Trump/Russia Investigation Sheds Light on the Sticky Problem of Nuclear Proliferation

September 13, 2017

Despite all the talk about “new” nuclear (not like that old nuclear) technology, supposedly resistant to would-be bomb makers, existing nuclear technology remains eminently weaponizable. That stubborn fact is at the heart of a new story that entwines energy, the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, possible treason, and the Russian attack on American democracy.

File this under “Must Have Seemed Like a Good Idea to Somebody”.


Democrats in Congress believe retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn illegally concealed more than a dozen foreign contacts and overseas trips during the process of renewing his security clearances, omissions they considered so serious they forwarded their findings to special counselRobert Mueller.

“It appears that General Flynn violated federal law by omitting this trip and these foreign contacts from his security clearance renewal application in 2016 and concealing them from security clearance investigators who interviewed him as part of the background check process,” Reps. Elijah Cummings and Eliot L. Engel, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to Flynn’s attorney obtained by ABC News on Tuesday.


That the oil-rich, sun-soaked Arab Middle East would pursue nuclear energy seems paradoxical. But as The Economist noted in 2015, “Demand for electricity is rising, along with pressure to lower carbon emissions; nuclear plants tick both boxes.” And some of the region’s major players, like Egypt and Jordan, don’t have oil and gas resources and “want nuclear power to shore up the security of their energy supplies,” The Economist said.

So the genius idea the Americans advocated was a U.S.-Russian partnership to build and operate plants and export the dangerous spent fuel under strict controls. Flynn’s role would be helping X-Co/Iron Bridge design and implement a vast security network for the entire enterprise, according to an internal memo by ACU Strategic Partners, one of the lead companies involved, obtained by Newsweek.

Not only would the project revive the U.S. nuclear industry, but it would cost American taxpayers nothing, its principals asserted. It would be “funded entirely by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries,” according to the ACU memo. The cost for the kingdom? “Close to a trillion dollars,” says a project insider, who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing internal matters.

Theoretically, the Saudis and other “participating Mid-East governments” would recoup some costs by selling energy “through their utilities,” according to the ACU plan. But if the Saudis and other Arab states buy in, it won’t be for energy, says Thomas Cochran, a prominent scientist and nuclear nonproliferation proponent involved with the ACU project. “They are buying security,” he tells Newsweek. Under the ACU plan, “they’re buying a security arrangement involving the U.S., Russia, France, and the U.K., eventually.”

Left out of this grand nuclear scheme: Iran (along with Syria, its war-ravaged Shiite proxy). In fact, “it was always part of the project that Russia’s involvement…would tilt Russia away from Iran,” Fred Johnson, ACU’s chief economist, wrote in an email to his advisers obtained by Newsweek. The idea was that Russia, facing what Johnson called an “economic and existential calamity” because of low oil prices, could use the income generated from the partnership. The consortium could then purchase “Russian military hardware” to compensate Moscow for losing military sales to Iran.

“Further plans to sideline Iran,” Johnson wrote, included “the development of X-Co,” the Hewitt company that Flynn was advising, “with its very visible deployment of Sea Launch,” a Russian company “that would provide a platform for rockets” to put surveillance satellites in orbit.

Flynn was “not involved” in the negotiations with Sea Launch, Cochran says. The former general, now being pursued by federal investigators probing contacts between Russian officials and Trump’s inner circle, did not respond to an inquiry from Newsweek. People associated with the Middle East project say they thought Flynn’s involvement was limited to sounding out the Egyptians and Israelis on security aspects of the enterprise. He listed no income from X-Co/Iron Bridge on his financial disclosure form.

“To the best of my knowledge,” Flynn was not being paid for his expertise, as was the case with many advisers to the project, Cochran says, but the former general’s travel expenses were picked up by ACU, as were his own. (The cost of business-class round-trip airfare and exclusive hotels for the trip would have ranged between $10,000 and $15,000.)

Hewitt denied that isolating Iran was part of the plan. “X-Co wasn’t created to simply ‘sideline Iran,’” he responded to Johnson and their associates in an email. “It was designed to set the conditions for stability which were the precursors to building 40 plants” and to “solidify the [Gulf Corporation Council], Jordan, Egypt under a security construct, led by two superpowers, using state of the art capability.”

But the project faced opposition from the Obama administration, Cochran says. “They didn’t want to do it with the Russians and didn’t want to do it while they were negotiating the Iran [nuclear] deal,” he tells Newsweek.

Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, offered an attractive possibility. And when Flynn, who had connections to the Russians, became the candidate’s national security adviser, the ACU team, led by British-American dealmaker Alex Copson, suddenly seemed to have an inside man. Last year, Copson was touting such connections when he tried to persuade the Tennessee Valley Authority to transfer an unfinished Alabama nuclear plant to the ACU in exchange for shares in the consortium that would build reactors in the Middle East, telling a Huntsville reporter that “Alabama’s two senators”—both Republicans, and one, Jeff Sessions, then a top Trump campaign adviser—“can help the next administration move this project forward.” The plant was eventually sold to another company.

When reports surfaced that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, however, some of Copson’s partners and advisers decided it was time to walk away. “When Copson decided he was going to saddle up with the Trump team, that was the last straw for me,” the insider says. “I said it’s time to regroup.”




5 Responses to “Trump/Russia Investigation Sheds Light on the Sticky Problem of Nuclear Proliferation”

  1. webej Says:

    Still no “there” there. Another tangent, breathless anticipation, resulting in more nothing burger.

    • toby52 Says:

      ‘When Robert Mueller is circling this White House like a hawk preparing to descend on a chicken coop, you know that the stench of corruption emanating from this administration reaches to the heavens.

      Indeed, on Tuesday, Axios reported this intriguing line:
      “Republicans close to the White House say every sign by Mueller — from his hiring of Mafia and money-laundering experts to his aggressive pursuit of witnesses and evidence — is that he’s going for the kill.” ‘

      From NYT.

      That apart, Flynn was a bizarre figure to put in charge of American national security. It says a lot about the man who appointed him.

  2. If using coal generated power for nuclear enrichment is a problem, simply use a renewable source, and the silly problem has a silly solution. Alternately, use nuclear power for preparation it being the safest conventional power source. Do not know how to attach links.…/coal-and-gas-are-far-more-harmful-than-nuclear-power/

  3. mboli Says:

    Kind of a reinvention of “Atoms for Peace?”

  4. […] I posted yesterday on a massive nuclear power deal involving Saudis and Russians, that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had curiously failed to disclose. Rachel Maddow has a good synthesis of that from last night — meat starts at 8:49 if you’re pressed. […]

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