[ Editor’s Note: Henry Kamens gives us, as usual, an unreported aspect of the Turkey-ISIL oil smuggling operation, where all roads, or pipelines, often end up in the shadowy Republic of Georgia. VT has long reported how oil testing is one of the main defenses of fraud in oil deals.
It works better for shipping tankers, defending against scams like having lower grade cheaper oil mixed in with a better one while at sea. Testing on arrival would catch this.
But pipelines are more complicated due to the mixing of oil going into it. And as Henry mentions below, repair scams can move oil through a pipeline with no records being left behind to trace it.
Your larger Intel agencies know how to do all of this stuff like the backs of their hands as they often need large amounts of laundered money to perform their work. The produces a stream of retirees who have learned these scams to supplement their retirements as scamster consultants.
Ergodgan will need a major trick to save the family oil scamming business. Much will depend on how tight the paperwork was, what certain Intel agencies know that they can release, and can threatening to do this pressure Erdogan on some geopolitical issues that have created some major problems. I am sure we are going to be learning more…Jim W. Dean ]
– First published … December 11, 2015 –
Before oil is sold, it is tested. Oil test labs know exactly where the oil they test comes from and where it goes. We knew this even before the Las Vegas Sun broke a story about it.
But even though this story provided confirmation that there is no mystery about the oil sales funding ISIS, or the mechanism behind them, it hasn’t prevented these sales and transports continuing. This is because the logistics behind them are so sophisticated, and overseen at such a high level, that it is very difficult to isolate and expose the weak links in the chain.
When Bob Woodward of Watergate fame investigated drug use in Hollywood for a biography he found it more difficult to get to the truth than he had with Watergate, because the film industry closed ranks. Imagine how hard it is to expose what world governments are doing to support terrorism, when they try so hard to pretend they are doing the opposite. But maybe, just maybe, enough fingers are pointing in one direction to make it easier for other players to find an alternative, and sacrifice an ally along the way.
Would-be emperor with no clothes
We don’t know all the players involved in the transport and sale of ISIS oil. Inevitably, many are actually reputable oil testing and transport companies who go through the same procedures every day without them being called into question. But a few names which keep cropping up are a bit less than reputable, largely due to the concerns over their existing connections and how they maintain the bottom line.
One of these is Genel Energy Plc. This is one of the Rothschild companies, which should start alarm bells ringing in itself. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, we can say that it has made vast investments in Syria and Northern Iraq and it would make more business sense if it could deal with one compliant government in these countries rather than two unreliable ones. Taking a less charitable line, we can suggest, as some pundits have, that there has long been a Rothschild plan to create a Kurdish state for this purpose, and it was in the works even before the 9/11 attacks.
However, no one is going to sacrifice the Rothschilds, who can buy and sell any country on earth, and through investing in military actions. So if one of the players has to be cut out for being an embarrassment, it would have to be one the West already has plenty against.
This is where, once again, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan comes in. He and his clan have made a lot of money by abusing their authority to become major components in this business. But if anyone has to take a fall to keep the operation running, they are the prime targets, and they know it.
Divorce of convenience
Turkey is a US ally because of where it is. It may be under constant disapproval for being everything the West claims to oppose, but as long as it is useful that doesn’t matter, unless, of course, you have the misfortune to live there.
One of Turkey’s most useful features is its ports – or rather, certain ports not actually in Turkey. Under the Treaty of Kars, signed in 1921, the area now known as the Adjarian Autonomous Region was ceded by the transitional Turkish state to the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, one clause of that agreement states that Turkey has the right to transport goods in and out of the port of Batumi without paying any duties and can use the port whenever it wants without paying any duties. In effect, this means it retains control of Batumi’s port facilities, and can classify them as a “strategic interest”.
This arrangement has several useful aspects. Firstly, the Georgian authorities cannot police the port. Turkey can do whatever it wants there, transporting goods which would be too risky to move elsewhere, and Georgia’s best bet is to claim a piece of the inevitable action. Secondly, as the port is a “strategic interest” any threat to it can be met with a military response, under another clause of the Kars treaty. Get too close, Turkey sends troops in, you risk World War Three over some dodgy goods.
Thirdly, the port was once in the Soviet Union and is now very close to Russia. People, as well as goods, can be smuggled through it, and this has created the smoke-and-mirrors world Batumi presents today, in which no one knows who really controls what. It has long been known as a can of worms best steered clear of, and this is the advice routinely given to reporters, diplomats, businessmen and even Black Sea holidaymakers who get too close to something they aren’t even aware of.
The nature of this port operation was confirmed in 2007. In that year Georgia embarked on an investigation into alleged Russian spies in its Ministry of Defence, including links to Saybolt Georgia. This was conducted with the help of Turkish and Israeli intelligence, but focused not of the Georgian MoD itself but on Batumi, where a thorough investigation was done into everything no one else is allowed to get near. It goes deeper than that … but let’s start with pipeline wars and all kinds of intrigue for the record.
It was later alleged that Russia had set up a spying facility in Batumi, disguised as an oil testing laboratory. But that would have nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence. The ministry’s name had been used to justify bringing in outside intelligence services for another purpose, Georgia having its own intelligence service, which calls in the CIA, not Turkey and Israel, when it wants extra help. So several of the managers of Saybolt Georgia, Armen Gevorkian, director and Ruben Shikoian, his deputy were arrested based on trumped up spy charges. The purpose was to secure actual control of oil exports from Georgia, and this was done in collaboration with Turkish intelligence—as now there would be no oversight.
When the long-preplanned Georgia-Russia war came the following year some regional analysts wondered why Georgia’s largest seaport was not being bombed by Russian planes. Israel is, of course, always seeking friendly terms with Russia as well as being a US ally, and secures a regular supply of oil through Batumi. They also asked why the war only lasted eight days, despite the Western protestations of support for Georgia. Turkey’s behind-the-scenes reminders of its right to intervene to protect its interests, and the disruption this would cause to global oil supplies, go a long way to explaining this.
So it is hardly surprising, given this background, that influential people in the Turkish state use the port for their own purposes. These include the son of President Erdogan. Bilal Erdogan owns the BMZ group, a marine transport company. Of all the companies he might own, this is the one he considers the most useful and unimpeachable.
Both Russia and Syria have openly accused the Erdogan family of transporting undocumented crude oil deriving from ISIS. Russia has also stated that the shooting down of its plane was retaliation for Russia bombing truckloads of oil supplies near the Syrian border.
Obviously the Erdogans deny all this. But Turkey is known to have smuggled Kurdish crude oil through another port, Ceyhan, for years. That port is state-owned. It is also Turkish state policy to support the Syrian opposition through oil sales, alongside the Western powers who arm, fund and train them, and therefore a state-controlled oil smuggling mechanism must exist and be part of a wider Western oil supply operation.
Turkey is serving a purpose, in exchange for the usual payoffs. But maybe the gravy train is about to come to an end. It is possible for test labs to tell exactly where the oil came from. Exactly!
Proof of the pudding
All the information now being released in the Western media conveniently smears Turkey. It is not the only country involved of course. But it is the one which will suffer most when the West tries to continue its game by investigating the allegations which are now being made.
When oil tankers arrive at their destinations the oil they carry can be retested. If results are falsified in Batumi or elsewhere, this will be picked up later on. At the moment the BTC oil pipeline, which passes through Batumi and Ceyhan (the ‘B’ and ‘C’ of its name) does not keep backup samples after testing, which suggests that some of the oil going through it is not what it is purported to be. But this must have been exposed elsewhere, by end users who may now be being given the signal that to maintain their existing supplies, it is in their interests to say what they know.
After all, this process has been gone through before. One of the oil testing labs in Batumi was once run in collaboration with a company called Saybolt Georgia. It parent company, based in The Netherlands, has a sordid history, having been implicated in Food for Oil deals with Iraq between 1996 and 2003.
Saybolt was set up as a scapegoat by US testing company Intertek Caleb Brett, working with US and Turkish intelligence. These parties raised no objection when it hired the son of Alex Bakradze, the former Head of State Security for former Adjarian ruler Aslan Abashidze. When the time came, Caleb Brett dropped the word and it was reported that Saybolt wasn’t all it presented itself as. Saying it was obliged to investigate its own allegations, it discovered that the head of the testing had had no qualifications whatsoever and removed several staff for having failed drug tests, which were of course undertaken in-house.
Thereafter Saybolt’s history revealed, and its connection with Bakradze and the reviled regime his father worked for made public knowledge. Caleb Brett did not pretend this was anything other than a plot: one of its management told one of the dismissed employees, “I can continue to list all non-conformities in QHSE/Compliance, Georgian Branch to explain the departure of one testing employee who was terminated and to share it with the media”.
It is no coincidence that both the BTC pipeline and the smaller Baku-Supsa pipeline are often down for repairs. The oil is merely abstracted from the point at which the repairs are being made, usually before it arrives to Georgian pumping station number 2, and sold on to third parties who use other routes controlled by the same logistics mechanism, off the books. Employing incompetents appears, on the surface, to give a very good reason for undertaking repairs. The repairs themselves also involve filling the pipeline with oil which has not been documented or tested, as theoretically, it isn’t being sent there, until the next political realignment of the logistics arrangements needs to take place.
Ignorance is not bliss
Few would shed tears if the Erdogan family were brought down by oil testing as the case study shows in Georgia. Turkey would likewise present itself as cleansed of its rotten apples, with the same vigour the US displays when distancing itself from Richard Nixon, whose many crimes were not only known about but encouraged by many of those who vilify him today. Then it would continue as an ally on new terms, and we would be told that its ISIS-funding past had been forgotten.
The mechanism for doing this is there, as Caleb Brett tests everything which passes through the BTC pipeline and always has. It has enough knowledge to bring Turkey’s leadership down overnight, and the information we are now receiving indicates that it is interested in doing this. It would also implicate itself of course, and its US and Turkish intelligence partners, if the full extent of its institutional knowledge was revealed. But only the discredited Turks will reveal it, while the international logistics mechanism will be subtly rejigged, with different players, and supplies of ISIS oil to the West, which suit both parties, will continue.
Insider sources claim that these same companies, and players, are tied in with the tankers used today in the smuggling of ISIS oil, and that nexus will give us the link with a group of Georgians working out of the Ukrainian port of Odessa, including former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvii.
When Jimmy Carter was US president he made a number of public addresses about energy, including his famous “malaise” speech. He eventually stopped doing it because the American people were no longer listening. You can get away with a lot if people aren’t really interested in what you’re doing. The progressive exposure of the Erdogan family’s oil smuggling for ISIS will bring down an ally which has pushed its luck too far, but that, rather than what they have done, will be the story.
The actual oil smuggling, and devastation it funds and causes, continue because none of us care enough to stop it. But that is no excuse for cynically exploiting the fact to destroy your own allies, simply because you have the power to do so.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.