Whoops, Our Middle East Policy Helped Bring Trump to Power

Whoops, Our Middle East Policy Helped Bring Trump to Power

Nationalist fear-mongering of refugees and immigration is a consequence of the U.S. turning Middle East nations into failed states. The rise of Donald Trump is a product of the decisions that created today’s global refugee crisis and the spread of ISIS. 



I had written like 70% of this article months ago. It had been part of a different article I’d written back in October about the war in Syria, but I took it out for a variety of reasons before the election.

I wasn’t always set on publishing it to be honest. But I thought it timely to write now as we are not just reflecting on 2016 this New Years, but the end of eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency.

When Pew Research Center set out to answer what the “top voting issue” was in the 2016 election, the first was the economy. The second was terrorism.

Gallup found that “terrorism and national security” topped the chart when it came to issues that both Democrats and Republicans cared most about. In fact, over half of Americans (53%) felt that the U.S. should stop accepting refugees altogether because of national security concerns.

Unsurprisingly, a majority of these people voted for Trump…and a lot similar minded people in Britain voted to leave the European Union.

In the last month there have been a number of explanations for how Trump stunned the world (including himself) and won the election. Most analyses have focused on the power of white working class voters, the anti-establishment fervor, or the FBI and Russia’s interference throughout election.

But very little has gone to understand the underlying fear that both Trump and the leaders of Brexit managed to tap into – the fear of terrorism, refugees and the religion of Islam. A fear that continues to this day as more ISIS-inspired attacks occur around the world.

Perhaps we need to step back and ask a more fundamental question as we come to the end of Obama’s 8 year tenure.

What happened during Obama’s presidency to get in a situation where millions of refugees are fleeing out of the Middle East and religious terrorist groups seem more powerful and dangerous than ever?

People gather to protest against the United States' acceptance of Syrian refugees at the Washington State capitol in Olympia
November 2015 protest against the United States’ acceptance of Syrian refugees at the Washington State capitol in Olympia

The picture at the very top of this article is a man brandishing a gun with explosions going off behind him. That was some guy who decided to strike a pose during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The terror attack at Benghazi happened over 4 years ago, but its legacy has played a much larger role in this election than most have realized.

Not because the infamous e-mail server scandal emerged from the Benghazi investigation. Nor for the repeated testimonies and largely partisan media scrutiny which hurt Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers going into the 2016 election.

When we look back on the Obama era, Benghazi should be remembered for its far more important role in fueling the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIS. A reality which has produced today’s global refugee crisis and ultimately fostered the environment of fear which helped bring Trump to power.

The four nations which became failed states over the last 8 years and now have the largest ISIS presence in the world

If you are unfamiliar with the whole Benghazi controversy I will summarize it in one sentence: in September 2012 a terrorist attack against the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya killed 4 Americans and the Obama administration was both slow to respond to the attack as it was happening and after-the-fact attempted to deflect blame by saying the protest was inspired by a YouTube video when that was known to be untrue at the time. 

There is one part of the controversy that this article will be focusing on: why were the 4 Americans who died in Benghazi even there to begin with? 

It’s a seemingly simple question after all these years, but I bet most of us don’t know the answer, or even really thought to ask.

Of the four Americans that died in Benghazi, two were security contractors with the CIA and two were employees of the US State Department. One of whom was the ambassador to Libya.

It would be easy enough to assume that they were all in Libya doing diplomatic work of some kind…because that seems like their job. But about a year ago the Department of Defense declassified an intelligence briefing from October 2012, one month after the terror attack, which would explain quite clearly what the U.S. was doing in Benghazi.

“2. During the immediate aftermath, of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the ((Qaddafi)) regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012, weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The Syrian ports were chosen due to the small amount of cargo traffic transiting these two ports. The ships used to transport the weapons were medium-sized and able to hold 10 or less shipping containers of cargo.
 3. The weapons shipped from Libya to Syria during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125mm and 15mm howitzers missiles. The numbers for each weapon were estimated to be: 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG launchers with 300 total rounds, and approximately 400 howitzers missiles [200 ea – 125mm and 200ea -155mm]”

Why were weapons being shipped out of Libya and into Syria between 2011-2012?

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, smiles at his home in Tripoli
Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens – first sitting ambassador to be killed since 1979

It was during this time that the peaceful demonstrations against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad were devolving into an armed resistance.

The Red Cross officially declared the turmoil in Syria a civil war in July 2012. The attack at Benghazi occurred in September 2012.

This is the beginning of the destructive Syrian civil war which has played out in front of our eyes for the last 5 years.

It had been no secret that the U.S. wanted Assad to go. But the much better kept secret was what role we played in the unrest in Syria turning into a civil war to begin with.

That secret began unraveling after the Benghazi attack exposed the presence of an undisclosed CIA annex that came under attack after the U.S. consulate.

During the initial Benghazi hearings Congressman Devin Nunes asked CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper point blank whether the CIA was there to send weapons from Libya into Syria.

Nunes: Are we aware of any arms that are leaving that area and going into Syria?
Morell: Yes, sir.
Clapper: Yes.
Nunes: And who is coordinating that?
Morell: I believe largely the [REDACTED] are coordinating that.
Nunes: They are leaving Benghazi ports are going to Syria?
Morell: I don’t know how they are getting the weapons from Libya to Syria. But there are weapons going from Libya to Syria. And there are probably a number of actors involved in that. One of the biggest are the [REDACTED]
Nunes: And, were the the CIA folks that were there, were they helping coordinate that, or were they watching it, were they gathering information about it?
Morrell: Sir, the focus of my officers in Benghazi was [REDACTED]
While the redactions make it difficult to clarify who exactly was coordinating the operation and what role the CIA played in it, the highest levels of the US intelligence community were no doubt aware it was happening.

But if it was not just the U.S. overseeing the arms transfer, then who else was involved?

Famed investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published an explosive article in the London Review of Books in April 2014 uncovering the much larger story behind Benghazi.

“The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.

The “rat line” to transfer weapons from Libya, to Turkey, into Syria

By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities.

Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer.”

Retired Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were the two CIA contractors killed in Benghazi

One does not need to take Seymour Hersh’s word for exposing the international gun-running operation taking place.

Anyone who has done a preliminary amount of research into the Syrian war would easily discover that for the past 5 years the United States has worked in tandem with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to arm the Syrian opposition to overthrow Assad.

This partnership has its roots in Benghazi.

On September 6th, 2012, a Libyan-flagged vessel called Al Entisar was received in the Turkish port of Iskenderun, 35 miles from the Syrian border. The ship carried heavy weaponry including surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs which found their way into the hands of Syrian rebels. These sophisticated weapons were used to shoot down Syrian and Russian helicopters and aircraft.

On the night of the attack on September 11th, 2012 in what became his last public meeting, Ambassador Chris Stevens reportedly met with Turkish Consul General Ali Sait Akin to negotiate the weapons transfers out of Libya and into Syria.

Three days later, another Libyan ship docked in Turkey “carrying the largest consignment of weapons for Syria”. The shipment weighed over 400 tons and included SA-7  anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Libyan official Abdul Basit Haroun would later publicly admit that he was letting weapons leave the port of Benghazi to reach the Syrian rebels. “They know we are sending guns to Syria,” Haroun said. “Everyone knows.” The New York Times would innocuously headline an article “In turnabout, Syria rebels get Libyan weapons

Libyan ship “Al Ensitar” docking in Turkey with weapons bound for Syria
Lighter shipments of weapons were snuck directly into smaller Syrian ports, as the original DoD intelligence report said, but the much heavier, deadly weaponry was going through a secret command center near the Syrian border jointly run by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

Last week, Reuters reported that, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Turkey had established a secret base near the Syrian border to help direct vital military and communications support to Assad’s opponents.

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

NBC said the shoulder-fired missiles, also known as MANPADs, had been delivered to the rebels via Turkey.

If it were not already bad enough that the U.S. was smuggling weapons out of Libya, a country whose government we had just toppled with NATO’s help, who exactly were the Syrian rebels receiving these weapons?

An internal Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) briefing from August 2012 offered a sobering analysis of what the Syrian opposition we were arming looked like.

The General Situation

A. Internally, events are taking a clear sectarian direction.

B. The Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.

C. The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China and Iran support the regime

Syrian rebel holding surface-to-air missile, known as a MANPAD

It wasn’t just the DIA reporting that extremist militant groups were leading the opposition to Assad. The defense consultancy IHS Jane reported at the time that more than half the rebel fighters in Syria had some hardline Islamist affiliation.

“The insurgency is now dominated by groups which have at least an Islamist viewpoint on the conflict. The idea that it is mostly secular groups leading the opposition is just not borne out.” – Charles Lister, Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute

It’s hard to imagine that at the same time U.S. intelligence was reporting that literal jihadists were leading the opposition to Assad…that we decided to covertly ship weapons to them.

But that is exactly what happened.

With the help of Turkey, the Saudis and the Qataris, the United States helped funnel weapons to a range of jihadi extremist groups to overthrow the Syrian government.

Of course the larger story in the background is the not-so-secret oil and gas pipeline war that has pit the U.S. and its Gulf allies against Russia, Iran and Syria (I have written about that extensively here). But teaming up with extremists to reach geopolitical objectives rarely works out.

As the Syrian civil war entered its second year, a resurgent Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) banded together with a range of other salafist militia groups to declare a “caliphate” in eastern Syria and parts of Iraq.

Thus, ISIS was born.

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir during 2015 Syria peace talks

The origin of ISIS as an “anti-Assad” fighting force is never really reckoned with when we talk about the conflict in Syria today. Nor the fact that the Defense Intelligence Agency predicted a “Salafist principality” could be formed between Iraq and Syria as a way to “isolate the Syrian regime” almost 2 years in advance.

In an e-mail to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton rather plainly pointed the finger at Saudi Arabia and Qatar for providing “financial and logistic support to ISIL”. But the U.S. has played perhaps equally as important a role in its rise.

Not only did ISIS ultimately acquire millions of dollars worth of weapons that the U.S. helped funnel into Syria (and that we left behind in Iraq), but ISIS’s senior most military commander himself was in fact a CIA-trained soldier from the eastern European country of Georgia.

Abu Omar al Shishani, previously known as Tarkhan Batirashvili, was extensively trained by the CIA back in 2006 as part of the Georgian special forces sent to fight in Afghanistan.

“He was a perfect soldier from his first days, and everyone knew he was a star,” an unnamed former comrade who is still active in the Georgian military told McClatchy DC. “We were well trained by American special forces units, and he was the star pupil.”

Former ISIS military commander Tarkhan Batirashvili, known as “Omar the Chechen”

Batirashvili disappeared for a number of years but then reappeared in Syria in 2013 commanding the jihadist Syrian rebel group Jaysh al Muhajireen. The group merged with Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) to form ISIS and he became its commander of military operations.His military skills were so successful in capturing huge swaths of Iraq and Syria that Michael Cecire, an analyst of extremism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute commented that “Batirashvili’s ability to demonstrate ISIS’ tactical prowess attracted fighters in droves from other factions and tipped the scales in foreign fighter flow and recruitment.”

Though Batirashvili was killed in a drone strike just 5 months ago in July, he is but a part of one of the most destructive chapters in American foreign policy history.

For all the death and destruction that ISIS is spreading now, let us not forget how it really began.

It is impossible to remember the legacy of Barack Obama without remembering that in the heart of his time in office, the United States played a central role in creating two new failed states in the Middle East – Libya and Syria.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and now deceased Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi

It’s worth mentioning that I completely omitted the story of how the United States toppled the Gaddafi regime in Libya under the false pretense that he was about to commit a genocide. (No really, there are audio tapes of how we lied to overthrow the Libyan government). Perhaps I will publish that saga if Libya becomes relevant again.

But what came after Libya fell has been far more devastating than anyone could have imagined.

I doubt many of us were paying close attention to international politics back in September 2012, when most of us were in high school or starting college, but the attack at Benghazi was incredibly significant for what was happening at the time.

Not only did it occur 2 months before Obama’s re-election bid against Mitt Romney and disperse the myth that our Libya intervention had created a stable, successful democracy . It risked publicly exposing an ongoing covert operation to illegally arm rebel groups in Syria…who ended up becoming ISIS a year later.

Perhaps this is why the CIA went to extraordinary lengths to prevent agents from speaking to the media or Congress about their operations in Benghazi, going as far as polygraphing agents multiple times a month.

Perhaps this is why there was a huge clash between the CIA and the State Department in creating the talking points for how to tell the story of what was happening at Benghazi without exposing the operation.

Perhaps this is why the known falsehood of a YouTube video-inspired protest being responsible for the Benghazi attack was trotted out by the most senior levels of the Obama administration.

President Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Sure, one could remember Benghazi as the partisan witch hunt which ended up proving no evidence of wrong-doing and while creating a base of fanatical Trump supporters with “Killary”signs.

Or one could remember Benghazi as the centerpiece of some of the most dangerous and catastrophic decisions made by the United States to date.

The decision to ship weapons into the hands of extremist rebel fighters in Syria has undeniably helped create this reality:

Today, half a million Syrians lay dead as the Assad government continues to battle armed opposition groups dominated by foreign extremists.

Over 10 million Syrians are displaced or seeking refuge in another country.

Over 32 countries have been victims of ISIS-related terror attacks while ISIS now has fully functional operations in 18 different countries. Both numbers are expected to grow

Syrian refugees at the Turkish border

It’s not surprising to see how Donald Trump managed to exploit this reality to win over large sections of America.The world is a far more dangerous place now than it was 8 years ago and in no small part because of the decisions made by this administration while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Hillary of course did her part to keep the gun-running operation her State Department was helping coordinate a secret. When questioned by Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mike Pompeo at the Benghazi hearings, she twice denied under oath that any weapons were leaving Benghazi and going to arm Syrian rebels.

But she didn’t need the operation to be exposed in order to lose the election.

The entire Middle East is in flames as millions of people in Iraq, Libya and Syria flee in every direction. With our help, jihadist groups are more powerful today than they have ever been.

So powerful that they even declared their own nation. And have developed a sophisticated propaganda network that is radicalizing thousands of individuals around the world.

Let’s not forget, our own Middle East policy of incubating ISIS to help overthrow Assad came home to roost in this election.

Photo I took outside of Pulse Nightclub in Orlando two weeks after an ISIS-inspired attack killed 49 people

After ISIS-inspired attacks killed 14 people in San Bernardino and 49 people in Orlando many people’s priorities for the next President changed. Their views on immigration, refugees, and religion hardened.

Donald Trump’s ridiculous plan to ban Muslims from coming into America didn’t seem so crazy anymore. In fact, almost half of Americans supported it. Nationalism, xenophobia and Islamophobia became mainstreamed and rationalized.

The blowback seems predictable now, but it does not make it any less unfortunate.

The millions of innocent people abroad who have been most hurt by our years of misguided interventions in the Middle East are also the ones who have the most to lose from a Trump administration.

This is why when we look back at Benghazi it should not be about a YouTube video or whether Hillary Clinton should have done more to protect the 4 Americans who died.

The real legacy of Benghazi is how the destruction that the Obama administration is leaving behind in the Middle East allowed Donald Trump to come to power.

Whatever is in store for us in this new year, my only hope is that the next administration has learned the lesson of Benghazi. A lesson that every American administration since the end of World War II has failed to learn.

Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to get out of the business of overthrowing foreign governments. 

President Obama Meets With President-Elect Donald Trump In The Oval Office Of White House


Unpacking the Conflict in Syria – Whose Side Are We Really On?

Unpacking the Conflict in Syria – Whose Side Are We Really On?

Article Reviews: Washington Babylon – “University of Georgia Undergrad Knows More About Syria Than Trump or Clinton” 


It doesn’t occur to most people everyday, but there’s an ongoing war in Syria which has killed almost half a million people since 2011 and has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. This is also a war that the United States has been deeply involved in for the past 5 years.

Syria will be one of the most significant foreign policy challenges that the next US president will face, yet it has barely been discussed in the 2016 Presidential race. In fact, with about a month left before the election and already one presidential debate in, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have actually proposed a serious plan about what they would do to stop the meltdown in Syria. A conflict which has destabilized the entire region and has increased the frequency of terror attacks in America, Europe and around the world.


The Syrian war is one of the most complex geopolitical conflicts in modern history. It has eluded any diplomatic resolution for 5 years precisely because it’s a war fraught with a multitude of actors, confusing alliances and conflicting motives for those fighting.

At a high level…the battlefield is largely between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups trying to overthrow the government. What began as peaceful protests against the Assad government during the “Arab Spring” in early 2011 devolved into a full-blown civil war about a year into the regime’s violent crackdown against the opposition. In the five years since, nations around the world have been funding and arming both the opposition and the regime in whats become a global proxy war for control of Syria.

It’s from this chaos that the terrorist organization Al Qaeda has resurged to power as one of the leading rebel groups against Assad and the Islamic State has emerged as a rival trans-national terror group capable of devastating attacks around the world.

Unfortunately, this war is not ending any time soon….in fact the war in Syria is now entering a new phase entirely. The recent US-Russia negotiated ceasefire was the fourth attempted ceasefire in the war and has already collapsed as factions continue to battle it out for who rules Syria. Millions of besieged citizens continue to flee en-masse to Europe and neighboring states while those who stay are gripped in a horrifying violence which has already claimed an entire generation of Syrians.

5 year old boy Omran Daqneesh sits in an ambulance after an airstrike in Aleppo

What everyone can agree on at this stage is that the U.S. policy in Syria so far has been an unmitigated disaster. The Syrian war is to a large degree considered the greatest failure of the Obama administration, and they will be leaving the next administration with no good options on how to resolve the conflict.

The reality of the 2016 election is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, like presidential candidates before them, don’t really have the power to do most of the things they promise on the campaign trail. But foreign policy is one of the few powers that the Executive branch has a lot of control over. So here’s a comprehensive guide that I encourage both of the candidates to read from because there are a lot of lives at stake.

  1. Who is Fighting Who in Syria?
  2. Why Is Each Side Fighting?
  3. Who Controls What in Syria?
  4. What Is Happening Next in Syria?
  5. Take Away: Ten Questions For the People Running To Be President



Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

—Who is Fighting Who in Syria—

The Syrian battlefield is a mess. A quick look at Slate’s Syrian Conflict guide or this CNN diagram will leave your head spinning trying to make sense of who’s fighting who. So I decided to create a binary table to make it simpler – who is fighting to keep Assad in power v.s. who is fighting to topple Assad? 


(Links per country here):


Again, not everyone in the conflict is specifically fighting with or against the Assad government’s forces. That has manifested in the most complex reality of the Syrian war – ISIS and Al Qaeda are fighting on the same side as the U.S. against Assad.

Rebel fighters for the Al-Nusra Front in Syrian city of Idlib

Yep, not only are ISIS and Al Qaeda both fighting the Assad regime, but Al Qaeda-backed rebels are considered to be the strongest opposition groups against the Syrian government today. From the beginning of the war the jihadist involvement in Syria has been fundamentally anti-Assadwhich has always put them on our side of the war.

For years, the U.S. has been tacitly helping (and meeting with) a variety of Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups in their fight against Assad. A lot of the intelligence, aid and weapons that the U.S., Turkey and our Gulf allies have been funneling to the opposition have in fact directly gone to arm Al Qaeda-backed groups. The most prominent is Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Al Nusra Front (although the group changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham last month). Many of the weapons that went to them, along with other Al Qaeda-linked groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, have now also fallen into the hands of ISIS. 

It is pertaining to this issue that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks is threatening to release Hillary Clinton’s e-mails from her tenure as Secretary of State revealing knowledge of these weapons shipments to jihadist elements in Syria to help overthrow Assad (update: that is what was revealed)

Julian Assange’s Wikileaks threatens to released damaging hacked e-mails

I do want to caution any surprise by noting that US cooperation with Islamic extremist groups is not a new development in American foreign policy. It’s a tradition that began with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

It is now open and public knowledge that the US, with Pakistan’s help, created and armed the “Mujahideen”, led by Osama bin Laden, to fight the Soviet Union in this conflict.  Afghanistan has since been partially controlled by the Taliban. 

In 2011, the same tactics rear their head and it has again become a “necessary evil” to work with jihadist groups for geopolitical goals. In Libya, the US spent $1 billion in illegal arms support for opposition groups to overthrew Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi. An analysis found that most of this went to arming Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups, who are now controlling entire parts of Libya along with ISIS.

Ronald Reagan, Burhaneddin Rabbani
President Reagan meets with Afghan Mujahideen (later to become Al Qaeda)  in the Oval Office – 1983

In Syria the same story unfolds as far as the US aligning itself with questionable militant groups. But unlike in Afghanistan or Libya, the United States DID attempt an ill-planned program in Syria to create a “moderate” fighting force.

For the last 5 years, the U.S.-led coalition has tepidly tried to build-up the “moderate“, secular Free Syrian Army as a viable opposition to Assad, but has failed miserably. The half a billion dollar U.S. train-and-equip program for the Free Syrian Army, which was supposed to prepare over 5,600 fighters out of a training camp in Jordan, produced exactly four, to five soldiers. Today, the Free Syrian Army has virtually collapsed and is so “moderate” that they’re beheading Syrian children. They also hate the U.S. so much that Free Syrian Army fighters chased away U.S. special forces that came to help.

“[The Free Syrian Army] is something of a myth, with a media presence far outstripping its actual organizational capacity” and amounted to little more than “a diverse array of local defense forces, ideological trends, and self-interested warlords. It exercised little real command and control, and had little ability to formulate or implement a coherent military strategy.” – Marc Lynch, Director of the Institute for Middle East Studies

While some U.S.-backed “moderate” rebel groups are battling Al Qaeda groups, many have defected to their ranks or are working alongside Al Qaeda fighters in Syria. In the on-going battle for the Syrian city of Aleppo it is the jihadist rebel groups like Al Nusra that have led the way against the Assad government.

Al-Nusra leader meets CIA officials
Mohammad al Joulani – Leader of the Al Qaeda-backed Al Nusra Front

This is the key sticking point between Russia, Assad’s staunchest ally, and the U.S., over what is happening in Syria. The U.S. claims Russia is not interested in peace and is committing war crimes by indiscriminately bombing civilian areas. Russia claims it is fighting terrorists in Syria.

The unfortunate reality is that both are true. Russia is ruthlessly killing hundreds of Syrian civilians in their quest to eliminate the challengers to Assad. But because the opposition is overrun with extremists and there is no real “moderate” opposition representing a democratic, secular replacement for Assad, Russia is technically fighting the the war against terrorism in Syria.  Russia has gone as far as to accuse the U.S. of protecting Al Qaeda-linked rebels and backing a rebel terrorist alliance at risk of ending the ceasefire to keep the fight against Assad going.

At this stage, if the Assad regime was toppled through an overt intervention the result would be some form of a more hardline Islamist regime coming to power as opposed to Assad’s mostly secular rule – a repeat of our Libya intervention.

Russia ( and China’ssupport for Assad is actually in large part out of fear of repeating the disastrous U.S.-NATO invasion of Libya, which toppled the secular Gaddafi regime and allowed Al Qaeda and ISIS  to exploit a power vacuum there.  Russia fears that jihadist groups would now fill the power vacuum in a post-Assad Syria.

But which jihadists would come to power?

This is perhaps the most nuanced aspect of Middle East conflicts today. Al Qaeda and ISIS are actually at war with each other.

The birth of ISIS in 2013, two years into the Syrian civil war, would alter the dynamics of the Syrian battlefield substantially.

Islamic State executes Egyptian prisoners

In late 2013, an internal power struggle within Al Qaeda over who controlled the Al Nusra Front in Syria would lead to ISIS forming and splintering off from Al Qaeda entirely. ISIS has since eclipsed Al Qaeda as the world’s preeminent terror organization and has taken the public’s focus off of the war against Assad entirely through its gruesome beheadings and catastrophic terror attacks around the world.

The history of ISIS did not begin in 2013, but had its roots in the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Al Qaeda opened a branch there creatively named Al Qaeda in Iraq or AQI. AQI played a major role in the sectarian violence that consumed Iraq after Saddam fell, but the group was largely defeated by the time the U.S. left Iraq in 2011.

Right as the U.S. was leaving Iraq, the civil war next door in Syria was beginning. A re-grouping AQI would dispatch some of its operatives into Syria to set up a new jihadist organization to help topple Assad – the Al Nusra Front. Within a year Al Nusra grew into one of the most powerful opposition groups in Syria, in no small part due to the arms and funding they were receiving by outside nations who wanted to oust Assad.

The success of Al Nusra in Syria would lead to tensions between AQI leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi in Iraq and Al Qaeda’s central leadership in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Baghdadi wanted Al Nusra in Syria to merge with AQI in Iraq and he tried to combine the two. Al Qaeda’s senior leader Ayman al-Zawahiri balked at the combination and ordered AQI to operate in Iraq separately from Al Nusra in Syria. Al Nusra’s leader Muhammad al Joulani sided with Al Qaeda’s leadership but AQI leader Baghdadi refused. Baghdadi then split with Al Qaeda and renamed AQI into ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. 

Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri (left) disavows ISIS leader al-Baghdadi (right) – Feb 2014

This was a very confusing time in the jihadi world, many Syrian jihadists left Al Nusra for ISIS and the two began competing for soldiers. ISIS then began to attract a growing number of foreign fighters and recruited senior military leaders who were part of Saddam Hussein’s army that was dissolved after the American invasion. ISIS would then sweep through Iraq and Syria capturing huge swaths of territory and with it massive amounts of American-made weapons and tanks that the U.S. had sold to the Iraqi army previously.

What happened next is something the U.S. intelligence community had predicted two years earlier, yet still continued to transfer heavy arms into Syria during this time. A declassified 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report would confirm everyone’s worse suspicions about the birth of ISIS.

C. If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran). D. The deterioration of the situation has dire consequences on the Iraqi situation and are as follows:
—1 This creates the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi and will provide a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy, the dissenters. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory– August 11th, 2012

On June 29th, 2014, ISIS would revive a political entity the Muslim world had not seen in almost a 100 years – the caliphate. ISIS declared its captured territory between Iraq and Syria as the “Islamic State”, a de facto self-ruled country under sharia law, and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”

Al Qaeda’s leadership, stunned by the unprecedented move,  would formally disavow the group and the two have since been actively fighting each other to be the global leader of Islamic jihad.

That’s right – despite both Al Qaeda and ISIS preaching a virtually identical extremist message and a shared desire to remove Assad to establish Syria as an Islamic nation governed by sharia law, their methods and longer-term vision differ enough that the two are willing to go to war with each other. 

Parodying jihadi belief of 72 virgins in heaven after death

The ISIS/Al Qaeda divorce has complicated things for the U.S. and the other Syrian rebels on the ground who are fighting Assad. Many of America’s Gulf allies who want to see Assad gone believed ISIS was their best bet to make it happen, and have been actively funding and arming the Islamic State. But after a series of horrifying beheadings, devastating terror attacks around the world and violent persecution of other Muslims, ISIS has made enemies of everyone.

ISIS is so horrifyingly brutal and vicious to anyone that doesn’t submit to their rule that the Al Qaeda-backed rebel groups and whatever’s left of the “moderate” rebels are now fighting a two-front war against both ISIS and the Assad government.

The U.S. and its allies are now faced with the dilemma of eliminating ISIS, which is fighting Assad, or to let ISIS be and go after Assad. The U.S. strategy so far has been some mix of both.  The U.S. has been striking ISIS, but primarily in Iraq not in Syria. In the last two years the U.S. has conducted 11,000 airstrikes against ISIS targets and 9,000 of those have been in Iraq. U.S.-backed forces are preparing in the next weeks to reclaim the city of Mosul in Iraq , but have so far declined to strike ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, Syria.  The reluctance of the U.S. to target ISIS in Syria was made painfully clear two weeks ago when an “anti-ISIS” airstrike in Syria struck Assad’s military forces instead, allowing ISIS to then gain territory against the regime and triggered the collapse of the latest ceasefire.

The U.S. certainly wants to see ISIS and the other jihadists in Syria and Iraq defeated, but as long as it remains politically and militarily committed to Assad leaving these goals will inevitably come in conflict. Because there is no viable moderate opposition to Assad, US foreign policy in Syria is now essentially a decision about which jihadist group it would rather have control the country – ISIS or Al Qaeda? Former CIA director David Petraeus has actually recommended that the U.S. formally recruit Al Qaeda fighters to fight this two-front war in Syria.


The absolute chaos amongst the “anti-Assad” factions has all worked to keep the Syrian president in power. I made the chart above to help you visualize it. The significant sub-conflict with the Kurdish forces will be explained in a little. 

The presence of ISIS has been a blessing for the Assad regime because it further divides his enemies who were already fighting with each other. Assad is happy to let the other Syrian rebels fend off ISIS, and to this end Assad has actually been covertly helping ISIS by buying their stolen oil. Assad’s long-term strategy is the elimination of the Syrian rebels, which would force the nations that back those rebels into allying themselves with Assad to finish off ISIS. Ultimately for Assad to look at the world and say, “it’s either me or ISIS, you choose.” 

This is the strategy Russia carried out when it formally entered the Syrian war last year and ultimately swung the tide of the war in Assad’s favor. Russian airstrikes have largely focused on eliminating U.S-backed rebels that’re fighting Assad rather than targeting ISIS.

The situation in Syria is such that Assad and Russia don’t want to eliminate ISIS because they’re fighting Syrian rebel groups, and the U.S. and its allies have somewhat let ISIS exist in Syria as a vehicle to battle Assad. 

Let’s take a look at the landscape of the Syrian rebels that Assad and Russia are trying to get rid of right now.

Rebels holding Ahrar al-Sham flag (left), FSA flag (center) and Al Nusra flag (right)

“Moderate” Rebels:      Al Qaeda-backed Rebels:       Kurdish Rebels: 

Free Syrian Army                 Al-Nusra (now JFS)          People’s Protection Units (YPG)

A&D Front                                Ahrar al-Sham             Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)

Syrian Turkmen Brigade         Jaysh al-Islam

There are reportedly over over 1,000 armed opposition groups against Assad so this is really capturing a small part of how complicated the battlefield is. These divisions are also not as clean as the table makes them given the overlapping alliances and rivalries that exist between all these groups for funding, weapons and territory.

We know the “moderate” opposition is mostly defunct and Al Qaeda-backed groups are dominating the fight in Syria….what’s the Kurdish opposition?

Who are the Kurds? 

kurdish map

The Kurdish people are a marginalized and oppressed ethnic group spread across the Middle East with their own language, culture and national identity. They are in fact the world’s largest ethnicity without their own state – a painful reality as a result of a historic betrayal by the British and French.

In northern Syria there are slightly over a million ethnic Kurds who see the civil war against Assad as a chance to form their own self-ruled country, much like the Kurds in Iraq have done since the 1991 Gulf War. Today the Kurds have essentially seceded from Syria and instituted their own government and military in their territory. Though I have placed the Kurds on the “anti-Assad” side because they have been fighting with the regime, they are undeniably fearful that whoever would come after him could be even worse for the Kurdish struggle for independence.

Because of the Kurd’s proximity to Iraq, they are incredibly important player in the war against ISIS. The US has been heavily supporting and arming the Kurdish military called the YPG and have created a US-Kurdish joint force called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to battle ISIS in key cities.

However, the Kurdish people have a very complex relationship with Turkey, a U.S. and NATO ally. Like I said the Kurds are spread across the Middle East and a majority of them actually live in Turkey, making up close to 25% of Turkey’s population.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kurdish YPG fighters

Turkey considers the Kurds as terrorists. The outlawed Kurdish political party in Turkey, the PKK, has been fighting a decades long insurgency against the Turkish government for political freedom and representation. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan fears that the U.S. empowering the Kurds in Syria could heighten the power of the PKK and their calls for Kurdish secession in Turkey – something Erdogan fears more than ISIS.

As a result, Turkey has been actively subverting the U.S.-Kurdish campaign against ISIS and has allowed ISIS to cross through the Turkish border to fight the Kurds. All of this culminated in Turkey invading Syria this month to drive out Kurdish YPG fighters from Turkey’s southern border

The Turkish government has made it clear that given a choice between defeating Islamic State and forestalling any possibility of an independent Kurdish state along its southern border, it will opt to go to war against the Kurdish YPG and to tolerate the continued existence of the Islamic State. – Joseph V. Micallef, Military historian

Though Turkey is anti-Kurd they are also extremely anti-Assad. President Erdogan wants Assad gone and has been one of the principle financiers to Syrian rebel groups. In fact, almost all U.S. and Gulf support to the Syrian rebels have gone through a Turkish base. Turkey has not been shy about working with extremist rebel groups to help topple Assad, even if it also meant working with ISIS at times.

Slightly older map from this year, most things have remained same other than where I have circled

**To recap this insane situation**

  1. U.S. wants to oust Assad and eliminate ISIS. The “moderate” rebels that we would like to be leading these efforts don’t really exist. Disorganization, lack of weapons/training and Russia’s bombing campaign have decimated U.S.-backed “moderate” forces and they have now merged with Al Qaeda-backed groups or are explicitly cooperating with them.
  2. The U.S. and Russia can’t come to a political solution to the Syrian war, because the Assad regime and Russia keep bombing civilians in what they describe as a war against terrorism. The problem is that it is a war against terrorism because extremists groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are leading the fight against Assad.
  3. To defeat ISIS, the U.S. has primarily relied on Kurdish forces to push the ground fight along with an international coalition of airstrikes. Turkey does not support our arming of the Kurds and have been helping ISIS in their attacking Kurdish forces and in fighting Assad. Turkey has now invaded Syria in the circled area in the map above to drive the Kurds out of recent cities they’ve captured.

Things look pretty bad for the next U.S. president. They’re left with no good options in the fight against Assad, and a bickering coalition over how to fight ISIS. We’ll re-visit what the next administration’s Syria policy could look like in the last section.

But how did we even get here? We’re dealing with all this now because the world’s great powers staged a global proxy war over the Assad government …what are we even fighting over in the first place? 

–Why Is Each Side Fighting?–

Barack Obama and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

There are a multitude of reasons why so many different nations and non-state groups are involved in the Syrian war but for most casual observers the war in Syria is a war about human rights and democracy.

Indeed, Assad is a dictator who brutally cracked down on his own people when they started protesting against his repressive government. After Syria descended into civil war, Assad has not only been indiscriminately bombing civilian areas to drive out rebel groups, he is doing so using barrel bombs, napalm-like thermite bombs and chemical weapons including chlorine and sarin gas.

It’s easy to imagine that the U.S. support for the opposition in Syria is out of desire to promote democratic reform and to stop a ruthless dictator. But why are similarly repressive governments like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey on our side? Are they really trying to oust Assad to uphold any standard of democracy or respect for human rights?

There are four distinct wars happening in Syria right now, the first shouldn’t surprise anyone.

–War #1 – The War for Gas Pipelines in the Middle East– 


Shocking, a war in the Middle East that’s actually been about oil and gas the whole time.

Right now there are two proposed gas pipelines coming out of the Persian Gulf, both of which must cross through Syria to get to Europe – the Iran-Iraq-Syria Pipeline and the Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey Pipeline. The U.S. is supporting its Gulf allies in pushing for their pipeline and Russia is supporting its allies Iran and Syria for their pipeline – this division is not so coincidentally the two sides of the war in Syria today.

The pipeline war began in 2009 when Qatar proposed to Assad the construction of a joint liquid-natural-gas (LNG) pipeline from the South Pars / North Dome gas field in the Persian Gulf all the way to Europe. Assad said no. Instead, he opted to build an alternate pipeline with his allies Iraq and Iran. On July 25th, 2011, only five months into the Syrian uprising, Bashar al Assad quietly signed a $10 billion gas-pipeline deal with Iran and Iraq to begin construction on their pipeline.

As civil war has consumed Syria since, it should come as no surprise that Iran has been one of the principle backers of the Assad regime and the spurned countries, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have been the principle financiers of the Syrian opposition to overthrow Assad. These three nations have poured in far more millions than the U.S. into funding and arming the Syrian rebels to oust Assad and place in a new regime that will approve their pipeline.

Qatari Emir Al Thani, Turkish President Erdogan, Saudi King Salman

The South Pars / North Dome is the world’s largest gas field shared between Iran and Qatar in the Persian Gulf. The field holds an estimated 1,800 trillion cubic feet of natural gas allowing for an estimated pumping capacity of 100-120 million cubic feet of gas per day. For Turkey, the pipeline is a signature part of its long standing goal to break its dependence on Russian oil and become an energy transit hub at the crossroads of the Middle East and Europe.

“If completed, the project would have had major geopolitical implications. Ankara would have profited from rich transit fees. The project would have also given the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world” – POLITICO

Vladimir Putin sees the Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline as an existential threat to Russia and this is partly why Russia has intervened the most of any nation both diplomatically and militarily to keep Assad in power.

Russia currently enjoys its status as one of the world’s largest oil & natural gas suppliers because it singlehandedly controls the European energy market. A new pipeline to supply gas to Europe would change the energy game entirely. In Putin’s view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market.

When Assad announced in 2009 that he would refuse to sign the pipeline deal with Qatar, he even said he did so “to protect the interests of our Russian ally.”

Vladimir Putin, Bashar Assad
Bashar al Assad with Vladimir Putin – 2006

Russia and Syria have been close allies for decades, not just as of late. They share a deep economic and military relationship that’s cemented by Russia’s only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union hosted in the Syrian city of Tartus. If the pipeline by Putin’s allies in Syria and Iran is built, Russia would exert some measure of control over output and pricing decisions and thus maintain its grip over Europe’s energy needs.

“Syria is the only country in the Middle East which follows our advice, this is the country where we can exercise certain tangible influence…the loss of Syria will mean we will have no influence in this region at all,” says Ruslan Pukhov, Defense Analyst at Russian think-tank CAST.

Europe has been desperate to break its reliance on Russian gas and as a result the U.S. and Russia have been in a not-so-secret energy war in Eastern Europe to control the market. Syria sits at the middle of this great power energy war which is why the U.S. has a vested interest in the outcome.


The U.S. plays a very interesting role in the global energy market because of its relationship with OPEC, the cartel of 12 oil-producing nations around the world (which excludes Russia). Unknown to most, OPEC sells oil and gas on the international market strictly in U.S. dollars.

deal was struck in 1974 between the U.S. and OPEC to denominate all its oil sales in U.S. dollars in exchange for the U.S. providing permanent military security for the Saudi Kingdom. This came to be known as the “petrodollar” system, named for the use of dollars to purchase petroleum on the global oil market. Other countries have no choice but to buy and hold large reserves of U.S. dollars in their central banks because they cannot purchase oil from OPEC without dollars. 

Given the importance of oil and gas in the global economy (and America’s lack of an export economy), the world’s dependency on petrodollars to buy oil fundamentally underwrites the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

Even more so, any surpluses generated by the OPEC nations selling oil are invested back into the United States by buying US Treasury bonds or as deposits in U.S. banks. This was the second term of the agreement with OPEC and came to be known as “petrodollar recycling“.

The direct foreign investment of surplus oil profits into the U.S. banking system along with the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency is what allows the U.S government to perpetually finance the nation’s massive trade deficit by issuing dollar denominated assets at very low interest rates. It has also allowed the US to finance the world’s largest military and most importantly, it has allowed successive American administrations to spend far more, year-in year-out, than is raised in tax and export revenue.


If the U.S.-backed Qatar-Saudi Arabia-Turkey pipeline is built, Europe will have to purchase this new gas supply in U.S. dollars and the OPEC petrodollar system will remain intact.  If the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline backed by Russia is successfully built, then billions of barrels of gas will be sold to Europe in alternate currencies to the U.S. dollar.

If nations begin decoupling away from the U.S. dollar to purchase oil and gas it would subsequently erode the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, collapse the petrodollar and end the last four decades of “dollar hegemony” that the U.S. has enjoyed. This is an outcome Russia would like to see and one that the U.S. has gone to great lengths over the years to avoid.

“Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war, but the result of larger international players positioning themselves on the geopolitical chessboard in preparation for the opening of the pipeline” – Major Rob Taylor, US Army Command

The relationship between the U.S. dollar, oil and our propensity to stage military interventions in the Middle East is a well observed trend, but it is virtually never brought to light in the news. Most Americans believe we fight wars in the Middle East for oil and they’re not wrong..

Saddam Hussein (ousted 2003), Muammar Gaddafi (ousted 2011), Bashar al Assad (?)

The 2003 invasion of Iraq under the false pretense (I mean, really false pretense) of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs was an obvious oil grab after Saddam had stopped selling Iraqi oil in dollars (we switched it back to dollars after Saddam fell). The more recent 2011 U.S.-NATO led invasion of Libya ousted Muammar Gaddafi under the false pretense of an imminent genocide after Gaddafi planned to stop selling oil in dollars in favor of a gold-backed dinar currency (Libyan oil was then split up amongst the invading countries).

Those who defended the Iraq invasion never mentioned in public that the invasion was necessary to defend the dollar. To do so would have created a public backlash as well as public scrutiny of why the dollar was so vulnerable. To explain this vulnerability to the public, the explanation would have eventually revealed that we are a nation that cannot pay its debts. The political cost of a crashing economy, lack of funds for our ever-expanding military, and an alarmed public would have been an unbearable political burden for those in power – Bart Gruzalski, professor emeritus of philosophy from Northeastern University

Invariably the countries we have chosen to invade have all posed an acute threat to the petrodollar monetary system, regardless of what justification for intervention is sold to the public. Now that there is again a challenge to the petrodollar system, but in Syria, the world’s great powers have waged another bloody oil war in the name of democracy and human rights.

–War #2 – The War for Islamic Influence in the Middle East– 

Saudi king Salman (Sunni) and Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini (Shia) lead prayer

The war to control Syria is not just driven by competing gas pipelines, but strikes a deeper chord in a critically important divide in the Middle East.

After the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. a dispute over who should succeed him, his father-in-law Abu Bakr or cousin Ali,  would lead to a split in Islam between the Sunni and the Shia. This ancient schism has come to define much of the regional conflict in the Middle East today and plays a prominent role in the Syrian war.

In the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia considers itself the leader of Sunni Islam while Iran is the stronghold for Shia Islam. Saudi Arabia and Iran have an on-going rivalry for regional power in the Middle East that is rooted in the religious antagonism of the Sunni/Shia divide. The two have such a heated rivalry that in January of this year Saudi Arabia and Iran cut off all diplomatic ties with each other after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite cleric.  (A more deeper breakdown of how the Shia and Sunni differ theologically is here)

The distribution of Sunnis and Shias is not as even as you would imagine. Of the world’s more than 1.5 billion Muslims almost 85%-90% are Sunnis while only about 10-15% are Shia. Despite being a clear minority amongst Muslims globally, Shias have a strong presence in the Middle East. The Shiites are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon but there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

There are three nations in the Middle East with Shia-controlled governments today: Iran, Iraq and Syria. The rest are ruled by Sunnis.


The Sunni and Shia have actually gotten along for most of history. It’s a common misperception that the sectarian strife we see across the region today has been going on for thousands of years.  There were two events that occurred less than 40 years ago that would shake the foundations of the Muslim world and global politics at large – the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the ensuing Grand Mosque seizure in Mecca.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 deposed the pro-Western Shah of Iran and created an Islamic republic where Shia religious clerics were put in charge of the country. It was the first time a country in the modern Middle East was to be ruled under a theocratic constitution where a religious figure led the country – the Ayatollah.

This sent shockwaves through the Sunni-dominated Muslim world and especially amongst the Sunni religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia. They began to feel that Sunni Islam was under threat from the growing power of Shiites in Iran and staged a siege of Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, the Grand Mosque. They accused the ruling House of Saud monarchy as being heretics for its openness with the West and called for them to step down to create an Islamic republic in Saudi Arabia to counter Iran. To end the siege and prevent another religious uprising, the Saudi monarchy would give the religious conservatives, the ulama, significantly more power over the country – resulting in the strict sharia law enforced against women, minorities etc in Saudi Arabia today.

It was in 1979, less than 40 years ago, when religious conservatism would hijack both Iran and Saudi Arabia leading the thousands of years old Sunni/Shia split to see a re-awakening and giving rise to modern day anti-Western extremism.

Iranian protestors holding up a picture of Ayatollah Khomeini – Tehran, 1979

Over the last generation, the Saudi-Iran rivalry has become part of a larger “cold war” between the two for competing political and geostrategic interests in the region. In order to spread their influence both Iran and Saudi Arabia actively promote Shia and Sunni extremist groups in the Middle East as the two compete for Islamic authority and legitimacy across the region.

Iran played a central role in creating the Shiite-extremist group Hezbollah in 1982 which was/is primarily anti-Israeli but has also fueled sectarian violence with Sunnis in LebanonSaudi Arabia’s hardline Sunni Wahhabi theology served as the religious foundation for birth of Al Qaeda in 1998 and has played  a central role in ISIS’s flavor Islamic extremism which even considers Shiites as illegitimate Muslims.

Because Saudi Arabia and Iran have turned into theocracies in the last 30 years where religious authorities now wield an enormous amount of power in the government, whenever regional conflict breaks out it is incredibly important which governments are controlled by Sunnis and which are controlled by Shias.

Because of America’s animosity with Iran (starting with the Iran hostage crisis, really) along with its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf kingdoms, American foreign policy supports Sunni governments and Russian foreign policy supports Shia governments.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini (left), Assad (center), Hezbollah commander Hassan Nasrallah (right) at pro-Assad rally

Assad and the ruling Syrian government are Alawites, a sub-sect of Shia Islam. Thus, Russia and the Shia powers in the region like Iran, Iraq and the Shia militant group Hezbollah have been militarily backing Assad. Conversely,  the U.S. and all the Sunni powers, like the Gulf kingdoms and Sunni-led Turkey, are leading the opposition and have propped up Sunni militant rebel groups to oust the Assad Shia regime.

The underlying war for competing gas pipelines in Syria is a manifestation of how the Sunni/Shia conflict is intertwined into the broader geopolitical interests of the region. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would make the Shiite powers in the region, not the Sunni kingdoms, the principal suppliers to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran’s influence in the Middle East and around the world. This is an unacceptable outcome for the Sunni powers who see their religious authority and legitimacy threatened by a Shiite expansion of power.

But the Sunni/Shia balance is not just a matter of religious or political power, it has become an issue of survival for the citizens. Sunni governments like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain marginalize and persecute Shia groups at home while Shia Iran does the same with Sunnis. Bahrain’s treatment of Shias is actually being considered a modern day apartheid. This is why regime change has such huge consequences in the Middle East.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni regime, a Shia government came to power under the thumb of Iran which began jailing and killing Sunni leaders and stripping their political power. This in effect brought public support for a Sunni-extremist group like ISIS to take over much of Iraq to battle the new Shia government (although ISIS is now killing Sunnis too so they really have no friends). The religious high-stakes game of survival is playing out now in Syria as well.


This map above shows the religious demographics of Syria which explains why it has been so easy for Syria to descend into a sectarian religious war. Everything in blue is Sunni while everything in green is Alawite/Shia. As noted earlier, the Assad family is Alawite. The Alawites ethnicity in general controls almost all the political and military power in Syria but only about 11% of the Syrian population are Alawites, while close to 75% of Syrians are Sunni.

This imbalance in political representation is due to the French colonial rule of Syria which empowered the Alawite minority – a trend that continued and expanded when the Assad family came in power. In 1970 Syrian military general Hafez al-Assad led a military coup to overthrow the sitting government and the Assad family has ruled Syria for the 46 years since.

“An Alawi ruling Syria is like an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries.” – Daniel Pipes, Middle East Historian

The Assad Family – Hafez sitting down and Bashar is the tallest son who looks like Michael Cera during his mustache phase

The Assad regime actually had the support of most people in Syria, something that held true even a year into the civil war. This is why the influx of Sunni extremists groups into Syria escalated the war so significantly. The Alawite reign was not something that had sat well with the Sunni fundamentalists in Syria who saw their power as marginalized in the current state.

Because both President Bashar al-Assad and his father before him gave special priority, power, and benefit to Syria’s small Alawite minority while excluding the Sunni majority from resources and power, the nature of the country’s problems—and thus now the war—is infused with religion. It is true that oppositionists went to the street out of political, not theological, differences, but the fact that the political imbalance was drawn along religious lines put these religious identities at the heart of the fight. – Nicole Bibbins Sedaca, adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service

Alawites, or Alawis, consider themselves to be sub-sect within Shia Islam, but that idea itself is subject to intense debate amongst Islamic scholars. Some have said this would be like referring to Christianity as “an offshoot of Judaism.” Alawites hold some majorly unconventional beliefs in both the Sunni and Shia world like the incorporation of the “trinity” from Christianity, celebration of Christmas, consecration of wine, having Christian names etc.

As a result, when Syria descended into civil war Sunni Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia began to issue “fatwas”, or religious rulings, which declared Alawites to be heretics and non-Muslims and called for a “holy war” in Syria to topple the Assad regime and institute Sunni rule. This is why the civil war is now a matter of survival for the Alawite minority – if Assad fell and a radical Sunni regime came to power, they would undeniably be persecuted and killed.

Iran, Assad’s closest ally in the region, is also not a super fan of Alawi’s ruling Syria actually. The first Iranian Ayatollah in 1979 never actually met with the Assads because he did not consider them Muslims. Eventually Iranian clerics incorporated Alawites as part of the Twelver Shia branch, but everyone knows its a religious stretch. This is why the Iran-Syria relationship today isn’t over any real religious solidarity, but geopolitical interests they share in the region.

It is the underlying discrepancy in political power between Sunnis and Alawites in Syria along with the larger sectarian Saudi Arabia/Iran rivalry for regional power which is fueling what has become a religious war in Syria.

–War #3 – The War to Re-Draw National Borders in the Middle East–

isis20flag-isis20propaganda20video_0   File photo of a Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holding a Kurdistan flag during a deployment in the area near the northern Iraqi border with Syria, which lies in an area disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish region of Ninawa province                 Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh)                              Kurdish soldier

This is the war being waged by the Kurds and the Islamic State. The two are not particularly interested in a pipeline nor have any real stake in the Saudi Arabia/Iran rivalry, rather the two are fighting to fundamentally re-draw what the borders of Syria and its neighbors looks like.

The Islamic State is a counter-state movement that explicitly aims to destroy nation-state boundaries to expand, and thus legitimize, its self-proclaimed caliphate across the Middle East. It’s current self-ruled nation sits between Iraq and Syria but it has broader ambitions to control all the Middle East and parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.

The Kurds want to establish an autonomous Kurdish nation in the Middle East but their population is spread out between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They want the governments in the region to cede parts of their land to form this new state – so far Iraq has, but none of the other three have.  The Syrian Kurds have seceded from Assad’s rule and are fighting to rule autonomously.

Though the Kurds and ISIS are currently fighting with each other in Iraq and Syria as they compete for their respective goals, they are both challenging the same fundamental crisis in the Middle East – the Skyes-Picot agreement of 1916.

British Mark Skyes (right) and French Francois Georges-Picot (left)

The Skyes-Picot agreement was an agreement reached between Britain and France to partition the Ottoman Empire after World War I. The Ottoman Empire made the unfortunate decision of siding with the losing Central Powers Germany and Austria-Hungary, and after it fell the disastrous borders of the modern Middle East were created.

British diplomat Mark Sykes and French counterpart, François Georges-Picot would divide the Middle East into “spheres of influence” where the British came to rule the area that would become Iraq and France came to control Syria. As the map below shows, the partitioning had no intention of trying to empower self-rule amongst the region’s various ethnicities. These new nation-states were crafted to concentrate the location of oil fields within British and French control.

As a result, different and often unfriendly groups were shoved together and given unequal political power in just-made-up nations. This inevitably lead to one group taking power and oppressing the others causing the perpetual rebellions, coups, and sectarian violence that has come to plague the Middle East today. (So sad for a region that is literally where human civilization emerged from).

Iraq borders

Nowhere is the destruction of the Skyes-Picot partitioning more apparent than in Iraq where the combination of Arab Sunnis, Shia’s and ethnic Kurds has wreaked havoc on all three in recent Iraqi history. Sunni Saddam Hussein infamously used chemical weapons to massacre close to 50,000 Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war of the 80’s (we helped him). The Shiite Maliki government then came to power after Saddam and persecuted Iraqi Sunnis, using Shia militias to jail and kill Sunni political opponents. Now “Sunni” ISIS has run-over a lot of Iraq and is unleashing the medieval times on everyone in their path, with a special fury on Shiites and Kurds.

In Syria, the minority Alawi/Shia government led by Bashar’s father Hafez al Assad brutally massacred Sunnis during an Islamist uprising in the 1980s and the 2011 civil war has set off more sectarian violence against Sunnis and Kurds as the Alawites try and maintain their control over the country.

The Islamic State has actually singled out the Skyes-Picot agreement as the root of many of these modern day antagonisms. At its core ISIS is inciting a religious insurrection to overthrow all the post-World War I Western-made borders and re-instate the Caliphate-style ruling across the Muslim world. Except their caliphate is terrifying and oppressive, unlike many of the earlier Islamic caliphates.

“This blessed advance will not stop until we hit the last nail in the coffin of the Sykes–Picot conspiracy” – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Leader of the Islamic State

Map of Syria and Iraq with competing Kurdish and ISIS territory

Right now ISIS is battling with the Kurds as they both struggle to re-define the colonial borders that have already caused so much violence in the region.

However, there has been no greater victim of the Skyes-Picot borders than the Kurdish people. Having been separated into 4 different nations with no real political representation and facing relentless suppression and persecution in all four, the Kurds are desperate to re-make the Middle East. The turmoil in Syria and Iraq has empowered Kurdish separatists movements and these movements are here to stay. While it remains to be seen if the Syrian Kurds can acquire a form of autonomy that the Iraqi Kurds have, things remain bleak for the Turkish and Iranian Kurds.  Turkey has now become the central broker in the future of Skyes-Picot agreement.

Turkey, where a majority of all ethnic Kurds live, is especially fearful of the heightened power of the Syrian Kurds and has now invaded Syria to prevent a unified Kurdish border state forming between Turkey and Syria. They fear that a Kurdish enclave at their southern border will empower the Kurds in Turkey to demand autonomy of their own and this is why Turkey has been low-key helping ISIS fight the Kurds to prevent this. Resharing this quote from earlier in the article – 

The Turkish government has made it clear that given a choice between defeating Islamic State and forestalling any possibility of an independent Kurdish state along its southern border, it will opt to go to war against the Kurdish YPG and to tolerate the continued existence of the Islamic State. – Joseph V. Micallef, Military historian

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The Skyes-Picot agreement has hung heavily over the years of U.N. peace initiatives for Syria as diplomats recognize the difficulty of maintaining Syria, Iraq and Turkey’s territorial integrity while trying to grant autonomy to large, now armed, ethnic factions.

“The Skyes-Picot agreement…looms over everything Mr. Kerry and his fellow foreign ministers are doing here….In October, the ministers, who formed the so-called International Syria Support Group, agreed that “Syria’s unity, independence, territorial integrity and secular character are fundamental.” Yet some of the key players in the slow-motion effort to get a transitional Syrian government in place say, when granted anonymity, that they think unity and territorial integrity are simply not possible” – NY Times

Many have said ISIS’s declaration of their caliphate in effect has ended the Skyes-Picot borders of the Middle East, but it remains to be seen if/how the borders of the Middle East may change by the end of the Syrian war as many groups no longer recognize the existing borders.

–War #4  – The War for Democratic Reform and Human Rights in Syria–

It feels wrong to place this as the last war, but unfortunately the conflict in Syria stopped being about democratic reform long ago. Nonetheless, it’s critically important to understand the transformation of Syria’s democratic protests into a sectarian conflict and how it will affect what comes next in Syria.


The Syrian war had its roots in the “Arab Spring” – a revolutionary wave of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa between 2011-2012. These uprisings were born out of discontent with high unemployment, restrictions on free speech, corruption in the government, poverty, increasing food prices etc.

The uprisings began in Tunisia and once the Tunisian government fell, the revolutionary ferver spread to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The governments in Egypt and Libya would fall in 2011 but there is still lingering turmoil five years later in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen.

The Assad government did not take well to the uprisings in Syria and harshly cracked down on the protestors. Assad’s forces began imprisoning hundreds of protestors, outright killing many and even firing on their funeral processions. Three months into the protests in April 2011 72 protestors were shot and killed by Assad’s forces, shocking the world. This marked a turning point in the uprising – what started out as demonstrations for democratic reform in Syria now changed to demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

If you’re wondering why the Syrian government would start killing its own people because of democratic protests, an important part of understanding the Syrian war is that Bashar al Assad’s violent response to the uprising was not just a random crackdown but a continuation of the Assad’s regime’s policy toward civil uprising that began with his father, Hafez al Assad.

Bashar al Assad and his father Hafez al Assad have ruled Syria since 1970

In 1976, Hafez al-Assad had Syrian forces intervene in Lebanon’s civil war on behalf of Lebanese Christian groups who were fighting Muslim groups. The Muslim Brotherhood and Syria’s Sunni majority saw this as heresy and launched a six year civil uprising against the Assad government. 

Hafez al-Assad quashed the uprisings in a particularly brutal fashion. In 1982, the Syrian government nearly leveled the city of Hama, where the opposition was strongest, slaughtering thousands of civilians in what is now called the Hama Massacre.  The regime learned from this experience that mass violence was a successful response to popular unrest — a lesson that was applied particularly brutally in 2011. 

“The lesson of Hama must have been at the front of the mind of every member of the Assad regime. Failure to act decisively, Hama had shown, inevitably led to insurrection. Compromise could come only after order was assured. So Bashar followed the lead of his father. He ordered a crackdown.” – William Polk, Professor of History at University of Chicago, and former advisor to JFK


The brutal crackdowns failed to intimidate or quell the popular unrest. Assad began offering political concessions to the opposition like promising a constitutional referendum, allowing a multi-party system, along with greater press freedom. He also cut taxes and raised state salaries by 1,500 Syrian pounds ($32.60) a month. However, these promises were largely dismissed by the opposition and international community as too little too late following violent crackdowns and were simply vague proposals with no concrete action.

Assad had maintained from the beginning that the Syrian uprising was one instigated by “foreign saboteurs” seeking to undermine the country’s security and stability. Indeed a 2009 WikiLeaks cable would reveal that the U.S. had been covertly funding opposition groups to Assad’s government since 2006. But what happened next would transform a mostly peaceful, secular democratic uprising into the sectarian conflict dominated by jihadi extremists today.

As Assad’s concessions failed to placate the popular unrest in the country, Assad began releasing hundreds of Syrian prisoners from jail. These were not protestors wrongfully jailed from the demonstrations, but known Islamic jihadists that were being held in the infamous Sedanya Prison (think Syria’s Guantanamo).

Aerial view of Sedanya Prison

Two presidential amnesties were issued in 2011 where approximately 260 prisoners from Sedanya prison were released – all convicted or accused al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists. Their release would activate a terrorist infrastructure in Syria to give rise to Islamist groups like Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and eventually ISIS.

Up until this point, the protest movement was non-religious; it was inherently populist and nationalist in its orientation….their release opened the gates for the emergence of an Islamist component within the uprising—specifically, eventually, a militant Islamist component…it was those initial releases that allowed the quite dramatic emergence, and then growth, and then consolidation of Islamist and jihadist militancy, to acquire the kind of prominence that it has had for the last couple of years or so. – Charles Lister, Author of Syrian Jihad (and leading journalist on Syria, follow him on twitter @Charles_Lister

Assad’s decision to release jihadists from prison was intended to tinge the opposition with extremist elements to make it harder for Western powers to support any rebel group against his government. Prominent Syria analyst Charles Lister described it as a “devious attempt by the Assad regime to manipulate its adversary, by unleashing those it could safely label as ‘jihadist’ or ‘extremist’ among its ranks”.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) soldiers in Syria

The move to release jihadists to dissuade foreign involvement ultimately didn’t work. The hijacking of the Syrian reform initially gave the Obama administration pauses about whether or not to arm the opposition, but our Gulf allies held no such reservations about arming hardline Islamists. Eventually the U.S. decided to go ahead and arm the Syrian opposition even when it was clear it had been overrun with extremists who were not fighting for a “democratic” or “secular” Syria.

The tendency of the U.S. to support regime change, even at the risk of empowering extremists, belies one of the most problematic aspects of American foreign policy – does the U.S. actually intervene to uphold democracy and human rights?

One needs look no farther than a similar uprising that happened across the pond in a tiny country called Bahrain. Bahrain’s demographics are almost the direct opposite of Syria’s – 60-70% of the nation is Shia but is suppressed economically and politically by the minority Sunnis who control the government.

Protests in Bahrain against Al Khalifa monarchy – February 2011

Often called the “Forgotten Revolution” of the Arab Spring, the 2011 uprisings in Bahrain saw hundreds of thousands in the streets demanding the removal of the Al Khalifa monarchy and for more inclusive political and economic reform in the country. Like Assad, Bahrain’s leaders engaged in a brutal crackdown of the protests which included arbitrary imprisonmenttorturing of prisoners, denial of medical care and out right killing of over a hundred protestors by government police.

The U.S. response could not have been more opposite than how it was in Syria.

At the onset of the protests Obama voiced support for a “dialogue initiative” between the monarchy and the opposition and to “return to a process that will result in real, meaningful changes for the people there.” After the government response turned violent, the U.S. would simply ask the Bahrain monarchy to “hold accountable” those responsible for human-rights abuses against unarmed demonstrators. That was the beginning and end of the US’s support for democracy and human rights in Bahrain.

At no point did the US call for the king of Bahrain to step down (certainly not declare the king a “war criminal” like they did for Assad) nor provide any diplomatic, humanitarian or armed support to the opposition. The US in fact went to such great lengths to AVOID looking like it supported the protestors in Bahrain that the State Department blanked a media story where the protestors stated that the United States supported them. The most direct aid the US gave to the protestors in Bahrain was when Ludovic Hood, a US embassy official, reportedly brought a box of doughnuts out to the protesters

Protestors fleeing Bahraini military crackdowns – May 2011

To many observers, the lackluster response from the U.S. came as no surprise. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s critically important 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf and is one of our critical allies in deterring Iran. Not only that, Bahrain is one of the largest clients of the U.S. defense industry. Since 1993, the US defense industry has sold over $400 million dollars of arms to Bahrain and like Russia’s arms relationship with Assad, this showed no sign of letting up despite a brewing civil war.

“Starting with Bahrain, the administration has moved a few notches toward emphasizing stability over majority rule,” said a U.S. official. “Everybody realized that Bahrain was just too important to fail.”

During the Bahrain’s violent crackdown on the opposition the Obama administration tried to follow through on a $53 million arms deal to the Bahrain monarchy. Congressional Democrats sharply criticized the administration and invoked the Leahy Amendment in demanding that the U.S. halt military aid to Bahrain’s security forces due to human-rights violations.

However, the State Department was able to use a legal loophole to continue to sell the arms to Bahrain during their brutal suppression of the protests without notification to Congress or a public announcement (a small donation to the Clinton Foundation may have helped). The arms sale included a wide variety of weapons systems, ammunition, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships along with $70,000 worth of arms sales classified as “toxicological agents.” This began to fuel speculation that Bahrain was in fact killing its protestors using US-manufactured weaponry and with tear-gas supplied by the United States.

Obama and Clinton with Crown prince of Bahrain Salman al-Khalifa – June 2011

Bahrain’s uprising ended when Saudi Arabia’s military entered Bahrain to forcefully suppress the revolts.  Human rights abuses by the Bahraini monarchy against its people continue to this day and the nation is considered the new Apartheid nation. U.S. approved arm sales continue to go to the Bahraini kingdom and anti-American resentment is sky high in the country.

Understandably Russia accused the US of setting double standards at the UN Security Council, and this was one of the main stumbling blocks to a diplomatic resolution early  in the Syrian conflict. The Russians rejected the U.S. demands that Assad step down and Russia end its military alliance with Syria while the U.S. was covertly arming Assad’s opposition and was supporting Bahrain’s monarchy in its repression of a similar uprising.

“Why is the US determined to sell weapons to Bahrain after the Bahraini authorities, with help from the Saudis, suppressed the Arab Spring in Bahrain? Russia doesn’t see any problems selling weapons to Syria if the CIA and French and British secret services are shipping military hardware via Turkey to the rebels.” – Russian Defense Analyst Ruslan Pukhov

The collapse of the Syrian peace process despite numerous conferences, summits, negotiations, peace initiatives, cease-fires etc etc etc may be the most depressing part of the Syrian war. There is no one nation responsible for the collective failure of the world to let Syria implode over the last six years as international diplomacy has been characterized by relentless finger pointing, broken promises and back stabbing. There’s a chance its actually been our fault all along for not getting an achievable political solution to the Syria crisis back in 2012, but there’s a lot of blame to share really.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov

One thing I enjoy when reading various articles is to read the comments on them because I often come away with different perspectives. I copied this back-and-forth on an article I read about who to blame for the ongoing Syrian turmoil because I thought it presented two good perspectives on Syria today.

Phillip Davis- 

When, as they so often do, a dictatorship degenerates into chaos and civil war, the lion’s share of the blame must be placed on the dictatorial regime and its supporters, both domestic and foreign. When the Assad Regime was faced with peaceful protests, it chose to respond by unleashing goon squads and it’s not so secret police on the protesters and imprisoning protest leaders. When that failed, it unleashed the military. It mattered not one whit whether the protestors were Islamist extremists, advocates of a more open democratic society or merely Syrians fed up with the repression, corruption and poverty. It didn’t matter whether the protesters had outside support or not. All that mattered was that they challenged the Assad Regime’s absolute power to rule the peoples of Syria. So spare us the deflection of blame to Turkey, the US, Europe or anyone else; whatever their responsibility for the condition of Syria today pales in comparison to that of the Assad family, its Regime, the Alawites, Russia and Iran.

Jo Kleeb –

Libya was the pin in the grenade for the African continent exploding over Europe. Syria is also the pin in the grenade that, if left to fail, would explode the entire Middle East.

Yes, there has been much culpability from multiple directions for the situation in Syria. As convenient as it may have been to try and blame Assad for everything, this was just not the case, nor should it be seen that way.

If we are to blame anything, it is the degree to which we endorse violent overthrow of Governments as a means toward change. It is the degree to which neighbours can tolerate seeing the countries next to them developing towards greater democracy, stronger infrastructure, success as a tourist destination, etc, without having to come up with some pre-text to bomb them to bits.

It is the degree to which the biggest boys in the sandpit learn to respect the right of the smaller boys in the sandpit to not always follow their rules and do what they want them to do, but to demand the right to quietly do their own thing without harassment.

Anyway let’s see how everyone’s doing in this conflict right now.

—Who Controls What in Syria?—

Political Geography Now requires a subscription for their May-August 2016 Syria conflict maps (ugh)

This map is a few months old but the battlefield has largely remained the same other than the two cities in northern Syria where I put in a checkered circle.

As you can see, ISIS has taken over most of the eastern portion of Syria and the Kurds control much of the north. The Assad regime controls most of western Syria (where a majority of Syrians live) and is primarily battling the rebels in the south around the capitol of Damascus, and in the north-west in the nation’s largest city and economic hub, Aleppo.

The battle for the city of Aleppo has gotten especially more attention over the last few months as harrowing photos and videos have emerged of the carnage. The regime and the eclectic mix of Syrian rebels groups are viciously battling over control for the city which could have huge ramifications for any potential political settlement to the civil war.


The current focus of the Syrian civil war is in the north-west area, both in Aleppo around closer to the Turkish border, where Turkey just invaded two months ago.

Last month, U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG and SDF forces captured the northern city of Manbij from ISIS control. Turkey then freaked out that the Syrian Kurds were becoming too powerful and would form a “Kurdish corridor” on their southern border. The Turks proceeded to invade Syria a few weeks later – overtaking the ISIS-controlled city of Jarablus and then driving the U.S.-armed Kurds out of Manbij, the city the Kurds had just taken from ISIS.

It is believed that Turkey is seeking to create a “safe zone” in northern Syria from where it can draw deeper attacks into the country against against the Assad regime in Aleppo as well as against ISIS and the Kurds.

Yellow: Kurds, Green: Assad Regime, Red: Syrian Rebels, Black: ISIS

Erdogan is signaling that he favors establishing a 5,000 kilometer “safe zone” in Syria which could be well received by the U.S. and be a possible area of cooperation.

Right now Assad has manpower problems, the rebels are deeply divided, the Kurds have no ability to control a mostly Arab country, and ISIS has managed to make enemies out of virtually every powerful actor in the Middle East. No side is strong enough to crush any other by dint of force, so gains end up being pretty temporary. Given this stalemate, what could happen next in Syria?

 –What’s Happening Next in Syria?–

So there are a range of things that could happen next in Syria, but let me quickly paint the grim picture of the situation the next U.S. president will be walking into.

Diplomacy has collapsed completely. After trading allegations of violating the latest cease-fire, the collapsed truce has seen Russia and the Assad government continue their horrific siege of Aleppo to wipe out the Syrian opposition.

The Syrian rebel groups on the ground represent a variety political and religious ideologies, but extremism and non-secular agendas are rampant amongst many/most of them. The so called “moderate” Free Syrian Army is neither moderate, nor really a coherent army…and they hate the U.S  so we have no real allies on the ground either.

Thousands of Syrian refugees continue to pour into Europe and neighboring states while ISIS continues to stage devastating terror attacks around the world.

There is a growing belief that the time for a diplomatic/political solution to the Syria crisis is over. Diplomats in the State Department are urging the president to begin directly striking the Assad government’s forces rather than funding unreliable proxies. A decision that could possibly lead to a war with Russia.

The next U.S. president will begin their term in the Oval Office having to answer one simple question – am I willing to accept an outcome in the Syrian war in which Bashar al-Assad stays in power? 


Right now it appears that Hillary Clinton would answer that question saying no, Assad must step down and Donald Trump of all people would say, yes Assad can stay in power.

That’s right, the loathsome TV character that is Donald Trump might actually be the anti-war candidate for Syria. And a lot of that has to do with his relationship with Russia. 

There has been a general cloud suspicion of Russian activity over the 2016 election and at this stage there are some obvious signs that the Trumps, their business, and their inner circle share somewhat close ties to the Russian elite. Trump and Putin themselves have some odd affinity for each other.  Given Russia’s significant political and military commitment to keep Assad in power, they have a vested interested in the next president stopping support to Assad’s opposition.

Trump has so far suggested just that. He has vaguely communicated that the U.S. should devote its efforts in the Middle East to eliminating ISIS rather than continuing to fight Assad.  It’s hard to say whether Trump would actually pursue a policy of restraint in Syria because when it comes to foreign policy he doesn’t really stand for anything nor does he know a whole lot about international affairs. He espouses a very “America first” message but no coherent principles on U.S. use of force. This will make him rely extensively on his foreign policy advisors.

Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisors are a motley crew of conservative think-tank folk that are pretty unconventional in the broader conservative foreign policy establishment. One of his advisors, Carter Page is currently being investigated for his ties to the Kremlin and the Russian gas company Gazprom and has openly criticized the U.S. for a “hypocritical focus on democratization”. Trump’s most prominent foreign policy advisor and possible Defense Secretary is General Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  Mike Flynn was just at a dinner with Vladimir Putin and has publicly favored closer ties to Russia.

US Army Lt General Flynn testifies before House Intelligence Committee in Washington
Former DIA chief and Trump’s favorite general – General Mike Flynn

This is not to say the Clinton don’t have ties to Russia…they have many connections to Russia. But Hillary and Putin actually despise each other. Putin is convinced Hillary tried to have him overthrown as President of Russia in 2011 and Russia’s senior diplomats had a difficult working relationship with her while she was Secretary of State during the infamous “Russian reset”.

“In our administration, Secretary Clinton always had a tougher line toward Putin and the Russians than other senior administration officials,” said Michael A. McFaul, an adviser on Russia who served as United States ambassador to Moscow. “It was Putin’s strong belief that we, with Clinton in the lead, were trying to meddle with his regime.”

Clinton actually spent most of her time as Secretary of State from 2011-2012 feuding with the Russians as she tried to organize international coalitions to oust Assad from power – someone she has called a “war criminal” and has demanded to step down since 2011. This effort ended after an infamous breakdown of a potential Syrian peace plan with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at the June 2012 Geneva conference.

Clinton’s persistent, strongly anti-Russian rhetoric throughout the campaign and historical animosity for Assad has foreshadowed what could be a massive showdown in Syria between the U.S. and Russia. The Clinton foreign policy team has communicated a much clearer message about what direction they would likely go in Syria – directly striking Assad.

The most prominent Clinton’s foreign policy advisors that have signaled they would support a more aggressive policy against the Assad regime are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and former CIA director Mike Morell. Flournoy is considered the likely tap to become Clinton’s Defense Secretary and Mike Morell could see himself again in charge of the CIA.

Gen. Patraeus Testifies At Senate Armed Services Hearing On Afghan War
Michele Flournoy – Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, likely Secretary of Defense in Clinton administration

In an August interview, former CIA director Mike Morell advocated the U.S. start covertly killing Russian and Iranian soldiers that are supporting Assad in Syria. He further proposed that U.S. forces begin bombing Syrian government installations, including government offices, aircraft and presidential guard positions in order to “scare Assad.”

In a June interview, Flournoy said she would “direct U.S. troops to push President Bashar al-Assad’s forces out of southern Syria” and specifically advocated what she called “limited military coercion” that could pressure Syrian Bashar al-Assad to negotiate and give the opposition the leverage they need. She has also supported the push for a “No-Fly Zone” in northern Syria – a territory or an area over which aircraft are not permitted to fly – something that Russia has explicitly warned the U.S. not to pursue.

Hillary Clinton herself has long advocated for the implementation of a No-Fly Zone  as a necessary next step in the Syrian conflict.

“I am advocating the no-fly zone both because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians; I’m also advocating it because I think it gives us some leverage in our conversations with Russia” – Clinton, December 2015

Trump and his closest foreign policy advisor General Mike Flynn have also suggested that they support creating air and ground “safety zones” in Syria resembling a No-Fly Zone

“Well, you know, I’ve always said we need to have a safe zone….we have to have some kind of a safe zone. And we have to get the Gulf states to pay for it.” – Donald Trump told WYFF News 4 in February in the most Donald Trump way possible.

This is a proposal that Obama has directly opposed doing in Syria along with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president’s military advisors.

Former Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said imposing a no-fly zone would require as many as 70,000 American servicemen to dismantle Syria’s sophisticated antiaircraft system and then impose a 24-hour watch over the country. Current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said during testimony to the Senate that creating a no-fly zone over Syria would require declaring war on Assad and Russia, a “fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

Hypothetical No-Fly Zone in northern Syria

It seems like the U.S. could be on a path to some form of a No-Fly Zone regardless given the pressure now for the U.S. to make a decision about what to do in Syria.

Based on Trump’s lack of any real foreign policy ideas on Syria and actual praise of Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign,  perhaps Trump would seek not to escalate tensions with Russia by imposing a No-Fly Zone in Syria. Then again it’s really hard to predict what Trump might do. As someone who has supported the torture program, a massive build up of the military and generally being a loose cannon on foreign policy, anything is possible. Trump has also said he would like to see 30,000 U.S. troops on the ground to combat ISIS so he will be escalating U.S. involvement in the Middle East regardless.

It remains to be seen how Clinton would proceed with the Russians in Syria. On her campaign website  her Syria policy right now is “Pursuing a diplomatic strategy aimed at resolving Syria’s civil war”….but given the utter collapse of diplomacy, the internal frustration within the State Department and what looks like a bipartisan foreign policy team that supports a hawkish approach to Assad, the prospects look grim.

It’s important to remember that the Syrian conflict is a global war, not one that hinges on whatever the U.S. chooses to do. So let’s re-visit the first war we discussed.

Predicting the End of the Gas Pipeline War – Turkey and Saudi Arabia Switch Sides and the Dollar’s Collapse Is Near

Turkish President Erdogan and Vladimir Putin restart their relationship

There is currently a monumental shift in global politics underway and it centers around a longtime U.S. allies in Turkey as well as Saudi Arabia.

At the end of July 2016 there was an attempted coup by the Turkish military to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power. The coup failed and Erdogan has stayed in power, now purging entire parts of the government who may oppose him. Erdogan and the Turkish public have firmly pointed their finger at the U.S. as secretly being behind the coup and supporting the plotters.

Turkey has accused Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric for masterminding the coup. Gulen resides freely in Pennsylvania under CIA protection and the United States has been dragging its feet over Ankara’s demand for Gulen’s extradition. This has raised anti-American feelings among Turks and the Turkish government to a fever pitch. (To make it that much worse, Gulen’s political allies have donated a lot of money to the Clinton campaign).

There are many layers behind why the U.S. may have wanted Erdogan out but the result has been a re-forged friendship between Turkey and Russia. Erdogan and Putin met for the first time at the beginning of August in a high profile warming of relations since Turkey infamously shot down a Russian warplane in Syria in 2015.

The new Turkey-Russia relationship has some serious questions in that Turkey has long wanted Assad gone, while Russia has been Assad’s strongest backer. But this is why the pipeline war is important.


Turkey has now pivoted away from backing the Qatar-Saudi Arabia pipeline which drove its quest to remove Assad from power and has since inked a deal with Russia to construct the “Turkish Stream” natural gas pipeline. The Turkish Stream is meant to replace the defunct South Stream pipeline in the Black Sea as an alternate conduit to sell natural gas into Europe.

More so, there is a growing belief that Iran may actually be prepared to strike a deal with Turkey that in exchange for Turkey to stop supporting Assad’s opposition, the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline could actually become the Iran-Iraq-Turkey pipeline en-route to Europe. These are all tentative ideas, but what is clear is that one of the most vital U.S. allies in the Middle East is turning towards our rivals.

Since the rapprochement of Russia and Turkey,  U.S.-Turkey relations have gone straight downward. Things are so hostile that the U.S. had to move out its nuclear weapons hosted at the Turkish Air Base at Incirlik. Turkey proceeded to not alert the U.S. that it would send its army to cross into Syria and has now turned its fire on U.S.-backed Kurdish forces forcing them to withdraw east over the Euphrates River.

To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia, another critical U.S. ally, has started drifting towards Russia as well.

A lot of this is driven by the Saudi’s hating the Iranian nuclear deal that the Obama administration negotiated with them. In the zero-sum cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it was viewed as a historical betrayal by the U.S. to remove the sanctions on Iran and potentially accelerate their path to a nuclear weapon in a decade.


In fact, it is now widely believed that the Obama administration didn’t make good on its “red line” threat in 2013 to strike Assad if he used chemical weapons, because Iran threatened to back out of the nuclear deal in the early stage of the negotiations.

Rather than it achieving the regional security we hoped, the Saudi’s just signed a contract with Vladimir Putin to build 16 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, raising the possibility of a nuclear arms race with Iran if the nuclear deal collapses (which is looking that way). It’s also a sign that Saudi Arabia may be giving up on the Qatar-Saudi-Turkey pipeline that Russia has gone to such lengths to prevent in Syria.

All of this has very bad implications for the U.S. and its petrodollar, which is reliant on U.S. denominated oil sales dominating the oil market. There are reports that the Saudi’s are preparing to dump the petrodollar as OPEC’s currency and are considering giving Russia OPEC membership. Things are not looking good between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the souring relationship made headlines last week when the U.S. Congress overrode President Obama’s veto on a bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia (I’ve written about the role of Saudi Arabia in financing the 9/11 attacks here).


The end to the petrodollar could be especially devastating to the U.S. economy now because the U.S. dollar is facing a lot of trouble at home.

For the last 6 years the U.S. Federal Reserve has pursued a policy of “quantitative easing” which has printed $12 trillion dollars in new money to buy up the toxic assets held by the banks in the 2008 Wall Street collapse. The end of the petrodollar would cause trillions of more dollars to flood back into the U.S., skyrocketing inflation and make the U.S. dollar lose its grip as the world’s reserve currency.

If there is another significant crash in the U.S. economy then we may be looking at a re-structuring of the global monetary system and there has already been calls for the end of dollar domination in institutions like the World Bank  and IMF.

Over the last few months there has been a growing consensus amongst economists that the U.S. economy is about the enter another recession – in fact Deutsche Bank has said there’s a 60% chance it’ll happen within the next year.

In recent months, the gap between the three-month and 10-year Treasuries have begun to close rapidly—a signal to some investors that a recession may be on its way. “This relentless flattening of the curve is worrisome,”  said the team of analysts led by Deutsche Bank, referring to the graph that plots bonds of different maturities against their yields. “Given the historical tendency of a very flat or inverted yield curve to precede a U.S. recession, the odds of the next economic downturn are rising.”

Former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has called this collapse part of a “coming global re-alignment” where global power will inevitably become decentralized from the United States where many regions of the world will crafting their own agendas which America don’t have the power to control.

Russia and China, the two major global powers other than the United States seem to be preparing to transition to a gold-backed currency to wean off the Western currency system. The two have been voraciously buying gold in the international market and some economists are predicting gold will again come to dominate our monetary system.


The United States stands at a critical crossroads in its foreign policy beginning with Syria. Whether or not it chooses to escalate the conflict against Assad remains to be seen, but there are larger tectonic plates in global politics shifting based on this decision.

The U.S. has enjoyed the luxury of being the sole great power in the world for the last 30 years, but the war in Syria may be where we look back and realized this was no longer true. The Syrian war has demonstrated that there are many other countries who have the military and economic power to challenge the U.S. dominated international system. It will be interesting to see which of our presidents embraces this reality and which will fight to prevent it from happening.

Will the U.S. continue its great power Cold War with Russia and re-up the war in Syria or will we finally give up on the project of regime change all together and maybe try and work with our rivals instead of constantly going to war with them?

–Ten Questions For the People Running To Be President–

1. Will you accept an end to the Syrian conflict which sees Bashar al-Assad stay in power?

2. If Assad must step down, do you have an idea of who you would like to see replace him?

3. If you decide that diplomacy is no longer a feasible solution in Syria, how would you increase U.S. efforts to counter the Assad regime directly? Would you continue the  the CIA train & equip program for vetted “moderate” rebel groups or would you authorize airstrikes against Assad regime targets?

4. Does the United States recognize the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Fateh-al Sham as distinct from Al Qaeda, or will it become listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and not receive any U.S. support ?

5. If your administration wanted to increase the scope of U.S. involvement in the fight against Assad or ISIS, would it be subject to Congressional approval?

6. What will your administration do about Turkey’s antagonism with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces? Will the U.S. continue relying on the Kurdish military to fight ISIS?

7. Would you support an independent Kurdish initiative with the Kurds retaining autonomous territory in Syria?

8. Would you support the enforcement of a No-Fly Zone over parts of Syria? What would be the penalty for violating the No-Fly Zone and who would enforce it?

9. Would you put U.S. ground troops in Syria to fight ISIS, if so how many?

10. Who would you nominate as your Secretary of State?

Fifteen Years Later, Congress Finally Admits Who Was Behind 9/11

Fifteen Years Later, Congress Finally Admits Who Was Behind 9/11

I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to write this article because it’s a very sensitive subject for many people. I ultimately decided to write it because I thought it was interesting enough that it may make you think a little deeper about the events happening around you…especially if you found yourself doing a lot of deep thinking yesterday.

I’m not here to say that “Bush did 9/11” to invade the Middle East, or that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, or anything related to the popular conspiracy theories related to the 9/11 attacks. What I am here to do is tell you about a bill in Congress that has bipartisan support and has been publicly supported by both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. But as of two days ago this bill will be vetoed by President Barack Obama.

We have been well aware for years that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. But fifteen years after those attacks, this bill would now allow the victims and their families to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a US ally, for the role it may have played in supporting the hijackers who flew two planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

The 19 hijackers in 9/11. 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia.

I was very young when 9/11 happened. I was 7 years old in 2001. Many of my friends have stories of being pulled out from school, having their teachers tell them, hearing from siblings, friends, relatives etc. Where were you when you first heard about 9/11?

I don’t remember hearing anything about 9/11 while at school. My only recollection was walking home from the bus and seeing my Mom in front of the TV using the VCR to record the breaking news onto a cassette tape. Maybe she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and wanted to record it. (I’m gonna try and find that tape next time I go home)

The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center is one of the most important events not only in American history, but world history. It is certainly the most significant event of our lifetime. How our nation responded to that horrific act of terror, which left 3,000 dead in the heart of New York City, has largely determined the world we live in today. The national security apparatus put in place after these attacks is represented in many of our modern day clashes with the government like dealing with the aftermath of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, NSA surveillance programs even the Apple vs. FBI showdown.

So why after 15 years is Congress re-visiting 9/11 now?

The legacy of 9/11 understandably cast its shadow over the primary election in New York two days ago. Perhaps that’s what made the timing so interesting as the night before the primary both Democratic Presidential candidates came out in support of Congress’s move to pass a bill called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) – New York

Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful Democrats in the United States Senate (and actually Amy Schumer’s cousin), wrote and pushed this bill with Republican majority whip John Cornyn (R) – Texas.

The bill would make it easier for the victims and families of 9/11 to sue official members of a state government if they played a direct role in assisting or abetting the 9/11 hijackers. The bill would remove what’s called “sovereign immunity” – the idea that a state government cannot be held legally responsible for any wrongdoing and is thus protected from civil suits or criminal prosecution.

This bill is coming on the heels of recent calls on the government to declassify the final 28 pages from the 2002 Joint Inquiry findings into the causes of the attack, which were ultimately left out of the 9/11 Commission report.  Published in 2004, the 9/11 Commission was the final report from the congressional investigation into the causes and events leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center. The report is almost 600 pages long but does not include the final 28 pages from the chapter of the Joint Inquiry findings titled “Part 4: Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” The Bush administration sealed the pages and said that their publication would damage American intelligence operations and reveal “sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror.”


Anyone in Congress can actually read the 28 pages, but they must go through a difficult process to get clearance from the House Intelligence Committee to do so. After obtaining permission, they can read the 28 pages inside a highly secure, soundproof facility in the basement of the U.S. Capitol. They are not allowed to bring support staff with them, cannot take any notes, and are observed closely while reading them.

“It’s so secret that I had to get all of my security clearances and go into the bowels of Congress with someone looking over my shoulder.” – Thomas Keane, Chairman of 9/11 commission final report

While in Congress, Bernie Sanders has not read the 28 pages thus far, and actually said he won’t, while Hillary Clinton would not comment when asked if she had read them.

But from those who have read the documents, which has not been many apparently, there has been an ongoing push to declassify these last pages of the 9/11 report for several years. They claim that there is no information in them that would damage national security. Senator Richard Shelby, speaking at the time as ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, said, “I went back and read those pages thoroughly. My judgment is that 95 percent of that information could be declassified. Walter Jones, a Republican congressman from North Carolina who has read the missing pages also contended, “There’s nothing in it about national security.”

So if there really is nothing damaging to national security in these sealed 28 pages, what is actually in them and why won’t the government release them to the public?

Saudi Royal Family (King Salman in middle)

According to former Florida Senator Bob Graham and others:

“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.”

Rep. Stephen Lynch (D) – Massachusetts, said

“Those twenty-eight pages tell a story that has been completely removed from the 9/11 Report,” Lynch maintains. The evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 hijacking is “very disturbing,” and that “the real question is whether it was sanctioned at the royal-family level or beneath that, and whether these leads were followed through.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R) – Kentucky said in a 2014 press conference

“I had to stop every two or three pages and rearrange my perception of history.”

15 of the 19 hijackers in 9/11 were in fact citizens of Saudi Arabia.

If the final 28 pages are declassified by the Obama administration and made public, then it could be used as evidence in numerous on-going lawsuits filed by the families of 9/11 victims. These suits target Saudi charities, banks, and individuals. The plaintiffs believe that the withheld 28 pages will support their allegation that the 9/11 hijackers received direct assistance from Saudi government officials in the United States. President Obama has twice promised to release the 28 pages, but so far has failed to do so.

In 2005, the government of Saudi Arabia was dismissed from the suits on the grounds of sovereign immunity. But in July 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the Kingdom as a defendant. Now Congress is coming together on a bill to codify dismissing  a “sovereign immunity” defense from these issues entirely.  

Barack Obama landed in Saudi Arabia yesterday for his last official state visit to the kingdom. The meeting was to primarily discuss the nuclear deal with Iran but there was much speculation that the 9/11 bill and 28 pages would be brought up. Apparently it was not.

So despite having the support of virtually all Congressional Democrats, as well as BOTH Democratic Presidential candidates, what is President Obama’s reason for not supporting this bill aiding the lawsuits of 9/11 victims and ultimately not declassifying the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission report?

obama saudi
King Salman of Saudi Arabia with President Obama

On Monday April 18th, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had this to say on the issue:

“Given the long list of concerns I have expressed … it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the president would sign the bill as it’s currently drafted.”

“It could put the United States and our taxpayers and our service members and our diplomats at significant risk if other countries were to adopt a similar law”

“The whole notion of sovereign immunity is at stake.”

For the White House, the primary issue is not even the 28 pages, but the legal implications of signing this bill which would remove sovereign immunity. All those who oppose the bill believe that if the US passes this law then other countries could pass similar laws which would put US government officials at risk of being sued for having ties to terrorist attacks against foreign governments.

This is perhaps an unsurprising concern given that the United States could be considered one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism. In the last 50 years, there is an abundance of documented proof that the US, through the CIA, has directly supported government coups, terrorist groups and paramilitaries in over 35 countries from Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. The highest profile of these was the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration which revealed that the US was funding “death squads” in Nicaragua. A much more comprehensive summary and analysis of the CIA’s misadventures around the world can be found here (highly recommend giving the table of contents a skim).  On that note, what exactly is the CIA doing right now in Syria?

CIA Headquarters – Langley, VA

So understandably, the United States government does not want to open Pandora’s box of litigation and possibly be held accountable in court for its own part in inciting acts of terrorism abroad. Just like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

However, the threat of future lawsuits is not the only deterrent that’s keeping the Obama administration from signing off on the bill. Last week, Saudi Arabia threatened to sell off close to $1 trillion in US assets if the bill was passed and signed into law.

Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir came to Washington himself to personally deliver the message that if the US passed this bill, it would sell off $750 billion worth of US Treasury securities and other assets before they could be frozen by an American court. 

Several economists are skeptical that the Saudis will follow through on that threat, saying that such a sell-off would be difficult to execute and would end up crippling the kingdom’s economy. In the same press conference, White House press secretary Earnest said

“A country with a modern and large economy like Saudi Arabia would not benefit from a destabilized global financial market, and neither would the United States”

But even if the Saudis don’t respond by selling U.S. treasuries, they have other ways to harm the United States. Putting aside their most powerful weapon, the price of oil, Saudi Arabia has largely been paying for America’s efforts to train “moderate” rebels in Syria in their civil war against Bashar al-Assad’s government. They could curtail that support and instead funnel all their money to al-Qaeda backed groups like the Al-Nusra Front, although there are reports that this is already happening. Regardless, without Saudi support the United States has little hope of brokering a political deal that begins to end Syria’s catastrophic five year civil war.

Sergei Lavrov,  John Kerry, Adel al-Jubeir, Feridun Sinirlioglu
Secretary of State John Kerry with foreign ministers trying to broker Syrian peace deal

So given all of these seemingly legitimate concerns from the Obama administration about the bill, why have a majority of the Democrats in Congress and both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders bucked Obama’s wishes and pushed for the bill?

Given that this story has only been around for a week, we can only assume that they truly have placed the needs of the 9/11 victims and their families over the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and the risk of potential litigation against the United States. It is again worth noting that Sanders and Clinton came out in support of the bill, the day before the New York primary. But only Sanders has called on Obama to declassify the remaining 28 pages from the 9/11 Commission. We’ll see how opinions change now that Obama has said he will veto it. Currently it doesn’t seem possible to support the bill but not de-classifying the 28 pages or vice versa, the two remain inextricably tied to each other.

So beyond all the politicking happening behind the scenes for who does and doesn’t support the bill/declassifying the pages, what actually is the specific connection between the Saudi Arabian government and the 9/11 hijackers?  

Prince Bandar bin Sultan – former Saudi Ambassador to the US

Here is what the 9/11 Commission report concluded –

“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of Al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization”

However, the following information comes from those who have read the 28 pages as well as FBI agents in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The fifteen year long secret of how Saudi Arabia was involved in 9/11 goes beyond locking up 28 pages in a vault in the US Capitol basement. Federal investigations were cut short, and co-conspirators were even left off the hook.

The story in the 28 pages picks up with the arrival of two young Saudis in Los Angeles in January 2000 – Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar. These two were the first wave of the 9/11 hijackers – neither of them spoke English well or had much money. Given this, the task of learning how to pilot a Boeing jetliner on their own seems…improbable.

Two weeks after their arrival, a man named Omar al-Bayoumi met with the two at a halal restaurant in Culver City. Bayoumi was an employee of the Saudi aviation-services company Dallah Avco.

omar_al-bayoumi20fox20news_2050081722-8251 nalhazmi

                       Bayoumi                               Mihidar                           Hazmi

Before meeting with Hazmi and Mihidhar, Bayoumi spent about an hour meeting with an official from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Los Angeles – Fahad al-Thumairy. In 2003, Thumairy was stripped of his diplomatic visa and deported because of suspected ties to terrorists.

After meeting with Thumairy, Bayoumi met the two hijackers-to-be and invited them to move to San Diego, where he set them up in his same apartment complex. Because the two had no checking account, he paid their security deposit and rent. He also introduced them to other members of the local Arab community, including the imam of a local mosque, Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki later became the most prominent spokesperson for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but was killed in a drone strike in 2011.

Bayoumi was in frequent contact with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., and with the consulate in Los Angeles. After two months, Bayoumi’s  wife began receiving monthly stipends of around $2,000. By September 11th, 2001, $130,000 was transferred into Bayoumi’s wife’s bank account. With the money, Bayoumi was able to obtain Social Security cards for the two hijackers and arranged flying lessons at flight schools in Florida.

The stipends came in the form of cashier’s checks, purchased from Washington’s Riggs Bank by Princess Haifa bint Faisal. She is the daughter of the late King Faisal and wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States – Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

George H. Bush meets with Bandar in the Oval Office – March 1991

Federal investigators in the 9/11 task force said virtually every road led back to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, as well as the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. Yet time and time again, they were called off from pursuing leads because of “diplomatic immunity.”

One FBI investigator complained that instead of investigating Bandar, the US government protected him. Literally. He said the State Department assigned a security detail to help guard Bandar not only at the embassy, but also at his mansion in McLean, Virginia.

Former FBI agent John Guandolo, who worked 9/11 and related al Qaeda cases out of the bureau’s Washington field office, says Bandar should have been a key suspect in the 9/11 probe.

“The Saudi ambassador funded two of the 9/11 hijackers through a third party,” Guandolo said. “He should be treated as a terrorist suspect, as should other members of the Saudi elite class who the US government knows are currently funding the global jihad.”

The source added that the task force wanted to jail a number of embassy employees, “but the embassy complained to the US attorney” and their diplomatic visas were revoked as a compromise. “The FBI was thwarted from interviewing the Saudis we wanted to interview by the White House,” said former FBI agent Mark Rossini, who was involved in the investigation of al Qaeda and the hijackers. The White House “let them off the hook.

George W. Bush meets with Bandar at his Texas Ranch – August 2002

What’s more, Rossini said the bureau was told no subpoenas could be served to produce evidence tying the departing Saudi suspects to the 9/11 attacks. The FBI, in turn, iced local investigations that led back to the Saudis. Bandar ultimately was ousted from his role by the new Saudi King Salman in 2013.

Those who have read the 28 pages believe they contain “incontrovertible evidence” that Prince Bandar, along with other Saudi government officials and members of the Saudi family, were directly linked to funding the hijackers in 9/11. Bandar’s father was Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who became the Crown prince and heir apparent to the Saudi throne in 2005 until his death in 2011.

What information exists in the classified 28 pages which may implicate what knowledge the crown prince or even then King Abdullah himself had of one of their own funneling money to two of the hijackers? Do we really believe that one of the most sophisticated terror attacks in world history was autonomously planned and executed by Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda organization with no help?


Fifteen years after 9/11, it’s time to finally unmask the true perpetrators of our nation’s worst terrorist attack. The current support in Congress and in the Presidential campaign is a sign that we believe the victims of 9/11 and their families finally deserve justice for the crimes committed by government officials of a declared United States ally. Although Obama is currently threatening to veto the bill in its current form, maybe he will warm up to de-classifying the sealed 9/11 pages and allow some version of the bill to go through.

But how will our current Presidential candidates navigate these dangerous waters with one of our most complicated allies? Given one candidates particular history with the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, is it fair to also begin questioning what role Saudi Arabia played there as well?

Ultimately the issue boils down to this – how likely is it that the Justice for the Sponsors of Terrorism Act and the de-classification of the final 28 pages of the 9/11 commission would irreparably damage our relationship with the Saudi Kingdom or at least threaten even more global instability?

We will find out soon enough.


Do I Really Need to Worry About Hillary’s Emails? Yes. She Should Be Indicted.

Do I Really Need to Worry About Hillary’s Emails? Yes. She Should Be Indicted.

A shorter version of this work was published by the Georgia Political Review here.

This article needs some background before you read it. 

I wrote this in March of 2016, during the Spring Break of my last semester in college. This was written during the heat of the Democratic primary and 4 months before the FBI officially announced the the findings of their year-long criminal investigation. 

This post was the first political blog I’d ever written. I really thought it would a random post that a few friends would see, but it ended up becoming one of the most impactful experiences of my life. 

After posting the article to Facebook, it proceeded to go viral in a way I never expected. Simply by friends sharing the article it got posted and re-posted across numerous social media platforms. Within 2 days it had been clicked on over 5000 times in over 10 countries.  In all, the article has received almost half a million views across 32 countries. 

Thousands of strangers reached out to me, including law professors, former government/intelligence officials and journalists, to discuss my work. A film student even asked to make a documentary based on this article. 

Clinton Review


Clinton Review2

Ultimately, the FBI decided not to pursue any charges against Hillary Clinton or her staff for the use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. 

But what you will find here is a compelling legal case that they could have. 


Article Reviews:




Hillary Clinton’s email scandal is one of the most important, yet least understood issues of the 2016 election so far. Despite how long the media has been covering it, I don’t think most people really understand what’s going on. Almost everyone I know is genuinely unsure of what exactly she may have done wrong, and as a result are more willing to accept the scandal as nothing more than a partisanor sexist, effort to bring her down (me 3 days ago).

The disinterest in the scandal seems to be cemented on the left as a result of Bernie Sanders refusing to attack her on the issue thus far in the campaign; something the eventual Republican nominee, whoever it may be, has promised to do. So why are so many Republicans convinced this is a scandal that should topple the presumptive Democratic nominee for President?  Do I really need to be worried?

Yes, you need to be worried.

Despite being a mostly liberal Democrat and a Hillary admirer, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton and her aides not only violated numerous federal criminal statutes, but may have conducted a cover up to hide incriminating evidence – the likes of which forced Richard Nixon to resign as President. This article was intended to be a quick, digestable piece to help everyone get caught up on the scandal, but I really had no idea how complex this issue was.

Here is the takeaway – I believe the FBI will refer Hillary Clinton for indictment for a violation of Section 1924 and Section 793 of Title 18 US Criminal Code dealing with deletion, retention and transmission of classified documents. If prosecuted and convicted, the punishment would be some combination of a fine, a year in prison or 10 years in prison. The implications for the Presidential race will be discussed.

While you’re taking that in, you’ll be happy to know the underlying controversy surrounds an issue we couldn’t possibly be more tired of hearing about – the 2012 terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. I’ll break it to you now, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but she actually had something to hide. And there is proof.

For any casual observer, these positions today would be the statements of a conspiracy-theorist, or someone spewing right-wing propaganda. This is why I’ve painstakingly written close to 20 pages to explain (and even litigate) these positions, and address every potential question you may ask. But my main purpose isn’t to convince you of anything (despite the title), this endeavor is primarily journalistic. Here are the facts, here are the perspectives, and take from that what you will, whether she is found guilty of criminal activity or not. I have really tried my hardest to separate suspect behavior from criminal behavior (for the law sticklers out there) because all I want to do is actually find out if the person who looks to be the Democratic nominee for President, and who I may end up voting for in the general election, will be forced to resign before (or after) she assumes office. This is our generation’s Watergate scandal.

This work is deep.  I am proud to call this article is the most comprehensive summary and analysis of the Hillary Clinton email scandal *available on the Internet today*. Read it all if you want. I’ve mostly written this for myself. 

Before I begin, I will say it really saddens me that her handling of this issue has marred what was an overall outstanding and inspirational political career. Her decades of accomplishments, while breaking gender boundaries in Washington, have inspired millions in America and around the world. But a scandal regarding her record-keeping practices could end her legacy prematurely, perhaps as soon as May. Right before she was expected to shatter one of the biggest ceilings in American history.

Grab some coffee. Get comfortable. Here we go.

“Reality is an aspect of property. It must be seized. And investigative journalism is the noble art of seizing reality back from the powerful.” ― Julian Assange


**Section 1: What’s the Scandal and What Are Both Sides Arguing**

1) What did Hillary Clinton actually do?

2) Why did she have a private email server?

3) What’s the controversy? Hillary says everything she did was inside the law. 

4) Did she send classified information, knowingly or unknowingly, through this private email server? (Part I) 

4) Did she send classified information, knowingly or unknowingly, through this private email server? (Part II)

5) You’re just a college kid with no qualifications to speak about this. Does anyone with real authority in the government or media agree with you? Who has disagreed with you?   

6) Was it illegal/criminal for the Secretary of State to conduct all her professional communications on a private email server and not on a government server?

7) Why did she delete 30,000 emails?

**Section 2: Speculative Journalism Based On Current Facts** 

8) What did Hillary Clinton have to hide about the Benghazi attacks? 

9) How did you acquire this information about Benghazi?

10) What is the relationship between Hillary Clinton, The Clinton Foundation, and the office of the Secretary of State?

11) Will the FBI really refer her for indictment? Will she be prosecuted? 

12) What are the implications of an indictment and prosecution? Especially on the Presidential race.

**Section 3: My Take On the Election After Understanding This Scandal**

13) If Hillary is not indicted, should the email scandal still change my vote?

14) Concluding remarks

Hillary Clinton answers questions about her use of a private e-mail server for the first time – March 2015



1) What did Hillary Clinton actually do?

Before becoming Secretary of State in 2009, Hillary Clinton purchased a private email server to be installed in her home in New York. On this server she used the address hdr22@clintonemail.com which was used for all work and personal correspondence throughout her 4-year tenure as Secretary. She did not use (or even activate) an official State Department state.gov email account throughout this time.

In the summer of 2014, the Congressional committee investigating the Benghazi attacks asked the State Department for all of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails during her time as Secretary of State (2009-2013). This is when the State Department discovered that all her communications were in fact hosted on a private personal server, not a government archive. After meeting with her, Clinton turned over 30,490 emails to the State Department from her private server in December 2014, saying those were all her work-related emails from being Secretary of State. At the same time that she turned over her emails, it was revealed that Clinton deleted the remaining contents on the server (31,830 other emails) because they were personal and not work-related. In March 2015, it was publicized for the first time that Hillary Clinton exclusively used a private server for all her email correspondence while Secretary of State. In August 2015, the FBI officially launched an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

From this summary alone, I want to guess that a majority of you already think she might be guilty of something. And all it took was stating a factual timeline of events. But honestly, let’s hear her out.

Clinton testifies in 2013 before the House Select Committee on Benghazi

2) Why did she have a private email server?

Here’s what she said.

CLINTON: First, when I got to work as Secretary of State, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.

Looking back, it would’ve been better if I’d simply used a second email account and carried a second phone, but at the time, this didn’t seem like an issue.

Clinton’s only justification for the private server is that this system was more convenient for her. Because government issued blackberries could not control multiple email accounts at once, she argues it was simpler to carry out all her correspondence, work and personal, on one phone under one email rather than through different emails between two phones.

While that answer has generated abundant scorn and skepticism from the Republicans (and Democrats), was technological simplicity really that ridiculous of a request from a then 60-year old Hillary Clinton? Would you expect your grandma to want to use two different cell phones?

“You know, I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done. We had so many problems around the world,” Clinton said. “I didn’t really stop and think what kind of email system will there be?”

If you ask the Republicans it had nothing to do with convenience. When it was revealed that she carried multiple other devices (although she argues not for correspondence) skeptics find it easy to point out that someone from her large entourage that she travels with could have easily kept a second phone. Or that she could have just sent all her personal correspondence through a state.gov email. Thus, they suggest she kept a private server with one phone and email precisely so that only she could control the flow of information if asked about anything that happened during her time as Secretary.

Hillary testifies before the Benghazi Committee in 2015

3) What’s the controversy? Hillary says everything she did was inside the law.

Now is a good time to remind everyone that for the last year we’ve been asking if the nation’s Secretary of State has broken multiple federal laws. Or at best done something questionably legal while in office. This is one of the most powerful people in the world, and arguably the most powerful member of a President’s cabinet – the fact that we are here is already troubling. This whole scandal operates in a grey area of the law, which is why what you believe the intent is, is so important. It’s like the New England Patriots and Spygate. If you believe the Patriots were guilty of cheating even though what they did wasn’t explicitly against the rules, then you might understand why the Republicans won’t let this go.

These are the three controversies at play.

First, was it illegal/criminal for the Secretary of State to conduct all her professional communications on a private email server and not on a government server? There are three laws involved with this question that we’ll get into – The Federal Records Act, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Regulations and The Freedom of Information Act.

Second, did she send classified information, knowingly or unknowingly, through this private email server? Once Hillary turned over the 30,490 emails to the State Department, intelligence officials realized that thousands of her emails contained classified information, even top secret information and couldn’t be released to the public. This controversy represents the bulk of the present-day coverage, which is dominated by questions of whether or not Hillary put government secrets at risk by handling classified information on a private server that was almost certainly less secure than an official government server.

Rep. Trey Gowdy – Chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi

Third, why did she delete over 30,000 emails from her private server? She says the emails she deleted were personal and not work related, and its up to her if she wanted to get rid of them, even if she decided to do so 2 years after leaving the State Department. Because all of her correspondence is in her control and not the government’s, we have to trust that she was forthcoming with what she considered her work-related emails and everything she deleted was truly personal.

So here’s the real question. Are the 30,490 emails Hillary Clinton turned over to the State Department really every work-related email from her time as Secretary; and more importantly did they include all the emails relating to the 2012 Benghazi attacks? If those aren’t all the emails, did she cover up any incriminating emails by deleting them off her server in the Fall of 2014 before Congress asked that she turn over her email server in March 2015?

Armed man inside US consulate in Benghazi, Libya – September 2012

I’ll address this controversy at the very end, though it’s what needs to be talked about the most when it comes to someone we may elect as President. This eerie insinuation of a coverup conspiracy regarding information about the Benghazi attacks is precisely why people’s opinions on the scandal have come down on partisan lines, with one side dismissing it entirely. The Republicans believe she has something to hide about Benghazi, the Democrats don’t (sound familiar?). And this difference is a larger point that most who have read or heard about the email scandal do not realize – how inextricably tied it is with what you believe happened in Benghazi.

Whether there is any merit to this controversy, we have been so caught up in the first two that the third is not a line of questioning any major news outlet has discussed with seriousness during this election cycle.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary using her cellphone looking bad af

4) Did she send classified information, knowingly or unknowingly, through this private email server?

I’m starting with the second controversy because this is what I think she is most likely to get indicted for. For now, let’s put aside questions of whether or not her even having a private email server was legal. Although this would not be a controversy at all if Hillary had simply used a state.gov email address.

There are several sub questions being asked under this controversy, they are in red.

So how did this issue of classified emails come up anyway?  Let’s go back to Clinton’s original comments when first asked about her private email server.

QUESTION: Were you ever — were you ever specifically briefed on the security implications of using — using your own email server and using your personal address to email with the president?

CLINTON: I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.

Interestingly enough, the issue of whether there was specifically classified material on her private server was first brought up by Hillary herself!

After Hillary turned over her 30,000+ emails to the State Department in December 2014, she actually called on them to make her “work-related emails public for everyone to see.” In March 2015, once it was revealed to the public that she exclusively used a private email, she made the above statements regarding potentially sensitive information on her server.

In July 2015, two inspectors general who were involved in the review and release of Hillary’s emails asked the Justice Department to open an investigation into whether sensitive information was mishandled. On January 29th, 2016, three days before the Iowa Caucus, the State Department announced for the first time that highly classified information had been sent through her private email server, information that it considered the highest level of top secret classification (and even above top secret) and could not be released to the public.

Hillary immediately disagreed with that assessment from the State Department, and has demanded that they release all her emails to the public.

So what’s going on here?

Are there really dozens of highly classified government secrets on Hillary’s private email server… and why is she of all people demanding that they be released?

Hillary’s Side: No, there are not highly classified secrets on her server. America’s classification system is, in fact, broken.

While originally saying that she did not “email any classified material to anyone on my email”, after the State Department announced that her server did in fact contain what they considered classified information, she responded with this at the Iowa State Fair.

CLINTON: “The State Department has confirmed that I did not send nor receive material marked classified or send material marked classified,” she said a moment later.

“I am repeating the facts and the facts are I did not send nor did I receive material marked classified.”

Notice the change in rhetoric, it’s no longer that she didn’t send classified material, but that it was not *marked* classified when she sent or received it. In other words, the emails she sent or received from her private server she did not know or did not consider to be classified at the moment they were sent. These emails were only classified later, after she left as being Secretary of State. She is no longer disagreeing with the presence of now classified information on her private server, but questions the timeline and method by which they were determined classified now. She has repeatedly called the classification of her emails “over-classification run amok.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) – California

So now the question is – were these emails actually classified because they contain top secret information that Clinton should have never emailed in the first place, what’s considered information “born classified”,  or were the emails all pretty innocuous but got swept up in our broken system of over-classifying information?

Almost everyone in the government actually agrees that our system for classifying information is a complete mess, in large part because federal agencies retain the right to classify documents after the fact, or retroactively. It’s so agreed on that it’s one of the few things that brought Congress together to sign a bill in 2010 called The Reducing Over-Classification Act . This makes it incredibly likely that the now over 2000 emails that have been considered classified by the State Department include many documents that probably don’t need to be classified. Although the most recent revised estimate is 104 classified emails.

This is supported by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) – California, who is one of the few people alive that read what the State Department considered to be classified emails. She said, “There’s no question that they are over-classifying this stuff.”

Maybe this is why Clinton is comfortable continuing to take this stand.

CLINTON: “I took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.”

Inspector General Charles McCullough III

FBI’s Side:  While the system for classifying emails is undeniably broken and confusing, Clinton’s over-classification defense is a tough case to make given that the Inspector General has identified some of these emails as beyond top secret, in a category called SAP, or Special Access Program. There are at least two emails which are considered TS/SCI – Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information. Sources who are not authorized to speak on the record have said the information in these two emails surrounds the movement of North Korean missiles and a drone strike.

These are some of our nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

How can that be a case of retroactive, over-classification? The Inspector General took on this attack directly in a released memo.

“These emails were not retroactively classified by the State Department; rather these emails contained classified information when they were generated and, according to IC classification officials, that information remains classified today. This classified information should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.”

Senator Richard Burr – (R) North Carolina, who has also read all 22 e-mails, concurred with the Inspector General. “They are definitely sensitive. Anybody in the intelligence world would know that the content was sensitive.” Was he reading different emails than Senator Feinstein?

However, Clinton has dismissed the Inspector General’s report – and has gone as far as to suggest that the Inspector General is in fact colluding with the Republicans to continue a partisan attack against her. Clinton has said she only viewed classified information in hard copy in her office. If she was traveling, she used other secure channels.

Whether or not this is true, this revelation has only been said by Clinton presidential campaign communications director Jennifer Palemieri who sent this email seeking to reassure supporters after the Inspector General’s Report:

“Hillary didn’t send any classified materials over email: Hillary only used her personal account for unclassified email,” Palemieri said in the message. “No information in her emails was marked classified at the time she sent or received them. She viewed classified materials in hard copy in her office or via other secure means while traveling, not on email.”

Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure who is right until we see the emails.

But according to government security experts, the type of information that could receive something like an SAP or a TS/SCI designation is sensitive enough that most senior government officials would immediately recognize it as such. Did Hillary just not realize that she may have been discussing some of America’s deepest secrets?

So let’s assume for a moment that there is in fact at least one email on her private server that contains incredibly top secret information that she knows about, a very believable scenario given that she was our nation’s Secretary of State. Why does she continue to demand that the State Department release all her emails? Does she really want us to see her classified emails, and it’s the State Department that doesn’t?  Or is her asking the State Department to release everything simply political posturing, because she knows they can’t?

Hillary as a pubic defense attorney in 1975

Inversely, maybe she really doesn’t know (or think) that there is classified information on her private server. She did say her lawyers were in fact in charge of determining which of her emails were work-related and which were personal. So maybe she genuinely doesn’t know if any of her emails were specifically classified material.

But how inclined are we to really believe that? That Hillary Rodham Clinton – First lady, Senator and Secretary of State – didn’t know that she may have discussed the highest secrets of our government over email. While she was the Secretary of State.

Believe it or not, this may be the argument that acquits her of any criminal charges. We’re about to get there.

*Digression for a relevant personal anecdote*

I actually got a taste of the US government’s email system during my internship at Sandia National Laboratories in California last summer. Upon starting my internship, I was given a “sandia.gov” email, which I could only access from a computer on-site and with a randomly generated password each time. Every time before I could send an email through my sandia.gov email, a pop-up dialogue would ask me, “Is there any classified information in this message?” and if I clicked “Yes” it would take me to a range of classification options I could choose to mark the email with – sensitive, , confidential, secret, top secret etc, if I said “No” it would just send the email.

Nothing I ever sent was classified (except maybe when I emailed my boss telling him I was leaving work early because I was sick, but actually drove to Sacramento to go sky-diving). But it lends me perspective on how the FBI might be investigating this case. Was her private email server even set up to ask her that question about classification any time she sent an email? And if it wasn’t, was the recipient, someone hopefully with an official “.gov” email, marking it classified when they got it? Is that their responsibility? Questions I don’t really know the answer to, but some thoughts to keep in mind.

*It’s also possible there are two different email systems, Sandia Labs operates under the Department of Energy while she is in the Department of State, but I can’t imagine they are too different, if at all.

So let’s say we accept that there is likely at least a few emails (State Department claims there are 22) that contain highly sensitive information.


**Did she violate a federal law for retaining classified information on an unclassified, insecure private email server?**

This part is an ongoing investigation, so I’m asserting what I believe the arguments the two sides are making in their legal war rooms based on the information that’s been reported.

As a technical matter, I’m presenting the arguments as Clinton vs FBI, although it would really be Clinton vs. Department of Justice in a court. I think these are the legal simulations that the FBI will construct in creating a recommendation to the Department of Justice to pursue an indictment.

There are two laws in the U.S. Crimes and Criminal Procedure Code surrounding the handling of classified information

(I’ll be underlining the laws like a piece of evidence in a policy debate round for those who don’t want to read all the way, sorry need to relive my glory days)

(1) Title 18 U.S. Code § 1924  (Misdemeanor) – Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material

(a) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

David Kendall – Hillary Clinton Attorney

Clinton’s Side: This is from Dan Abrams, ABC News Legal Analyst and Columbia Law School graduate and who’s view is also supported by Ruth Marcus a Harvard Law graduate, Pulitzer prize winner, and a pre-eminent columnist at the Washington Post.

There are serious legal hurdles to overcome for those who would seek to file a charge under this law. First, none of the information she possessed and/or presumably “removes” had officially been declared “classified” at that time. That matters.

Sure, there is an argument that classified “documents” are not the same as classified “information” and that certain information is “classified at birth” and therefore always officially classified. And there’s no question that some of the information and/or documents were later declared classified.

But this isn’t a law school exam where we attempt to figure out how creative one can become in fitting a law into a particular fact pattern. We are talking about whether a criminal charge should be filed based on intentional conduct when even governmental agencies squabble over what is classified and what isn’t. So proving that she “knowingly” removed “classified information” “without authority” at the time seems far-fetched based on what we know today.

Abrams synopsis is exactly why lawyers often criticize journalists for conflating wrong-doing with a crime. Evidence of wrong-doing is rarely enough to put someone in handcuffs at this level.

But in order to not make that conflation, a significant part of her defense has to be that Hillary Clinton actually DIDNT KNOW the emails on her server were classified. And precisely why it matters that none of her emails on her private server were marked classified at the time – their argument being that Clinton could only know if information was classified if it was marked as such on the email. 

This is our legal system.

Only if the FBI can prove that she knowingly retained, deleted or transmitted *unmarked* classified information can she be prosecuted, regardless of how probable it is that she knew.

Cheryl Mills – Hillary Clinton Chief of Staff

But here is Clinton’s argument for why she actually did not know.

The classified information on her emails was sent by her aides, not by her. She is a passive, unwitting, recipient of classified information, not the initiator of disseminating it. Senator Feinstein, who came to her defense earlier saying that there was “no question” the State Department was over-classifying her emails, said that Clinton didn’t originally send any of the e-mails and that they were largely from her staff, although she did sometimes reply.  Dianne Feinstein said in a statement that it made no sense to her that “Secretary Clinton can be held responsible for email exchanges that originated with someone else.”

This is how her team will distinguish her case from the prosecution of former CIA Director David Petraeus. Petraeus pled guilty in March 2015 to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material. It was revealed that he had provided notebooks with highly classified information to his biographer and mistress (classic combo) Paula Broadwell, whose security clearances did not permit her to receive it. Clinton, on the other hand, never actually initiated the release of classified material like Petraeus. After Petraeus resigned, his access to classified information was suspended, he was fined $100,000 and sentenced to two years of probation.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus testifies before Congress in April 2015

Do you think it’s an accident that the first time Clinton made comments on the scandal and someone asked her if she had been “specifically briefed on the security implications of your own email server” without saying anything about classified emails – this was Clinton’s immediate response.

CLINTON: I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material. So I’m certainly well-aware of the classification requirements and did not send classified material.

This has been a carefully laid out defense long before the story broke to the public. And kudos to her and her legal team, I’m not sure I would’ve expected anything less.

That’s why the story has shifted now as to whether one of her aides could possibly be convicted, because they knowingly altered or transmitted classified information. Her aides have pledged not to delete their emails. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a pawn to save the Queen.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI’s Side:  We vigorously call baloney. Regardless of whether some information on her personal server is classified or not, in what world could a Secretary of State send or receive an email that contains information the Inspector General, and our nation’s intelligence experts, consider to be one of the nation’s most deeply kept secrets, and he/she wouldn’t have known it was a secret.

If Department of Justice doesn’t think they can convince a grand jury of that, then let me have a go.

If she is acquitted of violating Section 1924 under that defense then it is sanctioning political idiocy as an excuse for criminal behavior. And whether there is a Supreme Court precedent to uphold that exact idea will be discussed in the other criminal statute I think she violated.

**Here are the two pieces of evidence (maybe more, but these two for sure) that I believe the FBI will use to assert that Hillary Clinton knowingly retained and transmitted classified information**

(1) A 2011 email from Hillary Clinton to aide Jake Sullivan

A State department released email to a Freedom of Information Act request showed this exchange. The email is no longer available on the State Department website.


In the email, Jake Sullivan is attempting to send a set of talking points “TPs” to Clinton over secure fax. When he says that “they’ve had issues sending secure fax”, Clinton responds “If they can’t, turn into nonpaper w no identifying heading and send nonsecure

Investigators will seize upon this request from Clinton – to have what they consider recognized sensitive data be stripped of its markings and sent through a non-secure channel – as proof that she had the KNOWLEDGE that potentially sensitive information could come onto her server and the INTENT to have it be sent to her in an insecure manner. Even if the classified email originated with her aide.

Jake Sullivan – top foreign policy aide to Clinton

The Clinton team and State Department has responded by saying there is no evidence the talking points she was requesting contained classified information, and there is no evidence that Jake Sullivan actually sent her any information via nonsecure methods. The State Department has not released the talking points and spokesman John Kirby would not say if the document was classified.

While both of those things may end up being true (that the document was not classified and was never sent) and this email can’t directly be used as evidence that she knowingly transmitted classified information – it DOES let prosecutors establish that she was generally aware of the presence of classified information in her emails, and if there is classified information on her server now, there is a history of her KNOWINGLY REQUESTING sensitive information being sent to her, not being a passive recipient .

I’m not a lawyer, just like I’m not a rapper, and I don’t know what will or won’t convince a grand jury. But I, along with former US district judge and Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, believe the FBI will use this line of argument.

(2) A 2009 Non-Disclosure Agreement

This is the big one.

On January 22nd, 2009, the day after assuming the office of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton signed a “Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement” — or Standard Form 312. She signed and agreed to abide by these specific stipulations and punishments.

1. Intending to be legally bound, I hereby accept the obligations contained in this Agreement in consideration of my being granted access to classified information. As used in this Agreement, classified information is marked or unmarked classified information, including oral communications, that is classified under the standards of Executive Order 12958, or under any other Executive order or statute that prohibits the unauthorized disclosure of information in the interest of national security; and unclassified information that meets the standards for classification and is in the process of a classification determination as provided in Sections 1.1. 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4(e) of Executive Order 12958, or under any other Executive order or statute that requires protection for such information in the interest of national security. I understand and accept that by being granted access to classified information, special confidence and trust shall be placed in me by the United States Government.

2. I hereby acknowledge that I have received a security indoctrination concerning the nature and protection of classified information, including the procedures to be followed in ascertaining whether other persons to whom I contemplate disclosing this information have been approved for access to it, and that I understand these procedures.

3. I have been advised that the unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling of classified information by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation. I hereby agree that I will never divulge classified information to anyone unless: (a) I have officially verified that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it; or (b) I have been given prior written notice of authorization from the United States Government Department or Agency (hereinafter Department or Agency) responsible for the classification of information or last granting me a security clearance that such disclosure is permitted. I understand that if I am uncertain about the classification status of information, I am required to confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified before I may disclose it, except to a person as provided in (a) or (b), above. I further understand that I am obligated to comply with laws and regulations that prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

4. I have been advised that any breach of this Agreement may result in the termination of any security clearances I hold; removal from any position of special confidence and trust requiring such clearances; or termination of my employment or other relationships with the Departments or Agencies that granted my security clearance or clearances. In addition, I have been advised that any unauthorized disclosure of classified information by me may constitute a violation, or violations, of United States criminal laws, including the provisions of Sections 641, 793, 794, 798, *952 and 1924, Title 18, United States Code, *the provisions of Section 783(b), Title 50, United States Code, and the provisions of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. I recognize that nothing in this Agreement constitutes a waiver by the United States of the right to prosecute me for any statutory violation.

There are three arguments I think the FBI will make from this agreement.

First, the FBI will argue that Hillary illegally transmitted highly classified information on an unauthorized private server, regardless of whether or not it was marked classified. The agreement stipulates that “classified information is marked or unmarked classified information”. This implies that the recipient should *not have to be told* that information is classified if it is in fact so (kind of a tautology). But this agreement, that Clinton signed, throws questions into what our legal definition of “knowingly” is.

There are two types of classified information. Information that is “born classified” and information that is “retroactively classified”. Information that is born classified is information that is classified from the moment of its inception, regardless of when or where it was created. The concept of “born classified” information actually originated with the advent of nuclear weapons/nuclear energy in the 1940s because the government considered any information communicated about nuclear issues to be automatically classified until it was declared otherwise.

Did Hillary Clinton “know” that information on her server should have been “automatically classified” the moment it appeared in any form ? Even if it was not *marked classified*, is it implicitly classified by the nature of the information, and she should automatically “know” that?

Seems like a tough burden to prove, and Clinton’s team will certainly fight the legal precedents of “born classified” in court. This exact issue came to the Supreme Court once in The United States vs Progressive in 1979 when a magazine wanted to reveal information about the development of the hydrogen bomb. The Court never ended up taking the case, but judicial analysts have said the Court would have rejected the ‘born secret’ clause as being an unconstitutional restraint on speech. Our current Supreme Court has had some notable decisions regarding what they have considered “free speech” (*cough* Citizens United ). If this case really gets prosecuted, how would our current 8-membered Supreme Court adjudicate this? This is why the next Supreme Court nomination has so much hanging in the balance because this issue may not go away even if the Department of Justice does not prosecute a referral for indictment

Antonin Scalia’s now vacant seat on the US Supreme Court

But maybe the burden is not as high as we think. The Inspector General’s report has already said her information was “born classified” – “these emails contained classified information when they were generated“. Which is likely why you have intelligence experts saying the information on her server is “beyond top secret” as Special Access Program information, or “top secret”/”special compartmented” information.“Top secret” is reserved for material whose release could cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” Things that would be consistent with reports that two of the emails had intimate details of missile movements within North Korea and the specifics of a drone operation. They would argue that these emails could only be classified at that level if they were truly “born classified”, not dissimilar to the way our nation treated correspondence about nuclear weapons.  

Let’s also not forget that Hillary Clinton was a central figure in the negotiation of the new START treaty with Russia in 2011 to reduce both countries nuclear stockpiles. Do we think there are e-mails on her server with Russian counterparts perhaps detailing the location, stockpile and size of particular nuclear weapons systems? Information that the United States originally created the concept of “born classified” information to regulate.

Here are two people who weighed in –

“It’s born classified,” said J. William Leonard who is one of the intelligence experts under the Inspector General that reviewed the emails. He is a former director of the U.S. government’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration. Leonard was director of ISOO, from 2002 until 2008, and worked for both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He said in a telephone interview that for the State Department to say otherwise was “blowing smoke.”

And this guy who really needed to vent

TS/SCI is very serious and specific information that jumps out at you and screams ‘classified,’ , said retired Army Col. Larry Mrozinski, who served almost four years as a ­senior military adviser and security manager in the State Department under both Clinton and Condoleezza Rice and was the certified security manager for the peacekeeping, sanctions and counterterrorism office in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, where he had TS/SCI clearance.

“The sources [of the information] also drive and signal sensitivity.” “It’s hard to imagine that in her position she would fail to recognize the obvious.”

This is a serious breach of national security,” Mrozinski said, and “a clear violation of the law.”

“You are strictly forbidden to discuss TS/SCI of any kind outside a SCIF,” he explained, and yet “she was viewing and hand­ling it in direct violation of the law and possibly exposing it to our enemies,” such as ISIS and Beijing, which has hacked Pentagon sites.

Anybody else would have already lost their security clearance and be subjected to an espionage investigation,” Mrozinski added. “But apparently a different standard exists for Mrs. Clinton.”

State Department officials said that there are sensitive “keywords” which distinguish a classified email from an unclassified information, even if the material didn’t bear a classified heading. They have said Clinton was trained to understand the difference when she was “read in” on procedures to ID and handle classified information by diplomatic security officials in 2009. A training process that they consider very robust.

Clinton’s only response to these allegations of knowingly discussing high government secrets has been to simply deny the claim from the Inspector General that the information on her server is really that classified (and also suggest he is colluding with Republicans, why not throw that in there for good measure).

Her entire defense for not knowing the information on the server was classified must rely on us believing, or proving, that Inspector General Charles McCullough III, the intelligence experts who reviewed the emails and Senator Richard Burr are factually incorrect in the assessment that information on her server is “beyond top secret” – as a Special Access Program or Top Secret/SCI. If this case is prosecuted and heard by a grand jury, it is likely these individuals would be subpoenaed to the court to testify for their claim that Clinton’s information would have been “born classified.”

I can’t believe I’m working this hard to prove to you that the responsibilities of a nation’s Secretary of State could have possibly involved talking about government secrets, that those secrets could have been discussed over email, and that she knew they were government secrets at the time, so many issues the public would already assume to be true (and not without good reason honestly).

And maybe some people (lawyers) would say I haven’t worked hard enough…but can we just please ask ourselves how else is she possibly doing her job if she is not discussing and corresponding about classified information?

I think this is Hillary Clinton asking 3 cameramen if information about North Korean missiles is actually considered classified

Regardless, *all of this is irrelevant* when the FBI makes their second argument.

Second, If Hillary was uncertain about the classification status of any information, then she was supposed to “confirm from an authorized official that the information is unclassified”.

There is no indication that Hillary Clinton ever attempted to confirm with any other government official, let alone the proper “authorized official” that the information she was sending or receiving was potentially classified or not. This violation of the agreement makes her liable for violations of the US Criminal Code Title 18 (as is spelled out in the agreement regarding specific statutes).

When Hillary was asked about her signing of this non-disclosure agreement by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” she seemed to reject the language of the non-disclosure agreement saying that “there has to be some markings” on classified information.

That is untrue. The non-disclosure agreement establishes precisely that whether information is specifically marked classified or not, she alone accepts the responsibility of determining whether or not it should be marked classified by consulting with authorized officials on the issue. She failed to do that. That is a violation of an agreement she signed and of which the penalties for doing so (a fine or up to a year in prison) she must accept.

Clinton’s team would respond by saying that Hillary Clinton was the final arbiter of what was considered classified or not classified material given that she was the head of the agency. She would not be required to consult with other officials on whether material was classified because it’s up to her to decide what’s classified and what’s not. This is where the two sides would battle out the application of the “born classified” precedent. Did Clinton’s failure to be aware of what some consider inherently classified information warrant a consultation with others to verify the classification status?

USA - Hillary Clinton speaks at Iowa Senator Tom Harken'a annual Steak Fry
Pensive. Reflecting. Remorseful. Standing Up.

The third argument the FBI will make is that  she engaged in “negligent handling of classified information” because her private email server did not meet the security requirements to house government information.

Here is the current legal definition of the word “negligent”

n. failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. Negligence is accidental as distinguished from “intentional torts” (assault or trespass, for example) or from crimes, but a crime can also constitute negligence, such as reckless driving. Negligence can result in all types of accidents causing physical and/or property damage, but can also include business errors and miscalculations, such as a sloppy land survey. In making a claim for damages based on an allegation of another’s negligence, the injured party (plaintiff) must prove:

a) that the party alleged to be negligent had a duty to the injured party-specifically to the one injured or to the general public,

b) that the defendant’s action (or failure to act) was negligent-not what a reasonably prudent person would have done,

c) that the damages were caused (“proximately caused”) by the negligence.

Okay now let’s prove each one!

a) That the party alleged to be negligent had a duty to the injured party-specifically to the one injured or to the general public

This is a pretty easy one, Hillary Clinton swore an oath of office to do just that.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God

The injured party is the United States government that had its classified information regarding the defense of the nation illegally exposed.

b) That the defendant’s action (or failure to act) was negligent-not what a reasonably prudent person would have done

I will argue that Hillary Clinton was both actively negligent (defendant’s action) and passively negligent (failure to act)

(1) Actively negligent

First, Clinton tried to change the rules to allow her use her unsecured BlackBerry in a secure facility for classified information.

This is one of the newest stories of the scandal and was reported on March 16th, 2016. For some reason this is being incorrectly reported on Facebook’s trending articles and the media as “NSA denied Clinton’s request for a secure smartphone.” I have no idea how it got reported like that.

Hillary Clinton actually tried to modify existing State Department security protocols so she would be able to use her phone in what’s called a SCIF – Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. The NSA said no.

When asked about this, current and former intelligence officials said this use would defeat the purpose of the secure facility, and it is standard practice to leave all electronics outside

“When you allow devices like this into a SCIF, you can allow the bad guys to listen in,” cybersecurity Morgan Wright said.

That does not seem like what a reasonable person would do if they had sworn an oath to protect the nation from all enemies. I believe this is actively being negligent.

Second, a secure classified email was made for her by the State Department, but she chose not use it.

This could be considered an instance of passive negligence since its a negative action in NOT doing something. But the fact that she CHOSE NOT TO DO ANYTHING is the key point. Here’s a letter from Julia Frifield, who serves as State Department assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

“Secretary Clinton did not use a classified email account at the State Department. An account was set up on ClassNet on her calendar, but it was not used,” Frifield wrote in response to a Sept. 21, 2015 letter from the committee asking for information about Clinton’s use of an account equipped to handle classified information.

ClassNet refers to the State Department workstations that are designed to allow employees to view classified information. It doesn’t seem possible to prove right now that Hillary Clinton was aware of this secure email being set up on ClassNet for her. But it certainly seems fair to say that the State Department tried to get Clinton’s records into the system by setting up a secure account and putting it on her calendar, but it was ignored or rejected.

And what if a released email has revealed precisely that information?

Here is an e-mail from Huma Abedin, Clinton’s top aide, to State  Department executive secretary Stephen Mull – rejecting his proposal for an official Blackberry with a State Department e-mail account and saying “It’s pretty silly and she knows it”. I have transcribed this email exchange below – bolding and underlining are added by myself.

From: Mull, Stephen D

Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 01:39 PM

T0: Mills, Cheryl D

Cc: Abedin, Huma; Kennedy Patrick F, Hanley, Monica R

Subject: S Communications


Thanks again for alerting me to the communications issues the Secretary has been having. Here’s a status report

On the immediate problem of the Secretary’s not being able to have her calls transferred, [REDACTED] 

The technicians are onsite now [REDACTED]

On the more long term issue, I’ve asked our team to develop an enhanced package of capabilities and equipment that we could propose replying with the Secretary to be as closely co-located as possible with her when she is on travel away from her usual residences. The package will include things that anticipate the normally unexpected such as hurricanes, power outages, earthquakes, locusts etc, such as generators, uninterrupted power supplies, supplementary satellite capabilities, including satellite phones for when local infrastructure fails (as it did in NY over the weekend). 

Separately, we are working to provide the Secretary per her request a Department issued Blackberry to replace her personal unit which is malfunctioning (possibly because of her personal email server is down). We will prepare two versions for her to use – one with an operation State Department email account (which would mask her identity, but which would also be subject to FOIA requests), and another which would just have phone and internet capability. We’re working with Monica to hammer out the details of what will best meet the Secretary’s needs. 

Please let me know if you need anything more for now, and I’ll be in touch with the above longer term options soon. 




From: Abedin, Huma

Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 17:17 PM

To: Mull, Stephen D, Cheryl D

Cc: Kennedy, Patrick F; Hanley, Monica R

Subject: Re: S Communications

Steve – let’s discuss the state blackberry, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. 

As for the equipment, the comm team was limited in some capacity because we did not have authorization from owners of residence to install equipment. We did it regardless. Additionally as S knows, the team didn’t have access to the property until a couple hours before S arrived. Finally, as even the white house attested, this was a pretty wide spread problem, not just affecting us. So we should bear that in mind. 


From: Mull, Stephen D

Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 05:18 PM

T0: Abedin, Huma

Re:  S Communications

Thanks for reminding us all of this very helpful context!!! 🙂


From: Abedin, Huma

Sent: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 5:34 PM

To: Mull, Stephen D

Subject: Re: S Communications

Its pretty silly and she knows it. 

Okay so let’s interpret this exchange.

Stephen Mull from the State Department is emailing Hillary Clinton’s Chief of staff Cheryl Mills regarding Hillary Clinton’s communications “Subject: S Communications”. This email exchange was likely inspired by the August 27th-28th, 2011 power outages caused by Hurricane Irene and why there are multiple references to a package of capabilities and equipment that can deal with hurricanes, power outages, earthquakes, locusts etc (glad we’re covering our Biblical bases too).

It seems that after the Hurricane Irene blackouts, Clinton may have reached out to the State Department to replace her current phone because her personal email server also went down in the outage. Let’s just ignore the visible proof now (highlighted in red in the transcript) that the State Department was actually 100% aware of Hillary’s private email server at least by August 2011 – raising questions as to whether Obama actually did not know Clinton had a private email address/private server and that maybe we should be directing our legal questions of “negligence” at different people(s)?

In an effort to help Clinton get a new phone, Mull suggests two State Department issued Blackberry’s –

One for work related issues with an official state.gov email account which would “mask her identity” but would make her “subject to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests” *We will talk about FOIA a lot more in Controversy #1*

And a second phone “which would just have phone and internet capability”, which she is free to use for personal correspondence.

Isn’t this the perfect compromise solution?

NY: Hillary Clinton Attends Women's Empowerment Princeple
Huma Abedin – Clinton’s most trusted aide and confidant

Not to Huma Abedin – in fact this setup to her “doesn’t make a whole lot of sense

She does not explain her line of thinking anymore in the emails. But could it be that even this compromise scenario, where Clinton could do whatever she wanted on one phone, but on the other only be subject to same Freedom of Information requests from Congress, the courts or citizen groups as every other public official, would be an unacceptable arrangement for them? 

Her second paragraph talks about a “comm” team trying to install equipment (which they apparently did anyway without authorization…we’re not gonna even get into this), but that the problem they were dealing with from the blackout was pretty widespread everywhere.

Stephen Mull responds thanking her for context.

Abedin responses – “its pretty silly and she knows it

Now we’re dealing with undefined pronouns, which may work in the FBI’s favor or against, not really sure.

What is “it”?

Is “it” the equipment packages that will help her communications survive future natural disasters? Or is “it” the State Department suggestions that they provide her with two phones.

In context, it’s likely discussing the equipment packages because in Mull’s response he does not actually respond to Huma’s assertion that this arrangement “doesn’t make a lot of sense” (probably should’ve have??) and just thanks her for the context regarding what was a widespread problem after Hurricane Irene. Thus, whatever the confusion was at the State Department regarding Clinton installing new equipment somewhere was “pretty silly and she knows it.”

But in context of Huma’s response, “it’s pretty silly” might be referencing the two phone idea from the State Department which she had just said “doesn’t make a lot of sense”Because the only thing we know for sure is that Stephen Mull’s suggestion was never adopted. Could that have been a result of both Abedin and Clinton feeling that this idea for two different phones was “pretty silly”. Does this count as “negligence” as per our definition, that this is “not what a reasonably prudent person would have done”

At this point, these all seem like contrived legal arguments based on an insinuation of facts that we don’t know (what else is the law), and this may not actually prove intent on Clinton’s part to disregard State Department security protocols. But I thought this deconstruction would be a useful exercise regardless because if nothing else we know that Hillary Clinton’s most senior aide balked at the idea of having the State Department regulate Hillary’s communications even when both sides knew that the State Department currently could not do so now.

If the Clinton legal team is willing to exploit legal ambiguities regarding “intent”and “knowing” and “negligence”…the FBI is likely to do so as well. 

Okay, so now let’s ignore everything you just read in the “actively negligent” section and pretend none of those things ever happened, and there was never any willful attempt on Clinton’s part to be “negligent”.

(2) Passively negligent

So is there anyway the FBI can prove that Hillary Clinton’s lack of action regarding securing classified information of the government has risen to a legal level of “negligent”

Well how secure was her private email server?

CLINTON: Well, the system we used was set up for President [Bill] Clinton’s office. And it had numerous safeguards. It was on property guarded by the Secret Service. And there were no security breaches.

However, those briefed on the setup of her email server say the device that was installed for Bill Clinton was determined to be too small for the addition of someone about to be Secretary of State. Instead, a server that had been purchased for use by Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign was installed at the Chappaqua home in New York.

Clinton has so far refused to answer questions on how well her system was secured, the types of safeguards on her server and whether, or how frequently, security updates were applied.

If anyone read my blurb about working at Sandia Labs this summer, we should wonder whether her private email system had a similar dialogue box that forced her to answer if any information in her email was classified every time she sent one. That seems to be one of the fundamental safeguards the government has implemented in its email systems to track the flow of sensitive information. If her email server didn’t contain that safeguard…should we be surprised that none of her emails were marked classified, because maybe it wasn’t even technologically possible for them to be marked the way her server was set up?

This is what we know for sure – Hillary Clinton did not encrypt any of her emails for the first three months as Secretary of State.

Thoughtful. Apprehensive. Culpable. Sitting Down.

Once Hillary turned over her server to the FBI in August 2015, reports began to emerge in October that her private email server was extremely vulnerable to hacking attempts because the server permitted remote-access connections directly over the Internet.

After scanning the “clintonemail” domain, a private cybersecurity firm found that from January 2009 – March 2009 the domain had no digital certificate issued by an authority, which shows a site is secured. Without what’s called an “SSL” certificate, data flows through in the form of plain text. This means all web browser, smartphone and tablet communications would not have been “encrypted,  which allows any hacker to read those communications, or worse could “trick an unsuspecting user of the site to hand over their username and password or other sensitive information”

Marc Maiffret, who has founded two cybersecurity companies, called her set up “total amateur hour” and that “real enterprise-class security, with teams dedicated to these things, would not do this.”

“An attacker with a low skill-level would be able to exploit this vulnerability,” said the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team in 2012

The State Department couldn’t confirm the date of the first email sent using this system, but the Clinton’s email domain wasn’t issued an SSL certificate until March 29th, 2009. During those three months, Clinton’s travel logs show that she visited China, Indonesia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and South Korea.

When asked by a reporter from the Boston Globe, “what safeguards did you put in place to make sure that you weren’t hacked?” Clinton responded – “Well, I can only tell you there is no evidence that I’m aware of that I ever was. ”

c) that the damages were caused (“proximately caused”) by the negligence.

Sure enough, there were at least two notable hacking attempts into her server.

One in 2011 from Russia and a second one in 2012 from Serbia. The Russia one is great – they sent her 5 different emails as fake parking citations which were phishing scams that would collect data off her server if she opened them (which is funny because she hasn’t driven since 1996, apparently). But if it makes Clinton feel any better, I also failed the Sandia Labs routine phishing test by opening a fake email they sent me (they got me really good).  Maybe that’s why we have these safeguards to begin with.

Beyond just the two hacks, there are now reports of dozens more. Some even originating from allies like China, South Korea and Germany. There are even specific reports that Asian governments  were reading Clinton’s information during the 2/3 month window when her server did not have an SSL certificate and she was traveling across the region.

While it might be easy to say that Clinton is “not the most tech savvy“, given the the history of cybercrime and hacking, it was certainly a concern that she had to be briefed on as Secretary of State.

My high school

It’s not a secret to anyone that foreign governments and groups are constantly trying to hack into US systems to find out our  government secrets. Maybe that’s why its not surprising that one of the worst hacks in US history hit the State Department one year after she left as Secretary. The CIA was actually forced to pull federal agents out of China after the hack to keep agents safe.

What kind of information were the Russians, Serbians, Chinese, South Koreans, Germans and who ever else, getting access to from Hillary Clinton’s private email server? And what risk, if any, did it potentially put federal agents out in the field in during her time as Secretary of State?

How difficult will it be for the FBI to make the case that Hillary’s unsecured private server can be considered a “negligent handling of classified information”? That her handling of official communications exposed US secrets, including information about the identity of a US intelligence operative, to foreign governments and organizations that want to attack American interests.

But I haven’t even mentioned what might actually be the FBI’s strongest argument to indict her under this statute.  We have completely ignored the section of 1924 which says that classified information should not be retained “at an unauthorized location“!! Clinton’s team will obviously argue to the contrary , but all of that will be covered when I address Controversy #1, as to whether the existence of the private server was illegal itself.

I don’t believe she will win on that issue either.

Wrapping up what I think is her likely indictment of Section 1924, intent of being aware of classified information is not the only legal issue at stake! And more importantly, Section 1924 is just a misdemeanor – what I think a grand jury could also find her guilty of is a felony.


(2) Title 18 U.S. Code § 793 (Felony)-  Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information

The FBI will argue to the DOJ that she violated two sections of this statute.

First is Section D which is part of the Espionage Act – this is what I believe she will be indicted for

(d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defense, or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it, or willfully retains the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it; ….. Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

FBI’s Side: They will make two points here regarding Hillary willfully communicating information to someone “not entitled to receive it”

(1) Hillary Clinton’s communications with Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal is arguably the most important character in the Hillary Clinton email scandal outside of Hillary herself.

Sidney “Sid” Blumenthal – Long time Clinton aide and confidant

After Clinton turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department and Benghazi investigation in December 2014, it was revealed that she had extensively corresponded with someone by the name Sidney Blumenthal during the attacks.

Sidney “Sid” Blumenthal was a former journalist at the New Yorker who became one of the Clinton’s closest aides and confidants in the 1990’s during Bill Clinton’s administration. At the time of the Benghazi attacks, Blumenthal was not a State Department employee, despite having tried, he worked at the Clinton’s large non-profit organization –  The Clinton Foundation.

After his correspondence with Clinton came to light, Blumenthal was summoned to testify before the Congressional Benghazi committee in June 2015. In a closed door meeting with the committee members, Blumenthal turned over 60 emails that he had exchanged with Hillary Clinton. The transcript of this closed-door meeting has not been released. Once the Benghazi committee crosschecked the emails that Blumenthal turned over to them with the ones Clinton had handed over to the State Department, they found that she had not turned over nine emails and portions of six others – 15 emails in all were unaccounted for.

How are these 15 emails from Sidney Blumenthal missing from the 55,000 pages of emails Clinton turned over? The State Department has admitted to not having these emails from Blumenthal in their records after the Benghazi committee gave it to them. Did Hillary Clinton erase these Benghazi-related emails from her private server before turning everything over?

We could not know the answers to these questions until September 2015, when the State Department released a new 1,500 pages of Clinton’s emails. These emails were previously undisclosed to the Benghazi committee.

Sidney Blumenthal arrives to Congress to testify about Benghazi – June 16th, 2015

So did Hillary Clinton’s missing emails with Blumenthal contain sensitive information relating to the Benghazi attacks, or any other issue?

It seems like it.

One analysis has found that at least 23 messages between Clinton and Blumenthal contain potentially classified information. Blumenthal in fact prefaced many of his intelligence memos to Clinton by saying they came from “an extremely sensitive source” and the information “should be handled with care.” This throws into doubt Clinton’s argument that she did not know information was classified because it was not “marked classified”.  Seven emails between her and Blumenthal have had select paragraphs, and even entire pages redacted.  This June 2012 memo about Germany has been completely redacted, and this September 2012 memo has even the subject line hidden.

Blumenthal’s memos about Libya mostly dealt with intelligence surrounding the country’s 2011 civil war, but many reveal how he solicited Clinton’s support in pushing his business ventures. In an April 2011 memo, Blumenthal suggests that the new Libyan government hire private security firms for training, protection and medical supplies. He suggested that his own firm, Osprey Global Solutions, broker these deals.  Clinton forwarded these emails to her aides and said “the idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered.” In August 2011, Osprey Global Solutions signed a contract with the new Libyan government to provide these services.

Blumenthal also suggested that America more intensively support the Libyan rebels by sending A-10 “Warthog” aircraft instead of Predator drones. The United States did in fact deploy six A-10s as part of Operation Odyssey Dawn in the coalition bombing to topple the Gaddafi regime.

A-10 Warthogs deployed as part of US bombing of Libya in 2011

There is no evidence from the emails provided that Blumenthal’s suggestion directly translated into State Department policy. If the FBI retrieves any emails from her “wiped” server that reveal this to be true, it is a violation of foreign lobbying laws and Clinton could be charged with public corruption. If the FBI recovers any other deleted emails which are found to contain work-related information, she could be charged with tampering of evidence and an obstruction of justice.

However, the most incriminating email from Blumenthal to Clinton is a memo where he reveals the name of a CIA intelligence operative in Libya.  In a March 2011 memo, Blumenthal wrote “Tyler spoke to a colleague currently at the CIA, who told him the agency had been dependent for intelligence from [redacted due to sources and methods].” Clinton forwarded this email to one of her aides. (“Tyler” is Tyler Drumheller a former CIA operative who left and joined a private consulting firm)

This is indisputable proof that Hillary Clinton not only possessed classified information, even if it was not marked classified, but willfully transmitted it to others. This information falls under the purview of a 2009 Non-Disclosure Agreement Clinton signed which stipulates that “classified information is marked or unmarked classified information” and would be considered  “born classified” information. John Rizzo, a former general counsel at the CIA, said of the memo “it’s the most sensitive kind of classified information — the identity of a human source.

This is a serious breach of national security,”retired Army Col. Larry Mrozinski said, and “a clear violation of the law.”Anybody else would have already lost their security clearance and be subjected to an espionage investigation.”

Clinton, by law, was supposed to report this improper disclosure of classified information to Department of State Inspector General. But interestingly during her tenure, there was no Inspector General for the State Department, the longest there had been an absence in that position since 1957. Clinton is one of ten members of the US government which determines what is classified information, yet still forwarded this email to one of her aides – debunking her claim that she never sent classified information through her private server.

If the FBI concludes that the identity and location of this individual was authentic, then Sidney Blumenthal, an employee of the Clinton Foundation, was sending highly classified information from his AOL account to the Secretary of State’s private e-mail server – even though he was never given a security clearance to deal with such sensitive information in the first place. Something explicitly forbidden in the 2009 Non-Disclosure agreement which says that any information sent has been “verified that the recipient has been properly authorized by the United States Government to receive it”. This qualifies as a violation of Section 793 of US Title 18 for transmitting information “of the national defense” to someone “not entitled to received it.” The punishment is a fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Sidney Blumenthal is currently a narrator on CNN’s “Race to the White House” original series.

We will actually return to Blumenthal when we discuss what really happened in BenghaziHere to skip ahead if you like.

(2) Hillary Clinton transferring her data to Platte River Networks

There is a second interesting revelation regarding communicating sensitive information to someone not entitled to receive it. Get ready for this one.

DEM 2016 Clinton Server
Platte River Networks – Denver, CO

After Hillary stepped down from Secretary of State in February 2013, she chose to upgrade her private email server. In June 2013, a small IT company in Denver called Platte River Networks won a contract to provide information technology services to Bill and Hillary Clinton, which included taking possession of Hillary’s email server while she was Secretary of State. The role of Platte River Networks was to “upgrade, secure and manage the e-mail server for both the Clintons and their staff beginning June 2013.”

This was a huge contract for a company that had actually never held a federal contract before, had no prior relationship with the Clintons, and who’s most notable accomplishment at the time was winning the 2012 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year award.

Jim Zimmerman, who worked as a field engineer at Platte River from 2010 to 2013, said he recalled a staff meeting where company executives announced they had won the Clinton contract. They told employees that it was a “private job” and asked that they keep word of the work quiet.

Zimmerman said the executives did not describe how their Denver company had won the work, but he noted that they seemed pleased.

“Who wouldn’t be?” he said. “We were a small company.”

In June 2013, the company took Clinton’s server from her home in New York and transferred it to a secure facility in New Jersey. It was here the data from her original server was “migrated” to a new server for the purpose of making the transition to Platte River Networks.

Unsurprisingly, Platte River Networks did not have clearance to handle classified government information. A spokeswoman for an agency within the Defense Department that vets companies for security clearances said her office had not extended one to Platte River Networks. And the company has admitted that as far as it knows their employees never held formal government-issued security clearances. And let’s also not forget, that one of the “worst hacks in US history” came after she left the State Department. Which means her email server was in their hands. The State Department informed Platte River of the attempted attacks into their server from China in February 2014, Korea in March of that year and Germany in June of that year

Given that we know (“know”) there is top secret information contained on this server, and there is an exchange which proves that she is aware that sensitive information could come to her email; is her decision to upgrade her server at the hands of a company not cleared to handle classified information, especially when that information was getting hacked into, evidence of her willfully transmitting information of the national defense “to any person not entitled to receive it”?

Seems like it to me.

We’re actually not done with Platte River Networks, they will be re-visited when we ask why Clinton deleted her emails because several Platte River employees have gone on the record saying they actually feared a cover up when the FBI became interested in their server. Suffice it to say, this arrangement with the Clinton’s has not worked out in the company’s favor. The company’s VP said since the outbreak of the scandal they have repeatedly received death threats and phone calls from screaming strangers. The company has removed from biographies of its executives on their Website as well as testimonials from some of its customers, and has hired a crisis-communications expert.

Nick Merrill – Hillary Clinton Spokesperson

Clinton’s Side: The Clinton defense against Section 793(d) will rely primarily on a 1941 Supreme Court case which challenged whether the phrase “national defense” in the Espionage Law was too vague and over-broad.

“we find no uncertainty in this statute which deprives a person of the ability to predetermine whether a contemplated action is criminal under the provisions of this law. The obvious delimiting words in the statute are those requiring intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation. This requires those prosecuted to have acted in bad faith.”

So unless the FBI can prove that Hillary was purposefully acting to retain, transmit or delete information that can be “used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation”, the information she handed over to Platte is okay.

I think the FBI will be able to do that.

Not only has the State Department said there are emails at the highest level of classification which I’m interpreting to be information “to the injury of the United States”; but Hillary Clinton also knowingly transmitted classified information relating to the national defense “that would be used to the advantage of any foreign nation.” A fact made clear by her correspondence with Sidney Blumenthal in revealing the name of a CIA intelligence operative. But as you will see, there is an email which contains information that implicates a US ally in being responsible for the attack that killed 4 Americans at the US consulate in Benghazi. She has either deleted that email, or has it on her original private server (and illegally migrated it to the Platte River Networks server), but it is now in the hands of the State Department who is refusing to release it to the public.

As per the other charges in Section 793(d), here is Ruth Marcus the Harvard Law graduate and Washington Post writer mentioned earlier

Another possible prosecutorial avenue involves the Espionage Act. Section 793(d) makes it a felony for a person entrusted with “information relating to the national defense” who “willfully communicates, delivers [or] transmits” it to an unauthorized person. That might be a stretch given the willfully requirement.

The Clinton team will have to argue that she did not “willfully” transmit classified information to Platte River Network. I think we are all interested to see that explanation, there could very well be a great one that I haven’t thought about. To be fair, I’m not sure Ruth Marcus made these comments having even known about the Platte River Networks contract.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton, declined to comment on questions about Platte River Networks and its selection to take over Hillary’s email server.

But here is Clinton’s best argument in the whole case. And the revelation of which has made many believe the email scandal is overblown.

Clinton’s best argument is that previous Secretaries of State have ALSO willfully sent classified information on a private email. They were not indicted, or had any inquiry raised into their emailing practices. Raising the point that “the private-email problem is not a Hillary Clinton problem. It’s a governmentwide problem that’s existed since the advent of email itself.”

Former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell

I don’t know how exactly that argument will be viewed in a court, because what if they all did something wrong! And yes, we should have an inquiry into the email practices of Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, and their actions in no way excuse Clinton’s. Three wrongs don’t make a right.

But the better answer is that none of the sensitive emails Powell or Rice sent, that have now been retroactively classified, are considered Special Access Program, Top Secret, or Special Compartment Information (or even close). Colin Powell in fact had only two of his emails be retroactively classified, while Clinton has had thousands. Only Hillary had information that the government considers its highest secrets. This is charge unique to her, and why her emails especially implicate information “of the national defense.” Let’s also put it out there that Rice and Powell had a state.gov email and a personal account, whereas Hillary put everything exclusively on her personal email. On a personal server. This is why PolitiFact has rated her claim that what she did was similar to previous Secretaries to be – mostly false.

Perhaps most damningly was when current Secretary of State John Kerry was asked by Congress a month ago if he would use or allow his staff to use a private server to send and receive classified information. This is what he said:

“In today’s world, given all that we’ve learned and what we understand about the vulnerability of our system, we don’t do that, no. ”

The last violation of Section 793 is Section F –

I don’t know how likely it is that she will be found guilty of this.

(f) Whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information, relating to the national defense, (1) through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, or (2) having knowledge that the same has been illegally removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of its trust, or lost, or stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, and fails to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer

Clinton’s Side: Here is Dan Abrams once more

Here, if it is determined that by “gross negligence” she permitted information “relating to the national defense” (as opposed to the more formal “classified” definition) “to be removed from its proper place of custody,” then she could be facing up to 10 years behind bars.

Reading this as a layperson one might think this could be an easier crime to prove. Not so.

Could an aggressive prosecutor argue that it was grossly negligent for her to run all of her emails out of her home server and that it included “national defense” information “removed from its proper place of custody?” Sure, but that would also warp the intent and interpretation of this Espionage Law without far more evidence than what we have today.

It is incredibly difficult to prove that Clinton engaged in “gross negligence” given that is currently defined legally as

“A lack of care that demonstrates reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, which is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence….”

It may be hard to prove that in court. But remember how insecure her private email server cybersecurity experts have deemed it to be? Remember that she tried to change State Department protocols to bring an insecure phone into a secure facility?  Remember that she was discussing highly classified information from someone outside the government entirely? Remember that all the data handled by a nation’s Secretary of State was knowingly handed over to a private company with no clearance to handle potentially classified government information?

Could that be a lack of care that demonstrates “gross negligence” and “reckless disregard?”

Michael Muskasey – former US district judge and Attorney General under George W. Bush

5) You’re just some college kid with no qualifications to talk about this. Has anyone with authority in the government or media agreed with you? Who has disagreed with you?

You would be absolutely correct to ask this, and as a Microbiology and Economics major I’m probably one of the least qualified people to talk about this issue. But luckily I have been blessed with literacy and an ability to use the Internet. And a lot of free time this semester.

But yes there are people that agree and disagree with me. And that’s good. The fact that this scandal is pitting legal minds against each other should be a sign to everyone that this scandal is real.

People who support me: 

Michael Muskasey – former US district court judge and Bush Administration Attorney General.

The simple proposition that everyone is equal before the law suggests that Mrs. Clinton’s state of mind—whether mere knowledge of what she was doing as to mishandling classified information; or gross negligence in the case of the mishandling of information relating to national defense; or bad intent as to actual or attempted destruction of email messages; or corrupt intent as to State Department business—justifies a criminal charge of one sort or another.

Andrew McCarthy – former assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York.

“If the press reporting is to be believed, [the case] looks very strong,” McCarthy said. “I say that because the statutes involving mishandling classified information are very prosecution-friendly, and they’re obviously intended to be that way.”

Jason R. Baron – a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business.”

Laurie Levenson – former assistant US Attorney for the Central District of California

People who don’t support me (yet):

In addition to Dan Abrams from ABC and Columbia Law, who was cited plenty above

Andrea Mitchell – NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent

So the question is the interactions. Exactly. Let’s say they’re forwarding an AP or New York Times story about the top secret drone program in Pakistan. So that is public source, but then the question is what did she say or what did someone when they forwarded to her say. It’s those comments when they were forwarded that are the critical issue. And that’s the vulnerability. Honestly from my sources and they go pretty high up including — including some of the people who are doing the review for the — inside the intelligence community, I don’t think there is the legal culpability here. I don’t think there is going to be what has been widely reported. For a bunch of reasons. You have to prove intent, you have to prove motive

Laurie Levenson – UCLA Law, Professor of Law and Center for Legal Advocacy at Loyola Law School

Thus, in sorting out Hillary Clinton’s actions, there are at least two critical questions: First, to what extent was using a private email server an “unauthorized” handling of classified information. Second, did Clinton ever knowingly mishandle classified information or act in a grossly negligent manner that led to information being lost, destroyed or stolen?

Politics aside, it is difficult to find prior cases where the unwise handling of classified information led to a federal indictment. For the last 20 years, the federal statutes have been used when there were intentional unauthorized disclosures. The Department of Justice appears to have gone after “leakers,” but not bunglers. Twenty years ago, John Deutsch found himself in hot water and the target of a DOJ investigation for transferring classified materials to his government-owned computer at home — a computer that he used to access a wide range of Internet searches. He was never charged; President Bill Clinton pardoned Deutsch on his last day as president. It remains to be seen what will happen in Hillary Clinton’s case

Ruth Marcus – Harvard Law graduate and Washington Post Columinst calling me out

Could a clever law student fit the fact pattern into a criminal violation? Sure. Would a responsible federal prosecutor pursue it? Hardly — absent new evidence, based on my conversations with experts in such prosecutions.

Clinton testifies for 11 hours before the House Select Committee on Benghazi in October 2015

6) Controversy #1 – was it illegal/criminal for the Secretary of State to conduct all her professional communications on a private email server and not on a government server?

Okay now circling back around to this, which really is the most important question. Let’s see what Hillary said when asked this.

CLINTON: First, the laws and regulations in effect when I was Secretary of State allowed me to use my email for work. That is undisputed.

Secondly, under the Federal Records Act, records are defined as reported information, regardless of its form or characteristics, and in meeting the record keeping obligations, it was my practice to email government officials on their state or other .gov accounts so that the emails were immediately captured and preserved.

Okay let’s go in order.

First, is it undisputed that the laws allowed her to use a private email?

Nope. It is very disputed. The FBI argues that Hillary Clinton’s private email violated these three laws while in office: The Federal Records ActNational Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Regulations and The Freedom of Information Act. I’ll address them sequentially.

(1) Federal Records Act: This act requires agencies hold onto official communications, including all work-related emails, and government employees cannot destroy or remove relevant records.

Hillary’s Side: The Clinton argument from the get-go has been that there is no law that prevents federal employees from having a non-government, personal email as long as relevant work-related documents are preserved. She points to several other public officials who used private emails while in office, including former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell and that the current Secretary of State John Kerry is the first to primarily use a state.gov email account.

An important part of her defense is that she followed all the rules DURING her tenure. After she left the State Department in 2013, President Obama signed an update to the Federal Records Act in 2014 that explicitly said federal officials can only use personal email addresses, if they also copy or send the emails to their official account within 20 days of transmission. Because these rules weren’t in effect when Clinton was in office, “she was in compliance with the laws and regulations at the time”, said Gary Bass, founder and former director of OMB Watch, a government accountability organization.

As far as deleting or destroying relevant records, she says the emails that were destroyed on her server were personal correspondence that she has the legal right to decide what to do with.

Hillary Clinton meeting with Google in 2014. She hates Gmail.

FBI’s Side: First, anyone can use a private email for personal correspondence, and you can do whatever you want with it. But that would usually require one to go through a commercial vendor like Google or Yahoo, someone the government can go to if they want/need information. It’s true that former Secretaries of State used a private email, but Clinton went as far as to have a private server where she exclusively communicated all of her personal and professional messages; making her the sole arbiter of what the government can and cannot see. No other Secretary of State, or public official for that matter, has done that. The other differences between Clinton and the previous Secretaries of State have already been explained in the previous section. Remember, PolitiFact rated this comparison – mostly false.

The FBI will likely even reference a 2005 State Department policy on “sensitive but unclassified information” which explains that employees should conduct “normal day-to-day operations” through the State Department’s official email system to protect the security of the emails’ contents.

Second, while it may be true that she did not technically violate the Federal Records Act while in office, she certainly violated the spirit of the law by avoiding oversight from anyone in the government. John Wonderlich from The Sunlight Foundation, an American  nonprofit organization that advocates for open government, sums up this point well:

“[O]ur expectations for public service are [that] public servants use their official email accounts.

The final arbiter of what’s public or what’s turned over to Congress shouldn’t be private staff working for Hillary Clinton. It should be State Department employees who are bound by duty to the public interest.”

Third, well we’ll get to the deleting emails part soon enough.

(2)  National Archives and Records Administration‘s (NARA) regulations. NARA Regulations require all federal records to be maintained “by the agency” and maintain “ready retrieval of electronic records”.  If any records are requested by the public or Congress, they are “readily found when needed”.

Hillary’s Side: Her team points to this 2009 National Archives regulation that recognizes the right to use a non-government email:

“[a]gencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system”

How she believes that her emails “are preserved in the appropriate agency recordkeeping system” will be explained in the second statement she made. Their main argument is that there is a colossal difference between “wrong,” and “improper”  and a federal crime.

National Archives – Washington DC

FBI’s Side: They would disagree with her defense of the 2009 National Archives Regulation because they don’t think her emails were “preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system” since they were on a personal server (this will be addressed more when looking at her second statement). The off-site nature of her server would also clearly make it harder for Congress to “readily” access information.

And what about the fact that thousands of her work-related emails were on a USB Flash drive with her lawyer? That doesn’t seem like the “appropriate record-keeping system.” If it’s determined that her emails were housed in what could be considered an “unauthorized” device instead of “the appropriate record-keeping system” she is in violation of Section 1924 of Title 18.

(3) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): The FOIA has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement

**Most of the information made public in Hillary’s email’s are a result of the 35 active lawsuits against the State Department under the FOIA.

Hillary’s Side: Clinton argues that all federal records are in the hands of the agency and that she “took the unprecedented step of asking that the State Department make all my work-related emails public for everyone to see.” Even though all her communications were on her personal server, the 55,000 pages of work-related emails she provided to the State Department now gives them the “ready retrieval of records” of all official communications for any Freedom of Information Act inquiry.

FBI’s Side: Yes, the State Department can respond to FOIA requests now, but they didn’t have the ability to do that until two years after she left office when Congress had to ask for them. Not surprising that the Inspector General had issued a scathing report that  during her tenure the Clinton State department was abysmal at responding to FOIA requests.

Dan Metcalfe, who was the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy from 1981 to 2007, blasted Clinton saying that “she managed successfully to insulate her official emails, categorically, from the FOIA, both during her tenure at State and long after her departure from it — perhaps forever.” Calling her actions “a blatant circumvention of the FOIA by someone who unquestionably knows better.”

Just in case you need another angle of Clinton testifying in front of the Benghazi Committee in 2015

Second, did she meet the Federal Records Act by emailing officials on their government email (.gov) accounts, so her emails were preserved on the record?

Depends on who you ask. But many argue this question misses the boat entirely. Because it relies on a passing off of her responsibility to properly maintain records, onto every one else she could’ve possibly emailed.

Hillary’s Side: Clinton argues that because she emailed others on their official government .gov email account, almost 90-95% of her communications are logged into the federal record system before she ever turned over any emails. This would technically put her within the boundaries of the Federal Records Act since the agency could hold onto her official communications (with a 5-10% leeway I guess?).

This issue came up during her 11 hour grilling in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi last October.

Rep. Trey Gowdy : “I have not heard anyone other than you ever cite that figure. Who told you that 90 to 95 percent of your e-mails were in the State Department system? Who told you that?”

Clinton: “We learned that from the State Department and their analysis of the e-mails that were already on the system. We were trying to help them close some gaps that they had.”

Unfortunately for her, that story was not corroborated by the State Department.  Let’s look at the transcript when Deputy Spokesperson for the State Department Mark Toner was asked about this the day after the testimony.

QUESTION: Can you tell us who at the State Department would have informed Clinton or her aides that 90 to 95 percent of the emails had been captured in State Department systems?

MR TONER: So, we’re aware of that exchange and appreciate the question. I’m not, frankly, in a position to do that right now. I would have to refer you, frankly, to her campaign team, which has used that figure previously, I think, and explained it in a fact sheet that they released. It was, frankly, her campaign staff that used it – the figure – so they can give you more information about the rationale or the background behind it. I’m not aware that we have given that figure, but again, I’m not in a position right now to confirm that.

The State Department now won’t talk to GOP investigators regarding the email scandal.

Mark Toner – State Department spokesman

FBI’s Side: Okay so the State Department didn’t tell her that 90% of her emails were in the system. So is there a way to know how many were actually recorded? This is from that same 11 hour testimony.

Rep. Trey Gowdy : The Inspector General Report found that less than one percent, less than one percent of State Department emails, record emails were captured. So they give a number of less than one percent, and you give a number of 90 percent.

Clinton: Well I don’t know what you are referring to. I can only speak about my emails, my work related emails

This is the Inspector General report Rep. Trey Gowdy is referring to, which reported –

A 2009 upgrade in the Department of State’s system facilitated the preservation of emails as official records. However, Department of State employees have not received adequate training or guidance on their responsibilities for using those systems to preserve “record emails.” In 2011, employees created 61,156 record emails out of more than a billion emails sent. Employees created 41,749 record emails in 2013.

The Inspector General is saying .6% of all State Department emails are captured in the system. Something consistent with his earlier report that the State Department has been historically bad at responding to Freedom of Information requests from citizen groups and Congress.

Hillary’s only defense for why her emails could have possibly abided by the Federal Records Act not only falls flat, but *looks* like she is actively trying to mislead Congressional investigators into thinking more of her emails are logged in public records based on information that, at this point, has only been provided by her campaign.

Maybe this is why there are rumors that the FBI may also pursue a charge for giving “materially false statements” to federal agents. This would be violation of US Title 18 Section 1001 – violations of the code are punishable by up to five years in prison.


7) Controversy #3 – why did she delete over 30,000 emails from her private server?

The decision to delete the remaining contents on her server stands out as the most incriminating of all of her actions, even if it is not deemed so legally, because it sends the perception of someone with something to hide…especially when she already had a private email server to begin with.

Clinton argues that she deleted the remaining contents on her server after turning over all her work-related emails to Congress because they were personal emails that weren’t relevant to her work, like about her daughter’s wedding and yoga. Hillary is legally allowed to delete personal correspondence.

So let’s look at WHEN she deleted her emails, because that can give us some clue into the WHY.

Summer of 2014:  The State Department asks Hillary Clinton to turn over all correspondence for the public record, pursuant to requests from Congress’s investigation into the Benghazi attacks.

July-December 2014: Clinton says her lawyers decided which of her emails were work related and which were personal.

December 5th, 2014: Clinton officially submitted 30,490 emails, in the form of 55,000 pages, to the State Department as all her work-related emails. Her emails deemed personal were subsequently deleted.

March 2nd, 2015: Hillary’s use of a private email server is reported to the public.

March 27th, 2015: The House Select Committee subpoenaed (strongly requested) that she give her private email server to Congress. Clinton’s lawyer responded saying that everything remaining on the server had been deleted and rejected the notion of turning over her email server to a third-party independent investigation.

“During the fall of 2014, Secretary Clinton’s legal representative reviewed her hdr22@clintonemail.com account for the time period from Jan. 21, 2009, through Feb. 1, 2013,” Kendall wrote. “After the review was completed to identify and provide to the Department of State all of the secretary’s work-related and potentially work-related emails, the secretary chose not to keep her non-record personal emails and asked that her account (which was no longer in active use) be set to retain only the most recent 60 days of email.”

“No emails from hdr22@clintonemail.com for the time period Jan. 21, 2009, through Feb. 1, 2013, reside on the server. Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com e-mails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate and legally authorized.”

August 11th, 2015: Clinton turns over her private email server to the Justice Department

So when exactly did she delete her emails? Here’s what the folks at PolitiFact say

To recap, Clinton’s private server was wiped clean —technically, filtering out emails older than 60 days — sometime between Dec. 5, 2014, and March 27, 2015. No clearer timeline has been stated.

Trey Gowdy – Chairman of US House Select Committee on Benghazi

I think we can see how this timeline looks suspicious to Congressional investigators.

Republicans argue that Hillary Clinton knew that Congress would ask for her email server the moment the State Department approached her over the summer asking her to turn over her emails to them . So in the interim 3.5 months after Hillary turned over her self-determined “work-related” emails to the State Department, but before Congress asked her to turn over the entire server, she deleted the remaining emails. Emails that her team alone determined to be personal and not work-related.

The timing of her decision to delete all her personal emails two years after leaving the State Department, and just three months before being asked to turn over her server, raises significant suspicion that this wasn’t just a routine cleaning-house of old email junk, but a calculated decision to delete any emails that could incriminate her in the Benghazi investigation, or something else. Thus, she dubbed these emails as personal and got rid of them before she’d be asked to turn them over. This implicates her in an obstruction of justice, and a violation of her 2009 Non-Disclosure Agreement.

When asked if she deleted her emails when facing a subpoena (a summoning to testify/submit evidence), Clinton faced severe backlash from Republicans when she said in an interview “I’ve never been under subpoena.”

She was technically still under subpoena at the time she deleted her emails for all documents related to the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, which they argue she may have removed documents relating to. Clinton argues that the 900 pages provided to the Benghazi committee had already fulfilled that obligation.

So all of her emails are completely gone?

Not necessarily. This where computer forensic experts have launched into a debate about “deleting” information versus “wiping” information.

From Oxford graduate, and National Review writer Charles Cooke –

Unless a hard disk is deliberately and comprehensively wiped clean — “overwritten” in the correct parlance — it will retain a good amount of useful, accessible, intact information. On almost every system available, what appears to the user’s eye to have been “trashed” is in fact kept around unblemished until such time as the space it’s taking up is needed for something else. From the point of view of the person controlling the operating system, files that have been “erased” may indeed be inaccessible. For a person who knows what he is doing, however, those files can often be easily retrieved.

If she wiped her server, that means she intentionally made it so that no information could ever be recovered. If she simply hit the delete key, the FBI would likely be able to recover most of the information.

Hillary with the flicka da wrist when asked about “wiping” her server in 2015

Hillary Clinton would not say whether the server had been wiped when she was asked about the issue after a town hall in North Las Vegas. A now infamous quote.

“What, like with a cloth or something? … I don’t know how it works digitally at all.”

But which server is in the hands of FBI investigators when she turned it over in August 2015? This question has been almost completely ignored in the reporting of this scandal.

To anyone not reading sequentially, this was first brought up in Controversy #2 regarding illegal transmission of classified information.

Let’s go back to our friends at Platte River Networks. Remember that there are now *two email servers* at play.

David DeCamiliss – VP of Platte River Networks

Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State in February 2013 and upgraded her server through Platte River Networks in June 2013. That summer Platte River Networks took Clinton’s email server from her home in New York, transferred it to a facility in New Jersey, and migrated the data to a new email server. The original server remained in the New Jersey facility until it was picked up by the FBI last August.

Once FBI investigators began to take an interest in the company and the server, employees at Platte River Networks began to suspect a coverup. This is from a letter submitted by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson.

“Any chance you found an old email with their directive to cut the backup back in Oct-Feb,” one Platte River employee asked another.

“I know they had you cut it once in Oct-Nov, then again to 30day in Feb-ish.”

Starting to think this whole thing really is covering up some shaddy shit

These conversations suggest that the Clinton team was worried that all the data on the original server remained intact after the migration, and that they asked Platte to “cut the backup” to remove that information back between October and February before the FBI would come ask for it.

The “backup” likely refers to the cloud-based backup operated by tech company Datto Inc who Platte River Networks had partnered with.

Though Clinton claimed this server was blank, the FBI has reported that it was able to recover data from this original server. Whether or not it’s all of the original data, hopefully we will see what, if anything, Hillary Clinton was trying to hide.

Richard Nixon preparing to give his resignation speech in 1974

These events are highly reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal. You have two public figures at the highest level of government, accused of engaging in illegal activity, partially release evidence and attempt to hide potentially incriminating material.

As veteran Washington DC reporter Bob Woodward has said.

It, in a way, reminds me of the Nixon tapes. Thousands of hours of secretly recorded conversations that Nixon thought were exclusively his.

The only difference is, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to turn over his tapes, he didn’t destroy them. Hillary has deleted her emails. While she may still face legal consequences, we should not understate the fact that right before the start of a Congressional investigation into her record-keeping practices, she deleted half of her records. And let’s not forget, Richard Nixon resigned as President. What will Hillary Clinton do if found guilty?

We may never find out what was in those 31,000+ emails, and maybe we shouldn’t since she says they’re about her personal life, but what if in that pile of deleted emails there was something that made American’s question everything their government has told them?

*GRAPHIC* – Ambassador Chris Stevens (deceased) being carried through the streets of Benghazi to a hospital

8) What did Hillary Clinton have to hide about the Benghazi attacks? 

This is the question we have wanted answered for so long, and that the US government has wasted millions of dollars in investigations and inquiries to find out. Here is your answer. Free of charge.

The terrorist group that attacked the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, which resulted in the deaths of 4 Americans, was funded and armed by Saudi Arabia. 

Here is an email that Hillary Clinton has either deleted from her server, or has been deemed by the State Department as one of the 22 emails that is Top Secret and too classified to be revealed to the public. Here is a portion of that hacked email that every American citizen needs to read.

*Transcribed from image link above, there is no electronic copy of this email available to the public.

Algerians are keeping information received from the French DGSE confidential. According to the source, this information concerned the funding of the MBM operation and a possible link to the Ansar al Sharia attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi Libya on September 11, 2012, during which the U.S. Ambassador was killed. This individual adds that this information provided by the French service indicates that the funding for both attacks originated with wealthy Sunni Islamists in Saudi Arabia. During July and August 2012 these financiers provided funds to AQIM contacts in Southern Europe, who in turn passed the money onto AQIM operatives in Mauritania. These funds were eventually provided to Ansar al Sharia and its allied militias in the Benghazi region in support of their attack on the U.S. consulate. The money was used to recruit operatives and purchase ammunitions and supplies. 

This person adds that the same tradecraft was used to provide money used by MBM to organize the In Amenas attack. The request for these funds apparently originated in mid-January 2013, and the Algerians noted the speed with which the AQIM support network was able to pass them on to MBM organization leads at their camps in Mauritania. In a separate conversation, the Algerian DGSE officers note in private that Libyan intelligence officers tell them that the Benghazi attacks were funded by these financiers in Saudi Arabia. In a separate conversation, the Algerian DGSE officers note in private that Libyan intelligence officers tell them that the Benghazi attacks were funded by these financiers in Saudi Arabia. 

This email is truly shocking.

Or maybe it isn’t. Saudia Arabia has now been linked to both of America’s 9/11’s (right). Something that Donald Trump and others have insinuated on multiple occasions.

But to be clear, this leaked email does not say that the Saudi Arabian government is directly responsible for funding the terrorists, it says that “Sunni Islamists” are. Saudi Arabia is almost entirely made up of Sunni Muslims – so the individuals funding these groups could be coming from any person(s) in Saudi Arabia who has the money to fund terrorism. There are a lot of wealthy people in Saudi Arabia. Just like there are a lot of wealthy people in America who also fund dangerous ideals, like denying climate change (which scientists have told us will kill more people than terrorism).

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Kingdom Tower formerly held Sauron’s Eye

My assertion, based on no evidence at all, is that some, if not all, of these “Sunni Islamists”, likely of the Salafism/Wahhabism sect, are members or have ties to the Saudi Kingdom.

The same Saudi Kingdom that has donated millions of dollars to The Clinton Foundation. So much so that they are in fact one of the 17 entities listed on the foundation’s website who have contributed at the highest level, somewhere between $10 million and $25 million.

Is this the lie that Hillary Clinton has been forced to maintain for 4 years? Amongst several other verifiable untruths that began the moment after a terrorist attack against the US…two months before voting day for Barack Obama’s re-election.

Was her unwillingness to reveal this intelligence about the attacks in Benghazi in order to not jeopardize possible campaign donations from one of her largest donors? A donor which was donating to the Clinton Foundation before Clinton was appointed Secretary of State, did not give while she was in office, and then resumed giving once she left office.

These are precisely the types of ethical conflicts of interest that our laws were designed to prevent.

But instead we have spent the last 4 years rehashing these arcane arguments of “talking points” and “protests to a YouTube video” and other shiny objects that have been mere distractions from what seems like such a simple answer now. What was Congress even investigating this whole time?

File photo of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Rice speaking at the White House in Washington
Susan Rice – former US Ambassador to the United Nations

But is potentially endangering campaign contributions the only reason Clinton hasn’t come out to the public and said that Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks?

Perhaps Hillary Clinton is simply doing her part to cover up what I consider to be America’s dirtiest, and worst kept, secret in the 21st century. That the United States is forced to ally itself with a despotic, repressive monarchy, which exports terrorism internationally, because they control the price of our oil.

You’ve been pretty happy with gas prices as of late, haven’t you? In an election year...(actually House of Cards Season 4)

If the allegations in this leaked email hack are true (and I haven’t read anything to the contrary), what other questions can we ask about Saudi Arabia in relation to the pressing issues of our time? Is it possible that the “wealthy Sunni Islamists” in Saudi Arabia who funded the terrorists that killed 4 Americans in Benghazi and who may have played a hand in helping 15 of the 19 hijackers in 9/11, could be the same ones funding the Sunni-affiliated terrorist group which killed 14 Americans in San Bernardino three months ago – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, otherwise known as ISIL?

As Oscar Wilde once said, “True friends stab you in the front.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton,  Saud Al-Faisal

9) How did you acquire this information about Benghazi?

I’m definitely not the only person that has figured this out. I’m just the first one willing to piece together all the evidence and present it in context with the email scandal.

Our dear friend Sidney Blumenthal has returned.

For those are not reading sequentially, I’ll re-summarize from Chapter 4 Part II.

In June 2015, the State Department received 15 Libya related emails that Hillary Clinton had not turned over in her 55,000 pages and had possibly deleted. These 15 emails were turned over by longtime confidant and advisor to the Clinton’s – Sidney Blumenthal.

White House Aide Sidney Blumenthal talks to report
Sidney Blumenthal – longtime Clinton aide and friend

Blumenthal was not a member of the State Department, or of the government at all, he was an employee of The Clinton Foundation. In his unofficial role, he routinely provided Clinton with intelligence memos about Libya. And with whom she encouraged to continue sending her information. After Clinton turned over all her work-related emails to the State Department in December 2014, it was revealed in May 2015 that she had extensively corresponded with him during the Benghazi attacks.

GOP investigators asserted that Clinton relied on Blumenthal for advice and sent it to others at State while ignoring requests from Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi for added security. It didn’t help when it was revealed that Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in the attack, did not even have Clinton’s email address while Blumenthal did.

“A man who was a friend of yours, who had never been to Libya, didn’t know much about it, at least that was his testimony, didn’t know much about it, every one of those reports that he sent on to you that had to do with situations on the ground in Libya, those made it to your desk,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) declared. “You asked for more of them. You read them. You corresponded with him. And yet the folks that worked for you didn’t have the same courtesy.”

After his and Clinton’s communications about Libya were revealed, he was subpoenaed by the committee investigating the Benghazi attacks in May 2015. It was here that he turned over dozens of emails he had exchanged with Secretary Clinton when she was in office.

The State Department crosschecked the emails that Blumenthal turned over to Congress with the ones Clinton had handed over and found that she had not provided nine of them and portions of six others.

Though Clinton claimed the contents of these emails were not classified, this had been the smoking gun Republican investigators had been looking for.

Investigators have said that at least two emails she kept from the State Department contained information regarding the new Libyan government that had replaced the now toppled Muammar Gaddafi. And that email indicated that Libyan leaders were “well aware” of which “major oil companies and international banks” supported them during the rebellion, information they would “factor into decisions” about about who would be given access to the country’s rich oil reserves.

Another memo contains details about how new Libyan leaders were forging business relationships with private firms. Blumenthal told Clinton his sources were concerned about the focus of international interest on Libya’s oil sector, playing up the importance of other “private firms” that could provide “medical assistance.” Something he admitted to having a personal financial stake in.

Most damningly, as mentioned earlier, he revealed the name of a CIA intelligence operative in one of his memos to Clinton.

This is all we have been told about Sidney Blumenthal’s correspondence with Clinton regarding Libya.

Romanian hacker Marcel-Lehel Lazar a.k.a “Guccifer”

But the damning evidence is already public.

Let’s just do this Google Search – “Sidney Blumenthal Libya emails missing”

Boom. And then Boom.

Four of Blumenthal’s emails were leaked as a result of a 2013 hack into his AOL account by a Romanian hacker, who went by the alias “Guccifer.” He leaked these 4 emails to Russia Today back in March 2013. The hacked emails were released in Comic Sans font on a pink background with badly drawn letter “G” as a watermark, which may have been why no one took them that seriously at the time.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.38.20 PM
Leaked email by Guccifer detailing Saudi Arabia’s role in Benghazi

Three of the emails (first, second, third) from the hack were reported by Clinton to the State Department, and showed her having thought Blumenthal’s suggestions were valuable enough to have been forwarded it several of her aides.

The fourth email, which is only available in the original leak and the one describing Saudi Arabia’s hand in the attacks, was not handed over by Clinton to the State Department.

And the reason is unbelievable. The email from Blumenthal to Clinton was sent on February 16th, 2013. Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State on February 1st, 2013. It is not a part of her records from her time as Secretary of State. It is not a work-related email.

If you go back to the section where I describe the timeline of Hillary having deleted her emails – this is the quote from her lawyers when she informed Congress that all the emails on her server had been deleted.

“During the fall of 2014, Secretary Clinton’s legal representative reviewed her hdr22@clintonemail.com account for the time period from Jan. 21, 2009, through Feb. 1, 2013″

One would think that even if Clinton wasn’t required to turn over this email, that she would have volunteered this, especially since she was still under a 2012 subpoena for all emails specifically regarding Benghazi. Given that, her impassioned outburst during a 2013 Benghazi hearing now comes undone.


“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans,” Clinton said. “What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”

It makes a difference. Because before we didn’t know that the guys out for a walk may have been paid by the same people who are also paying you.

So how do we know that this specific email is missing?

Not only did “Guccifer” release 4 leaked emails, but also a screenshot of Sidney Blumenthal’s AOL inbox (great presence of mind by him to make this available for me).

Hacked screenshot of Blumenthal’s AOL Inbox

If we cross reference this screenshot with the State Departments FOIA release of Clinton’s emails, you will notice that the email titled “H: Libya security latest. Sid” – is missing

State Department Release of Hillary’s emails during this time

So there are two explanations for this missing email.

First, it was dubbed as a personal email and deleted with the rest of her personal emails. This qualifies as an obstruction of justice.

Second, this email is in the hands of the State Department because it has either been recovered by the original server, or it is one of the 15 emails turned over by Sidney Blumenthal and has been deemed too classified to release to the public. This would indicate that Blumenthal, a Clinton Foundation employee, was sending highly classified information from his AOL account to the Secretary of State’s private e-mail server even though he never even had a security clearance to deal with such sensitive information in the first place. A violation of US Title 18 Section 793.

Sidney Blumenthal arrives to Congress to testify about Benghazi – June 16th, 2015

During a close-door meeting with Blumenthal, of which the transcript has not been released, GOP investigators have likely referenced this email hack as original evidence that Blumenthal had corresponded with Clinton over Libya. They almost certainly asked him to verify the contents of the hack were the emails he sent to Clinton while she was Secretary of State, including the email sent on February 16th, 2013.

There are likely even more messages in either Blumenthal’s 15 turned over emails or the 22 emails classified by the State Department, which detail the level of involvement from Saudi Arabia, a US ally, in funding the assassination of 4 Americans in Benghazi.

Or God knows what else…

This site claims that WikiLeaks has accessed the remaining trove of Hillary’s emails (as of March 21, 2016) which allegedly reveal details about her role in “spreading chaos and extremism in Libya”, “oil privatization in Mexico”, “trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad“.



10) What is the relationship between Hillary Clinton, The Clinton Foundation, and the office of the Secretary of State?

This question gets at the crux of the email scandal – that public servants, even those at the highest level, may face conflicts of interest.  Let’s remember that Sidney Blumenthal was in fact a Clinton Foundation employee. And who now, for some reason, is one of the narrators on CNN’s Race to the White House original series.

The Clinton Foundation was formed in 2001 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with the mission to “strengthen the capacity of people throughout the world to meet the challenges of global interdependence.”

The foundation’s primary efforts have been to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for women and girls, reduce childhood obesity and preventable diseases as well as helping communities address the effects of climate change. For its efforts, the Foundation has received praise from philanthropic experts and has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans.

In 2015, as rumors were heating up for Hillary Clinton’s announcement to run for President, it was reported that The Clinton Foundation had raised almost $2 billion in 2014. Many of these contributions came from from let’s say…well to do individuals. As a result, many questions have been raised about the foundation’s financial practices, its fundraising from foreign governments, from multi-national corporations, and about the transparency of reporting its donors (like not disclosing $20 million in donations).

Drake knew when the Clinton Foundation blinged…that could only mean one thing

The Clinton Foundation is suspected by GOP critics as a hidden slush fund of campaign contributions.

The day after Hillary announced her campaign for the Presidency, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said –

“But the difference is, all those other entities — Super PACs, parties, individual candidates — they can’t take money from kings of Saudi Arabia and Morocco and Oman and Yemen, and that’s what Hillary Clinton did. And so she’s going to have to account for this money.”

Priebus’ statement goes as far as to suggest that contributions from foreign governments, including from countries like Yemen, which is now basically the new home of Al Qaeda, to the Clinton Foundation, may have actually benefitted Clinton herself.

It is true, The Clinton Foundation has received vast sums of money from these countries and whether or not it directly went to benefit Hillary and her campaign is questionable. But are they simply paying back the favor?

It’s been reported that the same foreign governments ,who are The Clinton Foundation’s largest donors, received lucrative arms deals from Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation, according to an IBTimes analysis.

We know one of these deals was between the United States and Saudi Arabia for $29 billion to send them Boeing fighter jets. Here is a table of defense contractor contributions to The Clinton Foundation.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.43.57 AM

Of the 22 emails the State Department has determined to be Top Secret, it’s possible that there are emails which detail the web of relationships between the Clinton State Department, The Clinton Foundation, foreign governments, and defense contractors. And if there proves to be recorded evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours), she could be charged with public corruption and a punishment of two years in prison.

Huma Abedin – Hillary’s right hand woman (despite being featured on left in this photo…or is it Hillary’s right?)

One of the other interesting revelations from Hillary’s emails was the dual-employment of her closest confidante Huma Abedin. Huma was listed as an employee both at the State Department and at a private consulting firm called Teneo. She was also designated as an “advisor” to the Clinton Foundation at this time.

Abedin was given “special government employee” classification in 2012 while she was still working at the State Department.  This has raised questions of conflicts of interest when Teneo sought to place one of their clients, Judith Rodin, to the position of the President’s Global Development Council (an unpaid post). Rodin did not end up securing this appointment, and from the emails there is no evidence that Abedin interceded on behalf of Teneo to secure that appointment. But the whole arrangement seems suspect.

Senator Grassley summed this up well

“This is a troubling example of Teneo and the Clinton Foundation seeking State Department help for a Teneo client and Clinton Foundation supporter,” Grassley said in a statement. “It raises serious questions. … Was anyone vetting the potential conflicts of interest? Were there other requests like this, and if so, how were they handled? The State Department ought to release the rest of any such emails in the interest of good government and transparency.”

What can we glean from the fact that Hillary Clinton’s senior most aide, right-hand woman, and closest confidant, held three different positions, 2 at private institutions, while working for the nation’s Secretary of State?

James B. Comey
FBI Director James Comey

11) Will the FBI really refer her for indictment? Will she be prosecuted?

On March 1st, 2016, FBI Director James B. Comey said

“I can assure you is that I am very close personally to that investigation to ensure that we have the resources we need, including people and technology, and that it’s done the way the FBI tries to do all of it’s work: independently, competently and promptly. That’s our goal, and I’m confident that it’s being done that way, but I can’t give you any more details beyond that.”

He was unsurprisingly opaque about the status of the investigation.

The former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Darrell Issa said with the “body of evidence” against Hillary Clinton, FBI Director James Comey “really has no choice but to refer this for indictment.”

Hillary doesn’t think the FBI or Department of Justice will pull the trigger. When she was asked this in last week’s Democratic debate what she would do if were referred for indictment, she said “It’s not gonna happen“. Maybe she knows information we don’t (ha ha ha).

Here’s the most important point – The FBI can only make a recommendation to the Department of Justice to prosecute an indictment. And it’s looking increasingly likely that this recommendation will happen.

But the decision to prosecute Hillary lies with President Obama and the Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Image: US President Obama Nominates Loretta Lynch As Attorney General
President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch

This is Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute –

“If the evidence is so strong and so damaging that Loretta Lynch moves to indict, that says something,” he said. “Because the default for the Obama administration in general and Loretta Lynch in particular would be not to indict. The last thing they want to do is indict Hillary Clinton. They would only do it if there was such strong evidence that there was no gray area or wiggle room whatsoever.” (You can determine for yourself from the evidence I have presented if there is sufficient “gray area or wiggle room”, there very well may be)

The fear now is that because Hillary has virtually locked up the Democratic nomination to be President, basically as of two nights ago, the Justice department will not pursue the indictment for political reasons, even if there is a prosecutable case.

Will Barack Obama stand by his former Secretary of State?

However, Joseph DiGenova, a former U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan, said Loretta Lynch would have “no choice” but to prosecute Clinton if the FBI recommended an indictment. While the recommendation would likely come in the form of a confidential memo, “the bureau will no doubt let it be known that such a memo exists in order to increase the public pressure on Lynch to proceed with the case.

There have even been suggestions that FBI Director James Comey would resign in protest if the Lynch declines to prosecute the case – something he almost did in 2004 when he felt White House politics were overruling the law. And according to the NY Post, that view is reinforced from other federal agents who have been spreading the word, largely through associates in the private sector, that their boss is getting stonewalled, despite uncovering compelling evidence that Clinton broke the law.

Still, some FBI staffers suggest the probe’s at a point where Comey might quit in protest if Justice ignores a recommendation to pursue a criminal case against Clinton.

Will the FBI Director resign in protest?

Should we be surprised if Loretta Lynch decides the evidence is not overwhelming enough to prosecute Clinton, even though she has promised a fair, independent investigation? Especially given that before becoming attorney general, Lynch served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York – appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999. And she would likely retain the Attorney General position in a Clinton administration.

But the decision ultimately lies with President Barack Obama.

“Goddamnit Hillary”

These are questions of accountability.

The State department reportedly forced out the Ambassador to Kenya for even having a personal email even though he had a work one too (although here’s the response to that).

There have been multiple comparisons of Clinton’s case with David Petreaus’s indictment – a case that FBI Director James Comey had directly worked on. Comey is in fact no stranger to investigating the Clinton’s.

But most importantly, mishandling classified information is something DOZENS of lower and middle level intelligence officials have been punished for, for actions far less incriminating in scope and severity. Their punishments included stripping of security clearances, career retirement, agency blacklisting and many times imprisonment.

The available evidence suggests there is a case to be made for misdemeanor, if not felony charges, a reality that is driving the rumors that the FBI is likely to recommend an indictment.

But when would that referral for indictment come? All most all of the evidence has been presented. According to the Washington Post

As the FBI looks to wrap up its investigation in the coming months, agents are likely to want to interview Clinton and her senior aides about the decision to use a private server, how it was set up, and whether any of the participants knew they were sending classified information in emails, current and former officials said.

FBI Headquarters – Washington DC

So it looks like we are just waiting for these final interviews with Clinton and her aides. The announcement seems only like a question of political timing at this point. We are still in the heat of the primary elections and Clinton has a large lead over Bernie Sanders; she seems poised to claim the nomination. There are reports that a recommendation, one way or the other, would come in May. The Democratic National Convention officially chooses a nominee for President on July 25-28th, 2016. How close to the nomination will the FBI say anything? What kind of pressures are being applied to James Comey, both from within the Obama administration, and from the GOP establishment and GOP Presidential candidates?

But if the FBI recommends an indictment, especially one for felony charges as I have laid the case for, and the Department of Justice does not prosecute, what kind of political firestorm will we see both in Congress and in the media? Especially if the Director of the FBI resigns in protest?


Here is the evidence that a grand-jury has been already been convened and Hillary Clinton will be prosecuted.

1) Clinton’s IT staff member who managed the e-mail server, Bryan Pagliano, has been given immunity by a federal judge. This is one of the most recent revelations in the case and was revealed on March 2nd, 2016. A witness is usually granted immunity if he/she will be giving testimony to a grand jury about evidence that relates to an investigation, and implicates themselves in a crime. Until now, Pagliano has been pleading the 5th Amendment and has refused to cooperate with the investigation. Maybe because there are actually a bunch of questions surrounding Pagliano’s hiring.

Bryan Pagliano – Hillary Clinton’s IT staff member who maintained her server

Many have said a granting of immunity isn’t evidence of guilt, rather a competent lawyer who is seeking protections for their client before cooperating with an investigation.  This is a sentiment shared by Barbara Van Gelder, a Washington lawyer with the firm Cozen O’Connor, who has represented numerous witnesses in high-profile congressional and Justice Department investigations. She said, “Just because someone gets immunity isn’t indicative of guilt. It’s just protection.”

Pagliano receiving immunity may ultimately be inconsequential, but one former FBI official said, “you don’t start granting people close to Clinton immunity unless you are seriously looking at charges against your target.”

2) The hacker Marcel Lazar Lehel (“Guccifer”) is being extradited to the United States from Romania. This was revealed on March 4th, 2016 after a Romanian court granted the extradition. Why would Guccifer be extradited to the United States if not to testify that the missing email from Clinton’s records is in fact the hacked email that he released in 2013? Will investigators point to the missing email pointed out in Sidney Blumenthal’s AOL inbox screenshot, and ask Guccifer to confirm the content of that email?

Marcel Lazar Lehel, “Guccifer”, being escorted by the police

3) Career Justice Department attorneys have been assigned to the case. When Loretta Lynch was asked when the investigation would be wrapped up she said, “That matter is being handled by career independent law enforcement agents, as well as career independent attorneys in the Department of Justice.”

This is almost indisputable proof that FBI probe has at least progressed beyond the initial referral, why else would the Department of Justice bring in their own attorneys? It seems fair to assume that DOJ agents may now be using the U.S. government’s full investigative tool box, including subpoena power for individuals, business or phone records, as well as witnesses, to create their case against Hillary Clinton.

US Department of Justice – Washington, DC

4) Attorney General Loretta Lynch would not answer whether or not a grand jury has been convened. I was incidentally in an Uber over spring break in DC, where a replay of her interview with Brett Baier was being broadcast. If there was no grand jury being convened, Lynch would have likely said so to quash rumors that she will be indicted. If a grand jury is meeting to discuss evidence she would not legally be allowed to comment on it.

The house of cards is crumbling.


12) What are the implications of an indictment and prosecution?

The lightest possible sentencing would be the same misdemeanor charge David Petreaus pled for mishandling classified information. This would lead to a $100,000, her losing her security clearance and a two-year probation from public service. Apparently it has already been discussed whether or not Clinton would be stripped of her security clearance to handle classified information. It will be interesting to see how she will be able to execute her duties as Commander-in-Chief if she is unable to look at, or handle classified information.

If the FBI recommends an indictment and the DOJ intends to follow through on it, she may challenge the FBI’s finding and take her case to the 8-person Supreme Court. 

But the real question is, if Hillary Clinton is recommended for indictment by the FBI, even if the DOJ doesn’t prosecute, what happens in the Presidential race?

Hillary Clinton must either withdraw her name from the Democratic primary, or continue to deny wrongdoing and hope that she will still do well enough during the remaining primary states.

There has even been discussion of Obama pardoning Clinton, especially if only misdemeanor charges are brought against her. But would Hillary still be able to sustain her bid for the Presidency if she is found guilty of any crime? Even if on paper she may be absolved, that’s a damning admission that will likely haunt her in a general election. But if Obama was going to pardon her to erase this problem, he could have done so at any time.

Bernie Sanders now trails Clinton by 288 delegates and it seems like a longshot for him to secure another 988 delegates to win the nomination. However, 22 states have yet to vote and if the tide turns against Hillary Clinton, this Presidential race could be flipped upside down.

Senate Democrats Hold Briefing On GOP Attack On Social Security

Here is Mark Jones a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute

“Clinton would most likely exit the race if indicted.” If she withdraws, then effectively she “can relieve all of her delegates from their pledge” to support her at the Democratic National Convention in July

If Clinton bows out of the race, it is most likely that Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic Nominee.

However, Jones argues that if Clinton bows out we would see a brokered convention in July where it’s possible that someone other than Bernie Sanders would be the Democratic nominee. It could be Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick, and maybe even Joe Biden. Even if none of them participated in the last 6 months of televised debates, townhalls, or won a single primary election. 

Classic Joe

The reason Bernie Sanders chances would not automatically become the nominee in Clinton’s absence is because of the Democratic Party’s high number of superdelegates. Those are delegates not bound by the results of state primaries.

A Democratic strategist who declined to be named in order to speak candidly guessed a Clinton withdrawal would benefit Biden more than Sanders because most superdelegates would flock to the vice president, not the Vermont senator.

“The superdelegates give Biden something to play with,” the strategist explained.

Delegates at national conventions select their party’s nominee using several rounds of ballots, if needed. But more than one round is not typically required, thanks to the primary elections and caucuses that precede the conventions.

“What is interesting is that we’ve been talking quite a bit about the prospect of a Republican brokered convention,” Jones said. “But if Hillary Clinton is indicted, it’s extremely likely that someone who has not been competing at all in the primary process would be the Democratic nominee.”

Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Interview

**So these last two sections don’t involve much actual reporting, but my unsolicited thoughts and opinions on our government, the media and the election. We likely have some different views, but here are my thoughts, and I hope they provide a valuable, or at least interesting, perspective**

13) If Hillary is not indicted, should the email scandal still change my vote?

This is the real question, isn’t it? And depending on who you are, everything you have just read might’ve been thrown out the window the moment you saw the picture above (sorry Ted).

There is no easy answer to this question, but we must be forced to reckon with what issues are important to us, and which candidate can deliver on those issues.

The Hillary Clinton email scandal is above all a character assessment, where she has undeniably demonstrated shades of being dishonest, untrustworthy and deceitful. And that character assessment is alive and well in the polls, but not at the ballot box. As of Tuesday night, she has virtually secured the Democratic nomination for President (absent an indictment).

But the scandal is more importantly a reminder of how powerful monetary incentives can be in guiding decision-making, even when lives are at stake. Incentives so powerful that Hillary would put her career at risk to not uncover them. The Benghazi coverup could even be seen as simply another one of Hillary’s speaking fees, but this time she was paid to stay quiet.

“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails”

If Bernie Sanders ultimately does not capture the Democratic nomination – this picture above is the biggest tragedy of the 2016 Presidential nomination process. And now I understand how much that handshake meant to her. Because it meant the 8 months of investigation and evidence would be thrown out the window during the Democratic primary. And that’s precisely what happened. The evidence was so damning by the end of last September and the Republicans were so convinced this would topple her that they were saying

The only concern is whether or not this will actually cause any problems for her presidential campaign. It’s still Fall 2015 and the election isn’t for a year (that’s of course if she makes it past the Democratic primary). The only way for this to stay in the public’s eye is for the GOP to keep hammering away on this so the public doesn’t forget.

Bernie Sanders proudly declared in the first Democratic debate in October that he wouldn’t attack Hillary for the email scandal, and said what was probably in all our minds, that we were tired of hearing about it. I applauded Bernie at the time. But I realize now what a fatal mistake that was. Because it affirmed what the Democratic base wanted to believe, that she was truly innocent and this was all a partisan attack, rather than just finding out the truth. Or at least asking a couple more questions (like our dearest Lincoln Chaffee). And so we’ve gone 4.5 months with absolutely no media coverage of a scandal that could force the presumptive nominee to bow out before the Democratic National Convention. What’s happening.

But not only did Bernie forfeit a serious challenge for the Democratic nomination  by failing to capitalize on Hillary’s most glaring weakness (still got my vote), he gave up the opportunity to ask the same questions I have. If he had only treated this as a serious issue, which all the intelligence at the time was telling him to do, how powerful would his main argument have been – that Hillary Clinton only represents wealthy contributors. Even when Americans have died because of them. 

Perhaps most importantly, he has robbed the nation, and Hillary, of the chance to see how she would defend herself against the exact legal playbook outlined in this article. She has not had to seriously answer any questions regarding this scandal so far. And now she will likely be interrogated on TV by someone who is a self-proclaimed lawsuit enthusiast or a former solicitor general who has won 2 cases before the Supreme Court. We’ll see how she does.

Just like we’ll see how she holds up if the GOP nominee re-hashes some of the Clinton family’s even more incriminating scandals. The most high profile being the famous Whitewater scandal of the 80’s-90’s involving fraudulent bank loans in Arkansas. Hillary was not only accused of destroying evidence at the time (seems to be a pattern here), but was even involved in a suspicious death in the process (jesus christ).

Hillary becomes the first First Lady in history to be subpoenaed to Congress to testify about the Whitewater controversy in 1996

But how incredible would this story be if whether or not Hillary can run for President, or be fined/imprisoned, has to be decided by our now even-numbered Supreme Court? Not the first time the Supreme Court has chosen our President (*cough* Bush v. Gore).

But let’s also please not forget that a Hillary Clinton presidency will mostly likely be up against a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate. Both chambers of Congress! If you think the Republicans were obstructionist during Obama’s presidency, wait till they spend every minute trying to impeach the new President.

If our democracy truly worked and in this 2016 election we didn’t have an:

If we didn’t have any of those things then I believe Bernie Sanders would have had a much better go of things with this Democratic primary.

To be fair I’m writing this in March, and Clinton just came off some big wins…it looks like she is poised to be the nominee.  I don’t know how the rest of the primary will end up, but it seems like Clinton will win even though more and more are Feelin the Bern. That is absent a federal indictment. This is why this work is so important . Because in the likelihood that the FBI/DOJ let politics come before the law, the American people will not think that was so. And this is only due to a lack of information. It will only be because we have been conditioned for over a year from the news organizations that tell us what is happening in the world to believe this entire controversy is a partisan, right-wing conspiracy meant to go after Hillary Clinton.

But if, as a nation, we again accept that our justice system and national media are deeply flawed, what do we do now if the current trends hold true and we find ourselves in America’s saddest election – Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton?

You’re not telling me to vote for Donald Trump are you?

I’m not telling you to vote for anyone.

The Democratic and Republican parties have fallen neatly across social issues (gay marriage, guns, abortion, affirmative action etc) and have completely obscured to the American people how the two are largely identical when it comes to foreign policy, trade and the economy (perhaps the topic of a future article). This is something I hope the Clinton v. Trump debates will bring out.

You may ultimately feel compelled to use your vote to at least advance particular social issues, or at least not regress on them, even if the candidate you are voting for may be worse on an issue that more materially affects your life. And that’s okay.


But I urge you to not internalize the narrative of Trump as anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-women, pro-wig etc, and use it as an excuse to not ask the important questions to Hillary on the issues. Especially in lieu of this scandal.

Does Hillary’s financial connection, and protection, of Saudi Arabia (amongst other countries) disqualify her from being able to make necessary, substantive changes to our relationship with the Saudi Kingdom (much like Wall Street)? Will Donald Trump be any more effective at making these changes? To what degree does her support for Saudi Arabia undermine her claim to be a champion for women’s rights?  To consistently protect and take money from a country that won’t even let women drive, amongst other ridiculous things. 

But even then, how important is changing our relationship with Saudi Arabia to our overall domestic or foreign policy goals and objectives? There needs to be much more research done on this question (it almost certainly has been), I may even be changing my perspective on the Keystone XL Pipeline or fracking if the Saudi oil chain around our necks is really this strong. But if Hillary survives this scandal, she will have gone to hell and back to not let the true nature of our relationship with the Saudi’s be known. And I don’t think she would have done that without good reason.

Let’s take this one step further.


It seems fair to assume that Hillary will not be as effective a Commander-in-Chief against ISIS if she cannot, (and importantly has not), credibly take on a Saudi King that might be funding them, right? But how important is fighting ISIS relative to other foreign policy priorities? Like Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, Chinese expansion into the South China sea, the proliferation of CBRN capabilities from small state actors like North Korea, taking action on climate change – any number of issues that Hillary Clinton is unquestionably more knowledgeable about and qualified to take on.

But can we trust that she will actually do what’s in the best interest of the country on those issues? What is the best interest of the country to her? What are her motivating factors when making decisions about these issues?

And not just these issues, what are her motivating factors when it comes to some of the more important issues –  job creation (Trans-Pacific Partnership), healthcare (Obamacare), Wall Street regulation (Glass-Steagall)

These are the same questions we should be asking Donald Trump.

What are his motivating factors on issues like trade (anti-NAFTA/TPP), taxes (corporate inversions), or energy (Keystone XL)?

But more importantly, what really are his motivating factors when he suggests we should temporarily ban all Muslim immigrants coming to the United States? Or when he says we need to secure our border with Mexico by building a wall?


These will probably be my most controversial statements in the article. When we go to ask these questions to Trump or his supporters, I urge everyone to really listen to the answers. Because even if they are not good, I bet they will sound much less racist and xenophobic than you think (why I fell in love with The Onion).

I’m not saying there are not strong racist and xenophobic elements to his proposals – his campaign has undeniably empowered the extreme elements of this country. But that requires you to believe that those are the only elements that have appealed to the over 18 states that have chosen Trump to be their Republican nominee. From states that have significant Hispanic populations like Nevada and Florida, and coming in second in Texas isn’t too bad. Even to much bluer states like Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. And from the 20% of his supporters who describe themselves as “liberal” or “moderate.”

It’s as though we’ve forgotten that issues like border security intersect so many economic and criminal justice issues that Americans are worried about.  Just like we’ve forgotten that it was Hillary Clinton who pushed the 1999 Crime Bill which has done more to create the prison-industrial-complex that has devastated poor and minority communities more than any other policy in the last 30 years.

I was LITERALLY ON one of the piers in San Francisco last summer on July 1st, 2015 – the day that Kathryn Steinle was shot and killed on Pier 16 by an illegal immigrant, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez. He had already been deported by US law enforcement five times for seven felony convictions but re-entered each time. And there is now a bill in Congress called Kate’s Law which aims to strip cities of their “sanctuary city” status so law enforcement can prosecute illegal immigrants, which Donald Trump has supported.

Actual photo I took last summer on a San Francisco Pier – July 1st, 2015

You don’t think I’ve thought about what if I had been on a different Pier that afternoon? Do you think its unfair for Kate’s parents to demand that their city be tougher on crime, especially from people that have been deported for felonies from the country? Would you blame them if they ended up supporting Donald Trump over Clinton if they think he will take more substantive action on this issue; and in some way it could possibly prevent someone else’s daughter from dying? A decision they would have to make knowing all the unbelievably sexist, and racist rhetoric he has engaged in. A decision that so many Americans have made over time, even though 3 of the 5 Presidents with most regretfully racist rhetoric and action in the post-slavery era were from the Democratic party.

I’m sincerely not trying to use Kate’s death to justify Donald Trump’s platform on immigration, and I have no idea how her parents will vote. My rant is really just a call to recognize that ALL OF US desperately need to see beyond our day-to-day realities and realize that many Americans have different concerns based on the things that are happening in their communities. And we need to stop relegating ALL supporters for Donald Trump as unequivocal racists, because then we can never find common ground on issues that matter to so many Americans regardless of race, gender or religion.

I’m not endorsing Donald Trump by any means. Far from it. Because I find some of his proposals to be deeply problematic even if they are possible, extreme solutions to problems that need to be solved. But given that he will almost certainly win the Republican nomination, we’re gonna have to have a longer conversation about these stands at some point. And unfortunately, good intent behind voting for a flawed candidate does not remove the fact that you would still be voting for a flawed candidate.

smh to the 10th degree

But what do you do when you are put in a position with two flawed candidates?

If I vote for Hillary does that mean I also believe that urban youth are “super predators“? Does that mean I also support the public service of US Senator and former KKK member Robert Byrd? Does that mean I also support all the actions of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Boeing etc? 

**There is no perfect candidate, and there is no perfect policy**

When we talk about these incredibly complex issues dealing with homeland security and immigration, rarely do we really think, or have honest conversations, about the arguments the other side is making. Our pre-conceived notions of why people may support a policy or a candidate are so strong that we never care to really ask why people feel the way they do.

I sincerely believe this inability to communicate is the reason America has been more polarized than ever, and our unbelievably grid-locked Congress reflects that. When we do communicate, it’s inevitably with people who mostly share our own views. Because we can’t possibly comprehend why someone on the other side would have the views they have. (And what role has the media played in creating this environment..you know what we read, see and hear?)

In my short 22 years of living, the emotion I’ve seen lacking the most in people when discussing politics, on both sides, is empathy. We rarely understand HOW OTHER PEOPLE FEEL but we are great at understanding HOW WE FEEL. And that’s because we all experience reality differently – based on where we were born, how we were raised, who we were raised around, and the opportunities/experiences that were given to us because of that. Because of things that we may not have chosen. But now you are intelligent enough to choose what you believe. And what you think others believe. 

Victim of San Bernardino shooting

Maybe the fact that Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, supports Donald Trump (very interesting video) highlights how complicated these issues are even amongst Muslims. He obviously does not speak for all Muslims, and may not even represent most of their views – he is in fact an incredibly controversial figure. But he is an influential person with a controversial opinion, and his opinion is formed through a different interpretation of reality than our own. (And just maybe it’s the fact that we have yet to have a serious discussion in twelve GOP primary debates and nine Democratic primary debates about how any Presidential candidate is proposing a legitimate solution to properly screen and vet refugees from Syria, many of whom may be bringing fake passports and fake documentation, amongst other gaps in our vetting process, has something to do with Farrakhan’s opinion) – read this, and this to get better answers on this issue

If I have learned anything from researching the Hillary email scandal – it’s that we want to believe the narrative we are told about one side, because we don’t want to be told the way we understand reality is wrong. 

Let’s ask more questions to Donald Trump, Louis Farrakhan, and others, as to why they see the world the way they do. 

This brings us back to Hillary Clinton.

When we really ask Hillary about her motivating factors, we should listen earnestly because she is a complex figure who exists beyond this one-dimensional view as a Wall Street puppet.  This is a genuine sentiment I’ve gotten from watching so many of the political debates and town-halls, from talking to people who remember her much more clearly in the 90’s than I do, and from just hearing what people across the spectrum have said about her intellect, work ethic and public service.

Let’s not forgot that it was Hillary Clinton who:


But this article serves as reminder for everyone to ask themselves – what were Hillary Clinton’s motivating factors when asked by Congress why 4 Americans were killed in Benghazi?

I sincerely don’t believe Hillary Clinton intentionally did anything to endanger the lives of these 4 Americans. And I don’t think there is anyone more remorseful for their deaths than her. She is a flawed person, like everyone else.

But her greatest flaw is entrenching herself in a system that rewards action (or inaction) with monetary compensation. And this is a reality that people face with their elected officials all over the world, many so much worse than the United States.

This is why the email scandal is so fascinating, because it reveals what those flaws are, and the tension between being a public servant and a private citizen. Esteemed journalist Bob Woodward said it best.

“Again, it’s the volume: 60,000 emails and Hillary Clinton has said 30,000 of them, half, were personal and they were deleted. Who decided that? What’s on those emails? I would love to have all 60,000, read them. It would be a character study about her personal life and also what she did as secretary of state. And step back for a moment. The big question about Hillary Clinton is, who is she? Is she this secretive hidden person or is she this valiant public servant? Look at those 60,000 emails and you’re going to get some answers.”

Unfortunately we are in a system where action is not possible unless there is a monetary incentive for it. Action for the sake of public service is wistful idealism, and it will take a long time for that system to get there, if ever.

But there is an argument to be made for why having the support of industry and businesses is necessary to craft good legislation, and can be used for the public good, and that Hillary’s seemingly damning ties may be just as much valuable in helping Americans as they seem detrimental.

Let’s hear that argument.

22 year old college male, single

14) Concluding remarks

Click Warning: This will be unabashedly cheesy.

So everyone will likely think I’m some flavor of conspiracy theorist on every issue forever now. And my parents will use this article indefinitely to push me to go to law school or something.

This is the first time I’ve ever written anything like this, and I didn’t plan for it to be this. It really was supposed to be like a Vox style “Hillary emails, explained” article. But sometimes you go down the rabbit hole. And if you’re gonna tell a big story, tell it right.

Honestly, I don’t know what will happen to this article.

Maybe it will make it big time and you’ll see it on Fox News in a week (they’d love this shit). I’m posting it online and I am working to get it published on a more legitimate news site, but it may fall on uninterested eyes at the highest levels.

Maybe this article will become an underground Internet sensation, and the power of social media will put these words on millions of computer and phone screens and change millions of minds. But change those minds to select perhaps an even more flawed Presidential candidate.

Or maybe this article will just be read by a handful of curious minds, who at the end of the day have already learned to be suspect of why our elected government says it does the things it does.

But regardless, this is a story that needed to be told. It needed to be told sooner, but it needs to be told while the American people are still choosing who leads their new government.

I wasn’t planning on writing these remarks and they went a lot longer than I intended, but I felt the need to have them written down (for myself at least), because I actually changed as a person in the process of researching and writing about this issue. And it honestly just started by me asking myself at a Taco Bell drive-thru “do I need to be worried about Hillary’s emails?”

I had assumed that a question of this importance would have been answered for me by now…by people who have been paid precisely to answer theses types of questions. Especially in an election year. I was certainly let down. Given that the most damning piece of evidence has existed in complete public view for almost 3 years and the email scandal has been going on for almost 2 years now, how is this guy the only person who mentioned it?  All you needed was someone to sit for an hour and connect the dots. Something I thought we were paying people to do. But instead, we have let our government spend $5 million to come to this conclusion and be fine with it.

A two-year investigation into the Benghazi tragedy by the Republican-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence found that the administration did not intentionally mislead the public about the details surrounding the attacks

Susan Brooks – (R) Indiana on the Select Committee for Benghazi with a stack of Hillary’s emails

What are we even doing?

It’s possible that I don’t understand how complex and nuanced federal investigations into terror attacks are, especially in a foreign country. But why didn’t the Republicans who were supposedly so concerned about the Benghazi attacks ask any questions about Saudi involvement? Given that they were already aware of hacked emails which show detailed discussion surrounding the players involved in the chaos around North Africa at this time. Why won’t Trey Gowdy just release the transcript from their meeting with Sidney Blumenthal which reveals this? It really does feel like a partisan attack now. That this is simply motivated by politics to damage Hillary’s image and not even uncover the truth.

That’s why the biggest tragedy in all of this may actually be that even if Hillary Clinton gets indicted by a grand jury, the Saudi Arabia email may not even be brought to light. All the public will hear is that the Republicans were right and Hillary shouldn’t have had a private server, and now she’s getting in trouble for it. Completely obscuring the fact that both Republicans and Democrats have shown a vested interest in not letting the details of the US relationship with Saudi Arabia be known.

And now to just be a full-blown conspiracy theorist – what other issues do both Republicans and Democrats have a vested interested in not letting the American public see the true nature of?


This is why our nation needs journalists. To tell truth to power where it needs to be told, regardless of political affiliation. To ask these outlandish questions and to find out the answers. To allow the most critical function of our democracy to exist – the idea that elected officials can be held accountable for their actions.  This is why you should care about countries that repress journalism and free speech (including us, oh yeah).

I can’t stress this enough, I’m not even a whistleblower. I’m not providing any information that did not already exist for the public, I’m quite literally just telling you what happened. This is the power of the Internet. Which all of you have access to 24 hours, anywhere you go. Unless you have Sprint.

I think its lost on people that we’re really living in an unprecedented moment in human history. The proliferation of laptops, smartphones, WiFi etc, has for the first time let billions of people all connect to each other instantly. And more importantly, it has allowed you to answer any question you could possibly want answered at any time. Like this life-changing video I finally watched 2 months ago on how to cut an onion (amazing stuff).

We can answer any question we want, we just need to know which questions to ask.

This is why it’s truly amazing to me that the vast majority of the public still sees the Benghazi scandal as ONLY a partisan attack point, and most haven’t really formed an opinion on Clinton’s use of a private email server. That only seems possible because there’s a national news media that refuses to ask the right questions and actually dig deep into important issues. 

Unless of course it’s Ebola.

are you serious right now

Or the missing Malaysia Airlines flight

jesus christ what are we doing

Are we actually just “sheeple” being told what to believe when it comes to the most important issues?!?!

I don’t mean to just hate on “the mainstream media” because there are a lot of honest, hardworking people there who do their best everyday to cover the stories and issues that matter to so many people. But I can’t help but question what some of their motivating factors are, at the highest levels at least, when it comes to what stories to report on, which side of that story to tell, what people to interview, or even what primary debate questions to ask. And maybe that questioning is justified the moment we look at how many different media organizations contribute to The Clinton Foundation

Regardless, there has been some outstanding journalism, most notably from The Washington Post, Politico, NPR, National Review, The Blaze, Daily Caller, Free Beacon, Business Insider, The Washington Examiner and PolitiFact, who not only covered but analyzed these amazingly complex issues of how we use our e-mail, how classified computer information is stored, transmitted or deleted and the laws we have created to address those issues.

But it was really staggering how much research I needed to do to fully understand what this scandal was even about.

And the biases became apparent so quickly.

On the truly incriminating lines of questioning, the ones I have laid out for her indictment, there was really only one strain of news media that ever attempted to answer those questions. And if they honestly just tried harder to stop looking and sounding like goddamn conspiracy websites, then we would come so much farther in creating a civil discourse to actually find answers to the issues that affect us and to hold elected leaders accountable for their actions.

On the opposite end, even our Hollywood filmmakers, who had access to all the same information I did, when given the opportunity to reveal the underside of the Benghazi attacks in the movie 13 Hours, chose not to do so (to be fair it was Michael Bay).


I’m publicly calling on John Oliver, of HBO’s Last Week Tonight (yeah he’ll read this I bet), to finally take on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal (I can’t believe he hasn’t already…motivating factors hmm), and bring clarity and truth to this issue like he has for so many others. And ask me if you have any questions!!

When I say I actually changed as a person from writing this, I think I mean to say that I ended up learning a lesson that had already been told to me so many times in different forms and experiences, but that I had never fully taken to heart.

Be curious. Ask questions. Think for yourself.

And most importantly, be asking yourself why you believe the things that you believe.

A special thanks to a few individuals (you know who you are) for encouraging my curiosity and for always challenging me to think in ways I had not thought before.

– Chetan Hebbale


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