@StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications

 

On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s  still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The State Department also released a statement Inspector General Confirms No Wrongdoing in Emergency Arms Sales to Counter Iran, The Secretary’s “Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed” and “Complied with the Requirements” of Law.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:

“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
[…]
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”

But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
It’s high time for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to go in and take a look at the State Department given the circumstances of the Linick firing, the abrupt resignations of the acting State OIG, as well as the dismissal of other IGs in multiple agencies. Starting with the State Department, CIGIE can then “address the integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies.”
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers

“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.

For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”

Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency?  So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Per footnote:

Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.

4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion

OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.

So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”

Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.
The unredacted document is posted here labeled in red “FOR INTERNAL U.S. GOVERNMENT/COMMITTEE USE ONLY – NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE MAY NOT BE FURTHER DISCLOSED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.  Wow! Now you can see which part of the public report, the State Department asserted the public should not see (it has to do with the timeline of the emergency declaration and the bureau involved. And oh, money, money, money).

@StateDept Re-Issues Level 2 Travel Advisory For Saudi Arabia Over Threat of Missile and Drone Attacks on Civilian Targets

 

On September 17, the State Department issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory (Exercised Increased Caution) for Saudi Arabia due to “terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.” It previously issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory on June 26, 2019 but the advisory was reissued “with updates to security information.”
Via travel.state.gov:

Exercise increased caution in Saudi Arabia due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.

Do not travel to:

Within 50 miles of the border with Yemen due to terrorism and armed conflict.

Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Saudi Arabia. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. Terrorists have targeted both Saudi and Western government interests, mosques and other religious sites (both Sunni and Shia), and places frequented by U.S. citizens and other Westerners.

Regional actors hostile to Saudi Arabia have conducted destructive and sometimes lethal attacks against a variety of targets including critical infrastructure, military facilities, airports, and energy facilities throughout the country, as well as vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes. Riyadh, Yanbu, areas in proximity to Jeddah, the civilian airport in Abha, military installations in the south, and specific oil and gas facilities are examples of recent targets. The Islamic Republic of Iran has supplied Yemen-based Houthis and other regional proxy groups with weapons, including drones, missiles, and rockets. Houthi militants continue to plan and conduct attacks against locations in Saudi Arabia. Violence associated with Iran-supported groups represents a significant threat. U.S. citizens living and working near military bases and critical civilian infrastructure, particularly in the Eastern Province and areas near the border with Yemen, are at heightened risk of missile and drone attack.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the following locations, as U.S. Mission personnel and their families are restricted from travel to:

    • Within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border, including the cities of Jizan and Najran, and
    • Qatif in the Eastern province and its suburbs, including Awamiyah.

U.S. Mission personnel and their families are not permitted to use the airport in Abha without Chief of Mission approval.

Due to risks to civil aviation operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman region, including Saudi Arabia, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued an advisory Notice to Airmen (NOTAM). For more information U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions and Notices.

Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.

If you decide to travel to Saudi Arabia:

    • Stay alert in locations frequented by Westerners.
    • Obtain comprehensive medical insurance that includes medical evacuation.
    • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
    • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
    • Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Saudi Arabia.
    • U.S. citizens who travel abroad should always have a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.

Yemen Border

Violence in Yemen has spilled over into Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions. Rebel forces in Yemen fire artillery at Saudi border towns and launch cross-border attacks against Saudi military personnel. Civilians who are near the border with Yemen are at risk.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the Saudi-Yemen border as U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from travel to this area.

Visit our website for information on travel to high-risk areas.

 

ALSO THIS:  Who’s going to do it, and what kind of props will he/she bring to the United Nations? The last time one of our guys did it, he brought a vial he said could contain anthrax as he presents evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons programs to the United Nations Security Council in 2003.

Related items:

 

Pompeo Accuses Iran in Saudi Aramco Attacks, His Boss Tweets, US “Locked and Loaded”

 

 

Miles With Mike: Child Soldiers, CENTCOM Visit, Silliness, Plus Some Word Salad With That Chardonnay

Help Fund the Blog | Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Billy Goat  with Washington piece of silliness

Some word salad to go with that Chardonnay:

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Netflix Caves In to Saudi Arabia, Removes ‘Patriot Act’ Episode on MBS and Yemen

U.S. Senate votes to end U.S. support for #SaudiWar in #Yemen, condemns #KhashoggiMurder

Reviews For Pompeo’s WSJ Op-Ed: “God-Awful”, “Risible”, “Mendacious”, “Bananas”, and More #PAPressClips

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

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Pompeo Talks Up Saudi “Investment” in Yemen, and USG’s “Additional” $131M Assistance #ExcludingArms

 

On November 28, the Secretary of State told the world that “Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relive suffering in Yemen.” Pretty soon,  Saudi Arabia’s spokesman would not have a job anymore.

The Guardian reported that in 2017, the Yemen appeal for $2.5bn was only 73% funded, but that the needs have intensified in a country battered since 2015 by a Saudi-led military offensive aimed at repelling Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. In April this year, during a UN donor conference for people affected by war in Yemen – labelled as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” – has received pledges of more than $2bn, close to half of which is promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key protagonists in the conflict, according to the same report. Click here for the OCHA page for pledges and paid contributions for Yemen.

On October 24, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller re-issued a disaster declaration for the ongoing complex emergency in Yemen for FY 2018 due to “continued humanitarian needs resulting from the complex emergency and the impact of the country’s political and economic crises on vulnerable populations.”  USAID’s November 9, 2018 Factsheet on Yemen Disaster Assistance indicates that the United States humanitarian funding for the Yemen response in FY2018 is $566,273,269 (includes funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM)).  Secretary Pompeo’s tweet on November 28 says that the United States is providing an “additional” $131 million in food assistance to Yemen.

According to the CRS, since March 2015, the U.S.-trained Saudi military has used U.S.-origin weaponry, U.S. logistical assistance, and shared intelligence in support of military operations in Yemen. Excerpt:

In May 2017, President Trump signaled a continuation and deepening of bilateral defense cooperation, announcing completed and proposed defense sales during his visit to Riyadh with a potential value of more than $110 billion. The sales include cases that the Obama Administration had proposed and notified to Congress, cases developed under the Obama Administration on which Congress had been preliminarily consulted, and new sales that remain under development.
[…]
The United States’ role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen has evolved over time. 65 At present, it consists of some intelligence sharing, aerial refueling, and the deployment of advisers to Saudi Arabia for border security and anti-ballistic missile purposes.66 In his latest biannual War Powers letters to Congress on the deployment of U.S. forces abroad in combat operations (P.L. 93-148), President Trump informed Congress about ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen and stated that U.S. forces in noncombat roles were providing “military advice and limited information, logistics, and other support to regional forces combatting the Houthi insurgency.”

So, on one hand, we’re supporting the side that’s indiscriminately bombing hospitals, school buses and children, and on the other hand, we’re spending millions of dollars for food and humanitarian assistance to help those who are bombed and starved.  Also, our Secretary of Swagger did not just announced the additional millions in food assistance but also cited “our generous example” in “galvanizing humanitarian assistance.” When is this going up on Instagram, people?

By the way, the most recent USAID/OFDA official said “no amount of aid money can prevent this famine” and that absent massive political pressure on the Saudi, this is just “window dressing.” 

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | Updated September 21, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

ALSO THIS:

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Trump on Standing With Saudi Arabia Over #KhashoggiMurder

 

 

AND NOW THIS:

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Retired Army General John P. Abizaid to be U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

 

On November 13, the White House announced the president’s intent to nominate retired U.S. Army four-star General John P. Abizaid to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The WH released the following brief bio:

John P. Abizaid of Nevada, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
General Abizaid currently serves as the first Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and works as a private consultant at JPA Associates. Previously, he held the Distinguished Chair of the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He has worked with the Preventative Defense Project at Stanford University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  General Abizaid began his career in the U.S. Army as an infantry platoon leader and rose to become a four-star general and the longest serving commander of United States Central Command.  He served as the Director of Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff and then Director of the Joint Staff among other leadership positions.  General Abizaid was a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and earned his M.A. in Middle Eastern Area Studies from Harvard University.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies.  General Abizaid is a recipient of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Bronze Star.

If confirmed, General Abizaid would succeed Joseph William Westphal (1948–) who was Ambassador to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh from March 28, 2014–January 9, 2017.  Ambassador appointments to Saudi Arabia going back to the mid-1990’s have all been noncareer political appointees. The last career diplomat appointed as Ambassador to Saudi Arabia was Charles W. Freeman Jr. who served from 1990-1992 under George H. W. Bush.

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