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[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Three Things: Nuke Rebuke

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

Looks like we need another open thread — here’s three things we should discuss.

~ 3 ~

You’ve probably seen the story this week about the rush to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia revealed to the House Oversight Committee by whistleblowers.

What I want to know: when did we have a public debate about nuclear proliferation? The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation but Congress knew Michael Flynn had been up to hijinks with nuclear proliferation more than a year ago which Jim White wrote about here in 2017.

Did the GOP-led 115th Congress just roll over and play dead throughout all of 2018, simply forgetting we had laws against nuclear proliferation? There was a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about our own weapons last April — what about proliferation abroad?

Why are we trying to denuclearize North Korea at the same time Trump administration officials are rushing to transfer nuclear technology to KSA?

What ensures KSA will use this technology for its own electricity generation instead of selling it or trading it to an entity hostile to U.S. interests?

What’s to keep NK from claiming they’ve denuclearized and then acquiring U.S. nuclear technology?

~ 2 ~

Speaking of North Korea, why is special envoy Stephen Biegun not on the same page with John Bolton?

Jesus Christ, don’t make me side with Bolton but what the hell is going on that Biegun is more worried about producing some flimsy pretense of a win for Trump at the expense of real progress?

Especially since Russia is negotiating with NK on nuclear technology transfer.

~ 1 ~

Has the Trump administration done anything at all to prepare for a no-deal hard Brexit? At this rate thanks to Theresa May’s hacktacular negotiations (or lack thereof), relations between the UK and EU will simply end

Which means the UK will be unable to import goods and clear them through customs on a timely basis, posing a realistic threat of a humanitarian crisis.

Has the U.S. State Department, led by Mike Pompeo, ensured the U.S. will be able to continue trade with the UK on an uninterrupted basis? Are we prepared to aid our ally if they have critical supply disruptions?

~ 0 ~
I have the impression our foreign and nuclear policies are utterly trashed.

This is a open thread.

Open Thread: Is that a Smile? [UPDATE]

[FYI, update is at the bottom of this post./~Rayne]

I’m putting up an open thread since the BDTS thread is filling up as the Oversight Committee’s hearing continues.

There have been some developments in the case of National Enquirer owner AMI’s extortive letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, threatening to leak sext images exchanged with his paramour.

If you haven’t read Bezos’ open letter to AMI you really should. There’s something about AMI’s attempt that’s more than squicky; it smells sloppy and desperate.

Perhaps it merely reflects what Bezos says about AMI’s David Pecker — that Pecker was “apoplectic” about Bezos’ attempt to investigate the source of personal text messages leaked by AMI outlet National Enquirer.

Or perhaps it reflects some urgency related to the level of interest from other parties.

In any case, there were a number of discussions in Twitter last night as to whether AMI’s letter met the legal definition of extortion. Former fed prosecutor Renato Mariotti published a thread on the topic and former fed prosecutor Mimi Rocah also had questions about the letter.

Bloomberg reported today that the feds in SDNY are now looking into National Enquirer’s treatment of Bezos’ affair and whether it violates the agreement AMI entered into regarding the Michael Cohen “Catch and Kill” hush money case. The agreement prohibited further illegal activity.

What was it about Bezos’ private investigations that set off David Pecker so badly he’d not think about the implications to AMI’s agreements?

Bezos appears confident — though he hasn’t confirmed this in public — that the messages he exchanged with his married lover were entirely private. This suggests that their leakage was through illegal means.

Why would Pecker risk the possibility such an extortive act might expose illegal surveillance methods had been used against Bezos?

The one other recent case where Pecker’s name has come up in regard to aggressive surveillance and shaping news media coverage was that of Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein. Pecker and Weinstein have been characterized as friends:

Mr. Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements, drawing reporters close with the lure of access to stars, directors and celebrity-packed parties. Some journalists negotiated book and movie deals with him even as they were assigned to cover him. The studio chief once paid a gossip writer to collect juicy celebrity tidbits that Mr. Weinstein could use to barter if other reporters stumbled onto an affair he was trying to keep quiet. He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “F.O.P.,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Trump.

(source: Weinstein’s Complicity Machine, 05-DEC-2017)

Weinstein had hired Black Cube to bat clean up on stories about his sexually abusive behavior. Who referred this private investigation firm to Weinstein?

It’s also possible the effort to silence Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post (owned by Bezos through holding company Nash Holdings) was driven not by Pecker’s relationship with Donald Trump but by Pecker’s desire to do business in Saudi Arabia. What resources would have been used to obtain Bezos’ text messages if Pecker was already tied up with KSA?

Saudi Arabia has now responded by denying any involvement in the conflict between Bezos and AMI, minimizing the dispute as a “soap opera.”

Again, treat this as an open thread.
_______

UPDATE — 4:15 P.M. ET —

Activist Iyad El-Baghdadi has just finished a thread looking at the Bezos-AMI dispute. He had already pointed out each allusion to Saudi Arabia in Bezos’ letter; in his Twitter thread he says a Saudi whistleblower told him Crown Prince MBS is obsessed with the Washington Post and targeting WaPo journalists.

But the bit that clicked for me with regard to David Pecker: with its extortive letter attempting to blackmail performance from Bezos, if AMI was acting on behalf of or in coordination with a foreign nation-state, they may be in violation of Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Now one needs to ask themselves, assuming AMI did this for MBS/KSA, was this the first time they acted on behalf of another nation-state? Or have they acted as agents for foreign powers before and it’s all in their vaults?

Where’s that popcorn?

Three Things: Flying Moochin’ Mnuchin Air

Usually when I pull together a Three Things post they’re unrelated topics worth a quick look but not necessarily a full-blown post. This time these three things are related and I can’t write a post on each one because my blood pressure won’t handle it, thanks to Moochin’ Mnuchin.

~ 3 ~

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) recently FOIAd Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s travel data. You’ve probably heard by now about his use of military aircraft for eight trips costing nearly one million dollars. CREW looked at the regulations covering government travel and authorization for spending. Take the time to read their work, it’s worth the effort.

And then read the FOIAd records CREW shares, but only after you’ve taken your blood pressure medications and/or prepared for a tooth-grinding tension migraine. There were repeated indications to Mnuchin and staff these trips were expensive — one cost $26,953.33 when commercial airfare for the same trip was $688 per person.

It’s this trip which first made me do a double take, because Mnuchin’s plane was on the ground in Miami on June 15, 2017, for a mere two hours and 45 minutes or less.

Mnuchin traveled to Miami to attend the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America held at FIU’s campus, roughly 15 minutes by car from Miami International Airport. Assuming the travel times were prompt and on the mark, Mnuchin made it to the conference for a fucking two-hour lunch.

An institutionally-prepared $13,476-an-hour lunch.

But get this — here are the other U.S. attendees at this event:

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin co-hosted the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America in Miami, Florida on June 15-16, 2017 with Mexican Foreign Secretary Videgaray Caso, Interior Secretary Osorio Chong, and Secretary of Finance José Antonio Meade Kuribeña, and attended by President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, and Vice President Oscar Ortiz of El Salvador. Other meeting participants included U.S. and Latin American private sector leaders, senior government representatives from Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the European Union, Nicaragua, Panama, and Spain, and leaders from the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. …

Mnuchin was a bloody co-host. Why did he not travel with one of the other co-hosts? Why did he have to commission his own military aircraft instead of tagging along with another cabinet member? Or even the vice-president?

Mnuchin’s use of military aircraft was repeatedly justified by the need for secure communications. The June 15 trip to Miami was one such occasion; a call on the return leg needed an aircraft on which persons without adequate security clearance would be traveling.

CREW noted this as well:

Two days before the scheduled departure, Treasury advised the FAA that “due to a new need to access to secured comms during this mission, which cannot be accommodated on the available aircraft, we are going to have to pull this mission down and will have to utilize another means of transport.” (UST 00024). The call was scheduled during the two and one-half hour return flight (UST 000063). The use of a military aircraft increased the cost of the approximately two-hour flight to $45,136 (UST 00003). In other words, a scheduling conflict that the Secretary apparently did nothing to avoid cost the government an additional $18,000. Of note, the five listed individuals on the manifest could have made the same trip on a commercial aircraft for approximately $3,440 (or $688 per person, UST 00001). …

Again, Mnuchin was a conference co-host. There were other cabinet members traveling to Miami. What was so bloody important that he couldn’t travel earlier with the rest of the U.S. co-hosts? Why did Mnuchin schedule a call needing secure communications two days before the trip?

And why over the last year was there repeated insistence on the availability of secure communications, unlike Mnuchin’s predecessors? What changed so dramatically about the Treasury Secretary’s job?

What might have been happening on June 15 about which Mnuchin knew more than 48 hours in advance?

~ 2 ~

Remember last year when I noted the odd timing of Jared Kushner’s unannounced, unpublicized trip to Saudi Arabia during which he had a pajama party of sorts with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman where they discussed who knows what?

It seemed quite the coincidence that Kushner arrived during Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s publicized trip to Saudi Arabia. What incredible timing!

Except it wasn’t a coincidence. Our forgetful Boy Wonder was on the same goddamned military aircraft with Mnuchin, who had insisted on a military plane for access to secure communications.

Here’s a screenshot from page 57/126 (from document 2018-2-15-Production-redactions-applied.pdf via CREW), an amended request to White House by Treasury for mission support, required to obtain a military aircraft. Note the Requesting Principal and the trip’s purpose as well as the date, August 31:

Here’s a screenshot of page 59/126 from the manifest included with the same amended request:

Kushner isn’t mentioned in the request or the agenda except as a line item in the manifest; he appeared to be included in every leg of this trip, including a visit to United Arab Emirates and Qatar. There’s an awful lot of redacted material related to this trip, too, big swaths blanking out what could be entire emails or attachments.

Worth noting the FOIAd documents dated July 25 reflect this Middle East trip was originally scheduled for September; by August 31 the trip has been pushed back to October. The mission requested a plane with secure communications capability from the first, which does make sense in this case given the level of discussions being held between Treasury Department, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar.

But the frequent insistence on secure communications capability and Kushner’s presence on this October trip spawns several questions: is the use of military aircraft a flying backchannel? Is Mnuchin equally invested in the use of a backchannel?

Was this trip really another negotiation related to the blockade of Qatar and was Kushner involved for that reason? Is this why his presence wasn’t openly communicated?

~ 1 ~

And then there’s the possibility Moochin’ Mnuchin took his spouse, our generation’s Marie Antoinette, for a vacation in Edinburgh, Scotland and other European locations using one of our military aircraft. I may have an aneurysm if I don’t stop here. Just look at the itinerary on page 66/126 and tell me what you make of it. I can’t find coincident formal events scheduled for Scotland or Italy, or for virtual attendance during this trip’s time frame. CREW reported the trip was their goddamned honeymoon (modifying epithet all mine).

Did Mnuchin and Linton seriously tie up a military aircraft so they could go walkabout in Scotland? Let me guess Linton is a big fan of the premium cable show Outlander and she wanted to take in the show’s shooting locations. The sole argument presented for the use of our military aircraft is “to be able to monitor issues [redacted], and participate in scheduled [redacted]” and the need for access to secure communications.

Don’t we have an undersecretary or a deputy to do whatever [redacted] so Mnuchin can take his honeymoon on his own time, on his own dime? Or is [redacted] something in which nobody else should be involved?

Go ahead and argue this trip request says it’s a “reimbursable mission.” This request is dated August 1, and his trip was from August 3 through August 12. This means our government personnel had to drop everything else they were doing during what is traditionally a short-staffed month and scramble to get this aircraft and crew and flight plan together for his damned honeymoon.

I suppose I should be less surprised by this wasteful crap bordering on theft after Mnuchin unnecessarily flew by military plane with the same high maintenance prima donna spouse to Fort Knox, just in time on August 8 to observe the rare complete solar eclipse.

I’m still suspicious of Mnuchin’s need for an entire bloody military plane and crew for his honeymoon so he has access to secure communications. Again, is this a flying backchannel he’s using? Does his wife have a security clearance necessary to hear whatever it is that’s so secret that he has to do it while on his honeymoon?

~ 0 ~

This is an open thread. Bring your pitchforks and torches.

A Thousand Days of Hell in Yemen Produce a Million Cases of Cholera

War crimes are being committed on a daily basis in Yemen and the world barely takes notice. Consider this outdated report from the World Food Programme in August:

Back in August, fully 76% of the population, over 20 million people, were in need of humanitarian assistance. And that was before the first of two missiles were fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen, prompting an even tighter blockade of aid by the Saudis. The outrageously sadistic, immoral and illegal bombardment of Yemen has now been going on for 1000 days. A large group of international figures has come together to note this sad milestone and to call for an end to the violence, but the world is not listening. A small note in The Hill has this description of the pitifully small number of US politicians who joined in the effort:

More than 350 international politicians, celebrities, Nobel laureates and other prominent figures signed a statement Tuesday demanding U.S., U.K. and French action to end the Yemeni civil war.

“The U.S., U.K. and France, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and major weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, bear a special responsibility to use the full extent of their leverage to press their partners in the region to end the crisis,” read the statement, dubbed “A global call to President Trump, Prime Minister May and President Macron.”

/snip/

U.S. signatories include Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche, and actresses Alyssa Milano and Piper Perabo.

The usually war-loving Washington Post editorial staff also noted the atrocities a month ago, but to very little effect. A new effort, led by Ted Lieu, is aimed at getting the blockade lifted.

Although it is the Saudis who are doing the bulk of the bombing, the US and several EU countries are primary enablers of the atrocities. Here is Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia in May, signing a $100 billion military aid agreement with the Saudis:

Those are American-made fighters dropping American-made bombs on defenseless Yemeni citizens every day. Reuters reported earlier this week that 136 Yemeni civilians died in air strikes in less than a two week period this month.

But deaths from bombs or starvation are not the only problems. Because the Saudis intentionally targeted infrastructure, including the water supply, cholera cases in Yemen have been reaching unprecedented levels. The disgusting milestone of one million cholera cases has now been reached.

Rather than helping the Yemenis, Trump is actively working to make the situation worse, with the US itself carrying out over 120 air strikes this year and even admitting to ground operations by US troops. Recall that our first ground operation there under Trump was a miserable failure:

In the first offensive operation personally approved by Trump, a Jan. 28 raid in Yemen resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL, the wounding of several other service members and the destruction of an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

And, of course, Trump and Nikki Haley see no irony in their massive over-response to the two missiles that have been fired into Saudi Arabia during this 1000 day Saudi and US blitzkrieg:

The U.S. has been providing intelligence and aerial refueling to the Saudis. Last week, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley used the charred remnants of a ballistic missile with Iranian markings as a backdrop to call on Iran to stop supporting the Houthis.

If you have any spare cash left over from your holiday shopping, please consider a donation to try to ease the widespread starvation in Yemen. Somehow, while there are still tens of billions of dollars in US weapons sales in play, I just don’t see any reason to think the Trump administration will take any action to back up their gentle calls for the Saudis to lift the blockade.

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.

Did the Flynn-Associated IP3 Presentation Anticipate the Saudi Orb?

Yesterday, I pointed out that IP3, a company that claimed affiliation to Michael Flynn, admitted that US strategy in the Middle East has been to “resource conflict“. One of the two places the company made the claim was in a PowerPoint presentation addressed in July 2016 to the Saudi King but apparently never delivered. The presentation was made public by the Democratic members of the House Oversight Committee. Although the presentation is only 13 slides long, it is such a treasure trove of information that I anticipate several more posts with it as the central theme.

Today, I’d like to concentrate on only the security proposals in the presentation. Because Michael Flynn was previously the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency and because the approach to security by IP3 is highly intelligence-based, one would think that Flynn was central to IP3’s thinking in assembling this part of their plan. Slides 7 and 8 address the security plan. Here is slide 7:

This slide is full of truly oppressive ideas and technology. Note the big reliance on cyber security in the lower left corner. With Keith Alexander on their team, IP3 is clearly relying on his “expertise” as the former head of NSA and his new business venture that he totally invented during his free time while having a job that did the exact same thing. In fact as Marcy pointed out to me, the name for IP3’s security subsidiary, Iron Bridge, echos closely Alexander’s company name of Iron Net. It should not come as a surprise, then, that many of the same suspects appear on both Iron Net’s “A-Team” and IP3.

Just what the heck are “Multi-Intelligence Surveillance Sensors”? When I Googled that phrase, one early result led me to this page , which appears to be a wish list of gadgets and technology put together by the military and intelligence community for the Office of Naval Research to fund in development. Much of that technology would seem to fit with a lot of the rest of the slide. Of course, the retired generals of IP3 would be aware of this and other technology believed to be in the pipeline and already in place for US capabilities. Although that page seems to rely on drones for the aerial cameras, the satellite in IP3’s slide would seem to be addressing similar capabilities.  The satellite definitely fits, though, for “large-area surveillance from tactical sensors across the radio frequency spectrum”. And just what are “Sensors that automatically produce metadata”? Those can’t be good news.

We couldn’t have a collection of retired US generals proposing any project abroad unless it has a major component of training. From the beginning of our time Iraq and Afghanistan, training has played a central role in both our plans and our failures. These guys just can’t get out of the belief that they can train foreign forces despite the ample evidence that we are utterly incapable of achieving any level of success in developing those foreign forces.

Any idea of “thought leadership” when put into a Saudi perspective is truly chilling. If these generals believe that the US “resources conflict” in the Middle East, then how can they escape acknowledging that Saudi madrassas resource terrorism? Of course, IP3 is claiming to be all about peace, so the thought leadership in this case would ostensibly be peaceful, but the entrenched nature of Saudi fostering of terrorist groups seems virtually impossible to stop from within.

Let’s move on to slide 8:

There is just so much to take in here. Notice that the outermost circle is labeled “Space and Cyber”, so the satellites and Alexander’s cyber wizardry are seen as covering everything. But there is a new element on this slide compared to the previous one: “Airborne Awareness”. Hmm, aerial based security. A relationship to China (the cover slide and several others bear the seal of China). That sounds very familiar. Who else has been hawking security services via aircraft and with a link to China? None other than Erik Prince. In fact, if you go to this Jeremy Scahill Intercept article from March of 2016 (just four months before the date of the PowerPoint) and click on the “Libya Border Solution” figure, you will see a schematic that doesn’t seem all that different from this one. Although Erik Prince isn’t mentioned in the IP3 presentation or listed on their website, it’s hard to escape the feeling that he’s lurking in the shadows for this group, ready and willing to broker his services, whether his board approves or not. Although Prince ostensibly is testifying today on his Seychelles meeting, I wonder if he will be questioned about any role he may have had in the IP3 proposal or any other group (say, Kushner’s Cambridge Analytica?) approaching the Saudis.

To finish up here, we have to move back to slide 7. You probably noticed I didn’t discuss the central feature, the “Security Operations Center”. That becomes a thing of beauty. Surely you remember the mysterious glowing Saudi orb and the photo of Trump touching it. It spawned weeks of wonderful memes in social media, but you might not have looked into just what was going on when the photo was taken. Here is the New York Times (hmm, the byline on this story is just “By The New York Times”):

The occasion was the opening of a new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, based in Riyadh, and the orb was in fact a translucent globe, with the world’s waters represented in light gray and the continents in black. Its purpose appeared to be decorative.

The futuristic look of the darkened room may have helped to fire observers’ imaginations.

It was filled with computer terminals. At one end was a wall of monitors displaying feeds from news networks.

/snip/

Among the many dignitaries at the event were Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef.

The globe did not appear to have any magical powers, but when the king and Mr. Trump touched it, background music of the kind that might accompany a reality show’s elimination sequence or introduce a cable news program soared and pulsed. The screens glowed with statistical displays and videos about fighting terrorism. An unnamed official who narrated the features of the new control center said the displays used artificial intelligence to track, in real time, news reports and online statements.

It would appear that the Saudis already have their Security Operations Center and that its artificial intelligence-based technology might be similar to some of the technologies suggested in the IP3 slide. That it ostensibly is intended to combat terrorism just seems to me that it’s also aimed at the whole Thought Leader approach.

In the end, though, note that this facility is almost certainly still resourcing conflict, not stability. If you look carefully at the map in slide 8, you see that  Egypt is bright like Saudi Arabia (that’s Egypt’s President el-Sisi on the left, touching the orb), but Yemen is darkened. Don’t forget the Saudis are relentlessly bombing Yemen, using military equipment we have provided them, ostensibly to fight Houthi “terrorists”. From what I can see on the website for the center, there is zero disclosure of what countries and what “international organizations” are participating, but the Layers of Business Operations look pretty familiar. I wonder who helped the Saudis build this center? Who is helping them run it?

Sleep well, folks.

[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.

Thursday: Another Grungey Anniversary Observed

In this roundup: Recalling 25 years of Nirvana’s Nevermind, petro-pipeline-economic challenges, lead poisoning, anthrax, and cops gone wild. Read more

Wednesday Morning: Quelle couleur est-ce?

I think vestigially there’s a synesthete in me, but not like a real one who immediately knows what colour Wednesday is. — A. S. Byatt

A lot of people will ask what day it is today, but few will ask what color.

Ed Walker put up a great post late last evening, one that deserves more oxygen. Do check it out.

Hospital held hostage for millions by ransomware
Hey Hollywood! A hospital in your backyard has been “infected” with ransomware, their enterprise system tied up until administration coughs up $3.6 million.* Didn’t see that coming, huh? Law enforcement is involved, though if they haven’t managed to resolve other smaller ransomware attacks, they won’t solve this before it critically affects patients’ care.

This is a pretty good (if unfortunate) example of business continuity crisis. Remember Y2K and all the hullaballoo about drills and testing for enterprise failure? We still need that kind of effort on a regular basis; how do you run your biz if all electronics go dark, for any reason?

(* US articles say $3.6M; CAN article linked says $5M. Currency difference, or an increase in the demand?)

Google found critical vulnerability in GNU C Library
CVE-2015-7547: glibc getaddrinfo stack-based buffer overflow” Huh? What? If you read Google’s blog post about this yesterday, you were probably scratching your head. Some Googlers struggle with writing in plain English. Here’s what tech news outlets interpreted from that google-degook:

Ars Technica: “Extremely severe bug leaves dizzying number of software and devices vulnerable
BBC: “Glibc: Mega bug may hit thousands of devices
Threatpost: “Critical glibc Vulnerability Puts All Linux Machines at Risk

In a nutshell, if you’re running Linux, patch your systems, stat.

Petroleum’s still a problem

  • Iran’s not going along with Saudi-Russia-OPEC agreement on oil production limits. Iran wants to return to pre-sanction production levels before it makes any concessions.
  • Oil glut and tanked prices creates secondary challenges. Saudi’s youth now have entirely different prospects for employment now that oil cannot guarantee national wealth or careers with good pay. Will this cause political volatility in RSA? Wonder what will happen in smaller oil-producing countries like Venezuela and Ecuador?
  • Weird outliers buck trend: Indian oil producer Chennai had a strong Q3, and First American Bank more than doubled its stake in oil development firm Anadarko. Neither of these stories make sense when oil prices have and are plummeting and show no solid sign of improvement in the next year-plus.

TBTF is still too TBTF
Neel Kashkari, Minneapolis Fed Reserve president, called for the breakup of Too-Big-to-Fail banks yesterday, as they are still a risk to the economy. Didn’t see that coming from a fed president, especially Kashkari.

Biggest tech story today: Judge ordered Apple to help hack San Bernadino gunman’s phone
Apple’s been fighting government pressure on backdoors to its products. The fight intensified after federal judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to cooperate with the FBI to unlock encryption on a county-owned phone used by San Bernadino gunman Syed Farook. Begs the question why any government agency — local, state, or federal — would ever issue a phone with encryption the government could not crack in the first place. Seems like one answer is a government- and/or business-specific encryption patch to iOS: [IF phone = government-issued, THEN unlock with government-issued key]. Same for business-issued phones. Your own personal phone, not issued by a government agency or business? No key, period.

Phew. That’s enough for a Wednesday. Hope we can coast downhill from here.

Tuesday Morning: I Don’t Want It Good

I don’t want it good. I want it Tuesday.
— Jack Warner

Pretty sure Mr. Warner would get it just the way he wanted it today.

Surprise: Saudis and Russia agree mutual economic destruction = bad
Expect a rocky market today after a hush-hush agreement by Saudi Arabia and Russia to hold oil production levels to January levels. The FTSE and Brent crude have already taken a hit, though why Brent’s price dropped when supply firmed/tightened makes no sense to me. Good thing I’m not a commodities broker.

Predictable outcome: Dropbox account hacked, contents posted, then teacher fired
I feel awful for this poor teacher, whose privacy was violated and his job lost after someone hacked his Dropbox account, then posted a personal sex tape on his school’s website. Unfortunately, this is another painful real-life lesson: Do NOT store content in the cloud if the content hurt you if leaked.

Shaken by a quake? There’s an app for that
UC Berkeley Seismological Lab released an Android app called MyShake. The application detects vibration fitting earth tremor profiles and reports them to the lab for diagnostics. Enough data combined with other seismic monitoring can confirm an earthquake. The Seismological Lab hopes to build a global seismic detection network which can help detect earthquakes before they begin. With enough advance notice, humans may be able to reduce damage and injury. The Lab says the app runs silently in your phone’s background and doesn’t use up the battery, but this seems like an impossibility. Only one way to find out, though, and only one way for the lab to improve the app’s performance. An iOS version is expected in the near future.

Volkswagen fined by Mexico over emissions — but not the defeat device
Looks like VW imported more than 45,000 vehicles into Mexico without dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts. The automaker has been fined nearly $9 million dollars (168 million pesos) for failing to obtain mandatory emission and noise certifications. Sounds like VW needs to overhaul its management culture.

Air-gapped computers may not be safe from hacking
A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Technion identified a means for hacking air-gapped computers in a completely separate room in order to snag data. Their method only required an antenna, amplifiers, a software-defined radio, and a laptop to measure electromagnetic waves created by a target computer as it deciphered a specific message.

There it is: it ain’t good, but you’ve got it on a Tuesday.