Today’s D Brief: U.S. cuts secret deal to drill Syrian oilfields; State IG quits; Saudi nuke-fuel plant, revealed; Trump campaign punished for misinfo; And a bit more.

A former U.S. special forces soldier won a secret deal to develop oil fields in Syria. Those would be the same oil fields guarded by the U.S. military and its Kurdish partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces. The secretive deal was brought to light this weekend via Reuters, which reported swift pushback to the plan from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the plan was referenced last Thursday during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

“The deal took a little longer ... than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation,” Pompeo told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who asked about a possible deal to modernize Syrian oil fields with a U.S. company.

“This agreement is null and void and has no legal basis,” the Assad regime declared on Sunday. 

The company’s name is Delta Crescent Energy LLC, out of Delaware, Politico reported on Monday. “Its partners include former U.S. ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the Army’s elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at GulfSands Petroleum, a U.K.-based oil company with offices and drilling experience in Syria.”

"Nobody told us no," said Ambassador Cain to Politico. Neither the Treasury Department nor the SDF would talk about the deal. Sen. Graham said, “Conceptually it makes sense that we should, instead of just writing checks, help people help themselves.” 

Graham did not clarify whether the deal was legal in terms of the Geneva Convention’s Article 33, which prohibits pillage, or theft during war, as explained here in the Washington Post back in November. The State Department, however, dispatched a nameless spokesman to tell Politico on Monday “We are not involved in the commercial decisions of our local partners," even though Politico reported "The State Department is leading the effort under [Ambassador] James Jeffrey." (CNN backed up that detail Wednesday evening about the State Department playing a substantial role in this secret deal.)

Said the Pentagon: We have nothing to do with it. Or, as Cmdr. Jessica McNulty, a spokeswoman, said, DoD "does not have an affiliation with any private companies in regard to the oil fields in northeast Syria." It’s worth pointing out, as Reuters did Sunday, that “The Pentagon said late last year that oilfield revenues would go to the SDF.” Read on at CNN, here.

By the way: The State Department’s Inspector General just resigned after less than three months on the job, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. “Stephen Akard’s departure was announced to staff by his deputy, Diana R. Shaw, who told colleagues that she will become the temporary acting inspector general effective on Friday.”

SecState Pompeo: “He left to go back home. This happens. I don’t have anything more to add to that.”

Sound familiar? "[T]he president has fired five officials in recent months who lead inspector general offices across the federal government," the Post writes.

Some of the known investigations on the State IG's plate include "allegations that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, had improperly used State Department resources," as well as "Pompeo’s decision to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the objections of Congress." Continue reading, here.

From Defense One

‘Most Believe’ Beirut Blast ‘Accident,’ Esper Says, Contradicting Trump // Katie Bo Williams: The president said “some of our great generals” told him that the blast was “a bomb of some kind.”

Why Would Biden Pick Susan Rice? // Kevin Baron: His ticket doesn’t need another foreign-policy expert — nor another easy Obama-era target.

To Rebuild America’s Weakened Alliances, Heal Its Diplomatic Corps // Daniel Dammann and Price Floyd: To guide us through troubled waters, we need a competent, influential, and re-invigorated State Department.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1914, WWI’s “First Battle of the Atlantic” began when ten German U-boats left their base in Heligoland to attack Royal Navy warships in the North Sea.

Trump’s campaign was penalized for sharing coronavirus misinformation on Facebook and Twitter Wednesday. In short, children are not “almost immune” from contracting COVID-19, as the president told Fox in a recent interview. That clip constituted misinformation that both Facebook and Twitter said violated its platform rules. Facebook removed the video; “Twitter required his Team Trump campaign account to delete a tweet with the same video, blocking it from tweeting in the interim," the Washington Post reported Wednesday evening.
Bigger picture: "The twin actions came roughly three months before the elections in which Trump’s performance on coronavirus is a key issue, and the social media companies have made it clear in recent months that they will not tolerate misinformation on the global pandemic." More from the Post, here.

The Chinese helped the Saudis build a uranium refinement facility as part of the Kingdom’s quest (Saudi, that is; not the Middle Kingdom) “to master nuclear technology,” as the Wall Street Journal described it Tuesday. “The facility, which hasn’t been publicly disclosed, is in a sparsely populated area in Saudi Arabia’s northwest and has raised concern among U.S. and allied officials that the kingdom’s nascent nuclear program is moving ahead and that Riyadh is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons.”
One big concern: “Saudi Arabia only has the most limited safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The country was among the last to sign the old version of a so-called Small Quantities Protocol in the 2000s, which doesn’t oblige it to disclose the yellowcake site to the agency.”
An entirely different Saudi facility is deeply concerning to spy agencies around the world, the New York Times reported Wednesday. That would be “a newly completed structure near a solar-panel production area near Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that some government analysts and outside experts suspect could be one of a number of undeclared nuclear sites.”
One reason this matters: It would seem to put the U.S. “in the uncomfortable position of declaring it could not tolerate any nuclear production ability in Iran, while seeming to remain silent about its close allies, the Saudis, for whom it has forgiven human rights abuses and military adventurism.” Read on, here.

China threatens “countermeasures” as Taiwan prepares to welcome first U.S. Cabinet member in four decades. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar is to meet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a visit that begins on Sunday. The U.S. broke official ties to Taiwan in 1979 as a condition of rapprochement with Beijing, which continues to insist that the self-governing island is a province of China. “The Trump administration has made strengthening its support for the democratic island a priority, and boosted arms sales,” Reuters reports.
ICYMI: Michael Hunzeker and Mark Christopher argue that it’s time to resolve the longtime U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan.

SecArmy McCarthy dropped by Fort Hood on Wednesday. Hood’s III Corps Deputy Commanding General Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt joined Secretary McCarthy for a meeting “with civic and political leaders from surrounding Fort Hood communities to discuss ways to strengthen their relationships,” the Army said in an evening statement.
Related reading from around Fort Hood:Texas man accused of threatening Fort Hood mass shooting over Guillen murder,” via local KBTX-TV.

This afternoon, Defense Innovation Unit Director Mike Brown speaks at this year’s digital Aspen Security Forum. That’s at 5 p.m. ET. More info, here

Lastly today: The U.S. Army's esports team is facing a potential First Amendment lawsuit after banning commenters online who asked the team members about alleged war crimes. Vice news updated that drama Wednesday when the team “unbanned commenters and returned to Twitch,” a major video game streaming platform.
Related reading from Vice:The Pentagon Wasn’t Ready for Gamers to Push Back
And don’t miss our conversation with the Army’s eSports team sergeant back in late May, here.