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U.S Saudi Counter-Terrorism Partnership

Posted on 14 May 2011 by hashimilion

DE RUEHRH #0408/01 0691436
O 101436Z MAR 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RIYADH 000408
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2014
REF: A. A:07 RIYADH 1778
¶B. B: RIYADH 272
¶C. C: RIYADH 268
¶D. D: RIYADH 326
Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission David Rundell
for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY. The SAG’s MOI-hosted Security Conference in
Riyadh and the meeting between CENTCOM DCOM LtGen John Allen
with Asst. Minister for National Security Affairs Prince
Mohammed bin Naif (MbN) highlight the SAG’s commitment to
counter-terrorist activity in the Kingdom by partnering with
the USG in protecting its critical infrastructure, especially
its energy production sites. MbN reconfirmed the SAG’s
commitment to pay all critical infrastructure protection
costs of the Office of Program Management-Ministry of
Interior (OPM-MOI), including USG employee salaries. He
concurred any changes necessary in the Technical Cooperation
Agreement (TCA) be made to allow such payments, but remarked
hopefully the lawyers would not be problematic. Regarding
the Saudi deradicalization program, he considered it a
success in generating Saudi public anger at radical
extremists and was unconcerned by those who escaped the
program to rejoin Al Qaeda (AQ), noting they actually serve
the SAG’s purpose because they delegitimize extremism by
rebuffing the chance for rehabilitation and a new life,
further alienating violent radicals from the populace. MbN
did express concern that some ARAMCO employees posed a threat
of internal sabotage to oil facilities due to extremist
sympathies. END SUMMARY.
¶2. (SBU) OPM-MOI, a DOS-led interagency security assistance
organization including DOE and DOD, established by the formal
TCA signed by the Secretary and Minister of Interior HRH
Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in May 2008 to partner with
the Saudi MOI in protecting the Kingdom’s critical
infrastructure with full SAG funding (Reftel A), is now
operational in Saudi Arabia. In the March 9 meeting between
LtGen Allen and MbN, LtGen Allen introduced the senior U.S.
military officer assigned to assist the MOI in training its
Facilities Security Force (FSF). Likewise, we informed MbN
of the arrival of the senior DOS officer in Riyadh on March
10 to serve as OPM-MOI’s Program Manager and overall leader.
These officers, along with the senior DOE Liaison and
associated CENTCOM and Embassy Riyadh personnel, now serve as
the core of OPM-MOI who will begin assisting the Saudis in
enhancing the protection of their critical infrastructure,
with initial focus on Saudi oil facilities.
¶3. (C) LtGen Allen reaffirmed to MbN the USG’s full
commitment to the protection of Saudi critical
infrastructure, emphasizing that CENTCOM Commander GEN David
Petraeus guarantees CENTCOM’s full support to this program.
Both concurred on the importance to the global economy of
preventing terrorists from attacking Saudi oil facilities.
MbN asserted the goal is to prevent attacks from ever being
carried out, recommending OPM-MOI include intelligence links
in its operational plans. LtGen Allen commended MOI’s
success in dealing with internal terrorist threats in the
Kingdom, and its successful rehabilitation program with Saudi
Guantanamo returnees and extremists captured in Saudi Arabia.
RIYADH 00000408 002 OF 003
¶4. (SBU) MbN was informed that the initial OPM-MOI work
contracts, consisting of the DOE Project Specific Agreement
(PSA) to conduct vulnerability assessments of oil sites and
the DOD Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) to implement
urgent needs training of FSF troops, have been submitted to
MOI staff for approval and signature. MbN was grateful for
USG efforts and assured us full funding would soon follow the
signing of these documents, and reconfirmed the SAG’s
commitment to pay all OPM-MOI costs. He also agreed to fund
all USG employee costs, concurring with any necessary TCA
changes to allow such payments, commenting that “hopefully
the lawyers will not cause us any problems.”
¶5. (SBU) MbN had previously acknowledged to the Ambassador
the MOI’s lack of technical capacity in effectively working
with OPM-MOI. To rectify this problem, OPM-MOI has begun
coordination with the Saudis for SAG-funded English language
and management training in the U.S. for mid-level MOI
officers who will be our future interlocutors. In the
interim, OPM-MOI is drafting a plan for MOI to contract and
fund bilingual Americans experienced in USG contracting and
Foreign Military Sales to work in MOI assisting in PSA, LOA,
and related OPM-MOI projects.
¶6. (SBU) MOI sponsored the second annual Riyadh Security
Conference from March 2-5, which included such notables as
FBI Director Robert Mueller and former Attorney General Edwin
Meese. Other participants were U.S., British and Saudi
security officials, academics, and the U.S. and U.K
Ambassadors to the Kingdom. The theme of this well-received
conference was how to deradicalize extremists. This topic
was noteworthy as several Saudi Guantanamo returnees had
recently disappeared, with two resurfacing in Yemen as AQ
members (Reftels B, C and D).
¶7. (C) In private discussions with us, MbN observed it was
unfortunate these individuals had escaped and some had
rejoined AQ, but stated the Saudi deradicalization
rehabilitation program was nonetheless a success and was
unconcerned by these individuals. He explained while these
Guantanamo returnees rejoining AQ in Yemen was embarrassing
to the SAG, the program itself was achieving the true goal of
turning the Saudi populace against extremist radicals. These
individuals were being denounced by the Saudi public, and
even by their immediate families. The SAG was offering these
individuals employment and marriage opportunities to allow
new, peaceful and productive lives. MbN shared that if the
Saudi people saw that the SAG had offered these extremists a
helping hand which they slapped away, instead of a clenched
fist used against them, then their families, tribes and the
Saudi nation as a whole would view the SAG as “the
benefactor” and these unrepentant extremists as “deviants.”
According to MbN, in Arab culture this is an extremely
powerful and advantageous position for the SAG as it cuts off
the necessary public support extremists need to operate.
¶8. (C) In response to his views on the current threat, MbN
listed three:
— Yemen was “a dangerous, failed state” similar to
Afghanistan by allowing AQ to regroup and become its
RIYADH 00000408 003 OF 003
operational base. He mentioned the SAG was using its funds
to gain Yemeni tribal cooperation through public works
programs, especially as a way to curb the lawlessness along
the Saudi-Yemeni border. MbN offered that while Yemeni
President Saleh was not the best leader, after 30 years in
power, his removal, either through natural causes or
rebellion, would leave a vacuum that would further weaken
Yemen. He opined that overtures to the Taliban in
Afghanistan were useful, as it would make Al Qaeda leaders
there nervous and unsure if they would be betrayed, but this
would also make them more likely to seek “safe haven” in
Yemen. LtGen Allen informed that U.S. Special Forces and
U.S. Navy trainers were stepping cooperation with Yemeni
forces to counter border and maritime threats.
— Iran, according to MbN, was a greater threat from its
destabilizing actions than from its nuclear program. He
added Iran currently has many weaknesses due to its
deteriorating economy. USG overtures for talks with Iran
would exploit those weaknesses and further undermine the

— Regarding the internal Saudi threat, MbN stated AQ was
beaten down in the Kingdom, but he was concerned of “insiders
in ARAMCO” and that ARAMCO employees with full access to its
facilities were extremists or extremist/Hezbollah
sympathizers, using their authorized access and/or technical
knowledge to commit sabotage. Again, he then emphasized the
importance of OPM-MOI to provide rapid training of the FSF
and detailed assessments of the vulnerabilities of Saudi oil
¶9. (C) COMMENT. The SAG has worked to counter terrorism
within the Kingdom, achieving significant success. Both
through its kinetic operations against AQ, to its soft power
deradicalization rehabilitation program where it has turned
the Saudi public against AQ and violent extremism. Bilateral
cooperation on the protection of Saudi critical
infrastructure, as previously reported, is of immense
importance to ensure adequate energy supplies are available
to the global economy. OPM-MOI offers a tremendous venue to
strengthen the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship which then
allows a broadening of Saudi support on a host of issues.

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U.S. Backing Enables Saudi Arabia to Crush Dissent in Bahrain

Posted on 09 May 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia, the oil rich kingdom that is the birthplace and former home of Osama bin Laden, has staved off the widespread popular protests that have swept across the region since January. The country’s oil-rich Eastern Province, bordering Bahrain, has witnessed protests from the minority Shia Muslim population. In March, Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to support its royal family after a month of protests. We speak with Toby Jones, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia, on the role of Saudi Arabia in suppressing the Bahrain uprising, as well as its own. “We shouldn’t assume that there is a lack of interest on the part of Saudi citizens in achieving some sort of democratic or political reform. There are deep frustrations in Saudi society,” says Jones.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich kingdom that is the birthplace and former home of Osama bin Laden. On Thursday, a senior extremist linked to al-Qaeda surrendered to Saudi authorities. Khaled Hathal al-Qahtani is thought to be the first operative to turn himself in after U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday in Pakistan.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has staved off the widespread popular protests that have swept across the region since January. The country’s oil-rich Eastern Province, bordering Bahrain, has witnessed some protests from the minority Shia Muslim population. In March, Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to support its royal family after a month of protests.

Seventy percent of Saudi Arabia’s almost 19 million people are under the age of 30, and last year unemployment was at 10 percent. In a bid to pacify Saudi citizens, King Abdullah, the 87-year-old head of state, has distributed over $100 billion in social handouts since February.
Municipal elections are planned for September. Women will not be able to run for seats or vote in the elections, and there have been some protests organized by women to end the Kingdom’s discriminatory laws. Saudi Arabia has no political parties.

To discuss the situation there, we’re joined by Toby Jones, assistant professor of history at Rutgers University. He was previously Persian Gulf analyst for the International Crisis Group. He’s the author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia and is working on a new book project, America’s Oil Wars.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

TOBY JONES: Thanks for having me.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, why has Saudi Arabia escaped the widespread popular movements that have swept through the Middle East and the Arab world?

TOBY JONES: Well, for a number of reasons. The first is that it possesses the incredible ability to police its own population, which is not dissimilar from other autocratic regimes in the region. But it also has oil wealth and an almost unlimited ability to pay out, and to co-opt potential dissidence, which we saw the King and the royal family attempt to do in early and mid-March by passing out, as you noted, over $100 billion in inducements to encourage people not to take to the streets.

But we shouldn’t assume that there is a lack of interest on the part of Saudi citizens in achieving some sort of democratic or political reform, that there is absent in Saudi Arabia the political will for precisely the kind of thing that happened in Egypt or Tunisia, Yemen, Syria or Bahrain. There are deep frustrations in Saudi society. There are anxieties about the ailing nature of the political system, corruption within the royal family, and a deep desire to see fundamental change.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how Saudi Arabia has repressed its own protests as well as moved into Bahrain to support the government in the fierce repression of the pro-democracy movement there?

TOBY JONES: Well, in addition to using financial and other kinds of social inducements to convince its citizens not to take to the streets, at least not for now, the Saudis have also rolled out a series of other measures, some security-based, initially responding to the possibility of a popular uprising in mid-March. The Kingdom blanketed its streets with heavy security presence, discouraging people from gathering publicly.

But they’ve also done another thing, which is very important and has not totally escaped notice but is important to keep in mind, particularly in light of the demise of Osama bin Laden and the continuing concern about the global war on terror: Saudi Arabia has also renewed a set of relationships with the religious establishment, empowering Islamists, as part of this wave of responding to popular mobilization, using the religious clergy and religious scholars to attempt to delegitimize popular protest and also to basically encourage citizens to remain quiescent. The reestablishment or the re-empowerment of the religious clergy is a new thing under King Abdullah. When he came to power in 2005, he actually took fairly serious measures to roll back the authority of the religious establishment, which he saw both as a source of embarrassment but also as a potential threat to Saudi power, to the power of the royal family. So the fact that some of his early efforts or some of his most recent efforts are being systematically undone and that the clergy are enjoying a kind renaissance, if you will, should be a source of concern.

The decision to intervene in Bahrain is linked directly to anxieties on the part of the Saudis about the potential for a democratic demonstration effect. They worry that if there were popular uprisings or if there was a successful regime change in Bahrain, that that might somehow sweep across the Saudi borders and encourage Saudi citizens to pursue a similar path. But there’s also another element, and that is something that is perhaps particular to the Saudis and the Bahrainis. There is a deep sense of anti-Shiism and sectarianism in the Kingdom. So, the specter of Shia political power in Bahrain, so soon after Iraqi Shias came to enjoy predominance and power in Saudi Arabia’s most powerful northern neighbor, was too much for the Saudis to bear. And so, they preemptively intervened, militarily occupied Bahrain, in order to stamp out the possibility of Shia empowerment there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the issue of the U.S. relations, especially in view of the fact that the continuing total lack of rights for women in Saudi Arabia, that our government never mentions a word about or talks about that—how is the Kingdom able in this age, with all the modern communications that we have, to continue to suppress the rights of women and yet receive virtually no condemnation anywhere in the rest of the world?

TOBY JONES: Well, they certainly don’t receive political condemnation from the powers that be here in the United States or elsewhere. And it has to do with the Kingdom’s ability to supply the quintessential industrial resource—right, its role—and not only just providing oil, but in being the most important global producer of oil on the planet. It has the ability to shape markets, to make up for shortfalls, to exceed capacity, everywhere, makes it more vital than lots of other places. And this has long been most important and the single most important political priority for American policymakers, and for Western policymakers more broadly. Women’s rights, in the grand scheme of things, then, from the perspective of the State Department or the White House, they almost hardly matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia? You were talking about the empowerment of the clergy. Talk about his history. He is from Saudi Arabia.

TOBY JONES: Right. Well, his citizenship is contested by the Saudis, who claim that he’s actually Yemeni in origin. But his father was an important contractor in Saudi Arabia, ran a major construction business. He first came of age working for Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, in Saudi Arabia, but then became a main contractor to the Saudi state. And bin Laden was one of his many children and sort of came of age in the Saudi political system and education system, grew up in the 1970s and in the 1980s, in a moment when Saudi Arabia was renewing its Islamic credentials, partly in response to a crisis in late ’70s, re-empowering the religious establishment and encouraging a certain interpretation of Islam, a particularly kind of virulent one. Bin Laden took note, traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to participate in the anti-Soviet jihad there, or at least to provide services, and was radicalized in the context of the Afghan jihad, returned to Saudi Arabia shortly after the conclusion of that war. In 1990 and 1991, actually offered his services and the services of the Mujahideen to the Saudi royal family to defend the Kingdom from Saddam Hussein, who had just invaded Kuwait. He was politely rebuffed, and then left the Kingdom and went to Sudan, eventually on his way to Afghanistan, where he formed al-Qaeda and began fighting the global crusade against—the global war against the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the U.S. support for the Mujahideen and Osama bin Laden, when they were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and then, of course, they set their sights back on the United States.

TOBY JONES: That’s right. I mean, al-Qaeda, bin Laden and the phenomenon of global terrorism and global jihad is the direct outgrowth of the Afghan jihad. So the United States made a strategic decision in the late 1970s under the Carter administration, and then a set of policies that was accelerated under Reagan, to equip and aid the Mujahideen in rolling back the Soviets and pushing them back out of Central Asia, for lots of reasons, but most importantly, as Carter articulated in 1980, because they were too close to the Persian Gulf. That was the site of our vital interests, and we were willing to do whatever necessary to protect them. So the decision to support the jihad and the Arab Afghans, as well as the Afghani Mujahideen, is the context from which al-Qaeda and bin Laden emerged, along with a whole host of other folks.

That first generation of al-Qaeda jihadis, beyond 9/11, who began carrying out attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and elsewhere, were trained on the battlefields in Afghanistan and in the camps there. It would be—it’s not entirely right that the United States directly armed bin Laden. They armed lots of other bad guys who had relationships with bin Laden. It is entirely appropriate to see bin Laden—to understand both his credibility, his legitimacy and the sources of his radicalization as being a product of American policy in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to go back to Saudi Arabia for one moment to talk about this whole issue of the government’s attempt to rehabilitate former fighters. Basically, it provides enormous leniency to those who turn in their weapons and agree to reintegrate into Saudi society. Could you talk about that, especially the numbers who have come from—those who have been released from Guantánamo that Saudi Arabia has accepted back and put into these reeducation programs?

TOBY JONES: Well, it’s remarkable. The Saudis, on the one hand, do in fact have—they fear the power of al-Qaeda to do harm, and they were confronted with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2003, 2004 and 2005, began a campaign inside Saudi Arabia. AQAP now continues to exist in Yemen and would like very much to do harm to the Saudis. So the Saudis are nervous about the power of terrorists to continue to do damage inside the Kingdom, both to threaten the royal family but also to potentially undermine its economy.

But it’s taken the path of dealing with these forces and these individuals by—precisely by rehabilitating them, by putting them in facilities that attempt to indoctrinate them. They bring in established clergy to essentially reeducate these folks, rehabilitate them. They’re provided with various subsidies and services, and then they’re reintegrated into family life, and into social life more broadly. So it’s a kind of catch-and-release program for suspected or for real terrorists.

One of the interesting paradoxes here is that when the Saudi state arrests liberals—not terrorists, but folks who demand things like constitutional monarchy, the creation of a constitutional monarchy, women’s rights, an end to corruption—those folks are imprisoned, and they’re left to stay there.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what Saudi Arabia is doing now? In the piece you wrote, “Counterrevolution in the Gulf,” you talk about it pursuing policies that could destabilize the whole Persian Gulf.

TOBY JONES: Right. Well, the intervention in Bahrain has got to be one of the most deeply troubling things that the Saudis—and they’ve done a lot of troubling things, right? But the decision to intervene, to militarily occupy Bahrain, has been justified. Although there are lots of different motives, it’s been justified as a response to what the Saudis claim is Iranian meddling. Much of the assumption—many Gulf Arabs assume, as do many American policymakers, that there are preternatural connections between Shias in the Arab world, whether they’re in Iraq, Bahrain or Iran, that because they’re co-religionists, they share a single political objective, and because we view Iran as the single most important bogeyman in the region, this matters. The Saudis have used this precisely to frame their intervention in Bahrain, that we’re taking out—we’re checking the possibility of Iran to establish either a fifth column or a front line so close to Saudi Arabia’s oil-producing region in the Eastern Province. So, by framing things both in sectarian terms and as a response to Iranian power, for which there is no evidence, the Saudis are in fact escalating and provoking a potential regional crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Toby Jones, I want to thank you for being with us, assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, previously with the International Crisis Group, a political analyst of the Persian Gulf, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia.

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