Archive for May, 2010

Here is another article someone sent me recently about James R. Clapper.  From what I’ve learned, it appears that Clapper’s own history and ties to defense contractors bear careful examination.  I urge President Obama to seek advice from sources not a part of the good old boy and girl network, preferably those not compromised themselves in corporate influencing of government oversight agencies.  GFS


Dirty Linen Gets Intel Chief Fired

By Ray McGovern

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of how 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab soiled his underpants with a makeshift bomb over Detroit last Christmas hung out so much dirty linen on the crowded clothes line of the U.S. intelligence community that it was an easy call to get rid of Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair.

The Senate committee’s findings released on Tuesday showed the community in all-too-familiar disarray — adrift with no helmsman strong, savvy and courageous enough to bang heads together to get the far-flung intelligence bureaucracies to cooperate. The report is a damning catalogue of misfeasance and mistakes.

Yet, given recent precedent, with the intelligence community screwing up so clearly and regularly with no accountability, the Christmas Day fiasco and other recent misadventures might not have been enough to send Blair packing. 

Rather, the underpants-bomber fiasco should be seen as the proximate cause of Blair’s abrupt departure — which came without so much as the de rigueur thank-you to President Obama for “the privilege of serving.” Truth be told, the White House and the CIA have been out to get Blair for many months. 

An incompetent manager? Seems so. But Blair also demonstrated a strain of integrity. And that can often be the kiss of death in Official Washington.  

On substantive issues, like Iran’s nuclear program, Blair did not show the malleability that is desired by those who are out to zap Iran; I believe it likely that these get-Iran hawks helped to zap Blair.

Denied His Own Staff 

Last year, the hawks also had their feathers ruffled by Blair’s choice of independent-minded former Ambassador Chas Freeman to be chair of the National Intelligence Council, without clearing this first with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. The NIC has purview over the preparation of National Intelligence Estimates and the President’ Daily Brief — the two premier intelligence publications.

Blair’s choice of Freeman raised the ire of Washington’s still-influential neoconservatives and their allies in the Obama administration because he was regarded as a “realist” on the Middle East, rather than someone who would side reflexively with Israel.

When rumors began to circulate about Freeman’s appointment, the neocons unleashed a media barrage, denouncing his criticism of Israel and his associations with the Saudi and Chinese governments. One influential column, entitled “Obama’s Intelligence Blunder,” was published Feb. 28 on the Washington Post’s neocon-dominated op-ed page, written by Jon Chait of The New Republic, another important neocon journal.

Still, on the morning of March 10, 2009, Blair described the high value that Freeman “will” bring to the job — “his long experience and inventive mind,” for example.

Enter Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut who simply could not abide someone in that post with open respect for the rights and interests of both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. By five o’clock that afternoon, Freeman was told by Blair to announce that he (Freeman) had asked that his selection “not proceed.”

To his credit, Freeman went down swinging. He made it clear that he was withdrawing his “previous acceptance” of Blair’s invitation to chair the NIC because of the character assassination of him orchestrated by the Israel Lobby.

Freeman added: “The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views … and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those it [the Lobby] favors.”

Foreign policy analyst Chris Nelson described the imbroglio as a reflection of the “deadly power game regarding what level of support for controversial Israeli government policies is a ‘requirement’ for U.S. public office.”

Schumer led Lobby boasting. “His [Freeman’s] statements against Israel were way over the top,” Schumer said. “I repeatedly urged the White House to reject him, and I am glad they did the right thing.”

Though the Freeman flap soon faded away, Blair had suffered a political hit and had made some powerful enemies.

I recall the “morning after,” as I found myself wondering when White House chief of staff Emanuel – who reportedly was Schumer’s go-to guy on the get-Freeman campaign – saw fit to let Admiral Blair in on the little secret that no way could he have Freeman.

And I wondered why Blair tucked tail, rather than quit in protest of having his choice for the nation’s senior intelligence analyst blackballed. It is, after all, a position that is supposed to be about objectivity, giving the President unvarnished information, not ideologically favored spin.

A Messy Structure 

It seems clear now that Admiral Blair was doomed to failure from the start, as was the bureaucratic superstructure built around the Director of National Intelligence as a key reform that followed the twin intelligence failures on 9/11 and Iraq’s WMD.

The DNI was given the supremely difficult task of ruling over the intelligence community, a responsibility previous invested in the Director of Central Intelligence. The job was hard enough, but Blair was hampered further because he lacked the strong personal support of President Obama.

I served under nine directors of central intelligence — several of them at close remove. Admiral Stansfield Turner, who was picked by his Naval Academy classmate Jimmy Carter, was the only one who really grasped the reins of the entire intelligence community and made it cohere.

A few years ago, as Adm. Turner and I sat together waiting to go into a TV studio, I had a chance to ask him how he was able to do that. To the best of my recollection, this is what he told me:

“I was in command of the Sixth Fleet cruising in the Med when I was tipped off that I was about to get a call from the president-elect. There had been earlier signs that Carter was going to ask me to be his Director of Central Intelligence.

“Now, Ray, when you know you’re going to be made that kind of offer — one you can’t really refuse — that’s precisely the time when you need to think long and hard about how you might use what little bargaining power you may have at that point, in order to improve your chances for success in the new job. I had about ten minutes. Then the call came.

“Mr. President-elect, I said, as a former naval officer you will be able to appreciate this conundrum I see. The job is twofold. I would have no trouble running the CIA — I can run the Sixth Fleet; I can run the CIA.

“What gives me pause is the equally important — maybe more important — job of running the entire intelligence community. As a military man I am very reluctant to accept responsibility for something over which I have only tenuous authority.

“And my experience with the intelligence community suggests that the fiefdoms that comprise it will not work together effectively, no matter what I say or do, UNLESS you make it clear that I have the authority derived from the President, commensurate with my responsibility in leading the entire community. If you can make that clear, I will accept the nomination with gusto.”

Carter said he would take care of it and shortly thereafter came a directive from the President-elect to heads of the main national security and intelligence agencies and staffs. In it Carter announced he had selected Turner to be his DCI, that ALL addressees would cooperate fully with him as he harnesses the intelligence community behind the new administration’s main objectives, and that he had instructed Turner to let him know immediately, should there be any sign that he was not getting the full and unfettered cooperation he would need as the chief intelligence adviser to the President. That did it, Turner told me.

Turner was too modest to add what I had already learned as a lesson about his tenure, that an effective director of the intelligence community needs the courage to put noses out of joint. He should NOT adopt the “team player” mode that so many intelligence directors since Turner have succumbed to.

If Turner was not getting full cooperation from, say, the FBI, he would simply go down to the White House and let President Carter and/or his advisers know. The attorney general and/or the FBI director would promptly receive the necessary remedial instructions.

Consummate “Team Player” 

Two decades later, “team player” George Tenet (the team being George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld) stood this on its head. Nary a nose did timid, incurious George put out of joint.

But Tenet, who had mastered the skills of serving his “principal” as a staff aide to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren, was so well-liked in Washington that even the 9/11 Commission was reluctant to offer pointed criticism of his gross misfeasance in his community role.

(At one hearing, commissioner Jamie Gorelick fawned over Tenet, noting with admiring wonderment what she said especially distinguished him; namely, that everyone in the Establishment simply called him “George,” and all automatically knew to whom they were referring. Amazing!)

Instead of affixing blame for 9/11, co-chair Lee Hamilton, Gorelick and others kept wringing their hands, complaining, “no one was in charge of the intelligence community.” True enough, but that was by no means solely due to the structural anomaly that gave the DCI responsibility for managing both the agency and the entire intelligence community.

It had much more to do with Tenet’s reluctance to give the needed time and attention to the rest of the community and make it work together.  George preferred to direct his gaze upward, showing the bureaucratic skills he had learned as a Capitol Hill aide, ingratiating himself with the powerful and never putting them—or himself—in an uncomfortable situation.
You don’t insinuate yourself into top jobs in Washington, or get to stay in them, by knocking important noses out of joint, no matter how badly such disfigurement is needed. No one ever needed plastic surgery after an encounter with George Tenet.

On July 22, 2004, the day the 9/11 report was released, I had been asked to comment on it immediately at the BBC’s studio in Washington. After expressing amazement at the report’s bizarre bottom line, that the calamity seemed to be no one’s fault, I emerged from the studio and promptly bumped into two commissioners, Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton. They had been waiting on deck in the outer room.

Gorelick went in first; I thought to myself, now’s your chance, McGovern. I approached Gorton and said that I was bothered by the report’s mantra that no one is in charge of the intelligence community and the commission’s misguided notion that a new DNI superstructure should be placed atop it. 

I said that I was sure he was aware that, by statute, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet is supposed to be in charge of the community and to ensure that all agencies coordinate and cooperate. Gorton put his arm around me, as senior ex-senators are wont to do, and in an avuncular voice (as if explaining something pretty basic to a freshman), said: “Yes, of course I know that, Ray. But Tenet would not do it.” 

My follow-up question was to be: So you all are advocating an entirely new superstructure just because George Tenet “would not do it?” Unfortunately, the door opened, Gorelick walked out and Gorton escaped into the studio.

The year 2004 was an election year and, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the commission report, members of Congress wished to be seen as doing something — anything. So, they moved to enact many of the 9/11 Commission’s “reforms.”

By then, the CIA and the just-resigned Tenet had been completely discredited, not only for failures prior to 9/11 but also for the unconscionable cooking of intelligence to justify war on Iraq.

Yet, instead of focusing on individual responsibility for 9/11 and the politicization of the CIA’s analytical division – what might be called cultural failures – Congress found it easier to diagram a new bureaucracy.

Protests from intelligence professionals were seen as self-serving. So, we got a new Director of National Intelligence ostensibly to preside over the whole enchilada, but WITHOUT the kind of authority and support Carter gave Turner.

Admirals and Admirals 

If recent years have proved anything, it is this: there are admirals; and then there are admirals. 

Admirals in the mold of Stansfield Turner — like William (Fox) Fallon and Joint Chiefs’ Chairman Mike Mullen – are one thing. They represent the tough independence that the Navy often requires of its senior officers.

Near the end of the Bush administration, Fallon and Mullen deserved most of the credit for facing down Vice President Dick Cheney and persuading President Bush that war with Iran would not be a good idea and that Israel needed to be told exactly that — in no uncertain terms. That was just three years ago; war was pretty close.

Then there are the admirals who know how to salute and avoid confrontations, the likes of Mike McConnell, who was snatched away from his sinecure as a Booz-Allen & Hamilton marketeer to become the second director of national intelligence, apparently because he was judged to be incapable of doing much harm. 

What McConnell lacked in managerial knowhow, well, let me put it this way; he in no way made up for that lack by his substantive acumen. Three poignant illustrative vignettes involving the hapless McConnell come to mind.

(1) Testifying before the Senate, McConnell was asked to venture a guess as to why Israel might put forward a more alarming view of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon than that of the U.S. intelligence community. He was at a loss for an answer.

(2) At times McConnell would display his naïveté by saying too much. The subject of torture came up in an interview McConnell gave Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker magazine. McConnell innocently told Wright that, for him:

“Waterboarding would be excruciating. If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.”

Later, McConnell let slip the rationale for the Bush administration’s refusal to admit that waterboarding is torture. For anyone paying attention, that rationale had long been a no-brainer. But here is McConnell inadvertently articulating it:

“If it is ever determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it.”

(3) More damning was “Malleable Mike” McConnell’s attempts to finesse the key judgments of the bombshell NIE of November 2007, which directly contradicted what Bush and Cheney had been saying about the imminence of a nuclear threat from Iran.

Facing withering criticism from the likes of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and the irrepressible former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, McConnell backpedaled.

In testimony to the Senate on Feb. 5, 2008, he confessed to careless wording in the NIE due to time constraints, and even indicated he “probably would have changed a thing or two.”

Whereas the NIE started out with a straightforward, “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program,” McConnell indicated he would now prefer to say, for example, that “maybe even the least significant portion [of the Iranian nuclear program; i. e., the warhead] was halted and there are other parts that continue.”

A Mixed Bag 

McConnell’s successor Blair was in no way a strong manager as DNI. And with an increasingly bloated staff tripping over one another, there was little hope that Blair was up to the job of taking hold of the intelligence community. 

Nor was there any sign that he ever thought to ask President Obama for the necessary endorsement and support. Besides, Blair seems to have been an innocent to the ways of Washington.

Anyone could have told him there would be no percentage in locking horns with CIA Director Leon Panetta with the latter’s longstanding political connections in this town and a CIA staff that has proven past master at political infighting.

Worse still, Blair let himself be used in a way no U.S. intelligence official should permit. Those in the Obama administration who think it’s a good idea to put U.S. citizens on the CIA assassination list needed to send up a trial balloon to see if Congress and the media would look the other way.

And so, in February, the White House inflated the balloon for Blair to float at a congressional hearing. He contended that there were certain counterterrorism cases that could involve killing an American citizen. There were very few objections from Official Washington.

Administration officials have since cited secret evidence showing that the Yemen-based Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki’s connections to al-Qaeda have gone “operational,” thus making him a target for killing even though he is a native-born American citizen. The Bill of Rights be damned. 

I would wager Blair regrets letting himself be used like that. I have independent confirmation that during the Sixties at the Naval Academy the curriculum included a block of instruction on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

A Saving Grace 

There is one substantive matter of considerable significance, on which Blair did muster the courage to stand up. He withstood intense pressure from those wishing to exaggerate the danger that Iran could have a nuclear weapon soon.

There is no sign that whoever succeeds him will have the courage, professionalism, or gravitas needed to face down those in Congress and the administration determined to exaggerate that threat, to the point where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be emboldened to launch a “pre-emptive” attack (the term now in vogue for what the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal called a “war of aggression”).

In testimony before Congress early this year, Blair virtually wore out the subjunctive mood in addressing Iran’s possible plans for a nuclear weapon. His paragraphs were replete with dependent clauses, virtually all of them beginning with “if.”

Blair repeated verbatim the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate judgment that Iran is “keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons,” while also repeating the intelligence community’s agnosticism on the $64 question: “We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.”

Addressing the uranium enrichment plant at Qom, Blair said its small size and location under a mountain “fit nicely with a strategy of keeping the option open to build a nuclear weapon at some future date, if Tehran ever decides to do that.”

Such “advancements lead us to affirm our judgment from the 2007 NIE that Iran is technically capable of producing enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so.”

Notably absent from Blair’s testimony was the first “high confidence” judgment of the 2007 NIE that “in fall 2003 Iran halted its nuclear weapons program,” and the “moderate confidence” assessment that Iran had not restarted it.

That was the most controversial judgment in 2007. But Blair did not disavow it. Nor did he weasel on it, as McConnell did. He simply didn’t mention it — probably in an attempt to let that sleeping dog lie.  But now that dog is waking up.

Possible Revisions 

A “Memorandum to Holders” is intelligence jargon for updating a definitive estimate, like the one from November 2007, with any necessary changes. As has been the custom in recent years, one regarding the Iranian nuclear program has been delayed and delayed again. The Washington Post says it is now due in August.

There is no minimizing the importance of this update. It needs to be as honest as the earlier NIE, though that will take courage and clout. 

In this sense, I regret Blair’s departure. For those now in charge are relative non-entities with, truth be told, sparse experience in intelligence work and little gravitas. It is doubtful they will be able to stand up against the mounting pressures to paint Iran in the most alarmist colors.

The task is complicated by the recent tripartite Iran-Turkey-Brazil deal. With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her neocon friends and supporters already trashing this viable initiative, it will take courage to point out clearly to the President the relative merits of allowing Iran to transfer half of its low enriched uranium to Turkey and then onward for further processing. 

Except for the political pressures, not much courage should be needed.  By any objective measure, the relative merits should be pretty obvious, IF one is willing to recognize Israeli demands for what they are, as Turkey and Brazil made bold to do. (Where is Chas Freeman when we need him?)

Nominating a Successor

According to press reports, the leading candidate to succeed Dennis Blair is retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, whose record does not inspire confidence. Clapper has a well-deserved reputation for telling consumers of intelligence what they want to hear. 

He now serves as undersecretary of intelligence at the Defense Department, working for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was the chief bureaucrat responsible for politicizing U.S. intelligence in the 1980s as an apparatchik for CIA Director William Casey.

Some of my colleagues in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity have the book on Clapper, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1995. There, according to Larry Johnson, Clapper earned the reputation of “worst-ever DIA director.”

Among other things, he restructured DIA’s analytical corps, removing an analysis capability that would have been an invaluable asset in the period before 9/11 and succeeding years. As a direct result, hundreds of the most experienced analysts took early retirement, and DIA has had to play catch-up ever since to reconstruct its analytic capability.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Pat Lang, who held some of the most senior positions at DIA, told me Friday, “Clapper is a man who is just a walking mass of ambition.”

What I find most damaging, though, is the fact that Clapper was head of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from 2001 to 2006. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chose well, for his purposes. 

It is abundantly clear that Clapper smothered any imagery analyst who had the temerity to suggest that, since there was not a trace of WMD in the various kinds of available imagery of Iraq, there might not be any WMD.

Clapper, rather, was one to salute smartly. He subscribed enthusiastically to the Rumsfeld dictum: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Quick, someone tell Barack Obama about Clapper before the President is led once again down the garden path.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990, serving under seven presidents and nine CIA directors.  He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).


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Here is some information on James R. Clapper.  I asked for people to send me information about Clapper, even before it was announced he was being considered for this position.   I received two such documents recently and am posting them here for all to consider.  Clapper, I am told is a very close personal contact to Kathleen M. Watson, Director of the troubled federal oversight agency, Defense Security Service (DSS).  I understand that due to the many problems and failures of mission, DSS was nearly disbanded a year or so ago, but due primarily to Clapper championing the ailing agency, was allowed to limp onward.  GFS

AP sources: Clapper leading choice for intel job

 By Kimberly Dozier And Julie Pace, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON — The White House’s leading candidate to replace Dennis Blair as national intelligence director is James R. Clapper, the Pentagon’s top intelligence official, current and former U.S. officials said Friday.

Two current officials said another candidate is Mike Vickers, the Pentagon’s assistant secretary for special operations. But a Defense Department official said Vickers has not been contacted for an interview. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because a replacement for Blair has not been announced.

Clapper currently is defense undersecretary for intelligence.

President Barack Obama was already talking to candidates for national intelligence director’s job before Blair resigned Thursday under pressure from the White House.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president had spoken with a number of well-qualified candidates so he could have people ready in case he decided to make a change with the intelligence post. Gibbs wouldn’t comment on what candidates the president has spoken with, but said an announcement will come soon.

Blair resigned after a tumultuous 16-month tenure that critics say underscored the disorganization inside the Obama administration’s intelligence apparatus. A spate of high-profile attempted terror attacks that revealed new national security lapses has rocked the White House over the past six months.

Gibbs was publicly supportive of Blair Friday, commending him for increasing the government’s focus on counterterrorism and radicalization, particularly in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. Still, he said the president believed it was time to make a change.

“There is probably no harder job in Washington, besides being president, than being director of national intelligence,” he said. “The president simply believed that it was time to transition to a different director.”

Blair is the third person to hold the director of national intelligence job, which is to oversee the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. The post was created in response to the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

But Blair’s tenure highlighted the flaws that still exist in coordinating intelligence. Following an attempted bombing aboard a plane on Christmas Day, a Senate Intelligence Committee found that the National Counterterrorism Center could have prevented the incident. As director of national intelligence, Blair oversaw the center.

Gibbs said the Intelligence Advisory Board, which advises the president on the effectiveness of the intelligence community, has made recommendations for possible changes to the structure of the director of national intelligence post.

Gibbs said Blair’s resignation will be effective next Friday. Deputy National Intelligence Director David Gompert will become acting director until a permanent replacement is named.

As the Pentagon’s new intelligence chief in 2007, Clapper recommended an end to the anti-terror database TALON that had been criticized for improperly storing information on peace activists and others whose actions posed no threat. Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved Clapper’s recommendation, the Pentagon said at the time.

From 2001 to 2006, Clapper was the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the agency that analyzes imagery taken from the skies to provide information on insurgencies, nuclear sites, terror camps and troop movements.

After the U.S. began the Iraq war, Clapper suggested to reporters in 2003 that Iraqi officials, perhaps working without the knowledge of Saddam Hussein, moved evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs outside the country before the war started.

Before the war, Clapper’s outfit was one of several intelligence agencies that endorsed conclusions that Iraq was working on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. His agency analyzed satellite photos.

“We certainly feel there were indications of WMD activity,” Clapper told reporters in October 2003.

Also on Clapper’s watch, the agency expanded its mission on some domestic matters. He said in 2006 the work the agency did after hurricanes Rita and Katrina was the best he had seen an intelligence agency do in his 42 years in the spy business.

Before working at the geospatial-intelligence agency, he was an executive at defense contracting firms such as Vredenburg; Booz Allen Hamilton; and SRA International.

He retired from the military in 1995 as a lieutenant general from the Air Force. His last military assignment was as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.


Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and Christine Simmons contributed to this report 

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A concerned citizen emailed me this a short time ago.  It appears that there are some who are trying to make things even less transparent.  The better to commit fraud, waste and abuse with I suspect.  I wonder if  James McNerney had anything to do with this?  This must be stopped.  GFS

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) seriously needs to coordinate with the Department of State and the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.  If 75 FR 15388, March 29 2010 Public Notice 6931 is allowed to stand, this amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) will further damage and weaken any effective protection of technologies critical to United States national security interests and all the good work that GAO is trying to do under their “High Risk List” program.
There have been many instances where industry has offered too much information and technology to foreign governments and corporations during the solicitation and negotiation phases of the international contracting process.  Once the information and technology have been offered by a U.S. corporation it is almost impossible for the government to then intervene and withdraw that offer.  This appears to be yet one more effort by the Defense Trade Advisory Group’s (DTAG) industrial community members, and the Chairman of the President’s Export Advisory Council (Jim McNerney) to further weaken the export compliance process.  )
U.S. Department of State, Directorate of Defense Trade Controls
Federal Register Notices    2010
75 FR 15388, March 29, 2010, Public Notice 6931.
Amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Removing Requirement for Prior Approval for Certain Proposals to Foreign Persons Relating to Significant Military Equipment
The Department of State is amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to remove the requirements for prior approval or prior notification for certain proposals to foreign persons relating to significant military equipment at section 126.8 of the ITAR.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 22 CFR Parts 124, 126, and 129, [Public Notice: 6931], RIN 1400–AC62, Amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Removing Requirement for Prior Approval for Certain Proposals to Foreign Persons Relating to Significant Military Equipment
AGENCY: Department of State.
ACTION: Proposed rule.
SUMMARY: The Department of State is amending the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to remove the requirements for prior approval or prior notification for certain proposals to foreign persons relating to significant military equipment at section 126.8 of the ITAR.
DATES: Effective Date: The Department of State will accept comments on this proposed rule until May 28, 2010.
ADDRESSES: Interested parties may submit comments within 60 days of the date of the publication by any of the following methods:
• with an appropriate subject line.
• Mail: Department of State, Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, Office of Defense Trade Controls Policy, ATTN: Regulatory Change, Section
126.8, SA–1, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20522–0112.
• Persons with access to the Internet may also view this notice by going to the U.S. Government
Web site at
Director Charles B. Shotwell, Office of Defense Trade Controls Policy, Department of State
Telephone (202)663–2803 or Fax (202) 261–8199; E-mail ATTN: Regulatory Change, Section 126.8.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Effective September 1, 1977, the Department of State amended the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) at 22 CFR 123.16, to require Department of State approval before a proposal or presentation is made that is designed to constitute the basis for a decision to purchase significant combat equipment, involving the export of an item on the U.S. Munitions List, valued at $7,000,000 or more for use by the armed forces of a foreign country (42 FR 41631, dated August 18, 1977). Also, 22 CFR 124.06, entitled ‘‘Approval of proposals for technical assistance and manufacturing license agreements,’’ was amended to require similar prior approval requirements with respect to proposals and presentations for technical assistance and manufacturing license agreements involving the production or assembly of significant combat equipment.  ‘‘Proposals to foreign persons relating to significant military equipment’’ became section 126.8 in a final rule effective January 1, 1985 (49 FR 47682, dated December 6, 1984). Section 126.8 did not require prior approval of the Department of State when the proposed sale was to the armed forces of a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Australia, Japan, or New Zealand, except with respect to manufacturing license agreements or technical assistance agreements.  A prior notification requirement, instead of prior approval, was added to section 126.8 in a final rule effective March 31, 1985 (50 FR 12787, dated April 1, 1985). Prior notification to the Department of State was required 30 days in advance of a proposal or presentation to any foreign person where such proposals or presentations concern equipment previously approved for export.  The current section 126.8 requires prior approval or prior notification for certain proposals and presentations to make a determination whether to purchase significant military equipment valued at $14,000,000 or more (other than a member of NATO, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, or South Korea), or whether to enter into a manufacturing license agreement or technical assistance agreement for the production or assembly of significant military equipment, regardless of dollar value.  These types of proposals and presentations usually involve large dollar amounts. Before the defense industry undertakes the effort involved in formulating its proposals and presentations, if there is any doubt that the corresponding license application or proposed agreement would not be authorized by the Department of State, the industry may request an advisory opinion (See 22 CFR 126.9). The written advisory opinion, though not binding on the Department, helps inform the defense industry whether the Department would likely grant a license application or proposed agreement.  Currently, the time between submitting a license application or proposed agreement and obtaining a decision from the Department of State whether to authorize such transactions has been decreased sufficiently that requiring prior approval or prior notification for proposals is unnecessary and imposes an administrative burden on industry.


What next?  I just posted a story about how Hollywood movies are being turned into gaming material for gambling with the Wall Street Crowd.   (See second half of Brasscheck Video under Goldman Sachs article posted 5-2-10)  Now it appears the shares process set up for fish catching in our oceans are turning in to the same thing, and at the same time delivering one more resource into the control of a greedy few.  Not what should be happening at all.  Read and grow angry.  Please write and demand action and change from our government on this and other areas of concern as often as you can.  Help shine light on this so it can’t just quietly happen in the shadows.  GFS


Collateralized Fish Obligations? Fishery Management And Catch Shares

Sunday 02 May 2010

by: Christine Shearer, t r u t h o u t | Report

A program promoted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Defense Fund aims to address overfishing, but will small fishermen get squeezed out of the process?

Multiple studies suggest our world’s oceans are being overfished. While alarming, such studies often eclipse successful examples of sustainable fishing practices, such as Oregon’s Port Orford Ocean Resource Team (POORT). This community-based organization focuses on both healthy fish stocks and the economic viability of the town, where operators of small fishing boats work alongside scientists and researchers to ensure sustainable fishing methods.

Rather than strengthen and expand efforts like Port Orford, however, fishermen say the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is strongly pushing a different program to address overfishing: the privatization of the seas through “catch shares.”

Proposed years ago by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), of which NOAA head Dr. Jane Lubchenco served as vice-chair, and supported by former President George W. Bush, catch shares is a management program in which fishermen or investors buy, sell, or trade shares of total fish catch limits, also known as individual tradable quotas (ITQ). The shares become a permit, issued for a fixed period, which is renewed if not revoked, limited, or modified. NOAA would like the program to be national, and is pushing for its implementation in New England fisheries starting May 1.

According to EDF’s website, the program is designed to spur fishermen to maximize the value of their share, rather than capture the most fish they can, a neoclassical conception of human nature known as the “tragedy of the commons”. And “as the fishery becomes more efficient, fewer boats and gear are needed and seasons lengthen.”

Fewer boats, however, does not necessarily mean less fish, but could mean more commercial consolidation and fewer fishermen and fishing communities. Indeed, critics fear that catch shares may permanently transform our national fish stocks into a tightly controlled financial trading scheme dominated by investors and industrial seafood producers. Ironically, since catch shares are often allocated based on historic catch levels, smaller, more sustainable fishers are initially eligible for fewer shares than large commercial fisheries.

Equally controversial is its advocate, EDF, an organization that has promoted using private investors to address environmental problems. Its board of trustees consists of directors and investors of private equity firms, capital management firms, and large financial institutions like Morgan Stanley that stand to profit from the transformation of natural resources into tradable market assets. According to journalist Richard Gaines, EDF’s Vice President David Festa has been urging institutional investors to buy shares of New England groundfish, touting a projected 400 percent return on investment based on experiences with catch shares in other fisheries.

Indeed, evaluation of existing ITQ fisheries suggest reason for smaller-scale fishermen to be concerned. According to a study by Ecotrust Canada, a group that promotes community-based eco-management, the conversion of British Columbia fisheries into ITQ markets has encouraged speculative buying and leasing of quotas by “armchair” fishermen and investors, driving up business costs for working fishermen.

In Alaska, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service found that, after implementation of catch shares, the number of persons holding halibut quota shares in small Gulf of Alaska communities dropped by 46% from 1995 to 2004. Most alarmingly, in Iceland quota shares became part of mixed-investment portfolios containing mortgage-based derivatives, which are now part of that country’s toxic assets. The program was so economically disastrous for small fishermen that the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared it illegal; the Icelandic government is considering altering the program, but must first buy back the now privatized catch shares from investors.

Many fishermen are therefore opposed to the push by NOAA to implement this program on a national level. Maine fisherwoman Mary Beth de Poutiloff questions who catch shares really benefit: “The small boat family fleet does less harm to the resources and the environment, and our money supports coastal communities. Why is NOAA favoring huge, corporate fleets while the small boats are practicing sustainable fishing?”

EDF senior scientist Rod Fujita, however, says that if fishermen are active in shaping catch shares regulations, the program can actually work to their benefit. “A lot of catch shares are built on the idea that those with the biggest catch history get the biggest shares, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a very strong argument to be made that the majority of catch shares should go to the best stewards of the environment, regardless of how much fish they catch, because some fishermen choose to remain small because of their values. And they should be rewarded for their stewardship behavior rather than punished, and catch shares can be built to accommodate that.”

Fishermen, however, say they have historically had little power in shaping fishery regulations. And many have had a rocky relationship with NOAA, which recently suffered further blows due to allegations of unjust fishing fines by the agency and the shredding of NOAA documents in the wake of an investigation into the fines, costing Dale Jones his job as NOAA director. Additionally not helping matters is that catch shares will siphon away $10.5 million from cooperative fishery research toward implementation of the $54 million NOAA program, including funding for fish monitoring and observer data that local fishermen say often excludes their input.

POORT Executive Director Leesa Cobb wonders why the funding is being so focused on only one management tool: “It seems disingenuous for NOAA to say that they understand catch shares is only one tool, and then NOAA in turn allocates $54 million to exclusively develop catch shares. NOAA is not offering this funding to help (fishery) councils decide how to best manage for sustainable fisheries, they are only providing this money for catch shares.”

More broadly, many fishermen are concerned that catch shares are vulnerable to the consolidation of quotas by large commercial fisheries and, potentially, financial speculators, squeezing out smaller fishermen that cannot afford to compete. The effect would be not only financial speculation and possible inflation of fish and fishing prices but also the further erosion of our country’s shrinking ties to generations of more ecologically-based ways of living, much like small-scale farmers crowded out by large agri-business.

Fisherwoman Rhonda Maker said that, based on her experience with catch shares in Alaska, once the program is implemented, “fishing jobs become scarcer, with little or no chance for new fishermen to advance beyond deckhand. Because the rights to the fish are consolidated outside of local communities, profits pass by rather than into local economies.”

Indeed, some congressional members are expressing alarm at NOAA’s rush to implement catch shares. At a March 2010 hearing on catch shares by the US House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) laid out his concerns with the program: “The last thing I want is Goldman Sachs buying up all the shares of a fishery in three years, and (having) derivatives of fishery shares being sold on Wall Street. I don’t think (NOAA management) has a clue.”

To prevent such market consolidation and financialization, community-based environmental organizations advocate that catch shares be modified or complemented with broader marine management “tool kits,” tailoring regulations to specific communities and fisheries to avoid monopolization and overfishing, and helping small, remaining fisheries survive and grow. Ecotrust proposes strengthening community fisheries, further integrating them as fishery co-managers and, where catch shares are implemented, having transparent quota share trading and direct allocation of some quota shares to community entities.

Taking a cue from the lessons of Iceland, Food and Water Watch also supports holding some quota off the market to allocate to vulnerable coastal communities, to avoid the buying up of quotas by industrialized seafood production at the expense of more sustainable and local seafood producers.

EDF’s Rod Fujita agrees that catch shares should be designed and implemented thoughtfully. “If that is a social value – you want to preserve the social value of the fishery and you don’t want outside investment – then you can set up catch shares to preserve those values.”

POORT Executive Director Leesa Cobb, however, says NOAA’s push for catch shares has eclipsed discussion of and support for other management tools. “Unfortunately, the catch share campaign has drowned out all other ideas and approaches to fisheries management. Another approach, community-based fisheries management, has gotten a lot less attention even though it offers a lot of benefits, particularly an enhanced level of stewardship for ocean resources among community participants.” 

Mary Beth de Poutiloff said that rather than manage the ocean as a trust, catch shares encourages it to be viewed as just another stock market. “This is water real estate.”  

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Link to original:


It’s been a long time in coming, but Goldman Sachs
has finally been called to answer questions about
the way it does business.

Unfortunately – and predictably – the Senate sub-committee
was unprepared and wasted an opportunity.

Facts of life:

* Goldman has a multi-decade history of fraud
going back to the 1920s

* Goldman was one of the ring leaders of the
DotCom IPO scam of the 1990s

* By being willing to package and re-sell total
garbage real estate loans, Goldman & other banks
massively inflated real estate prices, defrauded
investors all over the world, and brought the
world financial system to the brink (and we’re
not out of the woods yet.)

Criminals…and if they didn’t own the last three
White Houses, some of them would be in jail.
– Brasscheck

P.S. Please share Brasscheck TV e-mails and
videos with friends and colleagues.

That’s how we grow. Thanks.

Brasscheck TV
2380 California St.
San Francisco, CA 94115


A reader sent this today after  I posted a number of other things this morning.  This reader understands why I have been unrelentingly posting concerns about some of President Obama’s political appointments.  We have a real mess on our hands that is getting worse, by appointment.  GFS


What’s happenin’?

G. Florence-

Remember when the State Department posted export violation cases and export enforcement actions for recently closed investigations and cases?  I guess all that is no longer important.  The current Boeing Company controlled government administration doesn’t consider such information relevant.

It appears that 2007 is the last State Department posted information.

Could this be the following individuals hard at work for Boeing and the defense industry?

-Jim Jones, President’s National Security Advisor (former Boeing Director Audit and Finance Committees)

-Jim McNerney, Chairman, President’s Export Advisory Council (Boeing Company Chairman)

-Eric Holder, Attorney General (orchestrator of the Department of Justice Deferred Non-Prosecution Agreement with Boeing)

Concerned Citizen

The Center for Public Integrity posted an article (Nick Schwellenbach) in October of 2008, which  exemplifies the ongoing problems within DoD regarding failed policies and management that have contributed if not caused massive fraud waste and abuse to continue unabated in government contracting and in defense into the present. 

I have written previously about the elements that have contributed to this sorry state of affairs, including undermining of federal field personnel in a variety of ways including withholding necessary training and information, undermining of employees ability to do their oversight jobs by withholding funds for travel and other elements necessary to do their jobs, overloading employees with overwhelming case load assignments, and burying employees in nightmare statistical requirements, and reporting in duplicate and triplicate databases. 

Oversight employees also are selected by the problem management sometimes in strange and inappropriate ways.  Some are not well prepared to step in to the oversight roles they are hired to do.   Combining that with the apparent intent that management has of keeping them barefoot and pregnant, unable to do anything about what they may or may not recognize is wrong when they do go out on inspections and the lack of ongoing appropriate levels of technical training equals a giant trainweck.  Most of this all goes on beneath the public and media radar.  When an employee insists on trying to do the  job they were hired and often took an oath to do, they are targeted and every attempt is made to destroy their career and their lives. 

If someone were deliberately scheming and planning to bring oversight to a grinding halt, it could be no better orchestrated.  At the base of all of this is a multitude of compromised or corrupted managers, revolving door participants with screwed up loyalties, quid pro quo arrangements and what may be bribery in the way of the potential of a lucrative job after govenment service, with any one of  the many defense contractors supposedly overseen by our government employees and managers. 

Link to Center for Public Integrity Article:

Here is an article from 2008, Center for Public Integrity which discusses whether government agencies with responsibility for oversight have been able to do their jobs.  I will note that from what I have been hearing things are not improving much.  There appears to have been a near decade-long failure of disconnected criminal investigation cases, case files languishing on people’s desks that were not allowed to progress, and bad actors trying to impede oversight agencies employees, particularly field employees from doing their jobs.  If we recruited people for a whistleblower union, the list would be long.  

 If the taxpayers ever learn of just how much fraud waste and abuse they have been subjected to and have had to pay for because of not only corruption in defense contractors, but also within the ranks of government agency management (appointees and career SES/GS), there would be no end of righteous indignation and calls for prosecutions.  GFS

Link to original:

The Center for Public Integrity posted a story about more of the shennanigans of the management at Blackwater.  The authors are Carol D. Leonnig and Nick Schwellenbach

Here is the lead: 

 “Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security contractor of defrauding the government for years through phony biling, including charging taxpayers for alchohol filled parties, spa trips and a prostitute.”

Here is a link to the rest of the article:

Whistleblower: BP Risks More Massive Catastrophes in Gulf

Friday 30 April 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report
(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted:, US Coast Guard)

A former contractor who worked for British Petroleum (BP) claims the oil conglomerate broke federal laws and violated its own internal procedures by failing to maintain crucial safety and engineering documents related to one of the firms other deepwater production projects in the Gulf of Mexico, according to internal emails and other documents obtained by Truthout.

The whistleblower, whose name has been withheld at the person’s request because the whistleblower still works in the oil industry and fears retaliation, first raised concerns about safety issues related to BP Atlantis, the world’s largest and deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platform, located about 200 miles south of New Orleans, in November 2008. Atlantis, which began production in October 2007, has the capacity to produce about 8.4 million gallons of oil and 180 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.

It was then that the whistleblower, who was hired to oversee the company’s databases that housed documents related to its Atlantis project, discovered that the drilling platform had been operating without a majority of the engineer-approved documents it needed to run safely, leaving the platform vulnerable to a catastrophic disaster that would far surpass the massive oil spill that began last week following a deadly explosion on a BP-operated drilling rig.

BP’s own internal communications show that company officials were made aware of the issue and feared that the document shortfalls related to Atlantis “could lead to catastrophic operator error” and must be addressed.

Indeed, according to an August 15, 2008, email sent to BP officials by Barry Duff, a member of BP’s Deepwater Gulf of Mexico Atlantis Subsea Team, the Piping and Instrument Diagrams (P&IDs) for the Atlantis subsea components “are not complete” and “there are hundreds if not thousands of subsea documents that have never been finalized, yet the facilities have been” up and running. P&IDs documents form the foundation of a hazards analysis BP is required to undertake as part of its Safety and Environmental Management Program related to its offshore drilling operations. P&IDs drawings provide the schematic details of the project’s piping and process flows, valves and safety critical instrumentation.

“The risk in turning over drawings that are not complete are: 1) The Operator will assume the drawings are accurate and up to date,” the email said. “This could lead to catastrophic Operator errors due to their assuming the drawing is correct,” said Duff’s email to BP officials Bill Naseman and William Broman. “Turning over incomplete drawings to the Operator for their use is a fundamental violation of basic Document control, [internal standards] and Process Safety Regulations.”

BP did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. Despite the claims that BP did not maintain proper documentation related to Atlantis, federal regulators continued to authorize an expansion of the drilling project.

Last May, Mike Sawyer, a Texas-based engineer who works for Apex Safety Consultants, voluntarily agreed to evaluate BP’s Atlantis subsea document database and the whistleblower’s allegations regarding BP’s engineering document shortfall related to Atlantis. Sawyer concluded that of the 2,108 P&IDs BP maintained that dealt specifically with the subsea components of its Atlantis production project, 85 percent did not receive engineer approval.

Even worse, 95 percent of Atlantis’ subsea welding records did not receive final approval, calling into question the integrity of thousands of crucial welds on subsea components that, if they were to rupture, could result in an oil spill 30 times worse than the one that occurred after the explosion on Deepwater Horizon last week.

In a report Sawyer prepared after his review, he said BP’s “widespread pattern of unapproved design, testing and inspection documentation on the Atlantis subsea project creates a risk of a catastrophic incident threatening the [Gulf of Mexico] deep-water environment and the safety of platform workers.” Moreover, “the extent of documentation discrepancies creates a substantial risk that a catastrophic event could occur at any time.”

“The absence of a complete set of final, up-to-date, ‘as built’ engineering documents, including appropriate engineering approval, introduces substantial risk of large scale damage to the deep water [Gulf of Mexico] environment and harm to workers, primarily because analyses and inspections based on unverified design documents cannot accurately assess risk or suitability for service,” Sawyer’s report said. He added, “there is no valid engineering justification for these violations and short cuts.”

Sawyer explained that the documents in question – welding records, inspections and safety shutdown logic materials – are “extremely critical to the safe operation of the platform and its subsea components.” He said the safety shutdown logic drawings on Atlantis, a complex computerized system that, during emergencies, is supposed to send a signal to automatically shut down the flow of oil, were listed as “requiring update.”

“BP’s recklessness in regards to the Atlantis project is a clear example of how the company has a pattern of failing to comply with minimum industry standards for worker and environmental safety,” Sawyer said.

The oil spill blanketing roughly 4,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed eleven workers, was exacerbated, preliminary reports suggest, by the failure of a blowout preventer to shut off the flow of oil on the drilling rig and the lack of a backup safety measure, known as a remote control acoustic shut off switch, to operate the blowout preventer.

Congressman Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a letter Thursday to BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay seeking documents related to inspections on Deepwater Horizon conducted this year and BP’s policy on using acoustic shut off switches in the Gulf of Mexico.

The circumstances behind the spill are now the subject of a federal investigation.

Profits Before Safety

Whether it’s the multiple oil spills that emanated from BP’s Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska’s North Slope or the March 2005 explosion at the company’s Texas refinery that killed 15 employees and injured 170 people, BP has consistently put profits ahead of safety.

On October 25, 2007, BP pled guilty to a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act and paid a $20 million fine related to two separate oil spills that occurred in the North Slope in March and August of 2006, the result of a severely corroded pipeline and a safety valve failure. BP formally entered a guilty plea in federal court on November 29, 2007. US District Court Judge Ralph Beistline sentenced BP to three years probation and said oil spills were a “serious crime” that could have been prevented if BP had spent more time and funds investing in pipeline upgrades and a “little less emphasis on profit.”

Also on October 25, 2007, BP paid a $50 million fine and pleaded guilty to a felony in the refinery explosion. An investigation into the incident concluded that a warning system was not working and that BP sidestepped its own internal regulations for operating the tower. Moreover, BP has a prior felony conviction for improperly disposing of hazardous waste.

In 2007, the Department of Interior’s federal Minerals Management Services (MMS), the agency that monitors offshore drilling practices, fined BP $41,000 for not properly training employees in well control management related to a near blowout due to a rise in gass pressure on the Ocean King Rig five years earlier that forced the evacuation of all 65 workers for two days and halted drilling for a week.

According to MMS, Diamond Offshore Drilling, operator of the rig, and BP did not know that the critical safety procedures they employed to try and stop the increase in gas pressure on the Ocean King Rig could also have caused a blowout. Environmental publication Clean Skies reported that MMS “cited BP for what it called ‘no formal procedures’ and ‘no written guideline’ to follow in case of an emergency. MMS also cited BP and contract workers in the incident for what they said was a ‘lack of knowledge of the system, and lack of pre-event planning and procedures.'”

“In separate incidents, BP was also fined $75,000 in 2003 for not having adequate water pressure on one rig’s fire protection system as well as another $80,000 fine for bypassing safety alarms that could have indicated dangerously high pressure, similar to what caused the near-blowout in 2002,” according to MMS data cited by Clean Skies in a recent report.

The incident involving Deepwater Horizon, now the subject of a federal investigation, may end up being the latest example of BP’s safety practices run amuck.

The issues related to the repeated spills in Prudhoe Bay and elsewhere were revealed by more than 100 whistleblowers who, since as far back as 1999, said the company failed to take seriously their warnings about shoddy safety practices and instead retaliated against whistleblowers who registered complaints with their superiors.

In September 2006, days before BP executives were scheduled to testify before Congress about an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that forced the company to shutdown its Prudhoe Bay operations, BP announced that it had tapped former federal Judge Stanley Sporkin to serve as an ombudsman and take complaints from employees about the company’s operations.

That’s who the whistleblower complained to via email about issues related to BP’s Atlantis operations in March 2009 a month after his contract was abruptly terminated for reasons he believes were directly related to his complaints to management about BP’s failure to obtain the engineering documents on Atlantis and the fact that he “stood up for a female employee who was being discriminated against and harassed.” The whistleblower alleged that the $2 million price tag was the primary reason BP did not follow through with a plan formulated months earlier to secure the documents.

“We prepared a plan to remedy this situation but it met much resistance and complaints from the above lead engineers on the project,” the whistleblower wrote in the March 4, 2009, email to Pasha Eatedali in BP’s ombudsman’s office.

Federal Intervention

Additionally, he hired an attorney and contacted the inspector general for the Department of the Interior and MMS and told officials there that BP lacked the required engineer-certified documents related to the major components of the Atlantis subsea gas and oil operation.

In 2007, MMS had approved the construction of an additional well and another drilling center on Atlantis. But the whistleblower alleged in his March 4, 2009, email to Eatedali in BP’s Office of the Ombudsman that documents related to this project needed to ensure operational safety were missing and that amounted to a violation of federal law as well as a breach of BP’s Atlantis Project Execution Plan. The ombudsman’s office agreed to investigate.

MMS, acting on the whistleblower’s complaints, contacted BP on June 30, 2009, seeking specific engineering related documents. BP complied with the request three weeks later.

On July 9, 2009, MMS requested that BP turn over certification documents for its Subsurface Safety Valves and Surface Controlled Subsea Safety Valves for all operational wells in the Atlantis field. MMS officials flew out to the platform on the same day and secured the documents, according to an internal letter written by Karen Westall, the managing attorney on BP’s Gulf of Mexico Legal Team.

But according to the public advocacy group Food & Water Watch, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, which became involved in the case last July, BP did not turn over a complete set of materials to MMS.

“BP only turned over ‘as-built’ drawings for [Atlantis’] topsides and hull, despite the fact that the whistleblower’s allegations have always been about whether BP maintains complete and accurate engineer approved documents for it subsea components,” Food & Water Watch said in a 19-page letter it sent toWilliam Hauser, MMS’s Chief, Regulations and Standards Branch.

During two visits to the Atlantis drilling platform last August and September, MMS inspectors reviewed BP’s blowout preventer records. Food & Water Watch said they believe MMS inspectors reviewed the test records and failed to look into the whistleblower’s charges that engineering documents were missing. The blowout preventer, however, is an issue at the center of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

An MMS spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Last October, Food & Water Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for expedited processing, seeking documents from MMS that indicate BP “has in its possession a complete and accurate set of ‘as built’ drawings … for its entire Atlantis Project, including the subsea sector.” “As-built” means lead engineers on a specific project have to make sure updated technical documents match the “as-built” condition of equipment before its used.

MMS denied the FOIA request.

“MMS does not agree with your assessment of the potential for imminent danger to individuals or the environment, for which you premise your argument [for expedited response]. After a thorough review of these allegations, the MMS, with concurrence of the Solicitor’s Office, concludes your claims are not supported by the facts or the law,” the agency said in its October 30, 2009, response letter.

In response, MMS said that although some of its regulatory requirements governing offshore oil and gas operations do require “as built” drawings, they need not be complete or accurate and, furthermore, are irrelevant to a hazard analysis BP was required to complete.

Unsatisfied with MMS’s response, Food & Water Watch contacted Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), a member of the Committee on Natural Resources and chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, about the issues revolving around BP’s Atlantis operations and provided his office with details of its own investigation into the matter.

“Unsubstantiated” Claims

On January 15, Westall, the BP attorney, wrote a letter to Deborah Lanzone, the staff director with the House Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals, and addressed the allegations leveled by Food & Water Watch as well as indirect claims the whistleblower made.

Westall said BP “reviewed the allegations” related to “noncompliant documentation of the Atlantis project … and found them to be unsubstantiated.” But Westall’s response directly contradicts the findings of Billie Pirner Garde, BP’s deputy ombudsman, who wrote in an April 13 email to the whistleblower that his claims that BP failed to maintain proper documentation related to Atlantis “were substantiated” and “addressed by a BP Management of Change document.” Garde did not say when that change occurred. But he added that the whistleblower’s complaints weren’t “unique” and had been raised by other employees “before you worked there, while you were there and after you left.”

Westall noted in her letter that “all eight BP-operated Gulf of Mexico production facilities” received safety awards from MMS in 2009.

“Maintenance and general housekeeping were rated outstanding and personnel were most cooperative in assisting in the inspection activities,” MMS said about BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling facilities. “Platform records were readily available for review and maintained to reflect current conditions.”

Westall maintained that the whistleblower as well as Food & Water Watch had it all wrong. Their charges about missing documents has nothing to do with Atlantis’ operational safety. Rather, Westall seemed to characterize their complaints as a clerical issue.

“The Atlantis project is a complex project with multiple phases,” Westall said in her letter to Lanzone. “The [August 15, 2008] e-mail [written by Barry Duff, a member of the Atlantis subsea team] which was provided to you to support [Food & Water Watch’s] allegations relates to the status of efforts to utilize a particular document management system to house and maintain the Atlantis documents. The document database includes engineering drawings for future phases, as well as components or systems which may have been modified, replaced, or not used.”

But Representative Grijalva was not swayed by Westall’s denials. He continued to press the issue with MMS, and in February, he and 18 other lawmakers signed a letter calling on MMS to probe whether BP “is operating its Atlantis offshore oil platform … without professionally approved safety documents.”

Grijalva said MMS has not “done enough so far to ensure worker and environmental safety at the site, in part because it has interpreted the relevant laws too loosely.”

“[C]ommunications between MMS and congressional staff have suggested that while the company by law must maintain ‘as-built’ documents, there is no requirement that such documents be complete or accurate,” the letter said. “This statement, if an accurate interpretation of MMS authorities, raises serious concerns” and requires “a thorough review at the agency level, the legal level and the corporate level. The world’s largest oil rig cannot continue to operate without safety documentation. The situation is unacceptable and deserves immediate scrutiny.

“We also request that MMS describe how a regulation that requires offshore operators to maintain certain engineering documents, but does not require that those documents be complete or accurate, is appropriately protective of human health and the environment.”

On March 26, MMS launched a formal investigation and is expected to file a report detailing its findings next month.

Zach Corrigan, a senior attorney with Food & Water Watch, said in an interview Thursday that he hopes MMS “will perform a real investigation” and if the agency fails to do so, Congress should immediately hold oversight hearings “and ensure that the explosion and mishap of the Horizon platform is not replicated.”

“MMS didn’t act on this for nearly a year,” Corrigan said. “They seemed to think it wasn’t a regulatory or an important safety issue. Atlantis is a real vulnerability.” 

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.