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Washington Should Prepare for Saudi Arabia's Collapse (theatlantic.com)
249 points by prostoalex on Feb 21, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments

Boko Haram, al-Qaida, ISIS, Ansar al-Shariah, Jund al-Khilafan, al-Nusra, ...

You can backtrack basically all active jihadist groups that attack west back to to the Saudi funded ideology. Even ISIS is offshoot of Wahabbi/Salafism. The "traditional" Islamist like Brotherhood put their efforts in Arab countries. Saudis are not in control of these groups, but they are responsible for the ideology.

Saudi Arabia's Curriculum of Intolerance https://freedomhouse.org/report/special-reports/saudi-arabia...

Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism ISIS Atrocities Started With Saudi Support for Salafi Hate http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/23/opinion/isis-atrocities-st...

There are nine pages redacted from the 9/11 report, because they were deemed too incendiary against an ally, Saudi Arabia.

I want those pages.

The CIA and/or NSA very likely knew that the 9/11 terrorists were in the US, learning to fly airliners. Not long after 9/11, there were reports that Mossad agents (the "art students", as I recall) had been tailing the 9/11 terrorists. Almost all of whom were Saudis. But I've seen no credible reports that any of them knew what was planned.

And yes, those pages might be very interesting.

> The CIA and/or NSA very likely knew that the 9/11 terrorists were in the US, learning to fly airliners.

Has there ever been an explanation why the hijackers risked conspicuously attending flight schools under the noses of the US authorities, rather than, say, absolutely any other country in the world?

Terrorists tend to be stupid. Honestly. Look at Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. The guy goes to the airplane bathroom to prepare his shoe bomb, then he returns to his seat, covers himself with a blanket, and tries to detonate the bomb by lighting the fuse with matches. People next to him notice this easily and maul him. Plot over. So, ummm, why not just detonate the thing while locked in the bathroom??? The guys in flight school just got lucky for the most part, but you're right that it was a strange decision.

It's hard to find good help.

Yeah, I've always thought it was insane that for an operation as huge as 9/11 they'd do something as risky as train in the US itself. Rather than venture into conspiracy land (nothing against conspiracies in general; they're often entertaining and, depending on the subject and degree, are not necessarily invalid), I wondered if there were plausible explanations for it.

I can buy the idea that they either didn't think the possible risks through, or just believed they could get away with it long enough to pull off the attack. And also that they may have thought they could learn more about US aviation policy or protocol in the US than elsewhere.

I was sceptical about it being because there are more flight schools in the US, because AIUI they only acquired limited training anyway, which they could have received anywhere. But whatever competence and training they ended up with, they probably at least intended to get as much as possible, and train in bigger, more appropriate aircraft, so that is possibly a factor too.

Thanks everyone for the replies.

When you only have a small explosive, you want to detonate it as close to the wing as possible, as this is the weakest spot on the plane - you're basically hoping for the wing to fall off, or at least sever the connections to the control surfaces. Even with a decent hole in the fuselage, there is a very good chance of landing the plane safely as long as the wings stay on.


To be clear, the wingbox is, by far, the strongest part of a plane, but it's the most devastating if you can compromise it. (And its primary design goal isn't to account for explosive loads coming from the fuse.)

You aren't going to compromise the wingbox with an explosive that fits in the heel of a shoe.

Most flight training in the world is done in the US, by a wide margin.

Because of that, they would probably stick out much less doing it here than trying to do it in one of the few EU airline training facilities.

Not only that, but for the plot to work, the hijackers had to start from within the US. Implanting them in the US long before the attacks made it easier for them to reliably get to their target airports the day of the attack.

In a sense, the comment upthread litigates the whole idea of a "sleeper cell."

Is that the right word? Validates? mitigates?

Purposefully argue or debate a position, seeking its resolution, as if before a tribunal.

It's cheaper in the US than pretty much anywhere else, and there are large numbers becoming pilots, so more noise to hide in. It might be cheaper to train is some weird and wonderful corners of the world, but they'd have been far more noticeable.

I would venture that the hijackers were just really bad at counter espionage?

You had organizations that had the signals but couldn't communicate, why is it anymore likely that the terrorists themselves were super geniuses?

>Has there ever been an explanation why the hijackers risked conspicuously attending flight schools under the noses of the US authorities, rather than, say, absolutely any other country in the world?

Because there are more flight schools in the US than anywhere else, and if you want to do some flying in US airspace, those are in the best position to teach how it works, what controls there are, how to avoid them, etc.

The better to learn how US airspace worked?

Everyone also forgets the twin towers were already successfully attacked several years earlier by a huge bomb in the basement.

Anything about the world trade center should have lit up intelligence reports like a christmas tree.

The NSA also had a tap on the Yemeni safe house where the attackers were calling to coordinate.

The hijackers even stayed in Laurel, Maryland, from which you can literally see Alpha and Bravo.

Yet the 9/11 commission only spent three visits and a paltry amount of time up at Fort Meade and NBP, anecdotally because the commute to the Fort is too long.

Edit in reply: No, they never put the intelligence together. See here for a not-terrible summary: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/13/the-al-qaeda-sw...

So did the NSA know what the attackers were going to do?

I find it very hard to imagine that the NSA and/or CIA would have let the attacks happen, even to protect key assets and methods. Maybe they had compromised some Mossad communication channel. Or maybe they had a double agent. But what would have been worth the risk to DC and NYC?

Very much in the opinion space here...

To an extent, as with all big data systems, massive collection of data has both opportunities and risks. The risk in overcollection (e.g., the NSA type programs) is that you collect so much damn information that you are either behind in analyzing it or flat out never get there [1-2]. Combine that with (as others have noted) the lack of translators and you get what you got [3]. The old maxim* that not all data is information (DIKW) heavily applies here [4]. This whole phenomenon becomes especially problematic when you are spending all that time energy and money largely trying to predict 'black swan' events using what has happened before as what to look for in the future (e.g., the TSA as a whole or the NSA still focusing on cold war languages pre-9/11 [3]).

[1] http://www.zdnet.com/article/nsa-whistleblower-overwhelmed-w...

[2] http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/world/how-the-nsa-trie...

[3] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/aug/31/lack-of-tran...

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW_Pyramid

Edit: *fixed typo of maximum to maxim

More likely, they had taps but did not know what they were talking about. It was widely reported that, pre-9/11, Arabic translators were scarce in most Western intelligence services including the US, since their traditional focus were Russian, Eastern-European languages, and Chinese. You just need basic informal codes for most logistic purposes (which would be mostly "I've done this, I've done that" to confirm timings and prepare the next steps, rather than "I will hijack a plane and crash it into NYC" which would have been agreed beforehand) to make it very difficult for people who might not know all the intricacies and slang of regional Arabic varieties.

So the NSA might have known these people were learning to fly and maybe even preparing a hijack, but until 9/11 this was not dramatic -- if and when the hijack happened, they would have been expected to fly to Cuba or something and then dealt with. Pre-9/11, airplane hijacks had become rare since their '80s and '70s heydays, maybe there was some complacency (as in "yeah these guys will never manage it, and even if they do, we'll likely get most passengers back safely anyway, let them play"). Or at least that's what a sharp Occam's razor would suggest.

Old style hijack had become rare because police forces around the world made sure that you couldn't come out a winner, you typically get killed. Hijacker are at a disadvantage: limited resources, stuck in a small space easy to surround.

The fact that the 9/11 highjackers had planned to die as part of the hijack was a game changer.

Exactly. A 9/11 style attack is also a single time event. Now that passengers know the outcome, they simply will not let it happen again. The only possible method would be to turn an existing pilot into a suicide killer.

The reinforced doors they introduced after 9/11 make this strategy particularly good. The passengers can't do anything if the pilot decides that he has a death wish.

An example of such would be the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash from May 2015, where the copilot locked the cockpit door after the pilot left for a bathroom break and then flew into a mountain.


If the pilot has been compromised there is not much that can be done regardless of flight door strength.

Crashing highjacked planes was a known scenario. In fact, FOX broadcast a fictionalized scenario where a commercial airliner was highjacked and set on a crash course with the WTC about six months before 9/11/01.

Tom Clancy's wrote a fictional book about lone mentally disturbed Japanese pilot flying a plane into the pentagon. I read it that book maybe a few weeks before 9/11. Was shocked that the US intelligence didnt see something like this happening when a fiction author did.

Trying to recall the name, but I believe it was a decapitation strike on the Capitol during the State of the Union.

Debt of Honor.

That needs a link.

I find http://911blogger.com/news/2013-05-16/hollywood-and-911-movi... but nothing there about anything broadcast on Fox.


First episode: https://youtu.be/EjbQ-BDh4PU

Edit: the author of your link addresses the episode in the comments section, "The Lone Gunmen Pilot Episode", and says that the article you linked was only focused on things "in production" when the attack occurred.

Wow, I had forgotten that series (X-Files spinoff).

Vince Gilligan was an Executive Producer.

The actor playing the father, George Coe, was one of the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players on SNL, then later played Ben Cheviot on "Max Headroom".


WTC was an iconic target, for sure.

OK, that makes sense.

And maybe the NSA and CIA weren't talking, either.

I agree that it is extremely unlikely they let it happen. I think if all the documents are ever declassified it will be a case study in the breakdown of communications in a large organization. There was office politics (FBI vs. NSA vs. CIA), no overall coordination, and plain incompetence to name a few things that were wrong.

We see this all the time in large companies now, the difference is that rarely do people die as a consequence. Maybe the NASA Challenger accident is a comparable organizational breakdown.

>I think if all the documents are ever declassified it will be a case study in the breakdown of communications in a large organization.

I have always been curious about this as an organizational phenomenon. What percentage of documents are classified for actual security reasons as opposed to things like embarrassing the country or allies, covering up misconduct or outright illegal conduct, or just as the default reaction. Study would be impossible/impractical even with access, but it sure would be interesting.

This one?[0]

> Indeed, some of the C.I.A.’s best information about Al Qaeda came from the F.B.I. In 1998, F.B.I. investigators found an essential clue—a phone number in Yemen that functioned as a virtual switchboard for the terror network. The bombers in East Africa called that number before and after the attacks; so did Osama bin Laden. The number belonged to a jihadi named Ahmed al-Hada. By combing through the records of all the calls made to and from that number, F.B.I. investigators constructed a map of Al Qaeda’s global organization. The phone line was monitored as soon as it was discovered. But the C.I.A., as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, had jurisdiction over conversations on the Hada phone, and did not provide the F.B.I. with the information it was getting about Al Qaeda’s plans.

So was the NSA also monitoring the Hada phone? Or maybe providing technical support for the CIA?

[0] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/07/10/the-agent

> The CIA ... very likely knew ...

They definitely knew something: A month before the attacks they gave President Bush a briefing titled: "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"


The CIA most definitely knew and refused to share that information with the FBI.


There's a good reason for lack of sharing as both Aldrich Ames (CIA) and Robert Hanssen (FBI) ended up providing much more sensitive information to the adversary than their rank qualified them for.

The agencies seem to be on the cycle of high compartmentalization -> criticism for lack of sharing -> low compartmentalization -> major spy scandal -> high compartmentalization.

Those guys committed treason by sharing with the Soviets. I don't see how that's relevant. The reason for the wall is because they have conflicting mandates.

The natural response of each agency to prevent such massive information losses in the future is to limit the amount of information available, make it accessible only on the need-to-know basis, and introduce bureaucracy into the information retrieval process by keeping the logs and requiring sign-offs.

Well, some of those pages have been leaked by the German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND), because some of the attackers lived in Germany before and it was a priority for them.

Funnily, one of the attackers used to have a small internet cafe in my city before he learned to fly an airplane.

I think we generally know what's in those pages. Seymour Hersh (multi Pulitzer winning journalist who, among other things, uncovered the Mi Lai Atrocities) broke the story that the assassination of Osama Bin Ladin was mainly an attempt by the US to cover up the deep ties between OBL and the Saudi government.


To say that Hersh's story about the OBL Killing is controversial, especially among journalists, would be understating it quite a bit.

The London Review Of Books is not a conventional outlet for Hersh's investigative journalism (he's a regular at The New Yorker, which has one of the more notoriously elaborate fact checking apparatuses in the industry) and not Hersh's first choice for publishing that story.

Normally I would be more skeptical. But the assertions Hersh is making about this is so far beyond the "official" narrative, you can't seriously think someone with Hersh's reputation would just make that up?


Also worth weighing is that another reporter, R J Hillhouse, reported many of the same facts about the bin Laden raid shortly after it happened, to almost no attention[0]. However, she does not believe Hersh plagiarized her[1] (as Politico dubiously claimed, and she refuted), nor does she think that Hersh even had the same sources as her. She even noted that one of the more lurid details (dumping parts of Bin Laden's corpse out of the helicopter over the Hindu Kush mountains) was one she had come across but did not report because she couldn't verify it.

This amounts to two serious, if heterodox, journalists coming to the same story about the Bin Laden raid independently. I'm convinced, personally, but I was already deeply jaded by the many retractions in the official story issued early on regarding the vital intelligence being arrived at by use of torture and mass surveillance, and what they cynically implied about State Department attitudes towards shaping public discourse.

[0] http://www.thespywhobilledme.com/the_spy_who_billed_me/2015/...

[1] http://www.thespywhobilledme.com/the_spy_who_billed_me/2015/...

The "report" you're referring to is a blog post, which appears to:

(a) confirm no sources

(b) never have been fact-checked

(c) received no editorial scrutiny

Its author is offended that Hersh didn't give credit for the following claims, which the blogger claims to have broken herself:

* The US cover story of how they found bin Laden was fiction

* OBL was turned in by a walk-in informant, a mid-level ISI officer seeking to claim $25 million under the "Rewards for Justice" program.

* The Pakistani Intelligence Service -- ISI -- was sheltering bin Laden

* Saudi cash was financing the ISI operation keeping bin Laden captive

* The US presented an ultimatum to Pakistan that they would lose US funding if they did not cooperate with a US operation against bin Laden

* Pakistani generals Kiyani and Pasha were involved in the US operation that killed OBL

* Pakistan pulled out its troops from the area of Abottabad to facilitate the American raid

* The Obama administration betrayed the cooperating Pakistani officials

* The Obama administration scrambled to explain the crashed helicopter when their original drone strike cover story collapsed

But if you look carefully at these claims, you'll see that they're not particularly specific (the closest they get to "specific" is "knowing the names of two Pakistani generals who are so well-known they have Wikipedia pages"), have been corroborated nowhere, and, most importantly, are all predictable points in any narrative about Pakistan deliberately sheltering Bin Laden.

I think there's a reason nobody reported on Hillhouse originally.

Who said he made anything up? I think the conventional wisdom here is that he is just wrong.

Sure. I just have to ask: How wrong? 10% wrong? 40% wrong? 100% wrong? The dust up over the story begs the question. He can't be 100% wrong.

Sure he can. All he has to do is have too much faith in a source that puts him on the wrong narrative --- that Pakistan is deliberately harboring (and concealing) Osama Bin Laden. The rest of his claims fall into place from that, and they all make sense if that's what Pakistan is doing.

Why is Hersh having to publish some stories at LRB not more of an indictment of the New Yorker (et al) than Hersh? Hasn't the Obama administration been subject to curiously little investigative journalism?

Last question first: no.

Second: because the implication is that the New Yorker was unwilling to publish a piece that didn't fact-check out, and the London Review of Books was.

Yes, that is the conclusion pushed in the usual organs. But the New Yorker had already published a bin-Laden assassination piece that supported the official narrative. Hersh himself says they (i.e. David Remnick) simply weren't interested in revisiting the story. Hersh further claims that he warned Remnick soon after the bin-Laden raid that the official story was being disputed by his sources and suggested he write a story, which Remnick countered with the suggestion of a blog article. (A blow-off?) If it's true that Hersh personally warned Remnick that the official story was problematic, the New Yorker publishing Nicholas Schmidle's story and passing on Hersh's looks to have less to do with fact-checking and more to do with editorial position. Since the New Yorker didn't want to buy, Hersh shopped the story elsewhere, which is simply how freelancers go about business. (It was actually the Washington Post that allegedly passed on the story because of "sourcing" standards.)

Hersh claims to have sold the story to LRB for the "politics" of it, the meaning of which is uncertain. But as he hopes to have a book published on the "war on terror", it is not out of the question that he selected them to establish rapport. And that he chose them, instead of resorting to them out of some kind of desperation owing to defects in the work itself, seems pretty clear.

[*] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/05/sy-hersh-bin-la...

[.] http://fpif.org/seymour-hersh-draws-even-criticism-lrb-new-y...

- edit -

The Obama administration is widely claimed by non-partisan journalists and journalist groups as being openly hostile toward the press and has used espionage provisions to prosecute officials deemed to have "leaked" inside information via the types of conversations that would previously have been considered business-as-usual. (Despite opening his presidency with rhetoric about being the most "open" and "transparent" administration in history.) This has resulted in administration staffers & officials being paralyzed and fearful of speaking with the press at all, stymieing journalists' attempts at effectively covering the government and acting as the fourth estate. While it is unfortunate that we cannot quantify whether one administration has experienced more or less scrutiny than others, blithely asserting to the contrary is not a reasonable position in this context.

[:] https://cpj.org/reports/2013/10/obama-and-the-press-us-leaks...

There's a meme that Obama has been much harsher on whistleblowers than predecessors, but it falls apart on closer inspection:


The most important takeaway is that the sample size on leak prosecutions is very, very low, so happenstance alone can make a President look unusually hostile. Here, it's a combination of happenstance, a shift in media norms, and cases begun under the previous President.

The story seems appealing at first but it has many holes. Saudi royal family wouldn't really care about OBL. The team wouldn't dump his body over a mountain and then also have a cover story that falls apart the moment the body is found. Pakistan is a huge country, the aid is fraction of its gdp so US couldn't really threaten Pakistan. Nor would Pakistan likely host OBL and risk becoming a pariah state if not everything rolled out according to their plans. Pakistanis wouldn't hold him prisoner in an urban center and the exchange wouldn't happen there either.

Hersh did not "uncover" the My Lai massacres. Hersh ran with a tip fron Ridenhour that other reporters had turned down. Hugh Thompson or Ron Ridenhour "uncovered" My Lai.

Serious question but are the contents likely to be anything more than "SA money ended up in AQ hands"? I can't imagine too many bombshells being able to remain classified.

And also how many times has that happened to the US recently anyway?

> I want those pages.

What would you do with them? Surely you can't believe that keeping them secret protects an ally to the expense of America? Surely it's much more likely that keeping them secret protects an ally to the benefit of America.

There is significant differences in what exactly the phrase "to the benefit of America" means. In matters that fall under the purview of the Department of State, that far too often means "to the benefit of American or international corporations", with no regard for either environmental concerns or what is to the economic benefit of the American poor and middle classes.

I agree entirely, but that is somewhat different from the flavour of the other comments on this topic which seem to be suggesting something quite different (unless I am getting a completely wrong impression).

Which "America" is the one that benefits from secrecy?

America depends on an informed populace in order to guide its representative government.

Feed the population lies and hide secrets, and break democracy.

You're asking for an act of faith in murderers, assassins and spies, people who believe that public scrutiny is a nuisance. The whole point of a democracy is that "what benefits America" must be determined by an active conversation amongst the public. The idea that a few individuals can decide what is best for our "national security" is antithetical to any notion of democracy.

I can't, for the life of me, understand why people associate being a Salafi with the various terrorist groups.

I have never heard a Salafi scholar promote any acts terrorism. In fact, every single high-ranking scholar in Saudi Arabia (those who call themselves Salafi), are all opposed to groups like ISIS, Al Qaida, and Al Nusra. There are dozens of audio clips on Youtube from such scholars who clearly warn the Muslims from these types of groups.

Here is one such video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xAZLE6JiqE

And another: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNL9cwB-plY

And another (from arguably the most respected Saudi scholar): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9J5s2PPwZcY

Here are two from a Muslim student of knowledge from the UK:



There is also a great book that references many of the Islamic verdicts given by the contemporary Salafi Muslim scholars that dispels much of the "Wahhabi" myth:


I'm not here to preach; it just bothers me when people hijack words to push an agenda.

>I can't, for the life of me, understand why people associate being a Salafi with the various terrorist groups.

In Europe, foreign-funded Salafi Imams are generally the ones that recruit local Muslims to go fight for ISIS.

To give an actual example, in Bosnia the leader of the Salafi movement has been arrested for recruiting for ISIS.

The Vienna Salafi movement has been found to collect money that was then forwarded to ISIS.

To give an actual example, in Bosnia the leader of the Salafi movement has been arrested for recruiting for ISIS.


He's far from being a Salafi. He's a Bin Laden sympathizer, for one.

Ask any mainstream Muslim who the Salafi scholars are in recent times and undoubtedly one of the first names mentioned would be the late Ibn Baz.

Ibn Baz was a harsh critic of Bin Laden and his ideology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abd_al-Aziz_ibn_Baz#Osama_bin_...

Here is confirmation from Al Fawzan (the most-respected Saudi scholar now) regarding Ibn Baz's (and his own) position with respect to Bin Laden: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-a65Og2uow

Here is a translated video that includes the speech of a late Yemeni scholar, Muqbil Al Wadi'ee, regarding Bin Laden. It's worth listening to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO7BcXTc4zw

My point is that anyone can call themselves or ascribe themselves to anything. However, that doesn't necessarily make it a reality (yeah, yeah, no true Scotsman).

No true scotsman, indeed.

Counterargument: "No true Christian" could ever kill an enemy - Jesus was clear in this: turn the other cheek, die on the cross if need be, forgive 70 times 7 times, etc. In my sect, Christianity is totally pacifist. All true Christians are pacifists.

So there's no reason for any Muslim to harbor any enmity against any Christians, because no Christians have ever once harmed a Muslim (by my definition of Christians).


And so we're back to square one, arguing over who's really a Scotsman....

> He's far from being a Salafi.

It's very funny how this usually ends with apologetic excuses

Actions speak louder than words, and there's an awful amount of Salafists preaching for ISIS

Details of religious cults are not interesting to me and I don't care what some guy in the desert (any of them) wrote in a book thousands of years ago.

yeah, yeah, no true Scotsman

This. From the outside, it looks like a conflict within Salafism.

It's hardly the only movement such things have happened to (eg revolutionary socialism vs reformist socialism).

It's more a case of the more subtle, nuanced and trivial the differences are between two religious sects, the more vehemently they resent each other.

ISIS is a true product of Salafism, and we must deal with it with full transparency.

- Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca

> former imam

A refutation of Kalbani: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2wD5KSN-zI

That's hardly a refutation as the video fails to actually make an argument.

Salafism is a very complicated word to unpack. So yes, there are less radical elements who identify as Salafis, including the Muslim brotherhood.

But although the meaning of Salafism as a historical word would take quite a bit to unpack, it's clearly referring to a particularly fast-growing form of fundamentalist Islam today.

Now, as for the sermons... It is my experience that the Saudi's pray with one hand and dole out cash to terrorist groups with the other.

> It is my experience that the Saudi's pray with one hand and dole out cash to terrorist groups with the other.

That makes zero sense. Why would they fund the people calling for their destruction? What exactly is your "experience?" It's just more unfounded conjecture.

Good questions. First, Saudi Arabia's government is in favor of the United States, but their wealthy citizens often fund non-state actors to attack Western targets.

Second, my experience comes from studying International Relations at Princeton.

For sources, there are too many sources to count for the assertion that Saudi citizens continue to give money to Salafist (for lack of a better word) non-state actors that target civilians. I can look up the canonical sources for you later tonight.

However, it's so common that a quick Google search will turn up the overall gist.

> Saudi Arabia's government is in favor of the United States, but their wealthy citizens often fund non-state actors to attack Western targets.

Can someone please (perhaps you if you're willing, s_q_b) help me clear this up once and for all?

Is there sponsorship of terrorism and other anti-Western activities coming from the rulers of Saudi Arabia?

I don't mean distant members of the royal family who are given control of minor ministries to shut them up, I mean those with whom the power genuinely rests.

I can fully believe that private Saudi citizens fund any random thing that they want to, but it stretches my credulity to believe those that hold the reins of power directly fund terrorism. They know full well they rely completely on the US for their continued existence.

What evidence is there on this either way?

The summarize one piece of evidence, the 20th hijacker says he had support from the core Saudi Royal family, and listed specific individuals, along with a host of other financial evidence:

">Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted 9/11 co-conspirator, says members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family helped finance al Qaeda in the years just prior to the 2001 terrorist attacks..."

When facing deposition, Moussaoui named specific names:

"He said in the prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of donors to the group.

Among those he said he recalled listing in the database were Prince Turki al-Faisal, then the Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many of the country’s leading clerics.

“Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money,” he said in imperfect English — “who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad." [Factcheck.org]

Then of course there are the charity fronts:

"Former Sen. Bob Graham, chairman at the time of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called for the release of the 28 pages on the day the report was made public, Dec. 11, 2002, and still holds that position.

Graham told ABC News last month that the U.S. government’s refusal to release the 28 pages is an effort to protect Saudi Arabia, which he said is “the most responsible for that network of support.”

“The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11, and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier,” Graham told ABC News.

But then I don't understand what you mean by "Saudi Arabia's government is in favor of the United States".

Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

The head of the House of Saud, the King, and much of the military believe that military integration, weapons sales, and mutual defense scenarios from the Americans will benefit Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia also has about ten trillion in oil reserves, and the United States needs oil.

Historically, Saudi Arabia was just the slice of the former Ottoman Empire the British and French let us rule. Hence Saudi Aramco's original name: "The Saudi-American Oil Company."

Lucky for us that Saudi Arabia turned out to have such large oil reserves. Of course, the area is also at a strategic naval point, both of which explain the number of United States' military bases in the region.

So some of the populace sees the Muslim world as being subjegated in their Holy Land, and some percentage of them are fans of violence and meyhem.

An analogous situation would be how rich Irish-Americans funded the IRA for decades, despite an official United States' government stance that they were a terrorist group.

OK, I'm getting the picture that the higher up the leadership you look, the less likely they are to want to act against the US. Thanks.

> my experience comes from studying International Relations at Princeton

If you want to hold forth as an expert, it's fair to ask: Did you take a couple online classes? Get a Ph.D. in international relations?

Ah, Bachelor's summa cum laude. I certainly didn't intend to misrepresent myself as a Ph.D.

The computer science courses also put a drag on my GPA, because Princeton doesn't let you double major.

Saudi is a feudal monarchy. How many times did we see, in Western history, brothers, cousins and relatives of a feudal monarch endorsing this or that "troublemaking" religion just to stick it to their in-charge relative? Plenty.

Nation-states are not consistent monoliths with predictable and precise objectives; they are aggregated magmas of competing and often conflicting interests. This is why it is important to have open debate among parties, so that such conflicts can be dealt with in the open, through constant compromises, not in the dark with daggers and suicide bombers.

What exactly is your "experience?"

Things like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudi_High_Commission_for_Reli...

> Why would they fund the people calling for their destruction?

Because if they're off destroying Syria or Iraq or Libya or the USSR, they're not causing mischief within Saudi Arabia.

I really have no idea what it means to be a Salafist, but there's something unsettling about an HN debate about whether a particular religion is or isn't fundamentally terroristic.

That's especially true if you are yourself somehow affiliated with the religion, in which case: I'm sorry you find yourself litigating this here.

Whether or not you are, and whether or not these are good faith comments, I think this is a pretty weird place for HN to go.

Is Aum Shinrikyo fundamentally terroristic?

A lot of this gets into questions of what defines a religion, if a religion even has a definition, or if it's just a contentless cultural virus that people use to interpret their own preconceived notions and practices in a predefined rubric.

Salafism is an easy target because many of its famous adherents are the unsavory sort, and it's "obscure" enough that people can bash it without seeming Islamophobic and even manage to present themselves as a bit cosmopolitan and knowledgeable. But there are definitely many peaceful adherents of it, and many who oppose terrorism within its ranks. You can deduce calls to terrorism from its muddled mess of scriptures and thinkers, but you can also deduce calls to peacemaking. Same as any other religion.

In the end, though, in a world with limited resources, focusing counter-propaganda efforts on Salafist communities seems like a pretty good idea. On the flip side, that almost certainly involves not stigmatizing all Salafists as terrorists.

I've met very many peaceful Salafists. Saying that Salafism or Tablighi Jamaat is a gateway to terrorism is like calling marijuana a gateway drug - the overly literalist and gullible types might gather there but if they're trying harder stuff, that's on them.

Why is that weird? You don't think different religions can be more or less supportive of violence in their foundational texts? What would be weird is if that weren't possible for some reason.

> You don't think different religions can be more or less supportive of violence in their foundational texts?

I don't think that's relevant: 1) We can't read the texts except for translations; 2) Within every religion, among experts with great familiarity with the texts, there are a very wide variety of interpretations - so wide they sometimes fight wars over it (e.g., Protestants vs Catholics, Sunnis vs Shia, Jews vs. Christians vs. Muslims (all share the Old Testament; Muslims and Christians share the New Testament)), etc. 3) Adherents to religions are usually ignorant of and completely disregard the texts (lay Catholics didn't even read or hear them until the 20th century IIUC), except when convenient. For example, the Ten Commandments, the highest law, requires people to observe the Sabbath. I wonder if that includes posting on Hacker News?

I think it is a very bad idea to have those kinds of discussions on HN.

salafi: Thanks for stopping by and contributing. Your comments are perfectly appropriate and shouldn't be downvoted, but unfortunately that happens on HN sometimes to comments that, regardless of their validity, make the angry minority unhappy. I hope you stick around!

I'm a long-time lurker and I basically live on HN; I'll be around. Thanks for the kind words.

Saudi Arabia is not going to collapse anytime soon. The thesis (budget deficit of $98B budget leads to political instability and collapse) simply doesn't make sense when you look at their finances. Some facts:

* Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, last year at only 1.6%. Their credit rating is A+ to AA; they can easily issue more debt.

* Has $640B of assets overseas

* Has $10 trillion of proven oil reserves, even at today's oil prices

They easily have enough money to handle this. An oil downturn like this won't wreck the country. Heck, there are a half-dozen countries in much worse positions that are way more likely to collapse than Saudi Arabia (i.e. North Korea, Greece, Argentina, Ukraine, Venezuela, Brazil). You could write an article like this for each of them. It's not hard to find problems in any country.

I'm guessing the authors are not happy with Saudi Arabia's treatment of political dissidents, and wrote an article to match.

No the thesis is not that the current budget deficit is a problem but the increasing costs of bribing and subduing the populace and the factions of the royal family turn into a bidding war, with increasingly expensive wars as the proxy war in Yemen escalates. The ownership of the assets overseas is somewhat complex too - there is little public documentation, but the country does not really own much, it is owned by individuals, as this is a traditional feudal monarchy, not a modern country, so there is no real "state". At some point with increasing factionalism this could be problematic for borrowing. If there were serious political issues, like the Saud's being kicked out, much of the money would go with them, and the credit rating would not last for long.

On the other hand people have been predicting the end of the House of Saud for decade now, and people have continued to support them and sell them unlimited weapons.

Would you think that House of Saud would venture into a price war if it felt vulnerable at home ?

I think it is similar to Germany's WWI 'gamble' of fighting a war on two fronts. Everyone knew this was a very bad idea, but it was thought that the gamble just might work if they could knock France out quickly. The house of saud knows they are sitting on a demographic time bomb in a world where renewables are getting cheaper every day. When you feel your options are limited you tend to take risks that are not wise.

One theory is that Saudi is keeping prices low to try and destroy the US shale industry.

Another is that OPEC is no longer operating as a cartel and Saudi couldn't persuade other governments to cut production to boost prices so they didn't want to lose their own market share.

Saudi may be in trouble, but we're more likely to see instability in other petro-states first, especially Venezuela.

Saudi reserves are now under $600 billion. They were $608 billion around January 1st [1], and they have been destroying $15 to $20 billion per month. Their deficit was $115b for 2015, and it's going to be drastically higher this year.

And that's pretending all $600 billion is available to be burned freely. Which is never the case in reality. They're so desperate at this point they're going to IPO Aramco and begin selling off state assets.

Their reserves will be completely gone in three years if oil stays at or below the $45-$50 range. That's assuming nothing else they're doing gets more expensive (bribing the populace, local war), and that they can actually use all of their reserves freely; both of which are dramatic assumptions.

The real problem is that they desperately need hundreds of billions of dollars on hand to bribe their domestic audience as necessary. Without that, risk of civil war or collapse goes up dramatically.

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-28/russia-set...

I think you've missed the point - which is not that Saudi Arabia will collapse for financial reasons - but rather that the corrupt infrastructure which composes the system of organization (it could hardly be called government) of the House of Saud is getting more and more unstable, and less able to be kept together with mere funds alone - since there is already so much money in the empire, that the costs of the corruption are rising at a rapid rate.

Its like, Saudi Arabia has all the oil money it would need, but it doesn't have an ethical/non-criminal infrastructure strong enough to deal with the weight of the corruption at the very top, and also (the article points out): the very bottom. The society has a systemic corruption problem, and no society ever in the history of humanity has ever lasted beyond the tipping point of this corruption. The article warns that this may happen sooner rather than later.

My issue with the article is that it assumes that the Pentagon doesn't run this model, pretty much monthly, in its simulacra exercises. It seems we've forgotten that the Pentagon has an entire army divisions worth of resources alloted to just this task. This is too naive a point of view; more likely, then, is that this article is actually propaganda to mask the fact that the USA and its military partners, do in fact model for Saudi collapse, and are in fact actually prepared for it. That is an even more terrifying conclusion, given the state of the region today, and the degree to which American foreign policy has impacted the stability of the enemy states; where enemy=anyone the Sauds don't exercise corrupting control over, yet, in the region.

Yes I too find it unlikely that the pentagon is not running simulations of this outcome on a regular basis. I was under the impression that there is some public plan to sweep in and take over the eastern provinces if things get too chaotic.

Re: corruption I don't think the Saudis are any more corrupt than Western economies. The patronage networks are personalised and familial in a way that's (mostly) unfamiliar to the West. But it's naive to think that Western politics isn't any more bought and paid for - in its own way.

My understanding is that Saudi Arabia has been directing a large part of Western foreign policy since at least the oil shocks of the 1970s.

SA is a particularly nasty regime. Not only has it been politically and diplomatically untouchable even when clearly linked to anti-Western terrorism, but many US-led foreign interventions have been of obvious benefit to the Saudis and the US MIC, while making little sense at home.

So even if the Pentagon can game the Fall of the House of Saud militarily, that doesn't mean putting boots on the ground is a viable political solution.

At this point I don't think anyone knows what a viable political solution looks like in that part of the world.

>I don't think the Saudis are any more corrupt than Western economies.

Not.even.close. This level of hyperbole is just annoying.

Saudi Arabia, and the corresponding billions (trillions?) dollars of oil wealth is comoletely controlled by one unelected, corrupt, family. There is nothing anaologous to this in the modern world.

Let it fall apart, and stay out of it, all the while boosting the society back home in order to solve dependence on fossil fuels.

Yeah, I know: its a dream.

Your points don't disprove anything.

1) many shitty economies have low debt-to-GDP ratios. Russia, for instance.

2) 640B in reserves is not as much as you think. Around a year ago Russia spent $1B per day trying to stabilize their crashing currency. They eventually gave up.

3) oil reserves don't mean shit, because with the current price we got pretty close to self cost. If you have 10 trillion of oil, but it costs you 9.5 to get it, it doesn't look so cool anymore. You actually listed some examples yourself.

Article agrees: > Even accounting for today’s low oil prices, and even as Saudi officials step up arms purchases and military adventures in Yemen and elsewhere, Riyadh is hardly running out of funds.

Seems to be implying that less money for political loyalty may reveal tensions, and those tensions can undermine a political order we depend on.

> Has $10 trillion of proven oil reserves, even at today's oil prices

Money isn't the only concern when it comes to oil. Reduction of CO2 emissions is a goal that is becoming more important. Supply with oil is a huge concern for militaries. So the oil demand might drop down even further. Meanwhile you have countries like Venezuela or Nigeria that won't reduce their output.

I've worked a fair amount in Saudi Arabia, and yeah, even by (low) Gulf standards it's a deeply fucked-up place and definitely a ticking time bomb. A few things people don't realize until they've actually been there:

- Not all Saudis are rich. Quite the opposite, there are destitute beggars on the streets of Riyadh. The women were the saddest side, kneeling by the roadside begging for alms in their all-enveloping pitch-black abayas in the scorching 45-degree heat (110+ F).

- The extent of the sex segregation. If you're female, you're literally a prisoner of your own family, as you can't go anywhere in Saudi without a car, women aren't allowed to drive, and women also aren't allowed to enter the vast majority of shops, restaurants etc on their own.

- Riyadh's population is projected to hit 10 million by 2020. It was originally a dinky oasis in the middle of the desert, with enough resources to support maybe 500 people. If anything ever disrupts the constant stream of imports paid for by oil money, the results will be apocalyptic.

- The state is deeply corrupt. Want a business visa? You can wait forever for the Chamber of Commerce to rubber-stamp your invitation letter... or you can pay a "facilitator" several hundred bucks and have it the next day. This repeats at every level, only with the sums going up an order of magnitude every time.

- "Hypocritical" doesn't begin to describe the opulence of the Sauds (the ruling family; yup, Saudi Arabia is the world's only country named after its rulers). For example, the massively lucrative alcohol smuggling racket is generally acknowledged to be run by one of the princes (of whom there are hundreds; Ibn al-Saud was such a horny old goat that he had 45 sons who survived to adulthood and had children of their own).

- Unless you belong to the 0.01% with enough wastah (connections) to flaunt the rules, there is fuck all to do in Riyadh. No cinemas, no clubs, no bars, not even shisha shops (they're banished beyond city limits). Can't drink a coffee with an unrelated woman at Starbucks without risking arrest, can't even go to the shopping mall on the weekends if you're a "bachelor" (unamrried male). So people either play a lot of Playstation and drive dangerously, go to the mosque, or go nuts.

- The education system is completely useless. All companies in Saudi are operated almost entirely by imported labor. I was working to set up a new mobile phone operator, with a motley crew of American, Europeans, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Sudanese etc, all hard-working and competent. And then there were the token Saudi dudes, who generally both had no idea about technology and couldn't speak more than few words of English... but each company had to hire a few to fulfill their "Saudification" quota.

Random stories if you'd like to read more: http://driftingclouds.net/tag/saudi-arabia/

> - "Hypocritical" doesn't begin to describe the opulence of the Sauds (the ruling family; yup, Saudi Arabia is the world's only country named after its rulers). For example, the massively lucrative alcohol smuggling racket is generally acknowledged to be run by one of the princes (of whom there are hundreds; Ibn al-Saud was such a horny old goat that he had 45 sons who survived to adulthood and had children of their own).

IIRC, there was a "Locked Up Abroad" about this. The guy was quite candid about knowing that smuggling alcohol was illegal, but it was Princes and the like buying it from him. I think he ended up just getting deported.

On a tangent: more countries named like that: Rhodesia. Bolivia. Colombia. Liechtenstein. Swaziland. Uzbekistan. Denmark. Russia and Belarus.

Today I learned, thanks. But I don't think any of those are named after the current leaders. What we have in Saudi Arabia is a group of people, (the Saud family) who managed to take personal power over everyone else in a particular region, and then wrapped that power in the mechanisms and trappings of a modern state. It's an interesting and unique situation.

Liechtenstein. And Saudi Arabia is named for a dead guy.

Liechtenstein barely qualifies as a town, much less a nation. It has less than 40k people, and it's economy mainly consists of international tax evasion.

Not really even close to fair, unless you're going to claim that Cecil Rhodes' family runs "Rhodesia", Bolivar's family, Columbus, etc. presently.

Saudi Arabia is also named for a dead guy, you want to be fair.

All companies in Saudi are operated almost entirely by imported labor

Is this still true? I ask because when I was in grad school at the University of Arizona I taught technical writing to a fair number of Saudi (and Kuwaiti) engineering students. I don't know what happened to them after graduation, but I presume most went back to work in the oil companies. Maybe they ended up fulfilling the "Saudification" quota.

(That's a great post overall, by the way.)

I think the younger generation is realizing that the gravy train can't last and that they'll need legitimate skills in the future. An interesting article on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/17/world/middleeast/young-sau...

Medical professionals too are imported, mostly from Europe with English skills. Which means that as far as documenting things in Arabic, only the legal names of people and their relations would need such electronic support. Maybe a few others, but not much.

I am not sure what ramifications this has for patients.

This was an interesting book.


The author worked as a paramedic in Riyadh for several years, dealing with auto accidents, revenge killings, and the cultural implications of "Inshallah" as it applied to telling a family that their loved one didn't have long to live.

> Saudi Arabia is the world's only country named after its rulers

How about the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan"


Hashim ibn 'Abd Manaf died around 510 AD, so King Hussein's connection is rather tenuous to say the least. The state called Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, was founded by Ibn Saud in 1926, give or take a few years depending on where you draw the line.

(The fact remains that the country has that name because the royal family has that name. The way the family obtained that name is irrelevant. Without that family on the throne the country would be called something (slightly) different.

But ...)

This is a tenuous nitpick of an otherwise very interesting comment, thanks.

Jordan is mostly just known as Jordan, whereas Saudi Arabia is in fact widely known by this full name. Witness the URL difference:


That is rather simply explained by the fact that Kingdom od Saudi Arabia doesn't cover all of geographical Arabia.

The Kingdom of Jordan also doesn't cover the entirety of the river Jordan.

It did until 1967. However, the point is that "Arabia" has a specific meaning as an area that is different from the area of Saudi-Arabia, whereas different meanings of Jordan the river, Jordan the country and Jordan the toothbrush are usually clearly distinguishable from context.

"Kleptocracy" is much too mild and kind a word for Saudi Arabia. If all they wanted was to steal money, they wouldn't fund right wing religious fundamentalism, fly airplanes into buildings, and violate human rights.

The bigger problem in the future is Iran vs Saudi Arabia. Given they are the leaders of the two major sides of Islam and rivals in the oil business some day they will start shooting at each other. The Iranians may not be a totally unified country but they have experience at war and being a single people whereas SA does not have sufficiently internal loyalty to sustain any kind of real war. The house of Saud would run away with all their money leaving the country behind, somewhat like the Kaiser did at the end of WWI.

The U.S. would protect Saudi Arabia.

When I read the title, I thought this was about the fact that the current monarch broke the unwritten rule that power must be shared between all the families that originally formed Saudi Arabia (wifes coming from 40 different tribes).

This is a bit long but worth a listen. I have not found as good as an explanation in the written form:


> But the highly educated Sunni majority, with unprecedented exposure to the outside world, is unlikely to stay satisfied forever with a few favors doled out by geriatric rulers impervious to their input.

They pay 0% taxes. Hardly a small favor. But it will be an interesting economic experiment when Saudi Arabia is forced to raise some revenue from its citizens.

The system of buying patronage and relying on exploited foreign workers who outnumber citizens sounds exactly like ancient Rome. Big distinction is getting cash from oil instead of spoils.

One of the most heavily armed countries btw.

At least we haven't sold them nukes, at least not the public knows about.

Some believe that Saudi Arabia has an agreement with Pakistan to provide nuclear weapons [1].

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has intermediate range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that were purchased from China.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24823846

I think the expectation is that they would get nukes from Pakistan.

It is rumored that they funded the research

Yes, there was a chart in the Economist last week that showed them at the top of the list in "defence" spending against GDP.

Saudi Arabia is the most important client (in cash) for military equipment to France, sadly.

Good, they bought the weapons, do they know how to use them?

It's dangerous, sure, but I would not bet on it being effective in defending their interests

Saudi Arabia has plenty of soldiers, they even have female fighter pilots.

The insanity is those jet fighter pilots are NOT ALLOW TO DRIVE.

The whole country is a nightmare waiting to happen once there is an economic crunch. The elite will be fine but their equivalent of the "middle-class" is completely screwed. They already have baked-in religious fundamentalism and they will most certainly turn to that in numbers.

We don't think of "poor people" in Saudi Arabia but there are plenty of people who have to work hard for a living there every day, I saw TV segment on taxi drivers who could have been just like any taxi driver in NYC.

> they even have female fighter pilots.

I think you may be getting confused with the UAE, which did a good PR job on its first female fighter pilot a couple of years ago.


Were they Saudis? I took taxis daily in Riyadh and I don't think I ever had a Saudi taxi driver, they were mostly Pakistanis or Yemenis with the odd Ethiopian.

Source on the female fighter pilots? All I could find were articles on UAE first female fighter pilot teaming up with a prince from SA to bomb.

Robert Bear, a former CIA case officer, wrote a book with this theme called "Sleeping With the Devil". He gives a history of the country, US relations with it, and argues that the situation in Saudi Arabia is not sustainable.

Bear might be better known as the author of "Hear No Evil", a memoir of his time in the CIA, which the movie Syriana was loosely based on.

Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of Wahabism is the root of all terror in the middle east.

The angle everyone forgets about when it comes to SA is that the British pullsbits strings more than any other entity. It really makes you question the British level of knowledge of 911...

Too little; Too late;

The poster recommended listening to "their media" for a balanced view on Saudi Arabia, which is nonsense in a country without a free press. And also suggested that the alternative to Saudi Arabia was Iran. Looked like a typical paid commenter.

> Looked like a typical paid commenter.

Insinuations of astroturfing and shillage without evidence are not allowed on HN. An opposing opinion doesn't count as evidence.

We're strict about this because there's nothing more destructive of civility online than people yelling "shill" at each other. You didn't do that, but that's where the vector points.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11144024 and marked it off-topic.

Yes, I did recommend listening to "their" media. However I did not mean listen to the news, Watch the music, culture, and other forms of media, to get a sense of the "extremism exporter" being portrayed in the article, just take a look at this network ( http://telfaz11.com/en/ ). I really do not understand the reasons behind your anger, is it because of 9/11? As I said before, the Saudis have suffered way more because of Al-Qaeda, and keep in mind that Al-Qaeda is the child of cold war strategies.

And no, I am not a paid commenter, I am a Saudi citizen who lives in Riyadh and is deeply insulted by all these reductions that are clearly made without any deep thoughts on the middle east.

Sorry to suggest you are a paid commenter. I would just like you to be be able to live in a civilised country.

To quote Amnesty:

The government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and cracked down on dissent, arresting and imprisoning critics, including human rights defenders. Many received unfair trials before courts that failed to respect due process, including a special anti-terrorism court that handed down death sentences. New legislation effectively equated criticism of the government and other peaceful activities with terrorism. The authorities clamped down on online activism and intimidated activists and family members who reported human rights violations. Discrimination against the Shi’a minority remained entrenched; some Shi’a activists were sentenced to death and scores received lengthy prison terms. Torture of detainees was reportedly common; courts convicted defendants on the basis of torture-tainted “confessions” and sentenced others to flogging. Women faced discrimination in law and practice, and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence despite a new law criminalizing domestic violence. The authorities detained and summarily expelled thousands of foreign migrants, returning some to countries where they were at risk of serious human rights abuses. The authorities made extensive use of the death penalty and carried out dozens of public executions.


> suggested that the alternative to Saudi Arabia was Iran

So what is the alternative regional hegemon? Egypt? Turkey?

Not having one?

"their media" aren't going to give a balanced view of the country, but they're going to give you an idea of the mainstream attitudes there.

A very good analogy would be one way to gain at least a little insight into the relationship between the USA govt and Evangelical Christians would be to watch Fox News.

Usually cross cultural analogies are risky at best, but this one is surprisingly accurate. There exist religious groups who's relatives, followers, and sympathizers hold at least some of the positions in the government, although the religious groups in question are not technically officially a part of the government. There is an influence.

I think there is a common fallacy that people who you disagree with need to be paid by someone, otherwise they wouldn't be as they are.

I disagree with the poster but I'll grant that he may completely believe what he says and doesn't need to be paid in any way.

The same phenomenon works for pro-Russia trolls, for instance. I don't think they are "paid", particularly paid with money.

Sure they may genuinely believe what they have been told, but repressive regimes hiring commenters is pretty common now, perhaps not on hacker news.

I do not believe people have to be paid to disagree with me, that would be self centred delusion.

I am very much pro-Russia. You got a problem with that?

No, I have a problem with pro-Russia (pro-Putin) trolls. Still, I don't think they are "paid".

Quite, but I think that most who I meet are not.

Likewise, most of those who spread various 9/11 conspiracy theories are not paid by anyone, they are quite sincere.

And Russia.

In the harsh world of realpolitik no one cares if Venezuela falls apart, except for the Venezuelans.

If Russia falls apart it's a serious problem for everyone, because it won't fall apart quietly or peacefully.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11144040 and marked it off-topic.

> If Russia falls apart it's a serious problem for everyone, because it won't fall apart quietly or peacefully.

It might still be an improvement over its current approach - which is not falling apart, but is neither quiet nor peaceful. There's a fair bit of political analysis that suggests that Russia is for example about to test NATO by starting a war with Turkey, and that it is deliberately killing civilians in Syria to increase the flow of refugees to Europe (which destabilises the EU, naturally).

I'll take a Russia falling apart noisily over a Russia attempting to hegemonise half of Europe again...

NATO has just warned off Turkey, telling them in no uncertain terms that if they start a war with Russia, they are on their own.

So I think the reality is the other way round.

> I'll take a Russia falling apart noisily over a Russia attempting to hegemonise half of Europe again...

At least in current Russia there is someone in control. If the oligarchs tire of Putin and have him taken care of, Russia could fall into a civil war. Normally, this would not be a huge problem, but Russia has ~5k nukes laying around.

Think Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, but with nukes scattered about.

You think things are bad now? Wait until Russia falls apart and nuclear weapons start getting auctioned off to terrorist groups around the world. Things are awesome compared to a world where the Russian state has failed.

"There's a fair bit of political analysis"

You mean propaganda?

Well, as they say, the first casualty of war is truth, but there are a number of factual events that fit the narrative of Russia under Putin being willing to flex its muscle and encourage instability in its neighbour to the west while inspiring Russians to dream of days of yore when they ruled half of Europe...

There's the numerous videos and reports from organisations like Amnesty International, accusing Russia of basically doing the Assad thing of bombing the shit out of civilian populations in Syria (which is bound to cause more refugees to flee). And then the whole Turkey airspace thing. And then reports of Russian troops conducting large "training exercises" in the exact region they'd need to be to start a war with Turkey... There's the Crimea/Ukraine thing, which fit into that pattern as well.

Overall, no matter which source you read, Russia is currently spelling trouble. I was worried about Trump being elected and starting World War 3 - I'm now worried that even without Trump we might get there thanks to Putin.

You're clearly not following the Syrian civil war very closely if you think Russia's the one acting irresponsibly.

I think everyone is acting irresponsibly there.

And what doesn't "fit the narrative" you ignore. As you you ignore other possible narratives.

Real problem is that both Putin and Erdogan are autocratic leaders that are fine on global destabilization to keep influence on population.

Care to share your sources? Who are all these credible analysts saying Russia wants to start a war with Turkey?

As for creating a Syrian humanitarian crisis, the regime, the rebels, and Isis are doing a perfectly fine job on their own.

The damage done by low oil prices to Russia has been way overstated in the west.

The lower value of their currency has actually caused them to engage in import substitution (something Saudi can't do because they basically don't have any local industries) and started to make Russian industry more competitive in export markets.

This is basically what China did to itself deliberately in order to turn itself into an exporting and manufacturing powerhouse.

Russia is still hurting but there's a big silver lining for them that doesn't exist for, say, Venezuela.

> started to make Russian industry more competitive in export markets

Outside of oil, gas, timber and weaponry what products are they known for exporting?

Heavy machinery, aerospace & automotive.

Oh, good point. After I posted the comment above I googled to educamize myself and this was helpful http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/rus/ There's also fertilizer and ships. Everything pales in comparison to petroleum exports, though.

Russia doesn't [by now] have any strong separatist movements to cause such disintegration. A few that were ethnicity-based are economic recipients, not donors - having Dagestan or Chechnya as separate entities makes little economic sense as they currently. In theory oil-rich producing regions would want nothing to do with oil-poor regions, but those are sparsely populated and staffed with migrant workers with little regional identity.

Well the Soviet Union collapsed without a major world war right?

But I think that much of that was simply due to luck. I felt rather nervous about it at the time.

If someone like Putin had been in charge at the time, it might've gone differently, for sure.

If a hardliner had been in charge instead of Gorbachev and Glasnost wasn't enacted it probably wouldn't have collapsed (or it would have collapsed a lot more messily).

We got lucky that it was him in charge rather than somebody else.

The militarism in the article is repulsive:

U.S. military and intelligence officials should at the very least, and immediately, run some rigorous planning exercises to test different scenarios and potential actions aimed at reducing codependence and mitigating risk.

Why? Why cannot we just leave them alone? Why do we have to invade every country whenever there is an opportunity to do so?

I think that quoted phrase may have been all about doing just that - retreating to non-Saudi air bases; getting out of the way of a Saudi conflict.

I don't think so. It talks about "rigorous planning exercises".

Exercises are anything from all-out wargames to moving cargo from one base to another.

Collapse of a gas station? who cares

And Hacker News should prepare for The Atlantic's collapse.

Disappointing that people aren't thinking more critically about this article. Yes, no one likes the Saudis and they often act unethically. That doesn't mean they are on the brink of imminent collapse, and there is no real evidence given here to that thesis.

Hmmm...neither author is an expert on Saudi Arabia. Alex de Waal is an expert on Africa[1], Sara Chayes is a journalist of some sort[2]. Why is this opinion piece any different than asking John Doe about his ideas on the Saudi monarchy?

[1] http://fletcher.tufts.edu/World-Peace-Foundation/About/Staff... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Chayes

This article comes from someone who clearly doesn't understand Saudi Arabia. It keeps on portraying Saudi Arabia as an extremism exporter while it is a very moderate country, just turn on their media (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_Broadcasting_Cente...) and you will see a very different nation from what is portrayed here. Saudis have suffered a lot in the War on Terrorism, the number of Saudis who died in the Al-Qaeda insurgency is unbelievable, but no, Saudis are behind Al-Qaeda and they export terrorism. The authors are ignoring the fact that alternative, Iran, is a direct supporter of Hezbollah and many other militant groups in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. If you wanna keep on avoiding the reality and not participate in solving the Middle East's mess then it is your right to do so, but at the very least keep a fair view and stop calling us an extremism exporter.

Everyone please stop voting this person down, I don't completely agree with the post but it's a commonly held view in SA and is given politely and respectfully. I think it deserves addressing in the same spirit.

The SA government doesn't support Al Qaeda of course, but the government does heavily fund extensive networks of religious schools and charities that push a very intolerant and view of non-Muslims and non-Wahhabi sects of Iskam, to the point of preaching violence and repressive treatment. In countries like Pakistan these schools are recruiting and training grounds for violent groups. Whether this is a deliberate policy by the SA government or just the result of poor governance and oversight of these organisations and their funding is an open question, but the result has been a dramatic radicalisation of Islam in many of these countries, far more so than in Saudi Arabia itself. I think many Saudis would be shocked to discover how much Saudi money is being diverted to fund terrorism and preach violent Jihad and intolerance of others.

To your point on Iran, yes hey are in some ways an even bigger concern. Where Saudi Arabia is funding extremism largely by accident, Iran is doing so deliberately. Still, that is a question for dealing with Iran which is a separate issue. Unless you are arguing that it's OK for Saudi Arabia to fund radicals and terrorists because Iran does it? But I don't think that's what you mean.

"Where Saudi Arabia is funding extremism largely by accident..."

It's pretty hard to believe that the Kingdom hasn't figured out this is happening and are completely helpless to stop it. They either can't or won't, but they certainly know who is doing it and the extent it is occurring.

Terrorism finance is a very complex subject which I'm only peripherally knowledgeable about. I'm sure they know it's happening, but they're just not able or willing to address it. Wahabism is a very strict and intolerant ideology to start with, so preaching things we might consider unacceptable are quite acceptable to them. The problem from their point of view is much smaller than it is from ours.

However where the ideology being supported and promulgated does go beyond what they would consider acceptable, they just don't have and are basically incapable of the level of oversight and monitoring required to identify and address it. That occurs to far down the funding and management chain for them to be equipped to deal with it. So in reality their choices are switch off the whole thing - billions of dollars in funding for education, health and charitable causes across the Muslim world on which extensive programmes and hundreds of thousands livelihoods depend - or live with the downside while making ineffectual efforts to control it. From their point of view these programmes are doing vastly more good than harm. It's just a matter of relative priorities.

I will freely admit that I don't understand the politics of Saudi Arabia.

But is it not a known fact that the 9-11 operators were a) Saudi, and b) backed by the Saudi government?

I'm certainly happy to be proven wrong, but if I'm correct here, that seems a lot to me to fit in with the concept of "exporting terrorism".

> But is it not a known fact that the 9-11 operators were a) Saudi, and b) backed by the Saudi government?

a) yes, b) no. Saudi government's relations with Osama bin Laden and his network went sour in about 1990.

By "Saudi government" if that person means wealthy princes related to the current ruling dynasty, then the answer of course is yes.

The Al-Qaeda connection isn't the only reason people perceive Saudi Arabia as exporting extremism. When Saudi Arabia starts treating all its people in a humane way, maybe we'll revisit this argument, but while women are enslaved and people are tortured and killed based on religious nonsense (amongst the many atrocities committed there), you cannot claim that Saudi Arabia is moderate. That's insane and frankly, it shows you have no idea what moderate even means in this context. If state condoned slavery, murder, rape, and torture are your idea of moderate, then it's time to crack open a dictionary and work on your language comprehension.

>It keeps on portraying Saudi Arabia as an extremism exporter while it is a very moderate country

What is your definition of moderate? Moderate compared to what country?

It's a bit unfair for the writer to describe a nation's ruling elite as a 'criminal organisation'. You could levy that accusation at every ruling elite, of every country, of every era.

Nonetheless, the House of Saud funds 'schools' throughout Pakistan. These schools are known for spreading an extremist and violent philosophy [1], which clashes with the democratic and enlightened spirit of the educated-elite, at least in Pakistan [2].

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/pakistan-is-still-tryin...

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/27/murdere...

Enlightened Elite in Pakistan? Pakistan is an Islamist garrison state that needs funds from outside to prop it up. Saudis and Americans (40 Billion US alone) are the only reason Pakistan is not economically bankrupt.

don't watch so much Fox News. A vast majority of people in Pakistan are very moderate. Much of the bad shit you see about extremists and all is from a particular area of Pakistan in the north west near Afghanistan. Pakistan army has cleared out most of the extremists from there and many operations are being conducted as National Action Plan to curb terrorism and extremism.

Wake me up when Aamir Liaquat loses his show for calling people wajib-ul-qatl on air, or when people stop felicitating and distributing sweets for what Qadri did to Salman Taseer. None of those things happened in KP.

Really, you believe all that? You should google "Hafiz Saeed" sometime. That is just one example of course and doesn't even start to sum it all up.

> Really, you believe all that?

Please don't be uncivil.

Sorry, this is really emotional topic for me. Many Indians die every year from Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

Yes, you could. But doing so equates the present-day Parliament of Sweden with the German Nazi Party under Hitler, so I'm not sure your argument is going to lead anywhere particularly useful.

> You could levy that accusation at every ruling elite, of every country, of every era.

Well, yes.

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