“If diplomats and leaders can't exchange their views freely on the matters that affect them, then we are all in trouble,” Prince Turki al-Faisal told a Gulf security conference. One notable leak cited Saudi King Abdullah as urging the United States to attack Iran's nuclear installations. He was reported to have advised Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.
It was one of several disclosures confirming the depth of suspicion of Shiite Muslim Iran among Sunni Arab leaders, especially in leading Sunni power Saudi Arabia.
Prince Turki, a former ambassador to London and Washington and former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service, said the WikiLeaks furor underscored that cyber security was an increasing international concern.
“So it is incumbent not just on the world community but on the US, where these leaks came from, to not just be extra vigilant but to try to restore the credibility and the legitimacy of their engagement with the rest of us, and ensure that there are no more leaks to be faced in the future.”
“Whoever is responsible must be vigorously punished,” said Prince Turki, the brother of veteran Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. On Dec. 1 a WikiLeaks spokesman said the website’s staff did not know if a former US Army intelligence analyst detained by military authorities was the source of the cables.
Bradley Manning, 23, is being held at a Marine base near Washington in connection with the disclosure of US secrets. US officials have declined to say if the cables he is accused of mishandling are the same ones that WikiLeaks made public last week.
Documents highlight fund woes
According to the leaked US government documents, Saudi Arabia has made “important progress” in aggressively trying to curtail the flow of funds to terrorist groups, but the oil rich kingdom and its Gulf Arab neighbors still remain major sources of financing for militant movements like al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The findings, detailed in a series of internal US diplomatic cables spanning a period of several years, paint a stark picture of Washington’s challenges in convincing key allies of the need to clamp down on terror funding, much of which is believed to stem from private donors in those nations.
But the cables, obtained and released by WikiLeaks, also offer a window into the delicate balancing act Gulf governments must perform in cracking down on extremist sympathizers while not running afoul of religious charitable duties and casting themselves as US stooges before an increasingly skeptical populace. “While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [KSA] takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” reads a December 2009 memo from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The cable said that while the kingdom has begun to “make important progress on this front, ... donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
In July 2009, President Barack Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said that the Taliban get more of their funding from wealthy Gulf donors than from the drug trade for which Afghanistan has long been famous.
Similarly, officials have complained of direct donations by wealthy individuals, particularly during religious months such as Ramadan, or during the hajj. Compounding that issue has been the difficulty and reluctance to monitor charities, as well as the abundant informal money transfer networks called hawala, or worker remittances. Despite the concerns, Saudi Arabia emerges in the leaked cables as the most committed of the Gulf nations to working with the US to stem terror financing.
A February memo from the US Embassy in Riyadh said Saudi Arabia has “made important progress in combating al-Qaeda financing emanating from the country.” It said reporting “indicates that al-Qaeda’s ability to raise funds has deteriorated substantially, and that it is now in its weakest state” since the Sept. 11 attacks. The cable said, however, that Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry “remains almost completely dependent on the CIA.”