HOW INDIVIDUAL-1 GAVE SAUDI ARABIA THE BOMB: AN UPDATE
Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 16” x 26”, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
In May 2016 the GOP candidate for president delivered his “America First” speech. The focus was energy policy and how, as president, he would “make America wealthy again.” We are learning that “America” receiving a benefit from his policies, if at all, would be purely incidental. We have learned and continue to learn that his “make America wealthy again” policies were intended to make his friends, donors, the rich and himself wealthier while compromising the national security of the United States and, frankly, making volatile regions less stable and more dangerous.
The New York Times just reported that campaign officials sent drafts of the “America First” speech to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for edits. “Are you running this past our friends?” Paul Manafort asked Thomas J. Barrack, Jr. The answer was a resounding “yes.” Barrack, who plays a key role in this administration’s secretive efforts to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in violation of congressional oversight and black letter legal requirements, is a longtime personal friend of Individual-1, a campaign donor and the inaugural chairman. More on him below.
During President Reagan’s first year in office, I was a congressional intern in Washington D.C. It would be shortly thereafter when Reagan proposed the creation of the Strategic Defense Initiative (“SDI”), which became known as “Star Wars,” a space-based anti-missile system. The Cold War was in full swing and the Soviets were concerned the system would give the United States the technological advantage and first strike capability, even though the system’s technological uncertainties and costs ultimately made it prohibitive.
One of my assignments was to conduct opposition research on a “liberal” University of Utah law professor who was speaking out generally against the Arms Race and specifically against a government proposal to develop what was known as the MX Missile, a mobile system to secret ICBMs with nuclear warheads in the west desert. The MX Missile system was designed to include thousands of miles of heavy-duty roads and approximately 4600 shelters in which 200 missiles would be hidden. Each missile would have ten nuclear warheads, each warhead with destructive power vastly greater than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The conservative, Mormon, hawkish congressman for whom I was interning found himself in a quandary: after receiving considerable input from the liberal professor, Mormon leaders issued a statement against basing the missile system in Utah and Nevada and, frankly, against the system itself. Below is the link to the May 5, 1981 statement from the Mormon Church leadership in what, in hindsight, was a rare instance of moral courage.
Little did I know that a few years later I would take constitutional law from that same professor, Edwin B. Firmage, and become one of his research assistants. We became friends. I remember telling Ed, “you gave me the lowest grade I received in law school.” His response: “you can’t fool everyone.” Ed was prolific and passionate in his advocacy. One thing I did learn from Ed is that some matters are of such consequence, such magnitude, one must remain relentless in advocacy and not become dispirited despite overwhelming opposition and odds. He was willing to kick against the pricks when it came to War Powers, nuclear weapons and proliferation, the Arms Race, MX, Carl Sagan's disputed theory of nuclear winter, nuclear waste and a number of other weighty issues. He kindled in me keen interest in these and similar issues and, of course, the Bill of Rights. Individual-1’s pulling the United States from the treaty with Iran, his coddling the North Korean dictator whose nuclear weapons program and delivery systems are in full swing, and now his willingness to nuclearize Saudi Arabia below congressional radar bring these issues back to the fore and into sharper focus.
A defining feature of Individual-1’s administration is not limited to domestic concerns. His corruption has global reach, and not just Moscow towers, emoluments, compromise, encouraging and accepting foreign influence in elections, and North Korean love-fests. This week Individual-1 withdrew the United States from the INF Treaty with Russia. Looks like he's ramping up the military industrial complex for the next arms race as a means to make corporate donors of dark money even happier.
Also this week the Committee on Oversight and Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, issued its Second Interim Staff Report: Corporate and Foreign Interests Behind White House Push to Transfer U.S. Nuclear Technology to Saudi Arabia. Elijah E. Cummings chairs the Committee. Yes, that Elijah E. Cummings, the distinguished Congressman from rat-infested-where-no-humans-want-to-live Baltimore whose committee subpoenaed the communications of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, among others, as part of the committee’s oversight responsibilities to assess whether they have violated federal record keeping laws. The first Interim Staff Report told a compelling story of courageous whistleblowers coming forward to “warn about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of U.S. Nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.”
The first Interim Staff Report revealed details of the Individual-1 Administration’s sustained deployment of a secretive plan to allow his friends to sell nuclear secrets and technology to the Saudis at great personal and corporate profit, a move likely intended to assist the kingdom in developing the bomb, and to do so while bypassing mandatory congressional oversight and what is known as the “Gold Standard for 123 agreements," discussed below.
Release of that Report coincided with the release of a New York Times report on February 28, 2019, that Individual-1 overruled intelligence agencies, White House Counsel and his Chief of Staff in ordering Mr. Kushner be given top-secret security clearance.
These two reports added insight into the character and quality of the danger and corruption that broadly define the Trump Organization which now includes the Oval Office as ground zero and the latest marketing arm of a criminal enterprise.
This week's Second Interim Staff Report, based on more than 60,000 pages of new documents obtained by the Committee since its February 2019 Interim Staff Report, reveals considerably more details of the corruption and danger. The Executive Summary of the Second Interim Staff Report explains:
“The Committee’s first interim staff report explained that whistleblowers inside the White House expressed alarm about corporate interests attempting to use their influence with the Trump Administration to bypass [the “Gold Standard” for 123 Agreements by a foreign country not to enrich or re-process nuclear fuel and not to engage in activities linked to the risk of nuclear proliferation] in order to serve their own financial interests in building nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. . . .”
In bold script, the Executive Summary continues:
“Overall, the new documents obtained by the Committee reveal that, with regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests. The documents show the Administration’s willingness to let private parties with close ties to the President wield outsized influence over U.S. policy towards Saudi Arabia. These new documents raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.”
I encourage you to read the full Executive Summary of the Second Interim Report, linked below. In brief, it states:
“New documents and communications show that IP3, the private company lobbying the White House to transfer U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, repeatedly sought a $120 million investment from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman[, yes that Mohammed bin Salman]. It is unclear if the company ultimately received the investment.
• Documents show that IP3 is currently pushing the Trump Administration not to require Saudi Arabia to agree to the “Gold Standard,” which is a commitment not to use U.S. nuclear technology to make nuclear weapons. Documents show that IP3 officials repeatedly urged White House and Trump Administration officials to abandon the “Gold Standard” in any future 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia, complaining that it would lock them out of lucrative nuclear contracts with the Saudis.
• New documents show that IP3 officials have had unprecedented access to the highest levels of the Trump Administration, including meeting directly with President Trump, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, KT McFarland, and Cabinet Secretaries Rick Perry, Steven Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and Wilbur Ross. IP3 described the Trump Administration as “an extended team member.”
• New documents show that Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.—a longtime personal friend, campaign donor, and inaugural chairman—negotiated directly with President Trump and other White House officials to seek powerful positions within the Administration—including Special Envoy to the Middle East and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates—at the same time he was (1) promoting the interests of U.S. corporations seeking to profit from the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia; (2) advocating on behalf of foreign interests seeking to obtain this U.S. nuclear technology; and (3) taking steps for his own company, Colony NorthStar, to profit from the same proposals he was advancing with the Administration.
• Officials from other companies in the nuclear industry have serious concerns about IP3 and its financial motive in pressing for the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, calling it a ‘boondoggle,’ warning that ‘IP3 has a questionable reputation,’ and observing, ‘This whole IP3 effort is still a bit strange and mysterious.’ One industry executive called IP3 the ‘Theranos of the nuclear industry.’
• The White House has completely refused to cooperate with the Committee’s investigation and has not produced a single document in response to the Committee’s requests. For the most part, the federal agencies involved have followed suit. As a result of the White House’s actions, it may be necessary for the Committee to seek compulsory process to obtain information from the White House, federal agencies, and individual Trump Administration officials."
As Nicholas Kristof ably pointed out back in March:
“Of all the harebrained and unscrupulous dealings of the Trump administration in the last two years, one of the most shocking is a Trump plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
“Even as President Trump is trying to denuclearize North Korea and Iran, he may be helping to nuclearize Saudi Arabia. This is abominable policy tainted by a gargantuan conflict of interest involving Kushner.
“Kushner’s family real estate business had been teetering because of a disastrously overpriced acquisition he made of a particular Manhattan property called 666 Fifth Avenue, but last August a company called Brookfield Asset Management rescued the Kushners by taking a 99-year lease of the troubled property — and paying the whole sum of about $1.1 billion up front.
“Alarm bells should go off: Brookfield also owns Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear services business trying to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia. . . .
“It may be conflicts like these, along with even murkier ones, that led American intelligence officials to refuse a top-secret security clearance for Kushner.”
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers