day 7: middle east, iraq, and SWIFT.
by New York Times:
Nine years after the United States vowed to shut down the money pipeline that finances terrorism, senior Obama administration officials say they believe that many millions of dollars are flowing largely unimpeded to extremist groups worldwide, and they have grown frustrated by frequent resistance from allies in the Middle East, according to secret diplomatic dispatches.
The government cables, sent by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and senior State Department officials, catalog a long list of methods that American officials suspect terrorist financiers are using, from a brazen armed bank robbery in Yemen last year to kidnappings for ransom, drug proceeds in Afghanistan and annual religious pilgrimages to Mecca, where millions of riyals or other forms of currency change hands.
A classified memo sent by Mrs. Clinton last December made it clear that residents of Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, all allies of the United States, are the chief financial supporters of many extremist activities. “It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,” the cable said, concluding that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The documents are filled with secret government intelligence on possible terrorist-financing plots, like the case of a Somali preacher who was reportedly touring Sweden, Finland and Norway last year to look for money and recruits for the Shabab, a militant group in Somalia, or that of a Pakistani driver caught with about $240,000 worth of Saudi riyals stuffed behind his seat. One memo even reported on a possible plot by the Iranians to launder $5 billion to $10 billion in cash through the Emirates’ banks as part of a broader effort to “stir up trouble” among the Persian Gulf states, though it was not clear how much of the money might be channeled to militants.
One episode that set off particular concern occurred in August 2009 in Yemen, when armed robbers stormed a bank truck on a busy downtown street in Aden during daylight hours and stole 100 million Yemeni riyals, or about $500,000. American diplomats said the sophistication of the robbery and other indicators had all the markings of a Qaeda mission
In conversations last week, Obama administration officials said that since the latest cable released from WikiLeaks, from February 2010, the Saudis had made notable progress, including the arrests of some major donors to terrorist groups. Despite such pledges of cooperation between the countries, tensions have occasionally flared behind the scenes.
by New York Times:
“All Iraq’s neighbors were interfering, albeit in different ways, the Gulf and Saudi Arabia with money, Iran with money and political influence, and the Syrians by all means,” Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president and the senior Kurdish official in the government, told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a Dec. 10, 2009, meeting, according to a diplomatic cable.
With American troops preparing to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011, the meddling threatens to aggravate the sectarian divisions in the country and undermine efforts by Iraq’s leaders to get beyond bitter rivalries and build a stable government. It also shows how deeply Iraq’s leaders depend on the United States to manage the meddling, even as it exposes the increasing limits on America’s ability to do so.
“The challenge for us is to convince Iraq neighbors, particularly the Sunni Arab governments, that relations with a new Iraq are not a zero-sum game, where if Iraq wins, they lose,” noted a Sept. 24, 2009, cable from Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, which was aptly titled “The Great Game, in Mesopotamia.” American diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s fears about outside interference are so great that he asked President Obama during a July 2009 visit to Washington to stop the Saudis from intervening. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to rally the Sunnis, the Iraqi leader complained, were heightening sectarian tensions and providing Iran with an excuse to intervene in Iraqi politics, according to an account of the Oval Office session Mr. Maliki shared with Ambassador Hill.
The Saudis, who see Iran as the principal threat in the region, have used their control of satellite television and deep pockets to support Sunni groups. Syria, which Iraqi leaders have repeatedly complained to American diplomats is dominated by a Baathist regime unduly sympathetic to the ousted Baathists in Iraq, has allowed insurgent fighters to sneak into Iraq. Even Turkey, which has good relations with the Iraqi government, has secretly financed nationalist and anti-Kurdish Sunni political parties.
In a Sept. 24, 2009, cable titled “Prime Minister Accuses Iran of Trying to DeStabilize Iraq,” Ambassador Hill reported that Mr. Maliki had told him that Iran was trying to use its money and influence to try to “control” the Iraqi Parliament and was prepared to provide military support to Shiite militants if political efforts failed. Iran, Ambassador Hill quoted Mr. Maliki as saying, was trying to rally the Shiites to counter the “Saudi project to align the Sunni states.”
American diplomats and generals have told Arab leaders in the region that the best way to counter Iran’s ambitions is to establish a good working relationship with Mr. Maliki, which means sending ambassadors to Baghdad and refraining from financing and mobilizing opposition groups or insurgents that that seek to undermine him. But as Ambassador Hill acknowledged in his cable on the “Great Game,” American diplomats “still have work to do to convince them that a strong, stable, democratic (and inevitably Shia-led) Iraq is the best guarantee that Iraq will be able to shake Iranian manipulations and see its future bound up with that of the West and its moderate Arab neighbors.”
by New York Times:
“Paranoia runs deep especially about US intelligence agencies,” a secret cable from the American Embassy in Berlin said. “We were astonished to learn how quickly rumors about alleged U.S. economic espionage” had taken root among German politicians who opposed the bank-monitoring program, it said.
The memo was among dozens of State Department cables that revealed the deep distrust of some traditional European allies toward what they considered American intrusion into their citizens’ affairs without stringent oversight.
The program, created in secrecy by the Bush administration after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has allowed American counterterrorism officials to examine reams of banking transactions routed through a vast database run by a Brussels consortium known as Swift. When the program was disclosed in 2006 by The New York Times, just months after the newspaper reported the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, it set off protests in Europe and forced the United States to accept new restrictions.
But by early 2010, new leaders were in charge at the European Parliament and harbored what one State Department memo called “a fixation” on privacy issues. On Feb. 10, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly — 378 to 196 — to halt the Swift program.
Obama administration officials considered the program a valuable counterterrorism tool because it allowed them to trace the transactions of suspected terrorist financiers while including “robust” privacy protections, according to the cables.
But many Europeans were skeptical. Some allies not only were concerned that program might be used for economic espionage against European companies, but also considered it of “dubious” value and said that it “flouted” their privacy laws and was an attempt by the United States to put its counterterrorism priorities ahead of Europe’s civil liberties, the cables show.
After mobilizing top administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the administration was able to reverse course. The European Parliament voted 484 to 109 in July to restart the program after the United States made modest concessions that promised greater European oversight.
I don’t understand how the Middle East states urges the U.S to bomb Iran but fails to support the U.S in cutting off aid to terrorist groups. The U.S can’t fix the problems of the Middle East, American humans have enough headaches of their at home. Ambassador Hills is right, Iraq needs to be an independent self sustaining government without interference from other Middle East countries. Only then will Iran weaken.
I don’t think the U.S would spy on bank agencies for economic benefits. I’m just a little bit frightened by the original guidelines of the SWIFT progam implemented by the Bush adminstration. Not to bash him, but the secret bank monitoring program did inflict on European civil liberties and the EU was right to shut it down.
In today’s society, terrorism is everywhere.