Saudi Arabia in the Twitter Trap: Classified Security Documents Leaked

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Saudi new King Salman (R) stands alongside US President Barack Obama (2nd from L) after the Obamas arrived on Air Force One at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh on January 27, 2015. AFP/Saul Loeb

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Mufti of Saudi Arabia was right on the mark when he recently said that Twitter was a source of “evil” and a “scourge” for his kingdom. Secret Saudi documents from the interior and defense ministries were leaked on Twitter on Tuesday.

The documents reveal much about the Saudi government’s efforts to spy on its citizens and monitor their accounts, as well as details on arrest warrants and detention of individuals who called for political reform, and the “royal hysteria” over otherwise unremarkable articles published online.

Saudi Arabia being a police state won’t come as news to most people. What is new, however, is that the public can now examine the kingdom’s administrative mechanisms for spying and surveillance — thanks to classified documents leaked on social media sites.

A twitter account called “Monaseron” posted the documents on Tuesday. The account claimed that the set of documents came from the Saudi ministries of interior and defense.

The documents are signed and sealed by official bodies. One such cable (bearing the number 3567 and the date 03/03/1435 AH - 2014 AD) is addressed from the General Directorate of Investigations to the General Directorate of Information. The document is a statement of “the most important identifiers on social networking sites that we follow up: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.” The cable is signed by senior liaison officer Major-General Abed bin Mohammed al-Hoyarini.

Another document, titled confidential and urgent cable, mentions a Saudi citizen named Ahmed bin Amer al-Sanusi (numbered 5/272). The General Investigations here notifies Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef of the danger posed by this citizen. But for what crime? “He called for freedom of expression and opinion, and for the Saudi government not to interfere in this.” Apparently, to the Saudi authorities, this is an unforgivable infraction.

Another “sin” committed by Sanusi, according to the cable, was that he dared to say, in a video he posted on YouTube, “The Saudi government accuses lawyers, who defend detainees, of rebelling against the rulers.”

But is there anyone in the world who does not know this? What recently happened to blogger Raif al-Badawi and Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in the court system, and to their lawyers, is but a small example of this overarching, repressive process.

Sanusi was also accused of “calling for political reform and a constitutional monarchy.” As a first measure against him, the General Investigations noted that Sanusi’s name was placed on a list of people to be summoned once they return to Saudi Arabia. Sanusi is currently in the United States, where he is working and studying, so “his activities will be monitored and those influencing or supporting him will be identified to clarify his situation,” as the cable disclosed.
It does not end there. The General Investigations recommended contacting the Education Minister Khaled al-Faisal to take the necessary measures, including suspending his scholarship “given his clear ingratitude to his homeland and his affronts to the policies of the kingdom.”

A third cable came from the Directorate of Investigations - General Administration for International Cooperation, addressed to the Minister of Interior (Numbered 30906 and dated 10/5/1435 AH). The cable is about Saudi citizen Abdel-Rahman Ali Ahmed al-Assiri.

Assiri is on a scholarship to study in the United States — or was, at least. Now, “funding and insurance for him have been cancelled.” For what reason or crime, this time? Saudi spies apparently found an online video of the Saudi citizen in question, in which he supported Saud Mardi al-Harbi, Abdul-Aziz Mohammad al-Dosari, and Abdullah Mabrouk al-Ghamdi in demanding their rights. “He also attacked rulers (may God preserve them) and described the appointment of HRH Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz as deputy crown prince from the result of bribery.”

Another cable bearing the number 34962 from the Financial Investigations Department is addressed to the Ministry of Interior. The cable includes information on financial transactions involving citizens and residents, without mentioning any particular suspicions.

Other documents mention wiretapping citizens’ phone conversations in detail. Saudi citizen Zuhair Katbi committed “treason” because he told his wife on the phone that he was fed up of life in the kingdom and was thinking of seeking political asylum in Germany.

In cable number 35976 dated 1/6/1435 AH, the government’s eavesdropper listened in on another phone conversation between Zuhair and another citizen named Khaled Nahhas.

During the conversation, Zuhair apparently said that he refuses the appointment of the deputy crown prince, and that the visit by US President Barack Obama was good for the safety and security of the kingdom. Interestingly, the General Directorate of Operations of the Interior Ministry, in reference to the latter opinion, states in the cable that the citizen in question made some positive remarks.

In other words, the kingdom loves Obama, and expects its citizens love Obama as well. Wahhabism and Obama’s orders are easily reconcilable in Saudi.

Nevertheless, Zuhair will be thrown into jail for two years. Previously, he had received amnesty after pledging to abandon his previous ways (i.e. voicing criticism), because “his writings inflame the public opinion and go against the orientations of the state.”

A document (statement No. 4) contains 29 names of people who travelled to Qatar over the past three years. It seems that travelling to Qatar is cause for suspicion, to Saudi authorities. In addition, a list (statement No. 5) contains the names of Saudi princes who have Twitter accounts. There are 15 princes and princesses who use Twitter, that “evil scourge” (Saudi Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh).

As might have been expected, the spies in statement No.2 made a list of residents accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, numbering 27.

A document signed “for presentation to the honorable noble office,” contains a “dangerous” cable dispatched from the officer of Defense Minister Salman bin Abdulaziz (the new king) to the head of General Intelligence, with a copy for the head of the Royal Court. The cable says, “We learned from the competent authority at the Ministry of Defence that the French website Intelligence Online published two articles whose gist is: Paris downplays the importance of the Saudi grant to the Lebanese army. The kingdom declared it would send military aid to the Lebanese army, and less than two weeks later, Emmanuel Bonne, the French president's Middle East adviser, visited Lebanon and met the political adviser to Hezbollah Ammar Moussawi. The sources pointed out that Hezbollah officials, during the meeting, recalled that the kingdom is not a neutral party in the Lebanese scene, and that Riyadh must give this grant directly to Lebanon.”

The cable continues, “The sources added that Bonne’s visit was not entirely successful. (At a later time), the French Chief of Staff Admiral Édouard Guillaud visited Lebanon to discuss the details of the grant. The army presented a working plan to be implemented in two stages: A- Establishing a new military infrastructure that would include hospitals, shelters, air bases, naval bases, and communications systems. B- new weapons systems.”

The other article of concern to the Saudi Ministry of Defense mentioned that Saudi intelligence relied on Pakistani intelligence to train jihadists who go to fight in Syria.

In other words, the current king (former crown prince) was concerned last year with two articles published on a website, and decided that this (public and widely published) information should be passed urgently to the late king, interior minister, and intelligence chief.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Horror.

■ For the documents, click here:

Follow Mohammad Nazzal on Twitter: @Nazzal_Mohammad

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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