By Ty Joplin
Saudi Arabia’s desire for nuclear technology has never been a secret. U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to give them that technology has been, until a few days ago.
A U.S. House Committee and Oversight and Reform report revealed ongoing attempts by Trump administration officials and powerful businessmen to rush “highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia,” potentially violating U.S. laws in the process.
Multiple whistleblowers inside the U.S. government detail an effort by former Trump officials and family friends to sell American nuclear technology before Trump had even been elected president.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, developed the plan in coordination with former generals and CEOs of energy companies including General Electric and Siemens. In his memo to Trump convincing him of the importance of giving the Saudis nuclear technology, he ordained his plan to be “The Marshall Plan for the Middle East.”
But a senior official in the National Security Council who expressed concern to the U.S. oversight committee saw the secret deal as “a scheme for these generals to make some money.”
Besides potentially breaking laws and skirting international norms regulating nuclear proliferation, the scheme is marred by conflicts of interests according to the oversight committee's report.
The details are complex but worth understanding: selling nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia carries significant and potentially catastrophic results that make the Middle East, already a region plagued with instability, even more tumultuous. Saudi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, stated publicly that Saudi would race to acquire nuclear weapons if they sensed Iran was doing the same.
As revealed, Trump’s plan seems to be developed with bin Salman’s wishes in mind. It is framed both as a way for Saudi to utilize nuclear power and as a means of securing itself against Iran.
A Brief Summary of the Plan to Sell Saudi Nuclear Tech
Donald Trump with Saudi King Salman (AFP/FILE)
Although the U.S. and Saudi have been in talks for years regarding nuclear technology; they had all stalled. In comes a company named International Peace Power & Prosperity or IP3 whose sole goal appears to be to sell Saudi nuclear reactors.
IP3 brought on two key figures to achieve that goal: Michael Flynn and Thomas Barrack.
Flynn was a close ally to Trump during his presidential campaign and eventually became Trump’s national security advisor. During the campaign and in tandem with IP3, Flynn began efforts to try and sell Saudi nuclear tech. After Trump’s inauguration, Flynn went forward and drafted a memo to Trump recommending to aggressively pursue the transfer of nuclear tech to Saudi. Trump agreed and assigned Tom Barrack, who was recommended by Flynn before he was removed from the White House, to lead the effort.
Tom Barrack, a wealthy real estate investor and longtime family friend to the Trumps/Kushners, began working with IP3 and the Trump team to transfer the technology.
The deal’s value is estimated at $80 billion to build nuclear power plants. In 2011, Saudi declared they wanted to construct at least 16 such reactors. It is not clear exactly how many reactors Saudi seeks to build under the current plan.
It is unclear exactly what nuclear technology Trump is trying to sell to the Saudis, but nuclear power plants rely on low-enriched uranium to function. This can be turned into high-enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear weapons, but is generally tightly regulated to prevent such weaponization.
The current deal however, seems to lack those tight regulations placed on it, and Saudi has continually refused to sign legally binding treaties baring it from pursuing weapons.
Despite multiple warnings from NSC officials and the oversight committee’s report, negotiations are ongoing; there are no plans to stop. As recently as Feb 12, 2019 Trump attended a private White House meeting “initiated by IP3 International” to sell the tech to Saudi. According to the report, “Trump was ‘supportive’ of the executive’s plans to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.”
Jeffrey Lewis, a nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, called the secret plan: "bonker-balls…[I] can't come up with a better word. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. It's a half-baked, grandiose plan with all kinds of things that could go wrong in it and people screaming at them to stop. And they don't stop."
Breaking Down the Details of the Nuclear Scheme
Michael Flynn (AFP/FILE)
As stunning as the plan to sell nuclear technology to Saudi is, its various nuances and shady, colorful characters make it even more unbelievable.
To start with, there’s IP3, the company pushing the nuclear deal. Currently, it is led by a combination of former generals and energy CEOs including Robert Macfarlane, a national security adviser to Reagan who was implicated in the Iran-Contra affair; Danny Roderick, the CEO of Toshiba Energy; Bill Dudley CEO of the Bechtel Corporation; Judy Marks, CEO of Siemens; and Stephen Bolze, CEO of GE Power.
Collectively, they penned a letter to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman on Jan 1, 2017 offering him a deal that constitutes a “21st Century Marshall Plan for the Middle East.” A little before this, Flynn had been working with another group, ACU Strategic Partners, to promote U.S. nuclear technology to other countries in the Middle East including Egypt.
By the time Trump was inaugurated, Flynn had ingratiated himself into the Trump team and ACU’s new offshoot company, IP3 International. On Jan 20, the day Trump was sworn in, Flynn sent a text to one of his business colleagues, Alex Copson. Telling him the deal with Saudi was “good to go,” and to let others know so they can “put things in place.”
Michael Flynn is a man who will be remembered by his numerous conflicts of interests.
Flynn used to be a general in the U.S. military, but retired and founded the Flynn Intel Group in 2014. In 2016, while engaged in campaign efforts for Trump, he was hired by the Turkish government to lobby on their behalf.
He attended a secret meeting with Turkey, where they planned to forcibly and illegally abduct prominent Turkish dissident, Fethullah Gulen, from his home in rural Pennsylvania and throw him into a Turkish jail on an island.
In spite of the fact that he had to register as a foreign agent for Turkey, Trump appointed him to the national security adviser for his administration. He was forced to resign after just a few months on the job when it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence in order to cover up contacts he had with Russia.
But in that short time he wrote a memo to Trump recommending to pursue selling nuclear technology to Saudi. “The flaws of the Iranian Nuclear Agreement extend well beyond enabling Iran to develop nuclear weapons,” Flynn wrote. “It stimulated a determination among the Arab states throughout the region to possess an equivalent capability.”
“Fortunately a team of distinguished, recently-retired military officers and diplomats could see this coming… and began to develop a strategy for dealing with it effectively.” Those people are presumably the executives with IP3, for whom Flynn had worked.
Flynn, who tweeted in Feb 2016 that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” apparently had no problem selling sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, a country known as a hyper-conservative Muslim theocracy governed by Sharia Law and a global exporter of extremist Islamist thought.
Trump approved the plan shortly thereafter and assigned Tom Barrack to be its leader. Barrack was Flynn and IP3’s pick, and is a longtime family friend of the Trumps.
Thomas Barrack (AFP/FILE)
Barrack is not the kind of person you would expect to lead high-level secret negotiations to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to another country. He is a billionaire real estate investor, and a friend of the Trump family, who has a history of business deals with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Qatar.
Since the 1980s, he has served as a kind of American business envoy to royal and ruling families in the Gulf. When news broke that Saudi officials ordered the assassination of Washington Post report Jamal Khashoggi, Barrack rushed to defend Saudi before back-tracking his comments and apologizing.
Barrack’s first business deal with Donald Trump came in 1985, when he sold Trump 20 percent stake in a department store chain. He also sold Trump the famed-Plaza Hotel in New York for nearly half a billion dollars. In 2010, Barrak also helped to bail Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner out of bankruptcy by buying $70 million worth of debt on Kushner’s 666 Fifth Avenue estate.
He ran Trump’s Inaugural Committee, which is now under investigation by the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel, and is responsible for recommending Paul Manafort to be Trump’s campaign manager. Manafort has since been charged with multiple felony counts of laundering money, obstruction of justice, tax fraud and a host of other charges.
Barrack told Propublica that he was star-struck by being part of IP3’s efforts to sell Saudi nuclear tech. “I was like a kid in a candy shop — these guys were all generals and admirals,” he recalled. “They found an advocate in me in saying I was keen on trying to establish a realignment of U.S. business interests with the Gulf’s business interests.”
On March 10, 2017 Barrack authored a white paper entitled “The Trump Middle East Marshall Plan,” making sure to include Trump’s name on the plan as if it were yet another addition in the sprawling effort to brand Trump’s name into a global franchise.
Barrack warns Trump that without this nuclear deal, “the growing regional economic illness left unattended will become an international terrorist epidemic of despair, hostility and anger.” In other words, sell Saudi nuclear reactors or else the region will devolve into chaos and lawlessness where gangs of terrorists roam freely. It is a grim and alarming assessment, to say the least.
Nuclear Bomb-Sized Ethical Issues
Jared Kushner (AFP/FILE)
The U.S. oversight committee’s report includes a laundry list of ethical concerns.
The most obvious is the conflicts of interests. Flynn, a registered foreign agent, was working for IP3 while positioning himself as an indispensable asset to Trump. “According to the whistleblowers, the NSC Ethics Counsel and several attorneys in the NSC Legal Advisor’s office agreed that General Flynn had a potential conflict of interest that could violate the criminal conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 208. As a result, NSC Legal Advisor John Eisenberg instructed NSC staff to cease all work on the plan,” the report reads.
Barrack has at least $7 billion flowing from Gulf countries into his own company, Colony Northstar, since Trump’s inauguration, indicating that his loyalty may be being paid for as a way to influence Trump’s foreign policy. A leaked confidential Colony Northstar memo detailed a strategy for the company to profit off its connections to both Trump and the Middle East “while avoiding any appearance of lobbying.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and friend of Barrack, is Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East and has been involved in the nuclear deal. Saudi’s Mohammed Bin Salman bragged that Kushner was “in his pocket,” signalling yet another member of Trump’s nuclear team may be compromised by conflict of interests.
The executives leading IP3 International too, stand to gain billions in the deal. According to the oversight committee’s revelations, IP3 authored a blueprint for the “Trump Marshall Plan” and sent it to Trump’s National Security Council staff.
In other words, they are formulating the policy they are seeking to profit from, calling into question the integrity and use of the deal itself.
All the while, the plan has proceeded without congressional approval, which is a potential violation of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act Section 123.
The report highlights experts’ concerns that such a transfer of nuclear information and technology to Saudi gives it a pathway to weaponize nuclear energy into nuclear weapons. Mohammed bin Salman himself stated that “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Although these concerns were raised to top-level officials within the Trump administration, they were summarily dismissed and the plan is moving ahead as planned.
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