NSA to provide Saudi with advanced surveillance technology despite catalogue of human rights abuses

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

July 30, 2014

So what does the ‘leader of the free world’ do when dealing with a brutal police state? Why, team up with it and supply it with advanced surveillance technology that can be used to further supress freedom of speech and expression of course!

Thanks to whistleblowing hero Edward Snowden and a top secret memo dated April 2013, we now know that the NSA has agreed ‘to provide direct analytic and technical support to TAD [the Saudi Arabian MOD’s Technical Affairs Directorate].’

More specifically, the NSA:

  • provides technical advice on SIGINT topics such as data exploitation and target development to TAD as well as sensitive source collection capability’
  • ‘provides a sensitive decryption service to the Ministry of Interior terrorist targets of mutual nature’

In return, the Saudi government allows the US to access certain sensitive geographic areas and shares some intelligence information on the Iranian military and Al-Qaeda ‘terrorist targets of mutual interest.’

obama saudi

Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive counties in the world, with a catalog of human right abuses to its name. The US Department of State’s own ‘Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013’ noted that,

The most important human rights problems reported included citizens’ lack of the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers.

Other human rights problems reported included torture and other abuses; overcrowding in prisons and detention centers; holding political prisoners and detainees; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; and arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity were common, although the government made efforts to counter discrimination in some areas and increasingly prosecuted individuals for trafficking and domestic violence. Lack of governmental transparency and access made it difficult to assess the magnitude of many reported human rights problems.

It specifically mentions an appalling incident where in ‘2011 security officials reportedly took human rights activist Mekhlef bin Daham al-Shammary from his prison cell at the Damman General Prison and allegedly poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down his throat, resulting in his hospitalization.’

Yet at the same as this savage report from the Department of State report was published, the NSA was working to rebuild its ties with the strategically placed and oil-rich Emirate, following a ‘very limited SIGINT relationship’ since the 1991 Gulf War.

Earlier this month Saudi human rights activist Waleed Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in jail for, among other things, ‘inciting public opinion against the government’ and ‘insulting the country’s leaders and judiciary.’ In May,liberal blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, and in June human right activist Mukhlif Shammari was sentenced to five years for ‘preparing, storing and transmitting information that undermines public order’ over a YouTube video he made which highlighted the mistreatment of two Saudi women.

Saudi Arabia is ranked 164th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index,is classified as an ‘Enemies of the Internet’.

For more information on censorship and VPN issues in Saudi Arabia, see this article.

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