Preface: As Election 2020 bears down on us, “Why the series”
This “Uranium jerky” series, tracking a calendar of events that has flown mostly under the radar, is, I believe, more timely than it may seem. America (and hence the world) is in the throes of an unprecedented upheaval at the moment, and perhaps it appears that its proximate origins, stemming from actions in the Obama administration, go back only about as far as 2015, or at the earliest, 2012. I have become increasingly convinced that in terms of motive, those origins must go back farther.
They don’t go back hopelessly far. There are shapers of conditions that go back a long way, of course. Many perceive that the “long march through the institutions,” by what is often called “cultural Marxism,” began 100 years ago, and attribute the softening up of America to it. We could write volumes about that.
But coming from that perspective hasn’t succeeded in explaining why it is so desperately urgent for Marxism’s acolytes to act now. Yet it is clear that exactly that immediate need is perceived. People who have been very patient for a very long time suddenly have no patience at all. There is an alliance of acolytes in 2020 that is extremely anxious to bury American constitutional government, and with it the global standard of national sovereignty and the culture of human freedom, within the next year.
In 2020, a movement that has been deceptive about its intentions for decades is suddenly willing to show every card it holds. The recklessness of its approach has become astounding. It still lies to our faces, but it doesn’t care – perhaps doesn’t even recognize – that we see perfectly well what it is doing. More and more Americans of average information and little attention-span for politics have a clear vision about what’s going on.
It has become commonplace to recognize that what this cabal of likeminded acolytes is engaged in is a coup: a coup against the U.S. Constitution. Perceptive writers have recently laid out how the measures American Democrats openly advocate in 2020 – court-packing, ending the Senate filibuster, adding new states to the Union, eliminating the Electoral College – will serve one end: completing that coup. The very core of our political system, the restraining hand of checks and balances, would be irretrievably destroyed.
And it’s not just the 2020 election the acolytes have focused their strategy on. They’ve been trying since before Donald Trump even won the presidency in 2016 to sabotage a potential Trump presidency, and then to sabotage the actual one – an effort that has been unrelenting for more than four years now. In the process they have entirely exposed themselves: their proximate motives, their goals, their tactics, their character. And yet they don’t stop.
From my analytical standpoint, ideological goals like implementing the “Green New Deal” and raising tax rates for righteousness’s sake are formulaic intentions: things the acolytes will certainly do, but hardly requiring the revolutionary urgency implied in burning down the house.
Nor are disembodied geopolitical goals like realigning the Middle East (i.e., to favor Iran) enough to justify the level of desperate political disruption they are promoting. Favoring Iran, breaking with the Saudis, decoupling from Israel – for America, these are relative abstractions.
To put it bluntly: where the coup planners are concerned, such goals don’t explain what’s in it for them.
The acolytes’ concrete actions, such as gutting the Constitution, tanking the economy, and eliminating borders, would take America down, leaving her unable to continue as a meaningful factor in realigning the Middle East – or opposing China, or any other great geopolitical enterprise. But what is in that for them? Do they have a vision for a base of power from which to wield their own current level of influence, in the absence of a strong, sovereign United States?
If so, what is that vision? To pin hopes on the EU, or on having influence with an ascendant China, is a fantasy so absurd it hardly bears articulation. In short, how does this group of actors retain power on a global level if – through their own exertions – the United States does not have such power?
Controlling what is left of the United States would be useful for a while. But not to the same level as today – and in any case, it wouldn’t last long.
There are, however, a couple of essential power factors in the modern world that you don’t necessarily need the USA, per se, to wield. You don’t necessarily need any one sovereign nation as a base.
One is the levers of control – a mighty veto – over information; i.e., news media, social media, the approved public record and approved speech. Do any of you out there doubt that there are people pursuing such a veto?
The other is nuclear weaponry: held as a latent veto over all the insurgent initiatives of mankind. Especially America’s initiatives.
We are accustomed to assuming that nations control nuclear weapons. But it is self-evident that that is not a preordained condition. It’s just the one we have now. If you wanted to undermine national sovereignty as a characteristic of the modern world, one of the chief things you’d want to do is confer a nuclear veto over the independence of sovereign states on a non-national consortium of some kind.
Dedicated activists have been trying to formally arrange for that since the end of World War II, without success. It’s not a new idea. What would be new is a group of “civilian” actors seeking the ability, through operating in the nuclear industry and penetrating the relevant halls of government and science, to gain such assets simply by assembling them on their own.
I don’t assert that this has, in fact, been undertaken. More evidence would be required for that. But I do assert that it may have been, and that the question needs an investigation of wirebrushing intensity. It would explain a number of things that have remained conundrums to us in the last several decades.
This chain of thought was set up in my mind, for example, by President Obama’s obsession with creating a pact for an extraordinary stasis: a kind of perpetuum in which there would be an Iranian nuclear weapons program, always in process but always just short of triggering decisive interdiction (presumably by Israel or the United States).
That’s what the 2015 JCPOA amounted to, with its horizon of just under a decade. The “agreement” provided shelter for an Iranian nuclear weapons program to continue. When I point that out, readers tend to assume I mean Obama and the other P5+1 powers wanted Iran to eventually get a bomb. I don’t mean that. They may or may not want that outcome.
I mean Obama, at least, and presumably some of the other great powers (namely, the EU-3), wanted Iran to continue to have a program. The program could give up aggressive uranium enrichment for the time being, and provide the unfinished portion of Iran’s weapons effort – warhead development, and mating to delivery vehicles – with breathing space. That’s exactly what the JCPOA did. Uranium enrichment could be resumed at any time, because it’s a mastered process. It was putting a warhead on a missile that required the UN to cease any serious effort to inspect the facilities at the Parchin complex, and to ignore the other, associated industrial facilities in the hills east of Tehran.
In 2017, two years after the JCPOA’s terms were adopted as UNSCR 2231, Chief Amano of the IAEA said he didn’t even have criteria by which to assess whether Iran was in compliance as regards not pursuing development of a bomb. That’s how far the UN was from taking any effective role in preventing bomb development. The UN is still that far from it today. The false promise of the JCPOA ended even the pretense that UN monitoring was about such a goal.
Why did Obama want it that way? It’s a really good question, since it was evident in July 2015 that that’s the scenario the JCPOA was setting up.
I believe it’s worthwhile reviewing the very interesting sequence of events set forth in this series. When I started it, I didn’t realize how central the 2009 saga of the M/V Arctic Sea would be, and had no clear idea that it would find attachment points – generic ones, if not always specific ones – with so many other relevant elements of the larger story.
As discussed in Part I, most of this series is about the remarkable years 2008 and 2009. But the intersecting story elements just in those two years run us right into the Spygate/Russiagate drama of 2016, as well as backwards through the Clintons, Russian oligarchs, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and even the A.Q. Khan network.
It is unquestionably relevant that Arctic Sea’s story was exactly contemporaneous with Goldman Sachs’s unique foray into uranium trading, which itself coincided precisely, as if on a stopwatch, with the first year of the Obama administration. We looked at that in Part I. The next four parts (the other three shorter than this one) look at M/V Arctic Sea and the interlocking threads coursing through her strange tale. I hope breaking them into chunks will alleviate any fatigue with the inevitable level of detail. There’s actually far more that could be said about pretty much everything in this drama; there’s only enough here to make points and advance the discussion.
The final part of the series will be a longer-scope but much less detailed overview setting the years 2008 and 2009 in context. It matters, for example, that cronies of the Clintons were involved in the 1980s in banking interests that financed the A.Q. Khan network – and that after decades of hostility to nuclear power generation, Democrats have suddenly decided, in 2020, to embrace it.
Herewith, then …
In Part I, we looked at the extraordinary coincidence of events related to the uranium trade in the period 2008-2009. During that period, Iran’s supply of raw uranium became decoupled from accountability on the uranium that was being processed at Iranian facilities for conversion and enrichment – meaning the IAEA lost accountability on how much total uranium Iran had above ground and in processing in some way.
At the same time, an FBI informant was passing on information about alleged bribes going from the Russian company Tenam, a U.S. subsidiary of Russia’s Tenex, to the Clintons. The alleged bribery period was just before Russia offered to buy Uranium One via another Rosatom subsidiary, ARMZ.
During the same period, Kazakhstan, where Clinton associate Frank Giustra had obtained significant uranium concessions for his company UrAsia, was indicting the two oligarchs mainly responsible for negotiating the Kazakh uranium concessions. One of those oligarchs, Mukhtar Ablyazov, was a client (for many shell company transactions) of Stephan Roh, lawyer for Joseph Mifsud. (UrAsia was subsequently bought out by Uranium One, prior to Russia’s acquisition of Uranium One.)
But the principal topic in Part I was the identically timed foray of financial house Goldman Sachs into trading and holding custody of physical commodities, including uranium. This was an unprecedented move by any financial investment company, apparently timed to exactly coincide with Barack Obama’s entry into office in January 2009, and its ending is still in an ambiguous status today. So far, in fact, as regards the actual buying, stockpiling, and selling of physical uranium, it remains unique. No other company has done what Goldman Sachs has.
The adventure of Arctic Sea
In Part II, we will take a look at the peculiar misadventure of M/V Arctic Sea in July and August of 2009. Everything about this incident was bizarre, starting with a purported hijacking. Rather than recounting it blow by blow, I refer readers to some useful summaries here, here, and here (the last being a collection of notes and links by a Stratfor analyst, published by WikiLeaks with a tranche of disclosure in 2012 and 2013).
The short story is that Arctic Sea got underway from a Finnish port on 23 July 2009, heading to Bejaia, Algeria with a load of timber. The ship was making this trip under charter through operating agent Solchart Management, a Finland-based firm run by Russian nationals which also had a Solchart counterpart in Arkhangelsk, Russia (on the White Sea in the far northwest). The ship was to reach Algeria on 4 August.
Unbeknownst to the outside world at the time, Arctic Sea was reportedly raided on 24 July in an incident involving a small crew of operatives in an inflatable boat near Gotland Island, off Sweden’s southeast coast. The raiding party depicted itself as “Polis” (police), and spoke English (with a foreign accent) according to the crew. As originally reported, the raiding party then left; it seems Swedish authorities were informed, if not immediately, but the ship didn’t halt the transit.
The extremely weird raiding incident wasn’t reported in maritime news until days later, although some reporting suggested Sweden knew of and was investigating it. In the meantime, Arctic Sea departed the Baltic and went through the English Channel.
Global media reporting began when communication was said to be lost with the ship in the last two days of July. The AIS satellite tracking system was turned off on board on 30 July, and the final communication (with a maritime authority in Dover) occurred on the 31st. The ship had basically disappeared from remote tracking, although a patrol aircraft (apparently from the UK) reportedly sighted it off the coast of Portugal sometime after the last AIS update on 30 July.
Arctic Sea’s crew was Russian; the ship was Maltese-flagged at the time, and was owned through a Maltese shell company with apparent Russian ties. In August 2009, the Russian navy sent multiple assets from the Black Sea Fleet to hunt the ship down in the Eastern Atlantic.
Reporting from afterward indicated that Finnish, Maltese, and Swedish authorities knew where the ship was during the time she was “missing.” In hindsight, it wasn’t that big a trick for the Russian navy to find her; in fact, Russian officials were at pains to mention that the U.S. Navy, along with other NATO navies, had told them where Arctic Sea was. On 14 August 2009, the cargo ship was reported to be found about 300 (statute) miles west of the Cape Verde Islands off Northern Africa.
That put the ship well south of the entrance to the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar. On 17 August, the Russians stated that the ship had been hijacked by a group of Latvians, Estonians, and Russians, but that the Russian frigate Ladny had taken down the hijacked vessel, and recovered the Arctic Sea’s crew and had them safe. As of 19 August 2009, the ship herself was said to be anchored off the Cape Verde Islands, with a skeleton crew of four.
She remained there in Russian custody for a few weeks until she left to be delivered to Malta, her flag state and state of ownership. (There was an interlude off the Canary Islands in September, discussed later.) Arctic Sea reportedly arrived in Valletta by 29 October. Solchart Management had the ship re-manned in Malta, and the cargo of timber was finally delivered to Algeria shortly after 3 November.
The ship’s crewmembers were taken to Arkhangelsk, Russia in August and sequestered during their questioning. Russia had also arrested the purported hijackers, and went on to try and convict them over the next several years. The eight “hijackers” were reportedly four Estonians, two Latvians, and two Russians (although Estonian authorities gave a different version, saying that of the four residents of Estonia, three had “undefined citizenship”).
As reconstructed afterward, the ship had continued her voyage after the “raid” off Sweden on 24 July, not stopping for any crime-scene processing. The Russian story, as told in August, was that the hijacking took place that night; i.e., the “English-speaking Polis” operatives were the Estonian, Latvian, and Russian hijackers.
That was one of many startling features of the tale. If the ship was indeed “hijacked,” and then proceeded without incident through the narrow, heavily trafficked Skagerrak and Kattegat Straits, keeping her AIS turned on for another week, and then turning it off as she entered the wider Atlantic west of France, that would indicate a very well-prepared sponsor of the hijacking. Such a sponsor arranged to completely control the crew, to evade tracking, and ultimately take the ship somewhere under duress, seemingly in secret, between 31 July and 14 August.
Yet the chartering company in Finland knew where Arctic Sea was while this was supposedly happening, along with the Swedes, NATO maritime authorities, and Russians. How this discrepancy in the narrative wasn’t really a discrepancy was never explained to the public.
In any case, the Guardian’s British sources pointed out that people on the ship were unlikely to truly be out of trackable contact with everyone, in the age of satellite cell phones. That’s something a commando team would be well aware of. The hijackers themselves probably communicated off the ship – notably, a ransom demand was made on 3 August (although by someone purporting to speak for the hijackers) – and they would have known that that made them trackable.
We could go into a long litany of things that didn’t make sense, and that in fact militated against the story the Russians eventually put out. But it’s more profitable to focus on features of the story that are directly relevant to our interests. Our interests are in the intersection of uranium-related events in 2008 and 2009 (i.e., from Part I) involving the Clintons, the Obama administration, the Russians, and Iran.
In this survey, we may find that we haven’t included quite enough parties of interest in that intersecting mix. That will come out as we review some key details of the Arctic Sea episode.
We will examine these details in no particular order, although I think this order illuminates the features of interest in the most useful way. The first detail is that prior to the July 2009 voyage, Arctic Sea spent about two weeks undergoing inspection and repairs in Kaliningrad, the Russian Federation enclave situated between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea.
The dates of this are in early July, with this long-time blogger on Russian topics giving the dates as between 1 and 17 July 2009 (the departure date matches that reported by the BBC, above). There has been intense speculation about what exactly was done while the cargo vessel was in the Pregol shipyard, much of it unsupported by credible references. Some comparatively credible sites (including Yulia Latynina at the Moscow Times) report that modifications were made to the ship’s interior to accommodate cargo that could not otherwise be introduced into the hold. That can’t be confirmed, but is a feasible possibility.
The purpose of such a modification is a matter of pure speculation. Kaliningrad was known as a smuggling hub, and theories at the time included transporting weapon system components like those of the S-300 air defense system (this is unlikely, as modifying the cargo space presumably would not have been necessary; see BBC News link), and moving nuclear-related material.
As John Helmer recounts, Russian authorities addressing questions about the Kaliningrad interlude went immediately to saying that it was all wild rumors and hoaxes. That tends to be the Russian reaction when there is something to be hidden. When a plausible, coherent, and seemingly innocent explanation can be offered, the Russians usually present one.
That point, of course, comes from pattern recognition, which can be a persuasive factor for evaluation but isn’t confirmation one way or another.
We can say, at least, that Russian sources were irritable and dismissive about the ship’s time in the Kaliningrad shipyard.
Another detail, unearthed by Helmer, is that the Arctic Sea had made previous runs between 2007 and 2009 in which her AIS was turned off for days at a time. That begins to tell us more. In each case, the AIS was turned off while the ship was in the Mediterranean. Here is Helmer’s summary:
Each year recently, according to AIS records, the vessel appears to be missing from the logs in the Mediterranean for up to 20 days at a time. In April of this year [i.e., 2009], the Arctic Sea is missing from AIS port-call records between April 1, when it transited the Gibraltar Straits, moving east, and April 11, when it returned through the straits, moving west. A similar gap in the log records appeared a year earlier, between February 13, 2008, when the Arctic Sea sailed east past Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, and 20 days later, on March 4, when it transited the Gibraltar Straits moving westwards. In 2007, the gap in the logs appears between April 26, when the vessel entered the Mediterranean, and May 14, when it exited. In all cases, the vessel appears to have taken on cargo at Loviisa and Kotka (Finland), and Tallinn (Estonia).
It isn’t clear from this summary whether Arctic Sea made other trips to the Med during which the AIS was not turned off. But these untracked periods would be opportunities to make deliveries (or potentially pick-ups) without readily available remote tracking of the ship. The implication is that the ship probably didn’t go to the ports she was scheduled for.
Helmer notes that it’s far from unheard of for ships to turn off their AIS, which is true. But the reasons he lists for not using it don’t add up to explain Arctic Sea’s behavior. There is actually no “routine” or “normal” reason why Arctic Sea would not have used AIS most if not all of the time during Med transits in the “missing” periods. If she was using it between the Baltic and Gibraltar, we are entitled to draw conclusions from her systematically turning it off on entering the Med, and turning it back on when she departed.
In spite of the protestations cited from Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, Arctic Sea did have a pattern of apparently wanting to disappear from remote tracking. That doesn’t mean her management hierarchy didn’t know where she was. A better interpretation is that the purpose was to frustrate outside observers who didn’t have access to other forms of tracking, or at least were unlikely to follow them via amateur means. Examples might be ship’s satellite phone or high frequency (HF) position reporting.
This history tells us it’s legitimate to wonder what Arctic Sea was up to, on any of the trips she made between the Baltic and the Med in this period.
A pivotal deet
Another detail relates to the reported ransom call made on behalf of the hijackers by a third party. There has been some pooh-poohing of the reports about this call, with some industry observers not finding the dollar figure or the reported features of the contact(s) credible.
But the interest in this detail lies at least partly in the identity of the ship‘s insurance agency. It was Russia’s Renaissance Insurance Group that reported receiving the ransom call, which the insurer said was made on 3 August 2009. Renaissance Insurance is part of the same family of companies as Renaissance Capital, the investment firm that paid Bill Clinton $500,000 for a speech in 2010, just before Hillary Clinton’s State Department concurred in the U.S. decision to allow Russia to buy a controlling interest in Uranium One.
According to Renaissance, the ship was insured for $4 million, and the call, received on 3 August – four days after the AIS was turned off – came from someone speaking English, who demanded a ransom of $1.5 million in five days or the crew would be shot and the ship sunk. “The insurer,” said Insurance Times, “helped communicate with the hijackers in the following days.”
This makes clear, for one thing, that there was indeed communication with the ship during the period after 30 July when the AIS was turned off.
Outside observers, following the drama through the media in 2009, remember the incident as one in which the ship was “missing” for more than two weeks. But as mentioned above, the subsequent reporting clarified that Arctic Sea was never “missing” for even two hours. This point must be stressed. The oddness of the incident lies not in the ship being missing, but in the fact that it wasn’t missing, but was depicted in the media as being lost.
Moreover, the Renaissance Insurance connection is significant. Renaissance’s Insurance group was in the family of companies founded by American Boris Jordan, an entrepreneur of Russian descent, which had significant connections not only to the Russian government (including the revolving-door period between Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev) but to usual-suspect entities in the West including USAID (i.e., starting under the Clinton administration), the Harvard Institute for International Development, and George Soros.
The latter three had been linked closely to Boris Jordan’s Renaissance Capital venture in the late 1990s, with chunks of the investment capital coming from Harvard and Soros. Jordan’s parent organization for the investment family, the Sputnik Group, enjoyed the same patronage. In fact, Jordan did quite a bit of direct-investment business with Soros in the 1990s and 2000s. (Jordan and Soros continue to undertake projects together, as they have recently with Jordan’s commercial marijuana venture Curaleaf.)
Recall, meanwhile, that several of the officials who testified for Adam Schiff in Impeachmentgate in 2019, including Fiona Hill, William Taylor, and Laura Cooper, had been connected in the 1990s and early 2000s to the USAID-Harvard-Soros nexus.
But there’s more. Besides obligingly paying Bill Clinton $500,000 for his speech in Russia in June 2010, Renaissance Capital, the investment arm of Jordan’s group, had run afoul in 1998 of William Browder (see also here), principal of Hermitage Capital Management. (Browder later went on to advocate for the Magnitsky Act in the U.S.) Browder accused Jordan’s company of baldly threatening to “steal” an investment asset (the oil company Sidanco) from Hermitage with an absurdly low-priced share issue available only to insiders – whereupon Browder decided to fight back, and was able to prevent the share dilution and effective hijacking.
It was later, after Browder and Hermitage had themselves run afoul of the Putin regime in 2005, that tax specialist and Browder associate Sergei Magnitsky began investigating an alleged tax fraud scheme against the Russian government. This scheme seemed to be one in which officials of the Russian government were themselves invested.
In fact, Browder filed court documents in New York alleging the pervasive scheme, suggesting it was laundering money through New York real estate, and fingering Renaissance Capital as prominent in it – on a date you couldn’t make up, at least not without getting thrown out of a Hollywood producer’s office with your cartoonishly unsubtle script: 30 July 2009.
The founder of the firm Magnitsky worked for, Jamison Firestone, fled Russia in – oddly enough – August 2009, and Magnitsky himself, who had been arrested in 2008, died under suspicious circumstances in Russian prison in November 2009.
Not the way fellows investigating tax fraud are usually treated by the government that does the taxing. In any case, readers will recall that Browder’s counsel in the Magnitsky lobbying effort was Spygate/Russiagate figure Jonathan Winer. And Browder’s role as a witness in the case against the Russian-connected company Prevezon Holdings in New York (linked to Magnitsky’s tax-scheme probe) was a major drama interrelated with the Trump Tower meeting of 9 June 2016, arranged for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya with Donald Trump, Jr. (Digging dirt on Browder was the reason Prevezon’s legal counsel, BakerHostetler, hired Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson.)
It cannot be overemphasized that all these intersections of activity by the same set of actors, over a period now closing in on 30 years, cannot possibly have occurred in the blind or by mere coincidence. These people are all well aware of each other. They have history; in some cases it has remained cordial, in others – e.g., Putin and Soros, Putin and Browder, Russia and the Clinton-Soros-Harvard-USAID crowd of the late 1990s – not so much. To the extent they can, they keep tabs on and spy on each other.
In August 2009, in summary, as a coincidence of facts, the Russian insurance company involved closely in the Arctic Sea incident had been founded by an American and was connected at the highest levels through its founder, Boris Jordan, to the Russian government and Russian oligarchs, to George Soros, and to key figures in the Clinton circle, in the Obama administration, in the Spygate/Russiagate melodrama, and later in the “Ukrainegate” impeachment saga of 2019 and 2020.
With this detail in view, the narrative about Arctic Sea in 2009 begins to look like something that was managed, apparently by competing parties, throughout the ship’s peculiar voyage, rather than like something that emerged through unguided events. Russia (i.e., Putin) knew who was involved in Jordan’s Sputnik and Renaissance, and the American interests on the other side knew that the Russians knew. Renaissance was 14 years old at that point; everyone knew its history and the waxing and waning fortunes of interlinked parties like Soros, HIID, Hermitage, and the Magnitsky affair.
If Arctic Sea was being used to transport things in secret, the strongest likelihood is that while both sides had some idea that a secret transport was in play, one side was surprised, in the summer of 2009, when the specific ship Arctic Sea turned out to be involved.
Part I is here. In Part III, we will look at the analytical import of changes in Arctic Sea’s ownership and management structure in 2008-2009, and at the unique nature of her voyage in July-August 2009. We will also ponder a couple of geopolitical features of the story that have special significance.