Global oil prices are experiencing their biggest price surge since 1991 after attacks on the world’s largest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia in the early morning of Saturday. “Iran-allied Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen claimed credit for the attack, saying they sent 10 drones to strike at important facilities in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province,” the Wall Street Journal reported shortly after black smoke filled the air over Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq processing plant.
The quick takeaway from all this: “The strikes shut down half of the kingdom’s crude production on Saturday,” the Journal writes, “potentially roiling petroleum prices and demonstrating the power of Iran’s proxies.”
The loss of 4.9 million barrels/day — 5% of global crude output — sent prices up 19%, the largest increase since the 1991 Gulf War, according to Reuters. The Associated Press goes even further, calling the weekend attacks “the worst disruption to world supplies on record.”
Houthis: more attacks are coming: “We assure the Saudi regime that our long arm can reach any place we choose and at the time of our choosing,” Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea tweeted. “We warn companies and foreigners against being near the plants that we struck because they are still in our sights and could be hit at any moment.”
Worth noting: We could learn more soon about the attack vector, since AP reports today “U.S. officials said additional devices, which apparently didn’t reach their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence.”
Given the extent of disruption to supplies, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s department announced this morning that the U.S. “stands ready to deploy resources from the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserves if necessary to offset any disruptions to oil markets.” And that will be helpful since two Saudi Aramco sources tell Reuters “it might take months for Saudi oil production to return to normal” when “Earlier estimates had suggested it could take weeks.”
That U.S. decision to dangle the reserves option eased prices today, since, at one point over the weekend, Brent crude had jumped to $71.95 a barrel. This morning it has dropped back a bit to $66.26.
U.S.: It’s wasn’t the Houthis, it was Iran. That’s what President Donald Trump said*, and so did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The White House released satellite imagery illustrating “19 points of impact” at the Aramco facilities, and U.S. officials allege the imagery shows “the attacks had come from a west-north-west direction — not Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, which lies to the south-west of the Saudi oil facilities,” the BBC reports today, embedding a few of the images. “A close-up image of damaged tanks at the Abqaiq processing plant (included above) appeared to show impact points on the western side.”
Unnamed U.S. officials allege armed drones and cruise missiles did the damage across Abqaiq and Khurais oilfield, a bit to the west, according to the New York Times. “There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate,” said one U.S. official who wouldn’t give his or her name to Reuters on Sunday.
Notable countries not yet pointing the finger at Iran: the UK, as well as Russia, and China.
Iran’s reax? Accuse U.S. officials of “max[imum] deceit,” as Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted on Sunday, writing, “US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory. Blaming Iran won't end disaster. Accepting our April '15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”
So what can Trump do? He “has few options” and he’s working with a “depleted national-security team,” the WSJ reports this morning in its now-what take.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wants to see some war plans against Iran, he tweeted Saturday: "The Iranian regime is not interested in peace - they’re pursuing nuclear weapons and regional dominance. It is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries if they continue their provocations or increase nuclear enrichment."
Graham’s Democratic colleague, Sen. Bob Menendez, was angry, too, over the attacks. But he stopped short of wanting to see a plan for military action, tweeting Sunday, “I strongly condemn the brazen attacks on Saudi infrastructure and territory. Despite some ongoing policy differences with the kingdom, no nation should be subjected to these kinds of attacks on it soil and against its people.”
Meanwhile, Iranian forces just seized another ship in the Persian Gulf, this time “for allegedly smuggling 250,000 litres of diesel fuel to the United Arab Emirates,” Reuters reports from Dubai. According to Iran’s semi-official Students News agency ISNA, the ship “was detained near Iran’s Greater Tunb island in the Persian Gulf...the crew have been handed over to legal authorities in the southern Hormozgan province.” Tiny bit more to that developing story, here.
From Defense One
Northrop Announces Suppliers For New ICBM. Boeing is Not on the List // Marcus Weisgerber: Just days ago, Boeing said Northrop rejected its offer to jointly build the new nuclear weapons.
It's Time for NATO to Engage in the Arctic // Anna Weislander of the Arctic Council: If you thought the alliance was already involved in the High North, you're not alone. But as great power presence turns hotter, it's time to get in the game.
Mike Pompeo Is Bigger Than the Pentagon — For Now // Katie Bo Williams: “I think that Pompeo is now running foreign policy in the Trump administration in the way that Cheney ran it in the Bush administration,” said one analyst.
Pentagon’s Former Top Hacker Wants His Startup to Inject Some Silicon Valley into the Defense Industry // Patrick Tucker: If the nerds don’t show up and work on the mission of national defense...then I’m not sure who will, says Chris Lynch, of Rebellion Defense.
Ransomware Has a New Target // Renee Dudley, Government Executive: A successful attack on an IT services provider can lock up the data of dozens of government and private clients at once.
Speak Up, John Bolton // David Frum, The Atlantic: The national-security professionals who have left this administration owe the American people the truth about the president.
So Many Innovation Centers. So Hard to Find the One You Need // Anne Laurent, Government Executive: It’s still too hard for innovative tech companies and the agencies looking for them to find each other.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1959, the first successful commercial copier, the Xerox 914, was demonstrated on live TV at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in New York City. Here’s an essay from almost a decade ago about how this particular machine “gave rise to the Information age,” via The Atlantic in 2010.
Happening today: The U.S. Air Force Association's 2019 Air, Space & Cyber Conference kicked off at 9 a.m. EDT at the National Harbor in Maryland. The day’s activities feature remarks from:
- Sir Richard Branson;
- Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan;
- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein;
- Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper;
- and Air Force Global Strike Command’s Gen. Timothy Ray.
Northrop rebuffs Boeing’s attempt to join its ICBM team. Boeing said as much on Friday, and it appears to be confirmed by Northrop’s release this morning of a list of the major subcontractors with whom it will bid to win the U.S. Air Force’s expected $85 billion contract to build the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent — the ICBMs that are intended to replace the Minuteman missiles in silos across Middle America. Marcus Weisgerber has a bit more, including the list, here.
Op-ed: The Pentagon may want to encourage Northrop to let Boeing onto its team, AEI’s Rick Berger argued last month at Defense One.
Trump’s acting intel chief may be hiding evidence of serious White House misconduct. House Armed Services Chair Rep. Adam Schiff has subpeonaed acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who is slowrolling the release of “a whistleblower complaint filed last month by an unidentified member of the US intelligence community (IC). The complaint’s existence was recently brought to Schiff’s attention by the intelligence community’s inspector general (IG), who told Congress it is a matter of ‘urgent concern,’” Quartz reported.
Read the letter that went along with the subpeona, which notes that Maguire blew a 7-day deadline to respond to Schiff’s late-August request.
On Friday, Schiff released a statement. One quote: “A Director of National Intelligence has never prevented a properly submitted whistleblower complaint that the IC IG determined to be credible and urgent from being provided to the congressional intelligence committees. Never. This raises serious concerns about whether White House, Department of Justice or other executive branch officials are trying to prevent a legitimate whistleblower complaint from reaching its intended recipient, the Congress, in order to cover up serious misconduct.”
Russia breached FBI communications in 2012, which allowed its spies to track U.S. counterintelligence teams in Washington, New York, and San Francisco, Yahoo News reports. The breach also “forced the FBI and CIA to cease contact with some of their Russian assets, and prompted tighter security procedures at key U.S. national security facilities in the Washington area and elsewhere.”
There’s more — a lot more — about the U.S. spy community’s difficulties over the past decade in Yahoo’s nearly 4,400-word piece, reported after interviews with with “more than 50 current and former intelligence and national security officials, most of whom requested anonymity to discuss sensitive operations and internal discussions.” Read on, here.
More hacking by great powers: Australia concluded China was behind hacks on its parliament and political parties — and sat on the news because it didn’t want any kind of economic disruption since China is so wealthy and influential. Reuters, here.
And a senior Mountie was just charged in Canada’s worst spy-scandal in memory. Cameron Ortis, who led the National Intelligence Coordination Center of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was arrested Sunday on charges of selling or passing along state secrets, the New York Times reported. His arrest is “believed to be part of a wider operation involving NATO allies and the Five Eyes — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and U.K.,” Canada’s GlobalNews reported Monday, adding that the tipoff apparently came from the U.S. intelligence community. More, here.
How bad? “If this person succeeded, this could potentially be one of the worst cases of espionage that we’ve ever seen in Canada,” said Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert and assistant professor at Carleton University.
U.S. Air Force report: Trump's plan to pay for border wall risks national security. “The report, obtained by NBC News, details the importance of each of the 51 military projects chosen by the Trump administration to lose their funding, including construction of a new gate to address a growing security concern at an overseas U.S. base, projects to build facilities to safely store more than $1 billion in munitions overseas, and even replacing a boiler whose failure is "imminent" and could cause the evacuation of an entire base in Alaska,” NBC News reported Friday. Read on, here.
And finally today: Border Patrol is having morale problems. ‘People Actively Hate Us’ is the quote-title of NYT’s Sunday report on how the once-quiet law-enforcement agency became an amped-up outfit on the front line of “one of the most aggressive immigration crackdowns ever imposed in the United States,” the Times writes.
The quick read: “Overwhelmed by desperate migrants and criticized for mistreating the people in their care, many agents have grown defensive, insular and bitter.” More, here.