Intelligence: October 10, 2002

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Saudi Arabia is becoming a major intelligence headache. Not just because 15 of the September 11, 2001 bombers came from there, but because the Saudis obviously have a problem with Islamic radicalism, but at the same time go to great lengths to deny that the problem exists. Normally, they could keep this covered up, at least to outsiders, if were not for the continuing bombing attacks against westerners. On September 30, another bomb went off in Riyadh, killing a German man. Two years ago, on November 17, 2000, a bomb went off in the same place, killing a British man. Last June, a car bomb killed another Briton, and shortly thereafter two American avoided the same fate when they discovered a bomb in their car before it could go off. Bombs went off in May and March last year, killing or injuring foreigners. Seven foreigners were arrested for the November, 2000 bombing, and some have confessed, But others who were arrested and released say that they were tortured in attempts to get them to confess. The Saudis blame the violence on westerners running illegal alcohol smuggling operations. Alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and foreigners have long sneaked it in, or brewed it locally. There is big money in the illegal alcohol business, and occasional violence between the booze barons. Most westerners in Saudi Arabia feel safe, although they can't help but notice the anti-western attitudes among most Saudis. Westerners witnessed many spontaneous celebrations by Saudis on September 11, 2001. But the Saudi police and intelligence officials continue to stonewall their counterparts in the United States. The FBI has even gone public with their complaints about the lack of cooperation from the Saudis. Even during the Gulf War, the Saudis gave the U.S. military a hard time interviewing Iraqi prisoners. The Saudis insisted that any captured Iraqis be handed over to them, and then denied American intelligence officials access to most of the valuable sources of information about how things were inside the Iraqi armed forces. Western intelligence agencies do have a lot of people working for them inside Saudi Arabia (whether the Saudi government has approved it or not) and the information they are getting from their "illegals" does not match what the Saudis are telling them about the activities of Islamic radicals there. It's tough being a spy when a publicly "staunch" ally is trying to hide the obvious from you.

 


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