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The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

The NSA’s
New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain

July 27, 2014 "
- "

The Intercept

National Security Agency last year significantly
expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi
Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most
repressive and abusive government agencies. An

April 2013 top secret memo
provided by NSA
whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s
plans “to provide direct analytic and technical
support” to the Saudis on “internal security”

The Saudi
Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as
MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most
brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013,

the U.S. State Department reported
“Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected
prisoners and detainees to torture and other
physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011
episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an
antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one
human rights activist. The report also notes the
MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at
political and religious dissidents.

But as the
State Department publicly catalogued those very
abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased
surveillance assistance to the ministry that
perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama
Administration’s increasingly close ties with the
Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the
MOI, the memo describes “a period of
rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the
Saudi Ministry of Defense.

In general,
U.S. support for the Saudi regime is long-standing.
One secret 2007 NSA memo lists Saudi Arabia as one
of four countries where the U.S. “has [an] interest
in regime continuity.”

But from
the end of the 1991 Gulf War until recently, the
memo says, the NSA had a “very limited” relationship
with the Saudi kingdom. In December 2012, the U.S.
director of national intelligence, James
Clapper, authorized the agency to expand its
“third party” relationship with Saudi Arabia to
include the sharing of signals intelligence, or
“SIGINT,” capability with the MOD’s Technical
Affairs Directorate (TAD).

“With the
approval of the Third Party SIGINT relationship,”
the memo reports, the NSA “intends to provide direct
analytic and technical support to TAD.” The goal is
“to facilitate the Saudi government’s ability to
utilize SIGINT to locate and track individuals of
mutual interest within Saudi Arabia.”

Even before
this new initiative in 2012, the CIA and other
American intelligence agencies had been working with
the Saudi regime to bolster “internal security” and
track alleged terrorists. According to the memo, the
NSA began collaborating with the MOD in 2011 on a
“sensitive access initiative… focused on internal
security and terrorist activity on the Arabian
Peninsula”; that partnership was conducted “under
the auspices of CIA’s relationship with the MOI’s
Mabahith (General Directorate for Investigations,
equivalent to FBI).”

The NSA’s
formal “Third Party” relationship with the Saudis
involves arming the MOI with highly advanced
surveillance technology. The NSA “provides technical
advice on SIGINT topics such as data exploitation
and target development to TAD,” the memo says, “as
well as a sensitive source collection capability.”

The Saudi
Ministry of Defense also relies on the NSA for help
with “signals analysis equipment upgrades,
decryption capabilities and advanced training on a
wide range of topics.” The document states that
while the NSA “is able to respond to many of those
requests, some must be denied due to the fact that
they place sensitive SIGINT equities at risk.”

Over the
past year, the Saudi government has escalated its
crackdown on activists, dissidents, and critics of
the government. Earlier this month, Saudi human
rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abu al-Khair was

sentenced to 15 years in prison
by a so-called
“terrorist court” on charges of undermining the
state and insulting the judiciary. In May, a liberal
blogger, Raif Badawi, was

sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes
in June, human rights activist Mukhlif Shammari was
sentenced to five years in prison for writing about
the mistreatment of Saudi women.

At the time
of the al-Khair sentencing, State Department
spokesperson Jen Psaki issued a statement saying,
“We urge the Saudi government to respect
international human rights norms, a point we make to
them regularly.”

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

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All rights reserved.


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