Sunday, January 15, 2006

Many are aware of widespread Saudi investments in the United States, but few know how potentially harmful they are. Moreover, U.S. policy-makers remain unaware of this grave danger.

On Sept. 28, 2001, after the attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden called for financial jihad against the United States, and on Dec. 27, 2001, he called on jihadists “to look for [and strike] the key pillars of the U.S. economy.” Although now the Saudis claim bin Laden is their enemy, many of them continue to follow his agenda.

Religious and ideological support has been also provided by Hussein Shihata, a leading Sunni scholar of Islamic Economy at Cairo’s al-Azhar University. Mr. Shihata’s July 10, 2002, fatwa says: “We do not use the term ‘economic jihad’ as a mere motto or a resounding slogan with no action. Rather, we mean by it a practical jihad that requires action to turn it into an effective and concrete reality. The aim behind that is to benefit all Muslims and to challenge the aggression staged by the U.S. and Jews against Islam and Muslims.”

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who claims to abhor bin Laden, seems nevertheless eager to follow his agenda. In an interview with Arab News in May 2002, the prince said that if the Arabs “unite through economic interests,” they would achieve influence over the U.S. decision-makers. Since government sources estimate Saudi holdings in the United States at $400 billion to $800 billion, the matter warrants public attention.

The Saudi agenda extends far beyond policy-makers. In the late 1990s, the privately owned Massachusetts technology company, Ptech, designed software used to develop enterprise blueprints that held every important detail of a given concern. The company was financed with more than $22 million, by Saudi multi-millionaire Yasin al Qadi, a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. The Saudis thus gained access to strategic information about many major U.S. corporations such as SYSCO, ENRON, and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Treasury, Justice, Energy, and even the White House. The extent of the damage, if it was investigated, remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, substantial Saudi and Gulf financial contributions “to bring the proper message to America’s brightest minds,” are pouring into U.S. educational institutions through Arab and Islamic centers and professorial chairs. Last month the prince gave $20 million each to Georgetown and Harvard universities. According to the Center for Religious Freedom, the Saudis also supply textbooks for public libraries, schools and colleges, and provide the content concerning Islam to some U.S. textbook publishers.

The Saudis’ potential influence on U.S. and international media was recently illustrated by the prince’s purchase of 5.6 percent of voting shares in News Corp., the world’s largest publisher of English newspapers. Moreover, Reuters reported on Dec. 5 that the prince announced his plan to “spread the right message” via a new television channel, “The Message,” to broadcast to the U.S. within two years.

Yet, information regarding the magnitude of the Saudi economic infiltration into the United States is secret. The U.S. Treasury’s interpretation of the census law, supported by a 1982 court decision, shields this data from the public. On Oct. 27, 1982, the American Jewish Congress (AJC) was denied information requested under its own FOIA inquiry, by the U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. (Civ. A. No. 81-1745). The AJC litigated its FOIA case up to the Supreme Court, but the government won.

Indeed, filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Commerce is useless. FOIA Director Burton H. Reist stated in December that this data “is protected by Title 13, United States Code, Section 9, which requires that census records be used solely for statistical purposes and also makes these records confidential.” Furthermore, FOIA “exempts from disclosure records that are made confidential by statute.” In other words, the government wants this information kept secret.

Under the “International Investment & Trade in Services Survey Act,” the U.S. Treasury Department tracks foreign portfolio, and Commerce tracks direct investments. This information is unavailable for Saudi Arabia or the Gulf States, following their request that the details be suppressed “to avoid disclosure of data of individual companies.” For example, under the heading “Foreign holdings of U.S. long-term securities, by country,” Treasury aggregates all eight “Middle East oil exporters.” A Treasury Department official said that this aggregation is a “Treasury policy,” and justifies the non-disclosure on grounds that this information could “harm national security and foreign relations.”

While the U.S. government seeks to spread American democratic values, including transparency and accountability, it denies its own citizens and policy makers the same. In view of the stated Arab and Muslim strategy to subvert the U.S economy, one wonders why the publication of Saudi financial interests in the United States would harm national security and foreign relations. It seems that the secrecy surrounding Saudi investments in the United States is what may well threaten our national security.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is author of “Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It,” director of American Center for Democracy and a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. (Alyssa A. Lappen, a fellow at the ACD, contributed to the article.)

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