#428A Correction for the Record
October 22, 2001
Discussion Thread - Comment #s - 428
 SEYMOUR M. HERSH, "KING'S RANSOM: How vulnerable are the Saudi royals?" The New Yorker, October 22,2001.
In Comment #428, "A Grunt's View of the Saudi Volcano," SSG Kountzonikolai included the following paragraph immediately before his concluding remarks.
"A recent demonstration illustrates how popular bin Laden's actions are in Saudi Arabia: On the night of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, 50,000 people gathered in Riyadh and celebrated [a far larger number than the small demonstrations on the West Bank shown by CNN-CS]. In Saudi Arabia, such demonstrations are unheard of. And it scared the royal family to death."
A reader in Saudi Arabia replied there was no public demonstration of this magnitude in Riyadh, to the best of his knowledge. I asked Kountzonikolai to check this out and clarify his remarks, if necessary. What follows is his clarification:
SSG Kountzonikolai's clarification
"My statement implying that "50,000 people celebrated in the streets" is incorrect, according to my friend in the embassy. The original statement was obtained from another friend who attended an unclassified security briefing where he was told 50,000 people had demonstrated in the streets. But, I have determined that the original information briefed was intended to convey the idea that "50,000 people celebrated," whatever that means. Most likely, that number is a guesstimate indicating widespread sympathy expressed in the privacy of their homes, in coffeehouses, etc."
We both regret any confusion this error caused. If any readers choose to redistribute #428, I request that you either delete this incorrect paragraph or indicate that it is factually incorrect. [DNI Editor's note: that paragraph has now been deleted in the DNI posting.] This error does not change the essence of his report, which is quite similar to several subsequent reports.
Included below as Reference 1 is one of the more informative essays describing the Saudi volcano. It was written by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and appeared in a recent edition of the New Yorker.
[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]
ANNALS OF NATIONAL SECURITY
KING'S RANSOM How vulnerable are the Saudi royals?
by SEYMOUR M. HERSH,
By 1996 Saudi money was supporting Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Central Asia, and throughout the Persian Gulf region. "Ninety-six is the key year," one American intelligence official told me. "Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys—it's like the Grand Alliance—and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations." The Saudi regime, he said, had "gone to the dark side."
… thousands of disaffected Saudis have joined fundamentalist groups throughout the Middle East. Other officials said that there is a growing worry inside the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. that the actual identities of many of those involved in the attacks may not be known definitively for months, if ever.
In a PBS "Frontline" interview broadcast on October 9th, [ Saudi Ambassador Prince] Bandar [bin Sultan], asked about the reports of corruption in the royal family, was almost upbeat in his response. The family had spent nearly four hundred billion dollars to develop Saudi Arabia, he said. "If you tell me that building this whole country . . . we misused or got corrupted with fifty billion, I'll tell you, 'Yes.' … So what? We did not invent corruption, nor did those dissidents, who are so genius, discover it."
[Crown Prince] Abdullah is viewed by [Defense Minister] Sultan and other opponents as a leader who could jeopardize the kingdom's most special foreign relationship—someone who is willing to penalize the United States, and its oil and gas companies, because of Washington's support for Israel. In an intercept dated July 13, 1997, Prince Sultan called Bandar in Washington, and informed him that he had told Abdullah "not to be so confrontational with the United States."
In the Clinton era, the White House did business as usual with the Saudis, urging them to buy American goods, like Boeing aircraft. The kingdom was seen as an American advocate among the oil-producing nations of the Middle East. The C.I.A. was discouraged from conducting any risky intelligence operations inside the country and, according to one former official, did little recruiting among the Saudi population, which limited the United States government's knowledge of the growth of the opposition to the royal family.
The American military response has triggered alarm in the international oil community and among intelligence officials who have been briefed on a still secret C.I.A. study, put together in the mid-eighties, of the vulnerability of the Saudi fields to terrorist attack. The report was "so sensitive," a former C.I.A. officer told me, "that it was put on typed paper," and not into the agency's computer system, meaning that distribution was limited to a select few. According to someone who saw the report, it concluded that with only a small amount of explosives terrorists could take the oil fields off line for two years.
"The United States is hostage to the stability of the Saudi system," a prominent Middle Eastern oil man, who did not wish to be cited by name, told me in a recent interview. "It's time to start facing the truth. The war was declared by bin Laden, but there are thousands of bin Ladens. They are setting the game—the agenda. It's a new form of war. This fabulous military machine you have is completely useless."
The Saudi regime "will explode in time," he said. "It has been playing a delicate game." As for the terrorists responsible for the September 11th attacks, he said, "Now they decide the timing. If they do a similar operation in Saudi Arabia, the price of oil will go up to one hundred dollars a barrel"—more than four times what it is today.