Iran deal advocate was on payroll of Boeing, which profited from deal

A paid consultant for Boeing advocated for the Iran nuclear deal without revealing his ties to the aircraft maker and its vested interest in the deal’s success.

Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador to Israel, was one of the most persistent advocates for the sanctions relief for nuclear rollback deal, testifying before Congress and writing Op-Eds.

Pickering told the Daily Beast on Wednesday that he was employed by Boeing from 2001-2006, was a consultant from 2006-2015, and that the firm where he is now a principal, Hills & Company International Consultancy, took over the consultancy last year. It was not clear if the firm is still a consultant for Boeing.

The Daily Beast could not find evidence that Pickering revealed his relationship with Boeing while pronouncing on the deal in the media or while testifying before Congress.

The deal mostly frees third parties that deal with Iran from U.S. sanctions, but keeps in place most bans on U.S. entities dealing with Iran. An exception is Boeing, which is to sell civilian aircraft to Iran, reportedly to the tune of $25 billion.

Iran wanted the Boeing component of the deal because its civilian airplanes are outmoded and have suffered multiple crashes in recent years.

Israeli airline El Al in talks to buy, lease 15 Boeing Dreamliners for $800-900 mil

El Al Israel Airlines said on Wednesday it was opening talks with Boeing to buy and lease up to 15 new Dreamliner aircraft over the next five years in a deal that could be worth $800-$900 million, its biggest-ever plane order.

The airline said delivery of the new fuel-efficient 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft would begin in the first half of 2017 through 2020. The planes will replace a fleet of ageing 747-400 and 767 aircraft and will operate on medium- and long-haul routes, including lucrative North American and Asian destinations.

“El Al's board today authorised the company to hold talks with Boeing over the acquisition of wide-body Dreamliner aircraft for the purchase and lease of 15 planes in the next five years,” chief executive David Maimon said in a statement.

El Al said it expects the talks to be completed in the next few weeks and the final price would depend on how many planes it ends up buying.

In addition to the $800-$900 million order, El Al, which has been active in buying short-haul 737-900 aircraft, has an option to acquire 13 other aircraft from Boeing but it did not elaborate.

The Israeli flag carrier – which has an all-Boeing fleet – said in May that its net loss narrowed in the first quarter as it increased its market share, flew more passengers and benefited from a stronger dollar and lower fuel prices.

Its market share at its Ben-Gurion International Airport base rose to 35.4 percent from 33.3 percent in 2014 but in recent years El Al has been losing share to foreign airlines in a highly competitive market.

U.S. to sell Saudis $30 billion in combat aircraft

The United States will sell Saudi Arabia $30 billion in combat aircraft and upgrades.

“This agreement includes production of 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as munitions, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics,” a statement from the White House said Thursday. “These F-15SA aircraft, manufactured by The Boeing Company, are among the most sophisticated and capable aircraft in the world.”

The statement appeared to cast the sale against growing tensions with Iran, an enemy of Saudi Arabia and a threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.

“This agreement reinforces the strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a strong Saudi defense capability as a key component to regional security,” it said.

The Obama administration notified Congress of the planned sale in 2010.

Nearly 200 Congress members wrote the Obama administration in November, 2010, raising, among other concerns, the potential of the sale to narrow Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In response, according to a Congression Research Service report, the administration said it was selling Israel F-35s, the Joint Strike Fighter. The CRS report said that when the planes are delivered, they “would maintain Israel’s status as having the most advanced fighter aircraft in the region.”

The Obama administration offered Israel additional advanced fighter aircraft last year as part of a bid to get Israel to freeze settlement building and lure the Palestinians back to peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ultimately turned down the offer.

Contaminant Fouls Well at Brandeis

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has instructed Boeing to determine if high levels of a contaminant used in rocket fuel and found on property owned by the Brandeis-Bardin Institute (BBI) came from the company’s Rocketdyne testing site located nearly a mile away.

Perchlorate, a predominately man-made chemical used to make solid-fuel propellants for rockets, missiles and fireworks, was first detected at the Jewish retreat center in water samples taken by the Ventura County Water Department during a surprise spot check in late February. The samples, taken from the Bathtub No. 1 well, located in the southeastern part of the institute, revealed a contaminant level of 82 parts per billion — more than 20 times higher than the state action level for perchlorate in drinking water (4 ppb).

While the well has never been used for drinking water, according to Brandeis leaders, further sampling conducted by DTSC over the past few months — including samples taken from the same well on May 30 indicating a level of 140 ppb and 150 ppb, and samples on June 11 with 39 ppb and 36 ppb — prompted the state agency to launch an investigation.

According to a letter sent by DTSC to Boeing on June 23, the company has until Aug. 18 to develop a work plan describing measures to be taken to investigate the potential migration of perchlorate contamination from its Santa Susana field laboratory to offsite areas, such as the Brandeis-Bardin property.

Specifically, the company will be required to install new wells, retrofit existing wells, review all existing hydrology data, assess available remediation technologies and conduct detailed geologic mapping and aerial photography.

"There are two possible ways we’re looking at that perchlorate could have left the [Rocketdyne] site," said David Bacharowski, of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. "One is surface water runoff, and the other is groundwater moving away from the property."

Bacharowski noted that perchlorate can be found in anything from matches to car airbags. He said that human exposure to the chemical affects the iodine absorption in the thyroid gland, which is particularly dangerous to fetuses.

Rocketdyne officials said they were surprised by the discovery, because they have been monitoring Bathtub No. 1, in addition to 10 other wells on the Brandeis property, as part of their groundwater testing program for the past six years.

"It’s a new piece of data, and the wells between our site and this particular well have always remained clean," said Blythe Jameson, spokesperson at Rocketdyne’s environmental communications office. "It’s inconsistent with everything we’ve seen."

This is not the first time that Rocketdyne and its Jewish neighbor have had a problem involving water. In 1997, Boeing settled a BBI lawsuit that accused the aerospace firm of letting its research into rocket engines and nuclear reactors foul the groundwater, ultimately lowering the institute’s property value.

BBI leaders said it is premature to consider pressing charges and that their primary focus is on the health and safety of campers and staff. The well sites have been fenced off from campers and livestock and the institute does not use its well water for any purpose. All drinking water at BBI and throughout Simi Valley comes from a metropolitan water supply.

Parents have been educated about the wells and do not seem very concerned about the recent perchlorate discovery, according to Ivan Wolkind, BBI operations director.

"I was surprised at how few parent calls we received," Wolkind said. "I think that a lot of parents here know about this particular well."

Wolkind said the institute has had a long-standing relationship with the water board, and that he plans to cooperate with a request from the agency requiring the institute to submit a technical report containing historical and current information about the site. According to the June 23 letter, the report will be "used to determine if site-specific source[s] of the groundwater pollution exist at [the] site."

Helen Zukin, Brandeis board chair, discounted any suggestion that the chemical is a product of materials used at the camp.

"Those wells are being tested on a regular basis by DTSC, and what they find periodically is always some byproduct of what Rocketdyne has been doing, but Brandeis is unaffected," Zukin said.

She said the water situation will not deter the institute’s recent plans for expansion, including current efforts between Brandeis and the National Center for Jewish Environmental and Nature Education to convert one of the canyons on the property into a self-contained learning environment.

In addition to BBI, perchlorate was also found at three or four other Simi Valley wells not used for drinking water supplies. Water board officials said that all the wells are adjacent to gasoline stations, and that the contamination can probably be linked to leaky underground storage tanks.

The agency will conduct ongoing testing throughout Simi Valley, and wells at BBI will now be monitored on a quarterly basis.