The Ideological War: Saudi Influence Operations in the United States

Kyle Shideler maps out the plan that the Saudis developed at the 2004 meeting and how it has been implemented in the U.S.–how the Saudis have used businesses, NGOs, former government officials, media, and education in the United States to shape attitudes and policies towards Saudi Arabia.

The Ideological War:Saudi Influence Operations in the United States

November 9, 2010
Kyle Shideler
In 2004, Saudi Arabia convened a meeting of academics and¬†officials to discuss the topic, ‚ÄúThe Image of Saudi Arabia in the¬†World.‚ÄĚ Their goal was to develop a response to countries¬†tolerating or encouraging hostile attitudes towards the Kingdom.¬†What emerged was a multi-faceted plan that constitutes a¬†sophisticated strategic influence operation. Kyle Shideler maps out¬†the plan that the Saudis developed at the 2004 meeting and then¬†shows how it has been implemented in the U.S.: how the Saudis¬†have used businesses, NGOs, former government officials, media,¬†and education in the United States to shape attitudes and policies¬†towards Saudi Arabia.
Kyle Shideler:

Polishing the Image of Saudi Arabia in the World

My subject is the role of non-governmental organizations in Saudi Arabia‚Äôsstrategic influence operations. One might also describe them as¬†psychological operations, or PSYOPs.¬†The United States Special Operations Forces Posture Statement defines¬†PSYOPs as, quote,‚ÄúPlanned operations to convey selected information and indicators to¬†foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective¬†reasoning and, ultimately the behavior of foreign government¬†organizations, groups and individuals. The purpose of psychological¬†operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior¬†favorable to the originator‚Äôs objectives.‚ÄĚ
One might also use the term propaganda, since U.S. doctrine does make the¬†distinction between Influence and Information Operations, which are¬†factually based, versus enemy propaganda efforts, which can include¬†deception, and false or misleading information. In this case, I am going use¬†the term influence operation, but if you are familiar with the U.S. doctrine,¬†please understand that I do not intend to imply that these operations follow¬†the same ethical standards as required by U.S. information warfare doctrine.¬†Now it is known that Saudi Arabia engages in hiring lobbyists and public¬†relations firms to represent and promote its interests in the United States.¬†This not peculiar–many countries do the same. It is also widely understood¬†that Saudi Arabia, either formally through the government, or informally¬†through members of the royal family, contribute funds to American think¬†tanks and policy centers, which engage in providing information to both¬†policymakers as well as the general public.¬†The question I pose is this: Is this funding merely good will? Is it charity? Or¬†does it represent a long-term, strategic influence operation on behalf of the¬†Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? I am going to argue that it does represent such an¬†operation. In 2004, Saudi Arabia held a conference in Riyadh, entitled, ‚ÄúThe¬†Image of Saudi Arabia in the World,‚ÄĚ in which a group of Saudi officials and¬†academics discussed what should be done regarding ‚Äúcountries tolerating or¬†encouraging a hostile attitude‚ÄĚ towards the Kingdom.2
At this conference, the attendees made several proposals for how Saudi Arabia could utilize its full national power to engage in influencing foreign publics and foreign governments. It specifically included a discussion of countering the perception that Saudi Arabia is engaged in promoting terrorism abroad. Theconference attendees settled on a number of proposed methods by whichSaudi Arabia could engage in altering attitudes about it:
1. Utilize Expatriates returning home from Saudi Arabia to generate a positive image of the Kingdom.
2. Use the Saudi ‚Äúprivate sector‚ÄĚ such as Saudi Aramco to publish Pro-Saudi materials for foreign consumption.
3. Use economic investments to put pressure on government officials.
4. Oppose the ‚ÄúPro-Israel‚ÄĚ Lobby and it‚Äôs ‚ÄúHostile Media campaign‚ÄĚ
The reason I am putting quotes around the idea of the Saudi private sector is because of the huge cross-fertilization between the Saudi Government, the Saudi Royal family, and preeminent Saudi Multinationals. In many cases they are either nationalized businesses, as the case of Saudi Aramco, or they are effectively controlled by members of the royal family or its close associates.So in this respect they are viewed by the Saudis themselves as being instruments of Saudi power, not independent operators, as we might viewAmerican corporations of equal size or status.
Also, it is worth noting the Saudi view of American policymaking beingbeholden to pro-Israeli interests. If you look at a book like Mitchell Bard‚Äôs¬†The¬†Arab Lobby, the Saudis began lobbying against America‚Äôs endorsement of¬†the Israeli state well before the state was formed in 1948. Their failure inthat respect, and later policy moves where the U.S aligned more closely withIsrael beginning largely after 1967, have shaped the Saudi understanding of¬†the information battle space. From their perspective they are reacting andresponding in a theater where the enemy, that is to say Israel, or pro-Israelisentiment, dominates.¬†The final point I would like to highlight about the 2004 conference was the¬†premium place accorded to what they referred to as ‚Äúexpatriates,‚ÄĚ that is,¬†foreigners who had resided in Saudi Arabia and then returned to their home¬†countries. This is particularly significant because of the high number of U.S¬†Foreign Service officials, particularly at the Ambassadorial level, who later¬†become involved in think-tanks and policy centers in Washington which are¬†funded by Saudi Arabia. So I would like you to keep these four elements in¬†mind as I go through a series of case studies looking at non-governmental,¬†non-profit organizations which receive Saudi funding and explore whether¬†their activities align with the strategic plan elaborated in the 2004¬†conference.
Case Study #1: The Middle East Policy Council (MEPC)
Headed by former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman. $1 million received from Saudi King Abdullah in 2005. $1 million received from Saudi Prince Alaweed Bin Talal in 2007. Saudis promised annual contributions over five years beginning in the mid-1990s.Founded in 1981 by former democratic presidential hopeful George McGovern and former Foreign Service Officer Richard Curtiss, MEPC has along history of going outside the United States for financial assistance:
-In 1993, the¬†Times of Oman¬†reported that McGovern met with theSultanate‚Äôs Information Minister to discuss ‚Äúcooperation‚ÄĚ with the 501(c) 3organization.-In 1998, MEPC president Charles Freeman told the Riyadh Daily that he was in the Kingdom, ‚Äúto drum-up financial support for the council.‚ÄĚ3
-MEPC had been pursuing a large donation from Saudi Prince Bin Talal¬†since at least 2005, according to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency interview with¬†their executive director, who was quoted as saying that they had been‚Äúcultivating‚ÄĚ a relationship with the Prince for a long time, and that, ‚ÄúOur¬†hope and expectation is millions.‚ÄĚ4
In 2009, Charles Freeman became embroiled in controversy after he wasselected to serve as President Obama‚Äôs National Intelligence CouncilChairman. MEPC worked to downplay the role of Saudi funds, claiming theSaudi government contributed ‚Äúless than 1/12th¬†of a $600,000 budget,‚ÄĚwhich given the millions received in previous years from Saudi royalty,¬†seems like clear obfuscation.5
According to Ambassador Freeman, MEPC has three primary areas of¬†interest:1.They conduct policy seminars on the Hill to influence policy making.2.They publish a quarterly journal on Mideast Policy.3.They conduct training programs for teachers about Arab culture andIslam.¬†The policy seminars on the Hill are of interest because they have includedspeakers with very questionable associations, such as AbdurahmanAlamoudi. Alamoudi was the founder of the American Muslim Council. He was¬†described in the Holy Land Foundation trial documents presented by the¬†Justice Department as an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was¬†later arrested and is currently serving time on terrorism-related charges.¬†Other MEPC speakers have included Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist and¬†the founder of the pro-Hamas website, the Electronic Intifada. MEPC¬†seminars have also pushed explicitly Saudi policy objectives, particularly the¬†‚ÄúSaudi Peace Plan.‚ÄĚ In their quarterly journal MEPC has claimed the Iraq Warwas waged on behalf of Israel, depicting Israel‚Äôs military in the loaded termsof World War II. They suggested that Israel has a ‚Äúvictim status,‚ÄĚ is¬†attempting ‚Äúto annex as much Palestinian land as possible,‚ÄĚ and that Israel‚Äúcalls the shots‚ÄĚ for the United States.MEPC‚Äôs third program, teacher-training seminars, constitutes the bulk of¬†MEPC‚Äôs efforts. According to Ambassador Freeman, MEPC had reachedapproximately thirteen thousand teachers by 2002 and was reaching anestimated one million students a year. Its primary vehicle for teachertraining was the¬†Arab World Studies Notebook. Originally issued in 1990 and¬†revised in 1998, the¬†Notebook¬†is the primary reference text used in MEPC¬†teacher training seminars. It was lambasted by text book specialists for¬†containing a number of questionable or erroneous claims, for example, thatMuslims discovered the Americas well before Columbus, and that whenEuropean settlers arrived they met Native Americans with Muslim names.¬†The textbook also downplays the factual historical Jewish connection to¬†Jerusalem, suggests undue Jewish influence in American foreign policy, andreplaces Israel with Palestine in its country by country section.
The Notebook’s editor, and head of Arab World and Islamic Resources (AWAIR) is Audrey Shabbas, whose organization received donations fromSaudi national oil company Saudi Aramco. In 2005, Shabbas received $62,500 from MEPC, in addition to $40,000 in compensation received fromAWAIR, showing the close ties between the two groups. Besides the Arab World Studies Notebook, Shabbas’s organization AWAIR worked on creating a4-week seminar on Islam, to be taught at Dar Al-Islam, a Muslim village and educational retreat in New Mexico, funded by Saudi Aramco, and originally intended as a mosque and madrassa.
So in this case study, we have former ambassadors to Saudi Arabia,expatriates, receiving funding from Saudi Aramco, to publish materials forforeign consumption, while also seeking to undermine or counter informationwhich may be seen as pro-Israel, with an alternative message. It seems tofair to say then, that MEPC work is in accordance with the 2004 Riyadh plan.It is also worth noting that had it not been for a public outcry during theconfirmation process, Ambassador Freeman would now be in a position toclosely advise the President on matters of national intelligence. Having anindividual with close financial ties and sympathetic views in such a positionof influence over the intelligence process would have to be considered amajor coup for any foreign-influence operation.
Case Study #2: Middle East Institute and the Meridian Center
I have combined these two organizations into one case study, because theyengage in comparable activities. The Middle East Institute is run by formerambassador Edward Walker with former ambassador Wyche Fowler. M.E. Ihas stated that $200,000 of a $1.5 million budget came from Saudi sources¬†in 2002, which is about 13%. The Meridian International Center is run byformer Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Walter Cutler. Meridian Center controlsan annual budget around $20 million dollars. Donations have come fromSaudi Aramco, and its subsidiary Aramco Services Company, according to¬†the list of supporters maintained by the organization on its website.While no contribution directly from the Saudi government are listed among¬†the supporters, according to Meridian President former Ambassador WalterCutler in a 2002 Washington Post article, Saudis donors were, ‚Äúvery¬†supportive.‚ÄĚ6¬†From the ranks of NGOs like MEI and Meridian come many¬†vocal defenders of the Saudi Kingdom, many of them former ranking¬†diplomats.
Former Defense Department official Richard Perle has said,¬†‚ÄúThe Saudis area major source of the problem we face with terrorism. That would be far¬†more obvious to people if it weren’t for this community of former diplomats¬†effectively working for this foreign government.”7
Looking at specific statements, we see that MEI and Meridian Centerspokesman are frequently forced into positions which are difficult to defendfactually. For instance Edward Walker claimed democracy is right around thecorner in Saudi Arabia:
‚ÄúI spoke to a senior Saudi prince the other day, and¬†he was talking about this very problem… And he said that he would bewilling to bet that within 10 years, they will have free elections in Saudi¬†Arabia.”
Walker said that about ten years ago, and as you are certainly aware, thereare still no free elections in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, Wyche Fowler insisted that¬†Wahabbism¬†‚Äúdoes teach tolerance for Jews and Christians.‚ÄĚ8
¬†That statement¬†is particularly telling, because Wahhabism is the theocratic ideology of theSaudi state, founded by Al-Wahhab in the 1700s. With its strict interpretationof Sharia law, Wahhabism is the antecedent of many Islamist politicalmovements and terror groups. According to a 2006 survey by the non-profit¬†organization Freedom House, Saudi Arabia‚Äôs ministry of education‚Äôs¬†Wahabbism-based religious curriculum, ‚Äútolerance‚ÄĚ includes:‚ÄĘCommanding Muslims to “hate” Christians, Jews, “polytheists” and¬†other “unbelievers”‚ÄĘTeaching that “Jews and the Christians are enemies of the [Muslim]believers” and that “the clash” between the two realms is perpetual‚ÄĘ Instructing students not to “greet,” “befriend,” “imitate,” “show¬†loyalty to,” “be courteous to,” or “respect” non-believers‚ÄĘAsserting that the spread of Islam through jihad is a “religious duty”9¬†When the reports of the textbooks made their way into a¬†Washington Post Op-Ed, Saudi lobbyists responded immediately, meeting with congressmen¬†to try to explain away the vitriol found in Saudi textbooks.So in this case study we have, again, organizations led by American¬†expatriates, funded by Saudi Arabia, engaged in minimizing the perception¬†of Saudi Arabia as supporting radical material and terrorism or terror¬†funding.
Case Study #3: Americans for Middle East Understanding (AMEU)
Run by former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James Akins, and former¬†Congressman Paul Findley. AMEU is an organization of Americans who hadlived in the Middle East. It seeks ‚Äúto create in the United States a deeper¬†appreciation of the culture, history and current events in that area,‚ÄĚ and to‚Äúincrease understanding and strengthen friendship between the people of¬†the Middle East and the United States.‚ÄĚ10
For its efforts, AMEU received between $50-$60,000 in 2005, 2006, and¬†2007, from Saudi Aramco, and an additional $10,000 from the Olayan¬†Charitable Trust.¬†The Olayan Charitable Trust is a foundation funded by Olayan AmericaCorporation, which itself is an arm of the Olayan Group, a Saudimultinational.AMEU‚Äôs primary focus is the publication of its periodical ‚ÄúLINK‚ÄĚ, which theorganization publishes and distributes to thousands of churches, academicsand public and school libraries. If a book review of a published anthology of¬†LINK‚Äôs forty year history is any indication, the periodical consists largely of¬†rhetorical attacks on Israel and its relationship with the United States.¬†Of the 70 books available for sale on the AMEU website, 50 are related toIsrael‚Äôs ‚Äúoccupation,‚ÄĚ a negative portrayal of ‚ÄúZionism‚ÄĚ, or the ‚ÄúIsrael Lobby‚ÄĚand four regard the American war in Iraq. Of the videos available for sale, 16¬†of 16 are about the Israel-Palestinian issue.¬†AMEU founders Findley and Akins are interesting, because together with¬†MEPC founder Ambassador Richard Curtiss, they participated in a lawsuit¬†against the Federal Election Commission in 1989. The goal of the lawsuit was¬†to force the federal government to take action against AIPAC for alleged¬†campaign finance infractions.¬†So again to belabor a point, we have an expatriate organized group, funded¬†by Saudi Arabia and specifically the Saudi private sector, publishing¬†materials, seeking to confront the American perception of Israel and a¬†perceived ‚Äúpro-Israeli‚ÄĚ foreign policy.
Case Study #4: The Arab American Institute and the Arab AmericanAnti-Discrimination Committee
So far I‚Äôve primarily been describing think-tank style organizations, whichprimarily work on influencing opinion and policy through the media andpolicy makers themselves. But the Saudis also fund organizations whosefocus is the creation of an Arab-American constituency. This work appears tobe seen by the Saudis as a method of countering their understanding of the‚Äúpro-Israel‚ÄĚ lobby, believing that pro-Israeli policies are a product of apolitically active Jewish voting bloc. Looking at constituency-based¬†organizations, especially ethnic-constituency organizations from the¬†perspective of whether or not they contain elements of a foreign-influence¬†operation is naturally a somewhat sticky topic.
The Arab American Institute
Primary Concerns: Israel-Palestinian conflict, Iraq War, Allegations of Civil Rights Abuses in War on Terror, according to 2008 Congressional Score CardAAI received funds from the Saudi Olayan Charitable Fund
Worked with Hamas-linked, Muslim Brotherhood front group the Council onAmerican Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a Civil Rights Conference in 2000 andother political protests. James Zogby is also Secretary for AWAIR, which publishes theArab World Studies Notebook. Zogby wrote an article defending the Notebook without disclosing his affiliation. According to author Stephen Schwartz in The New York Post, Zogby traveled to Riyadh in 2003, where acting as an AAI representative, he spoke with the Secretary of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), an arm of the Saudi government. They announced the two groups would work together to fight up to 13,000 deportations of Arabs and Muslims from the United States. This is particularly noteworthy because WAMY is the organ of the Saudi government principally responsible for promoting Wahhabist doctrine abroad, and the deportations took place during a time when immigration enforcement was being seen as a key preemptive counter-terror tool.AAI Chairman George Salem received $70,000 in lobbying work fromRegistered Foreign Agent DLA Piper, which has worked for Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Salem formerly worked for Akin, Gump Strauss Hauer andField, which was also a registered Saudi agent. Salem is also boardmember of Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee
Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee
ADC has opposed almost all anti-terror legislation.¬†ADC‚Äôs Communications Director Hussein Ibish supported convicted terrorist¬†Sami Al-Arian, calling his investigation and arrest ‚ÄúMcCarthyism‚ÄĚ,11¬†and¬†has called Hezbollah‚Äôs actions during the Second Lebanon War‚Äúexemplary.‚ÄĚ12¬†ADC Founder and former Senator James Abourezk called Hamas andHezbollah, ‚Äúresistance fighters‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúfreedom fighters.‚ÄĚ13¬†For its strong stances it has been well rewarded with Saudi funds, receiving$6 million dollars for a building from Saudi Prince Alaweed in 2005. TheADC also received $20,000 for its Research Institute from the Olayan¬†Charitable Trust in 2007 and 2006.
The ADC has been active in cooperating with other known Saudi supportedorganizations. In 1989, the ADC cooperated in the Akins v. FEC trial, inan attempt to force the government to take regulatory action against¬†AIPAC. Its cooperation extended to providing a press conference, andhaving its former President Abedeen Jabara serve as co-counsel in thecase.Interestingly, Jabara was also co-counsel in the Omar Adel Rahman terrortrial, and an unindicted co-conspirator in the Lynne Stewart materialsupport for terrorism trial.I believe the Saudi support for the AAI and ADC should be viewed in terms of¬†their worldview of the U.S foreign policy being ‚Äúpro-Israeli‚ÄĚ or pro-Zionist, asa reflection of a powerful domestic Jewish lobby, and an attempt to create asimilar lobby of their own.
The Role of Public Relations Firms
¬†These are four case studies of Saudi-funded non-profit organizations¬†functioning to engage in influencing either the American public, or American¬†policy-makers. If these NGOS were operating alone, with no other assistance¬†besides annual Saudi donations, I do not think the Saudi Influence operation¬†would be as successful as it is. However, the NGOS work together with highpowered public relations firms, which gives them a reach that other thinktanks and NGOs cannot match and is part of the effort to counter ‚Äúthe hostilemedia campaign.‚ÄĚ In looking at P.R. firms, I would mention specifically Qorvis¬†Communications. Qorvis provides a long list of services for the Saudis, suchas arranging media appearances, organizing conferences, and coordinatingoutreach events, for which they are paid handsomely, at one point reachingover $14 million per year and still over $1 million for 2008. I will briefly¬†present some case studies where there are strong allegations that Qorvis,¬†together with Saudi funded NGOs engaged in deceptive tactics to promoteSaudi Arabia’s interests.
Case Study #1: The Alliance for Peace and Justice

In 2002, a hastily organized group of NGOs which called itself ‚ÄúThe Allianceof Peace and Justice‚ÄĚ, including the ADC, Middle East Policy Council andothers, began running advertising in favor of the Saudi Peace plan andcondemning Israeli military action. As it turned out, the ‚ÄúAlliance‚ÄĚ happenedto share the same address as Qorvis Communications. The ads were notproduced by these NGOs at all, but were produced by a political advertisingcompany called Sandler-Innocenzi. The Alliance paid Qorvis $700,000 for thead campaign. Where did an ad hoc task force of non-profits come up with$700,000? From a bridge loan from the Saudi Embassy. A loan which they¬†did not have to pay back, since the Saudi spokesman Adel Al-Jubeir (now¬†ambassador) agreed to fundraise in Saudi Arabia to find money to pay back¬†the loan. The goal was to create the appearance of a grass roots coalition of¬†concerned Americans, when in fact, the program was produced, sponsored¬†and paid for by Saudi Arabia. This activity led to a raid by JusticeDepartment‚Äôs FARA office (Foreign Agents Registration Unit) against Qorvis,¬†and Qorvis was required to amend several of its legal filings as a result.

Case Study #2: Professor Charles Lipson
This case was first reported by Daniel Pipes. Charles Lipson, a professor atthe University of Chicago, was running a speaker program. In 2004, he wascontacted by Adelson and Associates, a local P.R. firm subcontracted byQorvis. The PR firm offered Lipson five speakers to talk about the MiddleEast, including two former Ambassadors–Walter Cutler of the MeridianCenter , and Richard Murphy, of the Middle East Institute. The P.R.spokeswoman told Lipson all five speakers were ‚Äúallies of Saudi Arabia‚ÄĚ.After Lipson expressed concerns about being able to afford the speakers withhis small budget, he was told all expenses would be covered by the P.R. firm.Both Qorvis and the Saudi Embassy would later deny that the cost for thespeakers was covered by them.14
Case Study #3: The New Republic
The third case, which took place in 2003 and 2004, involved Qorvis and the¬†New Republic¬†magazine. The¬†New Republic¬†held a series of symposia on¬†topics related to Islam and Saudi Arabia over a two-year period, and¬†advertised them widely in the magazine (for example, ‚ÄúInside the Kingdom:¬†The Views and Perspectives of Journalists in Saudi Arabia‚ÄĚ). Qorvis paid themagazine half a million dollars for the symposia and ads. Several panelists at¬†the symposia would later allege that statements they made which were¬†critical of the Saudis were removed from transcripts, and one panelist with¬†views critical of the Saudis, Stephen Schwartz, was disinvited from the event.¬†The¬†New Republic’s¬†publisher later admitted,” the Saudi government was¬†granted some oversight in the formation of the panel.” The¬†New Republic¬†event speaks of the corruptive power of the money involved in these sorts of¬†public relations activities, so that even reputable journalism outlets and¬†academic forums can be encouraged to engage in behavior of questionable¬†ethics in exchange for advertising dollars.15
In conclusion, the 2004 Riyadh Conference, ‚ÄúImage of Saudi Arabia in theWorld,‚ÄĚ does indeed reflect a planned effort by Saudi Arabia to engage ininfluence operations against the public and policy makers of the UnitedStates. Further we can say that the manner in which the Saudi government,royal family members, and influential quasi-public entities like Saudi Aramcodispense funds to American organizations is consistent with promoting theobjectives of that operation. What is the end goal of this operation? To¬†prevent us from understanding the enemy and their objectives. They distractour policy makers, and even the general public, from understanding thereality of confrontation with Islamists, both violent terrorists such as Al-Qaeda, and pre-violent groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. It disguisesthe Saudi role in spreading Wahhabist ideology world-wide. It helps toconceal the actual objectives of the enemy, namely the defeat of the UnitedStates, and the imposition of Sharia, particularly a strict Wahhabistinterpretation, throughout the world. Consider for example, the Homegrown¬†Jihadist threat. It becomes very difficult to analyze that threat if weunderstand the objective of the enemy as being one which is primarily aseries of foreign policy objections, concerns about Israel, U.S bases in theMiddle East, these sorts of things. If we understand that it is primarily anideological war, then we have facts we must consider. For instance,according to the Council on American Islamic Relations, which is itself aMuslim Brotherhood front group, funded by Saudi Arabia, 80-70% of¬†American mosques in 2002 were Wahhabist. That means they had¬†Wahhabist, often Saudi-funded curriculum, Wahhabist imams, etc. So thevast majority of the ideological content of American mosques consists of thestrictest possible interpretation of Islam, controlled by Saudi Arabia.¬†Yet where can we go to have our up and coming military officers, policymakers and staffers educated about the ideology that spawns the threat to¬†the United States, when Saudi Arabia funnels tens of millions of dollars into¬†college and university Middle East Studies programs, and controls the¬†contents of the books on which we educate our high school children about¬†the Middle East and Islam? Saudi Arabia contributed $93 Million dollars to U.SColleges and Universities between 1992 to 2007, primarily to Middle EastStudies and Islamic programs. We have already seen the effect of this, asAdministration officials such as John Brennan have campaigned heavily to¬†prevent our law enforcement and intelligence officers from using the proper¬†terms to understand the enemy, seeking to prevent the use of terms such as¬†Jihad.It is why we hear stories of Yemeni Al Qaeda Cleric Anwar Awlaki giving¬†sermons on Capitol Hill, and eating lunch at the Pentagon, just months after9/11, and Hamas Operatives like Kipah Mustapha (Unindicted Co-conspirator¬†in HLF trial) attending tours of the National Counter-Terrorism Center.¬†Similarly, it impacts our ability to conduct foreign policy effectively. It leadsus to seeing moderates where they do not exist among terroristorganizations such as the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas. It causes us to putundue focus on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians,thinking that will be the solution to our problems. Middle East Experts from¬†Saudi-funded universities like Harvard convinced us to inject Sharia law into¬†the constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan, insuring that Iraqi Christians and¬†other minorities will remain second class citizens.
From the law enforcement, counter-intelligence community perspective,what can we do? Influence Operations are difficult to repress in a free andopen society such as the United States. In the case of the Russian influence¬†operation which were recently broken up by the FBI, those involved were¬†actually Russian ‚Äúillegals,‚ÄĚ trained by Russian foreign intelligence, and¬†engaging in all the typical espionage tactics of secret writing, dead drops,¬†etc. Thus they were able to be rolled up and charged through typicalcounter-intelligence methods. But how do we respond in a case where a¬†foreign government is engaging in a legal influence operation? Foreign¬†donations to non-profit organizations are not illegal, and there is no¬†requirement by non-profits to reveal the source of their funding, either¬†domestic or foreign. In any case, the individuals involved are for the most¬†part American citizens, indeed influential Americans in many cases,¬†engaging in political activities protected by the 1st¬†amendment.¬†That said, the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) was explicitly created inresponse to propaganda efforts by the Germans in the lead up to World WarII, and non-profit organizations have no immunity from filing as a ForeignAgent if they engage in political or public relations activities for or in theinterest of a foreign principal. However, in practice there have been nosuccessful FARA prosecutions since 1966, and increasingly the burden of¬†proof in such cases has been all but insurmountable. Moreover, the office¬†responsible for FARA enforcement remains heavily underfunded.For that reason, I propose a few legislative solutions which should be¬†considered.
1. Follow the Money:
As it stands presently, non-profit organizations andNGOs have no requirement to reveal the nationality of its donors, nor the amount, quality, or provisions associated with foreign gifts. This makesthe true extent of Saudi financing difficult to determine. One policy prescription to enable a better understanding of this phenomenon would be to require donations to U.S. nonprofits from foreign entities or registered foreign agents declared by the receiving organization to an appropriate federal department, probably the IRS, because they already retain non-profit filing information. This data should then be hosted on apublicly accessible database, which can be cross-referenced by recipient,country of donor, name of donor, and amount of donation, in a mannersimilar to the FARA database of registered foreign agents.
2. Truth in Advertising:
Just as we require our own citizens who are running for public office or seeking to influence key legislation to announce the financial sponsor of their activities, so too should public relations, advertising or marketing campaigns run by organizations or individuals registered as foreign agents, be required to include language within the program which indicates the source of the program’s funding, similar to messages in political advertising. This way the public can be aware as it is listening to a political message funded by a foreign government.
3. Slow the Revolving Door:
The Saudis count on the constantly revolving¬†door between administration and state department officials into lucrative¬†private sector and lobbying positions. Extending the ‚Äúcooling off‚ÄĚ periodfor government officials (especially Ambassadors and CIA officers) torepresent foreign entities from 1 to 4 years or more. Increasing the timeofficials must wait for their potential pay-off from choice businessopportunities dangled by the Saudis may reduce the temptation forofficials. Legislation of this nature has previously been proposed by Rep.¬†Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI).¬†These efforts fall under the rubric of what could be called in information¬†warfare ‚ÄúCounter deception‚ÄĚ operations. While none of them would¬†prevent the influence operation from taking place, they would work to¬†undermine the operation by exposing the policy makers and the general¬†public to the existence and the nature of the activity, thus minimizing its¬†impact.
Some other articles which may be of interest, or that are referenced in the talk:
Patrick Poole on Kifah Mustapha
Poole on Anwar Awlaki on Capitol Hill
An article I wrote regarding NATO negotiations with the Taliban (which I just briefly mentioned as one of the mistakes we make because of our lack of understanding the idealogical war):
A link to the original Arab News article about the Riyadh conference.
[Note their use of the term expatriates, “Some participants said it wastime to reach out to expatriates working in the Kingdom, since they couldplay an important role in correcting negative perceptions about SaudiArabia once they retu
rned home.”]
Kyle Shideler is Senior Research Fellow at the Endowment for Middle East Truth.
2.¬†Javid Hassan, ‚ÄúExperts Discuss Best Ways of Countering Anti-Saudi Tirade,‚Ä̬† Oct. 4, 2004
3.¬†Riyadh Daily Staff, ‚ÄúFace to Face: Israel Has No Choice but to Recognize Reality¬†of Palestine,‚ÄĚ May 12, 1998
4.¬†JTA staff, ‚ÄúTainted Teachings: What your kids are learning about Israel, America,and Islam Part 1,‚ÄĚ October 27th, 2005.
5.¬†Jon Roth, ‚ÄúDisputing Freeman Report,‚ÄĚ Washington Times letter to the editor,¬†March 10,¬†2009.
6.¬†Matt Welch, ‚ÄúShilling for the House of Saudi,‚Ä̬†National Post¬†
7.¬†Rod Dreher, ‚ÄúTheir Men in Riyadh,: Ex-ambassadors who stick with the Saudis,‚Ä̬†National¬†Review¬†June 17, 2002
8. Matt Welch, “Shilling for the House of Saudi,” National Post
9. Saudi Arabia’s Curriculum of Intolerance, Freedom House 2006
11.¬†Jonah Goldberg, ‚ÄúThree Cheers for Mcarthyism,‚ÄĚ National Review Online,February 26, 2003
12.¬†Ben Johnson, ‚ÄúWhose Behind the Censorship of Islamo-Fascism AwarenessWeek?‚ÄĚ Frontpage Magazine, Oct. 10, 2007
13.¬†Zeese, ‚ÄúAn Interview with the First Arab American Senator,‚ÄĚ Counterpunch,¬†April 17, 2006
14. Daniel Pipes, “The Saudi’s Covert P.R. Campaign,” New York Sun, August 10, 2004
15.¬†Eric Marx, “Panelists Claim New Republic Cut Their Anti-Saudi Remarks,” The Jewish Daily Forward, January 9, 2004