US intelligence has evidence Saudis planned to capture missing journalist

Jamal KhashoggiAmerican intelligence agencies have evidence that the Saudi royal family tried to lure The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, in order to capture him, according to sources. Khashoggi, 59, is a Saudi government adviser who in 2015 became a critic of the kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. He also joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies. He has been missing since Tuesday, when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there for a scheduled appointment in order to be issued a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia.

Last Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi was brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate during his visit, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle. Saudi Arabia has denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post cited anonymous US officials in claiming that the Saudi royal family had devised an elaborate plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to capture him. The paper said that US intelligence agencies are in possession of communications intercepts of exchanges between Saudi officials, in which the plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia is discussed. The Post also cited “several of Khashoggi’s friends” who said that in recent months he received phone calls from Saudi officials close to the kingdom’s controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. The officials reportedly offered Khashoggi political protection from prosecution if he returned to Saudi Arabia. They also offered him high-level government jobs, said The Post. But Khashoggi was skeptical of the offers and rejected them, his friends said.

The paper also cited an anonymous “former US intelligence official” who said that the travel details of the 15-member Saudi diplomatic team that went to Istanbul on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance “bore the hallmarks of [an extralegal] rendition” —a person’s unauthorized removal from one country and detention and interrogation in another. Turkey has said that the Saudi team arrived in Istanbul in two separate groups using private aircraft, and departed from the country at different times going to different destinations in the hours after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 October 2018 | Permalink

Turkey claims Saudi dissident was killed, dismembered inside Saudi consulate

Jamal KhashoggiTurkish government sources have said that a former trusted aide of the Saudi royal family, who was shunned by Riyadh after criticizing Saudi policies, was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. Jamal Khashoggi, 59, is an American-educated former adviser to Saudi royals. He worked for years as an advisor to Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable public figures who represented the Kingdom as ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. But in 2015, when Mohammad bin Salman, favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, began to rise through the ranks of the royal family, Khashoggi became sharply critical of changes in the Kingdom’s style of governance. He moved to the United States, from where he began to criticize Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, its support for the repression of political freedoms in Egypt, and other issues. Earlier this year, Khashoggi joined the staff of The Washington Post and penned columns in which he criticized Saudi policies.

In recent months, Khashoggi moved to Istanbul and planned to marry Hatice Cengiz, a local graduate student. Last Tuesday, in preparation for his wedding with Cengiz, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on a prescheduled visit, reportedly to request a document certifying his divorce from his former wife in Saudi Arabia. The document was reportedly required under Turkish marital law. But The Washington Post columnist has not been seen since. On Sunday, Turkish government officials said that Khashoggi had been brutally murdered inside the Saudi consulate, probably on orders of the Saudi government. Turkish media reports said on Sunday that a 15-member Saudi team arrived in Istanbul shortly prior to Khashoggi’s visit to the consulate. The team, whose members carried diplomatic passports, tortured and then killed Khashoggi, said Turkish sources. They then dismembered his body and took it out of the consulate hidden inside a diplomatic vehicle.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia denied the charges and said that Khashoggi left the consulate in Istanbul less than an hour after entering it on Tuesday afternoon. But Turkish officials, speaking anonymously to local media, said that the government had “concrete proof” and that the case would be solved soon through a series of public announcements. However, no accusations have been issued publicly and some doubt that Ankara has evidence to implicate the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance. Others wonder whether the Turkish government will wish to enter into an escalating diplomatic confrontation with the powerful Saudi royal family. The New York Times said late on Sunday that the Turkish government “was waiting until the investigation was complete” before making a full disclosure regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance. Meanwhile government representatives in the United States, a close ally of the Saudi government, said on Sunday that the Department of State “cannot confirm Mr. Khashoggi’s fate” and that it is “following the case”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2018 | Permalink

Saudi state spies on dissidents in Canada using software built by Israeli firm

Embassy of Saudi Arabia in CanadaThe government of Saudi Arabia is spying on expatriate dissidents in Canada using commercially available software designed by an Israeli company, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. This is alleged in a new report published on Monday by the Citizen Lab, a research unit of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, which focuses on information technology, international security and human rights. The report’s authors say they have “high confidence” that intrusive surveillance software is being deployed to target the electronic communications of Saudi dissidents, including Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist who has been living in Canada’s Quebec province for nearly 10 years.

Abdulaziz, 27, arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2009. In 2014, having publicly voiced criticisms of the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia’s repressive political system, and having been threatened by Saudi authorities, Abdulaziz successfully applied for political asylum in Canada. In 2017 he was granted permanent residency status. For the past eight years, Abdulaziz has become increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Saudi government, mostly through his satirical channel on YouTube. The channel, called Yakathah, has over 120,000 subscribers and its content has angered Saudi authorities. The latter have warned Abdulaziz’s parents and last summer arrested two of his brothers, in what he describes as attempts to silence him.

Researchers from Citizen Lab claim that the Saudi government has been targeting expatriate dissidents such as Abdulaziz using various techniques, such as sending them spyware-infested messages that express support for anti-government demonstrations in Saudi Arabia. The report also notes that these messages make use of Pegasus, a surveillance software system that has been previously implicated in surveillance activities against political dissidents from Gulf countries. The software was designed by NSO Group Technologies, an Israeli digital surveillance company based in Herzliya, a small coastal town located north of Tel Aviv.

The Citizen Lab report comes at a time of heightened tensions in relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. In August, Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry issued sharp criticisms of the Saudi government’s human rights record, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “gravely concerned” about the suppression of political speech in the Kingdom. She also urged the Saudi government to release a number of jailed political activists and stop censoring Saudi women activists seeking gender equality. But her comments enraged the Saudi royal family, which controls the Kingdom. Within days, the Saudi government expelled Canada’s ambassador from Riyadh and restricted its economic ties with Canada. The Kingdom also recalled several thousand Saudi students who were studying in Canadian universities on Saudi government scholarships.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 October 2018 | Permalink

Western agencies warned Lebanese prime minister of assassination plot, say Saudis

Saad al-HaririWestern intelligence services warned Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri of an assassination plot against him, thus prompting him to resign on Sunday, according to Saudi news media. Hariri is a Saudi-born Lebanese politician, reputed to be one of the world’s wealthiest people. He is the second son of the late Rafiq Hariri, who ruled Lebanon for much of the 1990s but was assassinated in 2005. Saad al-Hariri spent most of his life in Saudi Arabia, the United States and France, but returned to Lebanon in 2014 to lead the Future Movement, a center-right political party supported by Sunni Muslims and some Christians. He became prime minister in 2016.

On Friday, Hariri flew from Beirut to Riyadh for a scheduled high-level visit. But on Sunday he shocked the Arab world by announcing his resignation from the post of prime minister. He did so in a surprise television address from the Saudi capital, which was broadcast live in Lebanon. Hariri told stunned Lebanese audiences that he was resigning in order to protect himself from a plot that was underway to assassinate him. He added that the political climate in Lebanon was intolerably tense and reminded him of the conditions that led to the assassination of his father 12 years ago. He also accused Iran and Hezbollah of acting as the primary destabilizing factors in Lebanon and much of the Middle East. Hariri and his supporters believe that Hezbollah was behind his father’s assassination in 2005. There was intense speculation in Lebanon on Monday that Hariri would remain in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future, fearing for his life if he returned to Lebanon.

On Sunday, the Saudi-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat claimed that Hariri decided to resign after he “received warnings from Western governments” that there would be an assassination plot against him. The newspaper did not name the Western governments, nor did it identify those who are allegedly trying to kill Hariri. Later on Sunday, Saudi television station al-Arabiya al-Hadath alleged that an assassination attempt against Hariri had been stopped at the last minute in the Lebanese capital Beirut earlier in the week. Both news media cited “sources close” to the Lebanese leader, but did not provide specific information, nor did they give details of the alleged plot or plots. It is worth noting, however, that Lebanese security officials denied these reports from Riyadh. Lebanese media quoted senior security official Major General Abbas Ibrahim as saying that no information about assassination plots had been uncovered. Major Ibrahim, who heads Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, said that his agency had no information about attempts to kill Hariri or other Lebanese political figures.

This could mean that the information about a possible assassination plot against Hariri was given directly to him by Western intelligence agencies, probably because the latter fear that Lebanese security agencies are infiltrated by Hezbollah sympathizers. Or it could mean that the Saudi media reports are inaccurate. Lebanon is now awaiting further details by Hariri regarding the alleged assassination plot against him. In the meantime, the already fragile political life of Lebanon appears to be entering a period of prolonged uncertainty.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 07 November 2017 | Permalink | Research Credit: B.M.

Analysis: Dozens of royals arrested in weekend raids throughout Saudi Arabia

King Salman with Crown Prince MohammedDozens of Saudi senior figures, some of them among the world’s wealthiest people, have been fired or arrested, as the king and his son appeared to be removing their last remaining critics from the ranks of the security services. The unprecedented arrests took place without warning less than two hours after state-run media announced the creation of a new “supreme committee to combat corruption”. A royal decree issued on the same day named the head of the committee as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s 32-year-old son, who is first in line to the throne.

By Saturday night, nearly 50 senior officials, including at least 11 princes, had reportedly been fired or arrested. The substantial list features four current and at least 20 former ministers, most of them members of the Saudi royal family. Reports from Riyadh said that among those arrested were Saleh Abdullah Kamel, chairman of the General Council for Islamic Banks, Arab media baron Waleed bin Ibrahim al-Ibrahim, and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and one of the world’s wealthiest people. Prince Alwaleed is a major investor in technology companies such as Twitter and Apple, and is seen as a high-profile social reformer in the kingdom.

More importantly, Saturday saw the firing of Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah from the post of Minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Forces. He was replaced by Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who until last week served as one of Prince Mutaib’s subordinates. The royal palace offered no precise explanation for the removal of Prince Mutaib and the three other government ministers. A statement released to the media said that the new effort against corruption was prompted by “the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds”. But there was no direct mention of Prince Mutaib in the statement, and no charges of corruption against him were made public. It is possible that the prince’s firing may not be directly related to the anticorruption drive.

However, few Saudi observers will believe that a genuine anticorruption crusade was behind last weekend’s arrests of senior officials. In a country were nepotism and corruption are not simply endemic, but serve as the driving engine of the economy, virtually nobody believes that the system can be reformed from within. Moreover, it cannot possibly be reformed by the royal family, which is the most prolific source of corruption in the oil-rich kingdom. So what exactly is going on?

Read more of this post

Saudis say they busted spy ring, foiled suicide attack on defense ministry

Saudi security forcesOfficials in Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that they foiled an elaborate suicide attack on the country’s defense ministry headquarters and infiltrated a foreign spy ring in the Kingdom, arresting its members. The near-simultaneous announcements were made by a member of the Presidency of State Security, an intelligence body founded only in July of this year, which is directly accountable to the county’s prime minister.

The government-controlled Saudi Press Agency reported that two Yemeni and two Saudi nationals were arrested in early-morning raids in the capital Riyadh. The four men, said the news agency, were preparing to launch a sophisticated attack against the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense, which is centrally located in the nation’s capital. According to the report, the four would-be attackers had trained in explosives and in the use of suicide belts. Upon searching their safe house in Riyadh, Saudi security officers reportedly found firearms and hand grenades, as well as knives and at least two ready-to-use suicide belts, each weighing in excess of 15 pounds, or 7 kilos. The four men are believed to be members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

In a near-simultaneous announcement, the Presidency of State Security said that its officers had managed to infiltrate an alleged foreign spy cell. The Reuters news agency quoted an anonymous Saudi government source who said that “a group of people” were arrested in Riyadh for carrying out “intelligence activities for the benefit of foreign parties”. The members of the alleged spy ring had regular “contacts with external entities, including the Muslim Brotherhood”, said the anonymous source, referring to the Egyptian-based group that has branches in many Arab countries. The source added that the leaders of the alleged spy ring had received intelligence training and financial support from two foreign countries, which have not been publicly named.

It was not clear on Wednesday morning whether the two developments —the arrest of the alleged terrorists and the spy ring infiltration— were related.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 14 September 2017 | Permalink

Saudi government secretly abducting its critics from abroad, say dissidents

Salman of Saudi ArabiaAt least three prominent Saudi dissidents living in Europe, who openly criticized Saudi Arabia’s system of government, have been illegally abducted by the country’s monarchy in the past two years, according to a report by the BBC. All three, who are members of the Saudi royal family, are missing, believed to be dead or held against their will in Saudi Arabia. But the country’s government will not comment on their fate.

According to the BBC World Service, one of the missing dissidents is Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former major in the Saudi police force. In 2010, the prince began falling out with the Saudi royal family over a disputed inheritance. He was reportedly arrested and imprisoned. Once released from prison, in 2012, he moved to France, from where he began criticizing the Saudi government by posting videos and messages on social media. But his messages calling for political reform and an end to corruption in Saudi Arabia stopped in the summer of 2015 when, according to his friends, he disappeared. One of them, the blogger Wael al-Khalaf, told the BBC that Prince Bandar was visiting Morocco where he was detained following a request by the Saudi government. It is believed that he was then deported to Saudi Arabia, where he remains today, almost certainly against his will.

Another Europe-based Saudi royal, Prince Saud bin Saif al-Nasr, has been missing since 2015. His disappearance came after a year-long social-media campaign in which he called for the prosecution of senior Saudi officials for backing the overthrow of the now deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. In September 2015, shortly before his disappearance, Prince Nasr had publicly endorsed two anonymous open letters —allegedly written by a Saudi prince— calling for the violent overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. According to the BBC, Prince Nasr was the only Saudi royal to publicly and openly endorse the letters. He then disappeared and is presumed to be in Saudi Arabia.

The third case, that of Prince Khaled bin Farhan, is more complicated. The prince was living in Switzerland and was a prominent figure among Saudi exiles calling for political reforms in their homeland. In 2003, he took a flight from Milan to Rome on a private jet, which, according to the BBC, had been provided to him by a Russian-Italian company seeking to strike a business deal with him. But Prince Farhan alleges that the trip was a ruse, and that the jet took him instead to Saudi Arabia, where he was imprisoned. Seven years later, the Saudi government allowed him to seek medical treatment in the United States. But when he arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, the prince immediately filed a criminal complaint against his abductors in the Swiss courts. Amazingly, in 2016 he was convinced by the Saudi government in Paris, where he was living at the time, to use a Saudi government plane to visit his ailing father in Cairo, Egypt. But, predictably, the airplane took him and his 18-member entourage —which included non-Saudi citizens— to Riyadh. When the jet landed, Prince Farhan was “dragged […] from the plane” by heavily armed guards while “screaming at his team to call the US embassy”, according to two members of his entourage who spoke anonymously to the BBC.

The two anonymous sources told the British broadcaster that they had their passports taken away and were kept in a hotel for three days without being allowed to use a telephone to contact their family abroad or their country’s embassy in Saudi Arabia. They were then allowed to “fly to a destination of their choice” with their expenses paid by the Saudi government. The BBC said it contacted the Saudi government seeking information about the three missing royals, but Saudi officials declined to respond to questions.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2017 | Permalink

US spies confirm Qatar’s claims that its media were hacked by Emirates to spark crisis

Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-ThaniAmerican officials appear to confirm Qatar’s allegations that its news media were hacked by its Gulf adversaries, who then used the fake news posted by hackers to launch a massive campaign against it. Tensions between Qatar and other Muslim countries have risen since late May, when the country’s state-controlled news agency appeared to publish an incendiary interview with Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. In the interview, which appeared on May 24, the sheikh appeared to praise Saudi regional rival Iran as a “great Islamic power” and to express support for the militant Palestinian group Hamas. On the following day, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain immediately banned all Qatari media —primarily Al Jazeera— from broadcasting in their territories and broke diplomatic relations with Doha. Later on, they declared a large-scale commercial embargo against the small oil kingdom. They have since threatened war unless Qatar changes its alleged support for Iran and for a number of militant groups in the region.

The Qatari government has dismissed the embargo as unjust and has claimed that Sheikh al-Thani’s controversial interview was fake, and was placed on the country’s state-owned news agency and social media as a result of a computer hack. It has also claimed to have evidence of a number of iPhones that were used from locations in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to launch the hacks on its networks. Qatari officials have also said that an investigation into the incident is underway, but their claims have been criticized as outlandish by Qatar’s regional rivals.

Now, however, a report by The Washington Post claims that American officials have uncovered evidence that Qatar’s allegations of a computer hack are true. The paper cited “US intelligence and other officials” who spoke “on the condition of anonymity”. The officials said that US intelligence agencies recently became aware of a meeting of senior UAE state administrators that took place on May 23 in Abu Dhabi. At the meeting, the officials discussed a plan to hack Qatari news websites and social media, in order to post incendiary messages that could be used to spark a row between Qatar, the Saudi government and its allies. The alleged computer hacks is reported to have taken place on the following day. According to The Post, the only thing that US intelligence is unsure about is “whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done” by a third party.

The Post said that several US intelligence agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, refused to comment on its report. The paper received a response from the UAE embassy in Washington, DC, which said that the Emirates had “no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 July 2017 | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s recently deposed crown prince reportedly under house arrest

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanOne of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful men, who until last week was first in line to the throne, is reportedly under house arrest. If true, this development would reveal a deep and growing division within the ruling House of Saud. Until the early hours of June 21, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, was the officially appointed successor to the Saudi ruler, King Salman. In addition to running the country’s feared security services, Prince Nayef was close to Washington, and is a trusted friend of numerous American intelligence officials. But on June 21, King Salman announced radical changes to the line of succession to the throne, stunning the Saudi establishment and international observers alike. The announcement, which came shortly after midnight, completely deposed Prince Nayef from the line of succession.

In Prince Nayef’s place, the King appointed his favorite son, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, who is now the new crown prince. Prince Salman was virtually unknown until 2015, when his father became monarch. He quickly appointed him to Secretary of Defense in the oil kingdom. Since that time, Prince Salman —the world’s youngest defense minister— has been tasked with overseeing Saudi Arabia’s oil monopoly, and finding ways to diversify the country’s economy. Additionally, he has raised eyebrows at home and abroad, by promoting an aggressive foreign policy in Yemen and Syria. He is also believed to have spearheaded Riyadh’s aggressive foreign-policy maneuvers in relation to Iran and Qatar.

Since the day of the surprise announcement, Prince Nayef has virtually disappeared from public life. It subsequently emerged that he was also fired from his post as Minister of Interior, and replaced by one of his nephews. According to The New York Times, the reason for the prince’s disappearance is that he has been virtually under house arrest. Citing “four current and former American officials” and an unspecified number of “Saudis close to the royal family”, The Times said on Wednesday that Prince Nayef has been “confined to his palace” in the coastal city of Jeddah. The paper alleged that, as soon as he went to his palace in the early hours of Wednesday, the prince found that his trusted security guards had been secretly dismissed and replaced with men who are loyal to Prince Salman.

Sources in the Saudi government, who are close to the king, have dismissed The Times’ report as “baseless and false”. However, no member of Prince Nayef’s inner circle has come forward to dismiss the allegations about his house arrest. If true, the reports would suggest that there is a deep split inside the Saudi royal family and that Prince Nayef, along with members of his immediate family, are being kept in isolation from their supporters.

Meanwhile, there have been no comments from Western governments on Prince Nayef’s surprise dismissal. Regular intelNews readers will recall a leaked German intelligence report from 2015, in which Prince Salman —who is now first in line to the throne— was described as spearheading an “impulsive policy of intervention”. The report, authored by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, warned that Prince Salman’s radical maneuvers were jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies and with Washington. Things have changed since then, however, with the ascent of Donald Trump to the White House. The new American president and his senior aides have repeatedly expressed strong support for King Salman and his son.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 June 2017 | Permalink

Former head of Qatar spy agency sides with Saudis in diplomatic quarrel

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani with US President Donald Trump A former director of Qatar’s intelligence agency broke ranks with the government of Qatar and accused Doha of supporting terrorism. He also warned that the United States, which has a base in Qatar, would not allow the presence of foreign troops there.

Tensions between Qatar and other predominantly Muslim countries rose dangerously in recent weeks. The crisis erupted soon after Qatar’s state-controlled news agency published an interview with the country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, in which he appeared to praise Iran and Israel, Saudi Arabia’s primary regional adversaries. Despite protestations by the Saudi government, the Qatari emir then contacted Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, to congratulate him on his reelection, a move that was interpreted as adversarial by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also feels threatened by Al Jazeera, a Qatari-based television network with worldwide reach, which is often critical of the Gulf’s oil monarchies other than Qatar.

Last week, Saudi Arabia and 16 other predominantly Muslim countries, including Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, announced a series of diplomatic, commercial and military sanctions on Qatar. The sanctions are ostensibly designed to curtail the country’s alleged support for international terrorism. Riyadh and its allies accuse Doha of secretly supporting militant groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Hamas and the Taliban, among others. Currently all sea, air and land connections between these 16 countries and Qatar have been suspended, while no diplomatic relations exist between them. The tense situation has prompted some analysts to describe the diplomatic crisis as the worst in the Gulf region since the 1991 Gulf War.

In response to the diplomatic boycott, the government of Qatar said last week that it would invite military personnel from three of its allies, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, to protect its territory. But the former director of Qatar’s intelligence service said in an interview on Monday that Qatar’s threat would not materialize. Read more of this post

Emiratis, Saudis, secretly assisting Libyan rebels with air power, says UN

Khalifa HaftarSecret military assistance from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which violates United Nations sanctions, is helping Libya’s eastern-based rebels prevail in the civil war there, according to a new report. Libya has remained in a state of anarchy since 2011, when a popular uprising backed by the West and its allies led to the demise of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Currently the strongest faction in the post-2011 Libyan Civil War is the eastern-based Tobruk-led Government, which is affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA). The commander of the LNA is Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of Colonel Gaddafi, who lived in the US under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011.

The Tobruk-led Government is ostensibly supported by the United States, but has also received Russian assistance. The status of the group is further-complicated by the fact that, in recent years, its military wing, led by Haftar, operates semi-autonomously. Some believe that Haftar has now stopped taking orders from Tobruk and has aspirations to lead his own armed faction in Libya.

In February of 2011, shortly after the popular uprising erupted in Libya, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, which —among other things— forbids the export of war materiel to Libya. The resolution was further-strengthened in 2014 and today remains in place. But the UN embargo did not appear to stop the military domination of Haftar’s LNA. In the past few months, the armed group has managed to extend its control over dozens of urban centers, oil installations and military bases and outposts throughout eastern and central Libya. Today, the LNA is seen as the dominant military authority in the war-torn country.

Now a new report published by the UN suggests that the main reason for the LNA’s military prowess lies in the secret support it receives from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The report was published on Friday by the “Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970”, a panel of experts appointed by the UN to oversee the implementation of the arms embargo. In its annual report, the panel asserts that Haftar’s forces received significant military assistance from the UAE in both ground and aerial support. Specifically, the LNA received nearly 650 armored and non-armored vehicles in April of 2016 alone, as well as helicopters and unmanned drones. The latter are now stationed the Al-Khadim air base, which was built by the LNA specifically in order to house the UAE-supplied aircraft. It is believed that the UAE operates the Al-Khadim air base, which is located approximately 60 miles east of Benghazi, Libya’s second most populous urban center.

The UN report goes on to state that much of the war materiel reaches Libya through ships that sail from Saudi Arabia, and that some Belarus-based companies are also involved in the illicit transfer of helicopters, non-armored vehicles and other items to Libya. It concludes that the materiel assistance provided by the UAE has “significantly increased the air support available to the LNA”, which in turn explains the group’s impressive military performance in the past year. The report’s authors noted that they contacted the government of the UAE in regards to the report’s findings, but received no response.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 June 2017 | Permalink

German spy agency says Saudi Arabia is ‘source of regional instability’

Prince Mohammed bin SalmanA report by Germany’s primary intelligence agency warns that internal power struggles and broader geopolitical changes are turning the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a major source of regional instability. The report was produced by the German Federal Intelligence Service, known as BND, and is entitled: “Saudi Arabia: A Sunni Regional Power Torn Between a Paradigm Shift in Foreign Policy and Domestic Power Consolidation”. It explains the energy-rich Kingdom’s new forceful approach to regional problems as an outcome of both domestic and external factors.

On the domestic scene, the BND report connects the changes in Saudi Arabia’s regional stance with an unfolding power-struggle between two factions inside the country’s royal family. On the one side is the ‘traditionalist’ faction led by King Salman, who was enthroned in January of this year following the death of his predecessor, King Abdullah. This faction is being challenged by a group of royal family members led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who currently serves as the country’s minister of defense. According to the BND report, Prince Mohammed, who is second-in-line to the throne, is trying to solidify his position in the royal succession by promoting a more radical and militarized foreign policy. This, says the BND, can be seen in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing military intervention in Yemen, as well as in its highly interventionist policy in support of anti-government rebels in Syria.

The German intelligence report suggests that Prince Mohammed’s policies are also the result of a widespread view among some senior members of the Saudi royal family that the United States is gradually disengaging from the Middle East, and that the country is not any more a strong guarantor of Saudi Arabia’s security. As a result, the Kingdom is “prepared to take unprecedented risks” in the military, diplomatic and financial domains in order to project itself as a strong regional actor and “avoid falling behind in regional affairs” in its struggle for dominance against its neighboring rival, Iran.

But this new policy, says the BND, comes with considerable financial demands, which are challenging the limits of Saudi Arabia’s financial might. This year alone, notes the German report, the Kingdom is expected to announce a budget deficit that will be in the neighborhood of $120 billion. This is angering many senior members of the royal family who are opposed to Prince Mohammed’s aggressive regional stance. These ‘traditionalists’ have repeatedly criticized the prince’s “impulsive policy of intervention”, which they claim is jeopardizing the Kingdom’s relationship with important regional allies, as well as with Washington.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 4 October 2015 | Permalink

Israel, Saudi Arabia, acknowledge holding secret talks on Iran

Dore Gold and Anwar Majed EshkiRepresentatives from Israel and Saudi Arabia have publicly admitted for the first time that they met secretly to discuss their common foe Iran, even though Saudi Arabia does not officially acknowledge Israel’s existence. The admission was made at a symposium held on Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg’s Eli Lake, who covered the event, it featured speeches by Saudi General (ret.) Anwar Majed Eshki, and Israeli career diplomat Dore Gold. Eskhi is a former adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Gold is Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, and is currently seen as a strong candidate to lead Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lake notes that Eshki gave his speech in Arabic, Gold gave his in English, and that no questions were taken from the audience.

At least five meetings appear to have taken place between senior Israeli and Saudi officials since early 2014, in secret venues located in Italy, India and the Czech Republic. The main purpose of the clandestine meetings was to discuss what Tel Aviv and Riyadh see as Iran’s increasingly powerful role in Middle Eastern affairs, and to explore ways of stopping Tehran from building nuclear weapons.

The admission of the secret meetings between Israeli and Saudi diplomats will not come as a surprise to seasoned Middle East observers. Many have suspected that the two countries, who have historically been bitter enemies, have sought to collaborate behind the scenes against Iran. However, as Lake correctly points out, this week’s acknowledgement is the first time that this collaboration has been openly admitted by the two sides. He quotes one participant at Thursday’s symposium, Israeli General (ret.) Shimon Shapira, who says that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have also discussed “political and economic” means of thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This admission, however, does not mean that the Saudis are about to recognize Israel, or that the Israelis are any closer to accepting the Saudis’ 2002 Arab-Israeli peace plan, which Tel Aviv has flatly rejected, says Lake. Admittedly, the rising power of Iran can only do so much to bring Israelis and Arabs closer.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 June 2015 | Permalink: https://intelnews.org/2015/06/05/01-1709/

Hersh: Pakistanis gave CIA permission to kill bin Laden

Osama bin LadenBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Journalist Seymour Hersh has cited senior American intelligence officials in claiming that the killing of Osama bin Laden was a joint operation between the United States and Pakistan. In a lengthy article published over the weekend in The London Review of Books, the veteran investigative reporter suggests that Pakistan had kept the al-Qaeda founder in prison for several years in the city of Abbottabad. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate —known commonly as ISI— had planned to turn bin Laden over to the US in its own time, in a quid-pro-quo move. But the Pakistanis’ plan had to be scrapped when bin Laden’s hideout was betrayed to the Central Intelligence Agency by a former ISI officer, says Hersh. His assertion agrees with previous accounts of the US raid against bin Laden, offered by security expert R.J. Hillhouse in 2011, and earlier this year by Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, who led the ISI from 1990 to 1992.

The unnamed sources behind Hersh’s claims are an American “retired senior intelligence official” who was privy to early intelligence concerning bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Hersh also cites “information from inside Pakistan”, as well as two other sources from America, who have been “longtime consultants to the [US] Special Operations Command”.

The initial tip about bin Laden’s whereabouts came to the CIA in the form of a ‘walk-in’ —a term used to denote someone who voluntarily contacts an intelligence outpost, usually by simply walking into an embassy or consulate and asking to speak to the intelligence officer on duty. Hersh says the walk-in was a former high official in the ISI, who told the Agency’s Islamabad station that he could lead them to the al-Qaeda founder’s location. The retired official was successfully polygraphed and was eventually able to claim the $25 million reward offered by the US Department of State for bin Laden’s head. He and his family are now living in the Washington, DC, area, says Hersh.

The walk-in told the CIA that the compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was living was “not an armed enclave”, as Langley had initially assumed. Instead it was a prison and was under the complete control of the ISI. The latter had managed to capture bin Laden in the Hindu Kush Mountains in 2006, by paying off some of the local tribesmen who were sheltering him. Hersh also reiterates information previously reported by intelNews, namely that the government of Saudi Arabia had entered into an agreement with Islamabad to finance the construction and maintenance of bin Laden’s prison-compound in Abbottabad.

According to Hersh, the US government eventually informed Pakistan that it had uncovered and was incessantly monitoring bin Laden’s location. Along with threats, Washington offered the ISI commanders, who were in charge of bin Laden’s security, “under-the-table personal incentives” to agree to stand aside during a US raid on the compound. Under the final agreement, struck at the end of January 2011, the Americans promised to send in a small force that would kill bin Laden, thus sparing Islamabad and Riyadh the embarrassment of the al-Qaeda founder speaking out about his previously close relations with both governments. The Pakistanis even provided the CIA with accurate architectural diagrams of the compound. Accordingly, when the US forces went into Abbottabad in May of that year, “they knew where the target was —third floor, second door on the right”, says the retired US intelligence official quoted by Hersh.

The veteran journalist adds that the American planners of the operation knew well that bin Laden had been held in virtual isolation from the outside world for years, and that he was not “running a command center for al-Qaeda operations” from Abbottabad, as the White House later claimed. Consequently, the stories about “garbage bags full of computers and storage devices” that the US Navy SEALs brought back from the compound were false. Some of the SEALs took with them some books and papers found in bin Laden’s bedroom. But most of the material that was eventually acquired by the CIA was voluntarily provided to the Americans by the Pakistanis, who took control of the compound immediately after the SEALs left and eventually razed it.

Saudis recall ambassador from Sweden after arms deal is scrapped

Margot WallströmBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The government of Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its ambassador from Sweden after the Scandinavian country annulled a multimillion dollar defense contract with the Arab kingdom. Stockholm scrapped the contract on Monday, a day after the Saudis blocked a scheduled speech by the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, at the Arab League conference in Cairo. Wallström said she was “astonished” after Arab delegates backed a last-minute push by the Saudi delegation to the meeting to block her from speaking. The effort to block the Swedish politician’s speech was initiated once it became clear that she intended to criticize the Kingdom’s human-rights record. The Swedish politician had reportedly planned to broach the issue of freedom of expression and religious worship, as well as touch on the subject of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The speech was meant to highlight Wallström’s “feminist foreign policy”, which she has previously said will form “an integral part” of the policy strategy of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs under her leadership.

On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced that a lucrative weapons agreement, which was first signed between Stockholm and Riyadh in 2005, would be scrapped in protest against the Arab Kingdom’s poor human-rights record. The day before the announcement, Wallström had proceeded to post online the text of the speech that she had been scheduled to deliver in Cairo, where she had been invited by the Arab League as a guest of honor. Fewer than 24 hours later, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said it would be recalling its ambassador to Sweden, Ibrahim bin Saad Al-Ibrahim, in protest against what it said were Sweden’s “offensive” and “harmful” actions against the Kingdom. An official statement by the Saudi government described Wallström’s criticisms as a “blatant interference” in the Kingdom’s internal affairs that had “violated accepted international conventions”.

Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed late on Wednesday that the Saudi ambassador to the country was being recalled, but it refused to speculate on whether it would respond by recalling its ambassador to the Arab Kingdom.