This is really just a classical limited hangout, despite the title. It relies upon this paper by George Kiourktsoglou, Lecturer in Maritime Security and former Royal Dutch Shell strategist, and Dr Alec Coutroubis, Acting Head at the Faculty of Engineering and Science, published by Maritime Security Review in March – RB
Key allies in the UKUSA-led war on ISIS are covertly financing the terrorist movement, according to senior political sources in the region. UKUSA oil companies are heavily invested in the murky geopolitical triangle sustaining ISIS’ black market oil sales. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and Turkish military intelligence have both supported secret ISIS oil smuggling operations and even supplied arms to the terror group, according to Kurdish, Iraqi and Turkish officials. One British oil company in particular, Genel Energy, is contracted by the KRG to supply oil for a major Kurdish firm accused of facilitating ISIS oil sales to Turkey. The Kurdish firm has close ties to the Iraqi Kurdish government. Genel operates in the KRG with the backing of the British government, and is also linked to a British parliamentary group with longstanding connections to both the British and KRG oil industries. The relationship between British and Kurdish energy companies, and senior British politicians, raises questions about conflicts of interest, especially in the context of trhe GWOT which is currently supposed to be targeting ISIS, not financing it.
One of ISIS’ most significant sources of revenue is oil smuggling. ISIS controls approximately 60% of Syria’s oil, and seven major oil-producing assets in Iraq. Using a carefully cultivated network of intermediaries and ‘middlemen’ in the Kurdish region of Iraq, as well as in Turkey, ISIS has been able to produce a phenomenal 45 kb/d, raking in as much as $3m/day in cash by selling the oil at well below market prices. But the sheer scale and impunity of this oil smuggling network has caused local politicians to ask whether certain officials in the KRG and Turkey are turning a blind eye to these operations. Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish officials have accused both the KRG and Turkish governments of deliberately allowing some of these smuggling operations to take place. Tensions between the KRG and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad are escalating over who controls production and revenues from oil fields within the Kurdish region. Kurdish officials see the oil within the Kurdish-controlled territory of Iraq as a means to seek greater autonomy, if not potentially total independence, from Baghdad, whereas the Iraqi government seeks to ensure it retains sovereign control over all sales from its own oil fields, which include those in the KRG. Those tensions reached a crescendo when the KRG began unilaterally selling oil by exporting it to Turkey, bypassing Baghdad.
KRG and Turkish authorities vehemently deny any role in intentionally facilitating ISIS oil sales. Both governments have taken measures to crackdown on smuggling operations, and US and UK authorities work closely with the KRG to identify ISIS smuggling routes. Despite KRG arrests of Kurdish ‘middlemen’ involved in the ISIS black market oil sales, evidence continues to emerge that these measures are largely piecemeal, and have failed to address corruption at the highest levels. According to a senior source in the Iraqi government’s ruling Islamic Dawa Party, Pindosi and Iraqi authorities have developed “significant intelligence confirming that elements of the KRG have tacitly condoned ISIS oil sales on the black market.” The source, which has direct access to top Iraqi government officials, said that the KRG had originally seen the ISIS invasion of Iraq as an opportunity to consolidate Kurdish control over disputed territory, especially the oil-rich region of Kirkuk. The Kurds had not, however, anticipated how powerful ISIS’ presence in the region would become. In the early period of the invasion last year, he said:
Elements of the KRG and Peshmerga militia directly facilitated secret ISIS oil smuggling through the Kurdish province. This was known to the Pindosis, which shared intelligence on the matter with the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
The issue inflamed tensions between Baghdad and the KRG, contributing to efforts by Hussein al-Shahrestani, then Iraq’s deputy prime minister for energy affairs, to crackdown on independent Kurdish oil exports. His successor, new oil minister Adel Abd’ul-Mehdi, was brought in through a reshuffle in September last year that was engineered under Pindosi diplomatic pressure. Unlike Shahrestani, the source said, Abd’ul-Mehdi has a much more conciliatory approach to the Kurdish oil question, one which also happens to suit the interests of UKUSA investors in the KRG:
This has meant that Baghdad has also been much more lax on evidence of ISIS oil smuggling through the KRG.
The source confirmed that, under mounting Pindo pressure:
KRG authorities have taken serious steps to curb the illegal smuggling on behalf of ISIS. But the smuggling still continues, although at a more restrained level, with the support of elements of KRG’s ruling parties, who profit from the black market oil sales.
Turkey also plays a crucial role in the ISIS oil smuggling operations according to the Iraqi source. As the end-point through which much of this oil reaches global markets, Turkish authorities have routinely turned a blind eye to the IS-run black market. “The Turks have an acrimonious relationship with the Pindosis,” he claimed, but he admitted that Pindo intelligence is familiar with Turkey’s role, saying:
Pindosi intelligence is monitoring many of these smuggling operations in minute detail. Some of this intelligence has been passed on to us. The Pindosis know what is going on. But Erdogan and Obama don’t have a great relationship. Erdogan basically does what he likes, and Pindostan has to lump it.
The allegations have been confirmed by Turkish government officials and parliamentarians. In particular, a source with extensive connections to the Turkish political establishment, including the office of the Prime Minister, said that Turkey’s support for the rebels began long before the emergence of ISIS, and was pivotal in the group’s meteoric rise to power. Turkey has been integral to the region’s ‘moderate’ rebel training schemes, supervised by Western military intelligence agencies. But, said the source.
Turkey is playing a double game with its Syria strategy. Turkey has sponsored Islamist groups in Syria, including ISIS, since the beginning, and continues to do so. The scale of ISIS smuggling operations across the Turkish-Syrian border is huge, and much of it is facilitated with the blessings of Erdogan and Davitoglu, who see the Islamists as the means to expand the Turkish foothold in the region.
Asked how this fits with recent Turkish operations to shut down ISIS smuggling operations and target ISIS strongholds across the border, the source described the actions as too little, too late. He said:
These actions fit with Erdogan’s strategy of expansion. We are not trying to shut down the infrastructure of ISIS. We are attacking it selectively.
The ISIS oil smuggling route, which encompasses the KRG and ends up at the Turkish port of Ceyhan, was recently investigated by two British academics at the University of Greenwich. The paper by George Kiourktsoglou, Lecturer in Maritime Security and former Royal Dutch Shell strategist, and Dr Alec Coutroubis, Acting Head at the Faculty of Engineering and Science, attempted to identify suspicious patterns in the illicit oil trade. Their extraordinary study, published by Maritime Security Review in March, examined the international route used by ISIS, based on “a string of trading hubs” comprising the localities of Sanliura, Urfa, Hakkari, Siirt, Batman, Osmaniya, Gaziantep, Sirnak, Adana, Kahramarmaras, Adiyaman and Mardin. “The string of trading hubs ends up in Adana, home to the major tanker shipping port of Ceyhan.” By comparing spikes in tanker charter rates from Ceyhan with a timeline of ISIS activities, the University of Greenwich analysis identified significant correlations between the two. The researchers write:
Whenever ISIS fights in the vicinity of an area hosting oil assets, the exports from Ceyhan promptly spike. This may be attributed to an extra boost given to crude oil smuggling, with the aim of immediately generating additional funds. While the evidence is still inconclusive at this stage, there are strong hints to an illicit supply chain that ships ISIS crude from Ceyhan to global markets. Since the launch of the ISIS oil venture in summer 2014, tanker charter rates from Ceyhan recoupled up to a degree with the ones from the rest of the Middle East. Though it’s impossible to be categorical, primary research including interviews with informed sources indicates that this was most likely the result of boosted demand for ultra-cheap smuggled crude, available for loading” from the Turkish port.
Kiourktsoglu and Coutroubis call for “further research” on ISIS criminal ventures which “can potentially integrate it within the global economy.” The academics have previously given evidence before the parliamentary foreign affairs select committee regarding maritime security off the Somalian coast. Their study also highlights failures in the Pindosi military approach to the ISIS oil operations. Although they commend how Pindo, Turkish and Gulf air raids have “curtailed” ISIS’ “oil cashflows” by destroying some “oil manufacturing facilities,” this has not gone far enough. They report:
“… extraction wells in the area of bombardments have yet to be targeted by Pindostan or the air assets of its allies, a fact that can be readily attributed to the at times ‘toxic’ politics in the Middle East. Despite large convoys of trucks transporting ISIS oil through government-controlled areas in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, allied Pindosi air raids do not target the truck lorries out of fear of provoking a backlash from locals. As a result, the transport operations are being run efficiently, taking place most of times in broad daylight.
Evidence already in the public record corroborates the allegations of the Iraqi and Turkish sources, showing that corruption is endemic at both the origin and end-points of the ISIS smuggling route. Informed observers inside and outside Turkey have accused the Turkish government of turning a blind eye to the smuggling of oil across the Syrian-Turkish border in its commitment to bringing down the Assad regime. Prosecutor and witness testimony in Turkish courts revealed that in late 2013 and 2014, Turkish military intelligence had supplied arms to areas in Syria under Islamist rebel control, contributing directly to the rise of ISIS. Turkish opposition MP Ali Ediboglu last year said that some $800m worth of ISIS oil had been smuggled into Turkey. He also said that over a thousand Turkish nationals were helping foreign fighters join ISIS in Syria and Iraq through Turkish territory. Both, he alleged, are occurring with the knowledge and involvement of Turkish military intelligence.
In Jul 2014, Iraqi officials revealed that when ISIS had begun selling oil extracted from the northern province of Salah’ud-Din, “the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped the sale of oil at first, but later allowed tankers to transfer and sell oil.” Three months later, a KRG Interior Ministry document leaked to the Kurdish media outlet Rudaw showed that a former opposition MP, Burhan Rashid, had accused KRG institutions of facilitating the flow of funds and arms to ISIS militants in Iraq. Rashid is recorded as saying:
A Kurdish political party in Erbil has supplied the ISIS militants with weapons and ammunition in exchange for oil.
The document revealed that the KRG chief public prosecutor had secretly prepared a lawsuit against Rashid for making the allegations. The lawsuit, which apparently went nowhere, was an obvious effort to silence criticism. By January, however, an investigative committee led by the KRG interior minister and natural resources minister had largely corroborated Rashid’s allegations. Kurdish parliamentary sources familiar with the final report of the committee, which remains secret, told Rudaw the report had confirmed:
… a number of officials from the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Peshmerga have been involved in the illegal trade.
Half a year later, the identities of officials investigated remain undisclosed, and no one has been charged, tried or sentenced. The KRG’s UK office did not respond to a request for comment. Instead, a couple of months after the committee had reached its conclusions, evidence emerged that the Nokan Group, a major Kurdish company with close ties to the KRG, had been directly facilitating ISIS oil sales. In a letter to the Nokan Group, Mark Wallace, a former Pindo ambassador to the UN under Bush 43, wrote in the letter dated Mar 20 2015:
There are credible reports that some Kurdish entities are in fact facilitating the ISIS-related oil trade. Specifically, certain Kurdish companies are reportedly contracted to transport refined fuel from the ISIS-controlled Baiji refinery, north of Tikrit, Iraq, for delivery throughout the Kurdish region by Sulaymaniyah province authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan, in the north-eastern region of Iraq. Trucks owned or operated by Meer Soma, a subsidiary of the Nokan Group, are being used to transport refined petroleum products from ISIS-controlled refineries to Kurdish entities in or near Kirkuk. According to the Kurdish press, Meer Soma is among several Nokan-controlled dummy companies operating on behalf of the group, to avoid public association with the parent firm.
According to a 2012 country report by the Paris-based business intelligence agency MarcoPolis, the Nokan Group is among the largest companies in the province, and “has interests” in Meer Soma. In 2014, the same year that photographs of Meer Soma tankers transporting ISIS oil to Kurdish refineries were published online, the Nokan subsidiary’s website was deleted. Ambassador Wallace’s letter has generated little more than silence. No response from the Nokan Group was received by Wallace. The Nokan Group could not be reached for comment. Copies of the letter were sent to relevant Congressional committees, as well as John Smith, Acting Director of the Pindo Treasury Dept’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The Treasury did not respond to queries about what was done to investigate the allegations. Even a spokesperson for Ambassador Wallace’s so-called Counter Extremism Project, on behalf of which the letter was sent, declined to comment when asked to clarify the follow-up from Pindo authorities.
The Nokan Group is a conglomerate of companies owned and controlled by the Iraqi Kurdish political party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is one of the KRG’s ruling parties alongside the majority KDP. >The Kurdistan Tribune reports that Nokan is run from the general management office of the PUK in Sulaymani district. The newspaper estimates that, accounting for its 23 subsidiary companies, the Nokan Group’s net worth approaches roughly $4b to $5b, many multiples larger than its declared value. The Tribune points out that the PUK business model is representative of private enterprise across the KRG, rife with corruption and nepotism, largely for the enrichment of political elites and their allies. The paper observes:
The economic model in Kurdistan monopolises the market for the benefit of a few and poisons the environment for small and medium enterprises.
A lengthy report in The Nation found that the KRG’s patronage system was alienating and disenfranchising much of the population:
Many of the most profitable companies, such as those controlling construction projects, are owned by a Barzani or Talabani.
But beyond the gleaming new suburbs, five-star hotels and flashy cars lies an ancient city in which critics say corruption remains a problem and the lines dividing government and business are unhealthily blurred.
Until last year, the PUK’s leader Jalal Talabani was President of Iraq. His son, Qubad Talabani, is currently Deputy Prime Minister in the KRG. Previously, the latter served as the KRG’s representative in Pindostan. In both capacities, Qubad has played a key role in developing commercial relationships with the West, especially concerning oil. Jalal Talabani’s other son, Pavel, oversees the KRG’s anti-terror squad in Sulaymani, which is run by PUK member Lahur Sheikh Jangi. The elder Talabani’s sister-in-law, Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, is the PUK representative to the UK, responsible for media relations as well as for the finances of the Nokan Group.
Qubad Talabani, incumbent KRG deputy PM, is slated to speak at the Kurdistan-Iraq Oil & Gas Conference to be held in London this November. The conference, organised by British firm CWC Group in partnership with the joint PUK-KDP government, is sponsored by a number of energy corporations including Exxon Mobil, Chevron, DNO, Gulf Keystone Petroleum, and the Qaiwan Group. The Qaiwan Group, among the London conference’s platinum sponsors, is contracted to the KRG’s Ministry of Energy to design, construct and operate planned expansions to the Bazian oil refinery under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). The current ‘phase three’ expansion, due for completion by 2018, aims to lift the refinery’s capacity from 34 to 80 kb/d. The Bazian refinery is, however, owned and controlled by WZA Petroleum, another subsidiary of the PUK’s Nokan Group, dominated by the Talabani family. WZA Petroleum’s president is Parwen Babakir, in which capacity she is the principal owner of the Bazian refinery. Babakir is also the Chairman of the Nokan Group, and is in charge of the PUK’s oil and gas portfolio. She was previously appointed Minister of Industry in the Sulaymani district by Talabani from 2003 to 2007. She did not respond to questions concerning the Nokan Group’s alleged facilitation of IS oil sales. While KRG government officials and their relatives are directly profiting from lucrative oil and gas contracts brokered by the KRG, the same officials who are responsible for anti-terrorism in the Sulaymani province oversee the Nokan Group, which is implicated in facilitating ISIS oil smuggling.
A British energy company with strong backing from the UK political establishment operates the oil field supplying the Nokan-owned Bazian refinery. The refinery, owned by the Nokan Group whose trucks were seen transporting IS oil through the Kurdish province earlier this year, is supplied from the KRG’s Taq Taq field. The oil field produces a total of around 100 kb/d, most of which is shipped to local refineries. British-Turkish firm Genel Energy has a 45% stake in the Taq Taq field. Genel Energy was formed from a $2.1b merger in 2011 between a UK firm, Vallares PLC, and a Turkish company, Genel Enerji. The firm is run by Tony Hayward, a former CEO of British Petroleum (BP). Asked about Genel’s position on working with institutions allegedly involved in financing ISIS terrorism, Andrew Benbow, spokesperson for the Anglo-Turkish company, stated:
These are all questions to be asked to the KRG rather than ourselves.
According to the final report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs’ inquiry into the British government’s policy toward the KRG, published in Jan 2015, Genel is the only major British investor in the province. The report noted that the Kurdistan region holds an estimated 45 billion barrels of oil, in the same league as Libya and Nigeria, and a further 110 trillion cu ft of gas, placing it around tenth or twelfth in the world for reserves. The KRG aims to export as much as 2mb/d by 2020, a prospect of huge interest to Western companies, according to the report, including “Exxon, Chevron, Repsol, Total, the local giant KAR, and the British-Turkish company, Genel Energy.” Just a month earlier, David Cameron’s then-Energy Minister Matthew Hancock told the 4th Kurdistan-Iraq Oil & Gas Conference in Erbil:
Iraq has a critical role to play in meeting the world’s future demand for oil.Pindosi oil production is forecasted to peak in 2020; thereafter, the world is expected to become ever more dependent on Iraqi supply. Iraqi oil production will treble to over 8 mb/d by 2040. Reserves in Kurdistan play a significant role in this increase. The region is not only thought to be one of the largest untapped areas of oil in the world, but also has significant gas potential.
Genel Energy is positioned to profit massively from increased Kurdish output, bar an oil shock or other such wild card. Genel’s president, Mehmet Sepil, told the 2014 conference that his firm planned to play the lead role in exploiting 11 trillion cu ft of gas in the Kurdish province. A year earlier, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq released a report after its fact-finding mission to the province, recommending that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee undertake this inquiry. As part of that fact-finding mission, British Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi, who is co-chair of the group, visited the Taq Taq oil field being run by Genel Energy in Nov 2013. Zahawi held shares in Genel Energy, according to the House of Commons Register of Interests, which shows that he declared his relationship to Genel in Jun 2013. According to Zahawi, he sold his shares in Genel on Apr 30 2014.
Later in 2013, Zahawi was appointed to the Prime Minister’s Policy Board, with special responsibility for business and the economy, a post he still holds. By Jun 2014, Zahawi was appointed as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and played a key role in its inquiry into government policy. Zahawi regarding the Ambassador Wallace’s letter concerning the Nokan Group:
These are obviously very serious allegations which I was not previously aware of and that were not submitted to the Select Committee’s inquiry.
He explained that the committee would investigate ISIS funding sources in a further inquiry. He denied knowledge of the KRG’s internal investigation into support for ISIS terrorism, as well as the allegations concerning Genel’s relationship to Nokan, explaining:
As an ex retail shareholder, I have no more knowledge of the details of their operation than any other retail share holder or member of the public. I would suggest that you submit your evidence and questions to Genel directly.
The APPG on Kurdistan is intimately connected to both the PUK-KDP run government and Western oil interests in the province. Gary Kent, who is Director of Labour Friends of Iraq, is paid directly by Gulf Keystone Petroleum, which is heavily invested in KRG oil assets, to provide secretariat services for the APPG. The KRG and its UK arm also provide “administrative services” for the APPG, including “dinners for parliamentarians,” annual receptions, and funding group delegations to the province. Describing the APPG on Kurdistan’s findings in Jan 2014, Vice Chair Robert Halfon, who is now a Minister without portfolio in Cameron’s new cabinet and Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party, told the House of Commons:
Across the Kurdistan region, business is flourishing … and people are keen on British and foreign investment. Privatisation continues apace and huge property complexes are being built. There are significant oil and gas reserves, which, unusually in these parts, are used for the benefit of the country, not salted away in corruption. As I pointed out in an early-day motion (tabled with Zahawi and others), the KRG can become an important ally in guaranteeing the UK’s future energy security.
In Jan 2015, as the UK parliamentary Foreign Affairs Select Committee released its inquiry report, Zahawi was back in the KRG as part of an official UK trade delegation led by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, recently appointed to the Prime Minister’s political cabinet. Although the KRG launched its investigation of ISIS terrorism financing by Kurdish officials while the British parliamentary inquiry was still ongoing, the inquiry report makes no mention of it, nor does it acknowledge that the KRG investigation had confirmed the allegations nearly a month before publication. The parliamentary committee did not come across such allegations, nor had any such information ever been submitted to the inquiry, Zahawi said. The 2015 UK parliamentary report repeatedly justifies calls for cementing British-KRG ties due to the KRG’s role as a reliable “partner in the fight against terrorism.” While the parliamentary report goes to pains to emphasise the British government’s formal position in favour of a unified Iraq, it also leans heavily toward a federal solution, granting the KRG considerable autonomy, based on its ability to exploit oil and gas resources in the province. Pointing to the UK Foreign Secretary’s recommendation of “devo max” (maximum devolution) as the best possible model of democratic governance in Iraq, the report recommends that the British government should be prepared for “the possible consequences of Iraq’s break-up,” stating:
The KRG’s increased self-governance or even independence is itself rational, given its economic potential and demonstrable capacity for effective self-governance, and also understandable given its recent history. While the move to independence is not imminent, it is a medium-term possibility, depending in large part on the Kurdistan Region’s energy export strategy, for which the UK Government should be prepared.
In its reporting on Zahawi’s visit to KRG oil fields run by Genel Energy, The Independent observed:
There is no suggestion of any impropriety in relation to the Kurdistan APPG.
But irrespective of parliamentary rules, the APPG’s brazen role in facilitating British oil and gas interests in the region is hardly a secret. The APPG declares on its website:
We have taken the detailed reports from our delegations to UK ministers and other groups to promote the message that Kurdistan is open to business and to boost British connections in trade, culture and other fields. This has helped change the UK’s approach to Kurdistan … The group’s reports helped overcome that erroneous assumption and persuaded the UK Government to send its first official mission to the Erbil Trade Fair, and more British companies are expected at next month’s fair.
Like many of the other interests involved, the UK Foreign Office simply failed to respond when questioned about the British government’s relationship with regional authorities and firms implicated in the facilitation of IS black market oil sales. Genel Energy CEO Tony Hayward has previously spoken out in defence of the KRG’s decision to ask the company to truck exports of crude oil from the Taq Taq field to Turkey. The Anglo-Turkish firm is receiving payments for these exports directly from the KRG, rather than from the Baghdad government, which had condemned them as illegal Until her resignation earlier this year, former Labour MP Meg Munn was chair of the APPG on Kurdistan alongside Zahawi. A former Foreign Office minister under Tony Blair, she is Vice-Chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, an “executive non-departmental public body” sponsored by the Foreign Office that promotes parliamentary institutions abroad. The WFD has been contracted for many years by the Foreign Office and UK Dept for International Development to augment the formal mechanisms of democracy in Iraq and the KRG. Yet an independent review of the organisation’s work commissioned by the FCO in 2010 concluded:
WFD’ own internal records provide little evidence that the organisation is having significant, long-term and sustainable impact. Rather, the purpose of party support strictly defined is not to show demonstrable improvements in the functioning of democracy … [but it] allows the parties to engage in activity that would be impossible for the FCO to undertake … designed to help their ideological counterparts in other countries (to facilitate) access to, and influence over parties in developing democracies, (and thus to support) the UK government’s diplomatic objectives.
Thus, the WFD ultimately functions to promote British government interests. Its constitution stipulates that all 14 members of its Board of Governors must be appointed by the British Foreign Secretary, with eight of them nominated by Westminster political parties. One WFD Annual Report concedes:
WFD offers the FCO and HMG … a focus on political work which the FCO or the Government could not or would not wish to undertake directly … where direct British government support could be interpreted as foreign interference.
Despite its self-description as a “neutral convener” between demands for national unity and federalisation, the WFD’s entire national Iraq programme is run from the KRG capital, Erbil. In Iraqi Kurdistan, for the WFD this has meant, according to the APPG’s 2011 report, promoting “a democratic market economy” safe for foreign capital penetration:
The menu includes a smaller but smarter state, an active civil society, a free and professional media system and more private businesses … Kurdistan is exploiting its oil and gas riches commendably and ahead of schedule through making good use of the private sector … European energy security will gain from their ability to supply gas through the projected southern energy corridor for a century. This deserves UK recognition and support.
The eagerness of UKUSA oil companies to exploit Iraqi Kurdish resources, however, raises urgent questions as to whether UKUSA government support for the KRG-Turkish oil nexus is undermining the war on ISIS, if not fuelling the terror group. Neither of the governments appear to be willing to answer these questions.