rosneft’s Directer of Investor Relations Andrey Baranov at a Morgan Stanley-hosted Europa football event as well as [redacted] Nagovitsyn* of Gazprom; he also admitted to having a 10-second exchange with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich as well as meeting members of the Duma. (* This may be Oleg Nagovitsyn who in 2014 had been CEO of Gazprom Investproekt, a subsidiary entity; Nagovitsyn has been elevated to General Director of Gazprom if this is the same Oleg.)

07 JUL 2016Page gave a speech at New Economic School; his speech is critical of U.S. foreign policy. He testified that the school paid for his expenses. (video)

08 JUL 2016Page attended and gave commencement speech at New Economic School graduation.  (videoPage avoided answering journalists’ questions both days regarding officials Page may have/will meet with in Russia. Page emailed campaign advisers Tera Dahl and J.D. Gordon, telling them he would send them “a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

14 JUL 2016 — Page praises fellow foreign policy advisers and campaign team members J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares, Joseph Schmitz, Bert Mizusawa, Chuck Kubic, and Tera Dahl for their work changing the GOP platform on Ukraine.

18-21 JUL 2016Page spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak during the Global Partners in Diplomacy event  associated with the RNC Convention in Cleveland (specific date TBD).

19 JUL 2016 — Former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele wrote a memo about Page‘s July trip to Moscow. Steele’s intelligence said Page met with Rosneft’s Igor Sechin and Russian Internal Affairs minister Igor Diveykin.

U.S. received intelligence that Page met with Igor Sechin, Putin associate, former Russian deputy prime minister, and executive chairman of Rosneft, but it isn’t clear whether this intelligence is based on Steele’s dossier alone and/or if disinformation involved.

After 22 JUL 2016 — Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey disclosed to the FBI that diplomat Alexander Downer learned from George Papadopoulos the Trump campaign had “dirt” on HRC in the form of emails.

XX JUL 2016Page had dinner alone with Sam Clovis some time after the July trip to Moscow.

05 AUG 2016 — Article: Trump adviser’s public comments, ties to Moscow stir unease in both parties; includes a profile of Page. Hope Hicks characterized Page as “informal policy adviser.”

19 AUG 2016 — Paul Manafort resigns from the campaign two days after Trump’s first security briefing. Steve Bannon assumes Manafort’s role for the campaign.

26 AUG 2016 — Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey asking for the investigation of Russian hacking and influence on the 2016 election with publication of findings. Reid cited the example of an unnamed Trump adviser “who has been highly critical of U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russia, and who has conflicts of interest due to investments in Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom, met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow in July 2016…” (link)

XX AUG 2016 — Page said he sold his ADR shares in Gazprom this month, approximately five months after joining the campaign; it’s not clear whether this sale happened before or after Sen. Reid’s letter (see written testimony (pdf)).

XX AUG 2016 — Page traveled to Hungary and met with the ambassador to the US; the ambassador had already met Page at the RNC convention. They discussed U.S.-Russia policy as it affected Hungary — “in general,” according to Page‘s testimony.

23 SEP 2016 — Article: U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin.

25 SEP 2016Page wrote to Comey and asked him to end the investigation into his trip to Russia (see written testimony).

26 SEP 2016Page left Trump campaign.

Mid to Late SEP 2016 — After discussing the matter with Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele metwith the FBI in Rome to share what he had learned about the Trump campaign and related Russian efforts. Steele was concerned there was a crime in progress; some of his research shared included information about Page‘s interactions with key Russians during his July trip.

21 OCT 2016 — FISA warrant on Page obtained.

24-OCT-2016 — Page did an interview with Russian media outlet RT on its Going Underground program. Program host and Page characterized Page‘s status as “on leave” from the campaign. Page‘s written testimony shared that Wikileaks and leaked emails “tangentially came up.” (video, uploaded to YouTube on 29-OCT-2016.)

08 NOV 2016 — Election Day.

08 DEC 2016 — Page took another trip to Russia; Arkady Dvorkovich stopped by a dinner Page attended and said hello according to Page‘s testimony (specific date TBD). Page also met Shlomo Weber again; he had lunch with Andrey Baranov, a bank analyst with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and a third person whose names were redacted at Page‘s request. He had a laptop with him at the lunch which he said he used to share his speech and slides for another academic presentation. The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said there were no plans to contact Page yet managed to see Page just before a television interview.

XX DEC 2016 — On the return leg to the U.S., Page stopped in London to attend an energy conference. While in London he met with a Russian national, Sergey Yatsenko, in London on return from Moscow; they talked about opportunities in Kazahkstan related to the country’s privatization process and the sovereign wealth fund, Samruk Kazyna. They were joined by the Kazahk ambassador to the U.K. and an aide.

10 JAN 2017 — BuzzFeed published 35 pages of the dossier Steele prepared for Orbis under contract to Fusion GPS.

Mid JAN 2017 — Jones Day LLP, White House counsel Don McGahn’s former law firm, communicated with Page, instructing him not to depict himself as a representative of the campaign. Steve Bannon conveyed a similar message by text to Page.

XX JAN 2017 — In an interview with ABC News, Page said he didn’t meet with any Russian officials on behalf of Trump campaign or with Igor Sechin (specific date not clear in ABC’s report).

18 JAN 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (before inauguration).

19 JAN 2017 — Article: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates; Page along with Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have become subjects of an investigation.

20 JAN 2017 — Inauguration Day.

31 JAN 2017 — Trump nominated Maryland’s U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General.

31 JAN 2017 — Page told ABC News’ Brian Ross he never talked to anyone in the Kremlin about the campaign during his July trip, “not one word.”

15 FEB 2017 — Interview: Former Trump adviser says he had no Russian meetings in the last year

JUDY WOODRUFF:
Did you have any meetings — I will ask again — did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?

CARTER PAGE:
I had no meetings, no meetings.

I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation — the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.

02 MAR 2017 — Interview: Page: ‘I don’t deny’ meeting with Russian amb.; Page admitted meeting Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign.

04 MAR 2017 — Corey Lewandowski told Fox News, “I never met Carter Page.”

11 MAR 2017 — Preet Bharara fired by USAG Jeff Sessions.

11 MAR 2017Page sent a letter to the HPSCI asking to be interviewed in a public hearing. His letter coincided with letters from Paul Manafort and Roger Stone who both volunteered to be interviewed.

03 APR 2017 — ABC News and BuzzFeed contacted Page about his role as MALE-1 in Buryakov et al spy ring case ((see written testimony (pdf))

13 APR 2017Page told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he “said hello briefly to one individual, who was aboard member of the New Economic School where I gave my speech” during his July 2016 to Moscow. He also hedged as to whether he had any discussion of sanctions while in Russia.

05 APR 2017 — Evgeny Buryakov was released from prison on March 31 and expelled from the U.S. days later; he had been credited with time served while in custody against his 2.5 year sentence. His deportation shortened his sentence by a couple of months.

~19 APR 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

25 APR 2017 — Rod Rosenstein confirmed by Senate as Deputy Attorney General.

28 APR 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Page along with Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone asking for records related to the campaign, including a “list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2017.”

05 MAY 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair sent a joint statement to Page to insist on his cooperation with their investigation.

09 MAY 2017 — FBI Director James Comey fired.

21 MAY 2017—Page requested appealed to the DOJ, FBI, NSA for disclosure of “information, applications and other materials related to my illegitimate FISA warrant” (see written testimony (pdf)).

~18 JUL 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

04 OCT 2017 — HPSCI issued a subpoena to Page.

10 OCT 2017Page informed the Senate Intelligence Committee he would plead the Fifth Amendment and not testify in front of the SIC.

30 OCT 2017 — Excerpt from interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes suggests Page expected House Speaker Paul Ryan to release the FISA warrant documentation (video, about 06:57):

HAYES: Did you bring an attorney to you when you spent five hours before the Senate?

PAGE: Nope. Nope. I’m very, very open and happy to give all the information I can. In the interest of really getting the truth out there, because I think when the truth comes out, when Speaker Paul Ryan says the FISA warrant or the details about the dodgy dossier and what happened and all this documents around that is going to be released, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I think the truth will set a lot of people free.

02 NOV 2017 — In testimony submitted to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Page said he briefly met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during his July trip. Page pleaded the Fifth Amendment on some of the materials responsive to the HPSCI’s subpoena.

14 NOV 2017 — Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee; he said he did not remember seeing Page at the June 30, 2016 dinner with campaign team members, nor did he recall any communications about Page‘s trip to Moscow.


Again, this is not a complete timeline of Trump-Russia events, let alone a complete timeline of everything Carter Page. It captures some key points from just before the FBI became aware of Carter Page through the release of the Nunes’ memo Friday last week.

From a comprehensive meta level, the push operation to release the Nunes memo — driven in part with help from Russian bots promoting #ReleaseTheMemo, complementing Page’s request for the FISA warrant documentation — looks less like an effort to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel or Rod Rosenstein as U.S. Deputy AG.

As others have suggested, Page looks like an expendable mule and/or a decoy — a perfect fit for a perfect useful idiot.

The entire picture reflects a more comprehensive effort to attack the USDOJ apart from Jeff Sessions, and to undermine or obscure the opposition research process which included the Steele dossier.

And it looks more like Devin Nunes aided Putin’s continued attack against the U.S.’ Magnitsky Act, attempting to undermine law enforcement charged with executing this public law.

For all the concern that Page and other campaign team members might have talked about the sanctions with Russia, the Magnitsky Act is lost in the media buzz.

There are quite a few oddities about Page which should cause the average Joe to take pause. Why did Page join the campaign in March 2016 when Trump wasn’t the presumptive nominee until the first week of May after the Indiana primary? Did he just show up at the campaign’s doorstep via Ed Cox on his own or was he recruited/encouraged? Why wasn’t Page vetted more thoroughly by the campaign?

And why when he joined the campaign was he not expected to have already eliminated any conflicts of interest like his Gazprom ADRs? The financial conflict made Page an easily compromised mark even though both campaign and administration didn’t and don’t give a fig about ethics. It’s not clear how Page earns his keep; he testified he was living off his savings. Did he sell his ADRs only because he was low on cash? In other words, was he at risk for financial compromise?

(An aside: with Page’s relationships to Russian oil and gas community members, did Page buy or sell his ADRs on what might have been insider information? He didn’t do well if he sold in August 2016 but it’s not clear when and at what price he bought the ADRs to begin with.)

How did a guy with such thin credentials — he was awarded his doctorate in 2012 after his thesis was twice rejected — end up speaking not just once at the New Economic School but twice, giving the commencement speech? Not to mention his flaky personal style spies Podobnyy and Sporyshev noted years earlier. What was in his speeches that students, faculty, and distinguished guests alike needed to hear? Did someone at the New Economic School ‘review’ an electronic or hardcopy version of the speeches in advance? This is a question the HPSCI attempted to ask but didn’t receive a clear answer. Did a member of Russia’s government ‘review’ the speeches?

Why was there such a lag between Page’s trip to Russia and the FISA warrant given Page’s history?

Some pieces in this puzzle hint at other possible connections. Recall that Rosenstein — who has been involved in the FISA warrants since Comey was fired — was the US Attorney for Maryland. Pioneer Point, one of Russia’s compounds confiscated December 29, 2016 under sanctions related to hacking the DNC, is located on the water in Maryland.

Maryland was also home to a Manafort-related business SCG raided on May 11 last year. Has Rosenstein been kept preoccupied so that he would not be involved in anything related to either Pioneer Point or SCG? Who (if anyone) was nominated to replace Rosenstein in Maryland? Has the pressure on Rosenstein been two-fold — not just to discourage another extension of the FISA warrant on Page, but to keep him from looking too closely in what was once his backyard?

Key events from George Papadopoulos’ tenure with the campaign were included in the timeline for comparison between two foreign policy advisers working for the same campaign. What marching orders did these two receive from Clovis or other senior campaign team members? They’re off doing their own things but both generating trouble at the same time. Page’s open activities drew media attention; Papadopoulos’ efforts were not as visible to the public. Was this intentional? Why did the campaign need not one but two foreign policy advisers with fossil fuel-based energy backgrounds mingling with Russians? Were they both proof-of-concepts establishing back channel communications, testing approaches to see which would be more successful? Were there any other attempts at back channels via campaign team members?

And while we’ve been focused on these two advisers, at least three others continued their work for the campaign and possibly into the transition. What were they doing?

It’s worth reading the HPSCI transcript of Page’s oral and written testimony. He’s a lousy writer; his work borders on irrational. His oral responses during the HPSCI hearing are as bad if not worse. Of particular concern is his repetitive use of certain arguments and phrases which have been use at times by online provocateurs.

Other persons and issues aside, consider this particular excerpt in a report published about a month before the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page:

Page came to the attention of officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow several years ago when he showed up in the Russian capital during several business trips and made provocative public comments critical of U.S. policy and sympathetic to Putin. “He was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did,” said one U.S. official who served in Russia at the time.

How could the FBI not have requested a FISA warrant given what we the public already knew about Carter Page once he left for Moscow last July?

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Michael Flynn: Serial Doublecrosser

Yesterday, Representative Elijah Cummings, along with the rest of the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, released blockbuster information from a whistleblower who was at a celebratory event on Trump’s inauguration day. The whistleblower met and talked with Alex Copson, founder and managing partner of ACU Strategic Partners. Recall that I have been posting recently on Michael Flynn’s advocacy for a deal to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. I have focused so far on IP3 and their security arm, Iron Bridge Partners. First, I noted that IP3 believes US strategy in the Middle East has been to “resource conflict“. Next, I asked whether the Iron Bridge vision for security surrounding the proposed nuclear power plants actually anticipated the Saudi orb. Most recently, I described the chilling plans IP3 had for diversifying the Saudi economy.

Flynn’s reported association with IP3 was preceded by an association with ACU. In the discussion to follow, it is important to remember that the Saudi proposals from ACU have concentrated on Russia building the nuclear power plants while IP3 initially proposed working with China and then moved to advocating the US building the power plants.

When reviewing the information released yesterday, it becomes abundantly clear that Michael Flynn has been remarkably dishonest in his dealings since he was fired from his role as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency by President Obama. Here is just a partial list of key times Flynn has doublecrossed various entities.

Doublecrossing the United States

A key feature of the treasure trove of information Cummings and his colleagues released yesterday is a timeline on Flynn. Early developments on the timeline center on an appearance Flynn made on June 10, 2015 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As noted in the timeline, Flynn did not disclose his work at that time on behalf of ACU. Here is a key clip from his testimony, where he mentions one of two trips to the Middle East he made that month. Note especially that he is stating that he wants the US to be “in the driver’s seat” on building nuclear power plants in the region, despite being paid at that time by ACU, who wanted to have Russia build the plants (the video should start at the beginning of the relevant words from Flynn at 1:50:20; the comment lasts just under three minutes):

Note that Flynn says he doesn’t want Egypt talking to Russia about building nuclear power plants. We have learned that on one of his June 2015 trips, Egypt was one of the countries that Flynn visited. Was Flynn merely ineffective on this and other trips to the Middle East, or was he being duplicious? Just a few months later, we see this announcement from Egypt, on November 19, 2015, that Egypt and Russia have finalized a deal for Russia to build a nuclear reactor in Egypt. Further, the announcement mentions that a memorandum of understanding on the reactor had been signed back in February of 2015, several months before the Flynn trip that we know of.

But that’s not all. Just over a week after this appearance before the committee advocating for the US to be in control of the Saudi nuclear plans, both Saudi Arabia and Russia announced an agreement for Russia to build the plants. A careful reading of these announcements and in some of the contemporary press accounts of them makes it look as though the agreement signed was very preliminary and seemed to be setting the stage legally for the two countries to get into more detailed discussions. In other words, it seems even more preliminary than the memorandum of understanding between Russia and Egypt the previous February, but it certainly seemed to set the stage for Russia to be seen as clearly the frontrunner for a later agreement on actual construction of the power plants.

The information Cummings released yesterday makes me think that Flynn, despite his claims to the Foreign Affairs Committee, has actually been working to push a deal for Russia to build the power plants. From the Cummings timeline:

On January 20, 2017, according to a whistleblower, Alex Copson of ACU claimed that Flynn sent him a text while President Trump was delivering his inaugural address indicating that the nuclear project was now “good to go” and directing his business colleagues to move forward. Copson reportedly stated that “Mike has been putting everything in place for us” and that “This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people.” He added that Flynn was making sure that sanctions would be “ripped up” as one of his first orders of business and that this would allow money to start flowing into the project.

Wow. There’s just no other way to read this than that Copson felt Flynn had been working for his group all along and that “ripping up” the sanctions against Russia were a key to getting the project rolling. And that has to mean that Russia building the plants was a central feature of their plans and their excitement over Trump taking office.

That leads us to the next level of doublecrossing.

Doublecrossing Business Partners

Excerpts from a recent Washington Post article give us some dates on Flynn’s association with ACU and then IP3:

The proposal — to develop a “Marshall Plan” of investment in the Middle East — was being pushed by a company that Flynn said he had advised during the 2016 campaign and transition. The firm was seeking to build nuclear power plants in the region.

His advocacy for the project in the White House surprised some administration officials and raised concerns that Flynn had a conflict of interest. From August to December 2016, he said he served as an adviser to the company, IP3, reporting later on his disclosure forms that he ended his association with the firm just weeks before joining the administration.

/snip/

Before his association with IP3, Flynn served as an adviser from April 2015 until June 2016 to ACU Strategic Partners, which had its own plan to help build nuclear plants in the Middle East, in conjunction with Russian interests.

In June 2015, he traveled to Egypt and Israel on a trip paid for by ACU to promote the plan. Flynn later failed to disclose the trip in his security clearance renewal application in 2016, according to Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, an omission they said may have violated federal law.

Got that? Flynn was with ACU from April 2015 until June 2016 and then IP3 from August 2016 until December 2016. But, the Post article notes that Flynn pushed an IP3-related article in the first week of Trump’s presidency, while we saw above that during the inauguration he was texting the head of ACU. [Note: I am still working separately to decipher the many changes of alliances of ACU, IP3, Iron Bridge and others] even though he had supposedly ended his relationships with both. It is very hard to come to any other conclusion than that Flynn may well have been trying to play the two groups off one another, only to then reclaim association with whichever one came out on top, doublecrossing the losing side.

Doublecrossing Trump

Now that Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe, it is clear that he has doublecrossed Trump.

Doublecrossing Himself

Remember that this happened during the Republican National Convention:

After advocating for Hillary Clinton to be locked up, now it’s pretty hard to see how Flynn avoids prison time for his own crimes, even with a sentence that is likely to be reduced due to his participation in the Mueller probe. But given Flynn’s propensity for doublecrossing, I fully expect him to get caught violating the terms of his agreement with Mueller and wind up with some very serious time behind bars. It’s just who he is.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

The Ridiculous — and Chilling — IP3 Plan for Saudi Economic Diversification

Last week, I pointed out that the retired military generals of IP3, one of the companies that Michael Flynn dabbled with while looking into Saudi Arabia’s plan to develop nuclear power, viewed the US strategy in the Middle East as one of “resourcing conflict“.  I then looked a bit further into the security aspect of IP3’s proposals. But as we see in slide 9 of the IP3 PowerPoint presentation for the Saudi king from August of 2016, IP3 derives its name from “Peace” (the security plan), “Power” (the nuclear power plant construction) and “Prosperity”:

It seems that IP3 views “Prosperity” as encompassing diversification of the Saudi economy, and that somehow it will come about from the lower costs involved in nuclear power, a newly skilled workforce, water desalination and a “smart city”. But, if we also look at the IP3 article at Medium that I found earlier, we see more information on this economic plan. In fact, part of it is found in the same sentence as the “resourcing conflict” phrase:

We need a strategy that doesn’t rely solely on resourcing conflict with weapons sales, arms agreements, or new deployments of U.S. military forces, but one of empowerment through the intellectual capital and industrial might of our nation’s private sector.

Let that soak in for a second: we are talking here in the context of diversifying the Saudi economy, and IP3 is saying that the Saudis will be “empowered”, but that will come about “through the intellectual capital and industrial might of our nation’s private sector”. It’s the business brainpower and the actual businesses themselves from the US that are to drive building a vibrant Saudi economy that relies on more than just oil. From another part of the article:

The people of the Middle East and North Africa need clean, reliable electricity. They need water. They need more career opportunities, and jobs that do not rely on fossil fuel exports alone. They have bold ambitions for a more prosperous future and more inclusive societies.

Note also that this pitch from IP3 is meant to provide the US as an alternative to growing Russian influence in the Middle East. The PowerPoint presentation suggests working with China, although the Medium article proposes a US-only plan. [Side note: I’m currently very deep in the rabbit hole of the various corporate groups and their changing alliances through the past few years, along with the various power plant agreements that countries in the area have executed to date. It’s very complex and has changed very many times. If I find anything useful in the analysis, especially how Flynn fits into the various groups, it will be another post in this series.] In that context, IP3 laments that the US is at a disadvantage, because the competing operations from Russia and China are state-supported:

As a recent report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes, both countries “receive significant state support for their ambitious technology export plans,” …

It really seems that what IP3 wants is a situation in which the the company gets all the benefits of “free enterprise” but also enjoys the sizable advantage of being the “chosen one” to get the imprimatur of the US government so that competing groups are excluded. That would explain why Flynn faces so much more potential legal trouble if the reports of him continuing to push one or more of the competing proposals once he became National Security Advisor turn out to be true, especially if he still stood to profit from the work.

But why nuclear in the first place? Of course, peak oil is coming, and so the Saudis know they have to wean themselves from their dependence on oil for domestic energy consumption. The World Nuclear Association gives some hard numbers for Saudi needs and the evolution of their plans for diversification:

Saudi Arabia’s population has grown from 4 million in 1960 to over 31 million in 2016. It is the main electricity producer and consumer in the Gulf States, with 338 TWh gross production in 2015, 150 TWh from oil and 189 TWh from gas. It consumes over one-quarter of its oil production, and while energy demand is projected to increase substantially, oil production is not, and by 2030 a large proportion will be consumed domestically, much of it for electricity generation. Its per capita consumption is about 9000 kWh/yr, heavily subsidised.

Generating capacity is over 30 GWe. Demand is growing by 8-10% per year and peak demand is expected to be 70 GWe by 2020 and 120 GWe by 2032, driven partly by desalination increase.

I was pretty surprised by this. I viewed Saudi oil production as being much larger than domestic consumption, so the fact that they already consume a quarter of their production and their domestic generation capacity will need to expand up to four fold in only 15 years puts them on the brink of catastrophe. Their planning to diversify has started, but changed recently:

It had plans to install 24 GWe of renewable electricity capacity by 2020, and 50 GWe by 2032 or 2040, and was looking at the prospects of exporting up to 10 GWe of this to Italy or Spain during winter when much generating capacity is under-utilised (cooling accounts for over half the capacity in summer). The 50 GWe in 2032 (later: 2040) was to comprise 25 GWe CSP [Ed note: CSP = Concentrated Solar Power], 16 GWe solar PV, 4 GWe geothermal and waste (together supplying 150-190 TWh, 23-30% of power), complementing 18 GWe nuclear (supplying 131 TWh/yr, 20% of power), and supplemented by 60.5 GWe hydrocarbon capacity which would be little used (c10 GWe) for half the year. The nuclear target date has now been put back to 2040. In 2016 renewables targets were scaled back from 50% to 10% of electricity (by 2040?) as plans shifted more to gas, so that it would increase its share from 50% to 70%.

That earlier plan looked pretty reasonable, with most of the increases in power generation coming from a mix of renewable sources. But that all changed in 2016, with renewables getting cut substantially, from a 50% target down to only 10% and the share of generation accounted for by natural gas actually increasing from 50% to 70%. So what happened to cause this switch away from renewables and back to natural gas (even while some of the discussions on nuclear are continuing)? [Note that a 1.2 GWe solar power plant is opening soon elsewhere in the Middle East, so the Saudis are falling behind on solar.] For one thing, the price of natural gas dropped by about 60% from early 2014 to the beginning of 2016. That timeframe also coincides with the rising influence of Mohammed bin Salman, as his father became king in 2015 and MBS was named Crown Prince this summer.

As Vox explained to us recently, MBS’s “purge” was all about Saudi life after oil. But like his best buddies in the Trump Administration, he can’t really seem to get anything right. Note that gas prices have now re-stabilized at only about 25% lower than they were during most of 2013 to 2015. Also, remember the “smart city” in the IP3 presentation? Bruce Riedel described that and other bits of MBS’s “reforms” to the New Yorker:

“The Saudi Vision 2030 is increasingly turning out to be a failure in economic terms. It has more and more the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme. This new city, Neom, in the Gulf of Aqaba that is supposed to attract five hundred billion dollars of investment and where normal rules of Saudi society aren’t going to apply—meaning women can do things—will have more robots than people. This isn’t serious. This is the kind of thing used to divert people from the real issues,” Riedel said.

The Crown Prince’s regional strategy has also either stalled or backfired, too. “His signature policy is the Yemen war, which has come home to haunt Riyadh,” Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution, said. “Its Qatar blockade is a failure. It wants Qatar to be like Bahrain, just an appendage. And Qatar hasn’t given in.”

That’s pretty much how it seems to me, too. I really don’t buy any of the lip service that the changes MBS is bringing about are aimed at bringing more liberal thought into the kingdom or improving the lives of the general population. I see a huge power grab at a level that makes Trump and MBS buddy Kusher jealous. A purge that results in torture of those detained looks much more like consolidation of power than a move toward a more open society.

And that’s why the collection of technology aimed at “security” of the proposed nuclear sites makes me think it’s all about keeping the population in line as more and more rivals are eliminated. I also think that’s why various US companies have been jostling to be in line when contracts start getting handed out.

As a postscript, I would also note this Intercept article on Erik Prince and the push for privatized intelligence sources. Recall I felt like he had a hidden hand in the Iron Bridge model of security ostensibly around the power plants, as well. Somehow, all these plans with private companies and governments working together in new areas starts to get pretty creepy.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Retired Generals of Flynn-Associated IP3: “United States Mideast Strategy Is Resourcing Conflict”

Yesterday, I decided that I should take a deep dive into a couple of issues that are playing big roles in current political drama: the Middle East nuclear power plant plans that Michael Flynn “represented” in some travel but did not note in his security disclosures and the manufactured controversy over Uranium One. I’m still reading and hope to post regularly on these and other topics, but want to point out one passing reference that made my jaw drop.

In Monday’s Washington Post article on Flynn’s troubles, we have this passage:

Around June 2016, according to his financial disclosure, Flynn ended his association with ACU and began advising a company called IP3/IronBridge, co-founded by retired Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt, a former ACU adviser.

IP3 initially proposed partnering with China and other nations, rather than Russia, to build nuclear power plants, according to a company spokesman, who said the China component has since been dropped.

In August 2016, the company produced a PowerPoint presentation that included Flynn’s photo and former government title on a page titled “IP3/IronBridge: Formidable US Leadership.” The document was labeled as a “Presentation to His Majesty King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz” of Saudi Arabia and displayed the seals of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The presentation was obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, who made it public.

After reading this, I started digging a bit into IP3, to see what they have been up to. I found this fascinating piece in Medium, written by the all-star trio of Jack Keane, Keith Alexander and Bud McFarlane. The article dates from October 31 of this year, so it comes over a year after the PowerPoint referenced in the Post article. The Medium article opens with the basis for the US-Saudi relationship going back more than seven decades:

In 1945, President Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia forged a partnership under which the United States provided security for the Kingdom to assure the flow of oil to global markets. While the United States has never wavered from this commitment through 13 Presidents and 6 Saudi monarchs, the core themes of arms and oil alone no longer cover the full scope of our countries’ goals and mutual interests.

That’s pretty blunt language, but yes, the core theme of US-Saudi relations does indeed seem to be “arms and oil”. But a bit further down, we have this:

Any new U.S. strategy for the Middle East will fail unless we move beyond fighting terrorism or reacting to the influence of evolving regional encroachment from Russia and Iran. The United States must approach the Middle East in ways that promote diversified, strong economies. We need a strategy that doesn’t rely solely on resourcing conflict with weapons sales, arms agreements, or new deployments of U.S. military forces, but one of empowerment through the intellectual capital and industrial might of our nation’s private sector. We must better enable the stabilizing visions of our GCC partners, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan as part of a reimagined Middle East economy.

I have to admit that on my first reading of this paragraph, I chuckled. I was convinced that it contained a very revealing typo. I mean, surely these retired generals would never just come out and say that the US strategy in the Middle East is to “resource conflict”, would they? Didn’t they mean that the weapons sales, arms agreements and troop deployments are aimed at resolving conflicts even though they certainly provide the resources to prolong them? That’s how the US presents these moves, after all. Who even uses “resource” as a verb anyway?

I continued in my reading, and in this copy of a letter from the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee posted by Politico (always read the footnotes; the URL is in footnote 21) I hit paydirt with the URL for IP3 PowerPoint referenced in the Post article above. Here is the slide that the Post refers to on the IP3 team including Flynn:

That is slide number 3 in the presentation. Here is slide number 5:

And there we have it. The Medium article did not have a typo. Over a year earlier, the PowerPoint says the US should “shift toward resourcing stability” rather than resourcing conflict. I find that to be a remarkably candid statement, considering who is saying it.

For quite some time, my line on US strategy for any trouble spot in the world has been that the US asks “What group can we arm?”. Here we have a huge collection of retired generals saying very much the same thing in slightly different language. I follow my observation by saying our question should rather be “What can we do to address the concerns of those who are moved to violence in this trouble spot?” And again, this group is offering their alternative. I see this as a massive improvement in outlook and perhaps a bit of slowly dawning self-awareness on behalf of the generals for what their actions have wrought.

Of course, once we dive into the IP3 team’s vision for how we “resource stability” things go right back to the track history of these generals proposing policies that are almost the exact opposite of what should be done. But that is fodder for later posts.

Just a couple of closing notes seem in order. First, it is clear from the committee letter in which I got the PowerPoint URL that the file actually was sent to the committee by an employee of ACU, which is a competitor of IP3. Further, the cover slide contains the cryptic note “2016 MSH Proprietary and Confidential”. I haven’t found an explanation for “MSH”. I thought it might refer to Michael Hewitt, but his middle initial is W. It doesn’t seem to fit any of the companies involved or the ACU employee who sent the file.

Also, in all the articles I’ve read about Flynn’s involvement in this effort, it appears that he consistently and publicly advocated for the building of the power plants to avoid Russian involvement and to be undertaken as an approach to reducing Russia’s influence in the Middle East. That makes Flynn’s June 2015 trip sponsored by ACU very confusing, since ACU is the group advocating Russian involvement in the building and running of the power plants. It would, however, align with his move to IP3 once it was formed. Also, the stories now seem to suggest that within the White House, IP3’s approach was quashed based on Flynn’s conflicts of interest rather than any White House preference for Russian involvement in building the plants. Will that story change? After all, Russia eventually got the contract for Egypt.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

[US Oil Fund ETF via Google Finance]

The Curious Timing of Kushner’s visit to KSA and the U.S.’ EITI Exit

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — he of the shaky memory and a massive debt in need of refinancing — met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman within the same week the U.S. withdrew from an anti-corruption effort and Saudi Arabia cracked down on corruption. What curious timing.

Let’s look at a short timeline of key events:

Tuesday 24-OCT-2017 — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman helms a three-day business development conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, referred to as “Davos in the desert.” Attendees include large investment banks as well as fund representatives; one of the key topics is the impending IPO for Saudi Aramco.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner departed for an unpublicized meeting with government officials in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday 25-OCT-2017 — Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker traveled separately from Kushner to participate in bilateral discussions, which included the memorandum of understanding with the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC). The U.S. and Saudi Arabia chair the TFTC while Gulf States form its membership.

Friday 27-OCT-2017 — Reports emerged that at least one Trump campaign team will be indicted on Monday.

Monday 30-OCT-2017 — Jared Kushner met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, discussing strategy until 4:00 am. News reports didn’t indicate when exactly Kushner arrived or when discussions began. (Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopolous were indicted this day, but not Kushner; good thing “excellent guy” Papadopolous as a former Trump campaign “energy and oil consultant” wasn’t involved in Kushner’s work with Saudi Arabia, that we know of.)

Thursday 02-NOV-2017 — U.S. Office of Natural Resources Revenue sent a letter to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multinational effort to reduce corruption by increasing transparency around payments made by fossil fuel companies to foreign governments. The U.S. had been an implementing member since 2014.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 7:49 am EDT, Trump tweets,

“Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!”

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — (approximately 5:00 pm EDT, midnight Riyadh local time) At least 10 Saudi princes and dozens of government ministers were arrested and detained under what has been reported as an anti-corruption initiative. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a critic of Trump and a tech industry investor of note, was among those arrested this weekend.

Saturday 04-NOV-2017 — At 11:12 pm EDT Reuters reported Trump said he had spoken with King Salman bin Abdulaziz about listing Saudi Aramco on the NYSE. The IPO is expected to be the largest offering ever.

But wait…there are some much earlier events which should be inserted in this timeline:

Friday 03-FEB-2017 — Using the Congressional Review Act to fast track their effort, Senate passes a joint resolution already approved by the house, disproving the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Rule 13q-1, which implemented Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 1504, the bipartisan product of former senator Richard Lugar and Sen. Ben Cardin (now ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee),

“…a public company that qualified as a “resource extraction issuer” would have been required to publicly disclose in an annual report on Form SD information relating to any single “payment” or series of related “payments” made by the issuer, its subsidiaries or controlled entities of $100,000 or more during the fiscal year covered by the Form SD to a “foreign government” or the U.S. Federal government for the “commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals” on a “project”-by-“project” basis. Resource extraction issuers were not required to comply with the rule until their first fiscal year ending on or after September 30, 2018 and their first report on Form SD was not due until 150 days after such fiscal year end.” (source: National Law Review)

Section 1504 and SEC rule 13q-1 enacted the U.S.’ participation in the EITI’s anti-corruption effort.

Monday 13-FEB-2017 — Trump signed the disproving resolution. (Probably just another coincidence that Michael Flynn resigned this day as National Security Adviser.)

From the earliest days of this administration, both the Trump White House and the GOP-led Congress have been ensuring that extractive industries including oil companies will not be accountable for taxes, fees, and other miscellaneous payments (read: dark money donations and bribes, the latter being a bone of contention to Trump) paid to foreign governments.

Some of the immediate beneficiaries are Exxon Mobil, for which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used to work, and the Koch brothers, among U.S. oil companies which claimed additional reporting requirements under Rule 13q-1 would make them less competitive with overseas oil producers.

What’s not yet clear: How is this reduced openness supposed to help track financing of terrorism, which Treasury was supposed to be working on?

What of transparency related to arms deals involving Saudi money or Aramco? What of transactions between U.S. oil companies and other foreign companies involved in deals with Russian fossil fuel firms like Gazprom?

Can Trump, Jared Kushner, their family and minions, and members of Congress profit from this increased lack of transparency?

What happens to the U.S. and global economy when oil prices rise without adequate transparency to the market to explain price increases?

Also not yet clear: what happened to the 19.5% stake in Rosneft sold last year, allegedly bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and Glencore (the same Glencore now embroiled in Paradise Papers scandal)? This massive chunk of Russia’s largest oil company has increased in value in tandem with crude oil’s rise, especially since the Saudi crackdown on Saturday. What’s to keep this massive amount of Rosneft shares from being laundered through stock markets as Deutsche Bank did between 2011 and 2015?

It’s all just so curious, the unanswered questions, the odd timing: Aided and abetted by GOP-led Congress, Trump pulls out of an anti-corruption initiative while Treasury Department appears to work on anti-corruption, and Kushner meets on the sly with the Saudi crown prince just days before an anti-corruption crackdown.

Hmm.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Three Things: So Many Questions, September Edition

It’s been a little busy in my neck of the woods, trying to tackle a long accumulation of honey-dos. But questions piled up, needing answers, so much so that I had to take time out to put bits and pixels to digital paper. Let’s begin, shall we?

~ 3 ~
PUERTO RICO POST-MARIA

Where the hell is the USNS Comfort, dispatched in 2010 to help after Haiti’s earthquake, and why isn’t it docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, right the fuck now?

Why did we send 24,000 military personnel to help Japan after the 2011 earthquake but can’t muster them for a U.S. territory with a former navy facility and an active facility at Fort Garrison in San Juan?

Is Trump deliberately ignoring Hillary Clinton’s plea to send the USNS Comfort to PR because — well, it’s Hillary? (Yeah. Check that link. Even Fox News noted Hillary’s request.)

Has Trump deliberately ignored Puerto Rico’s urgent plight out of personal pique over the bankruptcy and losses from a Trump-branded, Trump-managed golf course located in Rio Grande, PR? He was trying to prop it up on Twitter back in 2013.

Are Trump’s tweets complaining about Puerto Rico’s debt yet more projection, since the failed golf course was built with government-issued bonds?

Why did the Senate approve as FEMA director — who only left to tour the island FIVE GODDAMNED DAYS AFTER MARIA MADE LANDFALL — the man who was the Hurricane Program Manager for FEMA under the Bush administration during Hurricane Katrina?

This, from The New York Times:

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, has received widespread praise for his handling of the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, the first major natural disaster faced by the Trump administration.

Somebody get me a concrete citation of a real accomplishment attached to some of this “widespread praise” for anything besides being “a calming presence in press briefings.” Has the bar slipped this low that calmly stringing together cogent sentences is worthy of accolades? Can the NYT stop fluffing Trump and his band of co-conspirators?

Because right now American citizens are suffering and likely dying as a result of this administration’s gross ineptitude and negligence, if not outright malignance.

Now Trump says he’s going to Puerto Rico next Tuesday. That’s TWO WEEKS after the storm. Can’t disrupt his golf game over last or the next weekend, don’t you know. What I particularly despise about Trump’s response to this crisis is that he makes this guy’s fly-by two days after Katrina look so much better.

Call your members of Congress and demand action. Yeah, that’s not a question. Suck it up; you’ve got electricity, communications, and access to clean water if you’re reading this. Millions of your fellow Americans in Puerto Rico don’t. Let’s fix this.

~ 2 ~
GRAHAM-CASSIDY-HELLER-JOHNSON NOT-A-HEALTH-CARE BILL

Have you called your senator and asked them to vote NO on the debacle Sen. Bill Cassidy can’t explain and over which Sen. Lindsey Graham is ruining any cred as a rational human being, while disabled health care activists recover from being hauled away by capitol police yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on the bill?

Have you documented and shared publicly your senators’ position on Graham-Cassidy, especially if they are up for re-election in 2018?

The number is (202) 224-3121 if you don’t have it memorized already.

Need a script to make it easier? Here you go.

As wretchedly bad as this obscene joke of a bill is, I can’t help wonder if GOP members of Congress and their staff are gaming this. Have they been working on something even worse than previous attempts at ACA repeal just to game the stock market and make a few bucks on the backs of worried citizens?

[graphic: Health Insurance stock chart, via Google Finance]

For grins you should look at Aetna’s chart for last Friday and note the jump it took when Sen. McCain expressed his reluctance to support Graham-Cassidy. Price jumped about the same time capitol police arrived to arrest protesters. Easy money, that, conveniently ahead of the market’s close.

~ 1 ~
IRAN ~AND~ PUERTO RICO

What question do these two disparate places prompt?

First, Trump tweeted about an Iranian missile launch as if it had ~just~ happened, within 24 hours of a reconstituted travel in which Iran is listed. But the missile launch ~didn’t~ just happen; it took place more than six months ago but was mentioned only this week in Iranian news.

Second, Trump took his fucking sweet time ensuring FEMA went to Puerto Rico; Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20th, visible to anyone who watched weather networks, NOAA, and NASA reporting.

Is Trump ignoring any and all U.S. intelligence and government experts on matters foreign and domestic, relying instead on some other criteria for responding to events, including cable TV? Should we believe for a second he’s simply and accidentally flooding his source of information?

In the case of Iran’s missile program, it looks more like he deliberately used stale news to defend a new travel ban while making propagandistic false statements to the public. The Supreme Court canceled hearing the travel ban after the travel ban was rejiggered — does this suggest his manipulation of perception worked, not only on the public but on the Supreme Court?

~ 0 ~
One more time: call your Senators to ask NO on Graham-Cassidy and get their position on the record. Call your members of Congress to ask for urgent response and funding for aid to Puerto Rico. The number is (202) 224-3121. Put it on speed dial.

Viajar bien, mis amigos y amigas.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Three Things: Mas Gas, Las Vegas and Sass

I’m not even going to touch the massive stream of news out of Washington over the last 24 hours, from the Washington Post piece featuring ‘leaked’ transcripts of Trump’s whack doodle conversations with Mexico’s and Australia’s presidents to the impaneled grand jury and subpoenas. Plenty of other material not getting adequate air time.

Speaking of air time, hope you have a chance to catch Marcy on Democracy Now. She spoke with Amy Goodman about the confirmation of Chris Wray as FBI Director as well as former Fox News contributor Rod Wheeler’s lawsuit against Fox News.

Onward…

~ 3 ~

Venezuela’s state-run oil producer PDVSA is cutting oil sales to U.S. refining unit Citgo Petroleum. At the same time it is increasing shipments of oil to Russia’s largest oil producer, Rosneft. Venezuela is using its oil to pay down a $1.6 billion loan extended to PDVSA last year. Rosneft has loaned an even larger sum of money in the not-too-distant past, but the terms aren’t known; payments in oil as well as a hefty minority stake in Citgo were believed to be included in negotiations.

The threat to U.S. gasoline supply: though at lower levels than a decade ago, Venezuela is the third largest supplier of oil to the U.S.

Citgo has, however, been shifting its purchasing wider afield than just PDVSA:

Citgo last year started sending gasoline and other fuels to Venezuela in exchange for a portion of its crude supply. But Citgo has increased the volume of U.S. oil it refines, and has also has also expanded its crude import sources.
[…]
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has promised strong economic sanctions against Venezuela’s government after a Constituent Assembly was elected last week in what United States called a “sham” vote. The new body will have power to rewrite the constitution and abolish the opposition-led Congress.

If those sanctions were to constrain Venezuela’s oil shipments to the United States, Citgo could be ahead of its competitors in finding new supply sources.

The public will feel at the pump whatever happens to Citgo and other gasoline producers. Gasoline prices are already $0.16-0.24 per gallon higher than they were last year.

Who is profiting from this?

~ 2 ~

I’ve been thinking about the tagline, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” right about now after the arrest of Marcus Hutchins, a.k.a. MalwareTechBlog following Defcon’s end in Las Vegas. You’ve probably read Marcy’s piece already (catch up if you didn’t); since she published her post the information security community has been digging into Hutchins’ past and stewing about why/what/how.

Some speculate this was an aggressive recruitment effort; this might explain why the U.K. didn’t arrest him before he left for Defcon. Or did the U.K. and the U.S. agree not to spook any Defcon attendees by stopping Hutchins before he arrived in Vegas? Responses by U.K. authorities are annoyingly banal:

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are in touch with local authorities in Las Vegas following reports of a British man being arrested.”

The UK’s National Crime Agency said: “We are aware a UK national has been arrested but it’s a matter for the authorities in the US.”

Others speculate he was framed as the target of revenge by someone caught up in Alphabay’s seizure. How does shutting down WannaCry fit into this scenario?

I don’t have a favorite theory right now. All I know is that WannaCry’s heat map sticks in my craw.

One thing which should come out of this situation is a dialog about coding, malware, and intent; the infosec community is having that discussion now, but it needs to be wider. If a white hat codes malware in part or whole to investigate capabilities, they are only separated from criminal malware producers/sellers/distributors by intent. How does law enforcement determine intent?

~ 1 ~

Your opinion is constantly shaped by the media you consume. Some consumers aren’t conscious of this shaping; neither are some producers.

And some producers know it but are just plain jerks.

A very important way in which opinion is shaped is by the perspective presenting a viewpoint. If only the members of one-half of the population ever gets a chance to present a perspective, consumers’ opinions are narrowed by that same factor. This is why gender equity in media is critical; if you’re only hearing men you’re not getting but part of the picture.

WIRED magazine knows that gender equity in content is important, but their last issue contained only male-written content. As a twisted tribute to the women who helped produce the issue, WIRED stuck a colophon listing important females.

Including a dog.

Really? The women of WIRED are on the same footing as a pet?

Somebody/ies at WIRED need a kick in the sass; I don’t give a fig if half the staff is female if the content itself is all-male. I’m going to do my best this next month not to cite WIRED.

Don’t think for a moment this is just WIRED, either. The VIDA Count measures annually gender equity in literary arts. There’s progress though slow.

~ 0 ~

That’s a wrap on this open thread. Let’s hope with Tiny Hands McGolfer on vacation that news slows a bit as we enter this weekend. I’m not holding my breath though. Behave.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

A Sword Never Kills: The Trump Administration’s Increasing Deadliness

This was absolutely revolting news:

It’s but one example of the increasing mortality under Trump’s administration. A Dreamer — an example of the former magnanimity of U.S. policy who could have been a stellar spokesperson for this country — baked to death in a trailer.

But wait, there’s more. Much more:

… Monitoring group Airwars, in new figures provided to The Daily Beast, estimated that the coalition killed over 2,200 civilians in ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria between Trump’s inauguration on January 20 and July 13. This represents more than 360 civilian deaths a month and at least 12 a day since Trump entered the White House.

According to the coalition’s figures, its strikes have killed 603 civilians since the beginning of the airstrike campaign against ISIS in 2014. Of those, Airwars estimates that around 40 percent of them came after Trump’s inauguration, alluding to the possibility of a greater disregard for civilian life at a time when ISIS’s hold on its self-styled caliphate is coming to an end. …

More unnecessary, unwarranted civilian deaths, at least double the rate of the previous administration since Inauguration Day — the utter sloppiness with which the military has now been authorized to operate against ISIS will only increase radicalization as it sows death.

This sloppiness was foreshadowed early in this administration with the January 29 raid in Yemen, resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL and 30 civilians including mothers and children. Whether any truly ‘actionable intelligence’ was obtained is up in the air; Trump, however, obtained public relations material for his first State of the Union address. How fortunate for him.

Yes, how fortunate for Trump that the American public has yet to realize he is not careful and judicious when it comes to human life. He is, instead, cruel, mean, selfish and reckless.

Today the Senate votes on a Motion to Proceed with the next iteration of Trump’s desired Repeal-and-Replace-ACA attempt. If the GOP succeeds in carrying out Trump’s aims to end ACA, people will be forced off health insurance keeping them alive today.

We’re all in the back of an over-warm trailer. We’re all in a house in ISIS-held Syria. But we don’t have to be.

Seneca the Younger said, “A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer’s hand.”

Take the sword out of the killer’s hand. It’s within our power.

Call your senator and ask them to reject any effort to repeal and replace the ACA, for starters. Millions of Americans will thank you, some of whom you surely know, many of whom we can save from death. We can start there.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

And Now Akmetshin, or Why the Hell *Didn’t* Obama ‘Tapp’ Team Trump?

A couple days ago Marcy pointed out that Donnie Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, offered proof the Obama administration didn’t ‘wiretapp’ the Trump campaign.

Which is all fine and dandy until today’s revelation that a former-GRU-agent-cum-campaign-hacker-now-lobbyist present at the same meeting.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

It’s bad enough contacts with foreign nationals have to be teased out one by one from Team Trump, but to appear to hide multiple Russian contacts attending one meeting, particularly those with background in military and/or intelligence, is utterly ridiculous.

If this meeting was completely on the up-and-up, wouldn’t Junior have included the names of ALL the attendees in his online spill-fest?

It’s almost as if Junior and the rest of Team Trump knew that the presence of more than one Russian, particularly Rinat Akhmetshin, wasn’t a good thing.

It’s almost as if Natalia Veselnitskaya knew Akhmetshin’s presence wasn’t a good thing, either, since the communications Junior dumped online don’t indicate her intention to bring Akhmetshin with her to the June 9th meeting.

Read the AP’s reporting and see if you don’t come away with a bunch of new questions about Junior’s meeting. I sure did…

— Did Veselnitskaya leave documents with Junior and the rest of Team Trump? Akhmetsin is very sketchy on this point.

— Did any U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency have any indication that Akhmetshin as well as Veselnitskaya were in NYC let alone at Trump Tower? Keep in mind the Evgeny Buryakov case and the “others known and unknown” who had been supporting Buryakov and two other Russian spies in 2013.

— Were members of the Gang of Eight, including Mitch McConnell and Devin Nunes, told last summer before the election of the multiple Russians meeting with Junior and Team Trump, even without any ‘wiretapp’ used on foreign national attendees? Is this one of the issues which riled up former Sen. Harry Reid, encouraging him to send a letter to former FBI Director Jim Comey to ask for an investigation?

— Are U.S. intelligence agencies not following Akhmetsin because he was believed to be a registered lobbyist, in spite of the fact he’s accused of being a hacker AND the U.S. government had been repeatedly hacked by Russia in 2015-2016?

— Has Team Trump been in contact with DHS’ Mike Kelly at all about Akhmetsin, especially since Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Kelly [pdf] in April this year asking for more information about Akhmetsin?

If I think about this much longer, I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more questions. I don’t know how there wasn’t some form of ‘tapp’ following so many Russians in one spot, considering the Prevezon money laundering case was still open in the background. I get it — wiretapping defense lawyers is a no-no. But a meeting at which Rinat Akhmetsin was present, in a building where Russian money laundering had been conducted?

The whole situation stinks like a week-old kulebyáka left in the sun.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.