US and Saudi Arabia ‘suffered intelligence blackout’ during Iran drone strikes: sources

Saudi AramcoSaudi Arabia and the United States suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the lead-up to the drone strikes that shut down half of the kingdom’s oil production last month, according to Israeli sources. In the early hours of September 14, missiles struck two refineries belonging to the world’s largest crude oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia. The facilities, which belong to Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, were forced to cease operation so that repairs could be carried out. This drastically reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent drop in global oil production. By Monday morning, global oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

Soon after the attacks, Saudi and American officials accused Iran of having launched the missile strikes. But according to Breaking Defense, Riyadh and Washington suffered “a total and embarrassing [intelligence] failure” in the hours prior to and following the attacks. The US-based website cited a number of anonymous Israeli sources, who said that officials in Tel Aviv were surprised by the lack of intelligence in the US and Saudi Arabia about the missile strikes. The Israelis told Breaking Defense that Saudi intelligence agencies “had no idea Iran was planning to attack the kingdom’s oil facilities […]. It seems that the Americans were also in the dark [or that possibly] Washington […] did not share the data in time with the Saudis”, they added.

The above information was allegedly discussed at an emergency meeting of the Israeli defense cabinet on October 6, which included a briefing on the attacks by the Mossad, Israel’s main external intelligence agency. According to the Israeli sources, Mossad officials were quickly able state with high confidence that the missiles had been launched from military bases in southeast Iran or by Iranian militias in Iraq. It was only following an examination of missile fragments that Saudi and American intelligence officers were able to point the finger at Iran, according to Aahron Ze’evi Farkash, former director of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate.

Breaking Defense also said that Israeli intelligence analysts were impressed by the precision of the weapons systems used in the Iranian strikes. Additionally, the specific targets of the attacks were selected with the help of “very accurate intelligence”, said the Israeli sources.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 October 2019 | Permalink

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Head of Saudi king’s security detail shot dead in mysterious circumstances

Abdulaziz al-FaghamThe head of the security detail of Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has been shot dead in mysterious circumstances. Abdulaziz al-Fagham was a Major General in Saudi Arabia’s Royal Guard Corps, whose mission is to protect the senior members of the oil kingdom’s royal family. Al-Fagham served two kings, king Salman and his predecessor, king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and was constantly seen alongside the in official functions. Since much current-affairs coverage in Saudi Arabia’s state-owned media revolves around the activities of the royal family, al-Fagham’s figure was familiar to most Saudis. They were reportedly shocked by the murder of such a familiar figure who was very close to the Saudi royal family.

But details of al-Fagham’s killing remain sparse. Saudi officials began posting social-media messages of condolence about al-Fagham and his family late on Saturday evening. It wasn’t until late on Sunday evening that the kingdom’s official media began to publish official reports of al-Fagham’s demise. State-run Saudi television said that al-Fagham, whom it described as a “bodyguard of the custodian of the two holy mosques”, had been killed following a “dispute of a personal nature”. A subsequent television report stated that al-Fagham had died on Saturday evening at a house belonging to a close friend of his in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, which is located on the shores of the Red Sea.

It has since emerged that while visiting his friend’s house, al-Fagham had a prolonged argument with another visitor named Mamdouh bin Meshaal al-Ali. The latter left the house in anger and later returned with a rifle, which he used to kill al-Fagham and injure two others, according to reports. Al-Fagham was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died of gunshot wounds. Meanwhile, police surrounded the house where the shootout took place and tried to arrest al-Ali. But the alleged culprit refused to surrender to police and was subsequently shot dead by security officers, following a firefight that injured several people.

The New York Times said on Sunday that around al-Fagham’s murder the Saudi intelligence services contacted their American counterparts seeking information on a number o Saudi citizens with alleged connections to terrorism. But it is not known whether the request for intelligence was in any way connected to al-Fagham’s killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 September 2019 | Permalink

Opinion: Saudi Arabia will not go to war with Iran, but it may pay others to do so

Saudi AramcoEver since a barrage of drone and missile attacks struck Saudi Arabia on September 14, many have wondered whether the oil kingdom will go to war with Iran. Riyadh has directly accused the Islamic Republic of being behind the attacks. But the speculation about a possible war is baffling, argues Nesrine Malik in a well-argued article published last Sunday in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Saudi Arabia does not “go to war”, she says —it pays others to do so on its behalf.

The war in Yemen is a perfect example, argues Malik. Even though the Saudi monarchy is leading the foreign military involvement in that war, Saudi Arabia is supplying almost no ground troops in that war. There are only Saudi commanders who are managing groups of mercenaries from Morocco, Jordan and Egypt. A large portion of the Saudi-led force consists of Sudanese child soldiers, whose families are paid handsomely for supplying the oil kingdom’s force in Yemen with what Malik describes as “cannon fodder”. The Saudi commanders communicate their battle orders to their hired troops via satellite phones and use unmanned drones and high-flying planes to attack the predominantly Shiite Houthi rebels. That largely explains the high civilian toll in that war.

Meanwhile, the United States government announced last week that it will be sending several hundred troops to the oil kingdom and will be beefing up its air defense systems. But Malik wonders why it is that Saudi Arabia, which has been the world’s largest weapons importer since 2014, and whose 2018 arms purchases accounted for 12 percent of global defense spending last year, requires the presence of American troops on its soil for its protection. The answer is simple, she says: the Saudi regime purchases weapons, not to use them, but to make Wester defense industries dependent on its purchasing power. In other words, the Saudi monarchy buys Western weapons for political reasons. These purchases enable it to get away with its abysmal human-rights record at home, as well as its kidnappings and assassinations abroad.

In the meantime, says Malik, if Saudi Arabia goes to war against Iran, it will do so the way it always does: it will hire proxies —including the United States— to fight on its behalf.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 September 2019 | Permalink

US considering drastic increase in intel-sharing with Saudi Arabia after drone attacks

AramcoUnited States officials are considering increasing substantially America’s intelligence-sharing with Saudi Arabia following last weekend’s drone attacks that halved the Kingdom’s oil production and shook global markets. The attacks occurred in the early hours of Saturday, September 14, at two refineries located in eastern Saudi Arabia. The refineries are owned by Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil conglomerate, and are part of the world’s largest crude oil processing facility. The massive fires caused by the attacks were contained within hours and no casualties were reported. But the facilities had to cease operation so that repairs could be completed. This cut Saudi Arabia’s oil production by close to 50 percent, which amounted to a 5 percent reduction in global oil production. The impact on the world’s financial markets was immediate: by Monday morning, oil prices had seen their most significant one-day surge since the 1991 Gulf War.

The Houthi movement, a collection of Yemeni Shiite militias supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack. A Houthi movement spokesman said on Sunday that the attacks had been carried out with the use of modified commercially available drones. He also warned that Saudi Arabia would experience more attacks of this kind in the future. Iran has rejected accusations by American and some Saudi officials that it was responsible for the attacks.

On Monday the Reuters news agency reported that the US is considering the possibility of drastically increasing the volume and quality of intelligence it shares with Saudi Arabia. The move is allegedly intended as one in a series of measures to be taken by Washington in response to Saturday’s drone attacks. In the past, the US has been selective in how much intelligence it shares with the Saudis, who have been involved in an increasingly bloody civil war in Yemen since 2015. Washington is weary of being seen to have a decisive role in support of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, in light of the criticism that the latter has drawn from numerous international bodies and governments around the world.

The US Congress has also condemned the Saudi campaign in an unusually bipartisan fashion, and has tried to stop President Donald Trump from providing material support to it. In May of this year, the US president defied Congress and signed two dozen arms sales agreements worth over $8 billion with the oil kingdom. The move upset many critics of Saudi Arabia in the Republican Party, who sharply criticized the Saudi government for killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last year. A possible decision by Washington to increase its intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia is bound to prompt a critical response from Congress, especially if it relates to the ongoing war in Yemen.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 September 2019 | Permalink

US weapons given to UAE and Saudi Arabia are diverted to al-Qaeda-linked groups

Shabwani EliteWeapons supplied to the Saudi and Emirati governments by the United States and other Western nations are ending up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militias in Yemen, according to two separate investigations. The weapons are being supplied to the militaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the West on the understanding that they will be used in the war in Yemen. The war has been going on since 2015, when a alliance of rebel groups from Yemen’s Shiite communities formed the Houthi movement, which quickly seized control of much of the country. The Houthis effectively toppled the government, prompting a reaction by a coalition of Sunni Arab states, which see the Shiite movement as an Iranian front. In an effort to restore Yemen’s Sunni-dominated government, Western countries have supplied Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with more than $5 billion-worth of weaponry.

However, a report published this week by Amnesty International alleges that some of that weaponry, including machine guns, mortars and even armored vehicles, are being deliberately diverted to Sunni militia groups in Yemen. Among them are three militias that are known to be supported by the government of the Emirates, namely the Giants, the Security Belt and the Shabwani Elite. These groups, says Amnesty, have been seen using Western-supplied weaponry in the field of battle and in their compounds throughout Yemen. In its report, the human-rights group says that these groups are not accountable to any government and have been linked to serious war crimes against civilians. Meanwhile, a separate investigation aired this week by CNN claims that American-manufactured weaponry and materiel given by Washington to the Saudi and Emirati militaries is ending up in the hand of Salafist militias in Yemen. The report names the Sunni Abu al-Abbas Brigade, which is closely linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The CNN report also claims that some of the American weaponry has fallen in the hands of Houthi fighters.

On Wednesday the BBC quoted a senior American general who said that the Pentagon plans to investigate whether American and other Western-supplied weapons are being illegally diverted into the hands of non-state Sunni militias in Yemen. The government of the United Arab Emirates has not commented on the reports. As intelNews reported last August, an investigative report published by the Associated Press claimed that senior AQAP commanders were on the payroll of US-backed Sunni militias in Yemen and that its fighters were being recruited to fight against the Houthis. The report also argued that Washington was privy to the secret agreements between Yemen’s Sunni militias and AQAP.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 February 2019 | Permalink

Law advocacy center sues CIA for access to Jamal Khashoggi files

Jamal KhashoggiAn international law center based in New York is suing the United States Central Intelligence Agency for access to classified files relating to the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who became critical of the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States and began to criticize Saudi Arabia from the pages of The Washington Post. He was killed on October 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit-squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to be issued a certificate of divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After several weeks of vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted that he was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

A few weeks after the murder, it was reported that British and American intelligence agencies were aware of efforts by the Saudi government to detain or otherwise silence Khashoggi, and that they had even warned Riyadh against such a move. In November, the CIA was reported to have concluded that Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, had personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder. After its intelligence committee was briefed by the CIA on the matter, the US Senate unanimously condemned bin Salman and the government of Saudi Arabia, and called on the White House to impose sanctions on the oil kingdom. However, US President Donald Trump appears to have rejected the CIA’s conclusion and has refused to condemn the Saudi government over Khashoggi’s murder.

Now the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based foundation specializing in national security and human rights, has filed a lawsuit against the CIA over the Khashoggi case. The lawsuit also names the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as defendants. The 17-page complaint, filed in a New York court on Wednesday, calls for the “immediate release” of all records in possession of these government agencies about Khashoggi’s murder under the US Freedom of Information Act. It calls these records “imperative for the public to properly and timely evaluate Congressional and Executive responses to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing”.

The Justice Initiative is one of the programs of the Open Society Foundations, the international civil-society advocacy group founded by Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist George Soros. Since its establishment in 2003, the Justice Initiative has filed over 100 national and international lawsuits relating to national security, most notably regarding the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, which the agency launched following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 January 2019 | Permalink

Saudi royal suspected of ordering Khashoggi murder leads spy reform body

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedThe Saudi royal who is suspected by the international community of having ordered the state-sponsored murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is now leading a committee to reform the Kingdom’s spy services. Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi government adviser who became critical of the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States and began to criticize Saudi Arabia from the pages of The Washington Post. He was killed on October 2 by a 15-member Saudi hit-squad while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. After several weeks of vehemently denying any role in Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi government eventually admitted that he was killed while inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After conceding that Khashoggi was murdered inside its consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi monarchy pledged to punish those responsible and reform the Kingdom’s intelligence services. But reports in the international press have disclosed that nearly every major Western intelligence agency believes that Khashoggi’s murder was authorized by none other than Muhammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and heir-presumptive to the Saudi throne. In late October it was disclosed that Britain’s intelligence services had prior knowledge of a plot to target Khashoggi at the highest echelons of the Saudi government, and allegedly warned Riyadh not to proceed with the plan. And earlier this month it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, bin Salman had exchanged text messages with the head of the 15-member hit-team in the hours prior to and following Khashoggi’s brutal murder in Istanbul.

However, not only has the Kingdom’s ruler, King Salman, rejected reports about the crown prince’s alleged involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, but he has also appointed the controversial royal as the head of a ministerial committee to “restructure the General Intelligence Presidency”. The term refers to the primary intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia, which is also known as the General Intelligence Directorate (GID). The ministerial committee has reportedly met several times since October 19, when it was established by royal decree “in pursuit of achieving best international practices” in intelligence operations. On Thursday, Saudi media announced that the ministerial committee had drafted a document recommending “short-, medium-, and long-term development solutions” for restructuring the GID. Several measures were presented by the media as “urgent”. They center on creating a “department for strategy and development” whose task will be to ensure that intelligence operations are in line with the GID’s strategy and the Kingdom’s national security strategy. Another proposed measure involves creating a “general department for legal affairs” that will assess the compatibility of proposed intelligence operations with “international laws and charters and with human rights”. The committee also proposed the creation of a “general department for performance evaluation and internal review” to verify that intelligence operations have been carried out in a legal fashion.

Saudi media reports on Thursday made no mention of the controversy surrounding bin Salman’s presidency of the ministerial committee. For the past two months, the Kingdom has dismissed reports of the crown prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder as “fake news” promoted by its rival Qatar. It has also warned that any social media posts that promote “fake news” about the Saudi government’s involvement in the murder will result in up to five years’ imprisonment. Last month, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director of the GID, rejected calls for an international inquiry into Khashoggi’s murder and said that Saudi Arabia would never agree to an international investigation into the case.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2018 | Permalink