NSA Got Into Bed with the Saudis Just Before Our Technical Cooperation Agreement Expanded

In February 2011, around the time the CIA took over the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, NSA started collaborating with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Technical Assistance Directorate (TAD), under the umbrella of CIA’s relationship with MOI (it had previously cooperated primarily with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense).

On August 15, 2011, hackers erased the data on two-thirds of the computers at Saudi Aramco; American sources claim Iran was the culprit.

On September 30, 2011, CIA killed Anwar al-Awlaki, using drones operated from a base on Saudi soil.

On November 5, 2012, King Abdullah named close John Brennan ally Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN) Minister of the Interior; MbN had for some time been our top counterterrorism partner in the Kingdom.

On December 11, 2012, James Clapper expanded NSA’s Third Party SIGINT relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the first time formally including the Ministry of Interior’s Technical Affairs Directorate.

Between January 14 and 16, 2013 MbN traveled to Washington and met with just about every top National Security person (many of whom, including Brennan, were just assuming new jobs). On January 16, MbN and Hillary Clinton renewed and expanded the Technical Cooperation Agreement initiated in 2008. The TCA was modeled on the JECOR program used from the late 1970s until 2000 to recycle US dollars into development programs in Saudi Arabia; in this more recent incarnation, the Saudis recycle dollars into things like a 30,000 mercenary army and other military toys for internal stability and border control. Last year’s renewal — signed just over a month after Clapper made the Saudis full Third Person partners — added cybersecurity to the portfolio. The TCA — both the existing security resources and its expansion under close ally MbN — shored up the power base of one of our closest partners (and at a time when we were already panicking about Saudi succession).

In other words, in addition to expanding Saudi capabilities at a time when it has been cracking down on peaceful dissent, which is what the Intercept story on this document discusses, by giving the Saudi MOI Third Party status, we added to the power of a key ally within the royal family, and did so at a time when the TCA was already shoring up his power base.

We did so, the Information Paper makes clear, in part because MOI has access to internal Saudi telecommunications. While the Information paper talks about AQAP and Iran’s Republican Guard, they are also targeting Saudi targets.

And these new capabilities? They get coordinated through Chief of Station in Riyadh, the CIA. John Brennan’s agency.

It’s all very tidy, don’t you think?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. CTuttle says:

    Asked if the U.S. takes human rights records into account before collaborating with foreign security agencies, a spokesman for the office of the director of national intelligence told The Intercept: “Yes. We cannot comment on specific intelligence matters but, as a general principle, human rights considerations inform our decisions on intelligence sharing with foreign governments.”

    *gah*

  2. P J Evans says:

    It’s certainly helpful to the Saudi government (or part of it). Not sure how it’s helpful to us, or to any of the other countries in the region, outside of Israel (which I assume gets in on other deals like this).

  3. ArizonaBumblebeeper says:

    It is almost beyond belief anymore what I read about the Middle East. Just in the past few days, I’ve come across several stories that suggest madmen have taken over. First, I read that Prime Minister Netanyahu knew from the beginning that Hamas was not responsible for the killing of the three Israeli teens who precipitated the current crisis in Gaza but gagged the Israeli press so they couldn’t report it. Then, I read that Secretary Kerry on his recent trip to Cairo to help broker a cease fire in Gaza had to go through a metal detector on his way into President el-Sisi’s office. And, while there, he effusively complemented the military dictator for having restored democracy to Egypt. And this morning I read that America is evacuating its Libyan embassy in Tripoli because there is anarchy in the surrounding area. Meanwhile, the new caliphate in Mosul (which Saudi Arabia helped create) is continuing its work to take parts of northern Iraq and Syria back to the Dark Ages. It is not a surprise that Chas Freeman, Jr. (a person loathed by the neocons) recently told an audience: “The result is that the region {the Middle East} and our position in it are both in shambles.” What I would like to know is if the NSA helped the Saudi’s identify the Shia dissidents in Bahrain who are trying to oust the Sunni despot (and American puppet) running the place? It wouldn’t surprise me since, after all, America parks its fleet in Bahrain and giving the majority Shia population democracy might also put the Saudi regime in danger.

    • P J Evans says:

      Add to that the Israeli policy of killing everyone in the area where one (or more) of their soldiers were captured. (They call it the Hannibal policy, and it’s something that even Lector probably wouldn’t go for.)

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