Saudi Arabia has one of the most brutal governments and repressive social practices. The terrible way it treats criminals and women and gays and indeed anyone who deviates from strict Islamic orthodoxy is legendary. Hence the US government’s close ties with that country and its reluctance to criticize its practices is noteworthy showing how the US’s concern for human rights is highly selective and largely driven by geopolitical interests.
Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain report, based on a top secret memo that was part of the Edward Snowden dossier, that US-Saudi cooperation is even closer than was thought and that the NSA partners with that country’s brutal state police, even as the State Department has criticized that country.
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 that “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.”
“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.”
Remember that Saudi Arabia has a monarchy that is notorious for its abusive practices.
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.
Can anyone doubt that Saudi Arabia will use its NSA-supplied advanced spying techniques to better identify and harass and even kill human rights and other activists? For the US to commit itself to the continuity of such a government is appalling.