A Small Disinformation Bomb

The takeaway from this post is that Cassidy Hutchinson testified that she heard, with her own ears, Donald Trump ask that the screening for weapons be taken away for his speech on January 6 because he knew that people were armed. He believed that those arms were not meant for him, and he wanted to lead the crowd to the Capitol and make a speech in the House chamber.

Shiny objects, people! Shiny objects!

The idea that Trump assaulted his top Secret Service agent and tried to take control of the car is sensational. It is one small part of his larger betrayal of his office, but it’s getting a lot of attention.

It’s the only part of Hutchinson’s testimony that is not something she directly experienced. She was clear in her testimony that it was told to her by Anthony Onrato, head of Trump’s Secret Service detail and special advisor to Trump. That combination of positions is unusual, and I think we can conclude from it that Onrato is closely attached to Trump. Bobby Engel is another Trump-friendly Secret Service agent.

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Think Tankers Gone Bad

This seems suboptimal.

The FBI has seized the electronic data of a retired four-star general who authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar. (AP)

It’s one more instance of what’s been going on for years. People have posts in government and then sell themselves to another country to use what they’ve learned in government to make it favor that country. Members of Congress and their aides. Military personnel. Or they join defense contractors to help them get federal money. Sometimes they edge over the legal line.                                            

Or they join think tanks. General John Allen, referred to above, became the head of the Brookings Institution when he retired from the military in 2017. There are at least two issues here.

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Russian Sanctions And Civilian Nuclear Power

We’re just beginning to see the effects of shutting Russia out of the world economy.

Russia has been a big supplier of nuclear power plants. About 1 in 3 being built around the world is Russian. South Korea is another potential supplier, and China might like to expand its market share.

But if Russia is out of the market, building of nuclear power plants will slow down. Those currently under construction may falter because their financing comes through Sberbank, also sanctioned.

In the United States, Westinghouse is once again up for sale, having been through a bankruptcy and sale to somewhat hidden owners. They are being less than transparent about the sale.

Saudi Arabia has issued an inquiry for construction of two 1400 Mwe nuclear plants. The responses to that may show how things will go with Russia sanctioned.

A number of new companies want to offer small modular reactors, but it’s not clear when they’ll be ready for installation.

There is a small move toward recognizing nuclear power as a way to supply electricity with much less carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. Not at all clear how this will turn out.

[This post is based on John Quiggin’s at Crooked Timber and is close in content, although I’ve added a bit.]

Graphic: A NuScale Power module on a truck. NuScale is one of the small modular reactor companies whose designs are going through pre-licensing approval with Canada’s nuclear regulator. Many are designed to be small enough to transport by truck or by shipping container. (NuScale Power)

Cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns & Money

Putin’s Associates At The Long Table

The old Kremlinology was one thing – whether Khrushchev or Molotov was standing next to Stalin above Lenin’s tomb may have had meaning – but Vladimir Putin’s Kremlinology is something else.

Putin assures us that he is sitting at his long table next to Peter the Great and Alexander Nevsky, and it looks like Ivan the Terrible is there too. But Khrushchev and Molotov had a record we could (more or less) look at in terms of their climb to Kremlin power, and their other public dealings. The Soviet Union, indeed, was obscure in some ways, but what is important about Putin’s associates is what he thinks their roles and identities were. What he thinks is often at odds with what the rest of us know of history.

Most recently, Putin has invoked Peter the Great to justify a land grab against Ukraine but left out Peter’s opening to Europe. It’s clear that Putin is grabbing at the pieces of Russian history that he feels most comfortable with or that help him justify his war. We don’t know to what degree he believes any of this, nor do we know how much the people around him influence him.

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You Can’t Follow The Action Without A Score Card

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 9) at 8 pm Eastern Time, the January 6 Committee of the House of Representatives will hold its first prime-time hearing. They promise to put a complex story into context and to present new material.

I’ll admit that I have a hard time following it all. The broad outline seems clear: President Donald Trump and some of his supporters wanted to undo Joe Biden’s clear electoral victory by a combination of social unrest and hinky legal justifications. There is a cast, literally, of thousands.

The story has been coming out in unconnected pieces. One day we hear about a bizarre protester’s sentencing and behavior in court. The next, there is a dump of emails from one of the higher-up perpetrators or perhaps from a behind-the-scenes operative who I’ve never heard of. It’s the kind of thing that leads a person to stick different-colored notes on a board and connect them with yarn.

I haven’t had time to do that, so I hope that the committee has a good storyline prepared. JustSecurity has a scorecard. The Committee’s investigative teams are color-coded: Gold (pressure on local officials), Blue (law enforcement and intelligence agency failures), Purple (domestic extremist groups, QAnon, and online misinformation), Red (rally planners and Stop the Steal), and Green (following the money).

I hope that the committee does not present its findings in that format. The scorecard presents one page in each category with “What We Know” and “What To Look For” points. It’s worth a scan to help get your thoughts in order and perhaps as a checklist with which to follow the hearing. The committee has said little about what to expect, so this is as good as we’ve got now.

Dan Froomkin is not optimistic about how the media will cover the committee.

And, just to drop another unconnected piece on you, Rolling Stone has one on intelligence failures. We haven’t heard much about them, and they are central to the unprepared state of the police units that should have done better.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Seven Days In May

I have just finished reading Seven Days in May. This is the first time for me, and perhaps good that I can see it with fresh eyes.

It’s sometimes mentioned along with other Cold War fiction. It’s very much a product of its time, but there are resonances sixty years on.

The book was written in 1962. Before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Before John Kennedy’s assassination. Before the Civil Rights Act. The action takes place in 1972, but little is different from 1962.

There are all the superficial things of its time: cigarettes and cigars, the latter clearly used to denote masculine power; hard-wired telephones with extensions and telephone booths; typewriters, no computers; a fascination with air travel. Not so superficial is the vast power differential between men and women. There is a Black cabinet secretary, but he (of course) is quickly discarded as a part of the plot.

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Will Iran Build A Bomb If The JCPOA Talks Fail?

The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran nuclear agreement) talks have been staggering for over a year now. I haven’t followed them as closely as I did in 2015. Back then, I followed the technical aspects – how many centrifuges of what kind, what would be inspected to be sure that Iran was following the agreement. The JCPOA is remarkable in its technical detail and verifiability.

This time around, the discussions have been about sanctions and who is going to take action on what, when. Not much I can contribute there. The negotiators have kept things secret, too, another reason I haven’t had much to say. Even when some information leaks, I have to wonder what hasn’t leaked.

I would hate to see the JCPOA fail. It is a force for stability in the Middle East, and, until the US withdrawal by the Trump administration, Iran was complying with it. Israel seems to be itching for an incredibly destructive war if the talks fail, despite the statements of much of Israel’s security establishment that the JCPOA is good for Israel, war is not.

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Vladimir Putin’s Red Mercury Scam

Y’all know about red mercury, right? It’s the secret to making nuclear weapons out of something that isn’t uranium or plutonium. Or it makes those fissile materials more fissile. Or it’s in the detonators. If you’re interested, I know a source…

C. J. Chivers wrote the ultimate story on it back in 2015. It’s allegedly been for sale to terrorists in the Middle East, and Russia was buzzing about it in the 1990s, after the Soviet breakup. I recall questions about it circulating at Los Alamos at that time, which was the first I heard of it.

Sergei Dobrynin and Robert Coalson have written about the role of a St. Petersburg official in a red mercury scam of the 1990s, as a part of an RFE/RL series on corruption scandals and scams that swirled around Vladimir Putin and his associates as he began his political ascent.

It’s a complicated story, involving a number of companies whose relationships I leave to the RFE/RL article. The central company, Alkor, actually manufactured mercury pyroantimonate, which is industrially useful but not capable of red mercury’s amazing nuclear feats. But if you sold it that way, you could get hundreds of times what it was worth industrially.

So yeah, that was one of the things Putin did while he was in the St. Petersburg city government. Probably gave him valuable experience in setting up shell companies.

There’s lots more in those articles. If you’re interested in red mercury, read them.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money