Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Online NewsHour: Inside the Kingdom: Turki al-Faisal -- January 21, 2002

Online NewsHour: Inside the Kingdom: Turki al-Faisal -- January 21, 2002: "Elizabeth Farnsworth interview with Turki al-Faisal, the king's nephew and the former head of Saudi Intelligence.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If you had to pick the most important effect of 9/11 on Saudi Arabia, what do you think that would be?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Probably the anguish and the hurt that Saudis have felt for the destruction and loss of innocent lives in the US, and this is on a broad spectrum of Saudi society. Of course other effects are important, mainly the fact that a lot of Saudis now have gone into condition of retrospection, checking back on themselves, on their lives--to see how such an ignominious and horrific act could have been performed by people who call themselves Muslims--let alone people who carry the Saudi identity. This country has prided itself throughout its history for its nonviolence and for its continuous combat against violence and seeing the scenes of destruction and the horrific anguish of the American people are just beyond expression, really.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell me a little more about the retrospection or introspection, I guess it's partly retrospection and introspection. For yourself, for example, what do you see when you look back that could have produced this situation?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, probably it's a combination of many factors. Primary among them is a general sense of disappointment and almost helplessness in the face of what is happening around us, particularly in the problem of Palestine and the daily killings that go on there, whether on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side. At a time when people had been looking forward to a peaceful resolution on this problem since the Madrid Conference. As you know that conference set the stage for a peaceful resolution of a very intractable problem in the Middle east and when the Oslo Accords came about, although they disappointed some people in the area, many people felt relieved that finally the main contenders for Palestine were set on their way to negotiating a settlement. And since 1996 when Prime Minister Netanyahu took over from Prime Minister Peres -- who succeeded Rabin who was assassinated, if you remember, because he was a peacemaker -- the disappointments kept growing. Netanyahu, I think, probably made it a point of his administration not to allow any success to come to Oslo. That accumulated in its effect particularly on the Palestinians but mostly, generally in the Arab world. And he was succeeded by Barak, who, instead of taking the Oslo process, which required that there be a program of Israeli withdrawals and Palestinian acceptance of not only the existence of Israel but the prevention of terrorist acts, etcetera, and a period of gestation if that is the right word, where the two people can get used to each other and live with each other and sort of develop momentum for peace. He opted for not adhering to that process and chose the all-out final negotiation process.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you really think that that was the main factor with the hijackers and with bin Laden?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Not at all. I believe that bin Laden himself is a megalomaniac, someone who sees himself above others. Like all such messianic individuals, they give themselves the right to do horrible things in the name of ideals and this is where the internal human factor involves itself in this kind of situation. His cohorts and those individuals who performed this horrific act obviously believed in him as the messiah. Their messiah. Their liberator. Their deliverer from their ills and whatever is happening that they consider to be wrong in this world. So, yes, bin Laden was that kind of person and he would have done something whether there was a peace process or not.

Saudi Arabia's place in the world
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you believe that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi as people in the United States--

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: This is what we hear from the American officials and the press. I'm not in a position now to confirm or to deny that -- to me it is of no importance. If half a Saudi was involved, that is as bad as if it were 15 or 20 or 50. Any person who carries the religion of Islam is in his beliefs to undertake such actions is to me totally unacceptable. So whether they were Saudis or not Saudis is totally unimportant to me.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have any assessment of the state of Al Qaeda right now? Do you think they've been dealt a lethal blow?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: What we see in the press and from the television stations and what we hear from American officials, obviously they have been damaged, and damaged in a big way. I don't believe it is the end of Al Qaeda, as I think many of your officials also believe that. But I think the important thing in this campaign is that commitments have been made worldwide to pursue it until the very end. And not only to make it exclusive to Al Qaeda. Terrorism in general is going to be hopefully pursued whoever undertakes it and in whatever name it is undertaken.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to go back to the retrospection question. What else have people been thinking about when they go through these processes of retro- and introspection.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well they think about themselves. They think what are we, who are we, are we good Muslims? Is this what Islam brings to people? Is it possible that close friendship with the US that has lasted more than 70 years can be affected by such terrible act, no matter who takes it. And so there's, as you correctly added, a process of introspection, not only just looking back but looking inwards. And seeing if there is something that we can do, why shouldn't we do it. And if we're capable of doing it, then let's do it. All of that is going on in the mind of many Saudis.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Like what? What should or could be done?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, a society whose makeup is based on religion, a religion of tolerance and a religion of understanding and a religion of extending the hands of friendship to other people and yet someone can come and hijack some of these ideals and put them to the service of murder and the killing of innocent people which is 100% contrary to all the teachings that we have been taught in our lives. It gives one pause. Where does he come from? He's a Saudi, and yet he's willing to go kill himself in the name of something that is totally alien to what a Saudi is, or what a Muslim is. So let us look back and see who are these people? And where do they come from? If they are Saudi's then let us see what made them go that way? What made them go astray?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think? How do you answer that?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I don't know, I don't know. This is why this process of introspection and retrospection is very important for us here in the kingdom.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it something about religious training? I don't need to tell you all the articles in the States--

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I know. I've seen all those articles. Look, the whole society here is based on religion. I am a product of that society, my children are products of that society. We have been taught our religion since the country was established more than 70 years ago and it's a pretty good record for any society that you could count a handful of individuals who have been led astray or two handfuls in this case, 15 people, 16 people. Look at the rest of the rest of the Saudis who came out of this educational system and back out. They didn't go and bomb anybody, they didn't go and kill anybody. On the contrary. Particularly to the United States and to the American people in general, and this is something I tell all my American friends, that the relationship between these two countries started on a people-to-people basis, not a government to government basis. Back in 1929 an American philanthropist was traveling around the world and he passed by the kingdom in his travels and met with the late King Abdel Aziz. Who asked him, what are your interests. And he told him, I have several companies and some of them deal with finding water. And he said please can you send someone who help me find water in this great big land of mine which is so scarce of water resources. And he did. He sent a geologist, a man called Twitchel, who came, who surveyed the kingdom and identified water resources in carious areas. But also in his recommendation, he recommended that he ask oil companies to come and prospect for oil because there were good indications that there was oil. And that's how the development of the oil industry began in the kingdom. Before there was even any official contact with your government. It was only during the Second World War that we had any official contact.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you worry about the kind of coverage that Saudi Arabia's getting right now in US papers?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Of course, but it is not unprecedented. We've had bad coverage in the past. And I think the links that bind the two countries together, and the two peoples together, are much stronger than any passing phase in a media campaign. But on the other hand and this is the belief of many Saudis here there's a belief that this campaign is a concerted campaign. It is not just the willful making of individual reporters and journalists or editorial writers because if you see how it started, editorials on the same day, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune. You name the newspaper, and there was an editorial in it about Saudi Arabia and how negative Saudi Arabia is and so on.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So who do you think is behind it?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, I think several parties are behind it. I think there are people within the administration who definitely leaked these reports. Despite the denials, these reporters were quoting White House officials, State Department officials, Treasury Department officials. Now, legally they cannot do that unless they have such sources of information. I believe within the United States that there are enemies of the kingdom who would like to see the relationship between Saudi Arabia and United States affected by this situation. Basically people surrounding AIPAC (brackets here -- American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and who work for AIPAC and who sympathize with AIPAC--and with Israel, of course, because AIPAC represents Israel. So I think these were the main movers in the campaign. Now we've heard from your highest officials: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice. You name the high official and they have been in praise and full praise of the kingdom. Mostly recently, Colin Powell on the Sunday talk shows. News shows. He strongly denied that there were any differences between the kingdom and United States...and praised what the kingdom was saying. But there were those unnamed government officials, whether in the White House or the State or the Treasury Department who leaked these things like Saudi Arabia is not giving us cooperation in tracing money, or things like that. So there is a sense of betrayal here among the people. Of course government officials here recognize that--the President, Vice President and secretary of state, secretary of defense, and all these high officials, are not lying when they say that this is their view. But the people, in general, feel that there is someone who is making this happen.

Tensions and investigations
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What is happening in the investigation? Is the FBI, for example, getting access to the alleged hijackers' families?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I don't know, because I am not anymore in the government. But I would not presume to tell you what is happening. I can tell you this, for example: When I was in the intelligence department, in 1997, the kingdom proposed to the United States the establishment of a joint security committee to look into not just Osama bin Laden, but terrorism in general. And this committee met on a continuous basis every couple of months or so, either in the kingdom or in the United States. And it included all the security organizations in the kingdom and we assume that it also included all the security organizations in your country like the CIA, FBI, the NSA perhaps--other government security departments. And they met constantly, and reviewed constantly information, acts of violence worldwide, how can we best deal with these situations? And that committee, to my knowledge, is still standing. So the cooperation between the two countries on the question of terrorism has been long-standing and initiated by the kingdom.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some of the articles say that you had wanted to cooperate more in the Khobar towers investigation. Is that true?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I was a government official. I did what my government told me to do. It was never for us a question of who would cooperate more or who would cooperate less. It was a question of responsibility. The Khobar Towers was the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior. Hence it was the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior to meet with FBI representatives who came to the kingdom and this was another case in which we heard high praise from high officials and then complaints to the American press from unnamed sources. The ex-head of FBI, Mr. Freeh, he came several times to the kingdom, met with the King, met with the Crown Prince, met with Prince Sultan, met with Prince Nayef, met with me, either here or in Washington. He had the highest praise for the cooperation. And yet, he goes back to the United States, either he or someone from his department gives a briefing to congressional committees or meets with the press and complains that there is no cooperation with Saudi Arabia. So again, it's almost a repeat of that--

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: -- So you're seeing a power struggle within the United States itself about how to deal with Saudi Arabia?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I don't know if it is a power struggle or not, but definitely it is a matter of speaking with a forked tongue.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is the Saudi government considering the United States to withdraw its troops?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I believe not. These forces, mostly air force, are here as a result of the war to liberate Kuwait. And subsequent to that, the Safwan agreement between Iraq and the allies. And the Safwan agreement stipulated that with the acceptance of Iraq that there'd be air patrols over the southern part of Iraq and the northern part of Iraq. There were lines of control for that, I think after the 34th parallel is where they do the patrolling. And these forces are doing that job. And the need for them has not ended so I don't see any reason to withdraw.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But are there the same tensions within this society as there are within ours -- in your case tensions that have to do with how to deal with the United States? Is there pressure now, for example, in the royal family, to think about--I'll make this specific -- the letter that Crown Prince Abdullah sent to President Bush in August saying "A time comes when peoples and nations part." Do you think that is what we are watching right now, a kind of inevitable parting?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I don't think it's inevitable. But I think that was a warning that the responsible leader felt that he should make to a fellow and friendly responsible leader. Because he saw the pressures not just in the kingdom but in the whole area. And this preceded September 11. And he talked not only about the crossroads, he talked about also the possibility of terrorism increasing in the area as a result of what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. He was almost a visionary kind of outlook on the part of the Crown Prince. Like a prediction of what was to come. And unfortunately it came true in September 11th. But I don't think the parting is inevitable. Why? Because as I said before, the links between the two countries--whether they be between the governments -- or, more importantly-- between the people are much stronger than the differences. And the interests that bind us together are so enormous. You have here in the kingdom investments in billions of dollars, not just for your companies, but in the fact that you buy our oil. And you pay us money for that. Now what do we do with that money? Most of it goes back to the United States to buy goods and services. And know-how. So this two-way channel between us is beneficial to both of us. And it would be foolish for either side to seek to part with the other when such mutual benefits are so immediately felt by everybody.

The future of Saudi Arabia
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is Saudi Arabia heading for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution? That's the question that at least some people say high officials in Washington are asking.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: And why would they ask that? I think that it is pertinent for me to ask that question. The situation in Iran does not exist......(he is interrupted)

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well I could say at least what I think they would say. They would say because the people who brought down the World Trade Towers made it clear that their first target was really Saudi Arabia.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Fine, but look and see what happened in the kingdom here. The resonance of that act here, as I told you, total condemnation by all Saudis. It's not that all Saudis want to hug and kiss Americans every time they see them. But most Saudis are genuinely friendly, not just to the United States, but to the rest of the world. This country, when tourism was not even heard of in the rest of the world, going back more than 1400 years ago, we had pilgrims who came to the kingdom -- to Mecca -- from all over the world. The then-known world. Whether from the Christians or the Jews, because of the sacred sites we had in Mecca. And the pilgrimage is a composition of peoples from all over the world: East, West, North and South. They come to the kingdom. And they congregate. And they perform the same rites at the same time. And they communicate and they deal with Saudis from the day they leave their countries by going to get their visas and so on until they leave the kingdom at the airport when they see the last official as they get on their plane or ships. So this is not a country of bigots or paranoid chauvinists who think they are the best in the world. No. This country was based on serving others. Mostly the pilgrims. And that's the way it's going to be.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You knew, or you spoke with and met with Osama bin Laden. Just briefly, tell us a little about him.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, I knew him during the jihad in Afghanistan. He came to Afghanistan in the early 80's, two years after the jihad started. He left his university studies. He didn't finish university and came to contribute to the jihad.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we should say that you were in charge of your government's relationship at that moment--

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I was Director of Intelligence and was in charge of giving support to the mujahddin. This was a tri-partite agreement between the kingdom, United States and Pakistan. And along with other Saudis, Osama bin Laden came. He had resources of his own that he wanted to contribute. And he did. He contributed in road-building. He contributed in doing other construction work for the mujahaddin, but he was not a combatant. Almost 99% of the Arabs and the other volunteers who came to the jihad in those days were not combatants. We always heard from the mujahaddin. They said 'we don't need men, we need arms, ammunition, medical supplies, food, clothes, etc.' But these people wanted to contribute. And the mujahaddin, gratefully for that feeling, they used them. They used them as support, as individuals in the rear lines of their activities, and bin- Laden was one of them. I met him, I think, three times in Afghanistan.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What did you think of him?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, he was a very pleasant man. Very soft-spoken. He seldom spoke. He seemed to be extremely shy and retiring. I met him again in the kingdom after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. And he was the same. His view then was that people should not forget the problems of Afghanistan, that it was a continuing problem and that people must give aid and support--Of course the kingdom continued to be interested in Afghanistan until today. So there was never any interruption in Saudi Arabia's interest in Afghanistan from the day the Soviets invaded until today.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So were you surprised when he became the leader of this group?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Most definitely. If there was anyone who I would have least expected to become the person that he was become, it was Osama bin Laden that I knew.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there a lot of other leaders -- for example, that haven't been named or looked for that are also important in Al Qaeda, or do you really think he was the key leader and that also--

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well it was a combination of him and Ayman Zawahiri.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I know that you may not have access to intelligence you used to have, but do you believe bin-Laden is dead?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: To me it is unimportant, whether he's dead or not. What is important is that there's this concerted world action against terrorism that has brought all these countries together is this tremendous effort. If he's alive, he's going to be pursued until he's brought to justice. And if he's dead, then fine. Those who succeed him in terrorism, whether they be of Al Qaeda or otherwise, will face the same fate.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what can Saudi Arabia do that can most help in this war against terrorism?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I believe we're doing that already. We're exchanging information. The best thing you can do about any kind of activity like this is to have the best information. And whatever information we have I know that we are sharing with your people.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You saw the evidence that the Bush administration provided about Osama bin Laden's role in this. Were you convinced?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: You know, I was convinced that he was behind it when he made his first television appearance after September 11th. The fact that--even before that. Just look at his literature and his statements before September 11th. From 1996 until September 11, 2001, he's been boasting about the fact that he wants to do harm to people, whether they be Americans or Saudis or whatever. And glorifying the incidents that take place whether they be the two embassies in Nairobi and Dar el Salam or the Cole incident, it is someone who's telling us 'Hey look guys, it's me. I'm not gonna say it, but it is me.' And this has been more than confirmed by subsequent television appearances of bin Laden. Whether the ones with this moving camera in the meeting with the Sheik Harbi or his individual statements and his praise for these people and the fact that his supporters cam out and said that more attacks will take place and so on. These people are telling us, look, we are responsible.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Has it made you introspective about your own intelligence agency? Do you wish you'd gotten him earlier?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Definitely, and we tried. I was sent by the King and the Crown Prince to Afghanistan to ask for his delivery to the kingdom before the embassy bombings, in 1998. And as I told you, we've been working with your government since 1997 jointly to try to forestall Osama bin Laden and any other terrorist activity that might be taking place. Unfortunately, my efforts with Mullah Omar failed. And hence bin Laden continued to be where he was and did what he did.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your royal highness, thank you very much for being with us.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: I'm very pleased to have been with you. Thank you very much."


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