Originally published on July 27, 2014, at NationofChange.org
While the U.S. State Department denounces human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia, the NSA is secretly helping the oppressive state police to capture and torture political activists. A 2013 NSA memo exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals the NSA has been providing surveillance assistance to the Saudi Ministry of Interior (MOI) in exchange for signals intelligence on terrorists and “Maritime Force targets of mutual interest.”
According to the NSA memo, relations between the US and Saudi intelligence communities had become strained after the first Gulf War in 1991. The NSA experienced years of stagnation while attempting to work with the Saudi Ministry of Defense, Radio Reconnaissance Department. But in December 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper authorized sharing SIGINT with MOI’s Technical Affairs Directorate.
Influenced by the CIA’s successful relationship with the MOI’s General Directorate for Investigations, Mabahith (equivalent to the FBI), Clapper strengthened the NSA’s faltering relations with the Saudi state police. By providing technical assistance and decryption tools to the MOI, Clapper gave the Saudi government the ability to improve their surveillance systems and spyware against political dissidents, bloggers, and human rights activists.
Last year, the US State Department reported the Saudi government was responsible for arbitrary arrests, denial of due process, detaining political prisoners, human trafficking, torturing prisoners to death, and a myriad of other abuses. A Saudi human rights lawyer and activist named Waleed Abu al-Khair received 15 years in prison for undermining the state and insulting the judiciary. Mukhlif Shammari received 5 years for writing about the mistreatment of Saudi women. While in prison, a human rights activist named Mekhlef bin Daham al-Shammary was hospitalized after government officials poured antiseptic cleaning liquid down his throat.
Sentenced to 10 years, 1,000 lashes, and ordered to pay a fine of 1 million riyals (approximately $266,631), a liberal blogger named Raif Badawi was convicted earlier this year for insulting religious authorities on an online public forum. After losing his appeal against a prior, more lenient sentence of 7 years and 600 lashes, Badawi received a harsher sentence for attempting to assert his innocence. Amnesty International has declared him a “prisoner of conscience” who must be released immediately.
Secretly supporting brutal regimes in the Middle East is nothing new to our intelligence community. In 1953, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’etat against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Codenamed TP-AJAX, the operation consisted of overthrowing Mossadegh while installing Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to replace him.
After Iran nationalized their oil fields in 1951, CIA Director Allen Dulles ordered Dr. Donald N. Wilber to conceive of a plan to remove Mossadegh from power. Although President Truman rejected the plot, President Eisenhower approved of the operation in 1953. Dulles sent CIA operatives Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf into Iran to facilitate the coup and place the Shah back into power.
Gen. Schwarzkopf remained in Iran after the successful coup to train security forces loyal to the Shah. With CIA training, those security forces formed the notorious SAVAK secret police. After receiving CIA training in surveillance, interrogation, and torture, the SAVAK brutally utilized these methods against the Shah’s critics and political dissidents.
By publicly condemning the human rights abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia, our government is free to secretly assist them in escalating the brutality. The U.S. government has a national interest in securing relations with Saudi Arabia. A secret NSA memo from 2007 lists Saudi Arabia as one of four countries where the U.S. “has [an] interest in regime continuity.”