There’s a way to beat Islamic State. But it won’t be pretty

Excerpt from Maclean’s Magazine:
America’s strategy to destroy the radical group in Iraq and Syria has failed spectacularly. There’s a way to turn the tables—but Obama wouldn’t say yes.

Michael Petrou
June 19, 2015

The Iraqi city of Ramadi is the last place more than 200 American soldiers and Marines drew breath, or where they suffered the wounds that would ultimately kill them. For a time, it was one of the most dangerous places in the country, the heart of the Sunni insurgency against America’s military occupation. It was here that al-Qaeda in Iraq, the terror franchise led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, once thrived.

But it was here, also, that Sahwa al-Anbar, or the Anbar Awakening, took hold in 2006. Outraged by al-Qaeda’s atrocities, tribal sheiks in the city turned against it, forming an unlikely alliance with the Americans their young men had previously fought. Together, the Americans and Iraqis expelled al-Qaeda from Ramadi.

The Awakening spread, its successes solidified by a “surge” of U.S. troops into Iraq the following year. What seemed to be an unstoppable spiral into violence in Anbar province was halted. More than 1,300 Americans died fighting in the province, but peace, a version of it anyway, seemed within reach.

Ramadi, then, represents the low and high points of the American invasion and occupation: loss and reconciliation, sacrifice and redemption. Those who fought there, American and Iraqi, could feel they had achieved something.

This May, the city was overrun by the so-called Islamic State, a militant group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq and has slaughtered and raped its way across much of Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate in the territory it controls. Islamic State’s conquest of Ramadi came almost a year after it quickly and seemingly effortlessly seized Iraq’s second-most populous city, Mosul. It came nine months after U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” it—launching an air campaign and training mission that would be joined by some 20 Western and Arab nations, including Canada.

Yet, within days of conquering Ramadi, Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, took the Syrian city of Palmyra, home to some of the most impressive Roman-era ruins in the world. Militants reportedly forced civilians to watch them murder 20 supposed government supporters in the ancient amphitheatre. Another nearly 300 pro-government troops were reportedly executed, and photos from the city show decapitated bodies in civilian clothes lying in the streets.

Obama, who once likened Islamic State to a “JV,” or junior varsity basketball team wearing a professional team’s uniforms, described the fall of Ramadi as a “tactical setback.” America last week announced it would send to Iraq another 450 troops, who will work out of a new base in Anbar. But the White House has given no indication it is considering a change in its strategy of air strikes and training without deploying American combat troops.

In February, a U.S. official at Central Command told reporters that Iraqi and Kurdish fighters would launch an offensive to retake Mosul in April or May. That’s now off the table. An attack to retake Ramadi does not appear imminent, either.

“It’s not working. It’s a failed strategy,” says Feisal al-Istrabadi, a former Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, speaking of the American-led campaign. “The idea that [the fall of Ramadi] is some kind of minor setback is a mistake. It’s much more serious than that. It shows that ISIL still has the ability to take the initiative on the ground. ISIL has a strategy. It’s metastasizing. It’s growing. It’s capturing more territory.”

Michael Pregent, a former U.S. intelligence officer who was embedded with Iraqi security forces, says American strategy against Islamic State is “in tatters”—in part because America’s reluctance to more fully engage in Iraq, in addition to giving Islamic State room to expand, has allowed Iran and Iran-backed militias to strengthen their influence over Iraq. The American air force, he says, is now providing air support to the same Iranian proxies that killed American soldiers during the U.S. occupation of the country and that seek to dominate Iraq themselves.

It’s a frustration shared by Michael Knights, who spent years in Iraq running a security company’s intelligence unit and is now a Lafer fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Our slow-burn security assistance, our drip-feed approach, means there is no other effective armed force in Iraq right now, other than the Popular Mobilization Forces,” he says, referring to the mostly Shia militias. They are officially under the command of the Iraqi government, but, in practice, Iran wields enormous control over them. “We are essentially serving up Iraq on a platter to these people,” says Knights.

Obama has insisted that Iraq must lead the fight against Islamic State. America, he says, can help. But Iraqis, who remember how forcefully America overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein 12 years ago, are angered by the slow pace of its campaign against Islamic State. “We see convoys going through cities in Iraq. Where are the satellites? Why aren’t [coalition planes] hitting them?” says George Mansour, a former minister in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government who now lives in Canada. “I think the world is not serious about fighting ISIS, especially the United States.”

Obama’s desire to avoid more deeply entangling America in Middle Eastern wars has come at a cost. Syria, already nearly broken by dictatorship and civil war, has been further traumatized by Islamic State’s barbarism. Iraq has lost roughly a third of its territory to Islamic State, and more and more of its sovereignty is slipping into Iranian hands.

If Obama is genuinely committed to Islamic State’s destruction, America’s strategy needs to change. One option is for America to co-operate with Iran and its proxies and allies, including Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The second is to escalate its own military intervention, possibly including a limited number of troops in combat roles. Obama shouldn’t consider the first option. The evidence so far suggests he won’t consider the second.

What are the origins of Iraq’s current nightmare? How did Islamic State recover in such strength after its al-Qaeda forebear had been nearly defeated? Syria’s civil war gave it new life: territory in which to grow, and a galvanizing cause with which to recruit new members. But the group also found fertile ground in Iraq, and some of the reasons for that can be traced to Iraq’s 2010 legislative elections.

The incumbent prime minister was Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia chauvinist who had spent years during Saddam’s dictatorship in Iran and Syria. His State of Law coalition finished second, with two fewer seats than the Iraqi National Movement, or al-Iraqiya, a secular nationalist coalition headed by Ayad Allawi that contained both Sunni and Shia leaders.

Maliki, however, refused to concede that Iraqiya should get the first chance to form a government and stayed on as prime minister. A deadlock lasting months ensued. “The formation of the government was perceived as a battle between Iran and the U.S.,” writes Emma Sky, a British former political adviser to top American general Ray Odierno, in her memoir, The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq. “Everyone realized this, except for the Americans.”

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden told Maliki America would support him, and urged Allawi to accept Maliki as prime minister, according to Sky. Biden, she says, did not understand that many Iraqis wanted to move past sectarianism. “Look, I know these people,” he told her. “My grandfather was Irish and hated the British. It’s like in the Balkans. They all grow up hating each other.” Biden later made the same sweeping statement to a baffled, multi-ethnic gathering of Iraqiya members.

Obama might have known better, had he paid attention, writes Sky, “but his only interest in Iraq was in ending the war.”

Maliki’s second term as prime minister saw the intensification of anti-Sunni discrimination and the steady growth of Iranian influence. Maliki reneged on a promise to integrate fighters from the Anbar Awakening into Iraq’s regular security forces and civil service, dismantling a force that had helped to free Iraq from al-Qaeda. He consolidated power in his own hands and purged rivals and Sunni leaders.

Iraq’s Sunnis felt they had few friends in their own government. This does not mean support for Islamic State runs deep among Iraq’s Sunnis. “You can see it in the flow of refugees,” says Istrabadi, who is now founding director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East at Indiana University. “They’re fleeing [from Islamic State] in every direction they can.”

But when Islamic State stormed through western Iraq, it confronted a weak and disunited country. Iraqi security forces melted before it. Former fighters from the Anbar Awakening had been disarmed and, in any case, felt little loyalty to Maliki’s government in Baghdad.

“When [U.S. Secretary of Defence] Ash Carter says they don’t have a will to fight, there’s some truth to that,” says Renad Mansour, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Middle East Center (and George Mansour’s son). “But it’s also a bit problematic, because there is a will to fight. The problem is that the lack of trust stops that will.”

“What exactly would a Sunni tribal sheik in Anbar tell his followers they are fighting for in Anbar?” asks Istrabadi. “I know what you can say they would be fighting against: ISIL. But what is he telling them they are fighting for?”

With Iraq’s official security forces collapsing, last June, Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shia cleric, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Iraqis to defend their country. This was the beginning of the Popular Mobilization Forces, known as al-Hashd al-Shaabi. They incorporated previously existing militias, such as the Badr Brigades, many of which are backed by Iran. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, is often seen among them.

Knights says Iran is intent on “colonizing” Iraq through militias and political parties it supports. Iran, like Iraq, suffered horribly during the 1980-88 war between the two countries (launched when Iraq invaded Iran). Tehran wants to ensure Iraq can never again threaten it, says Knights.

Despite Iranian support for the Popular Mobilization Forces, Istrabadi says those who joined them fight for Baghdad rather than Tehran. “Iraq’s Shia bled for eight years in the war with Iran. What more do they have to do to prove their loyalty to Iraq? Eight years wasn’t enough?” he says. “It so happens that Iran is taking advantage of the situation—something I wish to hell the United States would do.

“Iran, for reasons of its own, is supporting various Iraqi factions in the fight against ISIL, in direct and discreet ways that, frankly, the United States is not doing,” he adds. “What do you expect the Iraqis to do? Say no thank you?”

Regardless of the strength of Iraq’s Shia militias, or the assistance Iran provides, Islamic State will not be defeated in Iraq unless Sunni Arabs play a much larger role in the struggle.

The United States has taken some steps toward encouraging that to happen. It pressured Maliki to step down as prime minister, which he did last August, to be replaced by Haider al-Abadi, another Shia, but one who is less divisive and appears more committed to reaching out to Sunnis.

Abadi, however, is often described as well-intentioned but weak. “He is prime minister, but is not empowered to deliver on his political promises,” says Kawa Hassan, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a Middle East expert at Hivos, a Dutch NGO. Maliki, now vice-president, remains powerful, with allies in several government departments and ministries.

Meanwhile, the Popular Mobilization Forces have been accused of numerous sectarian abuses and atrocities. A report in February by Human Rights Watch details allegations of looting, arson, ethnic cleansing and murder. “It’s a pity to be a Sunni in Baghdad,” says Michael Weiss, co-author of  ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. “They’ve been rounded up at checkpoints, thrown into dungeons, tortured, abused. It’s a sign of intimidation.”

But because the Shia militias are the most powerful ground force in Iraq, some analysts, such as Max Abrahms of Northeastern University, believe Iraq’s Western partners have little choice but to ally with them, and with their Iranian backers. He thinks America should make a similar choice in Syria and co-operate with Assad’s regime. “There’s no question Assad has more blood on his hands in Syria than does Islamic State, but, speaking as an American, I’m much more afraid of Islamic State than I am of Assad, because Islamic State wants to kill as many American civilians in the American homeland as possible, whereas the Assad regime does not.”

Weiss counters that allying with Assad in Syria and with Iran-backed militias in Iraq “is the easiest way to alienate the core constituency we need to turn against ISIS, namely, the Sunnis. Leaving aside the moral calculation, strategically—it’s just not going to work.”

Sunnis in both countries already have good reason to be wary of co-operation with the West. Assad and his proxies are responsible for most of the suffering in Syria. His army killed civilians with sarin gas. He suffered no repercussions. His air force continues to devastate civilian neighbourhoods. But because the world did nothing when he used chemical weapons, Assad knows it will do nothing when he bombs schools with conventional ones. “The United States has to convince Sunnis—and I don’t mean through rhetoric and posturing; I mean through tangible action—that their suffering, their plight, their dispossession and mass murder and ethnic cleansing matter,” says Weiss. “One way to do this would be to stop Assad’s air war against them.” Absent such action, expecting Syrian Sunnis to enlist as America’s ground troops against Islamic State is unreasonable, he says. “You can build up proxies. You can work with local actors on the ground. But you have to give them an incentive, and the incentive cannot just be, ‘Go and kill the terrorists on our behalf.’ Because, to them, the terrorist-in-chief is Assad and his regime.”

That America has not targeted Assad has led to speculation that it has at least a tacit understanding with Iran, with whom it is negotiating a nuclear deal: Do not harm Assad, because doing so would jeopardize those negotiations. “These narratives are beginning to trickle onto the population, and it’s beginning to affect their participation,” says Renad Mansour.

In Iraq, Sunnis who rose up against al-Qaeda during the surge of U.S. troops into the country were punished, rather than thanked by their government. “They don’t trust Baghdad and, unfortunately, they don’t trust us, either,” says Pregent, the former intelligence officer. “We promised them we would not abandon them, and we did. We can’t ask them to take up arms against ISIS when their government doesn’t see a difference between them and ISIS. We cannot ask you to take up arms and then say: ‘We’re going to be here for 18 months, guys. It’s all you afterward.’ They’ve seen this before.”

The recently announced deployment of 450 American trainers to Anbar is a small step in the right direction, because it will specifically target Sunnis. Such fighters might be integrated into Iraqi security forces and the Popular Mobilization Forces, possibly de-sectarianizing both. This, too, would require American leverage. “We’ve got to go in there and hug Baghdad closer than Tehran is,” says Pregent.

But sending more trainers, even ones charged with helping Sunnis, is unlikely to be sufficient in the short term. And with Islamic State now about an hour’s drive from Baghdad, Iraq doesn’t have a lot of time. “Nobody here is talking about Operation Iraqi Freedom 2,” says Knights, meaning a sequel to the large-scale 2003 invasion. Instead, he suggests deploying some 5,000 special forces who would embed with Iraqi units, including on the front lines, where they could directly call in air strikes.

Currently, America carries out about 15 air strikes a day, according to the New York Times, compared with about 800 a day during the 2003 Iraq war. There are fewer planes deployed now, but often they return to base without releasing their bombs, because pilots cannot identify targets or are not given approval to hit them. “Right now, our air power, we have to suck it through a straw,” says Knights. Having American spotters on the ground, he says, would mean sucking air power through a fire hose.

Americans, in fact, are on the front lines, at least occasionally. A Kurdish commander at an outpost about 500 m from an Islamic State position in northern Iraq told Maclean’s in October that American advisers had been there earlier. But it appears American spotters are restricting their activity to the Kurdish north of Iraq, not in the south, where battle lines are frequently more fluid and dangerous.

Canadian special forces are also operating in northern Iraq, close enough to the front lines to have suffered a “friendly fire” fatality, and to have directly engaged in firefights with Islamic State. “The Canadians are doing more than we’re doing. The Australians are doing more than we’re doing. The strategy that the United States has put in place is so constrained. It’s so weak,” says Pregent.

The United States and its allies are doing less in Syria than in Iraq. Coalition air strikes notably helped to break Islamic State’s siege of the mostly Kurdish city of Kobani in northern Syria, an important symbolic victory. But America has not deployed advisers or trainers to work in Syria with Kurdish and other rebel forces confronting Islamic State there.

“Here’s the infuriating thing about this. If we Americans put one armoured brigade into Syrian Kurdistan, we’d be in Raqqa in a week and a half,” says Knights, referring to Islamic State’s de facto capital in northern Syria. Kurdish forces and rebel Free Syria Army fighters have captured territory nearby.

Afzal Ashraf, a consultant fellow at the Royal United Services Institute and former Royal Air Force officer who served at the Multinational Force headquarters in Iraq, argues for the use of Western or international airmobile forces—fighting troops that can deploy quickly to secure objectives, then hand them to Iraqis. They wouldn’t hold territory, and their lighter footprint may feel like less of an infringement on Iraq’s sovereignty than would the garrisoning of thousands of troops there, he says.

Even without deploying armour or airmobile units, there is more the United States and its allies could do in Iraq and Syria without approaching the level of intervention made previously in Afghanistan, and in Iraq a decade ago. This includes a greater use of on-the-ground spotters to call in air strikes, embedded special forces, and more night raids against high-value targets. A no-fly zone in Syria would give that country’s non-jihadist rebels protection from Assad’s barrel bombs and chlorine-gas attacks, and perhaps build American credibility among the country’s Sunni majority that will one day have a large say in how their country is governed.

But all these options require Obama to decide this is a war that must be won, that defeating Islamic State is worth the investment and sacrifices the task requires. It doesn’t appear he has made such a calculation. His priority is striking a nuclear deal with Iran. Defeating Islamic State, he says, will take a long time, and already his presidency is winding down. He inherited a war in Iraq he didn’t want. So will his successor.

Michael Petrou
Senior writer Michael Petrou has covered conflict across the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. He is the author of ‘Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War’, which was shortlisted for the Ottawa Book Award, and ‘Is This Your First War? Travels Through the Post-9/11 Islamic World’, which won it. He has a DPhil from the University of Oxford.


Obama pledged to reduce nuclear arsenal, then came this weapon

Excerpt from: Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting
Topics: National Security

By Len Ackland and Burt Hubbard / July 14, 2015


Hoover and fellow engineers at Sandia National Laboratories have spent the past few years designing, building and testing the top-secret electronic and mechanical innards of the sophisticated B61-12. The bomb will have a maximum explosive force equivalent to 50,000 tons of TNT – more than three times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 70 years ago this August that killed more than 130,000 people.

The U.S. government doesn’t consider the B61-12 to be new – simply an upgrade of an existing weapon. But some contend that it is far more than that.

Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists in Washington, is resolute that the bomb violates a 2010 Obama administration pledge not to produce nuclear weapons with new military capabilities.

“We do not have a nuclear guided bomb in our arsenal today,” Kristensen said. “It is a new weapon.”

Kristensen’s organization was formed in 1945 by nuclear scientists who wanted to prevent nuclear war. And it’s not the maximum force of the B61-12 that worries him the most on that front.

Instead, he says he fears that the bomb’s greater accuracy, coupled with the way its explosive force can be reduced electronically through a dial-a-yield system accessed by a hatch on the bomb’s body, increases the risk that a president might consider it tame enough for a future conflict.

Congress shared similar concerns in rejecting other so-called low-intensity nuclear weapons in the past. But most of the national criticism of this bomb has focused on its price tag. After it goes into full production in 2020, taxpayers will have spent about $11 billion to build 400 B61-12 bombs. That sum is more than double the original estimate, making it the most expensive nuclear bomb ever.

To Kristensen and others, if President Barack Obama’s pledge was serious, the bomb shouldn’t exist at any price.

How the B61-12 entered the U.S. arsenal of weapons is a tale of the extraordinary influence of the “nuclear enterprise,” as the nuclear weapons complex has rebranded itself in recent years. Its story lies at the heart of the national debate over the ongoing modernization of America’s nuclear weapons, a program projected to cost $348 billion over the next decade.

This enterprise encompasses defense contractors, including the subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. that runs the Sandia labs for the government, as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the nuclear weapons-oriented wings of the U.S. military – particularly the Air Force and Navy. With abundant jobs and dollars at stake, the nuclear enterprise is backed by politicians of all stripes.

A review of several thousands of pages of congressional testimony, federal budgets and audit reports, plus an analysis of lobbying and campaign contribution data, shows that the four defense contractors running the two New Mexico nuclear weapons labs, Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory, enjoy a particularly symbiotic relationship with Congress.

That relationship begins with money.

Since 1998, these four contractors have contributed more than $20 million to congressional campaigns around the nation. Last year alone, they spent almost $18 million lobbying Washington to ensure that funding for nuclear weapons projects continues even as nuclear stockpiles shrink.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the outlay is a bargain considering what’s at stake for the contractors.

“It’s an insignificant cost of doing business relative to the potential income from these contracts,” she said.

In arid, impoverished New Mexico, the nuclear weapons enterprise thrives on particularly close connections between business interests and politicians, doors revolving in both directions and successful efforts to minimize oversight of corporate behavior.

Republican Heather Wilson left Congress in January 2009 after a decade as a New Mexico congresswoman. She had lost her bid to jump up to the Senate seat vacated by her mentor, Pete Domenici.

After losing, she set up a consulting business and, within days of leaving office, Wilson – an Air Force veteran – was consulting mainly for the two New Mexico weapons labs.

Over the next two years, Wilson was paid more than $400,000 by Lockheed’s Sandia Corp. and the consortium of contractors running the Los Alamos lab – to help them extend and expand federal contracts and get more business, according to the first of two scathing inspector general reports. Eventually, the contractors were forced to reimburse the government for the federal funds they used to pay Wilson for her advocacy work.

Asked about the significance of that outcome, the Lockheed communications office responded to Reveal via email: “With regards to the inspector general’s report, Sandia has cooperated with the Inspector General’s review and will continue to do so.” Wilson declined to comment.

Wilson’s support for the labs persisted after she left the consulting business in early 2012 and ran for the Senate again. When the Obama administration cut funding for a Los Alamos lab project, Wilson told the Albuquerque Journal: “Not only is this bad for our country and its national security, it’s bad for New Mexico and our economy.”

For New Mexico, the second-poorest state after Mississippi, nuclear weapons and military bases are undeniably a lifeblood. Out of the $27.5 billion in federal dollars poured into the state in 2013, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study, about $5 billion went to Los Alamos, Sandia and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nuclear weapons waste facility east of Carlsbad, where accidents last year exposed dozens of workers to radiation.

Billions more were spent on the state’s four main military bases. The city of Alamogordo, next to Holloman Air Force Base and the Army’s White Sands Missile Range – home of the Trinity Site, where the first atomic bomb was tested in July 1945 – benefits from $450 million a year in military spending, according to the local chamber of commerce.

The labs and bases, and the defense contractors that run or contract with them, also are an integral part of New Mexico’s economic fabric. Los Alamos, Sandia and White Sands are three of the state’s top 10 employers, together providing about 24,000 jobs.

New Mexico politicians helping the labs has a long history in the state, said local political analyst Joe Monahan. It dates back to World War II and the development of the first nuclear bomb under Los Alamos Director J. Robert Oppenheimer.

“The economic impact is the driver of the politics,” Monahan said.

The engineers behind the weapons.

At Sandia labs today, engineers such as Hoover and his boss Jim Handrock, director of weapons system engineering, populate the well-paid professional ranks. They turn ideas into weapons.

“We need to make sure that should the president of the United States choose to use the (nuclear) weapons, they will always work, but they will never work in any other situation,” says Jim Handrock, director of weapons system engineering at Sandia National Laboratories.

Nuclear specifications come to them from the two national security physics labs – Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. They marry those specifications to Pentagon military requirements and design bombs and missile warheads to carry nuclear explosives.

The secrecy of the work is so high that no outside cellphones may be brought into the building, even by Sandia’s public affairs escort. Hoover and Handrock take off their badges before being photographed. National security is their mantra, a value that gained urgency following recent criticism by the National Nuclear Security Administration that Sandia experienced 190 “security incidents” in fiscal year 2014 and the agency’s proposed $577,500 fine for Sandia’s earlier mishandling of classified information.

When Sandia hired Handrock, it was run by a Western Electric Co. subsidiary. He got a new employer in 1993, when Martin Marietta Corp. acquired Sandia Corp. Two years later, Lockheed Corp. and Martin Marietta merged to form the nation’s largest defense contractor.

Similarly influential and powerful companies run New Mexico’s other nuclear facilities. Bechtel Corp., URS Corp. and The Babcock & Wilcox Co. partner with the University of California, Berkeley to operate Los Alamos. URS and Babcock & Wilcox, along with Areva Inc. North America, an offshoot of a large French nuclear company, also manage the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Those four contractors and Areva are heavy hitters in Washington, with a combined 164 lobbyists at their disposal – 70 percent of them former members of Congress, congressional aides or federal officials, according to Reveal’s analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.

“An army of lobbyists is great,” the center’s Krumholz said. “But an army of insiders who know how to navigate the halls of power, can socialize with politicians on weekends and ultimately play the system like a violin is so much better.”

Lockheed said it simply needs to get its perspectives across to federal officials.

“We routinely communicate our point of view with members of Congress and customers who oversee our programs as well as leaders of congressional districts where Lockheed Martin has a significant business presence,” the company said in its emailed response.

Come campaign season, the contractors remember the New Mexico delegation. In the past two decades, the contractors’ political action committees have donated $430,000 to the state’s senators and members of Congress. Hundreds of company officials chipped in another $350,000. Wilson received more than $250,000 of that between 1998 and 2012, the year she ran for the Senate again – and lost again.

New Mexico senators advocate for labs.

New Mexico’s current senators are Democrats Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. Contributions to their campaigns from defense contractors and company officials fall far short of Wilson’s – less than $100,000 each since 1998. Nonetheless, the two play important roles, sitting on subcommittees that determine funding and policy for the nuclear labs.

Both voted for a December budget bill that funds the labs even though it also waters down campaign finance controls and Wall Street reforms they had embraced.

Udall has been a strong supporter of the B-61 bomb program both because of the jobs it brings to New Mexico and its role in national security, though Talhelm emphasized that he does not get involved in contract funding decisions.

Heinrich, while a congressman from 2009 to 2013, routinely pressed the Obama administration and Republican leaders to spare the labs from budget cuts and government shutdowns. After he joined the Senate in 2013, he advocated for the extension of a Sandia Corp. federal contract during confirmation hearings for a new energy secretary, Ernest Moniz.

In an email to Reveal, Heinrich’s office said the senator is committed to making sure the labs get full funding. “The labs also strengthen New Mexico’s economy by providing high-paying, high-skilled technology jobs in our state and Senator Heinrich will always fight to protect their missions,” the statement said.

Another New Mexico lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján, formed a congressional caucus with three other representatives in 2012 specifically to look out for the interests of the national labs. He has received $32,000 in donations since 2008 from the contractors’ PACs and company officials. Luján’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The contractors and labs gain influence and access in other ways as well.

Pete Lyons, a top science adviser to Domenici when he was senator in the mid-1990s, came from the Los Alamos lab, where he was an associate director of various programs. Lyons initially was kept on the Los Alamos payroll and assigned to Domenici as a congressional fellow, according to the news release published when he was named a top Energy Department official.

The Los Alamos lab provided the last two science advisers to New Mexico’s governor, too. Current Gov. Susana Martinez’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Haussamen, the analyst, said such cozy business-political arrangements are not unusual in New Mexico. “Our state ethics laws are weaker than the federal ones. It’s easier to move back and forth between jobs on the state level.”

The Energy Department.

The Pete V. Domenici National Security Innovation Center at Sandia National Laboratories is named for the longtime New Mexico senator, renowned as a champion of nuclear weapons for more than three decades, until his 2009 retirement.

His support was crucial in the 1990s after the Cold War ended and the United States and Russia focused on reducing their huge nuclear weapons arsenals.

At the time, many analysts – including Ash Carter, then an assistant secretary of defense and now the secretary – challenged the need for the traditional triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems, which relies on airplanes, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines. Many considered nuclear-armed submarines, invulnerable when launched, sufficient to deter the Russians or anyone else from launching a first strike.

After the 1992 U.S. moratorium on explosive nuclear testing, weapons labs were instructed to shift their focus to keeping weapons in the nuclear stockpile reliable.

The change at the labs was just one challenge for the Energy Department, which had been reeling since the 1980s from charges that it was mismanaging the nuclear weapons complex – highlighted by the extraordinary FBI raid on the Rocky Flats plutonium bomb factory near Denver in 1989.

Congressional criticism grew as the department closed production plants, shrank its bureaucracy and cut jobs.

In 1999, in the wake of a well-publicized but ultimately unsubstantiated security breach at Los Alamos, Domenici championed a bill to create a new agency to oversee nuclear plants and labs: the National Nuclear Security Administration. An independent agency would give the nuclear enterprise more autonomy.

Domenici tangled with then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a Democrat and former New Mexico congressman, over the department’s role. Richardson, who would become New Mexico’s governor four years later, argued that the Energy Department was addressing its problems and that a new agency was unnecessary.

In the end, a compromise was reached. The new agency became semiautonomous, with its own bureaucracy but Energy Department oversight. Even though Domenici succeeded in establishing the national nuclear agency, “it didn’t work out so well for Domenici, because he had an archenemy running the House energy and water subcommittee – David Hobson.”

Hobson was a conservative Ohio Republican who shot down several nuclear weapons enterprise proposals before leaving office. “He didn’t have any (Department of Energy) facilities in his backyard, and he was basically being fiscally responsible,” Alvarez said.

Foreshadowing the current B61-12 program, the national nuclear agency proposed new warheads and a new plant at Los Alamos to replace Rocky Flats, the by-then-closed bomb factory near Denver. Hobson led a congressional charge that at first seemed to derail the proposal.

Defense contractors assail oversight agency.

Eventually, the national nuclear agency came under fire from the defense contractors, which claimed that it was stifling and nitpicking by, for instance, micromanaging lab decisions.

The Energy Department’s inspector general, Gregory Friedman, laid out the problems to a House oversight committee in September 2012. The lab directors complained that “the effectiveness and efficiency of their operations” were being impeded, he told the committee.

Three months later, Tom Udall – the New Mexico senator – co-sponsored an amendment to the defense budget with Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to create a 12-member congressional advisory panel to overhaul lab oversight. Jennifer Talhelm, Udall’s spokeswoman, said he wanted to address what he considered legitimate concerns about oversight.

The measure passed as part of the defense spending bill, the piece of legislation most lobbied by Lockheed that year. Half of the panel members eventually appointed by Congress had connections to the nuclear labs.

One of the panel’s co-chairmen was the former chairman of Lockheed, and its other co-chairman was on the board of Babcock & Wilcox. Heather Wilson was appointed, too, even as the audits scrutinizing her consulting work continued.

Others included a former Los Alamos executive director, a member of the Sandia Corp. board and a former California congresswoman, Ellen Tauscher, a member of the Los Alamos Board of Governors.

As the panel deliberated over the next year and a half, Lockheed and Babcock & Wilcox together spent $16 million lobbying the federal government and donated $3 million to members of Congress.

The panel’s report, issued late last year, blasted the national nuclear agency, calling it dysfunctional because, among other things, it lacked “proven management practices.” It said the agency’s oversight of the labs had generated “misunderstanding, distrust, and frustration.” The report called for the Energy Department to reduce the agency’s lab audits, inspections and general oversight.

Inspector general’s second audit.

While that panel was finishing up its report, a second special audit of Wilson’s contract work by the inspector general delved into the question of whether taxpayer dollars had been used illegally for lobbying. In outlining its findings, the audit offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at pressure from Lockheed and Sandia officials to get their federal contract extended without an open bidding process.

In September 2012, the Sandia labs’ federal contract had been set to expire, and the Energy Department already had signaled that it would open it for bids.

Three years earlier, the audit found, a team of Lockheed and Sandia officials had come up with a detailed plan that included enlisting the New Mexico congressional delegation to pressure then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu to extend the contract by lobbying the chairmen and members of key committees.

This pressure included: Sandia officials telingl members of the New Mexico delegation to contact Chu directly and “let him know that they expect “a contract extension and will follow the matter with personal interest;” a national nuclear agency administrator telling company officials that he “has no problem interfacing with Congress and committees on the matter of a Sandia contract extension;” one Lockheed official sending a memo to Chu saying the company wanted the contract extended under the “same terms and conditions,” and another official recommending “if the answer was not in the affirmative, then Lockheed Martin/Sandia should seriously consider initiating some heavy Congressional support.”

Sandia also hired two former employees of the National Nuclear Security Administration as consultants, at least one of whom previously had oversight authority at the lab The investigation also unearthed notes from a meeting during which Wilson’s firm advised that “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.”

The contract, giving Sandia Corp. control of an annual lab budget of about $2.4 billion, was extended four times, initially for a year and then twice more for three months each. Finally, in March 2014, it was extended for two more years with the possibility of a third year.

The approach was nothing new: The inspector general unearthed an earlier Sandia Corp. memo that said similar tactics had been used in 2003 to secure a no-bid extension.

The inspector general’s report also exposed details of the relationship between the labs and New Mexico politicians, noting that the delegation routinely received legislative wish lists from Sandia.

This, the inspector general said, could be construed as using federal funds for lobbying activity.

After the audit’s release in November, Wilson issued a statement denying that she lobbied any federal officials to extend the contract and called the report wrong.

Sandia Corp. said it took “these allegations seriously” and was confident it could work out the issues with the Energy Department.

But in its email to Reveal, the Lockheed communications department said such efforts are part of its job. “Sandia routinely provides the New Mexico delegation with information concerning the labs,” it responded. “As a federally funded research and development center, an aspect of Sandia’s performance of its mission encompasses providing information to the federal government including Congress.”

Initially, the inspector general’s report stirred up some public furor, recalled political analyst Joe Monahan, but it quickly died down.

“There is a long leash on this stuff because, again, money talks,” he said. “You’re talking about billions of dollars, thousands of employees, and no one wants to see the egg crack.”

U.S., Russia agree to reduce stockpile.

The nuclear weapons enterprise has had plenty at stake in recent years.

In Prague in 2009, Obama called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. A year later, he and Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty calling for each country to reduce its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 by 2018, down from estimates of more than 1,900 for the United States and more than 2,400 for Russia.

Ratification of the treaty required a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, which followed in December 2010 after considerable debate and negotiation. Defense hawks and their allies exacted a price for the treaty vote: an Obama administration agreement to support $85 billion in nuclear weapons modernization over a decade.

That number has more than quadrupled since to $348 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Other studies say the cost of nuclear weapons could top $1 trillion over the next 30 years, not counting hundreds of billions of dollars for related projects, such as the cleanup of former nuclear weapons production sites.

Sandia and Los Alamos benefited greatly from the Capitol Hill bargaining. Ten of the 19 modernization capital projects approved by the national nuclear agency and 15 of the 36 proposed capital projects for the nuclear security system are based at the two labs, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The B61-12 bomb’s Life Extension Program at Sandia is among those projects. This year, the $643 million for that program accounts for more than a third of Sandia’s $1.8 billion Energy Department budget.

“It’s the largest nuclear weapons program we have going on at Sandia currently,” said Jim Handrock, the lab’s weapons systems director.

Concern over bomb’s capabilities.

The bomb’s name, B61-12, reflects its position as the 12th model of what the government calls a family of bombs. It is descended from the first U.S. hydrogen bomb tested in the Marshall Islands in 1952, which used a plutonium bomb to detonate a thermonuclear explosion 520 times more powerful than the plutonium bomb tested seven years earlier at the remote Trinity Site south of Albuquerque.

Today’s stockpile contains five B61 models, including three tactical versions intended for short-range warfighting. The new B61-12 will consolidate those three models and one more highly explosive strategic bomb, using the nuclear package from one of the existing models.

Unlike the free-fall gravity bombs it will replace, the B61-12 will be a guided nuclear bomb. Its new Boeing Co. tail kit assembly enables the bomb to hit targets precisely. Using dial-a-yield technology, the bomb’s explosive force can be adjusted before flight from an estimated high of 50,000 tons of TNT equivalent force to a low of 300 tons.

And that’s where the debate over the B61-12 moves beyond cost overruns, zeroing in on the granular details of its capabilities.

Congress rejected funding for similar nuclear weapons at least twice during the past 25 years, saying enhanced precision coupled with less force would lead to less collateral damage – such as radiation fallout that could harm allies – and thus a greater likelihood that the military would recommend that the president use the weapons.

Obama, following the lead of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, laid out the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy in an April 2010 document entitled the “Nuclear Posture Review Report.” It stated that the fundamental role of nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attack.

Obama pledged that the United States would produce no new nuclear warheads and that life extension programs of existing weapons would not provide “new military capabilities.”

Officials from the Obama administration, Pentagon and Energy Department continue to argue that the B61-12 stays within the bounds of that pledge by modernizing an aging family of bombs and in the process ensuring a reliable nuclear arsenal to scare off adversaries.

Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, then the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified about the B61-12 program at an October 2013 congressional subcommittee hearing.

“This consolidation offers opportunities for cost savings and significant stockpile reductions while maintaining U.S. national security objectives and extended deterrence commitments,” Kehler said. “The transition of the B-61 from a gravity bomb to one with a tail kit should make it a more reliable weapon without changing its basic nature.”

Back at Sandia, engineer Phil Hoover is the one in charge of integrating the tail kit instruments with those inside the footwide weapon’s body, which includes more than 30 major components such as radar along with thousands of other parts.

High on the list of aircraft that could carry the bomb is Lockheed’s new F-35 fighter jet. This stealth plane, designed to evade radar, is a $400 billion weapon delivery system that has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns.

The idea of stealth fighters carrying B61-12 nuclear bombs worries some outside experts, including Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.

“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons?” he asked. “Absolutely.”

Maj. Kelley Jeter, an Air Force spokeswoman, declined Reveal’s interview request but agreed to answer questions via email. Asked what effect stealth fighter jets carrying low-yield B61-12 nuclear bombs would have on an adversary during a conflict, she responded: “To effectively deter potential adversaries, the weapons and platforms fielded by the Air Force must credibly provide options for the President to demonstrate U.S. resolve and support deterrence options for the President to deal with emerging crises.”

But, she added, “the B61-12 will not provide new military capabilities.”

Iran Nuclear Deal: Make YOUR Voice Heard In Congress

Excerpt from: The Pen

Jul 20 at 4:37 PM

For those who have not been with us that long, it is not
unprecedented for us to do voting type actions. Indeed, one of our
early initiatives was our “Impeach Cheney?” (with a question mark)
referendum in about 2006, where you could vote either “Yes” or “No”
on that question, to demonstrate the relative level of support for
that action. Congress was not listening then, but we think they want
to hear from you now on the Iran Nuclear Deal question.

And so a voting action is exactly what we decided to do for this one
We don’t mind telling you that right now the votes are running about
95% in support, but that proportion could change substantially
depending on whether YOU speak out now or not.

Iran Nuclear Deal Position Action Page:

This is the only such page of its kind on this issue anywhere in the
country, where your position (plus any personal comments you want to
add) is sent to all your members of Congress by live fax, and where
you can watch the tally numbers of the respective votes climb in real

So let the word go out, if you want to make a public demonstration of
your position, the page above is the must page to submit. Tell all
your friends who agree with you to submit the page as well, so we
have the result most representative of the will of the American
people at large.

The simple point is that this is not about us. This is about you. We
expect members of Congress to be moved by massive numbers of their
constituents speaking out, not because a petition has been drafted by
us. It means nothing to them until YOU submit it.

All you really need to do is tell them what you want them to do on
this. There are two radio buttons to select from on this page, one
for “SUPPORT” and one for “OPPOSE”. Then just submit the form using
the button at the bottom like you alway do.

Iran Nuclear Deal Position Action Page:

We know from your emails that many of you have much to say on this.
Please now say it to your members of Congress, where it really

And just after we hit the start button for this alert run, to save
time we’ll be hitting the road to the Bay Area to pick up to first
printing of the new “Money Out, BERNIE In!” bumper sticker which
5,000 of your are so anxiously waiting for. So if you have not made
your request yet, you still have time to get in on the first mailing,
by submitting this form.

Money Out, BERNIE In! bumper sticker:

You may forward this message to any friends who would find it

Contributions to The People’s Email Network or ActBlue are not
tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

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Excerpt from:  Bob Fertik, Jul 13 at 7:54 PM
When the Supreme Court recently rejected the final challenge to Obamacare, Bernie Sanders called it “a good day for millions of Americans who will be able to keep their access to health care.”
But Sanders also declared “the only long-term solution to America’s health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.”

From Bernie Sanders:

Today, because of the Supreme Court’s decision to protect the modest gains made under the Affordable Care Act, it is a good day for millions of Americans who will be able to keep their access to health care.

It’s also a good day for the small business owners who, before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, couldn’t afford the escalating cost of providing insurance for their employees.

But while I am glad the Supreme Court upheld the law, in my view, the only long-term solution to America’s health care crisis is a Medicare-for-all single-payer system.

I start my approach to health care from two very simple premises:

1. Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege — every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access quality care regardless of their income.

2. We must create a national system to provide care for every single American in the most cost-effective way possible.

Tragically, the United States fails in both areas.

The health insurance lobbyists and big pharmaceutical companies make “national health care” sound scary. It’s not.

In fact, a large single-payer system already exists in the United States. It’s called Medicare and the people enrolled give it high marks. More importantly, it has succeeded in providing near-universal coverage to Americans over age 65 in a very cost-effective manner.

It’s time to expand that program to all Americans.

If we are serious about providing high-quality, affordable care as a right for all Americans, the only solution to this crisis is a Medicare-for-all single-payer system. Add your name to our petition if you agree.

The American people understand that our current health care system is not working.

They understand that the profiteering of the pharmaceutical industry and private insurance companies causes the United States to spend more per capita on health care than any other nation, while our life expectancy, infant mortality and preventable deaths outcomes are worse than most other countries.

We should be spending our money on care and disease prevention, not paper-pushing and debt collection. But the simple truth is that our efforts to eliminate waste and profiteering are endangered by these powerful corporate interests.

A single-payer system will expand employment and lift a major financial weight off of businesses burdened by employee health expenses. And the millions of Americans stuck in jobs they don’t like, they would be free to explore more productive opportunities as they desire.

I attempted to offer a single-payer amendment during the Affordable Care Act debate, but my efforts were blocked.

But our time will come.

I am convinced today more than ever before that universal quality health care as a right will eventually become the law of the land. It is the only way forward.

Bernie Sanders
Paid for by Bernie 2016
(not the billionaires)
PO Box 905 – Burlington VT 05402 United States – (855) 4-BERNIE is the oldest online community of progressive activists, with over 2 million
supporters. We fight for jobs, justice, healthcare, education, the environment, and peace.
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Stop Congress from gutting the Endangered Species Act

Excerpt from: CREDO Action
Republicans in Congress have a problem. They badly want to get rid of the Endangered Species Act, one of the most successful conservation laws we have for protecting endangered wildlife from going extinct. But unfortunately for them, the law works and is wildly popular with the American people.1, 2

Their solution? Keep the law, but gut it beyond recognition and make it totally ineffective by adding burdensome new restrictions and allowing local politicians to overrule science whenever they feel like it.

Congress is considering multiple bills right now – including one from Senator Rand Paul – that would gut the Endangered Species Act and put countless species at risk of extinction. We can’t let them get away with this cynical attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act.

Tell Congress: Hands off the Endangered Species Act. Leave this crucial and immensely successful wildlife protection law alone.In recent weeks the U.S. Senate considered eight bills that would modify the Endangered Species Act, most of which aim to saddle resource-strapped federal wildlife agencies with burdensome new hurdles and requirements. Many also include rules that would force agencies to consider shoddy science and prioritize economic considerations like dirty fossil fuel drilling over wildlife habitat protection.3

But one of those bills, crafted and sponsored by Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul, would be so devastating to our ability to protect endangered wildlife that it was described by one expert as the “Extinction Acceleration Act.”4

Paul’s bill would remove protections from 94 percent of currently listed species, including polar bears, wolves, grizzly bears, and sea otters. It would force the automatic removal of species from the endangered list after five years, whether or not those species had recovered and were deemed safe by scientists.

Worst of all, it would take the entire process of species protection out of the hands of biologists and wildlife experts, where it rests right now, and require the consent of state governors and a joint resolution of Congress. And if an endangered species was found to reside entirely in the borders of a single state, that state’s governor would have the power to overrule the protection of that species.

We need to stand up against these attacks now before Congress guts the Endangered Species Act.

Tell Congress: Hands off the Endangered Species Act. Leave this crucial and immensely successful wildlife protection law alone.

Thank you for your activism.

Josh Nelson, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

Go to CREDO Action and sign the below petition to make your voice heard!

  • Tell Congress:
    “Reject any attempt to modify or limit the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act, including any provisions that promote political or economic considerations above scientific ones.”

“Defenders of Wildlife: Endangered Species Act Poll,”

“Defining Success Under the Endangered Species Act,” U.S. Fish and wildlife Service, July 12, 2013

“Your Handy Guide to Attacks on How the Endangered Species Act Uses Science,” Union of Concerned Scientists, May 6, 2015

“S. 855: Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act”

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© 2015 CREDO. All rights reserved.

Tell President Obama and his agency chiefs to take a stand against illegal logging!

Excerpt from the Sierra Club:

Lumber Liquidators in hot water
Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club

Jun 24
Lumber Liquidators is in hot water, reportedly facing criminal charges from the U.S. Department of Justice — and for good reason. The nation’s leading hardwood floor retailer has allegedly imported illegally harvested wood from critical habitats including forests in the Russian Far East.

The Lacey Act, passed in 1900 to combat the illegal wildlife trade, was strengthened to fight illegal logging in 2008 — and it’s these forests’ best defense. If adequately enforced, the law would ensure that wood products have been sourced legally and violators like Lumber Liquidators would face fines or jail time.

Let’s not let Lumber Liquidators off the hook. Tell President Obama and his agency heads to fully enforce the Lacey Act to protect these relatively ancient forests

Taking criminal action against Lumber Liquidators sends a strong message that corporations will be punished for profiting from the illegal destruction of critical habitat.

With the Lacey Act, the U.S. can lead the world in combating illegal logging. Yet, this powerful law can only be successful if enforcement is taken seriously and corporations are put on notice that violations will not be tolerated.

Protect the world’s forests! Ask President Obama and his agency heads to continue holding Lacey Act violators like Lumber Liquidators accountable.

Thanks for all you do for the environment.


Jesse Prentice-Dunn
Sierra Club

To send a message to President Obama and make your voice and opinion heard go to the Sierra Club Site

Call on the White House to stop Big Oil’s illegal scheme

Excerpt from Sierra Club E-mail:

Big Oil thinks it’s above the law, and the State Department doesn’t seem to care.

Enbridge — the foreign-owned pipeline company responsible for the largest oil spill ever on American soil — has engineered an elaborate illegal scheme to circumvent U.S. laws. If Enbridge gets its way, their Alberta Clipper pipeline would pump a similar amount of tar sands as Keystone XL through America’s Heartland — all without the legally-required permit and environmental review.

Despite this blatant disregard for the law, the State Department has indicated that it will look the other way and allow this scheme to move forward!

It’s up to President Obama to step in and stop Big Oil from ignoring the same laws that Keystone XL must follow. Will you take a moment to let the White House know that you care about this issue and want the president to do something about it?

Simply enter your phone number into the box that the Sierra Club provides on their site. You will receive a call, which will play a brief message and then connect you to the White House comment line.

  • Go to the site and make the call to show that you care!If you’d like, you can use any of these talking points to help guide you:

I’m calling because I’m concerned that the State Department is allowing a Canadian oil company to illegally build and expand tar sands pipelines over the border without presidential permits or environmental reviews.
I want President Obama to make sure that the State Department follows the same rules for the Alberta Clipper and Line 3 tar sands pipelines that it required for Keystone XL.
These laws exist for a reason. They exist to make sure pipelines aren’t built or expanded unless they are proven to be in our national interest.
Enbridge is legally required to prove that its pipelines are in our national interest, and won’t put our water, our climate or our communities at risk. It knows that these pipelines are all risk and no reward — and so it’s trying to bypass the law altogether.
I care about stopping tar sands pipelines like these because ___________.
Please show your commitment to protecting our climate, our rivers, and our communities by stopping Big Oil’s illegal pipeline scheme.

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