The Cable

Kerry presses Singapore on death of American

Secretary of State John Kerry urged his Singaporean counterpart this week to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies on the investigation into the suspicious death of American Shane Todd.

Todd was found hanging in the bathroom of his Singapore apartment last June, just days before he was planning to return to the United States. He had been working with the Institute of Microelectronics (IME), a research institution linked to the Singaporean government. Todd's parents, who believe he was murdered, retrieved a hard drive from his apartment they say shows Todd was worried Singapore was planning to share his highly sensitive research with Huawei, a firm many have alleged is closely tied to the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

The initial Singapore police autopsy report said that Todd's death was a suicide, according to a report in the Financial Times¸ but the Todd family said the autopsy report conflicted with what they found in Todd's apartment. Todd's parents also found an external hard drive that contained all of his research, including a plan for IME and Huawei to co-develop an amplifier device powered by gallium nitride (GaN), a durable semiconductor material that could also be applied to radar and satellite communications.

The Singapore police rejected the FBI's offers of assistance in the investigation for months, prompting the extensive intervention of Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). On Wednesday, Kerry raised the matter with Singaporean Foreign Minister K Shanmugam in their bilateral meeting, a State Department spokesman told The Cable.

"They discussed the case of Shane Todd's death in Singapore during their meeting," Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. "Secretary Kerry noted that the FBI and U.S. Embassy in Singapore continue their discussions with Singaporean authorities, and encouraged close cooperation going forward in the investigation."

State Department officials met with Todd's family in Washington on March 1, and Kerry met with Baucus on March 7 to discuss the case. The two men worked closely together in the Senate for many years.

"The senator asked the secretary to look into the Todd case, and the secretary agreed and is doing that, as discussed," Ventrell said.

Baucus also met with Shanmugan Wednesday and pledged to do "whatever it takes" to get to the bottom of what happened to Todd.

"Today's meeting is about getting answers -- getting complete answers. So far we've been unable to get the answers we need to know what happened to Shane Todd, and we are unable to know the degree to which there might be some breach of national security," Baucus said before the meeting.

Baucus has also met with the Todd family, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller, the Singaporean ambassador to the United States, and White House officials on the matter. On Thursday, Baucus and Sen. John Tester (D-MT) introduced a bill that would withhold a $500,000 DOD grant to IME until the FBI gets full access to the investigation file.

The Todd family wants the FBI to take the lead on the death investigation. After his meetings, Shanmugam extended an offer to have the FBI be involved and review all the evidence, but not take over the probe.

"The institute involved, the research institute, is subject to a very rigorous audit, and we are very happy for a U.S. team to come down and look at the project, and it will be very clear that there was no transfer of technology," he said.

Baucus said that was a step in the right direction, but not enough. "Singapore's promise to share all evidence with the FBI is a significant step forward and I appreciate the minister's time and attention to Shane's case, now we have to keep the pressure on to ensure that commitment is fulfilled -- the proof is in the pudding," he said.

Huawei's spokesperson in Washington, Francis Hopkins, provided an official statement to The Cable denying that Huawei was ever involved in Todd's project in IME, though acknowledging that cooperation was discussed.

"IME approached Huawei on one occasion to cooperate with them in the GaN field, but we decided not to accept, and consequently do not have any cooperation with IME related to GaN," the statement said. "Huawei's global R&D and sales relate only to telecommunications solutions for civil and commercial use. Huawei does not do military equipment or technology nor do we discuss it with partners."

The Cable

Report: Syrian regime being aided from 12 countries

Entities from at least a dozen countries are helping supply the Syrian regime and military with various levels of support, enabling the Syrian government's war machine to continue functioning, according to a new report by Human Rights First, a New York and Washington-based NGO.

"President Obama has made stopping mass atrocities a ‘core national security interest' of the United States, which manifestly applies to Syria. As neighboring countries struggle to absorb the nearly one million refugees and regional powers become more involved in the conflict, the possibility of wider violence and instability looms," the report reads. "Amid calls to arm the rebels, we urge the United States to approach the conflict from the other end: to choke off the flow of arms, resources, and money to Assad." 

The report was released in conjunction with Friday's two-year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian uprising, which has now cost as many as 80,000 innocent lives, destroyed the Syrian economy, and displaced millions of Syrians inside and outside the country.

Human Rights First compiled data and first-hand accounts over several months to detail the sources of various types of support for the Syrian regime -- sources that go way beyond Iran and Russia, the Assad government's chief external backers. Here are some highlights:

  • Russia has provided military equipment, military advisors, diesel fuel, gasoil, and financial assistance 
  • Iran has provided military equipment, advisors, and personnel, diesel fuel, and financial assistance
  • North Korea has provided missile technology, other arms, and technical assistance 
  • Venezuela and Angola have sent, or contracted to send, diesel fuel
  • Private entities in Georgia, Lebanon, and Cyprus have reportedly sent or attempted to send diesel fuel 
  • An oil trader in South Africa brokered Angola's fuel deal with Syria
  • A trader in the UAE provided Internet filtering devices made by California's Blue Coat Systems, Inc
  • Italy's Finmeccanica provided radio technology and technical assistance through the Syrian unit of Intracom-Telecom, a Greek company
  • Italy's Area SpA provided an Internet surveillance system, which relied on technology from California's NetApp Inc. and Hewlett Packard, France's Qosmos SA, and Germany's Ultimaco Safeware AG 

The report notes that the supply chain supporting Assad passes through the legal jurisdictions of several countries where the United States has influence, and that several of the ships used to supply the Syrian regime fly flags of countries that are U.S. allies.

"Given its relationships with these countries -- as well as its political, economic, and military reach -- the United States is particularly well positioned to disrupt the supply chains," the report stated. "U.S. officials could and should enlist these countries in a systematic effort to deny Assad the support that is enabling atrocities." 

Najib Ghadbian, the special representative to the United States from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, endorsed the report in a statement to The Cable.

"The international community should heed the Human Rights First report and take action to reduce the violence in Syria by cutting off the regime's capacity for destruction," he said. "Human Rights First has demonstrated that several actors in the international community still provide the regime with funds and means to orchestrate their violent campaign with impunity." 

At Friday's State Department briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland noted the anniversary of the beginning of the revolution and said that the people of Syria are in dire straits, but she defended the administration's policy, which has amounted to limited sanctions and humanitarian aid to both regime-controlled areas and parts of the opposition.

"I think nobody is satisfied with where we are in Syria, which is why the secretary [of state John Kerry], when he went to Rome for a meeting of the Friends of Syria and to meet with Syrian Opposition Coalition President [Moaz] Al-Khatib, encouraged everyone to do more," Nuland said. "And in fact, we are doing more on our own side, and as he said during the trip, we believe that the totality of increased effort by the international community ought to begin to make a difference into Assad's calculation."

In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the administration's policy as reinforcing "a dangerous and unfair fight" in which the Syrian government receives lots of international military support and the opposition struggles to defend civilians from the regime's onslaught.

"As the United States and the international community stand idle, the consequences are clear. Syria will become a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, threatening both our ally Israel and our NATO ally Turkey. With or without Assad, the country will continue devolve into a full-scale civil war that is increasingly sectarian, repressive, and unstable," he said.

"Meantime, more and more ungoverned space will come under the control of al Qaeda and its allies," McCain said. "Violence and radicalism will spill even more into Lebanon and Iraq, fueling sectarian conflicts that are still burning in both countries. Syria will turn into a battlefield between Sunni and Shia extremists, each backed by foreign powers, which will ignite sectarian tensions from North Africa to the Gulf and risk a wider regional conflict. This is the course we are on in Syria, and in the absence of international action, the situation will only get worse."