April 22, 2019 / by 

 

How Can NSA Protect Our Power Grid from Cyberattack When It Can’t Keep Its Own Power On?

In the United States, it is usually a safe bet to attribute massive government fuck-ups to the bloated contractors we’ve outsourced our projects to.

And the electrical problems plaguing NSA’s new UT data center — described as lightening in a box that has caused $100,000 of damage each of the 10 times it has happened — do seem to stem from poorly supervised contractors.

The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the data center’s construction. Chief of Construction Operations, Norbert Suter said, “the cause of the electrical issues was identified by the team, and is currently being corrected by the contractor.” He said the Corps would ensure the center is “completely reliable” before handing it over to the NSA.

But another government assessment concluded the contractor’s proposed solutions fall short and the causes of eight of the failures haven’t been conclusively determined. “We did not find any indication that the proposed equipment modification measures will be effective in preventing future incidents,” said a report last week by special investigators from the Army Corps of Engineers known as a Tiger Team.

[snip]

It took six months for investigators to determine the causes of two of the failures. In the months that followed, the contractors employed more than 30 independent experts that conducted 160 tests over 50,000 man-hours, according to project documents.

[snip]

Contractors have started installing devices that insulate the power system from a failure and would reduce damage to the electrical machinery. But the fix wouldn’t prevent the failures, according to project documents and current and former officials.

Now, don’t pee your pants laughing.

But I did have two thoughts as I read this.

First, this extended confusion sounds similar to that which Iranian nuclear scientists experienced as they tried to figure out why their centrifuges kept blowing up, thanks to StuxNet. While I think the chances some kind of hack caused this are small (but not zero), I do find it ironic that we cause ourselves the same kind of havoc we cause our worst enemies.

And consider the mission!

Back in February, Keith Alexander warned of the possibility of cyberattacks on our grid (which, anonymous sources made clear, could probably only be launched by China or Russia, but that didn’t stop Alexander from suggesting Anonymous might launch such attacks). The NSA needs more authority to protect against attacks that might bring down our power sources, the head of the NSA suggested.

But the entity that proposes to wield that authority, it seems, can’t even build a brand spanking new electrical system immune from some kind of failure.


Saudis Holding Their Breath Until We Deliver Mideast Hegemony

Congressional Republicans are not the only ones who like to throw very public temper tantrums. The Saudis have decided not to address the UN General Assembly today to show their displeasure about developments in Syria and Iran.

This follows the Saudi threat to increase its support of the liver-eating terrorists trying to supplant Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia wants “intensification of political, economic and military support to the Syrian opposition…. to change the balance of powers on the ground” in Syria, Prince Saud said in his remarks to the Friends of Syria group, a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab countries and Turkey that supports the Syria opposition against Mr. Assad. The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a transcript of his remarks.

[snip]

Saudis now feel that the Obama administration is disregarding Saudi concerns over Iran and Syria, and will respond accordingly in ignoring “U.S. interests, U.S. wishes, U.S. issues” in Syria, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst with the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center.

“They are going to be upset—we can live with that,” Mr. Alani said Sunday of the Obama administration. “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.”

[snip]

Saudi unhappiness didn’t mean that the kingdom would start supporting terrorist groups, Mr. Alani stressed. Saudi Arabia, like the U.S., has been targeted by al Qaeda, a group born of U.S. and Saudi support for fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

However, the U.S. is more conservative than the Gulf countries in what it considers terrorist groups in Syria. The U.S. has declared Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra to be a terrorist organization, while many in the Gulf consider the rebel faction to be a legitimate, predominantly Syrian fighting force against Mr. Assad.

All this risks proving allegations Vlad Putin made correct — that the Saudis were willing to use terrorists to accomplish their goals in Syria (and, Putin further claimed Bandar bin Sultan had threatened, in Russia).

But I suspect the Saudis fear something greater: that warming relations with Iran might create a rival swing producer, the role that has served as the basis for outsized Saudi influence since we ditched the Shah in the 1970s. With the Euro region in such dire straights, the Saudis are less able to ditch the Dollar for another currency. And while the Saudis have a window during which US peace efforts in Iran might blowback against the US, after that time, I suspect, they worry not that Shias will take over their own oil fields, but that the US will be less dependent on the Saudis. It doesn’t help them that the most viable challenge to US power, the BRICS, want Iran to come back online themselves.

We shall see. We shall particularly see if the Saudis no longer hide their efforts to back groups we consider terrorists.


Dilma Throws Obama a BRIC

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 2.57.28 PMI was actually surprised, back in May, when the White House announced a State Visit for Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff.

After all, not long after Obama visited Brazil in March 2011, the real started gaining value against the dollar, significantly slowing the boom Brazil had enjoyed in the wake of our crash.

When she was here in April 2012, Dilma explicitly blamed US Quantitative Easing for the reversal in currencies, and suggested the policy was meant to slow growth in countries like Brazil. Before that, Brazil’s boom and its advances in energy independence had put Brazil in a position to assume the global stature a country of its size might aspire to. And Dilma (partly correctly) blamed US actions for undercutting that stature.

I interpreted the State Dinner to be an attempt to woo Brazil away from natural coalitions with the Bolivarist governments of Latin America and the BRICS (Brazil, Russsia, India, China, and South Africa).

Fast forward to today, when the Brazilian government announced that it has postponed the visit that had been scheduled for October 23.

The usual suspects are mocking Dilma’s decision, insisting that everyone spies, and that Brazil is just making a stink for political gain. The White House statement echoes that, suggesting that it was the revelation of US spying, and not the spying itself, that created the problems.

The President has said that he understands and regrets the concerns disclosures of alleged U.S. intelligence activities have generated in Brazil and made clear that he is committed to working together with President Rousseff and her government in diplomatic channels to move beyond this issue as a source of tension in our bilateral relationship.

There is something to that stance. Dilma’s government faces a lot of unrest and the tensions of preparing for the World Cup. The portrayal that the US was taking advantage of Brazil caught her at a politically sensitive time.

All that said, those poo-pooing Brazil’s complaints ignore the specific nature of the spying as revealed. As I noted, even James Clapper’s attempt to respond to concerns raised by the original reports in Brazil didn’t address (and indeed, may have exacerbated) concerns that the US is engaging in financial war, including manipulating its currency to undercut other countries as they rise in relative power. If the US is using its advantages in SIGINT to engage in such financial war, Brazil has every reason to object, because it’s not something Brazil’s currency or telecommunications position make possible.

US disclaimers of industrial espionage no longer matter if the US is collecting SIGINT that would support substantive financial attacks, especially since Clapper in March made it clear the US envisions such attacks (even if they only admit to thinking in defensive terms).

Meanwhile, this comes at a moment when the BRICS see themselves wielding increasing power. As Juan Cole noted, when Putin took his victory lap over the Syria agreement, he thanked both the BRICS and SCO.

The winners were the Shanghai Cooperation Council and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), which overlap somewhat. It is worth noting that Lavrov explicitly thanked this bloc, according to the translation of his news conference on Rossiya 24 TV:

“Today I would like to thank the BRICS countries and the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and many other countries for their principled support for the approach to settling the problem of chemical weapons in Syria exclusively by peaceful means. I hope that our meeting today will allow us to start working so these expectations are not dashed.

In conclusion, I will say that the resolution of the problem of chemical weapons in Syria will be a large step towards achieving the long-standing task of creating in the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction.”

And many other observers see the Syria negotiations as a signature moment marking the end of uncontested US hegemony — and with it, if Putin has his way, the ascension of the BRICS. Indeed, I think Putin’s op-ed, which so many laughed at, includes an implicit threat of that power block operating outside the realm of international organizations where the US still wields the most power.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

[snip]

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security.

[snip]

It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.

And that’s what I believe the backstory here is.

The US is playing for time, in the guise of waiting for its Potemkin (ha) Panel to finish.

As the President previously stated, he has directed a broad review of U.S. intelligence posture, but the process will take several months to complete.

Likewise, Brazil seems inclined (especially in the wake of BRICS meetings before the G-20 and in advance of the UNGA) to wait things out as well.

Sure, Edward Snowden is the stated excuse for all this. But this decision seems to say more about potential changes in the relative power relationships in the world than it does about a bunch of reports on spying.


Displacing the Reset with Russia

As you no doubt heard yesterday, Obama called off a planned meeting with Putin after the G20 next month in response to a number of things (including Russia’s increasing persecution of gays), but largely triggered by Russia’s offer of asylum to Edward Snowden.

In addition to this piece applauding that decision, Julia Ioffe wrote up all the things about our approach to Snowden in Russia that Lawrence O’Donnell deemed unfit for MSNBC last night, which echo what I said back in June. The key bullet points are:

  • You can’t back Putin into a corner and leave him no options. If you are a world leader worth your salt, and have a good diplomatic team working for you, you would know that. You would also know that when dealing with thugs like Putin, you know that things like this are better handled quietly. Here’s the thing: Putin responds to shows of strength, but only if he has room to maneuver. You can’t publicly shame him into doing something, it’s not going to get a good response. Just like it would not get a good response out of Obama.
  • The Obama administration totally fucked this up. I mean, totally. Soup to nuts. Remember the spy exchange in the summer of 2010? Ten Russian sleeper agents—which is not what Snowden is—were uncovered by the FBI in the U.S. Instead of kicking up a massive, public stink over it, the Kremlin and the White House arranged for their silent transfer to Russia in exchange for four people accused in Russia of spying for the U.S. Two planes landed on the tarmac in Vienna, ten people went one way, four people went the other way, the planes flew off, and that was it. That’s how this should have been done if the U.S. really wanted Snowden back.

You don’t back ego-driven world leaders into corners — whether it is Putin or Obama — and succeed in achieving your goals.

All that said, Reuters reported a far more interesting development than Obama blowing off the Putin meeting yesterday. The Saudis have offered to bribe Putin to back off his support of Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia has offered Russia economic incentives including a major arms deal and a pledge not to challenge Russian gas sales if Moscow scales back support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Middle East sources and Western diplomats said on Wednesday.

[snip]

Syrian opposition sources close to Saudi Arabia said Prince Bandar offered to buy up to $15 billion of Russian weapons as well as ensuring that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia’s position as a main gas supplier to Europe.

In return, Saudi Arabia wanted Moscow to ease its strong support of Assad and agree not to block any future Security Council Resolution on Syria, they said.

Finally, America’s allies (and it’s unclear how involved the US was in this deal, though Bandar usually plays nicely with us) are speaking to Putin in terms of Russia’s interests, rather than insisting Assad’s overthrow benefits everyone.

I’m especially interested in Bandar’s promise to “ensur[e] that Gulf gas would not threaten Russia’s position as a main gas supplier to Europe.” That, frankly, is probably the biggest carrot on the table here. But I can imagine no way Bandar could guarantee it (did the Qataris buy in? can Bandar control fracking in Europe? and what happens if and when the Saudis succeed in getting us to overthrow the Iranians?).

It appears the Saudis are more impressed with the meeting than Putin.

One Lebanese politician close to Saudi Arabia said the meeting between Bandar and Putin lasted four hours. “The Saudis were elated about the outcome of the meeting,” said the source, without elaborating.

[snip]

Putin’s initial response to Bandar’s offer was inconclusive, diplomats say. One Western diplomat in the Middle East said the Russian leader was unlikely to trade Moscow’s recent high profile in the region for an arms deal, however substantial.

He said Russian officials also appeared skeptical that Saudi Arabia had a clear plan for stability in Syria if Assad fell.

But it at least appears to suggest that Putin would respond to discussions that acknowledged Russia’s interests, for a change. Even if Bandar can’t yet present a plan that seems plausible.

Does Putin really have to be the grown-up in the room who points out that Syria without Assad will not be stable anytime soon?

No matter what happens with Snowden, very few have acknowledged that, in addition to details of spying on Americans, he has also mapped out the backbone of our increasingly fragile hegemony over the world.  We have responded only by ratcheting up pressure, rather than attempting persuasion.

It will be interesting to see, first, whether this Saudi initiative has any better effect. And if it does, whether we’ve been included in implementing it.

Update: Washington Institute’s Simon Henderson says we weren’t part of this scheme.

The Saudi diplomatic push shows Riyadh’s determination to force the Assad regime’s collapse, which the kingdom hopes will be a strategic defeat for Iran, its regional rival in both diplomatic and religious terms. It also reflects Riyadh’s belief, shared by its Gulf Arab allies, that U.S. diplomacy on Syria lacks the necessary imagination, commitment, and energy to succeed.

[snip]

Meanwhile, the United States is apparently standing on the sidelines — despite being Riyadh’s close diplomatic partner for decades, principally in the hitherto successful policy of blocking Russia’s influence in the Middle East. In 2008, Moscow agreed to sell tanks, attack helicopters, and other equipment to the kingdom, but the deal never went through. Instead, in 2010, Washington and Riyadh negotiated a huge $60 billion defense deal (including attack helicopters), the details of which are still being finalized. The events of the past week suggest that the U.S.-Saudi partnership — which covers regional diplomacy, the Middle East peace process, the global economy, and weapons sales — is, at best, being tested. It would be optimistic to believe that the Moscow meeting will significantly reduce Russian support for the Assad regime. But meanwhile Putin will have pried open a gap between Riyadh and Washington. The results of the latest U.S.-Russian spat will be watched closely, particularly in Saudi Arabia.


Dick Cheney’s Biggest Strategic Failure

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 12.15.49 PMDick Cheney’s biggest failures are surely moral. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, senselessly. The thousands of Americans killed, senselessly. The hundreds of thousands, perhaps over a million, on both sides, maimed and poisoned and scarred both physically and mentally.

Senselessly.

See Juan Cole and Tomas Young (who will shortly die from wounds suffered in the Iraq War) for an accounting of that cost.

But there has been far too little accounting of the cost of Dick Cheney’s strategic choices.

Dick Cheney spent the first several months of the Bush Administration assessing where the US would get its energy in future years and how that would sustain our hegemonic role in the world. In his autobiographical novel, published in 2011, he had this to say about his Energy Task Force.

The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today.

[snip]

The environmental groups that criticized the report are all too often, in my experience, opposed to any increase in the production of conventional sources of energy. They don’t want to drill anyplace. They don’t want to mine coal anyplace. They seem to believe we can depend on alternative sources of energy, such as solar or wind. It’s my view — and it’s the view reflected in the report — that while we should develop alternative sources, in the final analysis, we can’t effectively address our energy problems in the near term nor can we remain competitive in the global economy unless we also produce more energy from conventional, domestic sources.

Right now, none of the alternative sources of energy can compete economically with petroleum and coal and other conventional sources. It’s also the case that time and time again, we have found that developing alternative sources has undesirable, unanticipated consequences. The push for ethanol fuel produced from corn, for example, resulted in driving the price of a bushel of corn up significantly. This had a huge impact on people who used corn for purposes other than fuel — purposes that weren’t subsidized. Cattleman, for example, were suddenly faced with significantly higher feed prices. [my emphasis]

While Cheney’s report did have a chapter on “Nature’s Power,” (which is not, interestingly, one of the two he accused critics of having not read), just one paragraph on any alternative source of power but hydropower shows up on the chapter on “Energy for a New Century.”

Hydropower is, to date, the most successful form of renewable energy. However, some forms of renewable energy generation—wind, geothermal, and biomass— have the potential to make more significant contributions in coming years, and the cost of most forms of renewable energy has declined sharply in recent years. The most important barrier to increased renewable energy production remains economic; nonhydropower renewable energy generation costs are greater than other traditional energy sources. The following chapter discusses renewable and alternative energy in greater detail

Never mind that Cheney’s understanding of the competitiveness of alternatives by 2011, particularly with coal, which the report boosted aggressively, was badly mistaken.

He argued in 2011 — 10 years after 9/11 and 7 years after the Iraq War had descended into a clusterfuck — that alternative energy has some nasty unintended consequences (he might have a point if he talked about how Ethanol contributed to increase food insecurity for actual human beings, which contributes to political instability, but apparently he sees feeding Americans cheap grain fed beef to be a higher priority).

And of course, the nasty unintended consequence that is climate change did not show up in this discussion in the least.

On May 16, 2001, Dick Cheney released a report declaring (based partly on a shortage in CA artificially caused by Enron) an energy crisis, and proposing recommendations to bring more fossil fuels online quickly, as well as nuclear power.

America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s.

[snip]

This imbalance, if allowed to continue, will inevitably undermine our economy, our standard of living, and our national security.

[snip]

Present trends are not encouraging, but they are not immutable. They are among today’s most urgent challenges, and well within our power to overcome. Our country has met many great tests. Some have imposed extreme hardship and sacrifice. Others have demanded only resolve, ingenuity, and clar­ ity of purpose. Such is the case with energy today.

We submit these recommendations with optimism. We believe that the tasks ahead, while great, are achievable. The en­ergy crisis is a call to put to good use the re­sources around us, and the talents within us. It summons the best of America, and offers the best of rewards – in new jobs, a healthier environment, a stronger economy, and a brighter future for our people.

Four months later, 19 Arabs, 15 of whom were Saudis, destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. All of them were motivated, in part, by America’s increasing presence in the Middle East.

The Bush Administration would suppress a good deal of evidence showing that not just those 15 Saudi hijackers but some highly placed members of the Saudi elite had ties to the attack. And while occasionally Bush Administration figures would suggest the Iraq War would enable Iraq to serve as a counterpoint to the Saudis and their ties to terror, the real reason was oil.

We went to war in Iraq because long before Bush won office, Cheney and his friends decided the US needed to put Iraqi production in hands more amenable to American wishes. And that unexamined decision prevented Cheney from seeing just how short-sighted such a policy would be.

In the decade since Dick Cheney decided to go to war in Iraq because renewable resources were too expensive and had some nasty unintended consequences, the US has spent $2 trillion on that war. Along the way, we have created an entire generation of new enemies, partly because of the incompetence and arrogance with which the war was waged.

We remain as reliant on our Saudi allies as we were at the start of the Iraq War.

By the end of November the US had already imported more than 450m barrels of crude from Saudi Arabia, more than it imported from Riyadh in the whole of 2009, 2010 or 2011, according to figures from the US energy department. For the first time since 2003, Saudi imports accounted for more than 15 per cent of total US oil imports. The Gulf as a whole accounted for more than 25 per cent, a nine-year high.

That’s true, in part, because our foreign policy continues to be dominated by dangerous plans — this time, some way to put Iranian oil resources in friendlier hands — to get more oil.

And throughout the 12 years since Cheney’s energy report, throughout the 10 years since he decided to go to war against Iraq rather than invest all that treasure into more effective solutions, we have been inching closer and closer to the tipping point at which climate change will spiral out of control.

Cheney was absolutely right to reevaluate where and how the US gets its energy in 2001. But he came to all the wrong conclusions from that reevaluation, and he pursued the worst possible strategy to deal with it.

He bears utmost responsibility for all the lives wasted. But he also needs to be held responsible for the opportunities wasted as well.


Iran, Pakistan Break Ground on Gas Pipeline, Capping Horrible Week for US in Region

Headline and photo from Pakistan's Express Tribune announcing the pipeline groundbreaking ceremony.

Headline and photo from Pakistan’s Express Tribune announcing the pipeline groundbreaking ceremony. The image could be an old one, since that is Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the left.

On Saturday, the ceremony to transfer final control of the Detention Facility in Parwan to Afghanistan was canceled at the last minute as the US once again tried to maintain veto power over Afghan decisions on which prisoners to free. This occurred amid a backdrop of a range of other events demonstrating how the US is trapped in a quagmire in Afghanistan and yesterday was no better, as Karzai ratcheted up his rhetoric even further, prompting cancellation of the joint press appearance featuring Karzai and Chuck Hagel, who was making his first trip to Afghanistan as the new US Secretary of Defense.

Today caps the shitstorm in the region, as we have yet another green on blue attack, and although it is very early in sorting out details, it appears to involve US Special Forces in Maidan Wardak province, where Karzai had made today the deadline for SOF to withdraw from the province over allegations of widespread atrocities at the hands of groups claiming to be affiliated with and/or trained by US SOF. But US pain and embarrassment spread further out into the region immediately surrounding Afghanistan today, as Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a joint appearance to commemorate the official ground-breaking for construction of Pakistan’s side of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. From the PressTV account of the event, we get some background:

The 1,600-kilometer pipeline, projected to cost USD 1.2-1.5 billion, would enable the export of 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis.

Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil.

Tehran-based Tadbir Energy Development Group will reportedly undertake all engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project, which starts from the Iran-Pakistan border and costs around USD 250 million.

The Iranian firm will also carry out the second segment of the project, and extend the financing later to USD 500 million.

The Express Tribune relates the history of the US trying to prevent the pipeline being built:

The two sides hope the pipeline will be complete in time to start delivery of 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan by December 2014.

The US has issued warnings to invoke economic sanctions already in place against Iran if Pakistan went ahead with its plans to import natural gas from the Islamic republic.

The United States has steadfastly opposed Pakistani and Indian involvement, saying the project could violate sanctions imposed on Iran over nuclear activities that Washington suspects are aimed at developing a weapons capability. Iran denies this.

India quit the project in 2009, citing costs and security issues, a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.

Isn’t that interesting? The pipeline could come online the same month that NATO troops are scheduled to end their involvement in Afghanistan. That could well be why we see this paragraph in the Fars News story on the pipeline:

During the meeting at the international airport of the Southeastern Iranian port of Chabahar today, Ahmadinejad and Zardari said that the gas pipeline will further strengthen the economic, political and security relations between Tehran and Islamabad and other regional states.

US presence in the region clearly has been a destabilizing force. Iran and Pakistan appear to be taking steps toward what they hope will be improved stability once we are gone.


The Cost of Bullshit: Climate Change, National Security, and Inaction

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

photo: toolmantim via Flickr

While we’re waiting for Congress and the White House to do something productive together for once, let’s recap:

•  The Department of Defense said climate change is a critical strategic concern with regard to its operations and its impact on defense efforts, based on its legislatively-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  The State Department also said climate change is a serious threat to our national security, noted in its inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QQDR), also published two-plus years ago in 2010;

•  A who’s who of defense and diplomacy expressed their concerns about climate change and the need for urgent action, as Marcy noted two days ago; apparently whatever action has been taken so far has not impressed these experts as responsive to the threat climate change poses.

Yet if asked, the average American likely could not point to a single action taken by the U.S. government to reduce the impact of climate change.

In other words, all the effort expended and resources spent on drafting the components of the QDR and QQDR are wasted, the words published mere bullshit—more wasted government employees’ time and taxpayer money.

How much has this wordy inaction cost us?

Here’s a more specific opportunity to save taxpayer money:

…Of all military spending, energy accounts for a small proportion, roughly less than 2% of total military expenditures and 2% of total US energy usage–but is 93% of all US government energy consumption.In fact, the US military is the single biggest consumer of energy in the nation, at about 932 trillion BTU in 2009, resulting in 4% of all US carbon emissions.

Oil accounts for 78.5% of all US military energy usage (54% of that is jet fuel); electricity is 11%, direct use of natural gas comes in a bit under electricity. Direct use of coal and other sources of energy are small fractions of total usage. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

The amount spent on energy surely hasn’t declined since these numbers were published in 2009.

Yet Congress and the White House have been locking horns over the sequester for some time now, looking for places to cut costs. Doesn’t it seem like any item should be ripe for examination and audit for cost-cutting if the government is the largest consumer?

Further:

…The United States is far and away the largest military spender on the planet–but you probably already knew that. How much more? In 2010 the US accounted for 42.8% of all military spending in the world (and has doubled military spending since 2001). The next nearest competitor, China, accounts for 7.3% of global military spending. The UK, France, and Russia each spend roughly 3.7%. Japan, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy round out the top ten. All other nations spending 25.3% combined.

In dollar terms, the grand total spent on military offense and defense in 2010 was $1.6 trillion. So based on those calculations, done by a Swedish think tank, the US outspent China by 5.86 times. …

[source: TreeHugger.com, 05-MAY-2011]

If the U.S. is the largest military spender, its energy expenditures must likewise be the largest globally. This means the U.S. military could provide the largest impact globally on climate change by urgently and robustly changing its fossil fuel consumption.

Which begs the question: are we going to stop wasting time and money on reports like the QDR and the QDDR when we’re clearly making no effort to follow the recommendations they contain by responding to climate change and its inherent national security risks?

Or are we going to save some serious money on downsizing our military’s fossil fuel consumption AND make immediate, widespread impact on climate change and national security at the same time?

We really need an answer because this bullshit is costing us a fortune in taxes and lost societal opportunities. (Hurricane Sandy cost the federal government at least $180 million dollars; it’s not yet clear how much February’s blizzard cost in tax dollars. Toronto CAN, however, spent CA$4 million on cleanup and repairs, and it was not the municipality hardest hit by the storm.)

And with each drought and mega-storm, the lack of response is costing us even greater treasure in loss of personal opportunities, homes and lives.


Mohammed bin Nayef’s Debutante Ball

This Marc Lynch post on America’s Saudi problem is worth reading for its discussion of how our uncritical support for Saudi Arabia undermines our efforts in the Middle East.

America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia remains the greatest contradiction inherent in its attempt to align itself with popular aspirations for change in the region. A Saudi exception certainly makes things such as coordinating the containment of Iran easier for diplomats on a daily basis. But it sustains and perpetuates a regional order which over the long term is costly to sustain and clearly at odds with American normative preferences.

It’s also notable because it remains one of the few commentaries I’ve seen to mention Mohammed bin Nayef’s trip to DC from 10 days ago.

For instance, the symbolism of President Obama’s unusual meeting with new Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, which looked to many Saudis like an endorsement of someone they identify with the most repressive and anti-democratic trends in the kingdom, was unfortunate.

As this release from the Saudi embassy lays out in detail, MbN was in DC from January 14 through 16. There were a few explicit orders of business. Hillary Clinton and MbN renewed the Technical Cooperation Agreement (which would have expired in May) providing US support to protect Saudi critical infrastructure, especially its oil facilities. MbN signed Memoranda of Understanding with Janet Napolitano on cybersecurity and a trusted traveler program. As Lynch noted, he was granted a private meeting with President Obama, which resulted in the following readout.

Today, President Obama met with Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, in the Oval Office. They affirmed the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and discussed security and regional issues of mutual interest. The President congratulated Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on his appointment to Minister of Interior and asked him to convey his best wishes to King Abdullah bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud.

But in addition to that, MbN had a series of meetings with almost every major major player in our security establishment.

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

This leaves out only DOD and CIA (though even before he was nominated to be CIA Director, we could assume former Riyadh station chief John Brennan heavily influenced Saudi ties to CIA).

Given such a high profile visit, I have been expecting someone to discuss what merited the full coming out party (aside from MbN’s November appointment to be Minister of Interior, but MbN has been serving as our counterterrorism liaison for years). But I’ve seen little reporting to explain the trip.

And there are a few more reasons why I would really like to know what MbN discussed with almost the entire national security establishment.

There’s Turki al-Faisal’s call for “sophisticated, high-level weapons” to be sent to Syria (not to mention the recent release of a purported April 2012 Saudi directive releasing Saudi death row prisoners to fight jihad against Bashar al-Assad).

Then there’s the escalation of drone strikes in Yemen since MbN’s visit, attacking targets that have no apparent tie to America’s stated targeting criteria there–a threat to American interests. Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron has observed that the drone strikes–as opposed to overflights–have been unusually concentrated in northern provinces.

interestingly, drone uptick has been concentrated in northern provinces: 2013 has yet to see one reported in shabwa/abyan/hadramawt.

Add in a bit of confusion over the reported scope of the new drone rulebook. The WaPo’s report describes that only Pakistan is exempted from the rulebook, yet some have suggested that the CIA’s drone program in Yemen, too will be exempted.

Then there’s the role that MbN has played in the past. In addition to being the key player on the roll-out of the TCA (more on that below), he created Saudi Arabia’s deradicalization program, which this March 2009 WikiLeaks cable ties closely to the TCA renewed on the trip. At least two former Gitmo detainees who went through the program ended up serving as infiltrators into AQAP. This Saudi-US Relations Information Service release actually points to the toner cartridge plot revealed by deradicalization graduate Jabir al-Fayfi along with the recent UndieBomb 2.0 plot–which was created by a third infiltrator directed by the Saudis–in its coverage of MbN’s visit, suggesting he may have had a role there, too. Should we expect similar operations in the near future? Note, while he is understood to have been a genuine recidivist, another graduate of Gitmo and then MbN’s deradicalization program, AQAP’s number 2, Said al-Shirhi, was reported on Thursday to have died from wounds suffered in a November counterterrorism strike.

All this takes place against the background of unrest in Saudi Arabia (which Lynch describes at length). While Lynch disagrees, Bruce Reidel has been warning–and hawking a book–about a possible revolution in Saudi Arabia. To the extent the unrest represents a serious threat, it would put MbN, as Minister of the Interior, at the forefront. Interestingly, as part of the TCA renewed on this trip and led by MbN, the US helped Saudi Arabia develop a 35,000 person strong Facilities Security Force, which includes a paramilitary function, which would be crucial in the Eastern Provinces experiencing the most real unrest (the same day MbN came to the US, King Abdullah put MbN’s older brother in charge of the Eastern Province). When you couple that with the cybersecurity cooperation MbN discussed with Janet Napolitano–remember the fear-mongering around the technically simple but executed by insiders ARAMCO hack–and it suggests the US may be more worried about the Eastern Province than Lynch.

So maybe MbN’s visit represents real concerns about unrest in the Kingdom (which would play into our pressure on Iran), not least because the Saudis blame Iran for the unrest among its Shia population. Or maybe MbN’s visit represents a further expansion of our already significant counterterrorism and other covert operations.

I sure would like to know, though.


Yet Another Edition of “You Were Warned”

Dear unnamed power company/ies: Thank you for providing me an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos.

AGAIN.

You were warned about the possibility of security threats to your systems. Repeatedly–the video above is just one such warning. What’s it take to get through to you–a clue-by-four alongside the head? A massive, lengthy power outage you can’t resolve for days or weeks, with consumers calling for managements’ heads on pikes? A complete tank of your company’s stock value? The Department of Energy on your doorstep, taking possession of your site as it investigates you?

I love this part at 32:28 into the video where Ralf Langer says,

“…many things we thought about cyberwarfare earlier just were proven wrong. …”

Everything you thought you knew about infosec/cybersecurity needs to be revisited. The assumptions you’ve been using are clearly wrong.

Now get a frigging clue and revisit your security policies. STAT. You can start with checking these:

— No USB or other external media which have not been deeply screened for infection.

— External network connections to production equipment are to be avoided at all costs. Connections between corporate business and the power grid should be closed, dedicated network. Revisiting appropriateness of traditional isolation of production networks might be worthwhile.

— No third-party contractors permitted on site that do not comply completely with power company security policies, including spot inspections. (You do spot inspections, right? Contractors are screened coming in and out of facilities, right?)

What are you doing here, reading this? Get to work. RUN.

Dear U.S. Department of Energy: Um, hello? Did your brains’ functions suffer irreparable damage from exposure to BP’s dispersants?

It’s the only excuse I can think of as to why security measures and subsequent audits of the nation’s power grid for infections and intrusions from network and external devices haven’t removed these threats.

By the way, this 2009 document making suggestions to power companies about security measures is now out of date and needs to be revisited, in light of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s authorization of cyber weapon deployment and subsequent blowback risk, let alone the case of USB devices laden with crimeware.

Dear Fellow Americans: I really hate feeling like Cassandra. I’d love to see the power industry and our government prove me wrong by preventing outages related to security breaches about which they’ve been warned. At the rate they’re going, you’re going to end up on the short end of the stick, without electricity to read my anticipated future post which I expect to entitle, “I told you so.”

You might want to contact your government representatives and ask them what they know about power grid security and if they’ve actually done anything to investigate the safety of power in their district. If their understanding is shaped by the Department of Energy’s latency, they need to be brought up to speed and pronto. Don’t wait until you don’t have the juice to read my next post on this topic.


US Climate Inaction: Blame Dick Cheney

In one of my earliest blog posts ever–one I’ve lost somewhere–I grappled with why the Bush Administration would choose their Iraq adventure in the face of Peak Oil and climate change.

Why, at the time the US enjoyed its greatest relative power, after Dick Cheney had fought his earliest battles to dodge congressional oversight with his energy task force to study declining readily explotable oil and its alternatives, would the Bush Administration expend America’s hegemonic power in an illegal invasion of Iraq?

This post, asking whether the US refuses to do anything about climate change because it will affect the US relatively less than it will affect other countries, reminded me of that post I wrote years ago.

What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

[snip]

What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US — in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself — to do anything to reduce either this country’s annual production of more atmospheric CO2, or to promote some broader international agreement to slow the production of greenhouse gases.

The conclusion to that 8 year old post–one I still think is valid–is that in the face of both Peak Oil and climate change, Cheney committed the US to doubling down on the source of its hegemonic power in the belief that by retaining hegemonic power for this period of transition out of oil and into alternatives, it would retain hegemonic power thereafter.

Rather than invest the trillion dollars squandered on Iraq (or even the hundreds of billion they had to know it would cost) to make the US energy self-sufficient and lead the world in climate response, Cheney instead chose to seize the largest source of readily exploitable oil, in the process providing an alternative swing producer to the Saudis, whose citizens and funds attacked us on 9/11 (and remember, Iran was teed up to be overthrown next). By choosing the oil route, I figured, Cheney also chose the route that supported relative unilateralism rather than the cooperation that a real climate change response would and ultimately will require.

So I don’t so much think the US has decided it will ride out climate change better than other nations as I think it is intent on retaining its hegemonic position of power, which has been built since 1945 on cheap oil. Sure, the US also seems to have grown comfortable with Neo-Feudalism in the last decade, meaning the elite will happily live in their compounds protected from the instability that climate change will and already has unleashed. And the Global War on Terror will morph unnoticeably into a global counter-insurgency to protect those Neo-Feudal bastions.

But ultimately, I think, this country’s elites have decided they must retain their grasp on power no matter what. And that power rests on oil.

And don’t get me wrong. While I think Cheney fully understood the alternatives presented by this choice and made it for the rest of us, I’m not saying Democrats generally or Obama specifically are innocent. Consider Obama’s unwavering focus on energy independence, which he often cloaks in a false concern for climate change. US power is currently built off a death embrace with the Saudis. But as news reports increasingly–if prematurely–tout, we’re headed for Saudi-level targets of production. That will free us from the troubling demands the Saudis make, shore up our currency, but also keep us precisely where we are, relying on cheap oil to drive our economy and power. That is the goal of Obama’s energy choices, not replacing coal with less-polluting gas. And that explains why Obama just started selling off the rest of the Gulf for exploitation.

It’s crazy, I know. But I sincerely believe there are top secret discussions that insist if we just keep hold of power during what will undoubtedly be a chaotic fifty years, then we can fix whatever mess we’ve caused in the interim. If we can just get the oil while the getting is good, I think they believe, we can adjust to what comes later. Even if the Chinese and Koreans and Europeans will have been eating our lunch in developing new technologies, I guess they believe, we’ll be able to seize them back when the time comes.

The alternative, of course, one Dick Cheney surely recognized during his energy task force, would be to invest instead in a Manhattan project of alternative energy and to dissolve our power into the cooperative structures that will be needed in the face of climate change. That was not, and remains not, a viable option for a top American national security figure.

And so we–and the rest of the world–will melt as a result.

Copyright © 2018 emptywheel. All rights reserved.
Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/energy-policy/page/5/