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Tag Archives: Saudi Arabia


Twitter Spies and Foreign Lies: Is Social Media Safe for Democracy?

By Peter RoffNewsmax

Social media has become an essential lifeline to the outside world for protestors courageous enough to stand up against repressive regimes. Platforms like Twitter have kept attention focused on the struggle for liberty and, in a few cases, even helped bring down a few dictators.

What the protestors don’t know is how their oppressors may have been using these platforms to collect information about their allies and informants. And they probably won’t know unless Judge Valerie Caproni, a Barack Obama appointee to the Southern District of New York, allows a suit filed by a Saudi dissident to proceed.

The facts as alleged by the plaintiff—Ali al-Ahmed, who fled Saudi Arabia and received political asylum here in 1998—seem plain enough but Judge Caproni, who served as the FBI‘s general counsel under Director Robert Mueller, is unconscionably dragging her heels as she decides if the suit can go to trial.

What al-Ahmed alleges began after the Saudi secret police arrested Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a 27-year-old aid worker employed in the Riyadh office of the Red Crescent (the Islamic version of the International Red Cross) in March 2018 for operating a Twitter account used to mock Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and the government.

Some, including al-Sadhan’s sister Areej—a U.S. citizen who works in the tech industry outside San Francisco—have said the actions taken against her brother are a deliberate test by MBS of President Joe Biden‘s resolve regarding his campaign promise to crack down on human rights abusers, including U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia.

After al-Sadhan was convicted and sentenced to 20 years, al-Ahmed took up his cause, calling the penalty egregious and the crime nonsensical.

On his Twitter account, al-Ahmed has criticized the ruling family for repressing women, suppressing dissent and being intolerant of other religions. That made him a target of the regime. He claims the government tried to silence him, arrested his friends and members of his family, and tried to lure him to meetings outside the United States, where he’d be unprotected and probably arrested or worse. His refusal to bow to the regime’s intimidation efforts also led him to file suit against Twitter for what his lawyers claim is “a blatant tortious invasion of privacy.”

This photograph taken on October 26, 2020
This photograph taken on October 26, 2020 shows the logo of US social network Twitter displayed on the screen of a smartphone and a tablet in Toulouse, southern France.LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Al-Ahmed’s Arabic-language Twitter account had nearly 36,000 followers, mostly in Saudi Arabia. It functioned as a major communications link, allowing sources inside the country to send him tips and news and allowing him to spread information about what the U.S. and other Western media were reporting in order to “mobilize action at home and abroad.”

That account was hacked in 2016 and, in 2018, was mysteriously shut down. He applied to Twitter for reinstatement but received no answer. Then, in July 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice accused two Saudi nationals employed by Twitter of hacking accounts critical of the Kingdom and passing personal information about account holders to Saudi intelligence agencies.

“All of a sudden,” al-Ahmed said in an interview, “everything made sense. Saudi police and intelligence services had somehow infiltrated Twitter to get information about the people following my account, many of whom would be classified as dissidents. They had—at the direction of the Saudi government—stolen my user information and the information of my followers and gave it to the security services in Riyadh.”

Based on what we know about how MBS handles dissidents, this shouldn’t be a shock. In fact, Twitter’s second-largest shareholder, Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, is MBS’ cousin. That stock may now be controlled by MBS, who reportedly forced Prince Al Waleed to divest himself of his assets during a prolonged 2018 detention inside the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton.

Is Twitter a platform for free speech or a tool of repressive regimes and secret police operatives? It’s a question worth exploring. Al-Ahmed’s charges are compelling enough to be heard in court. Unfortunately, Ali al-Ahmed’s case has been languishing in pretrial motions for over a year. This delay is a blow to informed debate and smart public policy. As social media sites have grown in importance and market cap to become “Big Tech,” the public deserves a fuller understanding of whether and how they have sacrificed their noble free speech principles in exchange for cash and cozy relationships with autocrats who want to use their technology to spy on dissidents and shut them down.


Attack on Saudi Arabia Proves Need for Layered Defensive System

By George LandrithNewsmax

Just last week, Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are closely aligned with Iran, claimed credit for a drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities.

News changes fast — a surprising development is that now the Houthi’s say Iran is responsible for the attack and that the Iranians have more attacks planned in the near future. The Houthi’s also vowed not to launch any additional attacks themselves.

Something that is not surprising is that missile defense critics in the U.S. are now arguing that the drone attack proves that missile defense doesn’t work. This is, of course, entirely without merit. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is offering Russian missile defense systems to “help” protect against future attacks from its client state of Iran. Let that sink in.

Given Russia’s intimate relationship with Iran, it is entirely possible the attack was coordinated with Russia. It is not as if this would be out of character for Putin. Of course, Putin has never done anything on the international stage simply to be helpful. He is simply trying to help himself and advance his ambitions.

Imagine if he could get U.S. allies to insert and integrate Russian hardware into their U.S.-made defensive systems. Imagine the hacking potential on something like that. Putin would love to learn more about our defensive systems. For that reason, the U.S. earlier this year canceled sales of high-tech American defensive systems to Turkey, a member of NATO, after they integrated Russian equipment in their defensive systems.

But back to the missile defense critics in the U.S. who are unwittingly helping Putin.

Right now very little is actually known about the attack. While preliminary indications are it was a drone attack, we are not even certain precisely what weapons were used. It is profoundly unhelpful to jump to hasty conclusions to support a misguided ideology — particularly when the primary beneficiary of those hasty conclusions will be an adversary like Putin’s Russia.

Beyond not jumping to silly conclusions without any real facts, it is important to realize that an effective missile defense system is layered. Parts of the system protect against ICBMs which actually at some point in their flight are out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Parts of the system protect against intermediate range missiles and other parts protect against shorter range missiles. Each of these missiles has different travel paths and different vulnerabilities. Thus different defenses are needed.

In football, a good defensive coordinator employs a different defense if the opposing team needs only one yard to score than he would if the opposition need twenty-five yards to score. The same concept is true with missile defense.

Having only one layer of missile defense in place to defend against all sorts of attacks leaves the region vulnerable to the other risks. For example, the Patriot defensive missile system is designed to protect against high-flying targets such as jets and ballistic missiles. It wasn’t designed to defend against low flying drones and short range cruise missiles. Patriot’s radars are not intended to scan such low flying means of attack. Nor was Patriot designed to intercept ICBM’s just outside the Earth’s atmosphere. But we know the Patriot system works very well as we’ve seen it in real life combat defend both troops and civilian populations from missile attack.

Criticizing any particular layer of missile defense for not stopping an attack that it was never designed or intended to stop is like criticizing a 350 pound defensive nose tackle for not doing a good job of racing down the sideline to cover a speedy wide receiver. A good defensive football team is made up of different parts, with different skills and capabilities. Together they are a formidable defense. But playing out of position, they are ineffective.

To defend Saudi oil faculties, they would need a layered system — one that has the ability to protect against ballistic missile attack as well as drones and low-flying cruise missiles. Missile defense critics know this, but they don’t care. They simply want to use an unfortunate news event to promote their misguided anti-missile defense ideology in hopes of a short-term political victory.


Remembering Jamal Khashoggi and the Future of U.S.-Saudi Relations

By Peter RoffMediaite

Jamal Khashoggi

For all we know, what’s left of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is fertilizing olive trees in the hills outside Istanbul. It’s been a year since he went missing but the people who know what really happened to the well-known critic of the Saudi regime who disappeared after entering his country’s Turkish consulate aren’t saying.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam, who probably knows all, is giving lots of interviews as the anniversary of the disappearance approaches. He denies he ordered him killed but admits it “was a heinous crime,” as he told CBS’ 60 MinutesSunday. “I take full responsibility as a leader,” he said, adding it would be ridiculous to expect him to keep close track of the activities of the millions in the employ of the family business the rest of the world calls the Saudi government.

His denial is hard to swallow. A few senior officials lost their posts over the whole business but probably got to keep their heads. Which is more than can be said about Khashoggi, if the widely accepted rumors concerning his demise are true. Generally, things go on as before, with the Trump Administration and the Saudis continuing to cozy up in pursuit of regional peace.

The degree to which the Khashoggi affair has ceased to be a topic of conversation among American journalists is disturbing. Presuming he was killed (there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t) consider why. He was killed over his criticisms, because he made them and because they had power and were starting to be believed. One need not have liked him to be outraged. One does not have to believe what he wrote to be inflamed. And even if he was working, as some opinion writers friendly to Saudi interests working on behalf of another government have claimed, it is still gobsmacking that expression of his opinions got him killed.

The U.S. response has been weak, likely because presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s much-touted plan for Middle East peace depends so heavily on a lead role for the Saudis in checking Iran’s ambitions. The risks associated with opposing or even deposing MBS, as the crown prince is typically referred to, are considered too high to allow for decisive action against him.

MBS knows this and uses it to his full advantage. The interviews he’s giving now are designed to take the edge off through an expensive damage control operation, providing just enough cover for him to be welcomed into the family of global leaders once his father, the current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud finally folds his tents and goes gently into the night.

It doesn’t have to be that way. MBS’s succession to the Saudi throne is not automatic. The order of succession is not clearly defined. In 2006 a royal decree still in effect established the need for future kings to be elected by a committee of Saudi princes rather than see possession of the throne go from brother to brother or father to son.

This new wrinkle may explain why MBS imprisoned members of the royal family and some of the nation’s wealthiest businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton for an extended period ending in 2018. Instead of the anti-corruption effort, he said it was, it may have been what in western parlance is called “an effort to line up votes” for his eventual ascent to the throne. Those formerly imprisoned have been left living in what more than one publication termed “a climate of fear and uncertainty.”

Before the U.S. settles on MBS as the person around whom the future relationship with the Saudis will be built, policymakers need to think carefully about what they’re doing. In addition to Khashoggi’s murder and the imprisonment of much of the country’s political and business elite, MBS’s fingerprints are said to be all over the war in Yemen and the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He plays hardball, without a doubt, but can he be trusted to play it in a way that coincides rather than conflicts with U.S. interests over the next 40 or 50 years or does the United States need to look for other options?

With MBS in charge, there might be just as much of a reason to move Saudi Arabia onto the lists of state supporters of terrorism as there is to consider them our closest Arab ally in the region. Before we decide what to do, MBS needs to make a full account regarding what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. That won’t absolve him of all his sins by any means, but it would be a good start at the kind of candor we need from someone who says he wants to be our ally.


Saudi-Iran crisis a rebuke for US policy

By Dave Clark and Nicolas Revise     •     Yahoo

Washington’s single-minded pursuit of the Iran nuclear deal damaged its alliance with Saudi Arabia, experts say, and fed the escalating crisis in the Gulf.

The United States failed to manage its traditional Sunni Arab allies in the region while it reached out to mend ties with their bitter Shiite foes in Tehran.

As a result, experts warn, Washington has suffered a loss of influence at a time when it needs to implement the nuclear accord and work with both Tehran and Riyadh to end the Syrian war.

“I think the administration has had a one-eyed policy on this,” Salman Shaikh, founder and CEO of regional consultancy the Shaikh Group, told AFP. Continue reading


What’s Up With the Prices at the Pump?

by Marita Noon     •     Breitbart News Network

Gas Can Man Dancing at low priceFirst, Saudi Arabia drove down the price of oil by increasing its production, which gave Americans a welcome drop in prices at the pump. Could the kingdom now be pushing them back up?

Prices at the pump have gone up nearly 40 cents a gallon from the January low—60 cents in California. They will continue to rise while the price of crude oil remains low. Based on explanations, the jump was expected. Every year, at this time, refineries shut down to make adjustments from the “winter blend” to the “summer blend.” It is “refinery maintenance season.”

However this year, the increase is exacerbated. Continue reading


The Failed Grand Strategy in the Middle East

Obama Failed Policyby Walter Russell Mead

In the beginning, the Hebrew Bible tells us, the universe was all “tohu wabohu,” chaos and tumult. This month the Middle East seems to be reverting to that primeval state: Iraq continues to unravel, the Syrian War grinds on with violence spreading to Lebanon and allegations of chemical attacks this week, and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war with the generals crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and street mobs torching churches. Turkey’s prime minister, once widely hailed as President Obama’s best friend in the region, blames Egypt’s violence on the Jews; pretty much everyone else blames it on the U.S.

The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East. It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued.

Unfortunately, it failed. Continue reading


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