There is no evidence that Saudi Arabia "has taken public punitive actions against any individual for financing terror" since 9/11, a former top security aide to two presidents testified Tuesday before a congressional subcommittee.
Lee S. Wolosky, former director of the National Security Council's Office of Transnational Threats under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia that six years after the attacks on America, the Saudi government has still not reigned in charities with ties to al Qaeda.
"I think we've let the billionaires of Saudi Arabia off the hook," said Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA).
The subcommittee met to explore America's relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of a $20 billion dollar weapons sale being offered by the White House to the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. That includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The bulk of the sale will be going to Saudi Arabia.
In a display of bipartisan agreement, both Subcommittee Chairman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Ranking Member Mike Pence (R-IN) expressed skepticism about the wisdom of the sale. The question for Ackerman was simple: "Saudi Arabia will make its own calculations about the region and about its relations with the United States on the same basis it always has: What's in it for the House of Saud? So, I think it's time we ask ourselves a similar question: What's in it for the House of Uncle Sam?"
Pence offered another question: "Are they [Saudi Arabia] really an ally in the War on Terror?"
The two witnesses before the subcommittee attempted to answer these questions. F. Gregory Gause, III, an associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont, explained that this arms sale would not serve to affect security in the region one way or the other. He incorrectly noted that Saudi Arabia had never deployed its military outside its borders (In 1948, Saudi Arabia sent a contingent of roughly a thousand soldiers to fight Israel), using that as evidence to claim that any operations in Iraq or Iran are unlikely. Gause said the only reason to make the sale other than economic gain for our arms industry was that the sale would demonstrate that the United States is committed to the security of Saudi Arabia, making it less likely that the kingdom would pursue nuclear technology should Iran succeed in producing nuclear weapons.
Wolosky explained Saudi Arabia's connections to the financing of terrorism and the propagation of extremism. Of the failure to regulate charities that have financed terrorism, he stated: "Passing legislation is one thing, and implementation and enforcement are another. Certain steps announced to increase oversight over problematic Saudi-based charities have not been fully implemented."
One of these charities is the Muslim World League, a multi-million dollar organization based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It is funded by both the Saudi government and private donations. Since its founding, the League has functioned as the quasi-official religious missionary and propaganda arm of Saudi Arabia. In March 1997, Secretary General Abdullah Al-Obaid of MWL thanked King Fahd for his continued support of the organization, noting that the Saudi government had officially provided more than $1.33 billion in financial aid since 1962.
MWL continues to operate dozens of offices around the world. MWL has two in the United States – in Virginia and New York City. The FBI raided the Virginia office in March 2002 as part of a still-open investigation into a network of Virginia-based Islamic charities and corporate entities suspected of having ties to terrorist groups. The office was raided again in July 2005.
Another of these Saudi charities is the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). Western intelligence sources have traced IIRO money transfers to bank accounts in London and in Amman, Jordan and then from front groups to Hamas-backed organizations in Gaza and the West Bank. The sources believe the annual amount the IIRO channels to these groups totals about $20 million.
Fayez Ahmed Alshehri, one of the 9/11 hijackers, told his father he was going to work for IIRO and never saw his family again. Mohammed Al-Zawahiri, the brother of Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (second in command of al Qaeda), worked around the world on behalf of IIRO.
Following the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, six Islamic NGOs, including MWL and IIRO were banned from Kenya for "endangering the lives of Kenyans" and "working against the interests of Kenyans in terms of security," according to John Etmesi, Chairman of the Nongovernmental Coordinating Board in Kenya. In mid-December of 1998, the Kenyan Supreme Court lifted the ban against MWL and IIRO after the Islamic community in Kenya applied strong pressure.
In August 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department designated IIRO's branch offices in the Philippines and Indonesia for "facilitating for al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups."
When asked by Ackerman how the U.S. can ensure that the Saudis follow through with their commitments to regulate their charities, Wolosky replied, "Only be compelling Saudi Arabia by conditions of some policy…will you have leverage to find out if those chains are being pulled."