Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Iran Received $1.3B Balance Within Two Months of Initial $400M Cash Payment

    Less than two months after Iran received $400 million in foreign currency in January, the top state sponsor of terror in the world acquired another $1.3 billion in cash from the United States, based on statements of US government officials. A state department official confirmed to THE WEEKLY STANDARD via email that the payment occurred before March 17, and President Obama, while addressing the initial $400 million payment, acknowledged on August 4 that payments to Iran must be made in cash because "we don't have a banking relationships with Iran... We could not wire the money."
    Until last week, the Obama administration would not even confirm that the $1.3 billion balance had been paid. However, once the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the initial $400 million cash payment had coincided with the release of five American detainees by Iran, more details were revealed. But the State Department continued to decline to provide the "tick-tock" on the payment schedule.
    As it turns out, the State Department had already revealed back on March 17 that the $1.3 billion payment had been made at that time. On February 4, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding a detailed explanation of the entire $1.7 billion agreement including the timing of payments.
     On March 17, Julia Frifield, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, replied to Royce's letter (a month after Royce's requested deadline.) Frifield wrote, "Iran received the balance of $400 million in the Trust Fund as well as roughly $1.3 billion representing a compromise on the interest.”
    Monday, a state department official responded to THE WEEKLY STANDARD via email, saying "I can confirm that the payment was made before Assistant Secretary Frifield’s letter on March 17, 2016, in which she said the payment had been made."
    Though the official would not confirm the "mechanics" of the payment, the August 4 statement of President Obama leaves no other alternative than that the $1.3 billion was also paid in cash.
    Assistant Julia Frifield also wrote in her March 17 latter that “[t]he payment for the compromise that was reached on interest, of approximately $1.3 billion, has been provided out of the Judgment Fund.” A search of the Treasury Department's Judgment Fund website, however, lists no such payment. The Treasury Department had not yet responded to a request for an explanation of the missing information.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hillary Supporter Calls Her 'The Devil We Know'

    Under the category "with friends like these", Jack Moss, founder of the Black Hat and DefCon hacking conferences, called Hillary Clinton "the devil we know" while headlining a Las Vegas fundraiser for the Democratic candidate for president Wednesday night. Moss's comments echoed remarks Donald Trump made earlier this week when he used the expression "deal with the devil" in connection with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
    Jack Moss's comments came in an interview with NPR where he gave his take on the Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump matchup:
If Hillary is sort of almost status quo and the devil we know versus complete crazy unknown, I'm not will to risk the country on complete crazy unknown.
    THE WEEKLY STANDARD reported the "cybersecurity fundraiser" on Monday. Though the Clinton campaign said this was not an "official" campaign event, tickets could be purchased through the campaign website.

    Donald Trump drew widespread attention earlier this week when he suggested Bernie Sanders "made a deal with the devil" when Sanders threw his support to Hillary Clinton. "He made a deal with the devil. She's the devil," Trump said.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard on August 4, 2016.

2015 Flashback: State Claimed No 'Big Suitcase Full of Cash' in Iran Deal

    The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the transfer of $400 million in cash for Iran in January coincided with not only the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, but with the release of American detainees as well. The cash came not from sanctions relief, but from the settlement of a decades-old dispute over cancelled arms shipments in the 1970s. The Journal says the money was delivered via cargo plane:
Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.
    Although the administration announced the settlement at the time, including the amount of $400 million, the timing and details of the delivery were not publicly revealed until now. In fact, the administration downplayed the immediate benefits that Iran would enjoy. When the state department was pushing for the Iran deal in September 2015, a state official pooh-poohed the idea that Iran would get a "big suitcase full of cash":
[T]here’s a common misperception that on implementation day a big suitcase full of cash shows up in Tehran and all of a sudden they have all this money, which I think is really – does a disservice to what actually is going to happen.
    Just days before the deal was implemented, state department spokesman John Kirby remarked that "nobody is handing [Iran] some sort of windfall of cash", though he was specifically addressing sanctions relief and not the arms dispute settlement. Administration officials on a conference call on January 17 also skirted the issue of the cash delivery when describing the timing of the Iran deal, the dispute settlement, and the Americans' release.
    Some Republican lawmakers, including Senator John McCain, are accusing the Obama administration of trading hostages for cash.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard on August 3, 2016.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Military Won't Reveal Scope of Coalition Ground War Against ISIS

    Since August 2014, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported on what quickly became daily coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and later in Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The number of strikes each day has ranged from just a few to as many as several dozen. However, the daily press releases also include the following statement: "Ground-based artillery fired in counter-fire or in fire support to maneuver roles are not classified as a strike as defined by CJTF-OIR."
    While CENTCOM gives detailed reports on the number of airstrikes, intended targets (fighting positions, IEDs, warehouses, mortar positions, erc.), and the apparent success or failure of strikes, CENTCOM does not provide details on strikes involving ground-based artillery.
    When questioned about the frequency of such actions and the conditions under which they take place, a CENTCOM press official replied that CENTCOM does not provide such information because the "use of ground-based artillery for counter-fire and support to maneuver forces reflects the conditions on the battlefield" and too much "detail could potentially provide useful information to the enemy."
    To give an idea of the ground-based activity, however, the CENTCOM official did say that in the thirty days preceding June 13, "[c]oalition artillery has fired four times into the city of Fallujah in support of Iraqi Security Forces operations." During the same time, CENTCOM reported no fewer than eighty-one air strikes in and around Fallujah. The Iraqi armed forces launched an effort to retake Fallujah from ISIL on May 23 backed by coalition strikes.
    CENTCOM did not indicate where the ground-based artillery taking part in the Fallujah operation is located, but in March, the Military Times reported that "U.S. troops in Jordan launched a GPS-guided rocket artillery attack into Syria" using a "truck-mounted, guided-missile system with a range of up to 185 miles." The long range of such ground-based system gives the Obama administration room to continue to assert that the fight against ISIL does not include "boots on the ground" even though coalition forces are clearly part of the ground war targeting the Islamic State.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Email to Hillary Clinton: 'Be a good person like you almost are...'

    After Hillary Clinton ended her time as Secretary of State but before she launched her presidential campaign, Clinton set up a website (hillaryclintonoffice.com) to maintain an internet presence. The site was never fully developed and contained a few links, some contact information, and a few speeches.
    More recently, however, the site has been expanded and now includes a section reprinting emails from supporters. One such email contains what appears to be a somewhat backhanded encouragement to the Democratic frontrunner:
    Well, at least her loves her anyway.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

State Department Press Release on Missing Robert Levinson Contains Typo in 'Tips' Email Address [UPDATED]

    This morning, John Kerry and the State Department commemorated the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of Robert Levinson in Iran with a press release reminding Iran that it has "committed to cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Mr. Levinson" and calling for information about his whereabouts.
     Secretary Kerry says in the press release that "I want to underscore our commitment to locate Bob and bring him home."
     However, the email address provided in the press release (archived here) contains an extra period after "gov" that prevents possible tipsters from being able to directly respond when clicking on the link:

     Two hours after the press release was posted on Twitter and also emailed to reporters, the error had not been corrected.

UPDATE: At 12:38 PM, the State Department responded to a request for comment with: "Thank you for flagging this inadvertent error. We've alerted our colleagues who manage the website, and we'll make the correction. Our thanks again, and our best wishes."

UPDATE 2: State's first attempt to fix was unsuccessful. Removed wrong period.

UPDATE 3: After another email, State has the correct email address link now.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Trump's New Clothes

    In the classic tale The Emperor's New Clothes, a little boy ends up being the only one to point out the emperor's embarrassing lack of attire. Presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the other hand, has virtually been shouting for months, "I'm buck naked, you fools!", and yet the crowd (at least 30-40% of poll respondents, anyway) continues to envision a beautiful Republican Presidential Robe of the Future. Could any serious candidate really say "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?" and it actually be true?
    I've been arguing for months on Twitter that Trump doesn't want to win the Republican nomination, much less be president. Nothing else can account for the deliberately outrageous, self-destructive behavior he regularly engages in on the "campaign trail", a euphemism in Trump's mind for an extended screen test/contract negotiation. Trump is never happier than when he's on camera being Trump, and what better place to do that than on his own show?
    The Apprentice was a triumph for Trump, earning him a reported $213 million dollars over fourteen seasons (granted, Trump is the source of that figure.) Trump will turn seventy in June. Another TV show could carry him well into his eighties and secure the legendary status he desires (after all, what's left after being inducted into the WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, Hall of Fame?)
    Who needs four (or eight) years of constant headaches, having someone else dictate your schedule and itinerary twenty-four hours a day? His tweeted reaction to his Iowa loss ("Ted Cruz didn't win Iowa, he stole it. That is why all of the polls were so wrong and why he got far more votes than anticipated. Bad!") is his last ditch effort to sabotage his chances in New Hampshire and grease the skids for a graceful (?) exit from the race and back to the studio.
    The only thing Donald Trump wants less than being elected president of the United States would be the humiliation of being selected as vice president. Trump is a political Peter Pan - he loves being a candidate, but growing up into the adulthood of office-holder would be the equivalent of the-boy-who-wouldn't-grow-up wearing a business suit or punching a clock every day. This is not to say Trump is not disciplined. He's had his share of success and failure and has so far has ended up back on his feet. Sheer force of personality has taken him far. But president? Not even Trump himself wants to go that far.
    But a lucrative, long-term TV contract to showcase his larger-than-life ego and personality? Now you're talking. When the right one comes along, Trump wants nothing better than to call together his senior campaign staff, point his finger at them, and yell, "You're fired!"