Since elements of the story first appeared, I have been intrigued by the idea that Michael Flynn wanted to sell nuclear reactors to the Saudis. Too much of it doesn’t make sense and still doesn’t. A few things I’ve wondered about:
- Flynn has no experience with nuclear reactors.
- Why nuclear reactors? There are a great many problems in selling in building them.
- Why Russian reactors?
- Why is the administration so persistent in pushing this deal?
Most importantly, is this activity connected to other varieties of Trumpian corruption?
A simple theory can explain this. The Saudis want nuclear reactors to eventually build a nuclear weapons program. Flynn was at the head of a group of Trump-connected grifters who wanted to make money from that desire. Informed by a profound ignorance of nuclear economics and nonproliferation, it explains everything in a general way, but others also have the uneasy feeling that it’s more than that.
A few years back, I looked at Russian ambition to sell nuclear reactors. Reactors are one of the few manufactured export products Russia has on offer. They were so eager to sell the reactors that the business model they developed was that Russia would provide the up-front costs of building the reactor, which the customer country could then pay back out of electricity profits. That would make it possible for smaller, poorer countries to increase their electrical power capacity.
Something seemed fishy about that to me, too. I added up all the deals Russia had made, and it looked like they would bankrupt the country. I posted it, but the post is lost to internet decay. Since then, some of the deals have come apart, and others are moving slowly enough that they no longer look like Russia will go bankrupt from that any time soon.
Saudi Arabia wanted 16 reactors at the time. The price of oil was high, and they were feeling wealthy. Besides whatever proliferation ambitions they may harbor, it can be argued that some nuclear power makes sense for Saudi Arabia, although 16 reactors seemed like a lot. After the price of oil cratered, that number went ‘way down. Maybe four max.
Several suppliers are plausible. South Korea is building a group of four nuclear reactors in the UAE. The United States and Russia are eager to sell their reactors. China is building a great many at home and wants to be part of the market.
Dan Yurman follows the nuclear reactor business. He’s also been intrigued by the implausibilities of this story and has written in a great deal of detail. Here’s one of his contributions. He’s worth following (@djysrv) for more. We continue to discuss this behind the scenes.
I hope to write a series of posts on this story in more detail than my earlier posts (here, here, and here). I’ll start by looking at the various companies involved with Flynn and still pushing the idea after he was indicted. Here is the Washington Post to bring you up to date.
Washington, DC, abounds with companies whose purpose is unclear. It is often described as “consulting,” sometimes with a very general description of what they consult about. They exist to obtain government contracts.
Some have some expertise in some areas, but they do not confine their bidding on contracts to those areas, being confident that they can subcontract to firms with technical know-how if they win the contract. I’ve had them respond to my requests for proposals. I avoided them; they introduce another layer of profit-taking where communications can be garbled.
The companies involved in the attempt to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis without appropriate approvals seem to be of this type.
Flynn listed Iron Bridge Group and X-Co Dynamics on one of his disclosure forms. I haven’t been able to find anything about them on the internet. ProPublica would like to hear from you if you know anything about them.
There is a bit more about ACU Strategic Partners. They hired Flynn in 2015 to develop a plan to work with Russia to sell nuclear reactors “throughout the Middle East.” On Inauguration Day, according to a whistleblower, Flynn texted Alex Copson of ACU that the sanctions would be coming off Russia soon.
Let’s look at the ACU website. On the front page is “International Super Consortium: A TVA Based Model Accelerating The Industrialization And Security Of The Middle East Region.” That’s all – it doesn’t link to anything. Under “News,” several CSIS reports are listed, most authored by Anthony H. Cordesman. No officers of the corporation are listed. An email form completes the website. Copson has been described as managing director of ACU. Thomas Cochran is mentioned as an “ACU scientist.” I would like to know if this is the Cochran of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who played a role in setting up cooperation with Russia on loose nukes in the 1990s.
The IP3 website is more extensive. It includes a management team, a board of directors, and a board of advisors. Most are on multiple boards. Expertise on nuclear power plants and nonproliferation is thin. Links are to short biographies at the website.
- Rear Admiral (Ret.) Michael Hewitt, U.S. Navy, Co-Founder and CEO – Assistant Secretary of Commerce under George H. W. Bush
- Honorable Alan Dunn, Chief Legal Officer
- Stephen Solomon, Chief Financial Officer
Board of Directors
- Honorable Robert “Bud” McFarlane, Co-founder and Director – Involved in the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency; his bio on the IP3 website does not mention that.
- General (ret.) John M. “Jack” Keane, U.S. Army, Co-founder and Director – Vice Chief of Staff for the Army in the early 2000s
- General (ret.) Keith Alexander, U.S. Army, Co-founder and Director – CEO and president of IronNet Cybersecurity and was involved at high levels in military cyber and intelligence operations
- Rear Admiral (Ret.) Michael Hewitt, U.S. Navy, Co-Founder and CEO
- Admiral (ret.) Eric Olson, U.S. Navy, Director – Head of US Special Operations Command in the 2000s
- Frances Fragos Townsend, Director – Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and the only woman listed.
- General (ret.) James Cartwright, U.S. Marine Corps, Director – Commander, U.S. Strategic Command and later 8thVice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Lars Buttler, Director – Chairman of Madison Sandhill, a venture capital firm; holds a doctorate in engineering and an MBA
- Honorable Mike J. Rogers, Director – From 2001 to 2015, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan’s 8thCongressional District
- Michael J. Wallace, Director – Was Vice Chairman and COO of Constellation Energy and Chairman of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, which includes nuclear power plants
- Ambassador Dennis Ross – Currently at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; many ambassadorial and advisory positions
- James Heath – Co-founder of IronNet and the President of Technology and Future Products
- Honorable John Tanner – Vice Chairman of Prime Policy Group and Official Council to the Butler Snow law firm; served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 22 years as representative for Tennessee’s 8th congressional district
- Admiral (ret.) Kirkland H. Donald, U.S. Navy – Last assignment in the Navy was an eight-year term as Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program
- Lieutenant General (ret.) Patrick J. O’Reilly, U.S. Army – Was Director of the US Missile Defense Agency
- Phillip Eichensehr – Vice President of Aerospace Engineering for DigitalGlobe/RadiantBlue (DG|R)
- Lieutenant General (ret.) Raymond Palumbo, U.S. Army – Assistant commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and commander of U.S. Army Alaska; now partner and co-founder of Venturi Solutions LLC
- Ziad J. Asali – Founder and President of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP)
Two have experience with nuclear power; there is more expertise on various aspects of security. The two former congressmen are Democrat and Republican, and Ross is balanced by Asali in Middle East concerns. That sort of balance is useful in obtaining government contracts.
The website is not extensive. It includes an “About” page, which contains a short mission statement and promotes nuclear power for peace, power, and prosperity. The page also links to a “vision for a new public-private strategy in the Middle East,” hosted outside the site.
McFarlane and Alexander, of the IP3 board, are also on the USESC board, with McFarlane as Co-Chair. Most of the members are Republican or Republican-leaning. According to the website, “The Issue” is reducing the strategic importance of oil. However, nuclear power is not strongly promoted, and the statement is vague about exactly how that objective is to be achieved.
Listed as advisors are Anne Korin and Gal Luft, Co-Directors of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, and David M. Sweet of the World Alliance for Decentralized Energy. The Institute for the Analysis of Global Security seems to be a creature of the USESC.
McFarlane pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress as part of the Iran-Contra cover-up and was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush. Another recycled Republican miscreant.
No answers, sorry, only questions. More to come.
Top photo from ProPublica.