Iran has called on the IAEA and world leaders to close the investigation of the so-called “Possible Military Dimensions” of its nuclear program – the PMD file. Otherwise they will have to choose between the case and the nuclear deal.
“What closes the PMD case is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors’ resolution. And the P5+1 is a part of the Board of Governors. So we hope that they act upon their responsibility and close the case,” Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said, as cited by the Fars news agency.
Shamkhani added that closure of the PMD case is a necessary prerequisite for the full implementation of the nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1. The group includes the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, who are the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany.
Under the July 14 accord, Tehran agreed to major curbs on its atomic program, particularly its enrichment of uranium to high purities. In return all nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the US, the EU and the UN are to be lifted.
Shamkhani says now the P5+1 group “must choose” between the nuclear deal and the PMD file, according to ISNA.
The file concerns allegations that at least until 2003 Iran conducted research into how to make a nuclear weapon. These claims have been vehemently rejected by Tehran, which says its nuclear program serves peaceful purposes only. These include energy production and cancer treatment, and therefore the Iranians argue the program is Iran’s natural right.
“Iran wants to be exonerated from the PMD case and it should become clear that the PMD cases have been false, and during the negotiations we pressure the opposite side and insist that the fate of this case should come within the framework of the agreement,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi said on June 17, a month before the nuclear deal was concluded.
The final PMD report may reach the IAEA’s board of governors as early as Tuesday, according to AFP. If it closes the allegations, a day of the nuclear deal “implementation” is to be appointed, starting with which sanctions will be lifted.
Earlier this week, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said that while the UN watchdog has a “better understanding” of Iran’s past activities, the report will not be a “black-and-white assessment.”
“This is not an issue which can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” he said on Thursday.
Tensions escalate as Ukraine tries to regain international attention diverted by Syria
In violation of the ceasefire, shelling of the territories of the two people’s republics has resumed, and the OSCE has confirmed that the Ukrainian military has moved heavy weapons back to the contact line.
The Ukrainians meanwhile have extended their ban of commercial flights to and from Russia by also banning transit flights.
Ukraine has placed Crimea under a food blockade. To the intense embarrassment of its Western backers (see this editorial in the Financial Times, headlined “Kiev should act to end the blockade of Crimea”) it has enlarged this to an energy blockade.
Ukraine claims the power lines to Crimea were destroyed by Crimean Tatar “activists” backed by Right Sector.
Even if this were true, the Ukrainian authorities have done little or nothing to take control of the situation, arrest and punish those responsible for what was after all an act of criminal damage, or carry out the necessary repairs.
Characteristically most Western governments have said nothing, save that there has been some muted criticism from Germany.
Contrast this silence with the furious – and wrong – accusations regularly made in the West against Russia for its supposed use of energy as a political weapon.
All of this is happening to a drumbeat of demands in the Ukrainian media for the country to renounce the Minsk II agreement.
The Russians for their part have responded by stopping coal supplies to Ukraine. Since Ukraine is again failing to pay for its gas, it seems the Russians intend to stop supplying Ukraine with gas on Tuesday.
The two people’s republics have also announced they are stopping their own coal deliveries to Ukraine.
These steps increase the prospects of severe power shortages in Ukraine during what is predicted to be a harsh winter.
The Russians are also due in January to impose sanctions on Ukrainian food imports to Russia. This is in retaliation to Ukraine joining EU sanctions against Russia, and imposing sanctions of its own.
Bizarrely, this systematic severing of trade links with Russia is being hailed in parts of the Western media as proof Ukraine is “successfully reorienting” its trade to the EU and away from Russia, and is becoming “less dependent” on Russia. This of course takes no account of the damage these actions are doing to Ukraine’s economy.
There has also been an orchestrated attempt in recent weeks on the part of some sections of the Western media to talk up Ukraine’s economic situation, with claims that it is “stabilizing”. The US credit agency Moody’s has joined in the game by upgrading Ukraine’s credit rating.
To the very limited extent this is true, it is wholly the consequence of the August ceasefire, which stopped the drain of fighting the war on the civilian economy.
The actions the Ukrainian government and “activists” have been taking over the last few weeks puts this in jeopardy.
What is causing this sudden deterioration in the situation?
At its simplest, it is growing alarm in Ukraine that Western – especially European – support for Ukraine is flagging.
It is now widely accepted that Merkel and Obama are becoming increasingly isolated in their insistence that the sanctions against Russia be extended.
In France Nicholas Sarkozy, Hollande’s likely conservative opponent at the Presidential election, has clearly signaled his opposition to sanctions, aligning himself on this issue with Marine Le Pen.
More to the point, in Germany, Merkel’s coalition partners – the SPD and the CSU – are both becoming openly critical of a sanctions policy with which one senses they both privately always disagreed.
Russia Insider has already discussed the increasingly rebellious line being taken by Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD’s leader and Germany’s Vice Chancellor.
Possibly even more important is the call from Horst Seehofer, leader of the CSU – the CDU’s right wing coalition partner in Merkel’s coalition – for a rapprochement with Russia.
Whilst Seehofer’s comments seem to have been specifically triggered by the migrant crisis and the conflict in Syria, their tone suggests a wider rapprochement.
Interestingly, Seehofer has been forging increasingly close links in recent weeks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – a bete noir in Washington – who is known to be a strong advocate of good relations between Europe and Russia.
Back in September – as the migrant crisis was starting to spiral out of control – Orban made another call for a new relationship between Europe and Russia. Significantly he did this straight after a meeting with Seehofer.
The mounting opposition in Europe to the sanctions is being picked up by the “realists” in the US.
Russia Insider recently republished an article in The National Interest – the main publication in which the US foreign policy “realists” express their views – which should be read as a call to the Obama administration to take the lead in diplomatic discussions with Moscow before the sanctions regime collapses, leaving the US looking isolated and humiliated.
A number of our readers misunderstood this article, taking literally its ritual claims about the sanctions’ effectiveness and Putin’s supposedly “desperate situation”.
The sad truth about policy debate in the US today is that it cannot admit defeat, so that even when it retreats it has to claim “victory”.
The key point about the article in The National Interest is not what it says about Putin and Russia.
It is its call for the US to initiate diplomatic negotiations with Moscow to find a face-saving way to end the sanctions before Europe splits away and they fall apart.
The gradual shift towards an improvement in relations with Russia began before Russia’s intervention in Syria.
In fact it has been underway ever since the Minsk II agreement was reached in February. We have discussed the process at length in various articles here on Russia Insider.
However the Russian intervention in Syria and the Paris attacks have markedly accelerated the process, with Western public opinion showing increasing signs of backing Russia.
All of this is causing in Ukraine growing alarm. The Ukrainians must be seething as international attention is refocusing away from them, and as Russia shows signs of winning over Western public opinion to its side.
The consistent response of the Maidan movement whenever it senses it is losing is to double down and escalate and that is what we are now seeing.
A way to rationalise it would be to say that the Ukrainians are trying to provoke Russia into an overreaction, so as to reignite the conflict in order to shore up Western support and get the sanctions – due for renewal in December – extended.
Though this is at a certain level true, it seriously underestimates the purely visceral aspect in Ukrainian behaviour.
For the Maidan movement any sign Russia is gaining credit with the Western public is like a red rag to a bull. There is no need to look for calculation in Ukrainian behaviour in order to understand it.
The underlying problem – as we have said many times – is that the Maidan movement is inherently incapable of the sort of compromise that Minsk II envisages.
To see how that is so, consider what has happened since the October summit in Paris where the Europeans in effect ordered Poroshenko to implement Minsk II within a revised timetable.
The Ukrainians have done nothing of the sort, and the new timetable for carrying out the terms of Minsk II is already slipping.
Any discussion of the internal aspect of the Ukrainian conflict – as opposed to its external aspect – has to proceed from the fact that the present Ukrainian government is simply incapable of compromise unless overwhelming external pressure is brought upon it.
The Russians long ago grasped this. Over the last few weeks there are clear signs the Europeans belatedly are starting to grasp it as well.
The question that remains is for how much longer the Europeans will be prepared to go on making their relations with Russia hostage to the ideological obsessions of the Maidan movement and its neocon supporters.
The mounting evidence – judging from comments by people like Sigmar Gabriel and Horst Seehofer in Germany, Sarkozy in France, and from what happened during the summit in Paris – is that European patience is wearing thin.
Coming on the heels of the terrorist attack in Paris, the mass shooting and siege at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, the capital of the African nation of Mali, is still further evidence of the escalation of terrorism throughout the world. While there has already been much written about the incident in both western and non-western media, one critical angle on this story has been entirely ignored: the motive.
For although it is true that most people think of terrorism as entirely ideologically driven, with motives being religious or cultural, it is equally true that much of what gets defined as “terrorism” is in fact politically motivated violence that is intended to send a message to the targeted group or nation. So it seems that the attack in Mali could very well have been just such an action as news of the victims has raised very serious questions about just what the motive for this heinous crime might have been.
International media have now confirmed that at least nine of the 27 killed in the attack were Chinese and Russian. While this alone would indeed be curious, it is the identities and positions of those killed that is particularly striking. The three Chinese victims were important figures in China’s China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC), while the Russians were employees of Russian airline Volga-Dnepr. That it was these individuals who were killed at the very outset of the attack suggests that they were the likely targets of what could perhaps rightly be called a terrorist assassination operation.
But why these men? And why now? To answer these questions, one must have an understanding of the roles of both these companies in Mali and, at the larger level, the activities of China and Russia in Mali. Moreover, the targeted killing should be seen in light of the growing assertiveness of both countries against terrorism in Syria and internationally. Considering the strategic partnership between the two countries – a partnership that is expanding seemingly every day – it seems that the fight against terrorism has become yet another point of convergence between Moscow and Beijing. In addition, it must be recalled that both countries have had their share of terror attacks in recent years, with each having made counter-terrorism a central element in their national security strategies, as well as their foreign policy.
And so, given these basic facts, it becomes clear that the attack in Mali was no random act of terrorism, but a carefully planned and executed operation designed to send a clear message to Russia and China.
The Attack, the Victims, and the Significance
On Friday November 20, 2015 a team of reportedly “heavily armed and well-trained gunmen” attacked a well known international hotel in Bamako, Mali. While the initial reports were somewhat sketchy and contradictory, in the days since the attack and siege that followed, new details have emerged that are undeniably worrying as they provide a potential motive for the terrorists.
It is has since been announced that three Chinese nationals were killed at the outset of the attack: Zhou Tianxiang, Wang Xuanshang, and Chang Xuehui. Aside from the obviously tragic fact that these men were murdered in cold blood, one must examine carefully who they were in order to get a full sense of the importance of their killings. Mr. Zhou was the General Manager of the China Railway Construction Corporation’s (CRCC) international group, Mr. Wang was the Deputy General Manager of CRCC’s international group, and Mr. Chang was General Manager of the CRCC’s West Africa division. The significance should become immediately apparent as these men were the principal liaisons between Beijing and the Malian government in the major railway investments that China has made in Mali. With railway construction being one of the key infrastructure and economic development programs in landlocked Mali, the deaths of these three Chinese nationals is clearly both a symbolic and very tangible attack on China’s partnership with Mali.
In late 2014, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita traveled to China to attend the World Economic Forum in Tianjin. On the sidelines of the forum the Malian president sealed a number of critical development deals with the Chinese government, the most high-profile of which were railway construction and improvement agreements. Chief among the projects is the construction of an $8 billion, 900km railway linking Mali’s capital of Bamako with the Atlantic port and capital of neighboring Guinea, Conakry. The project, seen by many experts as essential for bringing Malian mineral wealth to world markets, is critical to the economic development of the country. Additionally, CRCC was also tapped to renovate the railway connecting Bamako with Senegal’s capital of Dakar, with the project carrying a price tag of nearly $1.5 billion.
These two projects alone were worth nearly $10 billion, while a number of other projects, including road construction throughout the conflict-ridden north of the country, as well as construction of a much needed new bridge in gridlock-plagued Bamako, brought the cumulative worth of the Chinese investments to near (or above) the total GDP for Mali ($12 billion in 2014). Such massive investments in the country were obviously of great significance to the Malian government both because of their economically transformative qualities, and also because they had solidified China as perhaps the single most dominant investor in Mali, a country long since under the post-colonial economic yoke of France, and military yoke of the United States.
It seems highly implausible, to say the least, that a random terror attack solely interested in killing as many civilians as possible would have as its first three victims these three men, perhaps three of the most important men in the country at the time. But the implausible coincidences don’t stop there.
Among the dead are also six Russians, all of whom are said to have been employees of the Russian commercial cargo airline Volga-Dnepr. While at first glance it may seem irrelevant that the Russian victims worked for an airline, it is in fact very telling as it indicates a similar motive to the killing of the Chinese nationals; specifically, Volga-Dnepr is, according to its Wikipedia page, “a world leader in the global market for the movement of oversize, unique and heavy air cargo…[It] serves governmental and commercial organizations, including leading global businesses in the oil and gas, energy, aerospace, agriculture and telecommunications industries as well as the humanitarian and emergency services sectors.” The company has transported everything from gigantic excavators to airplanes, helicopters, mini-factories, and power plants, not to mention heavy machines used in energy extraction.
This fact is significant because it is quite likely, indeed probable, that the airline has been transporting much of the heavy, oversized equipment being used by the Chinese and other developers throughout the country. In effect, the Russian crew was part of the ongoing economic development and foreign investment in the country. And so, their killing, like that of the CRCC executives, is a symbolic strike against Chinese and Russian investment in the country. And perhaps even more importantly, the attack was a symbolic attack upon the very nature of Sino-Russian collaboration and partnership, especially in the context of economic development in Africa and the Global South.
It would be worthwhile to add that Volga-Dnepr has also been involved in military transport services for NATO and the US until at least the beginning of the Ukraine conflict and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Whether this fact has any bearing on the employees being targeted, that would be pure conjecture. Suffice to say though that Volga-Dnepr was no ordinary airline, but one that was integral to the entire economic development initiative in Mali. And this is really the key point: China and Russia are development partners for the former French colonial possession and US puppet state.
China, Russia, and Mali’s Future
China and, to a lesser extent, Russia have become major trading and development partners for Mali in recent years. Aside from the lucrative railroad and road construction projects mentioned above, China has expanded its partnerships with Mali in many other areas. For instance, in 2014 China gifted Mali a grant of 18 billion CFA (nearly $30 million) and an interest-free loan of 8 billion CFA (nearly $13 million). Additionally, China established a program that offers 600 scholarships to Malian students over the 2015-2017 period. Also, the Chinese government announced the construction of a training and educational center focused on engineering and the construction industry, as well as the completion of the Agricultural Technical Center in the city of Baguineda in Southern Mali, not far from the capital and population center of Bamako.
Of course, these sorts of Chinese offerings are only the tip of the iceberg as Beijing has also expanded its contracts with Mali in the transportation, construction, energy, mining, and other important sectors, including an agreement for China to construct at least 24,000 affordable housing units, making ownership of a decent home possible for many who would otherwise never have such an opportunity. Going further, as African Leadership Magazine reported in 2014:
Mali also relies on China to invest in new power plants to break the electricity crisis that is affecting the country. This is supposed to make available cheaper electricity for the industrial development…A hydroelectric dam will be built in the area of Dire in the North of the country; a hybrid power plant in Kidal in the North-East and another one in Timbuktu, which is in the North as well. Solar power plants will also be created in other parts of the country and all those infrastructures will be connected to the national grid of electricity… A factory of medicine production that is being constructed in the outskirts of the capital will be enlarged to be the largest in West Africa… More than 95 percent of the factory has been completed and it will be operating on January, 2015…Chinese banks that are not yet present in Mali are supposed to contribute to create small-scaled companies and industries.
To be sure, China is not offering such deals to Mali solely out of altruism and in the spirit of generosity; naturally China expects to enrich itself and ensure access to raw materials, resources, and markets in Mali now and in the future. This is the sort of “win-win” partnership forever being touted by China as the cornerstone of its aid and investment throughout Africa. Indeed, in many ways, Mali is a prime example of just how China operates on the continent. Rather than a purely exploitative investment model (the IMF and World Bank examples come to mind), China is engaging in true partnership. And, contrary to what many have argued (that China is merely a rival imperialist power in Africa), China’s activities in Africa are by and large productive for the whole of the countries where China invests, a few egregious bad examples aside.
China is a friend of Africa, and it has demonstrated that repeatedly throughout the last decade. And perhaps it is just this sort of friendship that was under attack in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako.
Likewise Russia has been engaged in Mali, though certainly nowhere near the extent that China has. Russia was one of the principal contributors to the humanitarian relief effort in Mali after the 2012 coup and subsequent war against terror groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Russia provided much needed food, clothing, and basic medical aid, while also supplying more advanced, and essential, medical equipment to Malian hospitals desperately trying to cope with the flood of wounded and displaced people.
Additionally, Moscow became one of the major suppliers of weapons and other military materiel to Mali’s government in its war against terrorism in 2013. According Business Insider in 2013, Anatoly Isaikin, head of Russia’s state-owned arms exporter Rosoboronexport, “revealed that Moscow had recent military contacts with the government of Mali… He said small amounts of light weapons were already being delivered to Mali and that new sales were under discussion. ‘We have delivered firearms. Literally two weeks ago another consignment was sent. These are completely legal deliveries… We are in talks about sending more, in small quantities.’”
Finally, Mali has a longstanding cultural connection with Russia through the Soviet Union’s sponsorship of thousands of Malian students who studied in Soviet universities from the early 1960s through the 1980s. As Yevgeny Korendyasov of the Center for Russian-African Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences explained, “We have had very close ties to Mali throughout recent history… Though overall financial estimates of Soviet aid received by Mali are hard to come by, Moscow’s involvement with the country was all-encompassing.” Indeed, the Soviets educated Malian officials and intelligentsia, as well as their children, developed local infrastructure, and mapped the country’s abundant natural resources. Such long-standing ties, moribund though they may seem today, still have a lasting legacy in the country.
While the world has been transfixed by terrorism from the downing of the Russian airliner in Egypt, to the inhuman attacks in Paris and Beirut, not nearly enough attention has been paid to the attack in Mali. Perhaps one of the reasons the episode has not gotten the necessary scrutiny and investigation is the seemingly endless series of terror attacks that have transfixed news consumers worldwide. Perhaps it is simply good old fashioned racism that sees Africa as little more than a collection of chaotic states constantly in conflict, with violence and death being the norm.
Or maybe the real reason almost no one has shined a light on this episode is because of the global implications of the killings, and the obvious message they sent. While media organizations seem to have deliberately ignored the implication of the attacks of November 20th in Mali, one can rest assured that Beijing and Moscow got the message loud and clear. And one can also rest assured that the Chinese and Russians are well aware of the true motives of the attack. The question remains: how will these countries respond?
Eric Draitser, an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, is the founder of StopImperialism.org.
Walmart hired global security giant Lockheed Martin a few years ago to monitor activism in its massive workforce, according to new documents. The defense contractor tracked employees’ social media and reported protest participation to the retail giant.
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, provided Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, with intelligence-gathering and surveillance services in 2012, according to a lengthy report by Bloomberg Businessweek. The news has emerged just before Black Friday protests by a union-funded group called OUR Walmart, the report claims. Participants demand higher wages and reliable scheduling for Walmart employees.
While Walmart publicly dismissed the demonstrations as “just another union publicity stunt,” their subsequent actions indicate that they took it seriously. In addition to hiring Lockheed Martin to keep tabs on employees’ social media feeds, the companies ranked stores by labor activity and monitored employees who were known to be involved in labor activism, according to Bloomberg.
The defense contractor offers a product called LM Wisdom, which is marketed as a tool for fighting drug and human trafficking, but which Walmart used to track employees in 2012 and 2013. Lockheed Martin analysts would follow the Twitter and Facebook feeds of workers and then report information about labor activism back to the company’s corporate headquarters. The defense contractor also put together a map of likely routes for five “Ride for Respect” bus caravans that were sent to HQ to demonstrate.
In one of the documents obtained, when asked about the company’s relationship with Lockheed Martin, Walmart Senior Vice President of Labor Relations Karen Ann Cassey said that the company was even “partnering with the FBI/the Joint Terrorism Task Force” to monitor protesters that planned to go to the company’s headquarters, saying that similar protests have become violent.
Walmart didn’t comment on the specific allegations in the Bloomberg story, but sent a statement via email arguing that the measures had been taken to protect their shoppers, employees and business.
“Unfortunately, there are occasions when outside groups attempt to deliberately disrupt our business and on behalf of our customers and associates we take action accordingly,” the statement reads.
Bloomberg retrieved the information on Lockheed Martin’s labor-monitoring services by acquiring documents ahead of a National Labor Relations Board hearing. The case concerns Walmart’s alleged history retaliation against employees who protested against the retailer.
Earlier this year, Walmart announced that its company-wide minimum wage would go from $9 in 2015 and [to] $10. While OUR Walmart touts this wage increase as a victory, they remain steadfast in their demand for a minimum of $15 an hour. The group will be protesting this Black Friday for the fourth year in a row.
The election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina’s presidential race comes as a welcome victory to the country’s business elite and right-wing parties across Latin America, but the president-elect has some dubious ties that could signal a lasting legacy in the new head of state of darker times in Argentina.
Macri has been particularly criticized for his indirect ties to the last military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970s and early 1980s that cracked down on left-wing activists and political opposition.
While many of Macri’s powerful economic backers and corporate allies propped up the dictatorship that benefited them economically, Macri’s closest ties to the dictatorship are through his own family business Macri Society, known as Socma.
Macri, a long-time business magnate and former mayor of Buenos Aires, has been a director of his father’s Socma corporate conglomerate since a young age. The Macris are one of Argentina’s wealthiest families, and Socma was among the companies that directly benefited from the dictatorship.
In 1973, prior to the 1976 military coup that ousted the civilian Peronist government of President Maria Estela de Peron and installed a dictatorship, Socma owned seven companies. When the dictatorship ended 10 years later, in 1983, the Socma corporate empire had expanded to 46 companies.
Among Socma’s dozens of companies were various businesses that benefited the Macri family economically by providing services to the dictatorship regime, such as the solid waste management company Manliba, privatized under the dictatorship in 1979, and the postal company Correo Argentino, later nationalized in 2003 under former President Nestor Kirchner.
Macri also showed his sympathies for corporate complicity in dictatorship-era abuses earlier this year when he and his party opposed a government move to end impunity for dictatorship supporters.
Argentina’s Parliament decided in September to launch an investigation into how people and businesses participated in crimes committed by the 1976-1983 dictatorship. While the vote passed by a wide margin of 170-14, Macri and his Republican Proposal Party made up the minority of lawmakers opposing the bill.
The U.S.-backed Dirty War disappeared between 7,000 and 30,000 people in Argentina under the dictatorship regime.
Argentina’s right-wing newspaper La Nacion, which supported the dictatorship, hailed Macri’s election as signalling an end to “revenge” for the dictatorship years.
“The desire for revenge should be buried once and for all,” a La Nacion editorial said on Monday following Macri’s victory. The editorial referred the end to a “culture of revenge” under the governments of Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez in reference to their efforts to seek truth and justice for dictatorship-era crimes, including Kirchner’s 2003 repeal of amnesty laws for crimes against humanity.
Macri’s election marks the first victory for the country’s right-wing business elite through electoral means rather than military coup. He will be the third non-Peronist head of state in the more than three decades since the end of the dictatorship.
Right-Wing Alliances in Latin America
While corporate elites and dictatorship-supporters celebrate Macri’s election in Argentina, right-wing organizations across Latin America also welcome his victory as a win for their neoliberal political project in the region.
Macri has already made his foreign policy plans clear, vowing to reshape international ties to strengthen relations with the United States and European Union while requesting that Venezuela be suspended from the South American regional bloc Mercosur.
Macri’s relationship with the United States has been demonstrated in leaked diplomatic cables, published by WikiLeaks, in which he accused the U.S. of being “too soft” on the Kirchner governments and called on the U.S. to crack down on Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Macri’s stance against the Venezuelan government was also clearly solidified when Lilian Tintori, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, took to the stage with Macri during his victory celebration on Sunday night. Tintori hailed Macri’s win as the start of “political change in Latin America and Venezuela’s opposition was “delighted” by Macri’s win, Reuters reported.
Many of Macri’s supporters are those who hope to reinvigorate neoliberal free trade politics in Latin America and roll back the regional integration projects launched by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
For example, the Argentine think tank Thinking Foundation, focused on developing projects and strategies to get Macri’s party elected, has collaborated with the Spanish FAES Foundation, which promotes neoliberal politics and has strong ties to Spain’s conservative People’s Party.
The Thinking Foundation is also part of the Atlas Foundation, which in turn is part of the global Atlas Network, a think tank that promotes neoliberal free trade and market-based public policy through over 400 member think tanks worldwide.
Macri’s Majority Pro-Kirchner Opposition Government
Macri’s plans to shift Argentina to the right may still face resistance. The president-elect will be forced to govern without majority support from Congress.
In the Argentine Senate and House of Representatives, the majority of lawmakers are not representatives of Macri’s Let’s Change coalition, but of the pro-Kirchner alliance Front for Victory that backed Daniel Scioli’s bid for president. Of 257 seats in the Lower House, 114 are held by the Front for Victory. In the Senate, 42 of 72 senators are Front for Victory officials.
The era of “Kirchnerismo” under Cristina Fernandez and Nestor Kirchner may have come to an end with Macri’s election, but the Peronist movement that has long fought for social justice in Argentina now forms the official opposition.
While change under Macri is certain, the question that remains is what the long-term legacy of the Peronist movement and Kirchner governments will be in Argentina and Latin America.
World demand for gas is growing faster than any other energy source, and will grow by a third in the next 25 years, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The growing demand opens up great opportunities for increasing production and exports of gas. At the same time, it’s a major challenge, because there’s a need to dramatically accelerate the development of new deposits, modernize the refining capacities, expand gas transportation infrastructure, bring into operation additional pipelines and make new LNG routes”, said Putin at a Gas Exporting Countries Forum in Tehran on Monday.
According to Putin, Russia seeks to increase its gas output by 40 percent by 2035, reaching 885 billion cubic meters. One of the biggest tasks ahead of Russia is to boost the supplies of gas to China, India and other Asian countries from the current 6 percent to 30 percent, said Putin. Kremlin also intends to triple the LNG supplies. He added that Russia would be able to deal with all these tasks.
During his visit, Putin is meeting with Iranian leaders. He’s talked to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei about energy cooperation, Syria and other key issues. Putin’s also meeting Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.
Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the ‘Clean Power Plan’
Another month, another premature nuclear plant retirement.
About two weeks ago, Entergy finally threw in the towel on the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in Scriba, N.Y., a move that came as a surprise to exactly no one who has been paying attention to the merchant nuclear business in the U.S. the past few years. FitzPatrick joined the long-troubled Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, Mass., which Entergy gave up on in October, and Vermont Yankee, which it shut down in late 2014.
Since the end of 2012, the U.S. has lost an astonishing eight nuclear reactors to premature retirements: Kewaunee, San Onofre (2), Crystal River, and Vermont Yankee (all now shut down); FitzPatrick (retiring in late 2016); and Pilgrim and Oyster Creek (both retiring in 2019, well ahead of their planned lifetimes).
Several other reactors are on life support. Exelon’s R. E. Ginna plant in Ontario, N.Y., has been fighting to secure a rate support agreement that would keep it running a few more years, while the company’s Quad Cities and Byron plants got a reprieve after they unexpectedly cleared PJM auctions this fall. Industry observers see anywhere from five to 10 other plants as being at risk of premature retirement.
What’s remarkable about this trend is how it’s come about not from government pressure or mandates as in Germany or Japan—where nuclear is also in retreat—but from pure market pressures. In mid-2013, I wrote a post asking, “Is Cheap Gas Killing Nuclear Power?” Two years later, I’m prepared to answer that question in the affirmative.
In the case of Pilgrim, FitzPatrick, and Vermont Yankee, Entergy specifically named wholesale power prices driven to record low levels by cheap shale gas as one factor in its decisions. As my colleague Kennedy Maize has noted, observers now strongly suspect that Entergy is planning to exit the merchant nuclear business altogether—because it’s clearly become a big money-loser.
If you look at the list of retired and most at-risk plants, one common element jumps out immediately. Most of them exist in deregulated markets where power prices are largely set by the price of natural gas: ISO-New England (Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim), New York ISO (FitzPatrick and Ginna), and PJM (Oyster Creek, Byron, and Quad Cities). The other two plants, San Onofre and Crystal River, operated in more regulated markets, and while both were retired because of mechanical defects that were too expensive to repair, competition from gas-fired generation factored into both decisions to some degree.
Since 2012, when the problems for merchant nuclear really began, natural gas spot prices have stayed below $4/MMBtu except for a brief period last year, when a bitterly cold winter led to low stocks that pushed things up for a few months.
Since then, prices have fallen consistently, flirting with sub-$2 levels this fall. With gas in storage hitting a record high at the end of this year’s injection season, a repeat of 2014 seems unlikely. Meanwhile, gas production hit another record high in August at 81.3 Bcf/day. None of this, according to Energy Information Administration projections, seems likely to change in the short term, as production stubbornly continues climbing ahead of demand growth.
Where is nuclear still viable? That’s best answered by looking at the three states where a total of five nuclear plants are under construction: Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The common denominator there is clear. All three projects are being built in tightly regulated markets where the utility building them enjoys a government-sanctioned monopoly and the ability to recover costs in advance of operation.
The problem for nuclear is that momentum in the electricity markets over the past couple of decades has been toward flexibility and competition and away from monopolies and subsidies.
At the state level, attempts by Exelon and others to secure changes in the law to provide greater support for nuclear have been given the cold shoulder, while solar advocates are prying open previously closed markets like the Carolinas and Florida. Despite the challenges for merchant nuclear plants, no states are even considering an exit from problematic wholesale power markets, and independent system operators like PJM have shown no interest in rigging the game for nuclear either.
At the federal level, the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit, which provided enormous support for renewable generation, appear on their way out one way or another. The odds that the current Congress might pass some sort of nuclear production credit (an idea I mentioned in my 2013 post) would seem to be close to zero.
Nuclear’s greatest hope may be the Clean Power Plan (CPP)—which was revised in its final form to give more credit to nuclear generation—but that is far from a done deal. Even if the Democrats retain control of the White House in 2016, control of Congress is another matter, and the Supreme Court could still throw out or handicap the CPP on a variety of grounds.
Cheap gas is not going away. Greater state-level regulatory support seems highly unlikely. Even if the CPP survives in its current form, it won’t substantially change the economics of merchant nuclear.
The impending loss of nuclear generation presents a problem for a variety of reasons. Loss of generation diversity is never a good thing, and the loss of low-carbon electricity will complicate efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the solution remains elusive.
—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).
While India has embarked on an ambitious renewable energy pathway, coal is likely to remain its primary source of energy for the next couple of decades at least.
India will not agree to any proposal at the climate change negotiations that will seek to restrict the use of coal as a source of energy in the near term, a key member of the country’s negotiating team said on Wednesday.
More than 190 countries will gather in Paris later this month for a two-week annual climate change conference that is expected to deliver a global agreement this year.
“We cannot agree to any proposal that will restrict our ability to generate energy from coal or inhibit our efforts to ensure energy access to all our people in an accelerated manner,” Ajay Mathur, director general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency, told The Indian Express.
While India has embarked on an ambitious renewable energy pathway, coal is likely to remain its primary source of energy for the next couple of decades at least.
In a recent projection, the government had said it hoped to bring down its dependence on coal for electricity production from the current 61 per cent to 57 per cent by 2031-32. By that year, the contribution of renewable energy — solar, wind and biogas — in total electricity generation was projected to grow to 29 per cent from the current 12 per cent.
“There is no looking away from it. Coal is going to remain India’s primary source of electricity generation for some time. We cannot agree to anything that restrains us from using coal,” he said.
Mathur said that in Paris, India will ask for a more stringent international mechanism to ensure that the developed countries deliver on the commitments they have made to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In the last few months, countries have submitted their climate action plans — steps that they intend to take to deal with climate change — up to the year 2032. There is debate over the mechanism to be adopted to assess whether all the actions are consistent with the objective of keeping the rise of global average temperatures within 2 degree celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The climate change negotiations accept a principle of differentiation in the responsibilities of developed and developing countries in dealing with climate change. Mathur said this differentiation must extend to the compliance process as well.
“The assessment of the developed countries’ actions must be subjected to a stronger review as compared to other countries,” Mathur said.
Campesino leaders say the government is criminalizing their movements and does not protect their rights. | Photo: @marchapatriota
At least 300 campesino leaders have been killed in Colombia in 2015, according to Andres Gil, human rights leader and spokesperson of the Marcha Patriotica.
Many of these deaths have come as campesino leaders are attempting to defend their land and their natural resources. Another 7,000 campesino leaders have been jailed.
Land distribution in Colombia is extremely unequal. Less than 1 percent of the population owns roughly half of the land, and 70 percent of the population owns only 5 percent of the land. Campesinos who fight for their land are often risking their lives.
At least three campesinos leaders where killed just in the last two weeks, including the young Afro-descendent leader Jhon Jairo Ramirez Olaya in the Valle region; the environmental and campesino leader Daniel Abril, in the Orinoquia region; and the representative of Afro-descendent victims from Cordoba, Luis Francisco Hernandez Gonzales.
Another young campesino leader allegedly killed by the armed forces last Friday, according to Marcha Patriota.
According to Verdad Abierta — an investigative project on the armed conflict of Colombia’s Semana magazine — Abril accused various state officials of corruption, and was fighting against multiple oil corporations with extensive land interests.
Feliciano Valencia, another indigenous leader from the region of Cauca who was controversially sentenced to 18 years in jail, was also victim of a homicide attempt on Tuesday, as four men opened fire on his home, according to local social organizations.
Still in Cauca, in the end October, the armed forces were recently involved in the murder of indigenous leader Alfredo Bolaño, the 58th victim from security forces in the region, one of the most affected by violence because of its highly fertile lands.
On Friday, the Colombian army killed one campesino and wounded five others after it raided a rural area in what military officials said was an effort to “manually eradicate” illegal coca crops.
According to the local community, the armed forces opened fire on a peaceful march last Thursday in Argelia, Cauca.
The country’s ombudsman Fabian Laverde told teleSUR that this issue was rooted in several causes.
“First, the national government refuses to recognize the existence of paramilitarism. Second, the complaints from the social movements made about situations of threats or concrete actions against residents of these territories have been completely ignored,” he said.
In 2005, Palestinians issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, because of its violations of international law and attacks on Palestinian rights. BDS is now a worldwide movement against Israeli Apartheid, and USPCN wants to work with you to target Coca-Cola, as our contribution to the campaign. Do not contribute to helping Zionist Israel steal and occupy more Palestinian land. Do not contribute to helping Israel continue its colonization of Palestine, and its suppression of Palestinian rights. With every single penny you spend on Coca-Cola, you are indirectly contributing to Israel’s crimes.
Why Boycott Coca-Cola?
The Central Bottling Company (Coca-Cola Israel), an Israeli company that manufactures and distributes CocaCola in Israel, has subsidiaries in the illegal settlements of Katzrin (in the Syrian Golan Heights) and Shadmot Mechola (in the Besan Valley, northeastern tip of the West Bank). The company also owns Tara, whose subsidiary, Meshek Zuriel Dairy, has a dairy farm in the occupied section of the Jordan Valley. In return for $55 million in tax breaks, Coca-Cola built a plant in Qiryat Gat, which sits on stolen land (the villages of Al-Falluja and Iraq al-Manshiya) in 1948 Palestine. The residents were ethnically cleansed in 1949, in contravention of International Law. In October 2005, Coca-Cola increased its investment in Israel by buying a 51% controlling interest in the Tavor Winery. Tavor Winery is an Israeli company based on occupied Palestinian land, at the foot of Mount Tavor, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
The Government of Israel Economic Mission honored Coca-Cola at an Israel Trade Award Dinner for its continuous support over the previous 30 years, and for “refusing to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel.” (from The Southern Shofar—American Jewish newspaper of Alabama).
Environmentalists have long criticized Coca-Cola for posing a serious threat to communities across the world. In India, the Mehdiganj Coca-Cola plant was recently closed by Indian officials, because of its over-utilization of natural water resources, which depleted the local groundwater and released pollution above legal limits.
Coca-Cola, which has always been strongly anti-union, is involved in the intimidation, kidnapping, torture, and murder of union leaders in Latin American, especially for years in Colombia. Labor unionists there have constantly been under threat from paramilitary death squads supported by Coca-Cola.
Businesses in Turkey and India are shunning Coca-Cola over the current Israel – Gaza conflict, according to several news sources.
The Coca-Cola conflict comes as part of the boycott movement targeting Israeli goods and those companies that do business in Israel. Coca-Cola has had a bottling plant in Israel since the 1960s, Haaretz reported.
Pepsi, which left Israel during the Cold War in response to the Arab boycott, has also been spurned in this bout of intensified boycotts.
In Mumbai, India, Muslims called for a boycott of PepsiCo, Kraft Foods Group, and Nestle in addition to Coca-Cola, the Jakarta Globe reported.
Omar Shaikh, a restaurant owner in Mumbai, said “This is our way of showing our anger against Israel. For us, Coke and Pepsi is human blood. They are financing the war against Palestine.”
The U.S. National Security Agency accessed the internal communications of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela and acquired sensitive data it planned to exploit in order to spy on the company’s top officials, according to a highly classified NSA document that reveals the operation was carried out in concert with the U.S. embassy in Caracas.
The March 2011 document, labeled, “top secret,” and provided by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, is being reported on in an exclusive partnership between teleSUR and The Intercept.
Drafted by an NSA signals development analyst, the document explains that PDVSA’s network, already compromised by U.S. intelligence, was further infiltrated after an NSA review in late 2010 – during President Barack Obama’s first term, which would suggest he ordered or at least authorized the operation – “showed telltale signs that things were getting stagnant on the Venezuelan Energy target set.” Most intelligence “was coming from warranted collection,” which likely refers to communications that were intercepted as they passed across U.S. soil. According to the analyst, “what little was coming from other collectors,” or warrantless surveillance, “was pretty sparse.”
Beyond efforts to infiltrate Venezuela’s most important company, the leaked NSA document highlights the existence of a secretive joint operation between the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency operating out of the U.S. embassy in Caracas. A fortress-like building just a few kilometers from PDVSA headquarters, the embassy sits on the top of a hill that gives those inside a commanding view of the Venezuelan capital.
Last year, Der Spiegel published top-secret documents detailing the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that the NSA and CIA deploy to embassies around the world. That intelligence on PDVSA had grown “stagnant” was concerning to the U.S. intelligence community for a number of reasons, which its powerful surveillance capabilities could help address.
“Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world,” the NSA document states, with revenue from oil and gas accounting “for roughly one third of GDP” and “more than half of all government revenues.”
“To understand PDVSA,” the NSA analyst explains, “is to understand the economic heart of Venezuela.”
Increasing surveillance on the leadership of PDVSA, the most important company in a South American nation seen as hostile to U.S. corporate interests, was a priority for the undisclosed NSA division to which the analyst reported. “Plainly speaking,” the analyst writes, they “wanted PDVSA information at the highest possible levels of the corporation – namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”
Given a task, the analyst got to work and, with the help of “sheer luck,” found his task easier than expected.
It began simply enough: with a visit to PDVSA’s website, “where I clicked on ‘Leadership’ and wrote down the names of the principals who would become my target list.” From there, the analyst “dumped the names” into PINWALE, the NSA’s primary database of previously intercepted digital communications, automatically culled using a dictionary of search terms called “selectors.” It was an almost immediate success.
In addition to email traffic, the analyst came across over 10,000 employee contact profiles full of email addresses, phone numbers, and other useful targeting information, including the usernames and passwords for over 900 PDVSA employees. One profile the analyst found was for Rafael Ramirez, PDVSA’s president from 2004 to 2014 and Venezuela’s current envoy to the United Nations. A similar entry turned up for Luis Vierma, the company’s former vice president of exploration and production.
“Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine,” the analyst wrote. The entries were full of “work, home, and cell phones, email addresses, LOTS!” This type of information, referred to internally as “selectors,” can then be “tasked” across the NSA’s wide array of surveillance tools so that any relevant communications will be saved.
According to the analyst, the man to whom he reported “was thrilled!” But “it is what happened next that really made our day.”
“As I was analyzing the metadata,” the analyst explains, “I clicked on the ‘From IP’ and noticed something peculiar,” all of the employee profile, “over 10,000 of them, came from the same IP!!!” That, the analyst determined, meant “I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms all this time!!! I fired off a few emails to F6 here and in Caracas, and they confirmed it!”
“Metadata” is a broad term that can include the phone numbers a target has dialed, the duration of the call and from where it was placed, as well as the Wi-Fi networks used to access the Internet, the websites visited and the times accessed. That information can then be used to identify the user.
F6 is the NSA code name for a joint operation with the CIA known as the Special Collection Service, based in Beltsville, Maryland – and with agents posing as diplomats in dozens of U.S. embassies around the world, including Caracas, Bogota and Brasilia.
In 2013, Der Spiegel reported that it was this unit of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that had installed, within the U.S. embassy in Berlin, “sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.” The article suggested this is likely how the U.S. tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
SCS at the U.S. embassy in Caracas played an active role throughout the espionage activities described in the NSA document. “I have been coordinating with Caracas,” the NSA analyst states, “who have been surveying their environment and sticking the results into XKEYSCORE.”
XKEYSCORE, as reported by The Intercept, processes a continuous “flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network,” storing the data for 72 hours on a “rolling buffer” and “sweep[ing] up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords.”
The NSA’s combined databases are, essentially, “a very ugly version of Google with half the world’s information in it,” explained Matthew Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, in an email. “They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps, that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added, “an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the data” to see if the information they want has already been collected.
That is exactly what the NSA analyst did in the case of PDVSA, which turned up even more leads to expand their collection efforts.
“I have been lucky enough to find several juicy pdf documents in there,” the NSA analyst wrote, “one of which has just been made a report.”
That report, dated January 2011, suggests a familiarity with the finances of PDVSA beyond that which was public knowledge, noting a decline in the theft and loss of oil.
“In addition, I have discovered a string that carries user ID’s and their passwords, and have recovered over 900 unique user/password combinations” the analyst wrote, which he forwarded to the NSA’s elite hacking team, Targeted Access Operations, along with other useful information and a “targeting request to see if we can pwn this network and especially, the boxes of PDVSA’s leadership.”
“Pwn,” in this context, means to successfully hack and gain full access to a computer or network. “Pwning” a computer, or “box,” would allow the hacker to monitor a user’s every keystroke.
A History of US Interest in Venezuelan Affairs
PDVSA has long been a target of U.S. intelligence agencies and the subject of intense scrutiny from U.S. diplomats. A February 17, 2009, cable, sent from the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to Washington and obtained by WikiLeaks, shows that PDVSA employees, were probed during visa interviews about their company’s internal operations. The embassy was particularly interested in the PDVSA’s strategy concerning litigation over Venezuela’s 2007 nationalization of the Cerro Negro oil project – and billions of dollars in assets owned by U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil.
“According to a PDVSA employee interviewed following his visa renewal, PDVSA is aggressively preparing its international arbitration case against ExxonMobil,” the cable notes.
A year before, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the U.S. government “fully support the efforts of ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets.” But, he added, “We are not involved in that dispute.”
ExxonMobil is also at the center of a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. In May 2015, the company announced it had made a “significant oil discovery” in an offshore location claimed by both countries. The U.S. ambassador to Guyana has offered support for that country’s claim.
More recently, the U.S. government has begun leaking information to media about allegations against top Venezuelan officials.
In October, The Wall Street Journal reported in a piece, “U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant,” that “agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies” had recently met to discuss “various PDVSA-related probes.” The “wide-ranging investigations” reportedly have to do with whether former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez and other executives accepted bribes.
Leaked news of the investigations came less than two months before Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Ramirez, for his part, has rejected the accusations, which he claims are part of a “new campaign that wants to claim from us the recovery and revolutionary transformation of PDVSA.” Thanks to Chavez, he added, Venezuela’s oil belongs to “the people.”
In its piece on the accusations against him, The Wall Street Journal notes that during Ramirez’s time in office PDVSA became “an arm of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution,” with money made from the sale of petroleum used “to pay for housing, appliances and food for the poor.”
The former PDVSA president is not the only Venezuelan official to be accused of corruption by the U.S. government. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, of being involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering. Former Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, the former director of military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, and Nestor Reverol, head of the National Guard, have also faced similar accusations from the U.S. government.
None of these accusations against high-ranking Venezuelan officials has led to any indictments.
The timing of the charges, made in the court of public opinion rather than a courthouse, has led some to believe there’s another motive.
“These people despise us,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in October. He and his supporters argue the goal of the U.S. government’s selective leaks is to undermine his party ahead of the upcoming elections, helping install a right-wing opposition seen as friendlier to U.S. interests. “They believe that we belong to them.”
Loose Standards for NSA Intelligence Sharing
Ulterior motives or not, by the NSA’s own admission the intelligence it gathers on foreign targets may be disseminated widely among U.S. officials who may have more than justice on their minds.
According to a guide issued by the NSA on January 12, 2015, the communications of non-U.S. persons may be captured in bulk and retained if they are said to contain information concerning a plot against the United States or evidence of, “Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.” Any intelligence that is gathered may then be passed on to other agencies, such as the DEA, if it “is related to a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed.”
Spying for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a corporation is ostensibly not allowed, though there are exceptions that do allow for what might be termed economic espionage.
“The collection of foreign private commercial information or trade secrets is authorized only to protect nation the national security of the United States or its partners and allies,” the agency states. It is not supposed to collect such information “to afford a competitive advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially.” However, “Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.”
In May 2011, two months after the leaked document was published in NSA’s internal newsletter, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing sanctions on PDVSA – a state-owned enterprise, or one that could be said to be subject to “government influence or direction” – for business it conducted with the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2010 and March 2011. The department did not say how it obtained information about the transactions, allegedly worth US$50 million.
Intelligence gathered with one stated purpose can also serve another, and the NSA’s already liberal rules on the sharing of what it gathers can also be bent in times of perceived emergency.
“If, due to unanticipated or extraordinary circumstances, NSA determines that it must take action in apparent departure from these procedures to protect the national security of the United States, such action may be taken” – after either consulting other branches of the intelligence bureaucracy. “If there is insufficient time for approval,” however, it may unilaterally take action.
Beyond the obvious importance of oil, leaked diplomatic cables show PDVSA was also on the U.S. radar because of its importance to Venezuela’s left-wing government. In 2009, another diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks shows the U.S. embassy in Caracas viewed PDVSA as crucial to the political operations of long-time foe and former President Hugo Chavez. In April 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup that, according to The New York Times, as many as 200 officials in the George W. Bush administration – briefed by the CIA – knew about days before it was carried out.
The Venezuelan government was not informed of the plot.
“Since the December 2002-February 2003 oil sector strike, PDVSA has put itself at the service of President Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, funding everything from domestic programs to Chavez’s geopolitical endeavors,” the 2009 cable states.
Why might that be a problem, from the U.S. government’s perspective? Another missive from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, this one sent in 2010, sheds some light: Chavez “appears determined to shape the hemisphere according to his vision of ‘socialism in the 21st century,’” it states, “a vision that is almost the mirror image of what the United States seeks.”
There was a time when not so long ago when the U.S. had an ally in Venezuela, one that shared its vision for the hemisphere – and invited a U.S. firm run by former U.S. intelligence officials to directly administer its information technology operations.
Amid a push for privatization under former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, in January 1997 PDVSA decided to outsource its IT system to a joint a company called Information, Business and Technology, or INTESA – the product of a joint venture between the oil company, which owned a 40 percent share of the new corporation, and the major U.S.-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, which controlled 60 percent.
SAIC has close, long-standing ties to the U.S. intelligence community. At the time of its dealings with Venezuela, the company’s director was retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Before coming to SAIC, Inman served as the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence and Vice Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Inman also served as deputy director of the CIA and, from 1977 to 1981, as director of the NSA.
In his book, “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government,” author Gregory Wilpert notes that Inman was far from the only former intelligence official working for SAIC in a leadership role. Joining him were two former U.S. Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and Melvin Laird, a former director of the CIA, John Deutsch, and a former head of both the CIA and the Defense Department, Robert Gates. The company that those men controlled, INTESA, was given the job of managing “all of PDVSA’s data processing needs.”
In 2002, Venezuela, now led by a government seeking to roll back the privatizations of its predecessor, chose not to renew SAIC’s contract for another five years, a decision the company protested to the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which insures the overseas investments of U.S. corporations. In 2004, the U.S. agency ruled that by canceling its contract with SAIC the Venezuelan government had “expropriated” the company’s investment.
However, before that ruling, and before its operations were reincorporated by PDVSA, the company that SAIC controlled, INTESA, played a key role in an opposition-led strike aimed at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry. In December 2002, eight months after the failed coup attempt and the same month its contract was set to expire, INTESA, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information alleges, “exercised its ability to control our computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid.” The government alleges INTESA, which possessed the codes needed to access those terminals, refused to allow non-striking PDVSA employees access to the company’s control systems.
“The result,” Wilpert noted, “was that PDVSA could not transfer its data processing to new systems, nor could it process its orders for invoices for oil shipments. PDVSA ended up having to process such things manually because passwords and the general computing infrastructure were unavailable, causing the strike to be much more damaging to the company than it would have been if the data processing had been in PDVSA’s hands.”
PDVSA’s IT operations would become a strictly internal affair soon thereafter, though one never truly free from the prying eyes of hostile outsiders.
TIRASPOL – Relations between Moldova and Transdniestria keep on deteriorating, Transdnieastria’s acting Foreign Minister Vitaly Ignatyev said on Tuesday at a meeting with Special Representative of the acting OSCE Chairman-in-Office for the Transdnistrian settlement process Radojko Bogojevic.
“The Moldovan side is seeking to evade contacts with Transdniestria,” he said. “Osipov [Moldova’s negotiator – TASS ] keeps on refusing to take part in talks in the bilateral format citing Moldova’s having no government as a reason. The dynamics of meetings of joint expert groups is very low as well.”
He said the two sides have accumulated a lot of problems in their relations. The most pressing of them, in his words, were Moldova’s and Ukraine’s decision to install joint customs control at the border with Transdniestria and criminal prosecution of Transdniestria’s officials.
Moldova’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Osipov said on Monday the talks between Moldova and Transdniestria were failing to yield any progress due to a gap in the parties’ positions. “Chisinau invited to discuss political issues, including a future status of unrecognized Transdniestria within Moldova, whereas Tiraspol says a certain atmosphere is needed for that,” he said after talks with Bogojevic. “We consider it as a violation of our earlier agreements. It is inadmissible to lay any conditions for the beginning of talks.”
Bogojevic, for his part, noted that Germany, which takes over presidency in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2016, will be tasked to get Moldova and Transdniestria back at the negotiating table in the 5+2 format. He admitted that despite all the efforts, the Serbian presidency in the OSCE had failed to resume the settlement talks. He said he had arrived in Moldova to prepare an OSCE ministerial meeting due in December and to prepare the ground for Germany’s presidency, which would have to deal with that problem.
Talks in the 5+2 format, involving Moldova and Transdniestria as parties to the conflict, the OSCE as a mediator, Russia and Ukraine as guarantors and the European Union and the United States as observers, have been stuck for the second year. Only two out of five scheduled meetings were held in 2014. Earlier, Transdniestrian leader Yevgeny Shevchuk said that Tiraspol could resume the talks in the extended format only on condition relevant documents were prepared. “I don’t see perspectives for holding a meeting in the 5+2 format unless expert groups prepare solutions that might ease the situation,” he said, adding that Moldova’s policy of pressure and economic sanctions “exerted jointly by Moldova and Ukraine” were hampering the negotiating process.