The AMD Bomb

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First, we have this Inquirer article, which speculates that AMD will semi-spin off its fabs to improve its balance sheet and make it possible to fund the next generation of fabs.

This is quite believable. Whether it will happen or not is quite another story, because of this New York Times story.

It says that in 2005, AMD chips were found in roadside bombs used in Iraq. The chips were initally bought by a UAE company, sent to Iran, then ended up as a part of Iranian “foreign aid.”

While the article doesn’t say what kind of AMD chip was used, it does say that the chip was not subject to export restrictions since it “was not considered especially powerful.” Given that, I think you can preclude Athlons or Hammers. Maybe it was a Geode, more likely wasn’t even a CPU.

In other words, these were probably humble, generic chips, so there’s no reason to think that AMD knew or should have known that these chips were being used as homicide helpers.

You can’t expect a company to be able to control what their customers end up sending their equipment. Just off the top of my head, back in the eighties, more than a few IBM PC and ATs with Intel Inside ended up inside the Soviet Union, thanks to some cooperative distributors.

The Times article pinned no blame on AMD, but rather faulted the UAE for doing little to nothing even after being put on notice that it was being used as a conduit for equipment transfer.

For you conspiracists out there, the Times article is clearly based on information from the U.S. government agency responsible for most technology transfers, this is not some Intel plant.

What is important about this article is not what happened to some AMD chips in the past, but what might happen to them in the future. This could end up being a political timebomb that could kill the company. Let me explain why.

Those responsible for regulating technology transfers are ticked off that the UAE is a Best Buy for US enemies. Just imagine what they’d think about UAE folks becoming practically co-owners of state-of-the-art fab plants, and imagine what they’d tell the politicians.

If this story sounds vaguely familiar to some, it should. Recall the Dubai Ports World controversy.

If AMD finds that the only way to save itself is to do this fab spinoff heavily backed by UAE money, it’s going to have considerable problems getting U.S. approval for such a deal.

What will be especially fascinating to see is what certain U.S. politicians will do about this.

New York Senator Charles Schumer was one of the leaders in the fight to block Dubai Port World from buying into U.S. port operations. He is also a big advocate of AMD’s New York State fab.

What does he do if, during one of his frequent chats with Hector, Hector tells him, “If we can’t do the UAE deal, we can’t do the New York State fab?”

If you think Schumer would have problems, think about the other senator from New York, Hillary Clinton. She opposed the Dubai Port World while her husband was getting paid by Dubai to help them on the deal.

For the record, Senator Obama also opposed the DPW deal, while Senator McCain supported it.

Obviously, AMD would spare itself a whole lot of grief if they could arrange such a fab deal without UAE money.

But if they can’t do the deal with others, the survival of AMD could well depend on whether or not it can survive a political firestorm, one right in the middle of a U.S. presidential election.

Ed


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