Wikileaks releases The Saudi Cables: Over half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry

"Today, Friday 19th June at 1pm GMT, WikiLeaks began publishing The Saudi Cables: more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world. The publication includes "Top Secret" reports from other Saudi State institutions, including the Ministry of Interior and the Kingdom's General Intelligence Services. The massive cache of data also contains a large number of email communications between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and foreign entities. The Saudi Cables are being published in tranches of tens of thousands of documents at a time over the coming weeks. Today WikiLeaks is releasing around 70,000 documents from the trove as the first tranche.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks publisher, said: "The Saudi Cables lift the lid on a increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to its neighbours and itself."

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a hereditary dictatorship bordering the Persian Gulf. Despite the Kingdom's infamous human rights record, Saudi Arabia remains a top-tier ally of the United States and the United Kingdom in the Middle East, largely owing to its globally unrivalled oil reserves. The Kingdom frequently tops the list of oil-producing countries, which has given the Kingdom disproportionate influence in international affairs. Each year it pushes billions of petro-dollars into the pockets of UK banks and US arms companies. Last year it became the largest arms importer in the world, eclipsing China, India and the combined countries of Western Europe. The Kingdom has since the 1960s played a major role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and dominates the global Islamic charity market.

For 40 years the Kingdom's Ministry of Foreign Affairs was headed by one man: Saud al Faisal bin Abdulaziz, a member of the Saudi royal family, and the world's longest-serving foreign minister. The end of Saud al Faisal's tenure, which began in 1975, coincided with the royal succession upon the death of King Abdullah in January 2015. Saud al Faisal's tenure over the Ministry covered its handling of key events and issues in the foreign relations of Saudi Arabia, from the fall of the Shah and the second Oil Crisis to the September 11 attacks and its ongoing proxy war against Iran. The Saudi Cables provide key insights into the Kingdom's operations and how it has managed its alliances and consolidated its position as a regional Middle East superpower, including through bribing and co-opting key individuals and institutions. The cables also illustrate the highly centralised bureaucratic structure of the Kingdom, where even the most minute issues are addressed by the most senior officials.

Since late March 2015 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been involved in a war in neighbouring Yemen. The Saudi Foreign Ministry in May 2015 admitted to a breach of its computer networks. Responsibility for the breach was attributed to a group calling itself the Yemeni Cyber Army. The group subsequently released a number of valuable "sample" document sets from the breach on file-sharing sites, which then fell under censorship attacks. The full WikiLeaks trove comprises thousands of times the number of documents and includes hundreds of thousands of pages of scanned images of Arabic text. In a major journalistic research effort, WikiLeaks has extracted the text from these images and placed them into our searchable database. The trove also includes tens of thousands of text files and spreadsheets as well as email messages, which have been made searchable through the WikiLeaks search engine.

By coincidence, the Saudi Cables release also marks two other events. Today marks three years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy in London seeking asylum from US persecution, having been held for almost five years without charge in the United Kingdom. Also today Google revealed that it had been been forced to hand over more data to the US government in order to assist the prosecution of WikiLeaks staff under US espionage charges arising from our publication of US diplomatic cables."

What do the #SaudiCables Say About Tunisia?

Saudi Threatens Everyone with 20 years in Prison for Tweeting #SaudiCables

Wikileaks tweeted a link to the Saudi Bureau of Investigation & Public Prosecution, stating that "publishing or spreading secret information or documents is a crime with a punishment of up to 20 years in prison."

Iran bombed South Sudan according to Wikileaks

Saudi Government warns its citizens against reading the Cables

"Saudis are being warned from going anywhere near the leaked documents, sharing them or believing their contents."

"Dear Aware Citizen, Don't spread any documents that may be forged and which will help the enemies of the state achieve their goals."

"Dear Aware Citizen, Avoid accessing any websites with the aim of accessing documents or leaked information, which may be fabricated, with the goal of harming national security."

Bloggers criticize Saudi Government's response

"Dear Citizen, Your government is in deep trouble and expects you, as usual, to be an obedient donkey and not spread its dirty laundry."

"What is the wisdom behind banning accessing? Is it permissible for the rest of the world and haram (religiously banned) on the aware citizen?"

"What will the Wikileaks leaks tell us more than we know? About the role of money in securing allegiance, or the concern over Iran and Sunnis, or the running expenses of those in power?"

Saudi Cables reveal constant preoccupation with Iran

Global Voices' Mahsa Alimardani reports: The new trove of Wikileaks covering documents from Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs speak to a preoccupation with their regional rival Iran.

Her assessment was also picked up by many Twitter users:

What we're learning about Yemen (Part 1)

"We are a team of Yemen analysts who will be examining the Saudi cables released by Wikileaks over the next few weeks. While our focus is Yemen, we may from time to time publish Saudi cables on other significant issues. The leaked documents, which include embassy correspondences and emails, originated from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs and reveal the inner workings of a historically repressive and extremely secretive monarchy."

Saudi embassy report: Qatar instigated unrest in Yemen

"A 2012 Saudi Embassy report from Sana’a alleges that Qatar paid Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar $250 million to foment rebellion in the Yemeni army and to prevent the 2012 presidential election of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi."

"A 2012 Saudi embassy report states that the sale proceeds of 3 million barrels of oil given to Yemen in 2012 never reached the Yemeni treasury"

"A memo from the Saudi Foreign Minister in 2011 on combating expansion of “Shi’ism” in Yemen and how the Kingdom can support the Sunnis in the country through a strategy that will be overseen by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Riyadh, and the *Muslim World League’s Yemen branch in order to preserve the interest of the Kingdom, and to support the Sunnis in Yemen."

"A memo entitled “Highly confidential and urgent”, from the Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal to the Crown Prince, refers to a senior level Commission in charge of finding a naval port for the Kingdom on the open sea (Arabian sea) either through Oman or Yemen.

The Commission is made up of senior level members from the Ministries of Interior, defense, foreign affairs, finance, oil and mineral resources, transportation, economy and planning, as well as the presidency of the General Intelligence."

What we're learning about Lebanon (Part 1)

The most notable leak so far has to do with Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea. The cable ‘doc36598‘ reveals that a representative of the LF Party, Elie Abou Assi, visited the Saudi diplomat who wrote the cable and requested financial assistance in the name of Samir Geagea relating to “difficulty of the financial situation of the party and to a certain extent have become unable to secure the salaries of employees in the party”. Geageasaid “I am broke and willing to help KSA“.

Buying Silence gives the example of the Lebanese TV station MTV accepting millions of dollars in Saudi money in ‘doc83763‘. This is part of the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy as detailed in Wikileaks’ report: “One of the ways “neutralisation” and “containment” are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an “asset” in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman and Nouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse “shares” in the media outlets, where the cash “dividends” flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political “dividends” – an obliging press.” It is in this context that the Saudi Government paid MTV. MTV asked for $20 million but received $5 Million.

Lebanese MP Boutros Harb asked Saudi Arabia for financial and political support to create a political party (doc32628).

Press Release: Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media

"The oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its ruling family take a systematic approach to maintaining the country's positive image on the international stage. Most world governments engage in PR campaigns to fend off criticism and build relations in influential places. Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.

Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia's strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the "carrot and stick" approach, referred to in the documents as "neutralisation" and "containment". The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question."

[...]

"The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to "neutralise" it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. "Neutralised" journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The "containment" approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for "containment" are expected not only to sing the Kingdom's praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.

One of the ways "neutralisation" and "containment" are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an "asset" in the Kingdom's propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman andNouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse "shares" in the media outlets, where the cash "dividends" flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political "dividends" – an obliging press.

An example of these co-optive practices in action can be seen in an exchange between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. On 24 November 2011 Egypt's Arabic-language broadcast station ONTV hosted the Saudi opposition figure Saad al-Faqih, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to task the embassy with inquiring into the channel. The Ministry asked the embassy to find out how "to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom's policies".

The document reports that the billionaire owner of the station, Naguib Sawiris, did not want to be "opposed to the Kingdom's policies" and that he scolded the channel director, asking him "never to host al-Faqih again". He also asked the Ambassador if he'd like to be "a guest on the show".

The Saudi Cables are rife with similar examples, some detailing the figures and the methods of payment. These range from small but vital sums of around $2000/year to developing country media outlets – a figure the Guinean News Agency "urgently needs" as "it would solve many problems that the agency isfacing" – to millions of dollars, as in the case of Lebanese right-wing television station MTV."

Wikileaks First Announcements on Twitter on the Saudi Cables