Trump: Obama ‘did nothing’ about Russia election meddling

(CNN)President Donald Trump questioned former President Barack Obama’s response to Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election in an interview airing Sunday morning, saying Obama didn’t do enough to address the situation.

“Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it,” Trump said in an excerpt of his interview on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” released Friday. “But nobody wants to talk about that.”
“The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even — before the election,” Trump said. “And I hardly see it. It’s an amazing thing. To me, in other words, the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”
The President also tweeted his concerns Friday night.
The Washington Post reported earlier Friday on the Obama administration’s efforts to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for trying to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor, quoting a former Obama official saying the administration “sort of choked.”
“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” the former senior Obama administration official told the Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”
The Post report details how the CIA’s assessment that Putin was directly involved in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the US presidential election in an effort to help Trump prompted the Obama administration to debate dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia. Those included proposed cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and economic sanctions, the newspaper reported.
Before the election, the Obama administration issued several warnings to Moscow about its activities, including one delivered by the President to Putin in September, the Post reported.
Ultimately, Obama approved only modest punitive measures: the expulsion of a few dozen diplomats, the closure of two Russian compounds, and narrowly targeted economic sanctions that some who designed them described as largely symbolic, the Post said. Another measure, the planting of cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure, was still in the planning stages when Obama left office.
While some closest to Obama defend the response, saying that by late summer it was already too late to prevent troves of hacked emails from transferring to WikiLeaks and other groups, others expressed regret, the newspaper said.
Tony Blinken, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser, said Friday that the administration took significant action to prevent Russia from interfering with the electoral system itself.
“We made massive efforts so they couldn’t do that,” Blinken, who is now a CNN global affairs analyst, told the network’s Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour.” “This led to two things: President Obama issued a very stark warning to President Putin in September at the G-20 conference in China. What we saw, or thought we saw, after that, it looked like the Russians stopped their efforts. But the damage was already done.”
The report, which features three-dozen high-level officials, confirms what many Democratic lawmakers already believed about Putin, Sen. Jeff Merkley said Friday on CNN’s “New Day.”
“Nothing like the extensive hacking effort and manipulation effort could occur without his involvement,” the Oregon Democrat told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. “Now we actually know: Yes, Putin directed it.”
“He had a specific goal to defeat (Democratic nominee) Hillary Clinton and that explains the huge coordinated effort from the botnets to the trolls,” Merkley added.
Merkley and other Democratic lawmakers said Russia used extensive methods in the cyber campaign, including 1,000 trolls, hacking and bots to generate fake messages on social media.
Officials in the Post article suggested Obama struggled to find a way to respond to Putin without being so aggressive that he would be perceived as trying to influence the election in Clinton’s favor — a point Merkley echoed Friday.
“It is such a dilemma, because if he had acted aggressively, in a way that he had gone public and said, ‘This is why we’re doing this,’ it would have been seized upon as an attempt to bias the election,” Merkley said. “So, there was enormous bias in the election because of the Russians, but how do you balance that out without further damaging it? It is an extremely difficult problem.”
Sen. Ron Wyden expressed disappointment Friday that the administration wasn’t more aggressive.
“I am troubled learning this new information, that the Obama administration didn’t do more,” the Oregon Democrat told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday. “And I think the standard has got to transcend one particular administration, Democratic or Republican.”
“It has got to be to protect our institutions first, and politics to the wind,” Wyden added.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Friday that he didn’t find the Post report shocking.
“I think President Trump was legitimately elected by people who voted for him, but this is a very serious issue about defending democracy and our country and integrity of the election system,” he told CNN’s David Gregory on “New Day.” “So we have to go back to countering Russia disinformation. Congress has to work with the White House to give them tools to push back. This is a very serious issue.”
The Illinois Republican, who serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Republicans must take the intelligence about Russia’s involvement in the election very seriously to protect future elections.
“The reality is, in two or four years it will serve Vladimir Putin’s interest to take down the Republican Party,” Kinzinger said. “If we weren’t upset about it, we have no right to complain in the future.”
Also speaking Friday morning on “New Day,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway dismissed the idea that Russia influenced the 2016 presidential election.”I think it’s very important to show no nexus has been proven between what Russia or any other foreign government tried to do in the actual election result,” Conway said. “Really the only person making that case prominently is Hillary Clinton.”
“You’ve got everyone saying that there is no nexus, that not a single vote was changed and we’re going to stand by that,” Conway added. “We know that Donald Trump won fairly and squarely 306 electoral votes. It had nothing to do with interference.”




Germany’s foreign ministry spokesman said Israel’s NGO transparency law is in the same legal category as non-democratic governments Russia and China, prompting astonishment on Thursday from Israel’s government over the new wave of criticism from Germany targeting the Jewish state.

Israel’s embassy told the mass-circulation daily BILD: “Israel is a vibrant and free democracy and there are no restrictions on donations. Recently, Israel adopted a demand for transparency, as is custom in other democracies. Israel requests an explanation from the foreign ministry.”


Martin Schäfer, the foreign ministry spokesman, said at press conference in mid June, “Hungary thus joins the ranks of countries like Russia, China and Israel ,which obviously regard the funding of non-government organizations, of civil society efforts, by donors from abroad as a hostile or at least an unfriendly act.” He criticized Hungary because the central European state’s new NGO law obligates foreign non-profits to register their status.

When asked at press conference about Israel’s “angry” reaction to comparison with Russia and China on Friday, Schäfer said:“I can’t report of any [Israeli] reactions to the foreign ministry. I don’t know… I don’t know anything about that.”

Israel’s 2016 NGO law requires nonprofit organization that receives more than half of its funding from a foreign political groups and entities to register its status with Israel’s government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month he wants to intensify the NGO transparency bill. Critics view the current NGO bill as infringement on civil liberties.

The BIlD reported that German MPs slammed Schäfer’s anti-Israel statements.

The Christian Democratic Union (CDU), MP Thomas Feist, said the comparison between Israel and China and Russia is “divorced from reality” and the comparison “is damaging for the bi-lateral relationship between Germany and Israel. “

Jürgen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parties in the Bundestag, said “Such a comparison is insensitive. We should make it unambiguously clear who Germany’s partners and allies are—the free democratic, constitutional states. And, without question, Israel and Hungary belong to those states, not China and today’s Russia.”

The social democratic foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel has faced criticism for an increased hostility toward Israel. He has previously called Israel an “apartheid regime” and last month hosted an Iranian cleric who called for Israel’s destruction.

Gabriel declined to meet Netanyahu’s request to cancel meetings with two NGOS critical of Israel. As a result, Netanyahu cancaled his meeting with Gabriel. At the start of Gabriel’s visit to Israel in April he authored a controversial opinion piece that played down the significance of the Holocaust.

When asked about Gabriel’s comments, a spokesman for the ministry told the Jerusalem Post:” It goes without saying: foreign minister Gabriel and the foreign ministry are against every form of antisemitism.”

Incoming GOP chair of House Oversight Committee says he’s completely dropping Russia investigation

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who is taking over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from the departing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), said on Friday that he will not pursue any investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

Politico reports that Gowdy told reporters on Friday that he “wants to return the Oversight panel to its original ‘compulsory’ jurisdiction, including overseeing more mundane issues like government procurement and the Census.”

In making his case for dropping the probe, Gowdy said that he didn’t want to interfere with the work being done by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, and he suggested that the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee were more natural fits to investigate the scandal.

Gowdy also ruled out looking into whether Trump White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked.

“Allegations of criminal or quasi-criminal activity is squarely within Mueller’s jurisdiction,” Gowdy said. “So the process by which security clearances are granted, if that needs to be tightened, amended, changed, I’m all for it. The revocation of previously existing security clearances… we don’t investigate crime.”
Even though Chaffetz has often proved to be a lightning rod for criticism from Democrats, in the past he did hold multiple hearings on the Russia scandal while he chaired the House Oversight Committee.

Trump publicly doubting that Russia meddled in election

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump appeared to cast doubt on the assessment of 17 US intelligence agencies that blame Russia for election meddling, questioning Thursday why the Obama administration didn’t try to stop it.

“By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin.,” the president tweeted. “Why didn’t they stop them?”

All 17 intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind the hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump. The findings are at the heart of an investigation into contacts that members of Trump’s campaign team may have had with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition.

Trump, frequently lashes out at the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt” spearheaded by Democrats.

He tweeted Thursday that the Democratic National Committee turned down an offer from the Department of Homeland Security “to protect against hacks (long prior to election). It’s all a big Dem HOAX!”

“…Why did the DNC REFUSE to turn over its Server to the FBI, and still hasn’t? It’s all a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!” he wrote.

A day earlier, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the House intelligence committee that in the late summer and into the fall, he was very concerned about the meddling in state election systems and that the department encouraged states to seek assistance from DHS. He said he was frustrated DHS learned of the hack into the DNC late in the game and that the committee refused help because it was using a private cyber security firm.

In this Sept. 27, 2016 file photo, FBI Director James Comey, center, flanked by Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson, lower left, and Director of National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the National Intelligence, Nicholas J. Rasmussen, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

“In retrospect, it would be easy for me to say that I should have bought a sleeping bag and camped out in front of the DNC in late summer,” Johnson said.

Johnson also addressed the Obama administration’s political sensitivity when it came to warning of the Russian meddling, and alluded to problems created at the time by Trump’s own statements.

“One of the candidates, as you’ll recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way. And so we were concerned that, by making the statement, we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the — of the election process itself,” Johnson said.

Last month, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the agency’s Russia probe. The president has come under harsh criticism by some who claim he threatened to undermine the investigation by firing Comey.

Special counsel Robert Mueller was later named to lead the investigation, and The Washington Post reported that Mueller is considering investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because he fired Comey.

The investigation has shadowed Trump from the outset, though he’s denied any ties to Russia or knowledge of any campaign coordination with Moscow.

Trump also claimed Thursday that Johnson “is latest top intelligence official to state there was no grand scheme between Trump & Russia.” But Johnson didn’t say that Wednesday. He said he wasn’t aware of efforts by Trump or his campaign to collude with Russia beyond what the intelligence community already knows. Johnson also said Russian hacking didn’t change election totals, but added that he can’t be sure other meddling didn’t influence public opinion.

“It is not for me to know to what extent the Russian hacks influenced public opinion and thereby influence the outcome of the election,” he said.

Trump has picked fights with intelligence agencies in the past, blaming them for leaks about his associates’ Russia ties. During the transition before his inauguration, he ripped into the intelligence community for being behind the leaks and even compared them to Nazi propaganda. “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” he tweeted in January.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that while the president doesn’t think the election results were influenced by Russia, he has “made it clear that we have to protect the integrity of the electoral process.”

Sanders pointed to comments Trump made at a January news conference, underscoring that he has not dismissed the idea that Russia hacked the US election, but he also believes “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

To stop Russia and other hackers, we need to overhaul the internet, says top Israeli cyber expert


The professor and ex-general who runs Israel’s prestigious annual cybersecurity conference, and who was central to the establishment of Israel’s pioneering cyber protection agencies, is calling for a radical overhaul of the internet in order to counter cyber warfare.

In the course of a wide-ranging interview with The Times of Israel ahead of next week’s Tel Aviv University “Cyber Week 2017,” which will include presentations by serving and former US administration cyber officials, Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel said he had absolutely no doubt that the Russian government meddled successfully in the US presidential elections, and that Moscow sought in vain to influence the recent French presidential elections.

He said Israel also faces incessant efforts to breach its cybersecurity. Although it is relatively well-protected, he noted dryly, Israel is a relatively prominent target.

Ben-Israel highlighted that it is extremely rare for cyber criminals to be caught, and lamented that “almost no effort” is being made to catch them. What is urgently needed, he said, is to address “the problem of attribution”: The protocol that governs the internet does not enable a recipient to establish who is sending material, because that was not initially a priority. This needs to change, he said.

The pioneers sough to establish a robust, non-centralized internet that could not be physically destroyed by attacking a few key communications centers, and that could ensure secure communications, Ben-Israel recalled.

“But every day, nowadays, there are millions of attacks,” he said. “Nobody goes after the criminals. So why not develop the technologies to do so? Change the internet protocol,” he urged. “You need to re-engineer the internet to enable identification of the source of everything.”

Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel at his Tel Aviv University office, June 19, 2017 (DH / ToI staff)

Ben-Israel, 67, is one of Israel’s foremost scientists, and an ex-general and former MK. Among a dizzying array of roles, he currently directs the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University, heads the university’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, and chairs both the Israel Space Agency and the National Council for Research and Development under the auspices of the Science Ministry. In a 35-year military career, he held a range of senior and sensitive positions, notably in research and development, in the Air Force and the General Staff. Post-army, he was central to the establishment of Israel’s National Cyber Bureau and other authorities protecting national civilian and security infrastructure from cyber attack.

The Times of Israel spoke to Ben-Israel in his small office at Tel Aviv University, a room decorated mainly with posters featuring Albert Einstein. He was candid and generous with his time — consenting to a second meeting to address issues we had not had time to cover in the first.

‘There are five top players. Offensively and defensively, they’re the same. Not in order: Israel, the US, Russia, Britain, China’

The conversation was not exactly linear, to put it mildly. Asked a question about Israel’s vulnerability to cyber attack, Ben-Israel opened by talking about Sudan and Estonia. Queried about Russia’s relationship with figures in the Trump administration, he talked first about Israeli espionage in Egypt pre-1967. Questioned about the allegation that Israel mishandled the Stuxnet virus, he began with a story from the 1973 war. In every such instance, his answers were all the more illuminating for the detour.

What follows are edited excerpts from the two-part interview. What were the Russians up to ahead of last year’s US presidential elections, and why didn’t they succeed with similar efforts only a few months later in France? How worried should we be by the panic that a teenage kid could cause across the globe with hoax bomb threats telephoned from his Ashkelon bedroom? What should we make of the recent revelation that Israel allegedly considered detonating a nuclear device in the Sinai in 1967? And how — theoretically of course — would Israel go about recruiting a Syrian air force general? Read on.

The Times of Israel: How vulnerable is Israel to cyber attack?

Isaac Ben-Israel: Well, let’s start by saying that Sudan, for instance, is less vulnerable, because it has a low level of computerization. Most of its critical infrastructure is manually controlled.

I just came back from Tallinn [the capital of Estonia]. In 2007, it was paralyzed for three weeks [in a hacking attack that targeted ministries, parliament, banks, broadcasters, et al]. Russia attacked Estonia because of an argument over the relocation of a Soviet-era memorial. Estonia was cyber-attacked because it is super-sophisticated. It’s all internet. It made the right decisions after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. But it had no defenses.

The Bronze Soldier of Tallinn memorial (Pronkssõdur / Gette from Stavanger, Norway / Wikipedia)

The same goes for the US elections. We know Russian groups interfered. Just read the memo to that effect that was signed by the various US intelligence chiefs. We know for sure that the attack was done by Russia. (“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US Presidential election,” the memo states. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”)

When I saw that memo, I was worried. Intelligence agencies do not publish material like this.


Because the country involved starts looking for the leak. I didn’t understand. Then, two days later, Russia announced it had arrested one guy (Ruslan Stoyanov) from Kaspersky (the anti-hacking and cybercrime investigators), and one (Sergei Mikhailov) from FSB (the KGB-successor security agency). They were charged with treason. The way I see it, they were the (alleged) source. They had been arrested before the memo was published, and the US intel chiefs knew this. It’s clear to me the Russian government was involved (in efforts to influence the US vote).

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton on her arrival at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, pool, file)

When were the first cyber attacks?

Maybe it was on the Siberia gas pipeline (allegedly by the CIA in 1982).

The first documented case where the attackers were caught and jailed was in 1986, on computers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California (a government facility conducting scientific, including nuclear, research). It was a group of criminals from East Germany. The FBI busted them. The group was headed by a KGB operative. The rest of the group didn’t really know what they were doing or who they were working for.

The entire Soviet military approach is completely different. Disinformation. Fake news. They have a military doctrine — maskirovka, deception. They don’t go to war without a strategic plan for deception. The US didn’t think in this way, at least not until the 1990s.

So, coming back to my question about Israel’s vulnerability?

We’re well protected. Tallinn is well protected now! The rest of the world is starting to wake up. Until it hits you on the head, the world is very slow.

Israel has had an authority for the defense against cyber attack of critical civilian infrastructure — water, electricity, transportation — since 2002. Most countries don’t. The US doesn’t.

‘The Russians have a military doctrine — maskirovka, deception’

Since the late 1990s, we were developing technology, and we realized, of course, that it could be used as a weapon. At the time, the Arab states were mostly manual. Only we were vulnerable [in this region].

In 1999 I wrote to the prime minister. I was head of “MAPAT” (weapons development and technological infrastructure) in the army. I said we could get attacked. So in 2002, the agency to protect vital infrastructure was established.

We were the first in the world to do civilian protection. But I can’t say we’re protected enough. We’re relatively very good. We’re also relatively potentially a high target.

How do we rank globally?

In terms of protection, we’re in the top three.

There are five top players. Offensively and defensively, they’re the same. Not in order: Israel, the US, Russia, Britain, China. Israel is the best in the region. But relative to the threat, there’s no such thing as good enough.

Every two days, there’s something new. It began with DDoS — Distributed Denial of Service attacks. All kinds of groups do those. They’re relatively primitive, and relatively easy to defend against. That’s what happened in Tallinn. More recently there was ransomware.

Cyberwarfare, cyberattacks — these are the dark side of the computer. And we’re so dependent on computers.

So we face planes being hacked out of the sky? Computers taking over automated cars?

There’ll always be bad guys. They can always use that dependence not for the benefit of society, but for their benefit at our cost.

Computers, like the moon, have a dark side. And the pace of cyber development is like the pace of computer development. It’s like Moore’s Law. [In 1965, Gordon Moore] predicted that the amount of information on a chip would double every one and a half years. Basically a computer generation is one and a half years. With cyber it’s even less. Every year to a year and a half, comes a new generation of cyber techniques. It’s a crazy pace. I cannot tell you what the cyber threats will be in five years — even though that’s my profession.

Iran's then-president Ahmadinejad visits Natanz in 2008 (Zero Days screenshot)

In 2010, after Stuxnet (the virus that played havoc with Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant) made headlines, it was realized that the world would wake up. The prime minister asked me to put together a five-year program setting out all the possible cyber threats, and what Israel would need to counter them. I told him, I don’t know what those threats will be. Five years? That’s four generations in cyber. The equivalent of 120 human years! Where to start?

Instead, I recommended that we set up the ecosytem, and do it now, strategically, with people capable of dealing with whatever turns up in the years ahead. And that we include people from the cyber industry, academia, and the government/security establishment.

In 2010, by the way, there was only one cyber research center in the world. That was at Oxford. Israel and the US had none. There was no way you could do a bachelor’s degree in cyber. You would do math, computer engineering or computing, and then do a master’s or doctorate. Now at TAU, you can do a bachelor’s in cyber, or a cyber major in other faculties. We’re the only country where you can do a high school matriculation, up to five units [the biggest amount], in cyber.

I said to Netanyahu, we can become a world center of knowledge. As with high-tech, so with cyber. One day, everybody will need it. He said yes straight away, and he stuck with it.

I made 13 recommendations. After four discussions, all were endorsed by the cabinet. Twelve were approved right away. The thirteenth took three more meetings. That was the budget. An additional billion shekels per year added to budgets. If the prime minister doesn’t back you, you don’t get that money.

‘I cannot tell you what the cyber threats will be in five years — even though that’s my profession’

Back in 2002, when the Shin Bet was in charge of defending civilian infrastructure against attack, there were 36 critical infrastructures on my list. These were defined by either of two criteria: if the loss of life in one attack would be over 500; and if the economic cost of an attack could amount to half a percent of gross national product. Those criteria reduced my list to twenty-something.

In 2010/11, how many critical infrastructures do you think there were? We stopped counting at a thousand. So much more is computer controlled. High-tech is the main engine of the Israeli economy.

The idea of the Shin Bet [domestic security agency] saying, we’d like to go into your computers. Well, that wasn’t going to work. China tried to do that. Facebook and Google are gone from China. We didn’t want to kill the goose. We needed to find the balance between privacy and security.

We had two options. One was to widen the umbrella of Shin Bet protection. But that’s not democratic, among other problems. And the second was to set up a new body, advising and supplying services. That’s what we did.

Are the Russians capable of hurting us?

There are four kinds of threat.

One, spying for state purposes. Material is on computer, and states are trying to spy on it and always will. There are all kinds of treaties, but nobody ever tried to draw up a treaty on spying. It won’t work. Our allies do it too. The key is don’t get caught. And it’s all gray areas anyway. Getting information is an ambassador’s job. It’s his job.

‘We’ve had people who were fooled by foreign intelligence, and they had one foot on the other side before they realized it’

Two, spying for economic purposes, to steal your technology. The US does not do that to us. China does. Most China cyber is industrial espionage.

Three, attacks and preparing for attacks. The Israel Electric Corporation, the water authority. Trying to work out how your servers work. Placing “logic bombs” — suspended until you send the trigger to operate them. Almost all of the states I mentioned don’t do that to us.

And four, influencing public opinion. Disinformation. Fake news. What we saw in the US elections.

Do we see it here?

Yes, and done by the Americans too, but not by the US government. A few weeks ago there was a fake news report, disseminated by right-wing groups, that (former Obama-era defense secretary Leon) Panetta had said the administration tricked Israel on the Iran nuclear deal.

Back to the Russians.

In the US elections, the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee, got hold of files, played with them and distributed them. They hacked Hillary Clinton and (former secretary of state Colin) Powell. They influenced the election. Now, they would have less success.

Because the defenses would be better?

Because lessons are constantly learned. (New French President Emmanuel) Macron had a head of digital in his campaign, a Moroccan-born Frenchman, Mounir Mahjoubi. The Russians hacked his campaign. And they published the materials five hours before the end of campaigning. But Mahjoubi, anticipating the hacking, had planted fake files. Those files came out too, with ridiculous content. Macron told the journalists, This is all rubbish. And the press agreed. End of the story.

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron holds hands with his wife Brigitte during a victory celebration outside the Louvre museum in Paris, France, Sunday, May 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Compare the impact of the Russian hacking of the elections in the US and France. The Russian influence was not in the fact of them penetrating the DNC and Clinton’s emails and Powell’s. It’s not the hack that was the big deal. It was the planted material. They created doubt regarding Clinton — her health, corruption; created doubt about her capability to serve as president. I met many smart people who you’d have expected to vote for Clinton. They said, I can’t vote for Clinton because she’s corrupt. I said, On what basis do you say that? They said, There’s stuff. But they had nothing specific. Six months later, now people realize that there were fake files. With Macron, by contrast, they had zero impact.

The Russians have a need for conspiracy. Students here at the university, you wouldn’t believe what they’re prepared to believe.

People think Trump is “run” by the Russians. There’s a misunderstanding of what an agent is.

Elaborate, please.

Let’s talk about 1967. We had somebody, at the highest level, in the Egyptian government. Ashraf Marwan. Unfortunately we blew his cover. He was then “suicided.”

Egyptian spy Ashraf Marwan (photo credit: Raafat/Wikimedia Commons)

How do you recruit someone like him? You can recruit by ideology. Communism. Philby, etc. You’re not going to recruit too many people via communism today.

How would we recruit, say, theoretically, a Syrian air force general? We’d say, “We’re a Norwegian firm that works on air force products. Your country can benefit from some of our products. Be our representative. Sell our product. Benefit the Syrian air force. It’s for Syria’s benefit. Legitimate business. You get rich.”

And then, “Here’s another great product we have.”

And then, “Now, what else is the Syrian air force missing?”

That’s the next half step. Now, he’s telling you things. It can take years, step by step. At some point he’ll realize that you’re “running him.” He mustn’t realize that it’s the Zionists. We’ll tell him, It’s the Russians. He won’t want to think it through. At some point you might ask him to cross the line. Or you might never ask him.

I read everything about [Trump’s short-lived national security adviser Michael] Flynn [who is under investigation for ties to Russia]. It’s classic recruitment. A businessman who has been fooled by the Russians. The Russians are the champions at this.

Have Israelis been duped in this way?

We’ve had people who were fooled by foreign intelligence, and they had one foot on the other side before they realized it. We told them. Most wised up. Some fled. Some went to jail.

I want to ask you about the so-called JCC hoaxer — a kid in Ashkelon who caused panic worldwide with thousands of fake bomb threats. One kid was able to cause vast chaos. Hundreds of schools evacuated. Airplane emergency landings. That’s pretty worrying, no?

He called. He made the threats. Yet he didn’t penetrate computers. It shows what a kid can do.

A president can do a lot more damage. The US president is destabilizing all kinds of basic elements. What does he call journalists? Fake news media. Judges are “enemies of the people.” And we know what you do about your enemies.

An Israeli-American teenager, accused of making bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, in a courtroom in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (Flash90)

With technology, we live in a world where everything is connected. You can get from anywhere to anywhere. That requires us to show more responsibility.

In the case of the kid, once the threat rose to a certain level, they started investigating and they caught him. Wasn’t so hard.

But in the internet generally, with cyber crime and cyber warfare, there is almost no effort to catch the bad guys. How many people do you recall being jailed in Israel for cyber warfare? I recall one case of a couple who planted a Trojan [virus]. Maybe there’s another case that’s slipped my mind. But every day there are millions of attacks. Nobody goes after the criminals. And it’s hard to get them, because they’re in different countries.

So why not develop the technologies? Change the internet protocol.

Could you explain what that means, and what it would involve?

The internet was built to be robust and non-centralized.

In 1973, we bombed Egypt’s communications centers, which was an important factor in the war.

The internet was set up to insure it could not be incapacitated by that kind of physical attack?

How does the internet work? You want to send me an email. You have a supplier. Netvision, say. Netvision has Wi-Fi. You’re in contact with a local server, one of thousands. It takes your note and breaks it into packets, each of which has its own ID. That server sends all the packets to all the servers it is in touch with. And all those servers send all those packets to all the servers they’re in touch with. It’s a global infrastructure. Now, one of those servers is my local server. It puts all the packets together and delivers your note to me.

Why was the internet set up like that? One: You’d have to destroy half the world to prevent your note being delivered to me. Two, no single packet has all the information. So everything is secure. That’s how the internet was set up by DARPA.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [in the US Department of Defense, which developed the networking heart of the internet]. It’s relatively impenetrable.

DARPA logo

You don’t know who sent the material to you. You get a set of protocols, but you don’t know who from. It’s called the problem of attribution. You need to re-engineer the internet to enable identification of the source of everything.

If you rob a bank and you get caught, you might get jailed or killed. If you try to rob a bank online, either you’ll succeed or you’ll fail. But if you fail, they won’t catch you. So we have to solve the problem of attribution.

For the pioneers, physicists at CERN communicating with their friends, this wasn’t an issue. It is now.

I want to come back to Stuxnet, and the assertion — central to the 2016 documentary “Zero Days” — that Israel screwed it up by pushing it too hard, too fast.

That’s nonsense.

‘Any weapon you use, there is a risk that people will realize what it is, will defend against it, will act against it, will use it against you’

In the 1973 war, we failed against Russian ground-to-air missiles in Syria. After the war, in the Israel Air Force we worked day and night for a solution to meet that threat. We developed smart weapons and drones and electronic warfare capabilities. In 1982, we initiated the Lebanon War. It was against Fatah, not against Syria. But we knew that the Syrian forces were deployed in Lebanon. Basically the same number of missile batteries as from the Golan in 1982. The same deployment. We didn’t know if they would fire on us this time.

The IAF chief, David Ivri, called me in and said, Can you build me a model to tell us, if we go to war, whether we should use the weapons we’ve developed? Because if we use our new capabilities, the Russians, with their missiles in Syria, will see what we have.

I developed a model based on research by [American political scientist] Robert Axelrod. He wrote about when to use weapons of surprise. He compared them to money in the bank, and argued that using it now is less valuable than if you leave it in place to earn interest. I took this model and I went to Ivri and I explained it to him. He said that made a lot of sense. But, Ivri also said, if we use our weaponry now and destroy the Soviet missiles, we push off future dangers. We would deter them, and give them the sense that they couldn’t outwit us.

So we used those weapons, and we destroyed the missiles, and since then the Syrians haven’t fired a shot at us. The attack impacted them for decades.

Robert Axelrod (Courtesy)

Years later, I got an email from a certain Bob Axelrod on an unrelated matter. I asked him if he was the same Robert Axelrod who wrote about when to use weapons of surprise, and he said he was. I told him, I used your model in 1982.

He said, I’m so happy. Only two people I know of have ever used my models in real life. One was on the evolution of cooperation (Axelrod’s best-known work). My wife’s friend used that when she got divorced. She decided not to fight him and she ended up getting nothing. And now you’re telling me about your case.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we ultimately rejected his model because we added another element — the accumulation of deterrent.

So, to come back to Stuxnet.

With any weapon you use, there is a risk that people will realize what it is, will defend against it, will act against it, will use it against you.

The Iranian nuclear scientists knew something was going wrong. Eventually they realized what it was. In retrospect, you could say it should have been used more, less. Easy to be smart in hindsight.

And where is Iran’s nuclear program now?

The deal took them back. The most vital element, fissile material, they were three months away from having the fissile material for a bomb.

They would have had a bomb in three months?

We don’t know about other elements — detonators, triggers and so on. But on the key element of fissile material, they had gotten to three months away. And that was more than a year before the deal.

And then they turned to the West and said, We’ll negotiate, because the sanctions are hurting us. And we won’t do those next three months [of advances]. They stopped themselves for more than a year. Then the deal was signed. The deal took them back to a point that is more than a year from the bomb.

One: They pledged, We’ll never build a bomb. Go know if that is true. Two: There are bars and inspections of all kinds for 15 years if they keep the deal.

If they break it, we’ll have more than a year until they get back to where they were. If you ask me, it’s a great deal. If you ask Bibi [Netanyahu], in 15 years, they’ll have an arsenal. And you know that Bibi himself has said that the head of Mossad at the time, Military Intelligence, the IDF chief of staff, the Shin Bet, all disagreed with him. [The late former Mossad chief Meir] Dagan talked about it publicly.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna, Austria, on January 16, 2016. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

There are cameras where we want them. Surprise visits. Yes, there’s a mechanism for surprise visits [so they’re not instant]. The Iranians actually said, You’ll turn up in Khamenei’s bathroom. So there are delays. But radioactive materials have a footprint of 10,000 years. You can’t hide that. And radioactive materials are the key. Other materials you can’t monitor anyway.

The deal is very good. Will they keep it? I don’t know. I don’t trust the Iranians, but we’ll know in enough time. We’ll have a year to decide what to do.

Finally, what can you tell me about the claim by the late Itzhak Yaakov, which emerged this month around the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, that Israel considered detonating a nuclear bomb in the Sinai in 1967?

If you read the books by foreign experts, they all agree that in 1967 Israel had the bomb. So you can choose to believe the story. And you can think that it’s part of Israel’s deterrent. Even now. We let a story get out. And if we had that capacity in 1967, you might think, then for sure we have it now. Except we’re not saying it.

Russia cancels US meeting over Ukraine sanctions

WASHINGTON, United States — Russia has canceled a meeting with senior US diplomats in the wake of Washington’s decision to reinforce sanctions imposed over its interference in Ukraine and occupation of Crimea.

US Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon had been due in St Petersburg on Friday to mend diplomatic fences with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

But relations between Moscow and Washington are at a low, even by the standards of a rivalry that goes back to the Cold War, and Washington’s decision to ramp up its sanctions regime provoked the anger of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

Shannon had hoped to address “irritants” in the relationship, such as tension over Moscow’s intimidation of US diplomats and the US seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds near Washington and New York.

But even this minor first step towards finding enough common ground to allow the rival nuclear powers to begin to address more fundamental issues — such as Russia’s intervention in Ukraine — has now fallen apart.

US Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon. (US State Department/Public domain)

“We regret that Russia has decided to turn away from an opportunity to discuss bilateral obstacles that hinder US-Russia relations,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

On Tuesday, the United States added 38 individuals and entities to its sanctions list targeting the Russians and pro-Russian rebels it blames for the fighting in Ukraine.

This appears to have been what triggered Moscow’s decision to cancel the meeting, although US President Donald Trump also met Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday.

But the State Department insisted that the sanctions were not being expanded, merely “maintained,” by adding new targets, as Moscow finds ways around the previous embargo.

And Washington insisted the punitive measures would stay in place until Russia honors the Minsk agreement to disengage from eastern Ukraine and returns the annexed Crimea region to Kiev.

“We have regularly updated these sanctions twice a year since they were first imposed,” Nauert explained. “Let’s remember that these sanctions didn’t just come out of nowhere.”

“Our targeted sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s ongoing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbor, Ukraine,” she said.

‘Not the moment’

Russia’s foreign ministry said that, given the new sanctions, it was “not the moment” to hold the Shannon-Ryabkov talks, which Washington had announced on Tuesday.

And, asked whether the meeting could be rescheduled, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “I have no confirmation that these consultations will take place.”

Separately, Ryabkov himself, in a foreign ministry statement, threatened that Moscow would take retaliatory measures.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov looks on at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, October, 2013. (AP/Fabrice Coffrini)

“This measure will not remain without a reaction — there will be measures in response on our behalf,” he warned.

“We regret that once again the American authorities have allowed themselves to be guided by the frenzied Russophobes in Congress, who will stop at nothing to cause us trouble, and especially to reduce to zero any chance of an improvement in Russian-American ties,” he alleged.

Putin’s ‘best friend’?

Ryabkov’s reference to Congress reflects a view in Moscow that Trump’s arrival in the White House might have heralded a new friendship with Putin’s Kremlin were it not for domestic US opposition.

Trump had warm words for Russia during his election campaign — and earlier, such as when he promoted the Miss Universe beauty pageant in Moscow in 2013 and tweeted that he would like to become Putin’s “best friend.”

But since coming to office, Trump has become embroiled in intrigue surrounding the alleged attempt by Moscow’s agents to swing the election in his favor by hacking the emails of his opponents and spreading online propaganda.

Trump has also appointed more orthodox national security officials, such as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who remain wary of Moscow and see Russia as a strategic opponent.

Russia Warns U.S. After Downing of Syrian Warplane

WASHINGTON — Long-running tensions between the United States and Russia erupted publicly on Monday as Moscow condemned the American military’s downing of a Syrian warplane and threatened to target aircraft flown by the United States and its allies west of the Euphrates.

The Russians also said they had suspended their use of a hotline that the American and Russian militaries used to avoid collisions of their aircraft in Syrian airspace.

The episode was the first time the United States downed a Syrian plane since the civil war began there in 2011 and came after the SU-22 jet dropped bombs on Sunday near American-backed fighters combating the Islamic State. It followed another major American military action against the Syrian government: a cruise missile strike to punish a nerve gas attack that killed civilians in April.

The latest escalation comes as competing forces converge on ungoverned swaths of Syria amid the country’s six-year civil war. Syrian forces and Iranian-backed militias that support them are extending their reach east closer to American-backed fighters, including forces that the Pentagon hopes will pursue the militants into the Euphrates River valley after they take the Islamic State’s self-declared capital of Raqqa. The collision of the disparate forces has, in effect, created a war within a war.

“The escalation of hostilities among the many factions that are operating in this region doesn’t help anybody,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday. President Trump has allowed military commanders more say in conducting operations against the Islamic State, urging them to surround the militants in their strongholds and “annihilate” them.

Russia’s warnings could turn out to be posturing. The Russian military has threatened to halt its use of the hotline in the past — notably after Mr. Trump ordered April’s missile launch — only to continue and even expand its contacts with the United States military. But in the complicated and quickly unfolding situation in Syria, even bluster can risk an unintended showdown.

“Anytime we have multiple armed forces working in the same battle space without de-confliction, there is a dangerous risk of things spinning out of control,” said Douglas E. Lute, a retired three-star Army general who was the United States representative to NATO until January. “Tactical incidents on the ground or in the air over Syria can be misunderstood and lead to miscalculation.”

American military officials rushed to de-escalate the situation, saying they hoped Russia could be persuaded to keep using the hotline.

“This is a delicate couple of hours,” Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday afternoon. He added that the United States would work both diplomatically and militarily “to re-establish de-confliction.”

But the latest statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry was particularly stark. “All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defense systems as targets,” said the Defense Ministry statement, which stopped short of declaring that the targets would be shot down.

The Pentagon also vowed to continue airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

The downing of the Syrian SU-22 on Sunday, the first time the American military had shot down an enemy plane since an F-16 took down a Soviet-era MIG-29 during the 1999 conflict over Kosovo, was the latest in a series of confrontations between the United States and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

One previously undisclosed confrontation followed a drone attack on June 8 on American-supported Syrians patrolling alongside their coalition advisers. The weapon was a Shahed 129 drone made by Iran, though American officials said they do not know who directed it.

An American F-15E shot down the drone, which had dropped a bomb that missed its target. But a Syrian warplane appeared hours later and began maneuvering to bomb the American-backed fighters, only to be intercepted by an American F/A-18 jet.

“When the airplane got close to where he wanted to deliver his bombs, he realized he had an F/A-18 behind it,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, who runs the coalition’s air war and described the episode.

Instead of attacking, the Syrian SU-22 zoomed away, and the Americans did not attack.

“We didn’t shoot it because he dumped his bombs off in the middle of the desert,” General Harrigian added in a telephone interview from his command center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

American officials have repeatedly urged Russians to advise their Syrian allies to keep their distance from the American-supported fighters, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces.

But after a Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs on Sunday near fighters south of Tabqa whom the United States is supporting and advising, an American F/A-18 shot the plane down.

The Russian threat to target American aircraft west of the Euphrates poses complications, particularly because Raqqa, which sits on the river in northern Syria, is well within range of Syrian and Russian air defenses. General Harrigian said there have been “occasional illuminations” or instances when ground-based targeting radars have been directed at coalition planes.

General Harrigan indicated that while the American-led coalition would continue to strike the Islamic State and provide air support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, he had made some adjustments to air operations.

“We have positioned ourselves such that we are able to manage and mitigate threats to our folks to a reasonable level,” he said.

General Harrigian declined to provide details. After the United States cruise missile attack in April, the American-led air war command initially used armed drones in and around Raqqa instead of piloted aircraft, and stealthy F-22s flew around the clock in northeast Syria. This was done to guard against the risk of retaliation by Syrian and Russian air defenses as part of a step-by-step process that eventually saw the United States and its allies return to normal operations.

Weeks after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered his country’s military forces to Syria in September 2015 to prop up the government of Mr. Assad, Russia and the United States signed a memorandum on preventing air clashes between the two countries.

The hotline has been a crucial link that has allowed Moscow and Washington to notify each other about its air operations over Syria, where Iran, Israel, Russia, Syria, Turkey and the United States with its allies have carried out attacks in pursuit of often-competing aims.

But Moscow has tried to use the agreement as leverage each time the situation has threatened to escalate.

The increasing defiance of American warnings by Iranian-backed Syrian military forces to control eastern Syria comes despite the tough talk from Mr. Trump about pushing back on Iran, Syria specialists said.

“There’s a big strategic game going on,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Iranians are making a play for the Euphrates River valley, and the Russians are going along with it.”

Syrian forces and their partners, for their part, are aiming to take oil-rich Deir al-Zour Province; rescue a Syrian military garrison that is surrounded there; and, many analysts believe, establish a supply corridor that runs from Syria to Iraq and, eventually, to Iran.

Speaking in Beijing on Monday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, seemed to be unaware of the Defense Ministry’s stance that the American attack against Syrian forces was “military aggression.” He called on the United States and all other countries involved in the Syria conflict to “coordinate their actions.”

“We urge everyone to avoid acting unilaterally, to respect the sovereignty of Syria,” Mr. Lavrov said.

“Escalation can never be ruled out,” said Frederic C. Hof, who worked on Syria policy at the State Department under President Obama before leaving and becoming a sharp critic of the administration’s limited support of Syrian rebels. “I doubt, however, that the Russians will permit themselves to be taken hostage by a regime it knows to be both murderous and incompetent.

“But who knows?” Mr. Hof continued. “Common sense and the rational actor model don’t always prevail. One hopes there is a sharp distinction between Russian rhetoric and action.”

Swedish Nationalists Charged Over Invader Center Bombings “Received Military Training In Russia”

Two of three nationalists currently on trial in Sweden over a series of bomb attacks in Gothenburg carried out against communists and an invader center “received military training in Russia shortly before the attacks,” the state prosecutor has claimed.

(New Observer Online)

The three men — all allegedly connected to the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), were charged last week in connection with a series of bombings in the western city of Gothenburg last winter.

A blast at an invader center on January 5th left an immigration office staff member seriously injured with wounds to his legs. Two months earlier, on November 11th, a bomb went off outside the Syndikalistiskt Forum Kafe, a well-known communist hangout. No one was injured in that blast.

Then an explosive device was found on January 25th at a campground which was temporarily housing invaders pretending to be refugees. It failed to detonate.

One man is accused of having constructed all three bombs, another of providing the explosives and a third of placing the bomb on the campsite, Sweden’s prosecutorial authority said.

“It is a matter of very serious crimes. We allege that the actions are politically motivated and that the targets are in line with such targets the Swedish white power movement has an interest in attacking,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in a statement.

Although all three have been linked to the NRM, the attacks are not believed to be directly connected to the organization. “Rather, there are indications that they were dissatisfied with the leadership within the Nordic Resistance Movement for not wanting to use violence to the same extent as they wanted to,” said Ljungqvist. “We can also see that two of the suspects shortly before the attacks received military training in Russia.”

Oliver Stone: “Israel Had Far More Involvement In The US Election Than Russia.”


Last night, Oliver Stone was interviewed by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Stone’s new Vladimir Putin Showtime series where he spent 20 hours interviewing one of the most reviled figures in geopolitics. Colbert begins with a clip from Stone’s interview where he seems ecstatic to merely be in Putin’s presence after offering up a giant softball question.

Stone praises Putin for managing to stay on the world stage for 16 years and his work ethic — pretty standard pro-Putin legacy doled out by the Kremlin every day. It is naked propaganda there is no other way to describe what Stone is doing in this interview and something Stone visibly becomes frustrated with trying to explain and justify. At the 4:10 mark, Stone delivers the Russians’ message for them: “He really wanted–wants, still–still wants a partnership” with the US.

At the 4:50 mark, Stone talks about how Putin has been abused, to which the crowd groans and Stone amends his statement adding, “In the media.” Of course, that just makes the crowd laugh and jeer even louder. That’s what aired, but not all that happened.

Page Six reported

“Why don’t you ask me about that?” — but we’re told that the host shot back, “I’ll ask you about that when you make a documentary about Israel!”

(The source described Stone’s Israeli argument as “a classic anti-Semitic canard.”)

It will be interesting if that footage is released and hits social media.


Updated | By the time Michael Flynn was fired as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser in February, he had made a lot of bad decisions. One was taking money from the Russians (and failing to disclose it); another was taking money under the table from the Turks. But an overlooked line in his financial disclosure form, which he was forced to amend to detail those foreign payments, reveals he was also involved in one of the most audacious—and some say harebrained—schemes in recent memory: a plan to build scores of U.S. nuclear power plants in the Middle East. As a safety measure.

In 2015 and 2016, according to his filing, Flynn was an adviser to X-Co Dynamics Inc./Iron Bridge Group, which at first glance looks like just another Pentagon consultancy that ex-military officers use to fatten their wallets. Its chairman and CEO was retired Admiral Michael Hewitt; another retired admiral, Frank “Skip” Bowman, who oversaw the Navy’s nuclear programs, was an adviser. Other top guns associated with it were former National Security Agency boss Keith Alexander and retired Marine Corps General James “Hoss” Cartwright, former vice chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose stellar career was marred when he was prosecuted last year for lying to the FBI during a leak investigation.

In the summer of 2015, knowledgeable sources tell Newsweek, Flynn flew to Egypt and Israel on behalf of X-Co/Iron Bridge. His mission: to gauge attitudes in Cairo and Jerusalem toward a fantastical plan for a joint U.S.-Russian (and Saudi-financed) program to get control over the Arab world’s rush to acquire nuclear power. At the core of their concern was a fear that states in the volatile Middle East would have inadequate security for the plants and safeguards for their radioactive waste—the stuff of nuclear bombs.

But no less a concern for Flynn and his partners was the moribund U.S. nuclear industry, which was losing out to Russian and even South Korean contractors in the region. Or as Stuart Solomon, a top executive along with Hewitt at his new venture, IP3 (International Peace, Power and Prosperity), put it in a recent speech to industry executives, “We find ourselves…standing on the sidelines and watching the competition pass us by.”

Related: Was Michael Flynn a security risk?

05_22_flynn_03Michael Flynn speaks at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, U.S. on January 10, 2017.REUTERS

That the oil-rich, sun-soaked Arab Middle East would pursue nuclear energy seems paradoxical. But as The Economist noted in 2015, “Demand for electricity is rising, along with pressure to lower carbon emissions; nuclear plants tick both boxes.” And some of the region’s major players, like Egypt and Jordan, don’t have oil and gas resources and “want nuclear power to shore up the security of their energy supplies,” The Economist said.

So the genius idea developed by Flynn and Co. was a U.S.-Russian partnership to build and operate plants and export the dangerous spent fuel under strict controls. Flynn’s role would be helping X-Co/Iron Bridge design and implement a vast security network for the entire enterprise, according to an internal memo by ACU Strategic Partners, one of the lead companies involved, obtained by Newsweek.

Not only would the project revive the U.S. nuclear industry, but it would cost American taxpayers nothing, its principals asserted. It would be “funded entirely by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries,” according to the ACU memo. The kingdom’s upfront cost? “Close to a trillion dollars,” says a project insider, who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing internal matters. Theoretically, the Saudis would recoup their costs by selling energy to Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—which hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region. (Qatar doesn’t seem to be an option for the moment, since six of the Arab states, led by the Saudis, severed diplomatic relations with it on June 5 over its alleged support of terrorism.)

Left out of this grand nuclear scheme: Iran (along with Syria, its war-ravaged Shiite proxy). In fact, “it was always part of the project that Russia’s involvement…would tilt Russia away from Iran,” Fred Johnson, ACU’s chief economist, wrote in an email to his advisers obtained by Newsweek. Not only would Russia earn cash for being a dumping ground for radioactive waste, Johnson wrote, but the consortium would purchase “Russian military hardware” to compensate Moscow for losing military sales to Iran.

“Further plans to sideline Iran,” Johnson wrote, included “the development of X-Co,” the Hewitt company that Flynn was advising, “with its very visible deployment of Sea Launch,” a Russian company “that would provide a platform for rockets.”

05_11_Flynn_Subpoenas_01Attorney General Jeff Sessions talks with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn inside of the inaugural parade reviewing stand in front of the White House on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C.MARK WILSON/GETTY

It’s unclear whether Flynn was involved in negotiating with Sea Launch. The former general, now being pursued by federal investigators probing contacts between Russian officials and Trump’s inner circle, did not respond to an inquiry from Newsweek. People associated with the Middle East project say they thought Flynn’s involvement was limited to sounding out the Egyptians and Israelis on security aspects of the enterprise. He listed no income from X-Co/Iron Bridge on his financial disclosure form and “was not paid,” except for his travel expenses, according to Thomas Cochran, a prominent scientist and nuclear nonproliferation proponent involved with the project. (The cost of business-class round-trip airfare and exclusive hotels for the trip would have ranged between $10,000 and $15,000.)

Hewitt denied that isolating Iran was part of the plan. “X-Co wasn’t created to simply ‘sideline Iran,’” he responded to Johnson and their associates in an email. “It was designed to set the conditions for stability which were the precursors to building 40 plants” and to “solidify the GCC, Jordan, Egypt under a security construct, led by two superpowers, using state of the art capability.”

But the project faced opposition from the Obama administration, Cochran says. “They didn’t want to do it with the Russians and didn’t want to do it while they were negotiating the Iran deal,” he tells Newsweek.

Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, offered an attractive possibility. And when Flynn, who had connections to the Russians, became the candidate’s national security adviser, the ACU team, led by British-American dealmaker Alex Copson, suddenly seemed to have an inside man. Last year, Copson was touting such connections when he tried to buy an unfinished nuclear plant in Alabama in concert with the Russians, telling a Huntsville reporter that “Alabama’s two senators”—both Republicans, and one, Jeff Sessions, then a top Trump campaign adviser—“can help the next administration move this project forward.” Copson’s bid for the plant failed.

When reports surfaced that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, however, some of Copson’s partners and advisers decided it was time to walk away. “When Copson decided he was going to saddle up with the Trump team, that was the last straw for me,” the insider says. “I said it’s time to regroup.”

The Saudis hadn’t shown much interest anyway, the insider says. “Copson was promising the advisers lots of money if the Saudis put up money,” but it failed to materialize. “And so there’s nothing that anyone was going to gain unless the project was a success,” he tells Newsweek.

Hewitt and his associates also split from ACU to pursue their own path toward a nuclear-powered Middle East, one that would swap in China for Russia as a nuclear partner, two sources close to the project say. (Hewitt declined to discuss plans for IP3, telling Newsweek he was “working hard to create our public persona right now.”)

But the highly regarded Cochran stayed with ACU. A longtime senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he was director of its nuclear program, Cochran was the author of countless studies and articles over the decades and had initiated with Moscow the U.S.-Soviet nuclear test ban verification project in 1986. He “has extraordinary chutzpah,” a writer for Scientific American observed in 1998. “He is willing to take on what most people wouldn’t bother with because they assume it’s hopeless.”

04_03_Trump_Flynn_01President Donald Trump with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

Or nuts. In 2001, a writer for the left-wing In These Times weekly got hold of a draft proposal for a 1990s-era project that Cochran was involved in, the Nuclear Proliferation Trust, which envisioned taking control of spent fuel from reactors around the world and shipping it to Russia “on large ships mounted with an arsenal of weapons designed to ward off nuclear pirates,” wrote Jeffrey St. Clair. “The big question is what happens to the waste after it arrives in Russia.” Would NPT guards be authorized to fire on rogue Russian soldiers or Chechen rebels? And what would stop corrupt Russians from selling weapons-grade uranium to anyone who could pony up the cash?

Similar concerns are all the more reason to partner with the Russians today in an ironclad security arrangement, Hewitt says. “We’re always going to be engaged in the security of the Middle East,” he told a May gathering at the Nuclear Energy Institute. “It is in our best interests to ensure that nuclear power is introduced with all of the safety [standards of the U.S.].”

Cochran urges critics not to lose focus on the big picture, which he alternately likens to launching the U.S. Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, which tamed rivers and brought electricity and industrial development to the American South in the 1930s. “It would provide energy and jobs and so forth for countries like Egypt and others in the region,” he says, “so that these young men have got something more useful to do than go out and shoot each other.”

For a project fraught with such diplomatic and logistical minefields, however, Copson is an odd choice to lead ACU into the Middle East. “A sometime bass player with the British rock band Iron Butterfly,” according to Time, Copson once famously “described the natives of the Marshall Islands as ‘fat, lazy fucks’ when they nixed one of his nuke dump schemes” in the Central Pacific Ocean, the muckraking journalist Greg Palast wrote in 2001. (The islands are now disappearing under rising seas.)

Copson did not respond to several calls and emails asking for comment. But it’s not likely the Trump team, many of whom are under close scrutiny for their undisclosed Russian contacts, will be any help to Copson now. And the Saudis aren’t “taking the kind of steps that would be required to really get serious about setting up a civil nuclear-energy infrastructure,” says Tristan Volpe, a fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.

Others suspect the Saudis are up to something more nefarious because of the U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran. The Saudis “have big ambitions for nuclear,” says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, D.C. “The issue is whether they cross over into any processing or enrichment” with secret partners like Pakistan or China, he says.

Flynn once expressed deep worries about a Saudi-Iranian nuclear arms race. In a January 2016 interview with Al-Jazeera, he sounded like Cochran, the elder statesman of the nonproliferation movement. “An entirely new economy is what this region needs,” he said, especially for the millions of unemployed young men living under corrupt autocracies and tempted by extremism. “You’ve got to give them something else to do. If you don’t, they’re going to turn on their own governments.”

But that was before he hitched up with Trump, who has embraced the Saudi monarchy and ratcheted up his rhetoric against Iran. Talk of a grand scheme to create jobs in the Middle East, meanwhile, has evaporated, with the Russia scandal enveloping not only Flynn but Trump’s entire presidency.

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