The Trump administration is facing questions after a former CIA analyst and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote a blog post suggesting President Trump's $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is a sham.
"It's fake news," wrote Bruce Riedel on the website of the Brookings Institution.
"There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts," wrote Reidel, director of the Brookings Intelligence Project. "Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday."
Asked at the regular White House briefing whether any actual contracts were signed during Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, spokesman Sean Spicer said, "I believe so," but then quickly added, "That's something that you should follow up with the Department of Defense."
At the Pentagon, a spokesman referred inquiries about the specifics of the sales package to a fact sheet put together by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which coordinates foreign military sales along with the State Department.
The fact sheet refers to two broad categories of "defense capabilities" that are included in the package agreed to by Trump and Saudi King Salman: Foreign Military Sales Letters of Offer and Acceptance and a Memorandum of Intent for Saudi Arabia to buy potential future defense capabilities.
The fact sheet contains links to the Letters of Offer and Acceptance, LOAs, which accounted for $24 billion in weapons sales already approved during the Obama administration, some as far back as 2013. Those items included:
- $11.25 billion for four Lockheed Martin littoral combat ships and over 500 Sea Sparrow missiles
- $6.8 billion for over 3,100 missiles and bombs from Boeing and Raytheon
- $3.51 billion for 48 Boeing CH-47F Chinook helicopters
- $1.15 billion for 133 M1A2S Abrams battle tanks built by General Dynamics Land Systems and Hercules armored recovery vehicles
- $525 million for aerostat surveillance blimps
- $500 million in ammunition
That leaves $86 billion in the MOI category still to be explained. The fact sheet laid out the "intended sales" in broad categories: "border security and counterterrorism, maritime and coastal security, air force modernization, air and missile defense, and cybersecurity and communications upgrades."
"This is old news repackaged," Riedel said of the LOAs. "What the Saudis and the administration did is put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray that as a deal."
Riedel said that given the drop in oil revenues, the Saudis are struggling to meet the payments on weapons they bought in the past.
At the State Department, which must approve foreign military sales, a spokeswoman was equally fuzzy about whether any actual contracts were signed by the Saudis, describing the $110 billion package as an agreement to purchase "future defense capabilities under development."
"There are lots of companies involved," said Heather Nauert. "I can get you, certainly, a list of the companies who've been listed, and you can certainly reach out to them for details about their specific deals."
So far, the Trump administration has been unable to point to one new arms sales agreement that has been sent to the Congress for approval.