2003 July 29 Tuesday
Threat To Royal Family Causes Saudi Crackdown On Terrorists

It speaks volumes that it took a direct threat to the house of Saud to get the Saudis to go after terrorists.

"The change is that since May there is a realisation that there is a threat to the house of Saud and to the kingdom's security -- that this no longer about the Western presence in Saudi Arabia," one Saudi-based Western diplomat said.

"They (Saudi authorities) are very serious about the crackdown now because this is seen as a challenge to the Saudi government itself," Saudi analyst Jamal Khashoggi said.

So when only foreigners were getting killed then no big deal. But they are coming after the house of Saud? Well, that's different. Time to go after the terrorists.

Suddenly the Saudis are cracking down in a big way.

Almost weekly raids since militants staged bombing attacks in the capital in mid-May have revealed an extensive network of alleged terrorist cells and weapons caches across Saudi Arabia.

How many years do you suppose those terrorist cells have been operating?

200 arrests of terrorist suspects in Saudi Arabia in the last 2 months.

The arrests of more than 200 al-Qaida suspects over the last two months-- and revelations that al-Qaida may have had training facilities in Saudi Arabia-- came after attempts by Saudi officials to play down the presence of the terror network in the kingdom.

We are lucky that the Saudi terrorists started targetting their own government. The US government has been notably unsuccessful in its attempts to get the Saudis to make a big effort against the Saudi terrorists.

The recently released Congressional report on 9/11 draws attention to the fact that Saudi national Omar al-Bayoumi was getting a lot of money from Saudi Arabia and giving it to two of the 9/11 hijackers.

Al-Bayoumi struck up a conversation with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar after he heard them speaking Arabic and he invited them to move to San Diego. Al-Bayoumi returned to San Diego after leaving the restaurant and al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar arrived in San Diego shortly thereafter.

According to several FBI agents, the meeting at the restaurant may not have been accidental. In fact, the FBI's written response to the joint inquiry refers to the restaurant encounter as a "somewhat suspicious meeting with the hijackers." According to another person the FBI interviewed after Sept. 11, al-Bayoumi said before his trip that he was going to Los Angeles to pick up visitors

When al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar moved to San Diego, al-Bayoumi gave them considerable assistance. ...

Since Sept 11, the FBI has learned that al-Bayoumi has connections to terrorist elements. He has been tied to an man abroad who has connections to al-Qaida. . . .

Despite the fact that he was a student, al-Bayoumi had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia. For example, an FBI source identified al-Bayoumi as the person who delivered $400,000 from Saudi Arabia for the Kurdish mosque in San Diego. One of the FBI's best sources in San Diego informed the FBI that he thought that al-Bayoumi must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.


It is easy to find fault in US policy toward Saudi Arabia. What is not as easy is to come up with a better set of policies. Some people argue that we should invade and overthrow the Saudi government. Well, we have a developing threat from North Korea and from Iran with their nuclear weapons programs. A single nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists could kill millions. We also have the occupation of Iraq which is costing us dead American soldiers just about every day while burning about $1 billion per week and tying down half of the deployable troops in the US Army. We can't even sustain that level of commitment indefinitely with the current size of the Army. On top of all that we are now faced with the demands of idealistic do-gooders that we should invade (not that they use that term) Liberia for humanitarian reasons. Who wants to pay for a much larger military to deal with all these demands? Who wants to pay with American lives?

So what to do about Saudi Arabia? First of all, the US ought to make it harder for Saudis to travel to the US. As long as Saudi nationals are orders of magnitude more likely to be terrorists than, say, Norwegians or Japanese or Paraguayans why shouldn't we treat them differently? Granted, most are not terrorists. But we can't afford the risk posed by the subset that are and we can't with any accuracy tell which are and which are not.

Another thing we ought to do is to simply say that Wahhabi Islamic clerics are not welcome in the US. Their version of Islam is a threat to US security. We should admit this right out loud and behave accordingly.

To reduce the influence that the Saudis have in the US government we ought to make it a rule that State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and FBI employees can not work for Saudi Arabia or Saudi lobbyists for some number of years (5? 10?) after leaving government.

Retired CIA officer Robert Baer, author of the just-released book Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, tells The Atlantic Monthly that he sees as the cause of the government's unwillingness to be more realistic about Saudi Arabia.

And what is the answer to "Why don't we look inside?"

Dependence. Dependence on cheap oil. It's a dependence that's so strong that it's almost like a narcotic. You don't question the pusher. So many of my colleagues who worked in Saudi Arabia left the CIA and went to work for the Saudis. How can they spend thirty years in the CIA, walk out the door, and have the same remarks I do if they are working for the place? This is an uneasy relationship, because even the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has admitted that he holds out jobs in front of bureaucrats, knowing that one day they can work for the Saudis or work for defense companies that work inside Saudi Arabia. These companies don't want to question Saudi Arabia. You're not going to get Boeing or any of these other companies, like the Carlyle Group, to do independent studies saying, "Oh, by the way, our source of cheap oil is wobbly."

Katherine McIntire Peters has written a review of Sleeping With the Devil.

It is also refreshingly devoid of partisanship; there are plenty of villains in the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton Administrations. Baer describes his unwitting brush with what would turn out to be the Iran-Contra scandal; his anger and frustration over the U.S. abandonment of Iraqi opposition forces at a critical time; and his disgust about the long shadow cast by Big Oil over the Clinton Administration.

Baer has a previous book on terrorism and his career in the CIA: See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism.

As part of our longer run strategy we ought to fund a large research effort aimed at kicking our addiction to oil.

Update: So where is al-Bayoumi? Safely in Saudi Arabia (slightly different spelling).

Meanwhile, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz ruled out Tuesday the possible extradition of al-Bayumi.

"We have never handed over a Saudi to a state or foreign party and we will never do it," Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Prince Nayef as telling Al-Hayat newspaper.

Any Saudi who commits a crime in another country and manages to escape back to Saudi Arabia is beyond the law of other jurisdictions.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 29 12:02 PM  Politics Grand Strategy

Bob said at July 30, 2003 6:20 AM:

Any Saudi who commits a crime in another country and manages to escape back to Saudi Arabia is beyond the law of other jurisdictions.

That's true unless the other jurisdiction is willing to use covert assassination in Saudi Arabia. The question is: Are we willing?

James Jones said at July 31, 2003 5:38 PM:

When the constraints on the solutions to a problem make the problem insoluble, you have to change the constraints. Or, you have to accept the risks of living with the problem.

A nuclear-armed N. Korea with medium and long-range ballistic missile systems is a direct threat to the security of the US and our allies. It is also an indirect threat through proliferation to hostile nations and terrorist groups. N. Korean chemical and biological weapons add to this danger. So is a nuclear-armed Iran, which also has chemical and biological weapons programs and is rapidly developing ballistic missile delivery systems. Iran is a primary supporter of the Hezbollah and Hamas Islamic terrorist groups. Saudi Arabia is the largest source of funding for Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalist teaching and the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. It is also a major source of recruits for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups. And then there is Syria. And Pakistan. And Yemen. And Egypt. And Indonesia. And Libya. And Algeria. And so on, ad nauseum.

But the core of the interlinking problems of Islamist-motivated and funded terrorism, WMD proliferation, and medium/long-range ballistic missile proliferation is now in N. Korea, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. The major constraint on aggressive action to eliminate these national security problems is insufficient active-duty military forces. In particular, there are insufficient Army and Marine ground combat forces and occupation forces. We currently lack the combat power to wage sustained ground offensives against either Iran or N. Korea and we certainly do not have enough troops to adequately occupy Iran or N. Korea or Saudi Arabia. And our enemies know this, so any threats we make now to destroy their regimes are not credible, short of the use of nuclear weapons.

What about the nuclear option? It's off the table .... until there is a major WMD attack against US/Allied forces and/or US/Allied civilians.

What about economic and political pressure? North Korea is the most vulnerable because it does not have large amounts of oil and gas. However, Randall has already explained that this is only a viable option if China cooperates fully. (We should not get our hopes up). Iran and Saudi Arabia are effectively invulnerable to economic pressure because their oil and gas is essential to a healthy world economy. All of these states can shrug off international political pressure unless it is backed by credible military threats.

What about paying them off? Paying blackmail is never a good long-term strategy but it could be a useful way to buy time ....... for a major military build-up. (And technological breakthroughs and/or internal subversion). The problem is that none of these nations would really end their WMD development programs or their support for terrorists. They would continue these hostile programs AND periodically demand more money. (Sorry, economic development aid). I also don't believe the American political class and the American public are sophisticated enough or disciplined enough to pursue a dual-track strategy of appeasement and military build-up.

So, do we tolerate the national security risks of not solving these problems or do we remove the constraints on resources and/or weapons that prevent us from acting decisively?

In a post-9-11 world, we have to go after our enemies before they come after us. Remove the constraints on military manpower and kick ass.

Perspective on Current Military Burden: The US mobilized approximately ten percent (10%) of its total population for active military service in World War II. (13 to 15 million service members out of a population of 135 to 145 million, depending on which sources you consult and how they count active-duty versus Guard, Reserve, and Merchant Marine components). Our current active-duty military has 1.4 million servicemembers. They are supplemented by 200,000 to 300,000 Guard and Reserve troops that are on temporary active-duty. This means that the US only has about one-half of one percent (0.5%) of its total population on active military service. (The current US population is between 290 and 300 million people). Doubling the size of the current active military forces to 3 million would only require one percent (1%) of the total US population. Quadrupling the size of the current active forces to 6 million would only require two percent (2%) of the total US population.

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