After four agonizing years of relentless criminality from Russian-owned mobster and his fixers, nothing surprises me.

Enter Rivada Networks.

This astonishing story is about an American commodity of immense value and complex systems of wireless bandwidth usually in the purview of the military. I’ll do my best to elucidate the situation, with some expert help along the way. Off we go.

Zombie grift that would not die

After trump was successfully installed by Russia in 2016, it took some time for his mobsters to get their grift machine up-and-running. In early 2018, about a year after inauguration*, Axios reported on obtaining a secret PowerPoint presentation that, among other things, suggested nationalizing America’s 5G infrastructure in an “unprecedented federal takeover” of a large swath of telecom infrastructure. That’s right: free-market “conservatives” arguing to socialize valuable-virtual airspace that, citing their impetus, would protect America from “Chinese tyranny.”

EXPLAINER: one area of agreement: importance to 5G development of midband spectrum, which sits in a sweet spot between low frequencies, which can go great distances but can’t carry large volumes of data, and high frequencies that can pack in a lot of data but can’t travel far (Axios)

To drive the point home: during 2020 election, Trump & GOP establishment smeared centrists Biden, Harris and other Dems as “socialists” while literally advocating socialist policies.

Running parallel to naked hypocrisy was the long-delayed approval of Ligado Networks’ FCC petition. (Not taking you down a rabbit hole but the story’s oddly congruent: incompetent administration approves Thing A and sane adults have a hissy fit.) And since Modern Day Republicanism must have generous helpings of hypocrisy, Ligado (formerly Lightsquared) got lit up in Congress in 2011 when republicans pretended to care about corruption: Barack Obama, while Senator, had been a Lightsquared investor. This was an outrage to Chuck Grassley and other “conservatives” who pounded tables demanding answers, decrying lack of transparency.

Cut to 2019-2020 and—surprise!—all is forgiven. After Ligado’s FCC petition had been languishing for years, Bill Barr & Mike Pompeo suddenly expressed support for Ligado’s spectrum approval because I guess they have no idea people write history down. (Bill Barr later changed his tune because chaos is the point.) China hardliners hovering around trump, like Peter Novarro, using fig leaf of Chinese tyranny, seized on the idea and the drum beat started quickening.


The whole “defend America from China!” slogan sounds strong in theory but when interrogated with basic questions is just Performative Authoritarian nonsense.

To wit: tRUmp hysterically deleted President Obama-backed Trans Pacific Partnership as “a bad deal” even though TPP was specifically designed to mitigate China’s trade dominance. (don’s folks are, as we’ve come to learn, relentlessly dishonest and inconsistent.) Later that same year of TPP deletion CNBC reported that tRUmp revoked Obummer’s 2010 & 2013 presidential-5G memos that were wonky, responsible documents that essentially worked toward the same goals.

In other words: Obama’s memos called for 5G policy exploration but was written/approved by “that black guy before,” which makes it, ya know, bad.

“The word that comes to mind is, ‘chaos’,” says Craig Moffett, FCC analyst and founding partner of MoffettNathanson, who wrote about Ligato, Rivada and 5G policy in a blog post he passed along via email. “We constantly field questions about how the country’s telecom policy might change under a Biden presidency… The focus on what might change, however, seemingly ignores the utter incoherence of the status quo. While the possibility of a national 5G network is unquestionably the most significant manifestation of that incoherence, it extends to the government’s uncoordinated approval of Ligado’s spectrum petition as well.”

Feds’ spastic, clunky treatment of Ligado was where the story ends, right?

Au contraire, my lovelies; au contraire.

‘We call it GriftNet’

While in front of microphones Republicans loathe socialism. In smoke-filled cigar parlors, however, they love government handing itself over to pals in no-bid contracts. I give you Rivada Networks, their latest socialist ploy that would be the “biggest handoff of economic power to a single entity in history,” according to Jake Tapper at CNN. (Since my crankiness is bipartisan I’ll also note Dems have skin in the game here, too—including Martin O’Malley.)

“Untold billions are at stake,” Tapper’s CNN report continued. “A government auction of 70 megahertz of spectrum in August went for more than $4.5 billion. The Rivada bid would be for 350 megahertz of spectrum—five times that amount.” Like Trump’s pardons and having intercourse with Stormy Daniels the auction lacks forethought and is, Tapper adds, “without full examination of the impact on national security and without a competitive bidding process.”

Bidding is on hiatus for the holiday season and will start up again Monday 4 Jan; current price is around $70B. Democrats in congress are asking questions that will be met with loud silence.

“Planning around the current auction is a nightmare,” Craig Moffett told me by phone. “It’s a zombie network that keeps coming back with no strategy and no normal process FCC has had in place for years. No Republican in congress has been a part of the planning and they are genuinely mystified, saying ‘what the fuck is going on?’ For all intents and purposes it’s a socialism network. In our offices we call it ‘GriftNet.'”


According to his post from late-2019, Brookings analyst Tom Wheeler shares the same philosophy. “Historically, sale of licenses has been handled by the FCC through a public auction,” he writes. “The proceeds of the auction then went to the owners of the spectrum, American taxpayers, via deposits in the U.S. Treasury. Reportedly, Trump was upset with how the FCC planned to outsource the sale of spectrum to the satellite licensees, since it meant that four foreign companies would receive windfall profits from selling spectrum owned by American taxpayers. The result was to further delay an already overly long FCC process to free C-Band spectrum for 5G. Had the FCC followed its usual procedures, a 5G auction would have begun by now.”

While Moffett concedes that our current 5G path is slow and we need modernization for military preparedness and connectivity, there are better ways to achieve that goal.

“This was a fucking goat rodeo and yet it kept coming back and dying and coming back,” he says. “Back in my FCC days we spent so much time collaborating it’s baffling that this whole process has been so utterly chaotic. Not even an appearance of inter-agency coordination.”

Off-off-off Broadway players

Can we all agree that mixing urgency with chaos is probably a bad idea? Why has this issue suddenly become so mission-critical, and why Rivada?

Despite having very good rapid-response PR and ambitious goals, Rivada Networks has attracted the scummiest of dirtbags—flitting around the company like greedy moths to a flame. They include Brad Parscale, still bruised from getting tackled in his driveway; Karl Rove, architect of W Bush’s most disgusting policies; board member Jeb! Bush, of “Please clap” fame; Peter Thiel, billionaire oligarch and funder of myriad sketchy surveillance and other tech projects; and disgraced-political operative/philanderer Newt Gingrich, who gave CNN comically contradictory statements about Rivada.

As CNN tells it, Mark Meadows might have put at legal risk a US Army financial-management official to advance Rivada on behalf of Trump. More as-yet-unreported scuzballs are likely pushing this scheme, too, so watch this space for more folks getting name-checked by media (if past is prologue Big Media types will see a squirrel and get distracted). I will *of course* be updating this post in the coming days.

“We absolutely dispute the CNN story,” says Brian Carney, senior vice president of Rivada Networks and former member of WSJ editorial board. “We have never sought a sole source for DoD spectrum and have always advocated for a competitive and open process. AT&T, however, did ask for the spectrum to be sole-sourced to them without competition.”

Rivada Networks CEO, Declan Ganley, has his own illustrious CV—facts that have been missing from mainstream reporting. Ganley earned a solid payday from forestry in Russia; given Trump & GOP’s well-documented connections to Russia (illustrated ad nauseam by Robert Mueller and open-source reporting) that’d be an area to explore in greater detail.

A company whose CEO made bank in Russian forestry is not getting even the slightest bit of American investigative journalism thrown at him? (Writer’s note: I’ve asked Jake Tapper to respond to Declan Ganley’s accusation that CNN is “lying” about their sources and I’ll update this post if I hear back.)

Mob operations need time + helpers

When does a chaotic-mob operation shift from standard crime to full-fledged conspiracy? As Arapaho415 reports on Twitter, while Tangerine Nixon was installing cartoonishly unqualified yutzes across government—most of whom hired to destroy agencies in their purview—Trump was *also* placing strategically hired operatives to push Rivada across the finish line of what has ultimately become another operation they assume we can’t see.

Both Obama & Trump’s mid-spectrum plans tasked Commerce Secretaries with exploration and implementation of “wireless innovation”; where they diverge, however, is how utterly ratf*cked the process has been under You Know Who. Without getting too far in the weeds, RFI (request for information) is supposed to precede RFP (proposal) and yet somehow folks in donald’s orbit greased the skids for Rivada to pass RFI and go directly to RFP, according to CNN’s Tapper.

“Nobody skipped an RFI,” Carney told me in an email. “There was an RFI and we and others responded to it. Tapper’s story makes no sense. He claims the administration was going to award an RFP to us. That’s not how RFPs work.You issue an RFP, people respond, the government evaluates. You don’t issue an RFP to a contractor. The very grammar of it shows how ill informed the Tapper piece was.”

“All of Trump’s goons had their fingerprints all over this thing,” Craig Moffett says. “Even Department of Defense didn’t know who was behind it. They were reportedly planning to move to an RFP fairly quickly.”

Carney disagrees and says private citizens—even ones like Karl Rove, who is a Rivada and investor and registered lobbyist—have a right to be heard. “Companies and people have a constitutional right to petition the government,” he says. “Karl has no formal role in the administration and never has. And no one with a formal role in the administration has any financial interest in Rivada.”

In addition to Ganley, Rivada counts some delightful folk on its board—including Field Marshal Lord Guthrie, who’s shareholder in Thiel’s Palantir as well as Facebook, to which Thiel is also connected as board member.

Whether intentional or not, Trump & Co.’s “flood the zone with felonies” tactic has worked in that it’s ravaged America’s judicial and investigative-journalism systems. Backroom sabotage of American government is still sabotage; contrived sweetheart deals for well-connected companies is not just gross and unbecoming the greatest democracy on earth. It’s potentially another abuse of power, and Joe Biden’s incoming administration needs to have an answer for it. 🔴


—Rob O’Connor, Arapaho415 & SDEnyaRedRain, contributed to this reporting

(Post updated to clarify Craig Moffett’s quote about administration reportedly moving to an RFP fairly quickly.)

Will Pollocksideways is a perpetually crabby New York City escapee based in Midtown Atlanta. He’s a freelance multimedia journalist, media analyst and author of two books (award-winning Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way.

In 2001, Will earned his Masters from The Medill School of Journalism, graduating with highest honors from the magazine sequence. As permanent member of Journalism’s National Honors Society, he’s been active in monitoring, writing and blogging about media and journalism ever since he graduated.

Obsessed with good storytelling and journalistic excellence, Will uses snark, humor and reason to distill dumb shit and make it fun. He’s a seeker/maker of non-consensus news, and helps you cure crankies by finding the nut in every story.

As for-profit media continues to fail us, it’s more important than ever to find reliable sources. Authentic storytelling exists—you just have to look for it. On this blog you’ll get ideas, not ideology. Sass with class. Reporting with rapport. Evidence with a touch of evil. You get the idea.

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