Mohsen Abdelmoumen: The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, a Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil. Your fascinating book, a book that explains the issues related to geopolitics and the control of oil. In your opinion, what is the real weight of the oil lobby in the global political decision making process?
Charlotte Denett : The oil lobby has had an enormous negative influence on American policy, from skewing statistics on climate change to pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns (over 70% to Republicans) to influencing the media in order to obscure the role of oil in fomenting foreign interventions overseas. The American people have a general sense that the wars in the Middle East had something to do with oil, but do not know the specifics – something I have tried to redress in the The Crash of Flight 3804. We can thank Donald Trump for claiming that US forces were needed in [the sovereign state of] Syria to “protect our oil,” in eastern Syria. But that narrative was mostly ignored by the US press after President Biden recently ordered a military attack on an alleged Iranian outpost in Eastern Syria. A handful of Democratic congresspeople condemned the attacks, but meanwhile, the fossil fuel giants – e.g ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Total – continue to compete in the Great Game for Oil, most notably in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa, and unknown to most people
Why did the United States support the criminal war being waged by Saudi Arabia and its Emirati ally in Yemen?
By way of historical background, the US has been tethered to supporting Saudi Arabia ever since Standard Oil of California discovered the vast oil wealth of that country in 1938. For the next 7 decades, the US, through the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO) held an exclusive concession to Saudi oil – a factor that led to the rise of the US as a major world power, much to the resentment of former British and French colonial powers. In the process, the US has turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s horrendous human rights abuses, just as long as the kingdom assures the necessary security (along with Israel) in the region for the free flow of oil.
Both the US and Saudi Arabia – and its now-ally Israel — have longed feared Iran, as most Iranians see the US as the Great Satan for its role in the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh (who had nationalized the Iranian oil industry) and the repressive, pro-US Shah of Iran, who was overthrown by the Iranians in 1979. The Iranians are a proud people with long memories…and Iran has a lot of oil, which translated into making it a rival power in the Middle East, even as Iran has been sanctioned for holding Americans hostage for 400 days following the 197 seizure of the US embassy. Now Iran has powerful backers: Russia and China.
The US has supported the Saudi war in Yemen for several reasons, all having to do with oil. First and foremost, the US shares with Saudi Arabia (and its NATO allies) a concern about the “navigational safety” of oil shipments from Saudi Arabia in both the Red Sea (which borders the western side of the Arabian peninsula ) and The Gulf (which borders the eastern side and separates Saudi Arabia and Iran.) If you look at a map of Arabia, you will clearly see that oil tankers bound for Asia have to travel down the Red Sea. Yemen, which occupies the southernmost territory of the peninsula, lies adjacent to a narrow ‘chokepoint” called the Bab al Mandeb strait where the Red Sea empties out into the Gulf of Aden and from there, the Indian Ocean. On the opposite, eastern side, tankers leaving the Gulf must pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz to reach the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. These geographic facts makes Yemen a strategic region for all Western oil powers, which wish to control Yemen, like other strategic regions in the Middle East, at all costs.
Second, Yemen has large oil resources which, if developed without foreign intervention, would enhance the country’s power and influence in the Middle East and, together with Iran, make it a formidable force. In 2015, after Houthi rebels succeeded in overthrowing a Western backed dictator in Yemen, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmane sought a huge injection of arms from The US as the Houthis began advancing south toward Yemen’s oil rich territory of Marib. (In fact, the Houthis recently succeeded in conquering Marib) The Houthis are Shiites and are accused of being allied with Iran, which is also Shiite. Saudi Arabia is primarily a Sunni-run country, but the largest population of Shiites is around the country’s major oil holdings in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
Finally, one way of preventing a much feared Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz is to build a pipeline from eastern Saudi Arabia south through Yemen. Local Yemenis have opposed the pipeline, but it is being built. The pipeline would provide additional security in the wake of Houthi missile attacks against tankers in the Red Sea. The Saudi-Emirati bombings have tried to a) defeat the Houthis and b) safeguard the pipeline route for the Trans-Yemen pipeline, which has been protected, ironically, by Al -Qaeda forces.
What is your analysis of the French criminal intervention under the aegis of NATO in Libya?
Thanks to the Freedom of Information release of emails between Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and her confidante, Sidney Blumenthal, the Qaddafi government held “143 tons of gold…which was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar.” This plan, Blumenthal wrote, was designed to provide the Francophone African countries with an alternative to the French franc.” The gold, and equal amounts of silver were “valued at $7 billion” and became “one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attacks on Libya.” Needless to say, Sarkozy also wanted to “gain a greater share of Libya’s oil production,” to “increase French influence in North Africa” and to “provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world.”
Shouldn’t former French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron as well as NATO officials be tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Libya?
Yes, but will it happen? As I write, Sarkozy was recently convicted of corruption and as a result, sentenced to jail, a fact that was not lost on Americans who wait to see if charges will be brought against ex-President Trump for corruption and tax evasion. But convicting a former president for war crimes, whether in France, Britain, or the US, is less likely to happen. At least France is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, which the US is not.In the US, the Democrats can bring some measure of democratic reforms to address inequalities, etc. but when it comes to foreign policy, I learned long ago that you don’t mess with Empire. Or, I might add, its NATO allies. The Biden administration could not even bring itself to sanction Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his proven role in ordering the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Your very interesting book. The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encountered Along the Way. Can we ever hope to see a Western president like George Bush on trial for these multiple crimes in Iraq and elsewhere?
The answer is, sadly, no, at least not for the near future. When the impeachment trials of Donald Trump were underway, the US media pundits had long forgotten the crimes of George W. Bush and the fact that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had declared in 2008 that “impeachment [of Bush] is off the table” during the leadup to Obama’s election. When Obama was elected, prosecuting Bush was the number one issue on Obama’s website inviting citizens to express their wishes. But Obama soon nixed those hopes when he famously said “We must look forward, not backward.”
Most recently, Americans were disappointed again that Trump was not indicted in the second impeachment trial or prevented from running for office again…practically speaking because far- right Republicans in the US Senate had enough votes to acquit Trump. At least there was more scrutiny around why a sitting US president could not be prosecuted (according to a simple rule in the Department of Justice, which could be overturned.) But what president – Republican or Democrat — wants to risk getting prosecuted while in office? Once out of office, a former President can be prosecuted for crimes he committed while in office, provided the statute of limitations are not tolled. There is no statute of limitations for criminal negligence or murder, so perhaps one day both Bush and Trump could be prosecuted if enough concerned citizens with backbones get elected to Congress.
What can you tell us about the American occupation of the eastern provinces of Syria and the seizure of land for oil? Didn’t Daech serve American interests? Don’t you think that Daech and al-Qaeda are among the best allies of the United States?
One of the few things we can thank Trump for was his inartful statement that US troops had to remain in Syria to protect “our” oil. And just recently, the Biden administration ordered US planes to bomb that same eastern region, which is a complete violation of Syrian sovereignty.
The Pentagon concocted the usual pretext for this incident, ie countering terrorists, in this case: “Iranian-backed militias.” Yet the Iranians have been fighting Daech, America’s purported enemies, in Syria. In fact, what I reveal in Crash is that the US has used the existence of Daech and Al Qaeda forces as pretexts for sending troops back into Iraq and eastern Syria. (Many locals believe Daech was actually created by the US). Not only that, but Al Queda has been serving both US and Saudi interests in defending the trans-Yemen pipeline route in Yemen.
You are a great journalist, as well as an eminent jurist. You have a remarkable background. Why do you think the media does not inform citizens about issues as important as the ones you write about? Doesn’t the media serve an oligarchy, a minority of the powerful?
As the old saying go, freedom of press exists for those who own it. In the US, the corporate controlled media is apparently content with suppressing the role of oil in charting US foreign policy for one simple reason: oil, they have been led to believe, is a national security issue, because oil is the fuel of the military. This has been the case ever since then- First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill decided in 1911 to convert the British Navy’s fuel source from coal (of which Britain had plenty) to more efficient oil (of which Britain had none). Other countries followed suit. Churchill rightfully predicted that Great Britain would have to fight on a sea of troubles to get the oil. The prize of World War I was, in fact, the oil of Iraq. Most people don’t know there is an Iraq oil connection to the 1917 Balfour Declaration which paved the way for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Nor do they know that the famous San Remo Agreement of 1920 — which carved up the former Ottoman Empire into French and British mandates with terminal points for the Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline in Palestine and Lebanon – was once called the San Remo Agreement for Oil. Or that the Truman Doctrine of 1947 (declared two weeks before the crash of Flight 3804 that killed my father) was really devised not so much to fight communism in general, but to fight Russian influence in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Great Game goes on and on, largely hidden from public scrutiny, right up to this age of endless wars.
Can we speak of democracy when we see the media in the hands of the powerful and the judiciary incapable of judging white-collar thugs, corrupt and criminal politicians?
This is truly a problem, as addressed elsewhere.
In the course of your investigations, have you had specific information about the mysterious death of your father the master spy Dennett?
My father was America’s first master spy in the Middle East, working in counter-intelligence for the Central Intelligence Group [CIG], immediate predecessor of the CIA, at the time of his death in 1947.
Thanks to William Casey, a former officer for the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and CIA director under President Reagan, hundreds of thousands of OSS documents were declassified and turned over to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Casey believed they were important for establishing vital aspects of World War II history as long as they were not deemed a threat to national security. So I was able to obtain most of my father’s reports when he worked for the OSS. I also was able to find the “accident report” on the crash of Flight 3804. CIG papers are harder to get. So I sued the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act and was able to get hundreds of documents about my father declassified. Most of them were about routine personnel matters – salaries, travel vouchers, etc. But there were a few gems, one of which was my father’s “Analysis of Work” written in early 1944 as a sort of MOU about what he was to confront when posted to the Middle East later that spring.
His two biggest concerns, according to this document, were 1) protecting the oil of Saudi Arabia “at all costs” and 2 )also protecting US civilian air routes which had become highly competitive after the war. From the accident report and declassified documents, I learned that in March 1947 my father boarded Flight 3804 following a top-secret mission to Saudi Arabia to determine the best route for transporting Saudi oil through the Trans-Arabian pipeline to a terminal point on the Mediterranean: in either Palestine or Lebanon. From Jidda, Saudi Arabia. Flight 3804 headed for Ethiopia to carry top-secret radio equipment to Addis Ababa to be used by the newly formed Ethiopian Airlines, owned by the government but operated by TWA. My father and the US petroleum attaché were also planning to meet in Addis with officials of Sinclair Oil, which had gained an exclusive American concession to explore for oil and determine pipeline routes in Ethiopia. As with Saudi Arabia, the British were extremely angry about this – but so were the Soviets. Both countries tried to blunt the rise of US power in the region. I put all these geopolitical pieces together — as well as details from the “accident report” — to conclude that the crash of Flight 3804 before it reached Addis Ababa was no accident. As for “whodunit” I focused in on the one master spy who served both British and Soviet interests at the time. He was my father’s exact counterpart in counter-intelligence for the Middle East: Kim Philby, the most famous spy of the 20th Century, a cunning double agent who worked for the British but whose loyalty was with the Soviets. I have yet to prove he was personally involved in sabotaging Flight 3804, but continue my quest in light of a confession made to me by one of my father’s successors in the CIA: “We always thought it was sabotage but couldn’t prove it.”
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Charlotte Dennett?
Charlotte Dennett is a former Middle East reporter and an investigative journalist and attorney. She is the author of The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil (Chelsea Green, 2020), a personal narrative and historical investigation into the events leading to the death of her master-spy father, resulting in her discovery of the role of oil and pipelines in today’s endless wars. Her book is reviewed here by Toward Freedom. The book is in many ways the backstory to her 2008 race for attorney general in Vermont, pledging to prosecute George W. Bush for his illegal war in Iraq, described in The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice (Chelsea Green, 2010) . She is also the co-author with Gerard Colby of Thy Will Be Done. The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, (HarperCollins, 1995, updated in 2017 by openroadmedia).