Clinton Cable Reveals Concern About Saudi Funders of Terrorism

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed frustration at the reluctance of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia to cut funds to Islamic extremists, according to a classified memo obtained by Wikileaks and published yesterday by the New York Times and Guardian.

In a Dec. 30, 2009, cable, Clinton said “more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba -- but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money.” Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were also singled out in the diplomatic memos as suppliers of cash to terrorists.

In the same dispatch, Clinton points to donors in Saudi Arabia as the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide” and complained that “it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.”

This latest batch of leaks will do little to improve U.S. relations with its oil-rich allies in the Middle East and contradicts public statements by the U.S. administration about the progress made in cutting off terrorist fund-raising.

In a cable dated Aug. 10 last year, diplomats relayed intelligence of how a Saudi-based company acted as a front to funnel money to the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, blamed for the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

U.A.E. Role

The U.A.E.’s role as terrorist financiers has also alarmed U.S. officials. The Haqqani network, an insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan with close ties to the Taliban, received “significant funds” from the Gulf and “are believed to earn money from U.A.E.-based business interests,” according to a Jan. 7 secret memo.

Repeated calls to the Saudi Ministry of Interior and Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah, the foreign minister for Kuwait, weren’t immediately returned. U.A.E. officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clinton last week traveled to Bahrain for a regional security conference and met with Arab foreign ministers whose countries were cited in leaked cables in an effort to contain damage to U.S. diplomatic relations with its Middle East allies. She said disclosure of sensitive diplomatic cables could hurt negotiations and in some cases endanger individuals.

Clinton is “literally working night and day in conversations with countless leaders around the world to try as best we can not only to express regret but to work through these issues,“ Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Dec. 1.

The officer on duty at the State Department yesterday referred to comments made last week by spokesman Philip J. Crowley that he wouldn’t comment on specific leaks.

WikiLeaks Investigation

WikiLeaks began Nov. 28 to post online cables from U.S. embassies. The nonprofit website, which is currently down, said it has more than 250,000 cables that feature commentary on foreign leaders and confidential conversations with U.S. allies.

The military and the State Department are working with the Justice Department to investigate the leaks. U.S. Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning, who served as an analyst in Iraq, was arrested in June at age 22 on suspicion of illegally releasing classified information. Officials haven’t revealed which contents he is suspected of leaking.

Manning, a private first-class, had said in an online chat in May that the documents he downloaded included “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world,” the New York Times reported last week.

The State Department has tightened up the way those documents will be shared in the future. Even people who called for greater sharing following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. say it’s time for policies to be reviewed.

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