House Democrats probe White House plan to share nuclear tech with Saudis

Whistleblowers have come forward to warn Congress about efforts within the White House to rush the transfer of “highly sensitive” U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia without congressional review, which might violate the Atomic Energy Act, according to a new report released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. 

The report alleges that this effort, which is being “aggressively” pressed by private commercial interests in the U.S., could contribute to a proliferation of nuclear weapons in an already unstable Middle East. These entities “stand to reap billions of dollars” in construction and nuclear facility operation contracts in Saudi Arabia, “and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration to the present day.” Promoters of the deal refer to it as a “Middle East Marshall Plan.”

The committee report draws attention to the involvement of a few officials in particular: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump friend and donor Tom Barrack, and a former National Security Council official who now works on the staff of the House Intelligence Committee, Derek Harvey. 

At the center of the report is IP3 International, which has put together a group of U.S. companies to build dozens of nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. Flynn was an adviser to the company at the same time he was advising the Trump campaign and its presidential transition, and the report claims he continued to advocate for the company even after he became a White House official. 

NSC staff were concerned about Flynn’s involvement in the Middle East Marshall Plan, given that his former business associates could profit from the plan, and also because the president’s friend, Barrack, could improperly benefit. President Trump had told Barrack that he could take the lead on implementing the plan, the deputy national security adviser had told the staff, according to the report. The staff brought its concerns to the top legal adviser in the National Security Council, who agreed and ordered the staff to cease any work on the proposal. 

One of the whistleblowers told the committee that Harvey, who was at the time a NSC official dealing with Middle East and North African affairs, stated “during the first week of the Trump administration” that its decision to adopt IP3’s nuclear plan to develop “dozens” of nuclear plants in the kingdom had already been made during the transition by Flynn, “while he was serving as an adviser to IP3.”

National security staff warned Harvey that any nuclear technology transfer would have to be vetted and found to be in compliance with the Atomic Energy Act, advice that Harvey reportedly ignored — continuing to push for its implementation. 

By late March 2017, NSC staffers were complaining about “gross mismanagement” in the Middle East Directorate, which was run by Harvey. According to the report, they complained of “unethical and potentially illegal actions by General Flynn and Mr. Harvey to advance the Middle East Marshall Plan, as well as subsequent efforts by General Kellogg and Mr. Harvey to terminate NSC staffers’ employment following their protected disclosures about these actions.” 

Barrack is also singled out as a proponent of the deal. Barrack’s investment firm, Colony NorthStar, stands to gain from the project, should it be implemented. He also wrote a white paper in March 2017 that called for an “ambassador” or “special adviser to the president” for the Middle East Marshall Plan. Barrack also, at that time, considered buying part of Westinghouse, “the bankrupt U.S. manufacturer of nuclear reactors.”  

In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesman for Barrack pushed back on the report and noted he never worked for the administration. “Mr. Barrack’s engagement in investment and business development throughout the Middle East for the purpose of better aligned Middle East and U.S. objectives are well known, as are his more than four decades of respected relationships throughout the region,” the statement said. 

The Oversight Committee believes that in spite of the concerns it has raised, the White House is still proceeding with its plans. Cummings released the report a week after the president, according to the committee, is reported to have met with nuclear power developers about sharing nuclear technology with the kingdom. In the coming days, Jared Kushner, a top White House aide and the president’s son-in-law, is expected to depart for Riyadh and other Middle East stops to discuss the Middle East peace plan.

Meanwhile, House Republicans on the committee are criticizing Cummings’ handling of the probe. “We value the courage of whistleblowers who choose to come forward,” a spokesperson for the committee told CBS News. “Oversight over our international nuclear dealings should not be a partisan exercise. We did not receive a draft of the report until last night and have not had the opportunity to fully evaluate the material it presents. This is a delicate and nuanced issue that Chairman Cummings is approaching without bipartisan input and with far flung requests for information.” 

Read the report here:

When Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act, it imposed strict controls on exports of U.S. technology that could be used to build nuclear weapons. 

“Under Section 123 of the Act, the U.S. may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress, in order to ensure that the agreement reached with the foreign government meets nine specific nonproliferation requirements,” the report notes. 

The report calls for further investigation and says the committee is requesting additional documents from the White House, the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, State, and Treasury, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, and companies involved with this effort, including IP3, the Flynn Intel Group, ACU Strategies, and Colony NorthStar. It is also seeking interviews with key personnel involved with promoting this plan to the White House.

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