Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 31, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-18

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

More morsels on the case:

El Pais: North Korean embassy assailants filmed the attack to prove their actions, say Spanish police

The 10 individuals who broke into the North Korean embassy in Madrid last month, assaulting staff members and taking audiovisual material with them, had micro-cameras that they used to provide evidence of their actions to whoever ordered and financed the operation, according to Spanish investigators.
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The 35-year-old is a US resident with a Mexican passport who “owns several dubious companies and is in contact with various intelligence services.

Investigators are now exploring whether Hong Chang played a role “in other violent incidents against North Korean interests in other countries.” Near the Madrid embassy, the police found an Italian driver’s license belonging to Hong Chang but showing a fake name. The North Korean ambassador to Italy has been missing since January, and is presumed to have defected.
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Investigation sources say the attack was perfectly planned down to every last detail, something that would require “significant infrastructure and financing, which the individuals involved lack.”
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Even though the assailants – mostly young South Koreans living in the US and trained in military action – took away the hard drives of the embassy’s security cameras, the police was able to partially recover the footage before its automatic deletion. This is what allowed investigators to observe the intruders’ “extremely violent and professional” behavior, and to identify them.

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The CIA cover group has gone silent. It may be that Adrian Hong gets another gig. Not again Libya from where he transferred Islamist to the Syrian war theater, but how about Venezuela?

Free Joseon says it is going on a hiatus

Most notably, according to AFP, Hong was spotted in Tripoli, Libya, during the Libyan civil war in 2011. He helped Libyan war victims receive treatment at hospitals in Jordan.

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Mystery group tied to break-in at DPRK embassy in Madrid will suspend activities

Notably, the source said that South Korea’s embassy in Madrid also had some knowledge of the incident shortly before it took place and immediately after.

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Presumably to prevent that the case gets buried, North Korea finally acknowledges the raid:

North Korea said Sunday it wants an investigation into a raid on its embassy in Spain last month, calling it a “grave terrorist attack” and an act of extortion that violates international law.
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The North’s official media quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying that an illegal intrusion into and occupation of a diplomatic mission and an act of extortion are a grave breach of the state sovereignty and a flagrant violation of international law, “and this kind of act should never be tolerated.”

He claimed an armed group tortured the staff and suggested they stole communications gear.

Yves Smith: Boeing Doubles Down on 737 Max, Rejects Need for Simulator Training

Southwest Airlines contract with Boeing says that Southwest will get $1 million rebate per plane if 737 MAX pilots need extra simulator training for it.

Matt Taibbi: On Russiagate and Our Refusal to Face Why Trump Won

A long read about Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic candidate for the next presidential election.

    All About Pete

The rage with which the piece was written is beautiful.

You will be sold Buttigieg’s small-town milliennial neoliberalism the way they’re trying to sell you Beto O’Rourke’s skateboard neoliberalism. Hey kids, you like Medicare For All? So does this guy! But he’s young and from the Midwest and likes Hamilton! Bernie is old. You don’t need an old man. You need young hip progressivism.

Do not be deceived by this.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 31, 2019 at 17:42 UTC | Permalink | Comments (241)

March 30, 2019

Kushner Extorted Qatar - Or Did He?

The Hillreporter just published a very juicy story about Jared Kushner, the son in law and senior advisor of President Trump.

It says that Kushner, with the help of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman, extorted Qatar for $1 billion to save his families real estate business in New York.

While the story sounds plausible and fits the public known timeline of other events, there is so far no evidence that supports it.

The tale is based on the work and information of author Vicky Ward, who recently published Kushner Inc - Greed. Ambition. Corruption. The Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Ward first talked through the story on yesterday's KrassenCast, a podcast by the anti-Trump and somewhat shady Krassenstein brothers who also run the Hillreporter.

In 2007, at the hight of the real estate bubble, the Kushner family bought the 666 5th Avenue building in New York City for $1.8 billion. Ten years later the Kushners were in real trouble. Plans to replace the building with a new one found no financing. The property was losing lots of money and a huge mortgage payment was due in January 2019. The family had to look for a bail out.


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In early 2017 the Kushner family had several meetings with Qatari officials to discuss a deal. The Intercept reported:

Joshua Kushner, a venture capitalist and the younger brother of White House adviser Jared Kushner, met with Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi the same week as his father, Charles Kushner, did in April 2017, in an independent effort to discuss potential investments from the Qatari government. Both meetings took place at Al Emadi’s St. Regis Hotel suite in Manhattan.

This revelation comes after Charles Kushner, in an interview with the Washington Post this week, confirmed for the first time that his meeting with Al Emadi had indeed taken place on the subject of financing for the underwater Kushner property at 666 Fifth Avenue.

According to Vicky Ward this is what happened next:

"What I have learned is that in the ensuing month [May 2017] before the US visit to Riyadh, Jared Kushner got on a plane and flew to Doha, the Qatari capital, and he reamed the Qatari ruling family, the al-Thanis, for not doing the deal with his father … They began to feel that he was indirectly threatening their sovereignty. The next thing they know, when they show up to the summit in Riyadh, the Emir, the ruler of Qatar, arrives with an entourage, but his entourage is suddenly cut off from him, and not allowed into the summit at the same time by the Saudis, which he felt was a move to deliberately make him look weak. You have to remember during this summit, Jared and Ivanka go off for a cozy secret unmonitored dinner with [Saudi Crown Prince] MBS. Nobody knows what they talked about.”

Fifteen days later the Saudis and the UAE blockade Qatar and send troops to its border. Trump supports the Saudi blockade against the advice of his Secretary of State Tillerson and his Defense Secretary Mattis and despite the fact the the biggest U.S. base in the area is in Qatar.

Nine months later, a Canadian company, Brookfield Partners, who the Qatari Investment Authority owns a $1.8 billion or 9% stake in, bailed out Kushner Properties, with a 99-year lease agreement for 666 5th Ave.
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Around this same time, President Trump publicly shifts course, no longer supporting the blockade, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells Saudi Arabia to stop the embargo.

If the blockade of Qatar originates in a Kushner extortion scheme, as the story insinuates, it would have serious political consequences. But is that true?

The sequencing of the real estate deal and the change in the Trump policy on the blockade is somewhat problematic. The Trump shift was reported on April 29 2018 while the Brookfield Partner deal was first published about three weeks later on May 17:

Charles Kushner, head of the Kushner Companies, is in advanced talks with Brookfield Asset Management over a partnership to take control of the 41-story aluminum-clad tower in Midtown Manhattan, 666 Fifth Avenue, according to two real estate executives who have been briefed on the pending deal but were not authorized to discuss it.

The deal only closed in August 2018 on terms that had changed from the first report and were unusual:

Brookfield Asset Management has agreed to lease the troubled office tower for 99 years and is paying for the lease up front, rather than in the typical yearly ground rent, the Wall Street Journal reports. The financial terms of the deal were not made public, but the New York Times reports that Brookfield is paying $1.1B.

What was the real sequencing here? Was the property deal agreed upon before the Trump administration changed its stand on the Qatar blockade or after that happened? Was it related to it or not? We don't know.

There is no public record of the alleged Jared Kushner flight to Qatar. There is so far no other evidence that would support the story.

The tale fits the publicly known timeline, but that is not enough to believe it. Its authors may have used the public timeline to then fit a story onto it. 

It is possible that the Kushner property deal and the Qatar blockade are intimately intertwined but there is, so far, no proof for it.

That idea that Kushner played the Saudis is dubious. The other way around is more likely.


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Saudi Arabia and the UAE had plenty of reason to blockade Qatar. Both countries fear the Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood. They hate Qatar's Al Jazeerah TV because it often publicly opposes their policies. The Saudis need money and annexing the very rich Qatar would solve all their problems.

Brookfield Properties denies that Qatar or the Qatari investment agency had any involvement in 666 5th Ave. deal.

Even if Qatar, through Brookfield, made a deal with the Kushner family, it does not mean that it was extorted. The Qatari rulers might simply have hoped that the deal would help them. It did not. The blockade still continues despite the real estate deal.

Trump had his own reasons to support the Saudis Qatar blockade. He wanted them to buy as many U.S. weapon system as possible, if only to beat out Obama, who sold the Saudis all sorts of military trash for a record amount of money.

During the Mueller Russia investigation lots of smoke seemed to show that there was a 'collusion' fire burning somewhere under the hundreds of facts and figures. There wasn't.

The story about the Kushner 'extortion of Qatar' might create a similar 'the walls are closing in' (vid) farce only to end up with nothing.

It is interesting that the Vicky Ward story was published on March 29, a day after Jared Kushner was interviewed behind closed door by the Senate Intelligence Commission:

President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner returned to the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed door interview Thursday as part of the committee's Russia investigation.
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The first time Kushner appeared before the panel in 2017, he was interviewed by committee staff. The committee has wanted to re-interview witnesses central to the investigation. On Thursday, senators were sitting in on the interview.

Russiagate is really finished. The Republican's rule the Senate. Why would they continue to interview Kushner and why would senators sit in on it?

Might the 'Kushner extorted Qatar' be a planned sequel to Russiagate or why else was it launched right now?

Posted by b on March 30, 2019 at 21:28 UTC | Permalink | Comments (62)

Why Is The Washington Post Inventing "Warming Ties" Between Trump And Moscow?

Sometimes it is impossible to discern whether Washington Post writers are moronic or drunk.

In a front page piece today about Russia's engagement in Venezuela the three authors include this line:

In an era of generally warming ties between the Trump administration and Moscow, Russia’s deepening involvement in Venezuela is creating a flash point by challenging the U.S. effort to force Maduro from office.

What please are the signs that we are in an "in an era of generally warming ties between the Trump administration and Moscow" ?

The piece includes nothing that supports that claim.

The U.S. is occupying parts of Syria against Russia's will. It is threatening Russia by positioning ever more NATO forces at its borders. Trump left the INF treaty with Russia.  He opposed Russia wherever he could. Nothing of that has changed.

In fact yesterday Bloomberg reported that the U.S. is reading new sanctions against Russia for the MI6 stunt of vanishing Sergej Skripal:

The White House has received a long-awaited package of new sanctions on Russia, intended to punish the Kremlin for a 2018 nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy in the U.K.

Last week Russia deployed some 100 military technicians and cyber-defense specialists to Venezuela. They will test and probably upgrade Venezuela's S-300 air defense systems. They will also help to check the control systems of Venezuela's Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant and the Guri Dam that trice led to large scale electricity outages during the last month. Venzuela suspects that U.S. cyber attacks led to those failures.

Also yesterday Trump's special envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams and National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened even more sanctions against Russia for its hardly existing footprint in Venezuela:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been given a list of options to respond to Russia's growing presence in Venezuela in support of Maduro, including new sanctions, said Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special representative for Venezuela.

"We have options and it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand here. They don’t," Abrams told reporters at the State Department.

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week said "Russia has to get out" of Venezuela and said "all options" were open to force Russia to do so after two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 military personnel landed outside Caracas.

Trump's national security adviser John Bolton issued a second warning on Friday in a strongly worded formal statement.

"We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," Bolton said.

"We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region. We will continue to defend and protect the interests of the United States, and those of our partners in the Western Hemisphere," he said.

Again we ask: What please are the signs that we are "in an era of generally warming ties between the Trump administration and Moscow"?

What is the purpose of making that claim?

Posted by b on March 30, 2019 at 17:17 UTC | Permalink | Comments (70)

March 29, 2019

Regulators Knew Of 737 MAX Trim Problems - Certification Demanded Training That Boeing Failed To Deliver

A recently discovered document proves that Boeing ignored requirements international regulators made when they certified Boeing's 737 MAX airplane.

After the recent Boeing 737 MAX incident in Ethiopia we explained why it happened. Even before the plane type was grounded by the FAA we wrote:

Boeing, The FAA, And Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

Our early take was confirmed by the reporting of other media which we also discussed:

Flawed Safety Analysis, Failed Oversight - Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

The basic problem:

For commercial reasons Boeing wanted the new 737 version to handle like the old ones. But changes in the new version required an additional system to handle certain flight situations. The development of that system and the safety analysis of its implications were rushed through. Pilots were not informed of it and not trained to counter its failure.

The added 'maneuver characteristics augmentation system' (MCAS) depended on only one sensor. When the sensor provided false data MCAS engaged and pointed the planes towards the ground. Manual trim using the plane's trim wheel was required to regain flight stability. The pilots were not aware of that. The regulators who certified the plane as safe were unaware of the extend of the problem:

The MCAS system is poorly engineered and the design should never have been certified in the first place. But the issue is even worse. The certification that was given relied on false data.

The first MCAS design, on which the safety analysis and certification was based, allowed for a maximum trim movement by MCAS of 0.6 degree of a maximum of 5 degree. Flight tests proved that to be too little to achieve the desired effects and the maximum movement was changed to 2.5 degree.

No safety analysis for the much greater movement was conducted. The FAA and foreign regulators were not informed of it. Their certification of the 737 MAX was based on misleading data.

But even those certifications were only conditional. They required from Boeing to include relevant training material that explained the MCAS trim system and its potential problems to the pilots.

The original certification for the 737 MAX was issued by the U.S. regulator FAA. The European regulator EASA based its certification on the one the FAA provided but it added several of its own requirements. There is now documentary evidence that Boeing neglected to fulfill at least one of those requirements.

The one page document, first described by Reuters, is included in the Explanatory Note Issue 10 (pdf) to the EASA Boeing 737 type certification which was issued in February 2016.

Page 15 of the Explanatory Note discusses "Longitudinal trim at Vmo". Vmo is the maximum operational speed. The trim sets the nose of the plane up or down, independent of other pilot input. Too high up and the plane with lose lift and stall, too low down and the plane will hit terrain.

A failure of the MCAS system could trim the nose down. As a countermeasure the pilots would have to switch the trim system off. They would then manually trim the plane back into a level flight. This was a concern. The EASA note says:

Subsequent to flight testing, the FAA-TAD expressed concern with compliance to the reference regulation based on an interpretation of the intent behind “trim”. The main issue being that longitudinal trim cannot be achieved throughout the flight envelope using thumb switch trim only.

EASA considered the need to use manual trim "unusual". But it allowed it to pass because the required training material would "clearly explain" the issue:

The need to use the trim wheel is considered unusual, as it is only required for manual flight in those corners of the envelope.

The increased safety provided by the Boeing design limits on the thumb switches (for out-of-trim dive characteristics) provides a compensating factor for the inability to use the thumb switches throughout the entire flight envelope. Furthermore, the additional crew procedures and training material will clearly explain to pilots the situations where use of the trim wheel may be needed due to lack of trim authority with the wheel mounted switches.


Full document

While the EASA was convinced (by Boeing?) that those situations would be discussed in "additional crew procedures and training material", Boeing did not include it in the training materials for the airlines that bought the planes:

Those situations, however, were not listed in the flight manual, according to a copy from American Airlines seen by Reuters.

Without the additional procedures and training material the 737 MAX would not have been certified. By providing the plane without the required training material Boeing essentially handed incomplete planes to its customers.

The FAA is as regulator far too cozy with lobbyists and aircraft manufacturers. It outsources too much of the certification testing to the manufacturers. It should not have allowed Boeing to install a MCAS that depended on a sole sensor.

But the bigger culprit here is clearly Boeing. The plane was developed in a rush. Even its own engineers doubted that it was safe:

Rick Ludtke, a former Boeing engineer who worked on designing the interfaces on the MAX’s flight deck, said managers mandated that any differences from the previous 737 had to be small enough that they wouldn’t trigger the need for pilots to undergo new simulator training.

That left the team working on an old architecture and layers of different design philosophies that had piled on over the years, all to serve an international pilot community that was increasingly expecting automation.

“It’s become such a kludge, that we started to speculate and wonder whether it was safe to do the MAX,” Ludtke said.

MCAS was not the only change that made the 737 MAX a 'kludge'. The design errors were inexcusable. Boeing did not inform the regulators when it quadrupled the maximum effect the MCAS system could have. These changes had side effects that were not properly analyzed. Failure of the system was hazardous and extremely difficult to handle. Indicators lights showing that the system may have failed, a safety feature, were sold as extras.

And today we learned that Boeing did not even provide its customers with the "clear explanations" the certifications required it to deliver.

These were not 'mistakes' by some lowly technicians. These were breaches of legal requirements and of trust.

It will take quite long to certify the changes Boeing announced for the 737 MAX. Lawsuits were filed against the company. Orders were canceled. The company is under criminal investigation. The commercial damage to Boeing will likely be larger than currently estimated. It comes on top of a recent WTO ruling that Boeing illegally received billions of dollars in subsidies and will need to compensate its competition.

All these are consequences of bad management decisions.

The development and production of the 787 Dreamliner, announced in 2003, was outsourced all over the world. That led to years of delays and billions in development cost overruns. In 2010 Airbus announced the A-320 NEO as a better alternative to the 737 NG. Boeing was still busy to get the 787 into the air. It had neither the engineering capacity nor the money to counter the NEO with a brand new plane. It hastily revamped the 737, a design from the 1960s, into the 737 MAX. It promised to airlines that the new plane would not require to retrain their pilots. MCAS was specifically designed to allow for that. It was a huge mistake.

Boeing once was an engineering company with an attached sales department. It 2001, when it moved its headquarter to Chicago, it became a dealership with an attached engineering wing. The philosophical difference is profound. It is time for the company to find back to its roots.

Posted by b on March 29, 2019 at 13:29 UTC | Permalink | Comments (120)

March 28, 2019

Open Thread 2019-17

News & views ...

Posted by b on March 28, 2019 at 18:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (141)

March 27, 2019

Judge Identifies CIA Related Man Who Led The Raid On North Korea's Embassy In Spain

A Spanish judge released new information about a raid on the embassy of North Korea in Spain. The leader of the raid was a shady U.S. 'activist' who earlier reports from Spain associated with the CIA.

On March 13 the Spanish newspaper El Pais Spain reported that Spanish authorities identified two CIA related persons who took part in a raid of the North Korean embassy in Madrid. The raid happened on February 22, a few days before the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, and seemed designed to influence that event. We asked Who Ordered The CIA To Assault North Korea's Embassy In Spain?

The embassy raid was no normal thievery. There were eight people in the embassy when it was raided at 3:00 PM local time. They were bound, bags were put over their heads and some were interrogated. The thieves left with computer hardware and the cellphones of the personnel.

The Spanish version of the El Pais piece included this detail (machine translated):

After analyzing the recordings of the security cameras in the area, questioning the hostages and analyzing the diplomatic vehicles used in the flight, it has been possible to identify some of the assailants. Although the majority were Koreans, at least two of them have been recognized by the Spanish information services for their links with the American CIA.
The indications that point to the US espionage service, in probable cooperation with that of South Korea, are so strong that Spanish interlocutors have contacted the CIA to ask for explanations. The response was negative, but "unconvincing", according to Government sources.

Two days after the El Pais report the Washington Post national security reporter claimed that the raid was done by a shady group of allegedly North Korean revolutionaries. The report was based on anonymous sources and a 'former' CIA analyst. The group was identified as Cheollima Civil Defense or Free Jaseon.

As the group and its website had all the signs of a CIA regime change front Moon of Alabama headlined:

    CIA Blames Its Proxy For Its Raid On North Korea's Embassy In Spain 

We also noted that the British Sun related the group to the South Korean spy service which is essentially a subsidiary of the CIA.

Yesterday a Spanish judge lifted the seal of the case and issued arrest warrants against two of the people involved in the raid:

De la Mata identified citizens of Mexico, the United States and South Korea as the main suspects being investigated on charges that include of causing injuries, making threats and burglary. He named Adrian Hong Chang, a Mexican citizen living in the United States, as the break-in’s leader.

Hong Chang flew to the U.S. on Feb. 23, got in touch with the FBI and offered to share material and videos with federal investigators, according to the court report.
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While in Madrid, Hong Chang also applied for a new passport at the Mexican Embassy, the investigation found, and used the name “Oswaldo Trump” to register in the Uber ride-hailing app.
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Others identified as part of the assailants’ group were Sam Ryu, from the U.S., and Woo Ran Lee, a South Korean citizen. Their whereabouts and their hometowns weren’t immediately known. None of the suspects were thought to be still in Spain, the judge wrote.

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Hong Chang left for Lisbon and then boarded a plane to Newark Liberty International Airport, where he landed on Feb. 23, according to Judge de la Mata. He said that Mr. Hong Chang got in touch with the F.B.I. and offered to share “audiovisual material” obtained during the embassy attack.

On March 20 the Cheollima Civil Defense group uploaded a new short video to its Youtube channel. It says "Recently, on our homeland's soil .." and then shows a man, face hidden, taking pictures of the deceased North Korean rulers Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il off a wall and smashing them on the floor. Embassy grounds are considered to be territory of the country they represent. It is likely that the video "on our homeland's soil" was made during the raid on the North Korean embassy in Spain.

After the Spanish judge's report appeared, the Cheollima entity published a Facts about Madrid pamphlet that confirmed its role and its contact with the FBI. It claims to feel betrayed:

No information about Madrid was shared with any parties with the expectation of any benefit or money in exchange. The organization shared certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI in the United States, under mutually agreed terms of confidentiality. This information was shared voluntarily and on their request, not our own. Those terms appear to have been broken.

Some time later, some journalists began writing speculative stories about the incident in Madrid, and the identities or affiliations of those involved, citing US government sources. That information was leaked to the media was a profound betrayal of trust. We ourselves never spoke to the media or shared any information with them.

We did not begin this work without full knowledge of the risks we bear. Freedom has already been paid with the blood of families and colleagues. Some of us will be imprisoned, tortured or killed in the course of this fight. But to share information that may help identify any of us who take risks to protect others is to aid and abet the regime in Pyongyang. The leaks and breaches of trust were abhorrent acts pursued in the name of political expediency, in service to a regime who has tortured and killed millions.

The person identified as leader of the raiding party, Adrian Hong Chang, is a known anti-North Korea activist. He usually goes under the name Adrian Hong, not Hong Chang as the AP and NYT reports claim:

Hong was the co-founder and Executive Director of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an international NGO devoted to human rights in North Korea. In May 2006, LINK helped arrange the first asylum to be given to North Korean refugees by the US.

Hong was arrested and deported from China for his efforts to help North Korean refugees living in the country illegally.
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In 2009, Hong was selected as a TED fellow and an Arnold Wolfers Fellow at Yale University.


Adrian Hong Chang via TED

A 2007 UN Human Rights Council paper (pdf) lists Hong as a member of Freedom House, a neo-conservative infested influence organization largely funded by the U.S. State Department.

Over the years Adrian Hong wrote several op-eds for U.S. outlets. A 2011 piece in Foreign Policy calls for violent regime change:

The time to topple the criminal government in Pyongyang is now. Here's how to do it.

The very progress of our global civilization is for naught if we continue to let the very idea of North Korea exist. North Korea is not a failed state, with warlords fighting for land and treasure. Its atrocities do not stem from factional fighting, crimes of passion, or mob violence. It is on another level entirely — a staggering system entirely built and mastered for the express purpose of propagating human suffering and ensuring the continued exploitation of the people so that the very few can benefit.

It is a moral obligation of the highest order that the international community intervene. What can be done, we must do — and now is the time.

Foreign Policy and other outlets introduce Adrian Hong as "Managing Director of Pegasus Strategies LLC". There are several companies under that name but none that seems to be related to Adrian Hong.

Cheollima, as the Adrian Hong's related regime change entity calls itself, is a mythical winged horse in Asian folklore. Pegasus is a winged horse in Greek mythology.

A 2016 San Diego Union Tribune piece introduces him as:

Hong, a San Diego native, is president of the Joseon Institute, an independent think tank undertaking policy-relevant research and planning in preparation for dramatic change on the Korean peninsula. He was imprisoned in China in 2006 for helping North Korean refugees escape.

At one point the Cheollima Civil Defense Group renamed itself to "Free Joseon". The Joseon dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1897. It went down when Japan tried to gain control of the country which it achieved a few years later.

The Joseon Institute in New York(?) is preparing for regime change in North Korea:

The Joseon Institute draws on on cutting-edge research from the Korean Peninsula and the region, as well as international best practices and learnings from other sudden transitions in the past century, successful and failed, to best prepare for a new North Korea. A core team of scholars and staff in New York City works with a wide-network of world-class scholars, resident and non-resident fellows, policymakers, practitioners, researchers and volunteer collaborators around the world.

While much of the effort remains highly sensitive, the resulting research, blueprints and action plans will be provided to key government stakeholders invested in the future of the Korean Peninsula. Full cooperation, information sharing and assistance will be offered by the Joseon Institute to whatever entity is presiding over change.

While the Union Tribune introduces Adrian Hong as "president of Joseon Institute", the 'Institute's website says that the 'Leadership' of the group is "To be announced." Its 'Senior Fellows' and 'Fellows' are "Undisclosed." The site lists twelve 'Planning Commissions' and four 'Task Forces' but zero content or persons related to them. It lists more than 23 'currently available positions' but seems to have hired no one. The two 'Events' listed at the site are from 2015. It says that Facebook hosted an event on April 1 2015 in New York about Education In A New North Korea. The 'Event Overview' lists a "Introduction to the Joseon Institute - Adrian Hong". There is no evidence that the event took place. The latest 'News' item on the site is an August 10, 2017 Update From The Joseon Institute with lots of claims of work done but zero content or links that provide evidence of such work.

The board of advisors of the Joseon Institute consists of a former prime minister of Libya who was "elected" after the murder of Muhammad Ghaddafi, a former prime minister of Mongolia, and the conservative Member of the British Parliament Fiona Bruce. A 2011 Financial Times piece - Christian Tories rewrite party doctrine - associates Fiona Bruce with evangelical Christians. Evangelicals are involved in "rescuing" North Korean defectors in China, something that Cheollima entity and Adrian Wong also claim to have done.

One wonders if any of these persons know of the high honor bestowed on them by being named as advisor to the empty hull of a regime change 'Institute'.

The other persons involved in the raid, Woo Ram Lee and Sam Ryu, are unlike Adrian Hong not easily identifiable.

The case of Adrian Hong and the raid on the embassy in Madrid will likely escalate. The Washington Post notes that the Spanish judge seeks their extradition from the United States to Spain where they will face up to 28 years in prison.

The NYT adds that the group has evidently prepared for a legal fight:

Lee Wolosky, a former national security and State Department official in several American administrations, said he had been retained as legal counsel by the group, which he said was called the Provisional Government of Free Joseon, or Cheollima Civil Defense.

Wolosky is a high caliber lawyer who for many years served on the National Security Council. As private lawyer he was involved in several legal cases related to 'national security'. He at least once used a variant of graymailing, 'a defensive tactic in an espionage trial whereby the accused threatens to reveal secret information unless the charges are dropped':

Wolosky has led or co-led some of the firm's high-profile matters in recent years, including [...] Restis v United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a precedent-setting private defamation case in which the United States Government asserted the state secrets privilege, resulting in a victory for Wolosky's client UANI.

Should Wolosky defend Adrian Hong in a legal fight against the Spanish extradition request he might threaten to reveal secrets the U.S. would not like to have published. The case would then be put down.

Hiring Wolosky must be expensive.

Adrian Hong and the Cheollima group, if it exists at all, have no apparent sources of income. One wonders through which routes the U.S. and/or South Korean secret services finance this game.

Posted by b on March 27, 2019 at 18:21 UTC | Permalink | Comments (60)

March 26, 2019

Trump Tries To Undo North Korea Sanctions - Gets Sabotaged By His Own Staff

Last week saw some confusion within the Trump administration about sanctions against North Korea. A Trump tweet seemed to contradict his own administration's policies. The White House then thought up an implausible explanation for what Trump had done. The face saving measure worked, but new leaks now again undermine him.

U.S. media reported of the episode but missed a major point. The timeline below shows that the internal White House conflict was prompted by reactions from North Korea's side.

After bad weather and a strong sanctions regime against it, North Korea is running low on food. Last month its ambassador to the UN requested food assistance:

Kim, the ambassador to the U.N., said record-high temperatures, drought and flooding last year shaved more than 500,000 tons off of the 2018 harvest from the nearly 5 million tons produced in 2017.
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Humanitarian assistance from the U.N. agencies is “terribly politicized,” he said, and sanctions against North Korea are “barbaric and inhuman.”

On Thursday the 21st the Treasury Department, ignoring the dire situation, issued new sanctions (pdf) against two Chinese shipping companies that are trading with North Korea. It also named more North Korean vessels that it suspects to be involved in sanction busting efforts.

National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted:

John Bolton @AmbJohnBolton - 18:31 utc - 21 Mar 2019
John Bolton Retweeted Treasury Department

Important actions today from @USTreasury; the maritime industry must do more to stop North Korea’s illicit shipping practices. Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.

The next day North Korea reacted to the move by pulling its officers from the liaison office with South Korea:

Matt Lee @APDiploWriter - 9:25 utc - 22 Mar 2019

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — #SouthKorea says #NorthKorea has withdrawn its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea.

The move was unexpected:

Seoul's Unification Ministry said Friday that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a contact at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The ministry calls the North's decision "regrettable." It says the North didn't give a specific reason for its move.

The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps.

The liaison office is one the few diplomatic contact points where talk between the two sides are still happening. The U.S. uses it to indirectly communicate with North Korea. Following the North Korean pull back there was likely a phone call from President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ten hours after North Korea pulled back its liaison officers Trump contradicted his administrations position:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 17:22 utc - 22 Mar 2019

It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!

The New York Times reported of confusion:

President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

The North Korea hawks were aghast. They wanted to keep the sanctions but could not contradict Trump. The White House needed to come up with an explanation:

It was initially believed that Mr. Trump had confused the day that the North Korea sanctions were announced, and officials said they were caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Asked for clarification, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to give specifics.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

Then, hours later, an official familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking said the president was actually referring to additional North Korea sanctions that are under consideration but not yet formally issued.

That statement sought to soften the blow that Mr. Trump’s tweet had dealt to his most loyal aides. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, personally signed off on the sanctions that were issued on Thursday and hailed the decision in a statement accompanying them.

The Washington Post noted:

The move to forestall future sanctions represents an attempt by the president to salvage his nuclear negotiations with North Korea in the face of efforts by national security adviser John Bolton and others to increase punitive economic measures against the regime of Kim Jong Un.

The explanation that Trump referred to future sanctions seemed implausible. Why would Trump need to publicly prevent future sanctions? It made no sense.

To me it seemed that Trump had tried to play the good guy by revoking the sanctions that were enacted the day before but was overruled by his staff. The issue was then presented in a way that made Trump still look good in the eyes of North Korea. It was a face saving measure. After the failed Hanoi summit between Chairman Kim Jong-un and Trump both sides emphasized their good personal relations. Trump wanted to keep the relation alive but the sanctions were kept up.

Luckily North Korea swallowed the additional sanctions and accepted the face saving explanation. On Monday it reacted to the happy spin:

Some North Korean officials returned to a liaison office with South Korea just days after Pyongyang withdrew from the facility that allowed the rivals to communicate around the clock.

The cut-off of the last face-to-face communication line was avoided.

But to some people in the White House that situation is not to their liking. They want to further undermine Trump's efforts to continue negotiations with North Korea.  They now leak that the "future sanction" explanation, which North Korea accepted, was indeed nonsense.

Bloomberg reports today:

President Donald Trump last week intended to reverse sanctions imposed on two Chinese shipping companies accused of violating North Korea trade prohibitions -- until officials in his administration persuaded him to back off and then devised a misleading explanation of his vague tweet announcing the move.
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The president in fact intended to remove penalties Treasury had announced the day before against two Chinese shippers that had helped Pyongyang evade U.S. sanctions, according to four people familiar with the matter. It was unclear whether Trump knew about or signed off on the measures before they were issued, or what triggered his tweet the next day.
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There were no additional North Korea sanctions in the works at the time, according to two people familiar with the matter.

It is quite obvious what "triggered" Trump's tweet. It was the North Korean pullback from the liaison office. But Bloomberg, like other U.S. outlets, ignores that quite obvious explanation. This constant ignorance of the action of the other side is one of the systemic problems U.S. media have.

New sanctions were announced to which North Korea reacted negatively. Trump, who wants to keep the door open for future negotiations,  took note and pulled back on the sanctions. But John Bolton intervened. The sanctions were kept. A well sounding but implausible explanation was found. North Korea accepted that and came back to the table.

The new leak now again aggravates the situation. It shows that Trump has little real say about his administration's policy. It shows that he was powerless when he tried to undo the sanctions that had worsened the situation in the first place. The leak undermines whatever trust Kim Jong-un still has in Trump's words.

How will North Korea react to this? Will it again pull back from the liaison office, a step the John Boltons of this world would see as a win?

Will it ignore the new leak?

Posted by b on March 26, 2019 at 17:46 UTC | Permalink | Comments (92)

March 25, 2019

A War On Gaza For Regime Change In Tel Aviv?

An early morning rocket hit a home in central Israel today. It destroyed a house and wounded seven people, none of them seriously.

The Israeli military alleges that the rocket, with 120 km reach, was fired from the Gaza strip. It accused Hamas, the party who rules the Gaza strip, of launching the rocket. Hamas denied that it was involved.

How Israel's prime minister Bibi Netanyahoo reacts to the attack will decide about his fate in the April 9 general election.

The Israeli military deployed an infantry and an army brigade towards the Gaza strip and called up thousands of reservists.

Netanyahoo met Trump in the White House today and is now flying back to Israel. His planned speech before the Zionist lobby AIPAC was canceled as were his meetings with Congress leaders.

Netanyahoo's political competition is pushing him towards a wider escalation:

The New Right, led by Naftali Bennett, his education minister and key coalition partner, said shortly after the attack that Mr Netanyahu should relinquish his position as defence minister and appoint Mr Bennett in his place.

"Israel's deterrence has collapsed, and it has to be said in all honesty, Netanyahu has failed against Hamas,” the party said in a statement.
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Mr Netanyahu’s chief rival in next month's election, centrist ex-army chief Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having "bankrupted national security" by permitting such attacks.

But escalating the conflict is risky. Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organizations in Gaza surely have more rockets and will fire back.

Long time Middle East correspondent Elijah Magnier sets out the choice.

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 15:21 utc - 25 Mar 2019
If @netanyahu doesn't attack #Gaza he will lose the elections & shows #Israel's weak retaliation power.
If he attacks and engages in a long war, #Gaza will retaliate and will bring him down.
If he limits himself to a small battle, results are uncertain.

At 15:45 utc the Israeli military started to launch air attacks on targets in Gaza which it claims are related with Hamas.


via Palestinian Voices - bigger

With more that 1.8 million inhabitants Gaza is densely populated. All attacks there usually result in civil casualties.

The situation gives Hamas some leverage that it could use to bring down Netanyahoo. There are 15 days until the election and a demonstration of Netanyahoo's inability to defend against or deter rocket attacks could easily lead to regime change in Tel Aviv.

During his time as prime minister Netanyahoo pushed for ever further isolation of the people in Gaza. It is a dead end policy. In the long term the isolation of Gaza is not sustainable. Nor is a permanent conflict in Israel's interest. But Netanyahoo never took steps to fundamentely change the situation.

The people in Gaza have little to lose. Three wars that Israel waged against the strip during the last twelve years have destroyed most of its infrastructure. The last one in 2014 killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. Israel and Egypt blockade Gaza's borders and the Palestinian Authority, led by Hamas rival Fatah, sanctioned it. There have recently been demonstrations against Hamas over the dire situation. But there was little Hamas could do to change it. It now has a chance.

We can therefore expect that Hamas will try to goad Netanyahoo into a stronger reaction. Should he limit the retaliation for today's rocket strike, more single rocket launches are likely to follow. A stronger Israeli reaction will justify to launch swarms of rockets against Tel Aviv and may well lead to a larger escalation.

If Netanyahoo loses the election other hawks will take over. The balance of power between Gaza and Israel would not change.

But whoever wins the election will have an interest in a fundamental change of the situation. A new leader in Tel Aviv might have ideas on how to do that.

Posted by b on March 25, 2019 at 17:56 UTC | Permalink | Comments (88)

March 24, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-16

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

They don't even hide their evilness: US official says cumulative sanctions have Venezuela in a "Darth Vader" style grip around the throat

The EU gave May two extra week to get her deal or something else through parliament. The next thing she did then was to postpone the vote for another week. Brussels will remember that when her next delay request comes in. Her attempts to run out the time to put parliament under pressure might well have catastrophic consequences.

Members of May's cabinet seem to plot a coup against her. Her potential replacement is Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who is a remainer. How is that supposed to work?

Jonathan Pie with a wonderful rant: Brexit: What's the f**k is going on? (vid)

Druze in Golan Heights Protest Trump's Call for Recognition of Israeli Sovereignty

Elijah Magnier - The occupied Golan Heights is offered to Israel and yet the indignation is verbal, nothing more

Matt Taibbi - It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD:

Stories have been coming out for some time now hinting Mueller’s final report might leave audiences “disappointed,” as if a President not being a foreign spy could somehow be bad news.

The Russiagaters won't give up. They are not only moving the goalposts, but the whole stadium.

Cenk Uygur @cenkuygur - 22:48 utc- 22 Mar 2019
Let me be clear before we find out what’s in #MuellerReport, my contention has been that the collusion was after the election. I’ve said countless times that I don’t care about tweets sent during election. Hope Mueller investigated connections to Russia before & after election.
Cenk Uygur @cenkuygur - 12:03 utc - 23 Mar 2019
It means @realDonaldTrump has very likely been helping the Russians get money out of Russia for decades. And after the election they call in their favors. That doesn’t mean they rigged the election but it does mean Trump is doing favors for them. I’ve said this countless times.

The collusion to help Trump win the election was after the election? Trump helped(!) Russians to move money and they(!) are now making demands? What's the logic with that? And what are the favors?

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 24, 2019 at 18:03 UTC | Permalink | Comments (233)

March 23, 2019

Russiagate Is Really Finished

On February 12 we wrote that Russiagate Is Finished. The conclusion was based on an NBC report:

After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.
...
Democrats and other Trump opponents have long believed that special counsel Robert Mueller and Congressional investigators would unearth new and more explosive evidence of Trump campaign coordination with Russians. Mueller may yet do so, although Justice Department and Congressional sources say they believe that he, too, is close to wrapping up his investigation.

Russiagate conspiracy theorist Marcy Wheeler countered by arguing that a conspiracy had been proven when Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort admitted to handing out polling data to some Ukrainian/Russian contact to curry favor with some Russian oligarch he owned money. But Manafort's crimes, which he plead guilty for on September 14 2018, had nothing to do with "Russia" or with Trump and only peripherally with his election campaign:

On Friday, Manafort, who was chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign from June to August 2016, pleaded guilty in federal district court in Washington to two charges of conspiracy against the United States—one involving a lobbying scheme that involved financial crimes and foreign-agent registration violations, and the other involving witness tampering. In the course of his plea, Manafort also admitted guilt on bank-fraud charges on which a federal jury in Virginia hung last month.

Marcy and others held out hope that the Mueller investigation would come up with an indictment that would justify the utter nonsense she and other Russagaters promoted for over two years. Just two week ago former CIA director John Brennan, who likely conspired with British intelligence to frame Trump with the Russia affair, said (vid) that he expected further indictments:

During an appearance on MSNBC on March 5, Brennan predicted that Mueller would issue indictments related to a “criminal conspiracy” involving Trump or his associates’ activities during the 2016 election.

That last hope of the Russiagate dead-enders is now gone:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III submitted a long-awaited report to Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday, marking the end of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump.
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A senior Justice Department official said the special counsel has not recommended any further indictments — a revelation that buoyed Trump’s supporters, even as other Trump-related investigations continue in other parts of the Justice Department.
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None of the Americans charged by Mueller are accused of conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election — the central question of Mueller’s work. Instead, they pleaded guilty to various crimes, including lying to the FBI.

The investigation ended without charges for a number of key figures who had long been under Mueller’s scrutiny ...

Conclusions from the Mueller report will be released by the Justice Department over the next days.

That the Russiagaters were wrong for falling for the bullshit peddled in the Steele dossier and the "Russian hacking" lies of the snakeoil salesmen Clapper and Brennan was obvious long ago. In June 2017 we pointed to a long Washington Post piece on alleged Russian election hacking and remarked:

Reading that piece it becomes clear (but is never said) that the sole source for that August 2016 Brennan claim of "Russian hacking" is the absurd Steele dossier some ex-MI6 dude created for too much money as opposition research against Trump. The only other "evidence" for "Russian hacking" is the Crowdstrike report on the DNC "hack". Crowdstrike has a Ukrainian nationalist agenda, was hired by the DNC, had to retract other "Russian hacking" claims and no one else was allowed to take a look at the DNC servers. Said differently: The whole "Russian hacking" claims are solely based on "evidence" of two fake reports.

The Steele dossier was fake opposition research peddled by the Clinton campaign, John McCain and a bunch of anti-Trump national security types. The still unproven claim of "Russian hacking" was designed to divert from the fact that Clinton and the DNC colluded to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. The stupid claim that commercial click-bait from a company in Leningrad was a "Russian influence campaign" was designed to explain Clinton's election loss to the other worst-candidate-ever. The "Russiagate" investigation was designed to  prevent Trump from finding better relations with Russia as he had promised during his campaign.

All were somewhat successful because some media and some bloggers were happy to sell such nonsense without putting it into the big picture.

It is high time to start a deep investigation into Brennan, Clapper, Comey and the Clinton campaign and to uncover the conspiracy that led to the Steele dossier, the FBI investigation following from it and all the other bullshit that evolved from that investigation.

As for Marcy Wheeler, Rachel Maddow and other dimwits who peddled the Russiagate nonsense I agree with the advice Catlin Johnstone gives:

Every politician, every media figure, every Twitter pundit and everyone who swallowed this moronic load of bull spunk has officially discredited themselves for life.
...
The people who steered us into two years of Russiavape insanity are the very last people anyone should ever listen to ever again when determining the future direction of our world.

Posted by b on March 23, 2019 at 17:12 UTC | Permalink | Comments (187)

March 22, 2019

Trump's Golan Move Was Timed To Guarantee Netanyahoo's Reelection

The people who paid for Trump's election campaign, foremost casino magnate and zionist Sheldon Adelson, want to keep the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahoo in office. Netanyahoo is under investigation in several corruption cases and has a serious competitor in the upcoming general elections in Israel. Trump needs money for his re-election campaign and is willing to do anything to get it.

Trump is colluding with Netayahoo to influence the Israeli election. It is the reason why he decided yesterday to claim that Israel has sovereignty over the Golan Heights:

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 16:50 utc - 21 Mar 2019
After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!

The Heights are Syrian lands that were occupied by Israel during its 1967 war of aggression against Egypt and Syria.


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The Heights are of strategic-military value. Whoever controls them can also control the plains east, west and south to it. Israel built several radar and spy station on the heights that allow it to see deep into Syria.


This profile picture falsely depicts the occupied Heights territory as Israeli.
The internationally recognized border runs near the river line.
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McClatchy has the tic toc of Trump's decision:

President Donald Trump’s tweet on Thursday recognizing the Golan Heights as Israeli territory surprised members of his own Middle East peace team, the State Department, and Israeli officials.

U.S. diplomats and White House aides had believed the Golan Heights issue would be front and center at next week’s meetings between Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. But they were unprepared for any presidential announcement this week.

Trump's declaration was expected, but not for yesterday. The reason for the premature ejaculation is obvious. Yesterday a new case of Netyahoo's utter corruption came to light:

State prosecutors are reportedly considering opening yet another criminal graft investigation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this time in the so-called submarine affair, citing “dramatic” new information.

Netanyahoo made a profit of $4 million from shares he owned in a company that was bought out by Thyssen-Krupp, a German conglomerate from which Israel under Netanyahoo ordered submarines and corvettes.

The new revelations threatened to blow up Netanyahoo's reelection campaign. Trump's sudden Golan Heights move was timed to bury them.

Back to McClatchy:

The wording of Trump’s tweet likely falls short of a formal, declarative recognition, according to Dan Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel under former President Barack Obama. But little more than a statement from the president or secretary of state is necessary to secure the major U.S. policy shift.

The White House is mulling several ways to formalize the policy decision, including a potential executive order signing ceremony on Monday with Netanyahu present.
...
Administration officials said that National Security Advisor John Bolton was instrumental to the decision, after visiting Israel in January to assure officials there that the United States would not abandon them in Syria despite Trump’s sudden withdrawal of troops from the battlefield.

The hasty move itself was typical Bolton. There was no policy process to plan and announce the decision. Long standing legal advise from other departments which warned of the move was ignored.

Trump has no power to give Israel sovereignty over anything. Several UN resolutions determined (UNSCR242) and reconfirmed (UNSCR497) that the Golan Heights are Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel. The European Union, Russia and others rejected Trump's move and called it illegal.

Trump's move though might have some standing in U.S. courts. That will become important when law suites are filed against Genie Energy Ltd., an oil company in Newark New Jersey that wants to drill for oil in the Golan Heights area:

Genie Energy is no “penny stock” run-of-the-mill oil company. Its board of Advisors includes Dick Cheney. It includes former CIA head and chairman of the above-mentioned Foundation for Defense of Democracies, James Woolsey. It includes Jacob Lord Rothschild of the London banking dynasty and a former business partner of convicted Russian oil oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Before his arrest Khodorkovsky secretly transferred his shares in Yukos Oil to Rothschild.

Further this little-known Newark, New Jersey oil company board includes former US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, pro-Israel media mogul and owner of Trump’s favorite Fox News TV, Rupert Murdoch. Also on the board are former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt, a philanthropic friend of Israel and of Marc Rich, is also a board member of Woolsey’s neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which advises Trump among other things that it would be good for Washington to recognize Israel as legitimate owner of the Golan Heights lands taken by Dayan in the 1967 War.

Under international law it is illegal to draw natural resources from occupied territory. With Trump's move the owners and board members of Genie Energy receive an additional layer of legal cover in U.S. and Israeli courts.

The international consequences of the move are for now subtle. On the ground nothing changed. The Israeli occupation was and is illegal.

The occupied Golan Heights include the Sheeba farms which are Lebanese territory. The resistance axis of Hizbullah, Syria and Iran is strengthened by Trump's move and will use it move to justify further activities against Israel and perhaps against United States interests elsewhere. The move will be used to recruit more resistance fighters, especially from the Druze on the Syrian side of the Golan who have brethren living on the Israel controlled side.

It further delegitimizes the Syrian 'rebels' and the Syrian Kurds who are allied with the U.S. while Trump gives away Syrian land. It demonstrates the weakness of those Arab rulers who are allied with the U.S. but were not even informed that Trump planed to hand off Arab land. It will incite their domestic population against them. That makes it much more difficult for them to continue their policy of detente with Israel.

The 'deal of the century' for peace between Arabs and the Zionists that Trump's son in law Jared Kushner was supposed to arrange is now dead.

Posted by b on March 22, 2019 at 16:36 UTC | Permalink | Comments (173)

March 21, 2019

How Theresa May Botched Brexit

Those were the times ...


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The Times page 1 is of January 18, 2017. Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union about Brexit were just beginning. The "you'll be crushed" arrogance in the headline characterizes the attitude the British government under May demonstrated during the talks.

Recently that attitude has somewhat changed. This screenshot was taken about an hour ago:


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The BBC writes:

Theresa May has said she "sincerely hopes" the UK will leave the EU with a deal and she is still "working on" ensuring Parliament's agreement.

Arriving in Brussels, she said that she had "personal regret" over her request to delay Brexit, but said it will allow time for MPs to make a "final choice".

At the EU summit the PM spoke to the other 27 leaders to try to get their backing for a delay beyond 29 March.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn said his talks in Brussels were "very constructive".

BBC Brussels correspondent Adam Fleming said Mrs May spoke to EU leaders for 90 minutes and was asked several times what her contingency plans were if she lost the third "meaningful vote" on her deal in Parliament.

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that if MPs vote down Mrs May's EU withdrawal agreement next week, the UK will leave without a deal.

May asked the EU to move the hard coded March 29 Brexit date to June 30. She may be given May 23, the day of EU elections, as a compromise but only if her deal passes the British parliament.

A no-deal crash out on March 29 would create utter chaos for months. It would be catastrophic for Britain's economy.

May's withdrawal agreement was already voted down twice. If it comes to a third vote in parliament it is very likely to fail again.

Yves Smith, who you should all read, opens her Brexit sit rep today with this:

We’ve been more pessimistic than most commentators about the likelihood of the UK escaping the default of a no-deal Brexit. We may not have been pessimistic enough.

There is still the possibility that May takes a 180 degree turn, but that would be the end of her career and likely also the end of the Conservative Party:

Now there is a popular push for an Article 50 revocation, with a petition already at over 400,000 signatures as of this hour. But as we’ll discuss, May would have to do a complete reversal to revoke Article 50, which is within her power, not just a Prime Minister, but also implementing the motion by Parliament rejecting a no-deal Brexit.

Article 50 is the part of the British withdrawal law that governs the Brexit process. If May revokes it, there is little chance that another Brexit attempt will ever be made. The majority that voted to leave the EU will have been betrayed.

An analysis by the BBC Europe editor says that the "Leaders want to avoid no-deal Brexit":

[W]hile EU leaders have ruled out re-opening the Brexit withdrawal agreement and the "backstop" text, you can bet they'll discuss a longer Brexit delay at their summit today.

This is, in my view, a misjudgment.

Yes, under normal circumstances and with a competent and trustworthy negotiation partner on the British side, ways would be found to fudge the issue and to avoid a Brexit in all but its name. That is why I predicted long ago that Brexit was not gonna happen.

But May has really done everything to affront the other side of the table. She did not stick to commitments she had given, delivered papers too late to properly discuss them, and came to emergency summits called on her behalf without anything new to offer.

Matthew Parris, a conservative political commentator in London who originally favored May, now remarks of her:

"She is mean. She is rude. She is cruel. She is stupid. I have heard that from almost everyone who has dealt with her," Parris says. He said he had never expected this much hatred, "and that is not a word I use lightly."

The leaders of other EU countries also have had it with here. The voters on the continent do not care about Britain. There will be no punishment for Merkel or Macron for letting Britain crash out.

The EU will survive without the United Kingdom. With a no-deal Brexit the United Kingdom is likely to fall apart. Within a few years North Ireland would join the Irish Republic, peacefully one hopes, and Scotland would vote to leave.

A bit of hope may still rest in this one line in the BBC report which it leaves unexplained:

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn said his talks in Brussels were "very constructive".

Is there a EU deal being made with the opposition leader and behind Theresa May's back?

Given that she is the Prime Minister how would that work out?

Posted by b on March 21, 2019 at 18:57 UTC | Permalink | Comments (155)

March 20, 2019

WaPo Gives Campaign Space To Main Sponsor Of ISIS Who Also Jails More Journalists Than Anyone Else

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses the recent terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand to whip up support for local elections in Turkey:

It begins with dramatic music, edited in for effect.

Then stills of the manifesto posted by the gunman in New Zealand before his terror attack, highlighting and translating the sections targeting Turkey.

The video streamed live by the attacker comes next, shooting his way into a Christchurch mosque, before blurred images with the sound of automatic gunfire.

And then a cut to Turkey's opposition leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, talking of "terrorism rooted in the Islamic world".

The crowd boos wildly, galvanised by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has now shown the footage during at least eight election rallies.

In a Washington Post op-ed published today Erdogan goes further.


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Erdogan compares the Australian terrorist who killed 50 people in a mosque in Christchurch with the Islamic State:

The Christchurch massacre’s alleged perpetrator attempted to legitimize his twisted views by distorting world history and the Christian faith. He sought to plant seeds of hate among fellow humans.
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In this regard, we must establish that there is absolutely no difference between the murderer who killed innocent people in New Zealand and those who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey, France, Indonesia and elsewhere.

There is of course a big difference. While the murderer in New Zealand, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, visited fascist groups in many countries including Turkey,  he was not part of a larger organization or even a terrorist state. There is no evidence so far that he had any big sponsors.

The Islamic State and the ten-thousands of fanatics who established it had by contrast a large sponsor who enabled its killings.

His name is Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Researchers of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) recently interviewed an ISIS emir, Abu Mansour al Maghrebi, who essentially served as the ISIS ambassador to Turkey. Abu Mansour, an electric engineer from Morocco, was captured 1.5 years ago and is held in Iraq:

“My job in Raqqa was dealing with the international cases,” Abu Mansour al Maghrebi recalls of his three years serving ISIS. “My issue [duties] was our [Islamic State’s] relationship with Turkish intelligence. Actually, this started when I was working at the borders,” he explains, harking back to the first job he undertook for ISIS before becoming an ISIS emir and, seemingly, their ambassador to Turkey.
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“[My job was] guarding the borders between Syria and Turkey and to receive the fighters,” Abu Mansour explains, smiling at being recognized as more powerful than he was originally conveying. “I oversaw reception at Tal Abyad, Aleppo, Idlib, all their borders,” he answers.

Some 40,000 foreign fighters came to Syria via Turkey. Most of them joined the Islamic State. It was also Turkey that cared for wounded ISIS fighters:

“There were some agreements and understandings between the Turkish intelligence and ISIS emni about the border gates, for the people who got injured,” Abu Mansour continues. “I had direct meeting with the MIT [the Turkish National Intelligence Organization], many meetings with them.”
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When we ask who exactly in the Turkish government was meeting ISIS members, he states, “There were teams. Some represent the Turkish intel, some represent the Turkish Army. There were teams from 3-5 different groups. Most meetings were in Turkey in military posts or their offices. It depended on the issue. Sometimes we meet each week. It depends on what was going on. Most of the meetings were close to the borders, some in Ankara, some in Gaziantep.”

Turkish intelligence sent cars to the border to accompany the ISIS ambassador to the various meetings in Turkey. These meetings included high level people:

[A]s he continues, we learn that his “diplomatic” reach on behalf of ISIS extended even to the president of Turkey himself. “I was about to meet him but I did not. One of his intelligence officers said Erdogan wants to see you privately but it didn’t happen.”

For Turkey ISIS was useful to suppress the Kurds and to achieve Erdogan's bigger aim of annexing the north of Syria to Turkey.

There are many more details in the interview about Turkish support for ISIS. Some of them may be wrong but most are supported by a large volume of other reporting. Foreigners reached the Islamic State through Turkey. Its weapons and other supplies came from their. ISIS' main income source was oil that Turkey bought. There was direct coordination between Turkey and ISIS in several large operations against the Syrian state.

Without Turkish support the Islamic State in Syria could not have been formed or existed.

That Jeff Bezos' blog, the Washington Post, allows Erdogan to spew lies about Turkey's relations and his personal support for ISIS is bad.

That it does so shortly before the strongly contested elections in Turkey is even worse. Why is it promoting a Muslim Brotherhood fanatic opposed by a secular opposition?

Last year the Committee to Protect Journalists found that Turkey incarcerates more writers than any other state:

Even as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the fiercest critic of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi, his government continued to jail more journalists than any other on the planet. [...] For the third consecutive year, every journalist imprisoned in Turkey is facing anti-state charges.

The Washington Post's slogan, seen above Erdogan's op-ed, is "Democracy Dies in Darkness". The hypocrisy of publishing his screed stinks to high heaven.

Posted by b on March 20, 2019 at 17:03 UTC | Permalink | Comments (120)

March 19, 2019

Venezuela - Journalists Doubt Guaidó's Legitimacy - Regime Change Plans Continue

On February 23 the U.S. created a 'humanitarian aid' stunt at the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The stunt ended in a riot during which the supporters of the self declared 'president' Guaidó burned the trucks that where supposed to transport the 'aid'. Even the New York Times had to admit that.

The riots also marked the day that Guaidó lost the legal argument he had used to make himself 'interim president'.

Guaido also lost his original legal position. He claimed the presidency on January 23 under this paragraph of article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution:
When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.
That the "elected President becomes permanently unavailable" was never the case to begin with. But if article 233 would apply Guaido would have had 30 days to hold new elections. The 30 days are over and Guaido did not even call for elections to be held. He thereby defied the exact same paragraph of the constitution that his (false) claim to the presidency is based on.

The hapless coup plotters in Washington DC were finally put on notice that the issue creates a legal problem for them. During a March 15 press briefing Elliott Abrams, the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela, was asked about the issue:

QUESTION: [C]ould you explain to us the article under which Mr. Guaido declared himself president? It is said that it has expired last month. Could you explain that to us? What is the --
MR ABRAMS: As to the Venezuelan constitution, the National Assembly has passed a resolution that states that that 30-day period of interim presidency will not start ending or counting until the day Nicolas Maduro leaves power. So the 30 days doesn’t start now, it starts after Maduro. And they – that’s a resolution of the National Assembly.

A resolution of the National Assembly, which the Supreme Court of Venezuela holds in contempt over the seating illegally elected persons, can change the country's constitution? That does not sound convincing to me. The journalists in the briefing were equally curious of how the rules could be changed like that during the ongoing game:

Q: When did they – they did that after he --
A: They did that – this is roughly a month ago. We could try to find the date for you.
Q: When he was – when he was – took the mantle of interim president, that wasn’t there.
A: Yes, when – that’s correct. And so people --
Q: Can you do that ex post facto like that?
A: When people ask a question how do --
Q: That seems to be like saying I was elected for four years to be president, and then two years in you change the rules so that your term didn’t start – hasn’t even started yet. How does that happen?
A: Well, you don’t get a vote because you’re not in the National Assembly.
Q: Well, you don’t. You’re not in the National Assembly either.
Q: If it matters, does the U.S. view that as constitutional under their system?
A: Yes. I mean, we’re taking the – the National Assembly is the only legitimate democratic institution left in Venezuela, and their interpretation of the constitution, as you know, is that as of the date of this alleged term for Maduro, the presidency is vacant. But they have also said that that 30-day period starts when Maduro goes.
Q: So Juan Guaido is the interim president of an interim that doesn’t exist yet?
A: The 30-day end to his interim presidency starts counting. Because he’s not in power, that’s the problem. Maduro is still there. So they have decided that they will count that from when he actually is in power and Maduro’s gone. I think it’s logical.
Q: So then he really isn’t interim president, then?
A: He is interim president, but he’s not --
Q: With no power.
A: -- able to exercise the powers of the office because Maduro still is there.
Q: So their interpretation is that until and unless he actually has the power to run the country, he’s not actually the interim president?
A: No. Their interpretation is that the constitution requires a 30-day interim period, but it – those 30 days should not be counted while Maduro is still there exercising the powers of his former office.

Here is a video of the exchange. (Abrams seems to be lying about the alleged National Assembly resolution.)

The legal argument Abrams produced lacks logic and clearly contradicts the wording of the constitution quoted above.

  1. The elected president has not become unavailable. Maduro was sworn in for his second term on January 10. If the underlying argument is that Maduro was illegally elected to his second term, Guaidó should have declared himself 'interim president' on the day Maduro's first term ended, January 10, not some random 13 days later.
  2. The constitution says that an election shall be held within 30 days after the elected president becomes unavailable. If the argument is that Maduro was illegally elected to his second term, the 30 days started on January 10. If the National Assembly changed that "roughly a month ago" it must have been after the time had run out.
  3. In the constitution the election within 30 days is the precondition for the existence of the 'interim president', not the other way around: "Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge ..."

With no election pending within 30 days there can be no 'interim president' - with power or without.

The legal subterfuge Abrams is using would not convince any serious court. It is of course well known that Abram's has little regard for the law. He was convicted for lying to Congress in two cases. But the issue will matter.

The U.S. seized Venezuelan assets, especially the Citgo refineries which are in financial trouble. The U.S. is trying to move all the valuable assets towards Guaidó to finance the next phased of its 'regime change' plan. Bondholders of Citgo will likely contest these impoundments and transfers of assets in court. There the argument Abrams made is not going to be a winning one.

The first round of the U.S. 'regime change' change attempt in Venezuela failed but it is far from over. The State Department alone foresees to spend $500 million more on it:

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget request includes funding to support democracy in Venezuela and provides the flexibility to make more funds available to support a democratic transition, including up to $500 million in transfer authority.

The CIA and the Pentagon will have made much larger budget requests even while an invasion of Venezuela continues to be unlikely.

In August last year so called Venezuelan army defectors attempted to kill Maduro with drones carrying explosives during a military ceremony. CNN talked with them. The men say they trained in Colombia and met at least three times with U.S. officials. It is likely that such assassination attempts, undoubtedly organized by the CIA, will continue.

In preparation of the 'humanitarian aid' stunt the U.S. had asked Brazil to use military force to bring in the 'aid' into Venezuela and to allow a U.S. presence at the border. The far-right President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil supported that but the military of Brazil, which holds significant power in the cabinet, vetoed it (in Portuguese).

Bosonaro is currently in Washington to meet President Trump. He also made an unusual visit to the CIA headquarter likely to review plans for future operations in Venezuela:

A senior U.S. administration official briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, noted that Brazil has a close relationship with Venezuela’s military and may be able to serve as a go-between with the security forces that continue to support Maduro.
...
“We have to sort Venezuela out,” Bolsonaro said. “We cannot leave them the way they are. We have to free the nation of Venezuela.”

That a Brazilian President visits the CIA, the agency responsible for violent coups and brutal dictatorships in Latin American is disgusting. Many people in Brazil will dislike it. Supporting a CIA coup in a neighboring country is worse. It’s hard to sink any lower.

The government of Venezuela is preparing to resists the next phase of the U.S. regime change attempt. It will export more of its oil to Russia which continues to be willing to pay for it.

After the large electricity outage and other sabotage attempts the situation in Venezuela is back to normal. No one is starving even as prices are high.

President Maduro asked his cabinet to resign. The new government and its tasks will be re-configured to resist better to U.S. pressure and the upcoming additional sanctions.

This will be a long fight.

Posted by b on March 19, 2019 at 18:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (105)

March 17, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-15

Last week's posts on Moon of Alabama:

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There are freshmen from Michigan and Minnesota in Congress who recently made some news with comments about the Zionist lobby. Some anti-imperialists and progressives lauded them for their efforts and defended them against attacks. But these are wolfs in sheep clothing.

Rep. Ilhan Omar Verified account @Ilhan - 1:31 utc - 16 Mar 2019
The people of Syria revolted against Assad's repressive dictatorship 8 years ago today, demanding a more just and free government. Peace loving people around the world stand in solidarity with them in this struggle!
Rashida Tlaib Verified account @RashidaTlaib - 23:46 utc - 16 Mar 2019
The anniversary of the uprising against the oppression in Syria was yesterday. We must recognize the struggle of those who organized and stood up against injustice. It is my hope that we can see a Syria that is truly free one day.

On might guess that the checks from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Turkish and the Qatari lobbies arrived.

As Ilhan Omar once wisely said:

‘It’s all about the Benjamins baby’

---

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on March 17, 2019 at 17:56 UTC | Permalink | Comments (248)

Flawed Safety Analysis, Failed Oversight - Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

Two accidents of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft led to a loss of 338 lives. Planes of that type are now grounded world wide. We earlier explained in detail why the incidents happened. New reports confirm that take.

For commercial reasons Boeing wanted the new 737 version to handle like the old ones. But changes in the new version required an additional system to handle certain flight situations. The development of that system and the safety analysis of its implications were rushed through. Pilots were not informed of it and not trained to counter its failure.

Boeing now hopes that a software update, planned for April, will allow its grounded 737 MAX airplanes back to the flight line. For several reasons that is unlikely to happen.

On Thursday Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson river after a bird strike disabled both engines, spoke out against Boeing's patch up attempt:

It has been obvious since the Lion Air crash that a redesign of the 737 MAX 8 has been urgently needed, yet has still not been done, and the announced proposed fixes do not go far enough.

The public will not trust Boeing's, or the Federal Aviation Administration's assurances if Sullenberger sticks to his view.

Another reason that Boeing's update will not suffice is a detailed bombshell report researched mostly before last Sunday's crash but just now published by the Seattle Times. It summarizes:

[T]he original safety analysis that Boeing delivered to the FAA for a new flight control system on the MAX — a report used to certify the plane as safe to fly — had several crucial flaws.
...
Current and former engineers directly involved with the evaluations or familiar with the document shared details of Boeing’s “System Safety Analysis” of MCAS, which The Seattle Times confirmed.

The safety analysis:

  • Understated the power of the new flight control system, which was designed to swivel the horizontal tail to push the nose of the plane down to avert a stall. When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document.
  • Failed to account for how the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.
  • Assessed a failure of the system as one level below “catastrophic.” But even that “hazardous” danger level should have precluded activation of the system based on input from a single sensor — and yet that’s how it was designed.

The 737 MAX maneuver characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) depends on the input of a vane on the side of the airplane.


Angle-of-attack sensor

The vane measure the angle between the airflow and the wing. It thereby detects if the nose of airplane points up or down. It can easily be damaged by a ramp accident or due to a bird strike. The MCAS system depends on the input of only one of these sensors.

The corrections MCAS applies to the trim of the airplane are too large for a busy pilot to counter. (A detailed explanation of the system and the accidents is provided by a professional pilot in two videos here and here.) That the system, as designed, engages repeatedly can lead to situations that are extremely difficult to handle.

The Seattle Times also reports that managers at the FAA pushed their safety engineers to delegate more certification tasks to Boeing itself. Boeing was eager to get the new version of the 737 out of the door to catch up with Airbus's A-320 NEO. Shortcuts were taken to rush the safety analysis through.

The MCAS system is poorly engineered and the design should never have been certified in the first place. But the issue is even worse. The certification that was given relied on false data.

The first MCAS design, on which the safety analysis and certification was based, allowed for a maximum trim movement by MCAS of 0.6 degree of a maximum of 5 degree. Flight tests proved that to be too little to achieve the desired effects and the maximum movement was changed to 2.5 degree. A safety analysis for the new value was not conducted.

“The FAA believed the airplane was designed to the 0.6 limit, and that’s what the foreign regulatory authorities thought, too,” said an FAA engineer. “It makes a difference in your assessment of the hazard involved.”
...
“None of the engineers were aware of a higher limit,” said a second current FAA engineer.

Boeing and the U.S. government have a special relation. All administrations, independent of which party rules, give it extraordinary support. That leads to regulatory capture. The FAA is under constant political pressure to relent to Boeing's demands:

For Boeing’s 102-year history, dating to the start of the First World War, the company and the country have relied upon one another, together creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, outfitting the United States with top military aircraft and supplying planes worldwide to allow the growth of passenger air travel and to boost U.S. exports.
...
“Whenever the government is seeking to enhance exports, usually you’re going to find that Boeing is heavily involved in whatever initiative they’re carrying out,” said Andrew Hunter, a defense industry expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “That was true in the Obama administration, and it’s true in the Trump administration.”
...
“The risk is obviously that when agencies that are regulatory in nature work closely with a company over a long period of time, the concern is that it could undermine its independence,” Hunter said.

After the accident last Sunday Boeing used its political connections to prevent the grounding of the 737 MAX. Only after all other countries prohibited further flights did the U.S. join in. It was the president, not the FAA, who announced the decision.

The new reports about the outsourcing of FAA safety analyses to Boeing itself, and of the inappropriate certification process, add to the impression that the FAA can no longer be trusted. Even if it certifies Boeing's patch-up solution for the MCAS problem other regulators will disagree.

That then will become a severe political problem. Trump's trade negotiations with China depend on the Chinese willingness to buy a large number of Boeing planes. If the Chinese regulators, who were the first to ground the MAX, do not accept the solution Boeing provides, those trade negotiations will go nowhere.

It is clear than that Boeing will have to provide a better solution. The U.S. government will have to strengthen its aviation regulator and will have to protect it from political pressure. Should either not happen Boeing's role in the international airline business will be severely damaged.

Posted by b on March 17, 2019 at 16:26 UTC | Permalink | Comments (152)

March 15, 2019

CIA Blames Its Proxy For Its Raid On North Korea's Embassy In Spain

The CIA is the main suspect in the military style raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid. It now launched a somewhat hapless effort to deflect from it. The Spanish report in which Spanish government sources accuse the CIA said:

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”

That the CIA is the main suspect in the assault was reported on Wednesday in the Spanish mainstream paper El Pais. The paper made the extra effort to publish an abbreviated English language version. It was widely picked up by other international outlets. Some of the assailants were Asian and spoke Korean language. They were probably from the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS), a subsidiary of the CIA know for its extremely hawkish politics. It often rigs elections in South Korea in support of hawkish conservatives candidates.

Attacking a foreign embassy in a third country is far out of bounce of international law and diplomatic decency. After the El Pais report something had to be done to direct the attention away from the CIA and to find some other culprit.

A story was thought up and pushed to the favorite CIA outlet, the Washington Post. It wasn't the CIA which did it, writes the Post's national security reporter, it was a CIA controlled 'regime change' organization.

A shadowy group trying to overthrow Kim Jong Un raided a North Korean embassy in broad daylight

In broad daylight, masked assailants infiltrated North Korea’s embassy in Madrid, restrained the staff with rope, stole computers and mobile phones, and fled the scene in two luxury vehicles.

The group behind the late February operation is known as Cheollima Civil Defense, a secretive dissident organization committed to overthrowing the Kim dynasty, people familiar with the planning and execution of the mission told The Washington Post.
...
People familiar with the incident say the group did not act in coordination with any governments. U.S. intelligence agencies would have been especially reluctant to do so given the sensitive timing and brazen nature of the mission. But the raid represents the most ambitious operation to date for an obscure organization that seeks to undermine the North Korean regime and encourage mass defections, they say.

The CIA agents, led by torture queen Gina Haspel, are snowflakes who would never break the law or cause some international outrage. It must have been some independent group:

“This group is the first known resistance movement against North Korea, which makes its activities very newsworthy,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a North Korea expert at Tufts University.

The identity of the assailants is a particularly sensitive topic given the delicate nature of Trump and Kim’s relationship.
...
Any hint of U.S. involvement in an assault on a diplomatic compound could have derailed the talks, a prospect the CIA would likely be mindful of.

Derailing the talks was (and is) exactly what Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton wanted to do. We know that because the Post reported it on February 20, two days before the raid on the embassy and seven days before the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi:

Last month, in a lengthy speech at Stanford University, [Trump's special envoy Stephen E.] Biegun set out his vision for North Korea to dismantle its plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities in exchange for “corresponding measures” by the United States.

Hawks such as Bolton have fiercely opposed this “step-by-step” process in favor of maintaining maximum pressure through economic sanctions that would, in theory, force a better deal by eroding North Korea’s resolve.

Tasking the CIA to raid a North Korean embassy to spoil the talks is exactly a thing John Bolton would do. The Post's shameful attempt to make believe otherwise is laughable:

“Infiltrating a North Korean embassy days before the nuclear summit would throw that all into jeopardy,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former Korea analyst at the CIA. “This is not something the CIA would undertake.”

The agency declined to comment.

We can of course fully believe the 'former' CIA analyst's assertion that the CIA would never do such a thing. Aside from Bolton's urge to sabotage the negotiations it would have had no motive. Except, of course, it would have had many:

Experts say the computers and phones seized in the raid amount to a treasure trove of information that foreign intelligence agencies are likely to seek out from the group.

In 2017 Spain asked the North Korean ambassador Kim Hyok Chol to leave. He is now the leader of the negotiations with the United States. To know everything about him is important. He may even be susceptible to blackmail:

The assailants also possess a video recording they took during the raid, which they could release anytime, said one person who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive and illegal operation.

The Spanish language version of the El Pais report had a side box that might explain the possible content of a video (machine translated):

One of the darkest aspects of the assault on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid is the interrogation to which the head of the command, who called himself The Entrepreneur, subjected the charge of business, leading the diplomatic delegation since the ambassador was expelled. The head of the commando separated the diplomat from the rest of the hostages and locked himself alone with him. It is not known what he intended, but the current head of the Pyongyang delegation in Madrid probably knows a lot about Kim Hyok Chol, head of the North Korean delegation in the nuclear negotiations before the US, with whom he coincided when the latter was ambassador in Madrid, between 2014 and 2017.

Mentioning a video recording taken during the raid is supposed to sow 'fear and doubt' in and about the North Korean negotiator.

The new Washington Post/CIA story goes on to describe the 'regime change' organization that is supposed to divert from the direct CIA involvement in the raid:

The Cheollima group, which also goes by the name Free Joseon, came to prominence in 2017 after it successfully evacuated the nephew of Kim Jong Un from Macau when potential threats to his life surfaced. The nephew was the son of Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s exiled half brother who was assassinated in a nerve-gas attack in a Malaysian airport in 2017.
...
For safety reasons, the leader of the group does not disclose his name, and his identity is known only to a small group of people.

Cheollima is the name of a mythical horse in Chinese and Korean folklore. The Joseon dynasty ruled Korea from 1392 to 1897. It went down when Japan tried to gain control of the country which it achieved a few years later.

Kim Jong Nam was killed on February 13, 2017. In a redacted video his son Kim Han-sol thanks the people who picked him up. (They might want to use him as a future replacement for Kim Jong-un.) The video was recorded on February 15 2017 ("my father was killed two days ago"). It was published on March 7 2017 on a Cheollima channel on Youtube created on March 4 2017. The Cheollima website domain the group uses was anonymously registered in March 2017. It was updated on November 29 2018 shortly after the South Korean NIS received new orders from its headquarter in Washington DC.

Cheollima/Free Joseon also seeks defectors from North Korea. On February 28 2019 (not "in March" as the Post claims), the very same day the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi failed, Cheollima published a manifesto that clearly aims at 'regime change' in North Korea:

WE DECLARE ON THIS DAY the establishment of Free Joseon, a provisional government preparing the foundations for a future nation built upon respect for principles of human rights and humanitarianism, holding sacred a manifest dignity for every woman, man, and child.

We declare this entity the sole legitimate representative of the Korean people of the north.

The U.S. driven 'regime change' attempt in Venezuela also has a figure that claims to be the "sole legitimate representative" while having zero power in that country.

The English version of the manifest reads like it was written by someone who is a native English speaker or at least studied English literature:

Joseon must and shall be free. Arise! Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!

We reject the chains of our historic unrequited grief, declare henceforth a new era in our history, and prepare the way for a New Joseon. We therefore proclaim the birth of our revolution and our intentions towards building a more just and equal society, as truest expressions of the shared affections of our people.

A report on the manifest launch in the British Sun remarks:

The Cheollima Civil Defense (CCD) organisation has declared itself as a shadow government which is working to overthrow the regime.
...
Not a lot is known about the CCD but some people believe it is linked to South Korea’s spy agency.

The White Helmets, the MI-6 organization for 'regime change' in Syria, has the website domain "www.syriacivildefense.org". Cheollima's website domain is "www.cheollimacivildefense.org". The logos of the two organization are also somewhat similar.


Is there a corporate design/marketing company specialized in promoting spy service cutouts for 'regime change'?

The 'former' CIA analyst in the Post piece 'predicts' that there will be more 'embassy raid' operations:

“In its messaging, the group said they have formed a provisional government to replace the regime in Pyongyang,” said Terry, who is a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “They have now shown the seriousness of their intent and some capabilities to carry out operations. We will see in the coming months the extent of their capabilities.”

While the CIA makes a hapless attempt to cover its traces in Madrid, North Korea continues to follow its game plan for the next round of negotiations. It prepares the public for a U.S. failure:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to continue diplomatic talks and maintain his moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, a senior North Korean official said Friday, adding that the U.S. threw away a golden opportunity at the recent summit between their leaders.
...
She said Pyongyang now has no intention of compromising or continuing talks unless the United States takes measures that are commensurate to the changes it has taken — such as the 15-month moratorium on launches and tests — and changes its “political calculation.”

The North Korean statement blames Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo for the failure of the negotiations while it empathizes a special relation between Kim and Trump.

The signaled satellite launch by North Korea will proceed. It will push the Trump administration back to the starting point of its efforts to 'denuclearize' North Korea.

The difference now is that North Korea has earned good will in China and Russia. It showed its willingness to negotiate and stuck to its commitments made in the Joint Declaration in Singapore while the U.S. obviously refused to fulfill its parts. China and Russia already gave North Korea some unofficial 'sanction relief'. They are unlike to again support the failed 'maximum pressure' approach the Trump administrations once set out with.

The hapless CIA nonsense will not change those facts.

Posted by b on March 15, 2019 at 22:50 UTC | Permalink | Comments (103)

March 14, 2019

Open (Brexit) Thread 2019-14

Your host is busy with a small household emergency. 

By the way, how this Brexit thingy coming along?

Posted by b on March 14, 2019 at 17:07 UTC | Permalink | Comments (235)

March 13, 2019

Who Ordered The CIA To Assault North Korea's Embassy In Spain?

Did John Bolton, President Trump's national security advisor, order an assault on the North Korean embassy in Spain to get an advantage in the nuclear talks?

On February 22 the embassy of the DPRK in Madrid was raided by a gang of thugs:

A group of men entered North Korea's embassy in Madrid, bound and gagged staff, before driving off with stolen mobile phones and computers, Spanish media has reported.
...
Spanish police are investigating after El Confidencial reported a woman escaped the embassy last Friday screaming in Korean, prompting residents nearby to call police.

After she reportedly revealed staff were tied up and gagged, officers knocked on the door to investigate, but were met by a man who told them everything was fine.

Soon after, two cars left the compound at high speed, one of them carrying the man who had answered the door. Police did not enter the building, but staff walked out soon after the incident.
...
Kim Hyok Chol was ambassador to Spain until September 2017, when the Spanish government expelled him and another diplomat following Pyongyang's round of nuclear tests and missile launches over neighbouring Japan.

The name Kim Hyok Chol sounds familiar. He recently was in the news when he led the North Korean delegation in the nuclear talks:

Kim Hyok Chol, a career diplomat from an elite North Korean family, made his international debut just a few weeks ago as Pyongyang’s new point man for nuclear negotiations. In the run-up to the Feb. 27-28 summit, he has been in talks with U.S. counterpart Stephen Biegun to lay the groundwork for the meeting, taking diplomats by surprise.
...
[H]is appointment left a few people flipping through their files of cadres to find out more. Channel A News, a South Korean TV outlet, drew a circle around him in a video from a White House meeting between Trump and North Korean officials in January, asking who he was.

bigger

People knew little about Kim Hyok Chol. The Bloomberg portrait of him appeared on February 22, the same day the embassy in Madrid was raided. The failed summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi was on February 27-28. Kim Hyok Chol was a core person in the 'denuclearization' talks but little was known of him.

The embassy raid was no normal thievery. There were eight people in the embassy when it was raided at 3:00 PM local time. They were bound, bags were put over their heads and some were interrogated. The thieves left with computer hardware and the cellphones of the personnel.

It now appears that the CIA was involved in the embassy raid. El Pais reports:

Investigators from the Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) have linked an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US secret service. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”
...
Investigators from the General Information Office (CGI) and CNI ruled out the idea that the attack was the work of common criminals. The operation was perfectly planned as if it were carried out by a “military cell,” said sources close to the investigation. The assailants knew what they were looking for, taking only computers and mobile phones.
...
Sources believe that the goal of the attack on the North Korean embassy was to get information on Kim Hyok Chol, the former North Korean ambassador to Spain.

The Spanish language version of the El Pais report has additional details (machine translated):

After analyzing the recordings of the security cameras in the area, questioning the hostages and analyzing the diplomatic vehicles used in the flight, it has been possible to identify some of the assailants. Although the majority were Koreans, at least two of them have been recognized by the Spanish information services for their links with the American CIA.

The indications that point to the US espionage service, in probable cooperation with that of South Korea, are so strong that Spanish interlocutors have contacted the CIA to ask for explanations. The response was negative, but "unconvincing", according to Government sources.

The Spanish version also includes a side-box with further details of the raid:

One of the darkest aspects of the assault on the North Korean Embassy in Madrid is the interrogation to which the head of the command, who called himself The Entrepreneur, subjected the charge of business, leading the diplomatic delegation since the ambassador was expelled. The head of the commando separated the diplomat from the rest of the hostages and locked himself alone with him. It is not known what he intended, but the current head of the Pyongyang delegation in Madrid probably knows a lot about Kim Hyok Chol, head of the North Korean delegation in the nuclear negotiations before the US, with whom he coincided when the latter was ambassador in Madrid, between 2014 and 2017.

A U.S. raid of a foreign embassy in a third country is a diplomatic affront that will have consequences. The government in Madrid can not let this go by. Other important embassies in Spain - think China - will urge the Spanish government to take further steps to guarantee their security.

CIA personnel is not immune. In 2005 a court in Italy ordered the arrest of 18 CIA agents who abducted an Imam off the streets of Milan to torture him in Egypt and elsewhere.

The Spanish services seem to suspect that the sole point was to get information on Kim Hyok Chol. That may well be though I suspect that an attempt to find North Korea's diplomatic encryption codes was part of the task. It is not unusual that a country will try to gain such information.  What is very unusual is the brute force way in which this was done. Was this thought to intimidate North Korea?

Whatever. I can only think of one person in Washington DC who disregards diplomacy enough to task the CIA with a military style raid on a foreign embassy in a third country. His name is John Bolton.

 

Posted by b on March 13, 2019 at 12:30 UTC | Permalink | Comments (96)

March 12, 2019

Boeing, The FAA, And Why Two 737 MAX Planes Crashed

On Sunday an Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed, killing all on board. Five month earlier an Indonesian Lion Air jet crashed near Jakarta. All crew and passengers died. Both airplanes were Boeing 737-8 MAX. Both incidents happened shortly after take off. 

Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are now grounded about everywhere except in the United States. That this move follows only now is sad. After the first crash it was already obvious that the plane is not safe to fly.

The Boeing 737 and the Airbus 320 types are single aisle planes with some 150 seats. Both are bread and butter planes sold by the hundreds with a good profit. In 2010 Airbus decided to offer its A-320 with a New Engine Option (NEO) which uses less fuel. To counter the Airbus move Boeing had to follow up. The 737 would also get new engines for a more efficient flight and longer range. The new engines on the 737 MAX are bigger and needed to be placed a bit different than on the older version. That again changed the flight characteristics of the plane by giving it a nose up attitude.

The new flight characteristic of the 737 MAX would have require a retraining of the pilots. But Boeing's marketing people had told their customers all along that the 737 MAX would not require extensive new training. Instead of expensive simulator training for the new type experienced 737 pilots would only have to read some documentation about the changes between the old and the new versions.

To make that viable Boeing's engineers had to use a little trick. They added a 'maneuver characteristics augmentation system' (MCAS) that pitches the nose of the plane down if a sensor detects a too high angle of attack (AoA) that might lead to a stall. That made the flight characteristic of the new 737 version similar to the old one.

But the engineers screwed up.

The 737 MAX has two flight control computers. Each is connected to only one of the two angle of attack sensors. During a flight only one of two computer runs the MCAS control. If it detects a too high angle of attack it trims the horizontal stabilizer down for some 10 seconds. It then waits for 5 seconds and reads the sensor again. If the sensor continues to show a too high angle of attack it again trims the stabilizer to pitch the plane's nose done.

MCSA is independent of the autopilot. It is even active in manual flight. There is a procedure to deactivate it but it takes some time.

One of the angle of attack sensors on the Indonesian flight was faulty. Unfortunately it was the one connected to the computer that ran the MCAS on that flight. Shortly after take off the sensor signaled a too high angle of attack even as the plane was flying in a normal climb. The MCAS engaged and put the planes nose down. The pilots reacted by disabling the autopilot and pulling the control stick back. The MCAS engaged again pitching the plane further down. The pilots again pulled the stick. This happened some 12 times in a row before the plane crashed into the sea.

To implement a security relevant automatism that depends on only one sensor is extremely bad design. To have a flight control automatism engaged even when the pilot flies manually is also a bad choice. But the real criminality was that Boeing hid the feature.

Neither the airlines that bought the planes nor the pilots who flew it were told about MCAS. They did not know that it exists. They were not aware of an automatic system that controlled the stabilizer even when the autopilot was off. They had no idea how it could be deactivated.

Nine days after the Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 ended in a deadly crash, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive.


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The 737 MAX pilots were aghast. The APA pilot union sent a letter to its members:

“This is the first description you, as 737 pilots, have seen. It is not in the AA 737 Flight Manual Part 2, nor is there a description in the Boeing FCOM (flight crew operations manual),” says the letter from the pilots’ union safety committee. “Awareness is the key with all safety issues.”

The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed went down in a similar flight profile as the Indonesian plane. It is highly likely that MCAS is the cause of both incidents. While the pilots of the Ethiopian plane were aware of the MCAS system they might have had too little time to turn it off. The flight recorders have been recovered and will tell the full story.

Boeing has sold nearly 5,000 of the 737 MAX. So far some 380 have been delivered. Most of these are now grounded. Some family members of people who died on the Indonesian flight are suing Boeing. Others will follow. But Boeing is not the only one who is at fault.

The FAA certifies all new planes and their documentation. I was for some time marginally involved in Airbus certification issues. It is an extremely detailed process that has to be followed by the letter. Hundreds of people are full time engaged for years to certify a modern jet. Every tiny screw and even the smallest design details of the hardware and software have to be documented and certified.

How or why did the FAA agree to accept the 737 MAX with the badly designed MCAS? How could the FAA allow that MCAS was left out of the documentation? What steps were taken after the Indonesian flight crashed into the sea?

Up to now the FAA was a highly regarded certification agency. Other countries followed its judgment and accepted the certifications the FAA issued. That most of the world now grounded the 737 MAX while it still flies in the States is a sign that this view is changing. The FAA's certifications of Boeing airplanes are now in doubt.

Today Boeing's share price dropped some 7.5%. I doubt that it is enough to reflect the liability issues at hand. Every airline that now had to ground its planes will ask for compensation. More than 330 people died and their families deserve redress. Orders for 737 MAX will be canceled as passengers will avoid that type. 

Boeing will fix the MCAS problem by using more sensors or by otherwise changing the procedures. But the bigger issue for the U.S. aircraft industry might be the damage done to the FAA's reputation. If the FAA is internationally seen as a lobbying agency for the U.S. airline industry it will no longer be trusted and the industry will suffer from it. It will have to run future certification processes through a jungle of foreign agencies.

Congress should take up the FAA issue and ask why it failed.

Posted by b on March 12, 2019 at 20:39 UTC | Permalink | Comments (318)