Monday, February 28, 2005

Sunday Herald : : Top Former CIA Agent Condemns New Terror War

In this article, former CIA case officer Robert Baer explains why the ‘clumsy, knee-jerk approach’ to al-Qaeda is counter-productive:
An Arabic speaker, Baer spent most of his career running agents in the souks and back alleys of the Middle East, before becoming disillusioned with what he saw as interference by Washington politicians in the CIA’s efforts to root out terrorists.

He believes that at precisely the time when terrorist threats were escalating globally, the agency that should have been monitoring them was being “scrubbed clean” instead.

See also this interview with Mr. Baer.


Blogger Management said...

Sunday Herald - 27 February 2005
Top former CIA agent condemns new terror war
Robert Baer explains to Foreign Editor David Pratt why the ‘clumsy, knee-jerk approach’ to al-Qaeda is counter-productive

A running joke in Washington late last year held that Langley, the CIA’s home in Virginia, was changing its name to Fallujah after the restive Iraqi town then held by insurgents. Like Fallujah, Langley – according to some White House wags – was full of rebels that needed to be cleared out. This would inevitably lead to lots of casualties along the way.

But putting the jokes and bravado aside, many at the CIA’s longtime base already knew that the winds of change were blowing their way, and were well aware of the reason why. George W Bush, his eyes by then firmly fixed on a second term, was consolidating his position. It was time to rein in those agencies and their operatives that were not always singing from the same political hymn sheet as the President and those closest to him.

In the months that followed, a new CIA chief, Porter Goss, would be appointed – as would a new director of national intelligence: John Negroponte. And there would be other changes too, in tactics and operations.

All of this has since set alarm bells ringing among human rights activists and security analysts who claim “hardmen” are back at the CIA helm with a whole suitcase full of revamped dirty tricks ranging from political assassinations and death squads to the shuttling of detainees to interrogation and torture facilities worldwide. Few people know more about how the CIA operates on the ground than former agent Robert Baer, one of the agency’s top field operatives of the past quarter-century.

An Arabic speaker, Baer spent most of his career running agents in the souks and back alleys of the Middle East, before becoming disillusioned with what he saw as interference by Washington politicians in the CIA’s efforts to root out terrorists.

He believes that at precisely the time when terrorist threats were escalating globally, the agency that should have been monitoring them was being “scrubbed clean” instead.

I put it to him that since 9/11, the cost of being complacent has been recognised and that the CIA is now getting its hands dirty again.

“Yes,” says Baer, “but in the wrong direction.

“It is totally reactionary,” he insists. “It’s like they woke up on 9/11 and just started shooting at anybody and anything.”

To give just one example, he says that what is referred to as “extraordinary renditions” – the controversial practice of secretly spiriting suspects to other countries without due process – is not only wrong, but often counterproductive for gathering intelligence.

“They are picking up people really with nothing against them, hoping to catch someone because they have no information about these [terrorist] networks.”

According to Baer, what happened after 9/11 was a kind of knee-jerk reaction by the CIA, taking in thousands of contractors and dispatching everybody they could, at the expense of real expertise and experienced operatives.

This desperation, he says, led to a “do anything approach” and “that’s why we ended up with Guantanamo and arresting a lot of people that were innocent.”

It was on September 15, just a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington, that George Tenet – then director of the CIA – produced at top secret document known as the Worldwide Attack Matrix for ratification by President Bush.

It was, in effect, a licence to kill. Among the actions already under way or being recommended in the document were those ranging from “routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” Implemented as outlined, the Matrix, “would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”

Since then the agency has hacked into foreign banks, used secret prisons overseas and spent millions bankrolling “friendly” Muslim intelligence services. They have assassinated al-Qaeda leaders, spirited prisoners to nations with brutal human rights records and amassed countless files.

Some might say this is what secret services do anyway, but there are concerns about how far the CIA is prepared to go.

“Everything I’ve heard anecdotally about the primary suspects connected to September 11 says they are being truly tortured. They are not [merely] being made to feel uncomfortable,” says Baer.

What did he know about the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” and was it the blueprint for current CIA activities?

“I think it was the blueprint right after 9/11. I don’t know specifics about it, but I know what matrices are. You collect what you believe to be facts and identify people and get rid of them. Either by arresting them, or getting local government to arrest them, or kidnapping them and putting them in the extraordinary rendition system.”

The Matrix document as drafted and presented to Bush specified targets in 80 countries around the world. The CIA even prepared a Memorandum Of Notification, which would allow the agency to have virtual carte blanche to conduct political assasinations abroad.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez recently accused the CIA of having a hand in the military coup that briefly deposed him in 2002, and says the agency were hatching just such an assassination plot against him as outlined in the Matrix.

Baer is quick to point out, however, that while such strategies are drawn up on paper, they only work if there is the political will to see them through. So the question is, does that political will exist, and who in turn is calling the shots now in the CIA’s war on terror?

“I think it’s the Attorney General and the President who are basically taking the attitude of murder in the cathedral, and ‘who will rid me of these guys, these terrorists?’,” says Baer, noting that people further down the line are quick to interpret the orders as they see fit.

Certainly that political will is around today, insists Baer, “more so than in the 80s.”

Having received the CIA’s intelligence medal in 1997 and served in Beirut and Iraq at their worst, he knows all about what CIA orders often involve.

While Baer sees the agency’s move towards getting tough as necessary, he says it is being done with scarcely believable clumsiness. Recruits able to get inside terrorist groups are not being admitted to the CIA in any numbers, those with language and specialist skills or backgrounds.

“To have got into Baghdad before the war you would have had to put people next to Saddam’s sons – dirty oil traders, dirty arms traders, people that got their hands dirty.

“It’s like joining a criminal organisation. You have to prove yourself; you have to do that to get inside, if that’s you goal.”

He also sees it as an uncomfortable necessity, “to do favours for such groups. And doing favours for them means getting exceptions under US law like trading oil with Saddam.”

The danger, he says, is that the intelligence services might succumb to what he calls “pagan ethics”.

Are the likes of new CIA director Porter Goss and National intelligence director John Negroponte the sort of men to succumb to “pagan ethics”? And what of their so called “clearing out” of the CIA house recently?

“Oh come on, the guy who oversaw collection on Iraq got it completely wrong and was promoted, what kind of house-cleaning is that?

“You don’t reappoint the captain of the Titanic after he loses the boat,” Baer complains.

If he could, Baer would do one thing immediately to improve the CIA’s efficiency on the ground: change the clearance system to get recruits who can go places operatives can’t at the moment.

“What you need is some Lawrence of Arabia kind of guy. He may not get you the keys to the kingdom, but at least he’s familiar with the players.”

6:40 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Robert Baer
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Robert Baer; is an author and former case officer at the CIA.

Reared in Aspen, Colorado, Robert Baer aspired to become a professional skier. After a poor performace during his freshman year at high school, his mother sent him to military school. In 1976, after graduating from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Services and entering the University of California at Berkeley, Baer decided to join the CIA's Directorate of Operations (DO) as a case officer. Upon admittance to the CIA, Baer engaged in a year-long training, which included a four-month paramilitary course.

After playing an integral role in the CIA's failed 1995 attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Baer quit the CIA. He then wrote the book "See No Evil" documenting his experiences while working for the Agency. This was subsequently made into the 2005 Warner Brothers Pictures motion picture, Syriana. George Clooney gained 30 pounds to play Robert Baer.

Baer offers analyses of the Middle East through his experiences as a CIA operative. Despite his political leanings, Baer often makes observations that support both conservative and liberal viewpoints.

6:40 PM  
Blogger Management said...

September 12, 2003
Robert Baer, Former CIA Case Officer and Author of "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude."


Think About This: Whenever You Buy a Tank of Saudi Arabian Gas, You are Helping to Finance Terrorism.

Regular BuzzFlash readers know that we have regularly run articles, commentaries and editorials arguing that, in part, the invasion of Iraq was a Bush administration effort to divert attention from the primary financiers of terrorism -- and the source of much of the al-Qaeda leadership -- Saudi Arabia. Of course, there were other motivating factors for the Bush military action against Iraq, which we have detailed (see, as examples, The Perfect War and Endgame).

But a recent poll indicates that the American public still believes Iraq was behind 9/11, even though bin Laden received Saudi, not Iraq financing, and 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The Bush administration kept -- and keeps -- insinuating that Iraq was involved deeply in 9/11, while trying to sweep under the carpet much, much stronger indications of key Saudi involvement in the financing, strategy and implementation of 9/11. As a result, they have successfully misled Americans about who was really responsible for 9/11.

It is within this context that we interviewed Robert Baer, a case officer for the Directorate of Operations for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1976 to 1997. He worked out of the Middle East.

You may, like BuzzFlash, not agree with all of Baer's remedies, but his insights are invaluable. And, like BuzzFlash, he believes that the Bush administration is letting the country that is the largest financial and religious sect supporter of terrorism get away with it, while attacking Iraq, which only had the most tangential involvement with terrorism.

His book, "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude," adds to a growing list of evidence that the Bush administration is conducting a war on terror that is politically calculated.

(You can purchase "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude" Here).

BUZZFLASH: Let me begin by asking you, just to establish your background, you wrote a book called See No Evil, in which you talked about your career with the CIA. Can you explain a little bit more about what your background and areas of responsibility were with the CIA?

ROBERT BAER: I spent 21 years in the CIA as what’s called a case officer. That means that I went overseas and served overseas almost all the years I spent with the CIA, meeting with what we call agents. Those are foreigners who spy for the CIA. And you write up their reports and send them back to Washington. So I was a field officer, in short.

BUZZFLASH: In what area? You did serve in Iraq, if I recall, in reading your book.

BAER: I served in Iraq for awhile. A couple times I was there on a temporary basis. I was mostly in the Middle East – Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Bosnia as well as a couple of other countries.

BUZZFLASH: So you have extensive experience with the Middle East.

BAER: Yes.

BUZZFLASH: As a gatherer of what is called "human intelligence."

BAER: Yes.

BUZZFLASH: Now in reading through the book we’re going to discuss, Sleeping With the Devil, I noticed there are many thick black bars through it that I assumed were censored by the CIA. Is that correct?

BAER: Yes. They get the manuscript in advance of publishing.

BUZZFLASH: So the CIA basically vets it and approves it, minus whatever they feel is necessary to black out or censor.

BAER: Yes, they don’t mess with the content. They just say: Listen, this is our stuff. You can’t publish it.

BUZZFLASH: The book’s full title is Sleeping With the Devil – How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, and you cover several administrations. The claims you make here seem to apply, for the most part, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. And you, of course, focus on Saudi Arabia. What compelled you to write the book?

BAER: I’d always been fascinated by Saudi Arabia. And I’d always noticed that on general intelligence reports that are sent around in the field, and in Washington, there’s virtually nothing said about Saudi Arabia. Every Arab that I talked to – and I know a lot of them – kept on talking about the disputes in the royal family, huge contracts, the Wahhabi's funding Lebanese politics. It became clear to me, even though I wasn’t seeing much in the CIA traffic, or State Department, or anywhere else, that this was a key country.

So when I got back to Washington in ’95 – and I stayed there until I resigned from the CIA – I said, all right, I don’t know a whole lot about Saudi Arabia. What about Saudi Arabia? And I got onto the computer and I took a look around, and there just wasn’t anything useful. I mean, you, as a journalist, would have looked at this and said: It’s junk. There’s nothing here. And especially nothing that goes deep into the problems in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, I started running into these assessments of the oil industry, and just how much damage you could do to the processing facilities, not the pipelines, if you were a terrorist and wanted to bring the Saudis down. And then 9/11 came along, and the 15 Saudis that caused it. So I took notes about everything that I’d ever learned about Saudi Arabia and the government. And I said, this would make a book. I asked myself: Why don’t we know more about a country that’s so vital to the United States? And this is my effort at explaining that. You’d get a different perspective if you asked James Baker about it or an academic. But this is the continuation of my memoir, my gut reaction.

BUZZFLASH: We were told, after the Afghanistan war, that indulging in drugs is supporting terrorism. But you also make the claim: Every time we buy a gallon of gasoline, if the petrol came from Saudi Arabia, the oil was used for the gasoline. So we’re also supporting terrorism.

BAER: Well, it is. In the first Gulf war, if Saudi Arabia hadn’t been there to pump the extra gasoline, and if we had let oil hit $80 or $90 a barrel for a long period of time, people wouldn’t have been buying all these SUVs in the ‘90s. I mean, Saudi Arabia really does balance the market out. I’m in California right now, and we use a lot of gasoline. As you drive around this town, it’s amazing all the SUVs and four-wheel drives that you see.

In any case, we just use a lot of gasoline, and we depend upon it, just as we depend upon cheap imports from East Asia, from China. All these cheap imports and cheap gasoline, and wood from Brazil, it becomes a dependency. These aren’t my ideas. I talk to a lot of people about the drug problem, and they say, well, with dependency, your perceptions change. And I think the best I can tell is that’s what has happened. It's as if Saudi Arabia is our boss and is paying us a good salary. It would be difficult to find another job, so we're not going to really worry about focusing on what our boss is really doing. We're too dependent.

BUZZFLASH: So that’s the basis of your claim that through our dependence on Saudi oil, we’re, in essence, financing terrorism – because you do say in your book that, over the past decade, Saudi Arabia has transferred half a billion dollars to Al-Qaeda, and at least a hundred million dollars to the Taliban.

BAER: Exactly. And it’s obviously not intentional on the part of consumers; there’s no conspiracy in this on this side of the ocean. People in Washington didn’t sit around and say, let's finance terrorism. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s this process of what I call slow accrual.

BUZZFLASH: Why do the Saudis finance terrorism? From reading your book and elsewhere, we deduce that there are probably two reasons. One is that they’re paying protection money. You set up the scenario, as you discussed earlier, that if they didn’t buy off al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, they might be the target of a plane that’s hijacked into their oil processing plants, and that would ruin them for years. The second reason is that the Saudis practice what we would view in America as a fundamentalist branch of the Islamic faith that actually becomes a breeding ground for terrorism.

BAER: There's a lot that we really don’t know. There are a lot of people in the royal family that sympathize with bin Laden. There are people in the royal family that feel humiliated by colonialism -- call it what you want -- by the United States, by Israel. And they’re humiliated that they are citizens or subjects of a country that has never fought a war, and yet spends so much money on defense. They’re humiliated that they don’t take the Israelis on, because their army is worthless. And maybe they’re not humiliated but rather disenfranchised because they can never advance up the ranks of the family, and it’s a very tough culture. They sit around and they read the Koran. And they get on these Islamic websites, and they watch Al-Jazeera. And they go to the mosque, and I think they’re believers.

You've got a very fragmented Saudi society. I can only identify a couple of those princes. There’s a senior one named Salman, whom I mention in the book, who had some sort of late conversion. But there are other ones. You hear rumors about them, and I didn’t dare put them in the book, because I’m not sure of the information. Then there are the other princes who are Westernized in the sense of their tastes: They drink, they like women, they like to spend a lot of money. They have the diamond-studded Rolex watches. They just love money for the power it gives them over other subjects. And they know they have a problem with the fundamentalists. They figure, if I can make gestures toward them, they won’t bother me. And the fundamentalists haven’t, for the most part.

If I were a fundamentalist and I wanted to take Saudi Arabia over, what I would do is I’d go after the royal family. I would set off a few car bombs and kill a couple of them. Destabilize the country. But for some reason, the royal family has not been the victim of terrorism that they claim they have been. You cannot name a single case where the fundamentalists killed a Saudi prince. They claim all the time that there are all these plots afoot, and they’ve stopped them. But all the terrorism has really been against the United States and other Western countries, or Western interests in Saudi Arabia.

That ’95 National Guard barracks bombing within Saudi Arabia – we don’t really know who did that. Could have been bin Laden. And you have the ’96 Kobar barracks bombing. There are a lot of people who say that bin Laden was involved in the ’96 bombing, though there’s no proof of it.

That brings me to the State Department. You’ve got ’95, ’96, and ’98 bombings that had a bunch of Saudis. The bombings in Africa [U.S. Embassy in Kenya] and the Cole [U.S.S. Cole] had a bunch of Saudis involved. And we were hit September 2001, and we still don’t have visa interviews for these people. How can you explain that? If you’re a Syrian, you have to wait 30 days. If you’re an Iranian, you have to wait 30 days before you get your visa. In Saudi Arabia, you just send your passport to the travel agent. It comes back, without an interview, without any sort of check, and you get a visa. And that’s what disturbs me.

BUZZFLASH: And of course, 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudi.

BAER: The Saudi hijackers were spending time in these mosques paid for by the Saudi government. The clerics are essentially government employees that recruited these kids. I know why Americans don’t have time to think about the Middle East. It’s a very complicated place. I certainly don’t understand it all that well, but I’ve spent 25 years now doing nothing but trying to figure it out.

BUZZFLASH: You also mentioned how intertwined business relationships are with Saudi Arabia. Another point you bring out is that the Saudi Arabians keep possibly as much as a trillion dollars on deposit in U.S. banks. So how does that factor in?

BAER: Well, Kissinger set this up in the first oil embargo. He said, listen, fine, you can raise the price of oil. You’re going to get more money for your oil. But let’s be reasonable about this. Take this money and all this profit you’re making, and invest it in the United States, which is a perfectly good policy, by the way. Buy our arms. Keep your money here. It’ll keep our economy floating. We won’t go into a recession or a depression because of high oil prices. And we’re all going to win by this. And that worked fine.

But then that goes back to the dependency. We depend so much on Saudi investments in the stock market, in Citibank and other funds. This is not just Saudi money; it’s other Arab money too. If we go into a confrontation with the Middle East, especially with oil prices so high right now, and that money is not recirculated back in the United States, it’s going to do some real damage. Or if one day, they just completely pull their money out. I mean, that’s the perfect storm: an oil embargo, the Saudis and others' pulling their money out, and having the price of oil go up to $70 - $80 a barrel. We would be hurt, badly hurt.

BUZZFLASH: Another factor in terms of the relationship that you’ve described as sleeping with the devil, and that you detail in your book, is that the Saudis have very shrewdly given jobs and consulting contracts to politicians and American government officials as they leave their government jobs.

BAER: I could have sat down and done a list of all my former colleagues from the CIA who ended up on the Saudi Arabian payroll. Some of them are known, like Ray Close. Others have gone public, but there are others that haven’t. A bunch of my colleagues went to work for a public consulting firm where the initial capital was paid for by the Saudi embassy to lobby the Hill for the Gulf countries. A former member of the National Security Council under Reagan set this up. And it’s not like it’s a secret. Even Bandar [Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi prince and U.S. ambassador] has said, according to the Washington Post, that if I take care of people coming out of office, the new ones coming in are going to be a lot friendlier to Saudi Arabia once it gets known.

BUZZFLASH: And it’s worked.

BAER: It works great. I’d be really popular in Washington if I could throw around a couple hundred million dollars every year to law firms and others. Another thing the royal family does is cultivate the press through public relations firms.

By the way, I just heard today The New York Times refused to review my book.

BUZZFLASH: Is that right? And you have no idea why?

BAER: Maybe they didn’t like my English. Maybe they didn’t like that I mentioned one of their reporters in it. I don’t know.

BUZZFLASH: What about the Wahhabi sect of Islam that’s practiced in Saudi Arabia?

BAER: It is absolutely susceptible to terrorism because its world view is so black and white and Utopian at the same time. Many Saudis are disgusted with their own lifestyles now, and they look back to the 18th Century with Abd-al-Wahhab. And they say things were better back then when we lived out in the desert. Saudis have told me, we’ll keep the oil in the ground. You can keep your weapons. We’re going to go back and we’re going to live in the desert off of camel’s milk and dates, because that’s when life was pure. In the times of Muhammad, we were honorable people, and we were warriors, and we were in control of our own destiny.

So with that kind of mentality, it’s very easy to recruit young kids, whether they’re men or women. In Saudi Arabia, it’s mainly the young boys. And when the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a violent political Islamic faction, left Egypt and set up in Saudi Arabia, they had a lot of influence on the Saudis.

This combination of a Utopian view of the world, plus the Muslim Brothers' advocacy of violence, have made people susceptible to suicide bombing. And it’s a little bit different from the Palestinians who live in refugee camps, and who have been disenfranchised completely. The Saudis are more privileged, of course. The best that I can tell, it’s just this combination that has been so lethal.

BUZZFLASH: Well, what then are we doing? Is Saudi Arabia continuing to finance Al-Qaeda?

BAER: I think they are. I think they’re going to continue to finance Hamas. Smart people in the Middle East tell me that there are a lot of Saudis heading into Iraq right now to set up cells to attack American troops. There was an article recently about it – I think it was in the Christian Science Monitor. And Bremer has even said it. What to do? I offer one solution, which is Syria, 1982, where they confronted a fundamentalist problem. And I’ve been criticized by people that say that you can’t shell cities like Asad did in ’82.

BUZZFLASH: Well, he just wiped the town out, didn’t he?

BAER: Yes. And that’s not what I’m advocating. I’m just saying that one solution is to outlaw this sort of fundamentalism at the state level, as we would. For example, a Christian sect in the United States could not go into a church and advocate and preach violence, which results in violence. That would be a conspiracy and it's against the law. If those same norms and laws were applied to these countries, we’d be a lot better off. And so I take Syria as an example of a country who had a terrible problem, and who pretty much solved it. This doesn’t address the question of Syria's support for Hesbollah – the kidnappings in the ‘80s and the terrorism that went on outside Syria. But inside Syria, I just wanted to point out that it is possible to do something about it.

We need the Saudis to get in that same position where they need to be removing these clerics from the mosque who are advocating righteous murder. We need to get the Saudis to account for the money that’s going to the charities, to make sure it’s going to orphans and widows and not weapons. And we need them as partners. And we have to hold them accountable. They have to tell us who these Saudis were that were apparently involved in September 11.

BUZZFLASH: Well, according to numerous accounts, although it’s hard to tell how extensive, the Saudis were allowed to fly members of the royal family and others out of the United States immediately after September 11th without questioning, on private Saudi jets. I believe I read one account of a security guard, a retired police officer in Florida, who was asked to accompany a member of a scion of a Saudi family who was at a university in Florida to Lexington, Kentucky, which I believe was a meeting point for many of the departing planes. [BuzzFlash Note: Since this interview was conducted in August, the issue of the Bush administration allowing bin Laden and Saudi families to leave the U.S. without questioning, within hours after 9/11 when U.S. airspace was closed, has been confirmed.]

BAER: Yes.

BUZZFLASH: One of the Florida papers, a mainstream daily, recounted this police officer's experience, and how he arrived on the tarmac in Lexington, and there was a whole fleet of Saudi jets there.

BAER: It’s crazy. There's a Syrian who's been convicted in Chicago and he has a Saudi wife. The Saudi embassy issued her a passport so was able to flee the U.S.; even though she was part of the case and shouldn’t have left. And the Saudis didn't really let us question Bayyumi [Bayyumi had showed up in San Diego with thousands of dollars and helped settle two Saudi 9/11 hijackers] But it was a controlled interrogation. You don’t get anything out of that.

BUZZFLASH: And it took awhile to arrange that.

BAER: Two years -- a guy that had met two of the hijackers and helped finance their stay!

BUZZFLASH: And wasn’t Bayyumi the guy that the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. sent money to?

BAER: The wife of the Saudi ambassador claimed that she gave the money to charities. As it turned out, the money was going into an account under a Jordanian woman's name. And the Jordanians and the Saudis despise each other. The chances of a Saudi princess sending money to a Jordanian woman without somebody's recommendation are highly improbable. But we don't know who made the recommendation, because we’re not getting the answers. We’re not holding Saudi Arabia accountable.

BUZZFLASH: Well, given that Saudi Arabia has 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves? Is that right?

BAER: Yes.

BUZZFLASH: And given that they have on deposit nearly a trillion dollars in the United States, and given all the intermingled business relationships, and the fact that they buy planes from Boeing, and the Carlyle Group is intertwined with them, what pressure could be put on them? What leverage does the United States have to actually get them to really crack down on the terrorist roots of many of the acts of terrorism?

BAER: Well, you hit the nail on the head. We don’t have a lot of pressure points because we’re so dependent on this oil. You could get rough with these people, but the problem is: Would the regime fall? As much as I despise Al Sa'ud, I wouldn’t want the regime to fall, for our benefit. It could lead to chaos. And I think that’s the problem Bush has: What do you do with these people that are clearly hiding something from 9/11, and have just said we’re not going to cooperate?

The Interior Minister said that 9/11 is a Zionist conspiracy. He said the Saudis had nothing to do with it. He stiffed Freeh [Louis Freeh, former FBI director] when he went out there in ’96 – just refused to see him. I don’t care what Freeh says now. He refused to see him, and no one did anything. The Saudis, and their arrogance, have gotten away with this for a long time because they think they have enough money to buy people off. Their attitude is: You don’t want to buy our oil, don’t buy it. We’ll sell someplace else. And what would happen if they did impose another embargo? Do we invade? I offer that possibility at the end of my book, but that’s if nothing else works. If the place is ready to go down, you have to consider it.

It wouldn't be an Iraq-like invasion with the stated goal of imposing democracy. An invasion of Saudi Arabia would be to save our economy.

BUZZFLASH: You’re very skeptical in your book on the possibility of imposing democracy in the Middle East.

BAER: I look at Iraq today. Yesterday, you had the Turkmen killing the Kurds. You had the Shi'a Muslims blowing each other up in Najef. I wouldn't even know where to begin to impose democracy on these countries. In order for a democracy to be established in a country, there has to be an intellectual tradition of democracy within the country. There needs to be some prior rule of law. For example, the Weimar Republic had a democratic rule of law in the ‘30s that laid the foundation for the post-World War II occupation. And the Russians had sort of a democracy in the early 1900's even though they’re not doing very well now.

It’s really hard to get people in countries like Iraq to understand what you’re talking about [when you talk about democracy], when they’re so tied up in religion and the rule of God. In Saudi Arabia, the rule of law is whatever the prince that comes along says; that's the system of justice. I think we can offer by example democracy in adjoining countries, but at the end of the day, we really can’t impose it.

BUZZFLASH: Also, you point out that if you offered democracy, the fundamentalists might win.

BAER: I’ve seen conversations we’ve had with the Saudi government – why they didn’t want to arrest bin Laden in ’96. They were very frank. They said: Listen, we can arrest this guy and put him in jail. There would be a national uprising in support of him.

So, I think that Iraq should find its own way to democracy. We should set the example wherever we can. If the Palestinian-Israeli thing ever gets solved – it probably never will in our lifetime – there would be a sort of working democracy with the Palestinians or the Jordanians. Democracy has to be created from within the country; they just won’t accept it from the United States.

BUZZFLASH: You mentioned Asad earlier, and what he did to the Muslim Brotherhood – just annihilated the town that was the center for the uprising against him. Asad and Saddam Hussein were similar. Both were ruthless tyrants with comparatively secular versions of Islam in their countries. The Saudis were financing people who were actually opposed to Asad. There’s a kind of irony here. We overthrew a country that despite how cruel Saddam Hussein was, he was not one to aggressively foster terrorism within Iraq. And yet you have the Saudis, who are our closest friends and who do finance terrorism, as you point out, to the tune of a billion dollars over the last decade. It seems like everything’s upside down.

BAER: Well, I think it is. I think it’s pretty clear now that Saddam was not supporting bin Laden to any degree that we can establish. And now suddenly this week, we’ve got bin Laden claiming the U.N. bombing in Iraq. So we have created a terrorist state where we didn’t have one before. Are we worse off with the terrorist state in Iraq now, or with Saddam before, who was out of his mind and could attack a country like Saudi Arabia? Who knows what he was going to do next. We’re facing two evils here. I’m frankly more scared of the fundamentalists than I was of Saddam.

BUZZFLASH: Many commentators, including yourself, say the CIA over the years started to depend less on people like you and more on electronic intelligence and technology to do the spying. And yet you were the nitty-gritty human intelligence type of operative. You got to know the Middle East pretty well. Is there black and white there, or just shades of gray?

BAER: Shades of gray. You know, on the intelligence thing, you really need it all. You need the human intelligence. You need electronic intelligence. And you need good analysis. You need people that know the area and spend their lives following it. And you need satellite photography as well. So those are the four things you need. And then you need governments. You know, that’s really even a fifth thing. It’s very important. Other governments helping you on the ground – what we really need in Iraq is a government to tell us what’s happening there, which we’re lacking.

But the problem in the United States is we don’t do well with foreign countries. So many Americans came here and they just don’t want to know about what is happening in their home countries. I’m out here in California, and national security? -- they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to know anything about it. They want to know about the movies. They want to know about the dot-coms coming back. They want to know about the latest diet book. So when we get into a war like Iraq, I don’t really think Americans know what the potential consequences are. And it's the same in the CIA and the State Department. You get more and more Americans that don’t spend much time overseas – certainly not in the Middle East. It’s harder for them to go up the learning curve on these countries. It certainly was for me.

BUZZFLASH: You’re in a small group of people that has had much contact with the darker side of terrorism, and you’ve had personal relationships that gave you an insight. The motivations for terrorism are multi-faceted. But we’ve been constantly perplexed by what one does about suicide bombers. If you’ve got the people who participate in 9/11 or Palestinians who blow themselves up on Israeli buses, you can’t punish them. You have no leverage to say: If you do that, you’re going to lose your life, because the mission itself involves their commitment to lose their lives by their own will. How does one gain an edge on that? And is there any way psychologically to gain that? Or is it purely a military function?

BAER: I think it’s more political. I think that the sooner we stop interfering in the Middle East, the more likely we'll be able to exact a truce with terrorism.

By going into Afghanistan, that was really acceptable to most Muslims, because we’d been attacked. They understand that. But going into Iraq will certainly irritate more people and add credence to bin Laden-type ideologies and zealots. We have to get together with the Europeans and solve this Israeli-Palestinian deal. And if it’s building a wall between the Palestinians and the Israelis, fine – let’s do it. We need to identify a leadership among the Palestinians that speak for 90 percent of them, for instance, and get a settlement. Even if we need to buy it, it’s really important that we do that because they’ve got such rotten systems in the Middle East that all they’re really allowed to think about are the Palestinian problems.

They can’t complain against their own governments. They can’t overthrow them. They can’t go into elections. So the governments, whether they’re Saudi or Jordanian or Lebanese, focus on Israel as the main misery in their lives. Of course, what do Palestinians have to do with the Saudis? Nothing, other than they share a religion.

But we don’t care about the Christians in Rawanda as Christians. So it’s a little hard for Americans to understand this. And if we could remove that irritant of the Palestinian problem, that would be a start. We need to wean ourselves from Middle Eastern oil with alternative fuels, with conservation, with better use of our own fuels, however you do that – I’m not a specialist in that – and just get out of that system because it so corrosive.

We can’t do it with a military force. It’s really sad that our military is up against this guerilla warfare in Iraq. And if they become the subject of terrorists and car bombs, it’s unfortunate for us, because we’re going to do some damage to an institution that’s very important in the United States.

BUZZFLASH: Meaning the military.

BAER: Yes, and ultimately we can’t do it. We can’t expect some private from Indiana to be out in the streets of Baghdad collecting intelligence on who these people are, what they’re doing, or even making raids. Because they’re knocking down people’s doors, and they have no idea who they are. The information’s hard to come by in that country, and there are a lot of fabricators. And you’re asking these soldiers to be policemen, which they can’t do at the end of the day.

BUZZFLASH: Do you think the Saudi royal family and their role is in danger of imploding? Are they less secure, more secure, than they were 10 years ago? What’s the outlook for their rule?

BAER: I think they’re more insecure, and I’m basing this on anecdotal information. The Crown Prince, 10 days ago, I think it was, said that they’re in the middle of a decisive battle – and it wasn’t very clear what he meant – and that the outcome is unknown. For a Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia to acknowledge that the royal family or the government’s in a battle with its own citizens is unprecedented. It's never happened before. Even when Islamic Fundamentalists took over the Mecca mosque many years ago, it was never construed as a battle between the people and the royal family.

So for the first time, a Saudi leader has acknowledged they're having some real problems. I certainly would be reluctant to give you a timeline when they fall. There are so many factors involved. If they continue to get a lot of money for their oil, they can maintain the welfare system for a long time.

Another factor is going to be Iraq because there was a poll saying that a majority of Americans think we should get out of Iraq. If we get out of Iraq and leave a mess there, sort of like Somalia, will it spread to Saudi Arabia? It’s a big desert out there and they have a lot of weapons. Who knows? It’s the Middle East. Anything can happen there. And that’s what scares me. I wrote an editorial on Sunday for the Washington Post saying we can’t get out now. And I’m one that doesn’t particularly like foreign engagements. So I don’t know. These are worrying times.


6:43 PM  

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