TBR News May 26, 2017

May 26 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington D.C., May 26, 2017: “The so-called Social Networks may bring joy and happiness to millions of eager, and lonely, people but they are really nothing more than a link in the chain of total surveillance built by official government agencies.

I had lunch yesterday with a mid-level FBI person whom I have known for some years, and he told me that these networks had been specifically set up to save his agency (and no doubt others) a great deal of time and trouble when investigating citizens.

Instead of questioning neighbors and co-workers, all the agency has to do is to tap into the Social Networks to gather valuable personal information on anyone they choose.

The more powerful and the more potentially invasive a Social Network might be, the more unconditional support it receives from his agency.

And the same agencies can use any cell phone as an eavesdropper, regardless if the owner has it turned on or not. The phone can be in your pocket while you are having lunch with a friend and, without any notice, it can be turned on and someone can hear every word you say.

And the cell phone can be used, on or off, to track someone in a car or a bus or train.

There are containers designed to hold the cell phone that have linings that will block any such activity and sensible people, who are not interested in some pin head snooping on them, buy these and use them.

And beware of any system which publicly announces that its system is ‘unbreakable’ because, in most cases, it has been set up with trapdoors big enough to permit passage of a Mack truck.”

Table of Contents

  • How Facebook’s tentacles reach further than you think
  • Playing the Shell Game in the Mediterranean
  • Deep Six the Deep State
  • Israel Lobby Pays the Political Piper
  • Jared Kushner subject of FBI Russia investigation: reports


How Facebook’s tentacles reach further than you think

May 26, 2017

by Joe Miller Technology of Business reporter

BBC News

Facebook’s collection of data makes it one of the most influential organisations in the world. Share Lab wanted to look “under the bonnet” at the tech giant’s algorithms and connections to better understand the social structure and power relations within the company.

A couple of years ago, Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade began investigating the inner workings of one of the world’s most powerful corporations.

The team, which includes experts in cyber-forensic analysis and data visualisation, had already looked into what he calls “different forms of invisible infrastructures” behind Serbia’s internet service providers.

But Mr Joler and his friends, now working under a project called Share Lab, had their sights set on a bigger target.

“If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China,” says Mr Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia’s Novi Sad University.

He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone.

And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet – despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel – for free.

“All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook,” he says.

The data our interactions provide feeds the complex algorithms that power the social media site, where, as Mr Joler puts it, our behaviour is transformed into a product.

Trying to untangle that largely hidden process proved to be a mammoth task.

“We tried to map all the inputs, the fields in which we interact with Facebook, and the outcome,” he says.

“We mapped likes, shares, search, update status, adding photos, friends, names, everything our devices are saying about us, all the permissions we are giving to Facebook via apps, such as phone status, wifi connection and the ability to record audio.”

All of this research provided only a fraction of the full picture. So the team looked into Facebook’s acquisitions, and scoured its myriad patent filings.

The results were astonishing.

Visually arresting flow charts that take hours to absorb fully, but which show how the data we give Facebook is used to calculate our ethnic affinity (Facebook’s term), sexual orientation, political affiliation, social class, travel schedule and much more.

One map shows how everything – from the links we post on Facebook, to the pages we like, to our online behaviour in many other corners of cyber-space that are owned or interact with the company (Instagram, WhatsApp or sites that merely use your Facebook log-in) – could all be entering a giant algorithmic process.

And that process allows Facebook to target users with terrifying accuracy, with the ability to determine whether they like Korean food, the length of their commute to work, or their baby’s age.

Another map details the permissions many of us willingly give Facebook via its many smartphone apps, including the ability to read all text messages, download files without permission, and access our precise location.

Individually, these are powerful tools; combined they amount to a data collection engine that, Mr Joler argues, is ripe for exploitation.

“If you think just about cookies, just about mobile phone permissions, or just about the retention of metadata – each of those things, from the perspective of data analysis, are really intrusive.”

Facebook has for years asserted that data privacy and the security of its operations are paramount. Facebook data, for example, cannot be used by developers to create surveillance tools and the firm says it complies with privacy protection laws in all countries. Thousands of new staff have been recruited to police its content.

Mr Joler, though, while admitting that his research made him a little paranoid about the information that was being harvested, is more worried about the longer term.

The data will remain in the hands of one company. Even if its current leaders are responsible and trustworthy, what about those in charge in 20 years?

Analysts say Share Lab’s work is valuable and impressive. “It’s probably the most comprehensive work mapping Facebook that I’ve ever seen,” says Dr Julia Powles, an expert in technology law and policy at Cornell Tech.

“[The research] shows in cold and calculated terms how much we are giving away for the value of being able to communicate with your mates,” she says.

The scale of Facebook’s reach can be stated in raw numbers – but Share Lab’s maps make it visceral, in a way that drawing parallels cannot.

“We haven’t really got appropriate historical analogies for the tech giants,” explains Dr Powles. Their powers, she continues, extend “far beyond” the likes of the East India Company and monopolies of old, such as Standard Oil.

And while many may consider the objectives of Mark Zuckerberg’s empire to be rather benign, its outcomes are not always so.

Facebook, argues Dr Powles, “plays to our base psychological impulses” by valuing popularity above all else.

Not that she expects Share Lab’s research to lead to a mass Facebook exodus, or a dramatic increase in the scrutiny of tech titans.

“What is most striking is the sense of resignation, the impotence of regulation, the lack of options, the public apathy,” says Dr Powles. “What an extraordinary situation for an entity that has power over information – there is no greater power really.”

It is this extraordinary dominance that the Share Lab team set out to illustrate. But Mr Joler is quick to point out that even their grand maps cannot provide an accurate picture of the social media giant’s capabilities.

There is no guarantee, for example, that there are not many other algorithms at work that are still heavily guarded trade secrets.

However, Mr Joler argues, “it is still the one and only map that exists” of one of the greatest forces shaping our world today.

Playing the Shell Game in the Mediterranean

Malta poses as a model member of the European Union, but it makes its living off of large European companies seeking to avoid higher tax rates back home. DER SPIEGEL went to the island nation to investigate, and found a lot of empty offices and empty words.

May 24, 2017

by Jürgen Dahlkamp, Christoph Henrichs, Gunther Latsch, Christoph Pauly and Jörg Schmitt


As night falls over St. Julian’s, the wind soft and warm after a summer-like day in May, it slowly begins to become clear, while standing on a balcony overlooking the harbor, why Malta does what Malta does. Why this small island has become a tax haven that sucks up the revenues from other countries, even though that money comes from partner nations in the European Union

From above the waterfront promenade, one can hear the boisterous voices and laughter of the young men and women below, mixed in with a booming bass. It is the noise of northern European youth enjoying a night of Mediterranean partying, singing loudly in their hoarse, off-tune voices.

At such a moment, one can imagine what motivates the Maltese during the workweek: the idea that Europe must have more to offer than just the hordes of partying teenagers who anesthetize themselves in the nightlife quarter of St. Julian’s on the strength of drink deals offering 60 shots for just 19.90 euros. The idea that Malta, poor in natural resources but rich in shrewd, hardworking people, somehow has a moral right to try to lure companies from the north to their country — and to benefit from a small portion of the vast tax revenues that would otherwise remain in places like France, Britain and Germany. In the middle of the night, all of that seems to make some sense.

But it remains unclear why the best-known German industrial giants and the most successful of Germany’s mid-sized firms take part. It isn’t obvious what their moral justification might be — why huge companies like BASF, BMW, K+S and Sixt, why smaller firms like Würth and Tchibo, or a well-known German television personality like Johannes B. Kerner, why a few thousand other companies on the Malta list assembled by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), are all apparently seeking to wring every last cent out of their revenues.

Why would they go so far to risk their good reputations — and, in some cases, much more than that? A SPIEGEL investigative project in Malta shows that even global corporations are happy to share a single buzzer with three other companies on the island even as they and their subsidiaries aren’t listed in the phone book. They are “unfortunately” unreachable “at the moment,” nor are they available a short time later either. With their presence on Malta, the companies may be seeking to reduce their German tax bills — but to do so, they have to be able to prove that they are in fact doing business in Malta.

Appalling Chutzpah

To find answers to these questions, it is necessary to speak with those highly respected companies, the pillars of the German economy. It is, however, also helpful to talk with lesser known people, the men and women who create such shell companies in Malta. And, particularly since Malta holds the rotating European Council presidency until the end of June, it is important to speak with Maltese officials and their opponents in the European Parliament, who are appalled by the chutzpah Malta displays in defending its tax model even as it leads one of the EU’s key institutions.

And there is plenty to talk about: About the tricks used by German companies; about billionaires who scrimped on nothing when it came to their superyachts, except on sales tax, which is so much lower for ships registered in Malta; and about Maltese politicians, who are apparently used to thinking of themselves first when it comes to money.

“Malta’s secrets are waiting to be discovered,” reads a postcard that visitors are given before they fly home from the island nation, population 435,000. It probably isn’t referring to the secrets of tax evasion, but there is certainly much to discover on the topic. The first address of interest: St. Julian’s, Ross Street 7. It is an office building called “The Whispers,” which is apt. This was the home of Robert Bosch Holding Malta Ltd., Robert Bosch Finance Malta Ltd. and — because imagination seems to have been in short supply — Robert Bosch IC Financing Malta Ltd.

Ltd., of course, stands for Limited, meaning limited liability, and it is the favorite corporate structure in Malta. The abbreviation can be found on thousands of mailboxes and buzzers — and sometimes a half-dozen Ltd. names are stuck beneath the same letter slot. Founding a limited company is simple and requires an initial deposit of just 1,200 euros. Maltese officials brag that they sometimes don’t need more than 24 hours to complete the formalities.

The words “Finance” and “Holding” are also popular elements in the names of Maltese subsidiaries of international corporations. After all, the focus is squarely on money — money that is pushed back and forth between the parent company and its subsidiaries, often for one reason only: to reduce the amount subject to taxation back home, in Germany for example. One simple way of doing so is to show high costs back home while booking profits in Malta. The Mediterranean country may have a relatively high rate of taxation, at 35 percent, but foreign owners of Maltese-based companies, such as German parent companies, are refunded up to 30 percent by the Maltese tax authorities. Which leaves a tax rate of just over 5 percent.

That is enough to make the business model attractive to Malta — better 5 percent than nothing at all. And it is fantastic for the companies — 5 percent instead of closer to 30 percent in Germany. But it isn’t such a good deal for the German tax office. According to calculations undertaken by the newspaper Malta Today, 2015 company profits worth around 4 billion euros flowed through Malta that would otherwise have been taxed in other countries, a sum 10 times higher than in 2006. Malta held on to just 250 million euros of that, with the companies in question holding on to the rest.

Selfish Rather than Smart

How, though, is it possible to divert profits to Malta? One vehicle involves companies transferring proprietary patents and licenses to their subsidiary on the island. Other branches of the company located in countries with higher tax rates must then pay significant amounts of money to the Malta-based subsidiary to use those patents and licenses. Another model envisions Germany-based branches borrowing money from the Malta subsidiary at high rates of interest.

Bosch, though, does none of those things because Bosch no longer has a subsidiary on the island. A woman in the real estate office on the ground floor confirms that the company used to have a subsidiary there but it had moved. She wasn’t sure to where, saying it was odd that she couldn’t find the new address. Perhaps, she said, her co-worker Nadia knew more, but she wouldn’t be back until the next day. But it wasn’t necessary to call back: Bosch decided to leave Malta in 2016, with the branches returning to Germany and the Netherlands. By January, all Malta-based Bosch branches had ceased to exist.

But why? Might it have to do with the fact that the Panama Papers were published just three months prior? The documents resulted in a massive change in perspective: Suddenly, those companies that routed their profits through a tax haven were seen as being selfish rather than smart. After all, such activity makes less money available for schools and roads — for benefits the company takes advantage of back home while doing their best to avoid paying their fair share. Since the Panama Papers, companies with tax-friendly subsidiaries in Malta have been confronted with the question as to whether it is worth it.

Bosch has remained silent regarding its decision to leave Malta. The company would only say that it adheres to “the principles of best business practices” and that profits were taxed in the country where they were generated. Period. Whatever the case, the Bosch situation was the exception. Most companies with Maltese addresses hadn’t chosen to depart by the time we visited them.

The route to the next address of interest leads past an historical arch bearing the inscription “Deus nobis haec otia fecit,” “God has granted us this peace.” Then, we are standing in front of Lufthansa, which isn’t happy about the peace being disturbed. Lufthansa has 17 subsidiaries in the Aragon office building, including Lufthansa Malta Pension Holding, LSI Malta Pension and DLH Malta Pension. All of them, of course, have the Ltd. suffix.

Unfortunately, Malta-based manager Markus Pawlik doesn’t have any time for journalists at the moment because he has to prepare for a meeting. He can only spare five minutes to tell us that Lufthansa employs more than 500 technicians who conduct maintenance on the company’s planes in Malta. But why is the entire company’s retirement fund and its leasing company based in Malta and not in Germany, where the company employs 67,000 more people than it does in the Mediterranean island nation?

A Bit Confused

Pawlik says he isn’t authorized to discuss the issue and suggests calling the press office in Germany. There, one learns that the location of a subsidiary depends on many factors, including taxes. The company owes it to its shareholders, after all. And one is told that it is all legal and that German tax officials are aware of it.

A few streets over is the Mayfair Business Centre, a highlight of any company tour in Malta. A company called Jacobs Management Limited is located on the top floor. Does it perhaps belong to the German coffee giant Jacobs? Two women look a bit confused when we ask to talk to Mr. Jacobs. They ask us to wait outside and the door closes. A couple of minutes later, a man emerges. He looks to be about 50 years old and his hair is heavily gelled — and of a length that distinguishes the self-made businessman from his employees.

He declines to provide his name and isn’t interested in saying much else, either. He does, however, tell us that he has been in Malta since the country joined the EU in 2004 and that he helps German companies establish themselves here. Everything, he insists, is of course legal. “No shell companies.” And he says that he has nothing to do with the coffee family Jacobs.

Which is true. The man’s name isn’t Jacobs, it is Braun, Peter Braun. Together with his brother, he establishes companies in Malta, and he sometimes lists himself as CEO, which is advantageous for his clients. His company Jacobs Management Ltd. is under the control of a company called Jacobs Capital Ltd., which is based in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean — a place that plays host to thousands of companies with names like Jacobs Capital. The man, in other words, has plenty of experience — apparently also with shell companies.

There are four companies registered to the floor just below him, all of them well-known in Germany. BASF Finance Malta is one of them. There are also two Limited firms belonging to the farm of poultry baron Erich Wesjohann, whose brother Paul-Heinz is the head of the poultry giant Wiesenhof. Sixt is also there, with a company called Sixt Financial Services GmbH, though the word “Financial” was exchanged for “International” in March. They all share a single buzzer, which is rather odd for three companies of that size. Searching the internet for an email address or telephone number for the companies is a fruitless endeavor. And a phone call to Deutsche Telekom in the search for a phone number doesn’t help either: “Unfortunately, they aren’t listed,” we are told.

A man emerges in a denim shirt and casualwear and claims to be from BASF. But he says he has nothing to tell us, suggesting instead that we call the press office in Germany. His reserve is hardly surprising. When it comes to Malta, BASF is rather notorious.

A report compiled by the Green Party caucus in the European Parliament and completed last November reached the conclusion that the German chemical giant had saved some 923 million euros in taxes between 2010 and 2014 by way of intricate structures. Those structures also included Malta and the company based in the Mayfair building. The Malta subsidiary lent money to other BASF subsidiaries and when politicians sought to limit or prevent such activity, BASF allegedly lobbied heavily against such measures. When the report came out, BASF said it was “not completly accurate,” but it didn’t provide any details.

And what about the car rental company Sixt? Nobody from the company was there at the moment, said the man in the denim shirt (though he later denied having said it). When will they be back? He professed not to know. But, he says, nobody from Sixt will speak to the press, so it would be best to call the press office in Germany.

It’s the same story one floor below. Next to the door is a sign listing two Limiteds belong to Puma, the German sportswear company, and a third, Puma Ltd., is marked on the mailbox in the stairwell. There are also two Limiteds belonging to K+S, the commodities company Kali und Salz, which was listed on Germany’s DAX blue-chip stock index until last year. There are also two firms listed for KSPG Automotiv, the automotive supplier belonging to Rheinmetall. Again, there is but a single buzzer for all of them, but it is actually labelled Jacobs — the company belonging to Mr. Braun on the top floor. In addition, there is a sticker reading: “Please deliver registered mail and parcels to the 6th floor.” In other words, Mr. Braun also apparently receives mail on behalf of the German companies.

We ring and a woman opens the door. She says that she is with K+S, but requests that all further questions be referred to the press office. The office floor has two external doors with windows, though which three rooms are visible. The inside doors are open and behind them are glass windows, tiled floors and nothing else. They are completely empty. A fourth office, which is visible through the other door, is also empty. There is, though, a printer in one room and a desk in another, though it looks unused. Such are the offices of K+S, Rheinmetall and Puma in Malta — not much going on for such prestigious names.

So we head back upstairs to BASF and Sixt, but this time, nobody answers the door. Later, though, we find Mr. Casual Wear, the man in the denim shirt, in the internet. His name is Pall Arnason, attended university in Iceland and must be a true workaholic. On LinkedIn, he reports having three employers and three jobs concurrently. He claims to be “executive manager” of BASF Finance Malta GmbH, a position he has held “since May 2014.” He has also been “finance manager” of K+S Finance Limited “since November 2015” and, most interestingly, he lists himself as “senior manager” of Jacobs Management Limited, Peter Braun’s company on the sixth floor. In other words, a Jacobs man is holding down the fort for BASF and K+S.

‘No Further Details’

The German companies that have offices in the Mayfair building, not surprisingly, have a different story to tell. The K+S press office later writes that the company does not share employees with other companies in the building. The Malta subsidiary, the press office insists, has four employees of its own in an office of 65 square meters (700 square feet), fully furnished, everything on the up-and-up, also when it comes to taxes. But the press office does say that K+S Finance Ltd. is in Malta due to tax considerations. “Taxes are a significant cost factor considered in business decisions. In the interest of our shareholders, K+S takes steps to reduce this cost factor.”

Puma says that it founded two companies on Malta so that it could take part in a regatta there, which is a plausible, if far-fetched, explanation. Only after a follow-up question does Puma confirm the existence of a third company, Puma Blue Sea Ltd., which has more to do with finances than with a regatta. The company claims that all three companies were closed down at the end of 2014, but two of them still haven’t been annulled.

Rheinmetall sent a terse statement saying that the German tax authorities were aware of the two finance subsidiaries on Malta and that the companies also had their “own employees.” The BASF statement was even shorter, just seven lines long, though it did little to provide clarity. The Malta-based company was required to pay taxes in Germany, the statement said, though it also mentioned the Maltese tax refund. “No further details” would be provided, the statement said.

Sixt, by contrast, was a bit more forthcoming. The Sixt subsidiary employs six people in an office measuring 130 square meters (1,400 square feet), the statement claimed, and the office is occupied every day. On the day of SPIEGEL’s visit, the statement said, employees were in the office “continuously,” and the company later submitted three sworn declarations to back up the claim. Apparently, then, it isn’t necessary to have a listed telephone number for tasks such as recruiting “international executives,” supervising franchise partners or providing funds to company branches — which are three out of a list of several tasks undertaken by the Malta subsidiary, at least according to the commercial register.

A Malta-based subsidiary belonging to the poultry firm Wesjohann even has a listed telephone number. A man answers, clearly annoyed that a caller would have the gumption to try three times in a single afternoon to reach such a minor Ltd., with its negligible assets of 145 million euros. The man says he is currently overseas and prefers not to be bothered with additional phone calls — making it sound as though the Malta office was rather sparsely occupied. Later, company headquarters in Germany provided a four-line statement in answer to 13 questions. The German tax authorities are aware of the Malta subsidiary, the statement said, and the it was completely legal.


Which leaves Peter Braun, the specialist for German companies in Malta in his sixth-floor office. He admits to accepting larger letters or packages for K+S, but says it is more of an exception than the rule — to ensure that nothing clutters up the hallways. And the empty offices? He says that there are indeed a couple of unused offices on the floor where K+S is located and that the building owner is seeking to rent them out to a different tenant. But Braun claims to have nothing to do with K+S and says he doesn’t know anything about who works for whom, like Arnason, who claims to work for both Braun and K+S.

Business life in Malta is apparently rather colorful, but it is only on special occasions that politicians in Northern Europe pay much attention. During election campaigns, for example. On Wednesday, May 10, just a few days before the important vote in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the state’s finance minister, Norbert Walter-Borjans of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), went after Malta during a press conference. The campaign wasn’t going well for the SPD and Walter-Borjans used the press appearance to gloat about a list of 70,000 Malta-based companies that had been passed on to him — apparently the same list that the EIC network and SPIEGEL had obtained. The SPD politician referred to Malta as the “Panama of Europe” and said that around 2,000 of the companies were of interest from the perspective of German taxpayers. Previously, only 260 such companies had been known, he said. It sounded like Walter-Borjans was taking a tough stance on tax fairness and the politician received the headlines he had been hoping for.

A tax investigator from North Rhine-Westphalia who is familiar with the list of companies has been complaining about Malta for years. “When I read Malta, the alarm bells go off,” he says. But even the new list might not make the fight any easier. “According to Maltese law, most of it is legal. Malta lives off the system. The fact that it hurts other countries is something the Maltese take in stride.”

One question, in particular, must be addressed in each specific case: Do the companies based in Malta have a physical presence? Do they have offices, employees, board meetings or business operations? Or are they just hiding a tax structure behind a fake address — as could be the case in the Mayfair building? Should the latter be the case, German tax authorities are then allowed to attribute Maltese income to the Germany-based parent company and tax it accordingly.

“The system in Malta is of course precisely designed to attract companies without a physical presence,” says Matthew Vella, a journalist with Malta Today who has made plenty of enemies on the island with such sentences. But Kenneth Farrugia, the chief lobbyist for the Maltese financial branch, is immovable. “If Germany were to think that the physical presence of Malta-based companies was insufficient, German tax authorities would turn off the lights. But this doesn’t happen,” he says.

‘We’re Not Talking’

That is also the case when it comes to Lindsell Finance Ltd., a company that has belonged to Deutsche Bank since 2008 and which has its offices in Level 2 West of the Mercury Tower in St. Julian’s. When we went to the building and asked about Lindsell, however, we were told that the company is registered at the site but doesn’t have an office. Later, Deutsche Bank was vague in response to questions about the company. The firm, Deutsche Bank claimed, had only been established for a client and had since, along with two additional Maltese subsidiaries, been liquidated.

Automaker BMW, with its 200-square-meter office, appears to be playing by the rules. Around a half-dozen employees, who actually have the appearance of business people, are sitting in the office beneath a handful of BMW posters on the walls. One of them, who introduces himself as James, leads us into the conference room. He begins by telling us that there are three BMW subsidiaries in Malta and is just about to tell us what they are called and what they do — and again, there is one with the word “finance” in its name.

But then he stops and asks again why we are interested and “um, where are you from again? Hmm. One moment.” He leaves the room, presumably to make a phone call — and the odds are that the first word out of his mouth when he returns will be “unfortunately,” “I’m afraid,” or “sorry.” In the event, “unfortunately” wins. James stammers something about “confidentiality reasons” and then leads us out.

The press office in Munich later provides five reasons for why the finance subsidiary BMW Malta Finance is located on the island: good personnel, political stability, etc. The list doesn’t include the country’s low rate of taxation. The statement insists that the company of course obeys the law and lives up to its “societal responsibilities.”

It is possible to spend one’s entire day in Malta in this way: ring the buzzer, “we’re not talking,” press office, everything is just fine. Or one can just talk to the man from Osiris Corporate Services Limited. He doesn’t want to tell us his name: “Look in the register,” he suggests in an impeccable Oxford accent. “It’s all there.” And it is. The man is named Stuart Peter Blackburn, a 70-year-old from England. But apart from his name, there aren’t many questions he won’t answer.

Behind his door, several Maltese subsidiaries belonging to European corporations are headquartered. The more one asks how things are generally done, the more distinct becomes the tone in his voice that can best be translated as: “How naïve can you be?” Of course nobody from these companies work here, Blackburn says. “This is just the address. A company has to have an address in Malta, that is the law and I obey it.” Whether he thinks it appropriate? “I’m not here to comment on the rules, it’s all legal.”

Lower Taxes for Superyachts

He is there to deliver the address, as do hundreds of others working in the same industry in Malta. Like the young woman working for a different law firm who was visited recently by a reporter from frontal21, a show broadcast by German public television channel ZDF. The reporter acted as though he was interested in founding a company and the woman assured him that she could offer the complete Malta package, including an address, personnel and everything needed to make it look as though it were a real company. “There are many like me here, a great many,” says Blackburn, the Englishman. He suggests that we “look in the corporate register” for answers to further questions, adding that none of it is a secret in Malta.

The register can be found next to the Malta Financial Services Authority, located on an inland bypass road, and for 20 euros per company, it is indeed possible to get information. We went there looking for information about Cloverleaf Yachting Ltd., a company registered on April 11, 2016, to Johannes B. Kerner, the German television star. The corporate objective is listed as the purchase, sale, leasing and construction of “ships of any kind.”

According to the register, Kerner is still the company’s chief partner. At the beginning, he was also its director, but he gave up the post on Jan. 1, 2017, handing it over to a woman who has the same Maltese address as the German lawyer Jörg Werner, who established the company on Kerner’s behalf.

Why? “We don’t give any interviews,” we are told. But on his homepage, Werner is much more forthcoming. “We focus on consulting international clients to reduce their tax burden, especially by benfiting from the location’s advantages (Maltese tax law),” the website reads. When Kerner was asked about Cloverleaf Yachting a couple of months ago, he declined to comment, saying it was a private matter. One assumes that most Germans with companies in Malta would say the same.

There are, though, a few obvious reasons to locate in Malta if a company has the word “yachting” in its name. Malta has Europe’s largest maritime register and the EU member state also actively tries to attract yacht owners with special VAT offers. The standard VAT level is 18 percent, but the longer the vessel, the cheaper it becomes. The justification: Larger yachts spend much of their time in international waters and are not subject to taxation during those periods. A 23-meter (75-foot) yacht, for example, is only taxed at a rate of 7.2 percent. But the taxes on an 11-meter sailboat is also just half of the base rate. As such, it’s no wonder that the number of superyachts — vessels 24 meters and longer — has climbed by 11 percent in Malta since 2015.

Did Kerner found his company to save taxes on a yacht, though he’s not known to be a seaman? His lawyer says that Kerner hasn’t leased a yacht, claiming that tax advantages in Malta only apply to those who lease. So why Malta? Kerner insists that it is a private matter and completely legal — and is unwilling to say more.

Others can’t hide quite so easily — because their yachts are simply too big. Tchibo heir Günter Herz, the Würth family — which owns an immense industrial fastener company — and the artificial limb producer Hans Georg Näder (whose company is called Otto Bock) are all registered in the Maltese corporate register with their megayachts. The Würth family declined to respond to SPIEGEL inquiries. Näder spoke of “normal financial leasing” and claimed it was all legal and transparent and that the German tax authorities had been informed. Herz said that he paid the appropriate VAT in Malta and echoed Näder’s claims regarding legality.

Deception, Cover-Ups and Denials

But the situation makes it look as though the richest Germans with the biggest megayachts — the vessel belonging to the Würth family, for example, is 85 meters long and cost 141 million euros at the time of purchase — are rather parsimonious when it comes to paying their fair share to the German state. As distasteful as it might seem, most of the Malta subsidiaries belonging to German companies and corporations are legal. Not just because Malta designed its laws to accommodate them. But also because Brussels and Berlin tolerate such laws and allow Malta to continue. As such, laying blame with Malta also necessitates pointing fingers at the political shortcomings of others and noting the fact that German politicians are fully aware of the issue. They may voice frustration, but they have done nothing.

Politically, after all, Malta is uninterested in budging. No matter whether the center-left or the center-right are in control, they agree on one thing: Both parties want Malta to remain a tax haven. To do so, they aren’t above deception, cover-ups and denials. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, for example, recently told the European Parliament’s committee of inquiry into the Panama Papers, which was visiting from Brussels, that Malta isn’t a tax haven. It wasn’t as easy as just pointing to Malta’s 5 percent tax rate, he said.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is fond of insisting that tax rates are purely national affairs and Malta will continue to maintain control of its own. Including that of the extremely low ones. Luckily for the country, tax issues in the EU must be decided unanimously, a principle that Malta defends vigorously — with the consequence that Maltese Economics Minister Christian Cardona hails his country’s booming finance sector and the “attractive tax environment” for companies.

The country wants to ensure that nothing changes. On the contrary: “Malta would like to attract additional foreign companies that are interested in centralizing their regional or global financial arrangements,” reads a German-language image brochure. The flier also includes Malta’s eternal mantra — that the EU and the OECD have “approved” the country’s tax system. Malta, in short, is eager to present itself as a model member of Europe and happy to be in the EU – while at the same time aggressively defending its national privileges.

One example is provided by an investment handbook produced by FinanceMalta, the partially state-owned financial sector lobbying group, even before Malta proudly took over the rotating presidency of the European Council in January. The handbook clearly laid out why holding the Council presidency was beneficial: It would provide the country with an opportunity to influence key EU decisions, including on the “fiscal front,” where Malta would “stand its ground.”

Testing the Limits of Legality

In April, Malta took the next step and presented a discussion paper at a meeting of EU finance ministers. After the shock of the Panama Papers revelations, the country recommended that care be taken with legal changes. Rapid shifts, the discussion paper noted, would unsettle corporations and would hamstring Europe in the competition with other regions of the world that aren’t quite as serious about combatting tax evasion.

The European Parliament’s Panama Papers inquiry committee has had a particularly difficult time with Malta. Prime Minister Muscat is scheduled to testify in front of the committee in mid-June, but it is unclear whether he will show up. Finance Minister Scicluna already skipped his own appointment in January. When the committee sent a delegation to Malta in February, the minster was quick to show annoyance when asked why so many Maltese consultants were mentioned in the Panama Papers. Providing advice isn’t illegal, he snapped testily.

The limits of legality, however, were perhaps tested a bit more directly by his colleagues in government, two of whom were revealed by the Panama Papers to be in possession of shell companies — including then-Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi and the prime minister’s right-hand man, Keith Schembri. Mizzi had a foundation in New Zealand, which he claimed, in testimony to the EU committee, was completely legal. Schembri, for his part, cancelled his appointment with the Brussels delegation just minutes before he was scheduled to appear, claiming that the MEPs didn’t have the right to question him.

“Malta is blocking the committee,” complains Fabio De Masi, who is a member of the committee of inquiry on behalf of the German Left Party. Fellow committee member Sven Giegold, of the Green Party, says that Malta’s obstruction is an “impertinence.” Malta still hasn’t answered a list of questions the committee sent out to all 28 EU member states.

All of that, though, could be but a foretaste of what might become the biggest political scandal in Malta’s history. Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Muscat made a surprising call for snap elections, scheduled for June 3. The decision was triggered by reports that his wife Michelle allegedly maintained a shell company in Panama, into which more than a million dollars has reportedly flowed. The sender is thought to be Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of the president of Azerbaijan.

Back to Mr. Braun

Should the allegations prove true, it would be a truly bizarre episode. One of Malta’s main focuses during its stint as European Council president is the push for stricter money laundering regulations. Some say that Malta is pushing hard against money laundering so that, in return, its tax system will remain untouched. Now, however, Muscat’s wife is facing allegations of corruption and money laundering.

The couple has angrily rejected the allegations, saying they are an invention of dubious provenance. But opposition politicians believe that Muscat may have been bribed. They point to the fact that the prime minister, his chief aide Schembri and then-Energy Minister Mizzi flew to Azerbaijan without expert officials and came home with a deal requiring Malta to buy liquid natural gas from the country for 18 years. The price is considered a state secret — which has fueled speculation.

The presumption of innocence applies, of course. But even if there is nothing behind the accusations, there are still plenty of reasons to approach Malta and its politicians with skepticism. Why, though, do leading EU economies, particularly Germany, refrain from exerting sufficient political pressure on the country to force it to change its tax laws? Because, De Masi believes, they’re not interested in such changes either — at least not at all costs. “It is like at a mafia dinner,” he says. “They all have their weapons in their hands under the table, and if one begins shooting, they all will.”

De Masi says that Malta isn’t the only country that has something to lose. The larger countries are interested in protecting their companies, which are profiting from the tax structures — and which exert pressure on politicians so that they can continue enjoying tax savings in the EU and not on some offshore island at the end of the world. Plus, he says, the EU already has enough stress with Brexit, and tiny little Malta also has to make a living somehow. That, at least, is De Masi’s list of explanations for Europe’s collective shoulder shrug when it comes to Malta’s tax haven ways.

And that is why it remains unlikely that tax investigators will show up any time soon at the Mayfair building to test for signs of physical presence at companies such as BASF, Sixt or K+S. Instead, one has to make do with the mailman test at shortly after 10 a.m. on a morning in May. The postman jumps off his scooter, strides quickly to the collection of mailboxes at the entrance and begins distributing envelopes. Two or three go to K+S. But BASF gets nothing, and neither does Rheinmetall or the six employees of Sixt that are allegedly slaving away up on the fifth floor.

As it happens, the commercial register lists a director for Sixt International Services in Malta. His name is Mr. Braun. Peter Braun. On the sixth floor.

Deep Six the Deep State

Rogue “intelligence community” must be slapped down

May 26, 2017

by Justin Raimondo,


You won’t read about this in what passes for the “mainstream” media, but newly declassified documents reveal that the Obama administration was violating its own rules and spying on Americans with such frequency that even the normally compliant FISA court scolded them:

“The National Security Agency under former President Barack Obama routinely violated American privacy protections while scouring through overseas intercepts and failed to disclose the extent of the problems until the final days before Donald Trump was elected president last fall, according to once top-secret documents that chronicle some of the most serious constitutional abuses to date by the U.S. intelligence community.”

“More than 5 percent, or one out of every 20 searches seeking upstream Internet data on Americans inside the NSA’s so-called Section 702 database violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011, according to one classified internal report reviewed by Circa.”

Was this covered by the New York Times, the “newspaper of record,” or the Washington Post, which has adopted the slogan “democracy dies in the dark”? Of course not. They’re too busy reporting on leaks of classified information from their Deep State sources, some of which is no doubt the product of this illegal spying.

I count less than half a dozen stories about this, all of them in conservative outlets like Fox News and Breitbart, The “liberal” media isn’t interested for the simple reason that they don’t want to interfere with the very process that provides them with so many “scoops.”

In 2011, the Obama administration loosened the rules whereby intelligence agencies could share information on US citizens – which we now know was illegally obtained and shared with other agencies by the National Security Agency. That same year, the FISA court enjoined the administration to put into practice minimization procedures that would protect the Fourth Amendment rights of Americans – but that didn’t happen. Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in defending her unmasking of Mike Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials, said it was all perfectly legal — except it wasn’t. We’re now learning that, two weeks before election day, the FISA court rebuked the administration, saying:

“Since 2011, NSA’s minimization procedures have prohibited use of U.S.-person identifiers to query the results of upstream Internet collections under Section 702. The Oct. 26, 2016 notice informed the court that NSA analysts had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”

The FISA court is notoriously uncritical of government spying, but even they responded to this latest revelation by condemning the “institutional lack of candor” that permeates the NSA and the entire national security bureaucracy. Their actions, said the court, are a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue.”

If you want to know how and why the media is reporting leaks designed to damage the Trump administration by tying it to Russia, Judge Andrew Napolitano put it succinctly and well:

“There is a linear connection between excessive acquisition of data by the intelligence community, distribution of that raw data to people who do not need to know it, availability of unmasking, which is producing the real true names of the human beings whose emails, texts, and phone calls were the subjects of all this, and then ultimately the select revelation of those names.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) was one of the few politicians to take note of this important development. Appearing on Fox News, he accused the Obama administration of flouting the law in order to identify and spy on a record number of Americans: the unmasking involved “hundreds and hundreds of people,” he said. “If we determine this to be true, this is an enormous abuse of power. This will dwarf all other stories.”

As to that last, perhaps the Senator is engaging in wishful thinking: for the news media maintains a symbiotic relationship with our out-of-control intelligence agencies. The American Civil Liberties Union characterized the new revelations as “some of the most serious to ever be documented,” and yet the “mainstream” media isn’t even reporting this, let alone underscoring its importance.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – which gives the NSA and other intelligence agencies wide berth to “accidentally” spy on Americans – is up for renewal soon, and the Spook Lobby is already going into high gear to make sure this loophole stays intact. The media’s silence over the FISA court’s rebuke of the Obama administration is part of this campaign,

For all intents and purposes, we are effectively living in a police state, and Section 702 is a key brick in the wall that protects government spies as they routinely violate the Constitution. Since our “liberals” have now aligned themselves with the Deep State in an effort to overthrow a sitting President, it is left to those few principled conservatives and – of course – to libertarians to lead the fight to restore the rule of law. For what we are facing is nothing less than a lawless State, a rogue “intelligence community” that recognizes no limits on its power. We gave them that power when we surrendered our liberties in the name of “security” – and now the fight to take back our liberty and our country requires a head-on collision with these “public servants” who have forgotten – or never knew – whom they are supposed to be serving.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 39

May 26, 2017


“There is no basis” for suggesting that President Trump’s disclosure of classified intelligence to Russian officials was illegal, wrote Morton Halperin this week.

To the contrary, “senior U.S. government officials in conversations with foreign officials decide on a daily basis to provide them with information that is properly classified and that will remain classified,” wrote Halperin, who is himself a former senior official.

“We should not let our desire to confront President Trump lead us to espouse positions that violate his rights and that would constrain future presidents in inappropriate ways.” See “Trump’s Disclosure Did Not Break the Law” by Morton H. Halperin, Just Security, May 23, 2017.

But constraints on presidential disclosure were on the minds of Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and 17 House colleagues. They introduced legislation on May 24 “that would require the President to notify the intelligence committees when a U.S. official, including the President, intentionally or inadvertently discloses top-secret information to a nation that sponsors terrorism or, like Russia, is subject to U.S. sanctions.”

Yesterday, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) introduced a bill “to ensure that a mitigation process and protocols are in place in the case of a disclosure of classified information by the President.”

Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and five colleagues introduced a resolution “disapproving of the irresponsible actions and negligence of President Trump which may have caused grave harm to United States national security.”

For related background, see The Protection of Classified Information: The Legal Framework, Congressional Research Service, updated May 18, 2017, and Criminal Prohibitions on Leaks and Other Disclosures of Classified Defense Information, Congressional Research Service, updated March 7, 2017.


The fact that a particular nuclear weapon has (or does not have) a “dial-a-yield capability” enabling the selection of a desired explosive yield was declassified earlier this year, in a joint decision of the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

Last year, the Department of Energy also declassified the thickness of the “getter nickel plating” used in tritium production. (A “getter” here means the reactive material that sustains a vacuum by capturing gas atoms.)

These and several other recent DOE declassification decisions were recorded in memoranda that were released last week under the Freedom of Information Act. Copies are available, along with the records of prior DOE declassification actions, her


New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Science and Technology Issues in the 115th Congress, updated May 23, 2017

U.S.-South Korea Relations, updated May 23, 2017

Australia, CRS In Focus, May 12, 2017

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), updated May 24, 2017

Paid Family Leave in the United States, May 24, 2017

Selected Federal Water Activities: Agencies, Authorities, and Congressional Committees, updated May 24, 2017

The United States Withdraws from the TPP, CRS Insight, updated May 23, 2017

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated May 24, 2017


In 1959, physicists Hans Bethe, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller were candidates to receive the Enrico Fermi Award for contributions to the development of atomic energy.

In a newly discovered letter written in June 1959, Los Alamos physicist Norris Bradbury provided his evaluation of the achievements of each of the three eminent scientists. His letter was published last month for the first time, with an introduction by historian Roger Meade. See Bethe, Oppenheimer, Teller and the Fermi Award: Norris Bradbury Speaks, Los Alamos National Laboratory, April 28, 2017.

After assessing the accomplishments of the three of them at some length, Bradbury concluded that they were all deserving of the Fermi Award.

“I have no solution to this dilemma to propose other than the not entirely facetious suggestion that a joint award to all three individuals be made — with the additional proviso that it would be expected to make the same triply joint award for the two following years!”

As it turned out, Dr. Meade recalled in a footnote, Bethe received the award in 1961, Teller received it in 1962, and Oppenheimer in 1963.

Israel Lobby Pays the Political Piper

The Israel Lobby is so powerful that for years it insisted it didn’t exist – and Official Washington went along with the lie. Today, President Trump scrambles to secure the lobby’s blessings.

May 21, 2017

by Jonathan Marshall

Consortium News

In this age of rancorous hyper-partisanship, getting members of Congress to agree on anything beyond the naming of a post office is a challenge. Yet in late April, all 100 members of the U.S. Senate signed a tough letter to the U.N. Secretary General, demanding that the organization end its “unwarranted attacks” on Israel’s human rights record.

Three months earlier, members of the House voted overwhelmingly to condemn a U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel’s relentless expansion of settlements on occupied lands. Like dozens of other Democrats, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland blasted President Obama for abstaining from the U.N. vote, saying it “sent the wrong signal to our ally Israel.” In the Senate, leading progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders offered no support for President Obama, either.

Their votes and rhetoric did not simply reflect public opinion. Although Americans sympathize with Israel far more than the Palestinians, two-thirds of adults surveyed in in 2015 said the United States should not take sides in the Middle East conflict. Fewer than half say they consider Israel an ally.

Those congressional actions instead illustrated the power of the pro-Israel Lobby, a highly organized and well-funded coalition that works to give Israeli leaders freedom to operate with unquestioned U.S. diplomatic, economic and military support. Its influence helps account for the quarter trillion dollars in aid (adjusted for inflation) that the United States has given Israel since 1948.

When it comes to influencing American politics, Russia runs far behind highly motivated supporters of Israel. President Obama experienced that first hand when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, representing a state of just 8.6 million people, received rousing, bipartisan acclaim in no fewer than three addresses before Congress and nearly blocked approval of the Iran nuclear deal, perhaps the signature foreign policy initiative of Obama’s administration.

The pro-Israel Lobby has been the subject of much informal comment and a critical academic study by two of America’s most distinguished political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, an ardent disparager of their work, recently offered a backhanded acknowledgement of its thesis during a talk to an Orthodox synagogue in affluent Scarsdale, New York:

“People write a book called the Israel lobby and complain that AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. My response to that is, that’s not good enough. We should be the most powerful lobby in Washington. . . . We are entitled to use our power. We have contributed disproportionately to the success of this country. . . . We are a very influential community. We deserve our influence.”

Contrary to the implication of his remarks, however, AIPAC and similar organizations do not comprise an ethnic Jewish lobby, though major Jewish organizations are primary constituents. Many U.S. Jews either question Israeli government policies or have little interest in promoting them.

A 2013 Pew survey found that only 30 percent of American Jews were “very attached” emotionally to Israel, and a substantial plurality believed that continued building of Jewish settlements hurts Israel’s security. A large majority of Jews voted for President Obama, despite his strained relations with the Israeli government. Most American Jews also supported his nuclear deal with Iran, in defiance of most pro-Israel organizations.

Further reflecting the pro-Israel lobby’s political rather than ethnic focus, it derives much support from Christian Zionists, some of them outright anti-Semites, who believe that the return of Jews to Israel foreshadows the Second Coming of Christ.

The pro-Israel camp today features even the likes of White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka, “despite his controversial ties to allies of the Nazis,” and Austria’s Freedom Party, “a movement of anti-immigrant, right-wing nationalists founded in part by former Nazis.”

Follow the Money

Unlike most other foreign lobbies, the pro-Israel lobby draws much of its strength from grass-roots support. With little organized opposition, it can influence Congress more readily than better-funded business lobbies that face stiff competition. However, the single biggest source of its power is not voters — only a tiny percentage make Israel their top political priority — but campaign funds.

In a revealing comment, Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List confessed last year, “the money … is a big piece of this story and cannot be overlooked at all.”

“I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine,” she explained. “I’m from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is your paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ We’ve sent it all over the country because this is how we raise money. … This means that these candidates who were farmers, school teachers, or businesswomen, ended up having an Israel position without having any significant conversations with anybody.”

Hillary Clinton’s pandering to the pro-Israel lobby during the 2016 election — promising AIPAC that she would take relations with Israel “to the next level” and that she would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her first month in office — reflected her financial dependence on pro-Israel funders. Chief among them was billionaire donor Haim Saban, a hawkish Israeli-American who famously said, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

New Yorker correspondent Connie Bruck reported that Saban, speaking at a 2009 conference in Israel, described the “three ways to be influential in American politics” as donating to political parties, creating think tanks, and buying up influential media.

“In 2002,” she observed, “he contributed seven million dollars toward the cost of a new building for the Democratic National Committee — one of the largest known donations ever made to an American political party. That year, he also founded the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C. He . . . tried to buy Time and Newsweek, . . . acquired Univision in 2007, and he has made repeated bids for the Los Angeles Times.”

Mother Jones reported that “After the launch of the Saban Center, the billionaire began pouring more and more of his fortune into Israeli causes. He donated $10 million to support the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. . . . He also made seven-figure gifts to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the hawkish Israeli lobbying group.”

Saban, who was invited to stay overnight in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency, takes credit for helping launch Hillary Clinton’s run for that office as early as 2004. Over the years he hosted several lavish fundraisers for her, including a dinner in 2016. With an entry price of $100,000 per couple, it raised more than $5 million for Clinton’s campaign. Saban and his wife gave more than $10 million to a super-PAC that supported her as well.

And those donations don’t include the $7 million paid by the Saban Family Foundation to the Clinton Foundation during Hillary’s four-year stint in the Obama administration, the $30 million more that it pledged, the $5 million donation to the Clinton Library, or the $250,000 fee paid to Bill Clinton for a 15-minute promotional event in 2015.

The Republican Purse

As Israel pursues ever more extreme policies grounded in ethnic and religious nationalism, the pro-Israel lobby has become increasingly aligned with the Republican Party.

A recent national poll showed sympathy for Israel falling 10 points among Democrats to 33 percent from April 2016 to January 2017. In contrast, a near-record 74 percent of Republican now support Israel. Similarly, a Brookings poll last fall found that just over half of Democrats think that “the Israeli government has too much influence” in the United States, compared to just over a quarter of Republicans.

Republicans, who traditionally looked mainly to big oil, finance, real estate and other business sectors for campaign cash, increasingly rely on billionaires with a passion for Israel, such as Wall Street hedge fund owner Paul Singer, Florida auto dealer Norman Braman, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and Hobby Lobby founder David Green (a Christian Zionist).

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, mulling over a potential presidential run in 2015, crassly told a reporter, “If I put together a finance team that will make me financially competitive enough to stay in this thing . . . I may have the first all-Jewish cabinet in America because of the pro-Israel funding. [Chuckles.] Bottom line is, I’ve got a lot of support from the pro-Israel funding.”

Graham earned that support the usual way — by promising to put Israel first. During an obligatory visit to Jerusalem the previous December, Graham, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Appropriations Subcommittee, promised Netanyahu that “Congress will follow your lead” on imposing economic sanctions against Iran.

The most notable among the pro-Israel GOP mega-donors is Sheldon Adelson. Blurring the lines between American supporters and Israeli leaders, Adelson also spent millions to buy an election for the American-educated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party.

Adelson, an ideological ally of Netanyahu, reportedly called the Palestinians “an invented people” whose “purpose … is to destroy Israel,” and advocated vaporizing Tehran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Adelson captured the Republican Party’s attention in 2012 by contributing an astonishing $150 million to conservative candidates in that election, including Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Romney, who promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem “if Israel’s leaders thought that a move of that nature would be helpful to their efforts,” also won the favor of Netanyahu’s closest political adviser, the American-born Ron Dermer.

Dermer also liked Gingrich. As a young man, before taking Israeli citizenship, Dermer helped the House Speaker promote his 1994 “Contract With America.”

Dermer became Israel’s ambassador to Washington in 2013. The following year, in a blatant violation of diplomatic protocol, he attended a series of GOP candidate screening sessions held by Adelson in Las Vegas, which became known as the “Adelson primary.”

The same year, Ambassador Dermer publicly endorsed Netanyahu’s reelection as prime minister, for which he was reprimanded by Israel’s Civil Service Commission. He then went on in 2015 to arrange the infamous invitation from Republican leaders to Netanyahu to address Congress on the perils of dealing with Iran, a speech that was arranged without consulting the White House.

Onward with Donald Trump

Through Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, a major contributor to AIPAC, Dermer influenced the Republican candidate’s tough speech to that organization during the 2016 campaign. AIPAC attendees cheered when Trump applauded the end of President Obama’s administration and called him “maybe the worst thing to ever happen to Israel.”

Adelson soon endorsed Trump in an email to dozens of Republican Jewish donors, saying “he will be a tremendous president when it comes to the safety and security of Israel.” Playing the odds shrewdly, Adelson donated $35 million or more to the Trump campaign.

Israel and its U.S. supporters have since discovered, like everyone else, that Trump is mercurial and not easily managed. After swearing fealty to the Jewish state during the campaign, he has put the brakes on his promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, called for restraint on further building of settlements, and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On the other hand, he appointed the most right-wing, pro-settlements ambassador in history, and will make Israel the second foreign visit of his presidency, just after Saudi Arabia.

Far more important to the Netanyahu government, and to its neoconservative supporters in the United States, is the fact that Trump has surrounded himself with anti-Iran hardliners. He himself has falsely called into question Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement, contrary to the State Department’s own certification.

As Brookings analyst Suzanne Maloney commented recently, “Donald Trump has the Islamic Republic of Iran in his sights . . . neither restraint nor continuity on Iran is really in the offing. . . . Trump has elevated a national security team that shares an Iran-centric interpretation of the problems that plague the Middle East and threaten vital American interests there. . . . The Trump administration has begun to replace accommodation with confrontation as the guiding principle of U.S. policy toward Tehran, seeking to counter Iran through a multi-front campaign of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure.”

No one, presumably including Trump himself, can predict where this hostility will lead. But the hard-liners in Israel and the United States who lost out to President Obama on Iran — their first significant defeat in many years — are back in the saddle. Never count the pro-Israel lobby out.

Jared Kushner subject of FBI Russia investigation: reports

Donald Trump’s son-in-law is reportedly being investigated for meetings with the Russian ambassador and a sanctioned bank. He failed to disclose the meetings when applying for White House security clearance.

May 26, 2017


US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US news outlets reported Thursday.

Meetings between Kushner and Russian officials in December have come under scrutiny as part of an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the US election, newspaper “The Washington Post” and broadcaster NBC reported.

Kushner, a key White House adviser who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, reportedly met late last year with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov.

“The Washington Post” cited anonymous “people familiar with the investigation,” who said the FBI investigation did not mean Kushner was suspected of a crime.

Gorkov, is chairman of VneshEconomBank, a state bank under US sanctions since July 2014.

Kushner intially failed to declare the meetings in forms required to obtain security clearance to serve in the White House. His lawyer later said it was a mistake, telling the FBI that he would amend the forms.

“Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” Jamie Gorelick, one of his attorneys, said in a statement.

“He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key figure in the FBI probe, which is targeting other members of Trump’s campaign team.Joe Lieberman, a former US Senator and vice presidential candidate, withdrew from consideration as the next director of the FBI on Thursday due to a potential conflict of interest.

Lieberman currently works at a New York City law firm led by Marc Kasowitz, whom Trump hired to represent him against collusion investigations by the Justice Department and Congress, which are being conducted concurrently with that of the FBI. The law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, has represented Trump on many occasions over previous years.

With your selection of Marc Kasowitz to represent you in the various investigations that have begun, I do believe it would be best to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday, which was made public on Thursday.

Lieberman was considered a top candidate to become FBI director. Trump said last Thursday that he was “very close” to selecting a new director. The White House did not release an immediate comment on Lieberman’s withdrawal.

Trump fired previous FBI director James Comey on May 9. In his role, Comey led the FBI’s campaign collusion probe. Trump and Russia have both denied the accusations.

Lieberman served as a Senator from Connecticut from 1989 until he retired in 2013. He was the Democratic vice presidential candidate during the 2000 US presidential election, but later left the Democratic party to serve as an independent.

Joe Lieberman out of leadership run

With your selection of Marc Kasowitz to represent you in the various investigations that have begun, I do believe it would be best to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest,” Lieberman wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday, which was made public on Thursday.

Lieberman was considered a top candidate to become FBI director. Trump said last Thursday that he was “very close” to selecting a new director. The White House did not release an immediate comment on Lieberman’s withdrawal.

Trump fired previous FBI director James Comey on May 9. In his role, Comey led the FBI’s campaign collusion probe. Trump and Russia have both denied the accusations.

Lieberman served as a Senator from Connecticut from 1989 until he retired in 2013. He was the Democratic vice presidential candidate during the 2000 US presidential election, but later left the Democratic party to serve as an independent.


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