Officials worry that foreign interests might be behind purchase of nearly $1 billion-worth of land around major USAF base

 An investment group has snatched up roughly 52,000 acres of land — much of dubious agricultural value — around a critical U.S. Air Force base northeast of San Francisco.

These acquisitions and the investors' obscurity have government officials worried about possible ulterior motivations as well as security risks. 

Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, on the southwestern edge of the Sacramento Valley, is known as the "Gateway to the Pacific." Its host unit is the 60th Air Mobility Wing and is home to the 621st Contingency Response Wing, the 349th Air Mobility Wing, and over 50 partner organizations. The base itself has just over 7,600 active USAF personnel and 4,250 Air Force Reserve personnel.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the investment group Flannery Associates has spent around $1 billion in recent years to become the largest landowner in Solano County, acquiring some 52,000 acres across 300 parcels of land near the base, 20 of which surround Travis. 

The company has admitted in court filings to paying prices of "multiples of fair market value" for the land.

Solano County Supervisor Mitch Mashburn said, "The majority of the land they're purchasing is dry farmland. ... I don't see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment." 

Rio Vista Mayor Ronald Kott told the Journal, "Nobody can figure out who they are. ... Whatever they're doing—this looks like a very long-term play."

A spokesman for the base indicated that USAF officials "are aware of the multiple land purchases near the base and are actively working internally and externally with other agencies."

The USAF's Foreign Investment Risk Review Office has reportedly been looking into the group's acquisitions, but has not yet been able to determine precisely who is backing Flannery Associates.

An attorney for the group, whose CEO was listed with the California Secretary of State's Office as Andrew Lerner, claimed Flannery is controlled by American citizens and that 97% of its invested capital derives from U.S. investors. The remainder is allegedly from British and Irish investors.

"Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base" is unfounded, the attorney told the Journal.

The group's attorney previously told Solano County that Flannery "is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States," reported the Daily Republic.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), on the House Armed Services Committee's readiness panel, said, "We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area. ... The fact that they're buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions."

This is not the first land grab in recent months to inspire concern.

The Washington Examiner recently noted that China, the U.S.'s preeminent adversary on the world stage, has been buying up vast swathes of American land. Whereas in 2011, when Chinese investors owned 69,295 acres of American land, by year-end 2021, they controlled nearly 400,000 acres.

A Beijing-linked group recently attempted to buy 300 acres of land, some 20 minutes away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. This prompted bipartisan backlash as well as vexation amongst local airmen.

CNBC reported that Maj. Jeremy Fox circulated a memo inside the Air Force, claiming the purchase would both be a security threat to the U.S. and fit a pattern of "Chinese subnational espionage campaigns using commercial economic development projects to get close to Department of Defense installations."

Fox wrote, "Some of the most sensitive elements of Grand Forks exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets."

According to Fox, the USAF would be more or less unable to detect surveillance on drone and satellite transmissions being waged by potential Chinese actors.

"Passive collection of those signals would be undetectable, as the requirements to do so would merely require ordinary antennas tuned to the right collecting frequencies. ... This introduces a grave vulnerability to our Department of Defense installations and is incredibly compromising to US National Security," wrote Fox.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told the Examiner earlier this year, "Allowing Chinese companies with connections to the party-state to buy strategically important land in the United States is a national security threat. ... We need to treat the Chinese Communist Party for what it is — our greatest adversary."

Extra to land grabs, the Chinese regime has: agents conducting illegal police operations in the U.S. along with harassment and espionage campaigns; a hand in the deadly influx of fentanyl across the southern border via their informal partners in the Mexican cartels; and has flown reconnaissance flyovers through American skies.

Microsoft publicly revealed earlier this summer that the Chinese communist regime has also taken significant steps to undermine critical American infrastructure. These attacks — using malicious computer code that enables remote access to various devices — appear to be a pre-emptive attempt by the genocidal state to develop the upper hand should the two nations soon come to blows.

While attempting to corrode American capability and making clandestine incursions into the U.S., Chinese officials have also issued threats.

Concerning the land grabs in Solano County, Garamendi and fellow California Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson have pushed for a probe by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., reported the Journal.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has also pressed for answers concerning Flannery's backers.

The Journal indicated that local and federal officials' inability to learn the identities of those in the Flannery group is in part due to the fact that Delaware-registered LLCs, such as Flannery Associates, do not have to publicly disclose the identity of their owners.

Officials worry that foreign interests might be behind purchase of nearly $1 billion-worth of land around major USAF base Officials worry that foreign interests might be behind purchase of nearly $1 billion-worth of land around major USAF base Reviewed by Your Destination on July 12, 2023 Rating: 5

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