Iraqi Oil Fields: Let Me Tell You a Story…

One of the major items that came out of last night’s Commander In Chief Town Hall on NBC/MSNBC was Donald Trump’s repeating his oft stated position that the US should have taken Iraq’s oil. I will leave the lively discussion of the logistics of this to others, and just briefly acknowledge that this would have been a war crime even for an officially UN recognized occupying power. What I really want to talk about about in regard to Iraqi oil is where Iraq’s oil is. Almost every map that I saw linked to, tweeted, posted, and/or referred to last night looked something like this:

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(Map 1: Iraq Oil Map)

There is only one problem with this map, and the similar ones that were shared/referred to last night: they’re incomplete! This is the accurate map of where Iraq’s oil actually is:

Iraqi_Oil_Exploration_Blocks

(Map 2: Iraq Oil Field Map with Exploration Blocks)

Interestingly enough Judicial Watch FOIAed Vice President Cheney’s Energy Working Group back in 2002 and before Vice President Cheney shut the release of records off this was one of the items released. I first heard about this map in 2003 or 2004 when Greg Palast was interviewed by Keith Olbermann.  Palast is a forensic accountant and had, himself, been looking into VP Cheney’s Energy Working Group. He came across the map as a result and eventually wrote the whole thing up as a chapter in his book Armed Madhouse.

But what’s really important about this map is its history. So let me tell you a story… In the early part of the 20th Century, around 1912 or so, a young Armenian citizen of the soon to be defunct Ottoman Empire was becoming a major player in the early petroleum industry. His name was Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian, but he is better know as Mr. Five Percent. Gulbenkian basically established what would become the Iraqi petroleum sector – his fee/reward for doing so was a 5% stake, hence his nickname. The map above is a representation of the estimates of where Iraq’s oil was, updated to include where exploration has happened. But compare it to Map 1 – you’ll notice the exploratory blocks are missing. There’s a reason for that. And that, my friends, is where the story really gets interesting.

Gulbenkian got 5% and the Seven Sisters Oil Company and their early controlling interests, which would eventually evolve into OPEC, got 95% of the rights to exploration. This was all part of something called the Red Line Agreement and Map divvying up the Middle East’s oil. Part of the little known history is that a decision was made, based on the exploratory blocks in Map 2, to keep Iraq’s oil in the ground. Palast details this history in his book, but the decision was made to treat Iraq like a strategic oil reserve.

When my teammates and I were getting ready to deploy to Iraq, but before we left training and attached to our Brigade Combat Team (BCT), we went through three different initial cultural preps of the operating environment. This was because they kept moving where they were sending the BCT (third time was the charm!). Initially we were going to Salah al Din Province, near some of the denoted oil fields in Map 1. And this is where I started paying attention to Map 2 as something other than a curiosity. One of my research managers had found an expatriate Iraqi, now a US citizen, with PhDs in agricultural and civil engineering who had worked for Saddam Hussein as the lead on various projects, including some dealing with the petroleum sector. He ran afoul of Saddam, was imprisoned, then Saddam – being capricious – changed his mind and rehabilitated him. Our source, smartly, made plans to flee as soon as he could. And he did so successfully. He graciously agreed to meet with the team so we could pick his brain. One of the questions we were able to ask was about Map 2. Was it legit? Was the bulk of Iraq’s oil really along the western border with Saudi Arabia? Was the history of Mr. Five Percent accurate? Things like that. Our source informed us the map was accurate, that the Iraqi Oil Ministry had always known that the bulk of their reserves were along the western border, and that was not where any of the actual exploitation of the resources were being done. He also confirmed that the decision to use Iraq’s oil as a strategic reserve from before it was an independent state (and before there was an OPEC) was also correct and that OPEC did, indeed, limit Iraq and Iran to not producing more oil than the other in any given year. This last requirement was supposed to tamp down the historic rivalry, but seems to have made it worse.

Why is any of this important? Quite simply its because the actual bulk of Iraq’s oil is in the western areas of Iraq. Specifically in Anbar Province. The Sunni tribes, who first fought us, then allied with us after the Sawha/Awakenings, control Anbar. The other western provinces of Iraq – Najaf and Muthanna are primarily Shi’a – including the holy sites and religious academy in Najaf. The people of these three provinces are sitting on a (black) gold mine. Given that there is virtually no active exploitation in the exploratory blocks along Iraq’s western border, taking Iraq’s oil isn’t just a matter of putting the entire operational US Army on the ground to protect the petroleum workers that are going to pump it out and then the oil’s transport out of Iraq. It would require building an entire new set of extraction infrastructure in a hostile environment – both physically and societally hostile to such efforts. And that is provided Map 2, after 100 years, is still accurately indicating where Iraq’s oil is. An additional concern is that a lot of Iraqi oil is not suitable for gasoline production as it is not light sweet crude. Rather it has large amounts of sulfur and other compounds in it that make it expensive to convert to anything but heating/fuel oil. This is largely what the refinery at Baiji is producing when its running.








Breaking News: Abu Muhammed al Adnani is Dead

Abu_Mohammed_al-Adnani

(Abu Muhammed al Adnani*)

Abu Muhammed al Adnani (real name: Taha Subhi Falaha), the number 2 man within the Islamic State and its commander for special operations (terrorist operations outside of the declared caliphate, recruitment, social media, and communications), is dead. It is being reported that al Adnani was killed in Aleppo earlier today and had been targeted by the US military led coalition forces in a precision strike near the town of al Bab. Here is CENTCOM’s release of the coalition strikes in Syria for today, as well as the past several days. Al Bab is not mentioned, but that may just mean it will be in tomorrow’s press release on coalition strikes. Expect the information on this to solidify over the next 24 to 48 hours. We’ll also see what this does to the Islamic State’s operational capabilities, especially those outside of the self declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

* Image found here.








Lines On the Map: The Human Geography of the US’s Southern Border

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(Map 1: US Borders Prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo*)

With all the discussion, both in the current election cycle and year in and year out, about immigration to the US, as well as how to secure the US’s southern border, what often gets ignored is how the US got its southern border. Specifically the human geography of the southwestern US and their relationship to its border. After the conclusion of the Mexican War, in February 1848, the US and Mexico completed the negotiation of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did several things, but among them it moved the US’s southern and western borders to roughly where they are now. Basically we moved the line on the map. As was, and still is, the case when borders are drawn the people living on either side of the old and/or new borders do not always pay a lot of attention to that border in their daily lives. This can be seen in kinship maps of various parts of the world where borders were drawn, often by people far from where the borders were or would be, that subdivided or bisected members of kinship groups into separate states regardless of the reality on the ground. You can see this on ethnic maps throughout Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and other parts of the world.

This is also the reality with the US’s southern border. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially moved the lines on the map, but the day to day experience – the pattern of human settlement and the human geography of the region did not really change. Sure, more of what we now call non-Hispanic whites moved into New Mexico and west Texas and Arizona and Southern California, but the overall human geography – the people, places, and things that make up that pattern of human settlement didn’t change all that much. If you look at the pattern of settlement, based on 2010 Census data, you’ll see that where Hispanics and Latinos were living in the southern US hasn’t changed a lot. The highest density areas are still in the southwest.

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(Map 2: Hispanic or Latino Population of the US**)

You’ll notice that on both the map prepared for the negotiations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Rural Health Information’s map of Hispanic or Latino population of the US based on the 2010 Census that the area that the US would get from Mexico in 1848 is still where the largest percentage of the Hispanic or Latino population of the US live. This doesn’t count south Florida, which has a different historic pattern of Hispanic settlement. What the patterns of settlement shown on the maps show us is that the border was moved on the map, but the pattern of settlement remained largely unchanged.

And off and on for almost a hundred years that border was open. People went back and forth for familial reasons, for economic reasons, for social reasons, and for political reasons (don’t forget the Mormon exodus to Mexico in the late 19th Century and their return to the US in the early 20th Century). At different times throughout the 20th Century there have been attempts to seal the southern border for security reasons, which were sometimes/often conflated with xenophobia and anti-immigration sentiment. There were also attempts by the Mexican government to police their northern border to prevent (accused) criminals from crossing into the US illegally to escape justice. And all of these, over the course of a decade in the 1940s into the 1950s culminated with Operation Wetback – the last, named operation to deal with the issue at that point in time. These efforts to regulate the southern border also included guest worker programs, like the early 1940s Bracero Program. In the 1980s the Reagan Administration pushed the Immigration and Reform Act of 1986 that included a pathway to citizenship. Later, in the 1990s, there was Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton Administration attempt to secure the southern border. And there was also the disastrous impact of NAFTA and the war on drugs on Mexico’s economy, driving millions north in search of work to support themselves and their relatives at home. And through it all the pattern of settlement in the southwestern US has not changed very much. Until this reality – that the border may have been moved in 1848, but not the demographics of the population – is acknowledged in the debate on what to do with the migration across the US’s southern border, then it will not be possible to formulate feasible, acceptable, and suitable policies for immigration into the US across the southern border and how to best regulate and regularize it.

* Map found here.

** Map found here.








We Are at Cyber War! So What, Exactly Do We Do About It?

As more information is released about the hack on the DNC servers – and I don’t mean the dribbling out of emails with people’s personal identifying information (PII) at Wikileaks – it is becoming much, much clearer that the attacks were broader and deeper than originally estimated. As has been reported, the FBI is investigating the attack as an act of cyber espionage. Specifically, that the hack is a Russian Intelligence cyber operation and US government officials have begun to speculate that it was done to impact the upcoming Presidential election in a manner preferred by the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. This has also been suggested by Clinton campaign officials. CNN has reported this morning that the DNC was warned by US government officials of the weakness of their system during a time period when similar attacks were being made against the White House and other US government systems. Russia seems to be intensifying its attacks against US cyber systems similar to state sponsored active measures used to achieve political effects:

“The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign,” David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an opinion expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may just be an opening salvo.

It is important to note that despite the compelling, but circumstantial case that Josh Marshall has laid out at TPM, that Putin’s preference for a Trump Administration may be solely rooted in the simple fact that Trump has long espoused views about American involvement in the global system that overlap with Putin’s understanding of Russia’s interests and his strategy for achieving them. In 1987 Trump spent about a $100,000 to pay for ads in several major newspapers attacking the Reagan Administration for allowing our allies and partners – NATO and non-NATO – for taking advantage of us and not treating us fairly. You can see a copy of the ad below:

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Trump’s anti-NATO and anti other alliance position is not something that he just adopted last Fall or because one of his advisors with ties to Russia suggested it. Rather it is a very long standing position of his and I’m not sure anyone knows how he came by it. Given two candidates for President of the United States, one who has expressed a willingness to be somewhat more hawkish than the current President in US-Russian relations and the other who has, for at least 30 years, held the position that the US is being taken advantage of by its NATO allies, as well by its non-NATO allies  and partners, it would make sense that Putin would prefer the latter to the former as the next President of the United States. In the most basic terms: Trump has long held views that Putin shares, Putin is smart enough to know this, therefore Putin using his resources to independently try to assist Trump would make perfect sense. Given what we know of both men’s long standing preferences on US involvement with NATO and other alliances there is no need to go looking for dots to connect here on the affinity of one for the other on this issue.

What this leaves us with is a very important concern: what does the US do now to protect the integrity of its electoral system and election infrastructure. Dave Aitel, the CEO of Immunity Inc., in a very thought provoking guest editorial at Ars Technica, makes the argument that the Russian Intel hack on the DNC is very clearly an act of cyber war. And that it raises critical questions about the ability to safeguard the integrity of the upcoming election. Here’s an excerpt, but you should really click across and read the whole thing:

The US government has a decision to make here. If it does not come out strongly against this action by the Russian intelligence services now, then when will it? How is our election system not to be considered “critical infrastructure” that foreign governments are forbidden to interfere with, unless they wish to trigger a serious confrontation with the US? If hacking a presidential campaign and dumping its strategy on the Web is not interference and disruption of a critical institution, then what is? Should we wait until foreign operatives interfere with the primary process? Is the red line only to be drawn around hacking actual voting machines and changing the results?

Bottom line: the US must have an escalatory policy in place for this type of foreign interference. If we do not respond strongly to Russia’s actions in this election cycle, then we risk weakening our country’s deterrence and opening the door to future attacks, which may be even more disruptive to this country’s most fundamental democratic process—that of electing new leaders. Likewise, we should reach an agreement with other nations that we will not interfere with the nuts and bolts of their electoral processes, either. It’s either that, or we need to invest in robust cyber-protections for all presidential candidates at the federal level, stretching our already understaffed Secret Service.

People in the policy area often consider “cyberwar” actions limited to things that causes physical harm or casualties, or things that can replace a 500 pound bomb. But if you cannot manage your people, or protect the American economy, or elect a new President, you have lost a war.

Aitel’s editorial raises the important question: what do we do about this? We know that our electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hacking. Given that we decentralize our elections to the state and local level, we have 50 states and 3,144 counties that use different electoral systems, processes, and machines. This makes US elections highly vulnerable because there isn’t just one system that needs patching or one process that needs to be reviewed in regard to its security protocols be they cyber, personnel, or material. Florida and Utah have already seen cyber attacks on elections, elections processes/systems, or governmental processes/systems in those states.

One of the real concerns going forward, apart from embarrassing email chains with PII being posted on Wikileaks, is not just that Russian Intelligence can get in and look around and take information out of these systems in the US, but what happens if they decide to mess with what’s there? Voter registration information, voter donation information, electoral results, and more are all stored electronically. The next attack may not be interested in embarrassing staffers and causing a few days of reporting about what they wrote. Rather it might seek to remove voters from the rolls or change the reported results of an election in specific locations before they can be reported. And since our system is decentralized, securing all of it is going to be difficult and expensive.

I’m not a cyber expert. I have taught a course on cyber crime and cyber terrorism and supervised graduate research on these issues, but the technical side of this is not my bailiwick. That said the US, as Aitel identifies, has to respond. And here we are back to where I’m familiar: ends, ways, and means. The end state – the objective to be achieved – is deterrence against these attacks. This deterrence must take two different forms. The first is to get the best possible safeguards in place to protect the numerous and varied systems and processes in place at the Federal, state, and county level in the US. The second is to respond to Russia’s cyber attack in such a way that they get the point that they’ve gone to far and any future attempts will be dealt with quickly and harshly, but without causing an escalation of the cyber warfare or, even worse, moving the skirmish from the cyber domain into the actual Land, Sea, and Air domains. Again, I have no idea how this should be done, let alone what is even possible, but the objective has to fall within these two reinforcing dimensions of defensive and offensive deterrence. Ways and means are a bit tougher to estimate as so much of what is done in this arena is just not known even to the vast majority of people with clearances. We all joke about the NSA being unwilling to send us backups of our hard drives and/or complain that they’re probably listening to our calls, but this is what we have the NSA for! And several other agencies and departments of the US government and counterparts at the state level. The subject matter experts and technical specialists in these departments and agencies must be tasked to develop the ways and means to achieve these ends. Even if its just randomly turning the lights on and off wherever Putin is trying to sleep at any given time or making the meow mix theme song play on a repeating loop every time he turns on the TV, radio, or his iPod until he gets the message that the US can reach out and touch him in the cyber domain as well whenever it wants to.

The other thing that has to happen is that the news media needs to stay on top of this as an important, ongoing event to be investigated and reported on within this year’s election. Americans need to be kept fully informed that for once the often used, but seldom accurate, assertion that someone is tampering with a US election is actually true this time. Americans have been primed for decades to worry about voter fraud and vote tampering because of partisan efforts to use the almost non-existent threat of voter fraud, and the news media’s obsession with scandal, for partisan ends. Staying on top of this story, a story that is about electoral manipulation for a foreign power’s advantage, is right in the news media’s sweet spot.

It was interesting to watch Chris Matthews last night make a parallel comparison to the actual Watergate break in. He explained to his panelists that that was a physical break in on the DNC and this was a virtual break in. When Michael Steele correctly indicated that Watergate was really about the corruption of the President/Presidency, Matthews responded that this is about the corruption of electing a President. A lot of journalists, both reporters and commentators, came up during Watergate and view the news media’s reporting as a clear sign of how to do proper journalism. Many who came up after Watergate do as well – almost too much given the chasing of every possible shiny object as a potential scandal to be reported on creating the next Woodward, Bernstein, and Hersch and giving us “gate” affixed to everything. This story seems to be developing legs and the longer the news media stays on it, the better it will actually be for Americans and the upcoming election. It will keep the pressure on to secure our electoral systems and processes. And it could, if handled correctly, lead to long needed reforms to better secure these systems in the future in order to ensure that every eligible voter that wants to vote and does so, has that vote accurately counted and faithfully restored.








Shooting in Munich: All Clear is Given

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Earlier today a single perpetrator went on a shooting spree at a shopping mall in Munich, Germany. The Munich Police have now issued an all clear, confirming a single shooter, and indicating that public transportation has resumed and the shelter in place order is lifted. A press conference is ongoing, so we’ll hopefully have more information soon. As of right now we know that there are 10 dead, including the shooter who committed suicide, and 21 wounded. The only current indication of who the shooter might be and what he wanted is from an eye witness who indicated that the shooter “yelled an anti-foreigner slur”. As always this is an ongoing situation and the information is likely to change over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Update at 8:20 PM EDT

Here’s the link to the Munich Police press conference.

Update at 8:25 PM EDT

The Guardian has reported, based on a translation of the Munich Police’s press conference, that the shooter was an 18 year old German of Iranian descent. His body was found at 8:30 PM local time. They have confirmed that he shot himself.

Update at 8:40 PM EDT

The Guardian is reporting that the Munich Police have indicated that the shooter had lived in Munich for a long time and had no criminal record. The investigation is ongoing and no motive has been reported yet.