Who Is Sam Clovis?

This is a small point in the larger Russia investigation. But in my science, I have found that small points that don’t seem to make sense can be important. I am not putting forth a theory here. I want to raise questions that I think reporters should be looking at. The overarching question is Who is Sam Clovis and how did he develop his contacts?

When Donald Trump announced his foreign policy advisors in March 2016, a great many of us said “Who?” The five people announced were Joseph E. Schmitz, Gen. Keith Kellogg, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Walid Phares. Three had policy experience. Two didn’t. None were obvious choices.

Page was off to Russia that June. He had meetings with at least one high-level official, although his answers to congressional committees on that subject are evasive. A few years earlier, two Russian agents attempted to recruit Page as an informant.

Papadopoulos was convicted of lying to the FBI earlier this year. His wife worked for Joseph Mifsud, who had Russian connections and a job that looks like a cover. Mifsud has disappeared.

Who recommended Page and Papadopoulos? Eventually it came out that Sam Clovis, the national co-chair of the Trump campaign, had brought them into the campaign. Read more

Russian News

This is a compilation of Russian news you might not have heard. There’s a lot going on in Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is flagging, so much so that his United Russia Party had to resort to shady dealings in recent elections in Russia’s Far East. The retirement age for pensions has been raised, and people are not happy. They’ve just mounted a big military exercise, but probably not as big as they claim. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church will probably split organizationally from the Russian Orthodox Church.

Paul Goble worked in the State Department during the breakup of the Soviet Union. He retired some time ago and has taught in universities in Estonia. He speaks Russian and Estonian. He maintains a blog, Window on Eurasia, where he summarizes news and opinion from Russia and its neighbors in English. I’ll draw on his posts and a few other sources to note recent developments in Russia. This is far from exhaustive, and probably not even indicative of larger trends. Just things that are happening.

Quick tl;dr for those who don’t want to look through this whole long post. It looks like the events most likely to persist and potentially cause trouble for Putin are dissatisfaction because of the pension changes and the border changes in the North Caucasus. The other issues, like the continuing annoyance to people whose native languages are not Russian of Moscow’s emphasis on Russian in the schools. That was a continuing annoyance in the Soviet Union and contributed to its breakup. Tie that to other upsets, and larger disturbances could result.

Putin’s declining popularity could convince him that he needs to ramp up his foreign involvements, although this prediction has been out there for a year or more, with no significant ramping up of military action.

Russia is a big country, with a wide variety of people. It’s not surprising to find various types of conflict. Sanctions are hurting a vulnerable economy. It looks like Russia will continue pretty much as it has, barring extraordinary events. Read more

The Moon-Kim Summit

South Korea’s President Moon Jae In met yesterday with North Korea’s President Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. They participated in a parade and discussed the future of the Korean Peninsula.

It’s best to rely on the official English translation of their joint statement, rather than statements for the news media or by third parties. The Korean version is more reliable, but I don’t understand Korean. Here’s the part about North Korea’s nuclear program.

  1. The two sides shared the view that the Korean Peninsula must be turned into a land of peace free from nuclear weapons and nuclear threats, and that substantial progress toward this end must be made in a prompt manner.
  • First, the North will permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch platform under the observation of experts from relevant countries.
  • The North expressed its willingness to continue to take additional measures, such as the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon, as the United States takes corresponding measures in accordance with the spirit of the June 12 US-DPRK Joint Statement.
  • The two sides agreed to cooperate closely in the process of pursuing complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The bottom line is that much more negotiation that includes the United States is necessary. Specifically,

the North will permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch platform – This is a positive step, but North Korea has developed mobile launchers for its missiles, including the intercontinental missiles that can reach the United States. Building a new test site would not be difficult.

under the observation of experts from relevant countries – Again, a positive step to include experts. North Korea explicitly excluded experts from observing the tunnel closures at its nuclear test site. But “experts” and “relevant countries” remain undefined. Defining them will require more negotiation.

The North expressed its willingness to continue to take additional measures – Willingness is not action, which is fine as long as we understand that.

as the United States takes corresponding measures – The North has insisted on an action-for-action program in which they take a step, and then the United States takes a step. This is not unusual in building confidence between adversarial nations. So far, the United States has insisted on large measures from the North with no promise of specific action from the United States. Look for statements from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this subject. If he insists on complete denuclearization or a list of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, things are going nowhere. What constitute “corresponding measures” will require more negotiation.

the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in Yeongbyeon – North Korea has promised this before. Since it depends on the United States taking “corresponding measures,” it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. The common spelling in the United States is Yongbyon. It’s the obvious central nuclear facility for North Korea. Are there others? We don’t know.

in accordance with the spirit of the June 12 US-DPRK Joint Statement – Donald Trump talks about a handshake and personal understandings. North Korea talks about the Joint Statement. The DPRK is doing what is normally done in diplomacy. Secret personal agreements are no part of it.

The two sides agreed to cooperate closely in the process of pursuing complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – “Complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is a standard formula describing an ideal situation in the far future. It’s good to have this kind of long-term goal stated. So far, the United States has taken that phrase to mean unlateral disarmament by North Korea. Again, look for Secretary Pompeo’s statement on this.

Trump’s statements so far have been relatively moderate. Moon is playing a skillful game to try to involve Trump, which will be necessary as talks proceed. Kim is playing a skillful game to keep his nuclear weapons and his power.


Photo credit


Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner.

A Bit Of Chemistry

Many of you may be familiar with the bellingcat organization. Eliot Higgins started looking at and identifying munitions in Syria on a blog called Brown Moses, which he used as a pseudonym for a while. He was profiled in the New Yorker in 2013.

I have been interested in open-source intelligence for a long time. I started with an unclassified problem: how to find trash burial sites at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for potential cleanup. We did a bunch of work with overhead photos and other data, data fusion as it was called at the time. We hired some folks to do infrared photography – the burial pits would collect water and be a lower temperature than surrounding areas.

That was back in the 1990s. My team did some pioneering things.

Earlier, I had a project on a destruction method (supercritical water oxidation) for hazardous wastes. The chemical weapons people, who were just beginning to face the enormous problem of destroying their very hazardous chemicals, asked if that method might be suitable. They eventually decided not to use it, but I had to study chemical agents for a year or so.

Higgins was particularly looking at chemical weapons in Syria and where they were coming from. It’s generally accepted now that the Syrian government has been responsible for the chemical attacks. The information was developed early by the bellingcat consortium (which I’ve contributed to for some time in small ways) and confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international organization responsible for such things.

That’s a long preface to say that today bellingcat published an article of mine. There are still people who do not believe that the chemical attacks in Syria were carried out by the government. That’s been an argument all along. One of those people is Ted Postol, an emeritus professor at MIT. He and Higgins plan to debate in October. So I went back to Postol’s early arguments and worked through the chemistry. It’s pretty bad.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

Hostage North Korean Nukes?

The report keeps coming up that North Korea will be asked to (or will consider) giving up some of its nuclear weapons as a goodwill gesture. The source of these reports is not clear.

It’s not going to happen.

North Korea sees its nuclear weapons as its lifeline, a way to deter the United States from attempting to change its regime. More personally, Kim Jong Un sees them as his way to stay in power. That’s strong motivation. The statements from North Korea for the past week indicate that only with an ironclad assurance of regime continuance will North Korea even consider giving up its nuclear arsenal. That ironclad assurance will not come in a summit on June 12. Kim will not be easy to convince. Read more

Saturday Night Techno-Smut Interesting Read: “Are We Ready for Robot Sex?” [NSFW, Obviously]

Everyone who’s witnessed (or been) a toddler with a security toy, or a middle-aged man with his dream vehicle (bike, car, boat) already knows: When there are people-shaped robots, people will anthromophocize / individualize them. And when there are people involved, of course sometimes there will be sex, but also there will romanticization. From NYMag:

Henry is six feet tall, with six-pack abs and the customer’s choice of penis. He’s just a prototype at the moment — you can’t buy him — but the two female models Realbotix developed alongside Henry will ship this summer. So far, there have been 50 preorders at $12,000 apiece. Henry, Harmony, and Solana have sturdy silicone bodies, and once they’re synced up to a corresponding app, they can give compliments, recite poetry, tell jokes, and seduce.

Or at least, this is the general idea. The easy fantasy of what a sex robot might be — indistinguishable from an actual human, except hotter and prepared to fulfill any desire — is far from the current reality. Henry, if we’re being cruel, is essentially a high-quality dildo attached to a fancy mannequin with a Bluetooth speaker in his head. But the gulf between what we imagine and what’s possible makes sex robots the perfect vehicle for pondering our sexual and technological future. We might not wake up with sex robots in our beds tomorrow, but right now they’re an irresistible thought experiment. Since making my date with Henry, he’s become my favorite dinner-party topic…
Read more

What Might We Learn From North Korea’s Test Site?


Kim Jong Un announced that he would close North Korea’s nuclear test site. The Trump administration has greeted this announcement as part of its success in dealing with North Korea.

But North Korea may be doing less than Trump thinks.

The nuclear test site consists of a number of tunnels for underground nuclear explosions and support facilities for that testing. KCNA, the North Korean news agency, has released a list of activities to close the site.

First, explosives will be used to collapse the tunnels, KCNA said. Then, entries to the site will be blocked and all observation facilities, research institutes and guard structures will be removed. Guards and researchers will be withdrawn, and the area surrounding the test site will be closed.

Journalists from China, Russia, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom will be invited “in the interests of transparency” to view the site and a dismantlement ceremony scheduled for late May.

Nothing has been said about inviting specialists from the International Atomic Energy Agency or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, who might be able to evaluate how the test site has been used and to what extent it is being deactivated. Read more