As I noted in this post, one explicit purpose of Saudi Minister of Interior Mohammed bin Nayef’s trip to the US from January 14 to 16 was to renew the Technical Cooperation Agreement first signed on May 16, 2008 by Condi Rice and MbN’s father when he was Interior Minister. MbN and Hillary Clinton signed the renewal on January 16.
Particularly given that the prior TCA is posted on State’s website and this picture was out there (not to mention the joint statement with DHS, addressing a trusted traveler program that may end up being controversial), I was surprised that the renewal was not. I checked with State and–after a day of checking–learned that the renewed agreement “hasn’t been posted yet.”
Yes, I do plan to keep trying, both through persistence or FOIA.
But I am interested in why State wouldn’t post it right away. Perhaps it’s just internal bureaucracy, but here are thoughts about some other possibilities.
State could be hiding changes in the funding structure
First, there is a change we know has taken place since the TCA was first signed.
The TCA is basically a cooperation agreement to get direct help from us–including training and toys–to protect Saudi infrastructure and borders, particularly its oil infrastructure. As part of it, the Saudis are developing a 35,000 person force, including a paramilitary force, with US training. But unlike our other defense agreements with the Saudis (and like the Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation it was explicitly modeled on, which had been in place from the 1970s until 1999), this one includes a special bank account to fund it all.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will establish a dollar disbursement account in the United States Treasury. Any funds required by the United States for agreed-upon projects will be deposited by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the account in such amounts and at such times as are mutually agreed, and the United States may draw on this account in the amount so agreed. If upon termination of this agreement there are funds remaining in the special account after all expenses have been paid, such funds will be refunded to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
That account could fund contractors and toys. But at least at first, it could not fund US government employees.
The United States will pay for all costs of U.S. Government direct-hire employees assigned to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform services under this Agreement.
Less than a year into the agreement, that changed, with MbN agreeing the Saudis would also pay for US personnel salaries.
MbN was grateful for USG efforts and assured us full funding would soon follow the signing of these documents, and reconfirmed the SAG’s commitment to pay all OPM-MOI costs. He also agreed to fund all USG employee costs, concurring with any necessary TCA changes to allow such payments, commenting that “hopefully the lawyers will not cause us any problems.”
And already by the time MbN made that agreement, the US was installing military and State employees to oversee this effort (see more on these personnel here).
Now, I’m not entirely sure how innovative it is that the Saudis are funding US hires to defend their oil infrastructure. But MbN’s quip about the lawyers suggests some sensitivity on this front. Continue reading
The question of why John Brennan seized control of drone targeting continues to gnaw on me. Which is why I find this attack piece on the US Ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, to be so interesting.
You’ll recall that one effect of the Brennan power grab was to have State consult directly with Brennan about who should be on the kill list, rather than have State work through DOD’s teleconferences.
The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists.
Under the old Pentagon-run review, the first step was to gather evidence on a potential target. That person’s case would be discussed over an interagency secure video teleconference, involving the National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department, among other agencies.
The article on Feierstein describes him being so central to decisions about how the country will be governed, Yemen has become a trusteeship.
The extent of American meddling was further highlighted by the publication on local and foreign websites of leaked letters from the US ambassador to Yemeni Interior Minister Abdul Qadir Qahtan, instructing him to make certain security personnel changes, which he described as necessary to helping bring civil peace to the country. This leaves no room for doubt that Feierstein has assumed a de facto governing role in Yemen, pushing for progress but only in the manner that he deems appropriate, and which does not, of course, conflict with broader US policy in Yemen.
Analyst Qaderi Ahmad Haidar says the country has indeed fallen under effective US trusteeship, and blames the Gulf Initiative and the mechanisms that were agreed to implement it. “It is a deplorable and lamentable picture we see today,” he told Al-Akhbar. “We didn’t expect the pure revolution of the Yemeni youth to end in this.”
The US ambassador’s pronouncements are incessant, and oblivious to the basic diplomatic norms that govern relations between two states. He is constantly making media appearances to discuss, explain and clarify aspects of Yemen’s daily affairs, as though he were the country’s undeclared president.
During the course of one recent appearance he said: “We are now in the second phase of the Gulf Initiative… I met with the president yesterday… We believe everyone should take part in the National Dialogue… President Obama has issued an executive order which enables us to punish individuals or groups who obstruct the implementation of the agreement (the Gulf Initiative)… We are working to restructure the army and security forces… We are pleased with what has been achieved so far… We are on the right track.” The ambassador’s use of the first person when discussing Yemeni affairs strikes Muhammad Ayesh, editor of the independent newspaper al-Awwali, as telling. It serves to cast him not just as Yemen’s “governor,” but as a leader propelled by a transformative revolution into the country’s top position.
At least from several Yemeni perspectives, Feierstein is the one making all the decisions for the Yemenis. (He’s also reportedly pushing the Pentagon to sell armored vehicles to the Yemenis.) Couple that with the reports of Hillary’s centralization of CT funding under State.
In Yemen, in particular, some commando officers look upon the State Department’s expanding shadow-war powers as a bureaucratic intrusion on what should be military territory. A source tells Danger Room that in Yemen State has effectively hijacked all U.S. counter-terrorism funding, requiring a labyrinthine approval process for even small expenditures.
It’s clear State–whether Feierstein or Hillary or both–are driving a lot of what is happening in Yemen.
I’m just wondering whether that explains why NSC seized control of our drone war in April, to put it squarely in the hands of our “diplomats?”