Friday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman came to DC to meet with Obama, renting out the entire Four Seasons hotel in a lavish display of extravagance as our joint policies in the Middle East foster a refugee crisis in Europe.
In a joint appearance on Friday, King Salman likened this meeting to the 1945 meeting on an aircraft
carrier cruiser with FDR that laid the foundation for the oil-dollar-anti-Communist axis that has dominated post-war power.
I intended to make my first official visit to the United States as a symbol of the deep and strong relationship that we have with the United States that’s indeed historical relations that go back to the day when King Abd alAziz met with President Roosevelt in 1945.
Our relationship is beneficial not only to our two countries, but to the entire world and to our region. And this is significant, and we must always affirm that and deepen such relations.
Obama was more circumspect in his comments (I’ve put the transcript below as I didn’t find it posted on the White House site), speaking of specific things he’d like to accomplish in partnership with Saudi Arabia, several of which KSA has been only lukewarm at best in supporting. The official statement was even crazier, promising that KSA and the US would work on climate change together!
The one item with which KSA surely agreed was that the US would continue to help it to “counteract Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” which is actually code for the US continuing to help KSA to extend its influence at the expense of Iran, even in spite of the fact that KSA is a more destabilizing influence in the Middle East.
So amidst a showy meeting at which the US promised to continue to side with KSA against Iran, all while paying mere lip service to fixing the humanitarian disasters that result (most urgently in Yemen), Salman pitched the meeting in geostrategic terms: the KSA would continue to exert outsized influence on world affairs because of its special relationship with the US (which of course would be impossible if the two were to work toward any positive response to climate change).
Meanwhile, al-Arabiya emphasized something else: an ambitious plan to expand commercial partnerships between the countries, masterminded in part by intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.
Saudi Arabia on Friday unveiled a giant raft of investment and partnership potential opportunities in sectors including oil and gas, civil infrastructure, and banking as part of a 21st century vision of the cooperation between the two long-term allies, sources told Al Arabiya News on Saturday.
With the Saudi government ramping up investment in free zones, roads, and communication networks, the kingdom will soon “aim to employ and rely completely on U.S. construction companies,” sources told Al Arabiya News.
The proposals were based on studies conducted by leading business and technology consultants, including Booz Allen Hamilton and BCG.
I’m interested in this because of the way in which joint economic partnership have formed the core of relations between KSA and the US — which was based on, and largely replaced, a similar partnership with Iran. It’s partly a vehicle for laundering petrodollars. It always pretended to be about bringing development to KSA. But it also seems to be about ensuring US bodies were present and exposed in the region, in case anything goes haywire.
As I’ve noted, back in 2013, the US prematurely extended the current version of that agreement when Mohammed bin Nayef came to welcome in Obama’s second-term cabinet. State was coy about releasing the terms of the agreement (underlying documents of which may show curious reporting structures for Americans in KSA), but eventually they did release what I suspect is a now-outdated agreement that nevertheless extends for 10 years (to 2023).
None of this is surprising. To placate the Saudis specifically, and the Gulf states generally, Obama is at least claiming he will sustain the preferential relationship with them, ignoring the damage that results. He is reassuring the Saudis they’ll continue to be our favored petro-weapon — we won’t pull a switcheroo like we did to the Iranians in 1976. And in response, Salman will bless the Iranian agreement (all while heating up the arms war in the Middle East that will expand instability).
But it is worth noting how Salman wants this to be perceived: as a continuation of KSA’s ability to demand idiotic interventions from the US at its behest.
Update: Corrected cruiser for carrier, per b.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it’s a great pleasure to welcome His Majesty, King Salman, to the Oval Office. This is the latest of several meetings that I’ve had with His Majesty. And the fact that he has chosen to take this first visit to the United States is indicative of the longstanding friendship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
This is obviously a challenging time in world affairs, particularly in the Middle East, and so we expect this to be a substantive conversation across a wide range of issues. We share a concern about Yemen and the need to restore a functioning government that is inclusive and that can relieve the humanitarian situation there.
We share concerns about the crisis in Syria, and we’ll have the opportunity to discuss how we can arrive at a political transition process within Syria that can finally end the horrific conflict there.
We continue to cooperate extremely closely in countering terrorist activity in the region and around the world, including our battle against ISIL. And we’ll discuss the importance of effectively implementing the deal to ensure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, while counteracting its destabilizing activities in the region.
We’ll also have an opportunity to discuss the world economy and energy issues. And I look forward to continuing to deepen our cooperation on issues like education and clean energy and science and climate change because His Majesty is interested, obviously, ultimately in making sure that his people, particularly young people, have prosperity and opportunity into the future. And we share those hopes and those dreams for those young people, and I look forward to hearing his ideas on how we can be helpful.
So, Your Majesty, welcome, and let me once again reaffirm not only our personal friendship but the deep and abiding friendship between our two peoples.
HIS MAJESTY KING SALMAN: (As interpreted.) Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for allowing us to enjoy your hospitality. I intended to make my first official visit to the United States as a symbol of the deep and strong relationship that we have with the United States that’s indeed historical relations that go back to the day when King Abd alAziz met with President Roosevelt in 1945.
Our relationship is beneficial not only to our two countries, but to the entire world and to our region. And this is significant, and we must always affirm that and deepen such relations. We always emphasize that we want to deepen our relations and further our cooperation in all fields.
As you know, Mr. President, our economy is a free economy, and therefore we must allow opportunities for businesspeople to exchange opportunities, because if people see that there are common interests, they will further themselves the relations between them. And our relationship must be beneficial to both of us, not only on the economic field but on the political and military and defense field, as well.
Once again, Mr. President, I’m happy to come to a friendly country to meet a friend. And we want to work together for world peace. Our region must achieve stability, which is essential for the prosperity of its people. And in our country, thank God we are prosperous, but we want prosperity for the entire region. And we are willing to cooperate with you in order to achieve that.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your hospitality. And I look forward to seeing you in Riyadh and seeing American officials coming to see us in Riyadh, and also Saudi officials coming to the United States.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much, everybody.
I’ve been puzzling over the list of “key SSO cyber milestone dates” released with the upstream 702 story the other day.
For the most part, it lists technical and legal milestones leading to expanded collection targeting cyber targets (which makes sense, given that’s what Special Source Operations does — collect data off switches). There’s the one redacted bullet (which, if it referred to an attack thwarted, might refer to this thwarted attack on a US defense contractor in December 2012).
But what is the August 2012 DDOS attack on Saudi Aramco doing on the list? And, for that matter, why is it referred to as a DDOS attack?
The attack was publicly described as a two-step hack targeted against both Aramco and Qatar’s gas industry which copy-catted an attack associated with the Flame attack on Iran. It is generally now described as Iranian retaliation for StuxNet. Though at the time, potential attribution ranged from hacktivists, a single hacker, or Aramco insiders. The Sony hack used tools related to the Shamoon attack.
Not long after the Aramco hack, the NSA expanded their Third Party SIGINT relationship to include the Saudi Interior Ministry (then led by close US ally Mohammed bin Nayef). The next month the Saudis (again, with MbN in the leader) prematurely renewed their Technical Cooperation Agreement with the US, adding a new cybersecurity component.
So regardless of how serious an attack it was (on that, too, accounts varied) it did have a significant effect on our role in cybersecurity in the Middle East, potentially with implications for SSO.
But unless SSO thwarted the attack — or at least alerted the Saudis in time to pull their computers offline — why would that be a significant milestone for SSO?
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?
Remember when it was outrageous that the Iranians had (allegedly) hacked Aramco? In addition to wiping hard drives (though in ways that left the computers recoverable), they also took and threatened to release documents.
In news that I earlier predicted, NSA and GCHQ have hacked OPEC, including Saudi Arabia’s OPEC Minister (though NSA managed to detask him when he came to the US).
Spiegel doesn’t provide much detail of what they’ve gotten — just a tantalizing overview, particularly given the likelihood that the speculation claim pertains to the skyrocketing prices in 2008, which (among other things) the Saudis used to get us into a new security cooperation agreement.
None of this is surprising. But as we try to fearmonger new wars based on one party hacking another, it’s probably safe to assume we got there first.
It stated that OPEC officials were trying to cast the blame for high oil prices on speculators. A look at files in the OPEC legal department revealed how the organization was preparing itself for an antitrust suit in the United States. And a review of the section reserved for the OPEC secretary general documented that the Saudis were using underhanded tactics, even within the organization. According to the NSA analysts, Riyadh had tried to keep an increase in oil production a secret for as long as possible.
Our TCA with Saudi Arabia (and the fact that we (Booz, in fact!) are now providing it with cybersecurity) may well be one reason it is no longer a top NSA target.
OPEC appears in the “National Intelligence Priorities Framework,” which the White House issues to the US intelligence community. Although the organization is still listed as an intelligence target in the April 2013 list, it is no longer a high-priority target.
Who needs to hack when you’re in charge of cybersecurity?
And guess which company has a lot of that business? Edward Snowden’s former employer, Booz.
Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu just resigned.
Which got me thinking about my latest obsession: the Technical Cooperation Agreement beween Saudi Arabia and the US, under which (as far as the agreement admits publicly) the US helps the Saudis protect their critical infrastructure (read, oil fields) and borders. While the TCA is managed by State, it includes significant involvement on the part of DOD — particularly CentCom, DOE (because in Saudi Arabia infrastructure is energy), and Treasury (which handles the magic bank account at its core). In addition, a new focus on cybersecurity (presumably a response to the recent Aramco hack) gives DHS and NSA an increasing role.
So check out the list of people MbN met with while he was in DC from January 14 to 16, in significant part to “renew” the TCA (four months before the old one expired).
Prince Mohammad also met with a number of senior U.S. officials throughout his visit, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Robert Clapper, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller, and Director of the National Security Agency General Keith B. Alexander.
Remarkably, MbN didn’t waste his time with any outgoing cabinet member — not TurboTax Timmeh, not Chu, not Panetta — except for Hillary, with whom he was signing this agreement. While TurboTax Timmeh and Panetta’s departure was known, Chu’s was only rumored.
John Brennan is moving, sure, but I suspect his move won’t change his interactions with MbN — who has been a key stovepipe for Brennan — one whit.
The most interesting person MbN managed to not waste his time with on the visit, apparently, was General James Mattis, who was about to be, but had not yet been, ousted several months early the week MbN was in town.
I’m not suggesting this is all that meaningful, mind you. I just find it notable that MbN seemed to have a better sense of what was going on with Obama’s top national security leadership than most of the journalists in DC.