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Money Can't Buy Love, Just Time

by Joe Trento


The thing about the Saudis is that they are not subtle. The Royal Family is beginning to figure out they don't have many friends except for K Street lobbyists and the folks over at the White House. Even countries flooded with their petro-dollars are turning on them.


A few weeks ago, the Saudis arranged for a message to go out in a quasi-official London press briefing under the Chatham House Rule. (For British journalists confronted by the Official Secrets Act, the rule can mean that if a reporter goes beyond what he has agreed to report, the government can toss him in prison. How great would that be if you were John Ashcroft?) The prospect of facing Iran, an old Saudi enemy, armed with nuclear weapons is causing members of the Saudi Royal family to suggest during not-for-attribution sessions that the Kingdom may go nuclear. When two reporters from the Guardian wrote a story exposing these plans, there was huge play in the European and Middle Eastern media.


The irony of a kingdom that has paid off the most extreme elements of Islam for several generations raises serious questions about why they would pull the nuclear card out of the deck now. A veteran CIA regional expert had a disturbing view of why the Saudis were threatening to go nuclear: "It has not been lost on the Family that the United States seems to take no action against countries who actually have or are about to get nuclear weapons. Looking down the road, the Saudis fear that if there are more terrorist attacks tied to Saudi financial backing and a less sympathetic administration in power here, they might face what happened to Saddam. Other than Kuwait and a few other oil states, the Saudis are not beloved in the region."


Recent shootouts across Saudi Arabia make it very clear that the Saudis can't control their own borders or the discontent from within. Al-Qaeda has thoroughly penetrated not only the Saudi financial establishment but its military and intelligence services too. Knowing the lack of security in the Kingdom, our own CIA must be considering the Saudis' ability to command and control nuclear weapons. Can the government keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of Islamic extremists when the Royal family is sent packing?

We may be facing a reprise of what happened in Pakistan. The United States looked the other way when Saudi Arabia financed Pakistan's nuclear program. Pakistan, our so-called partner in the War on Terrorism, is hardly the portrait of stability. The CIA's experts have predicted that in the next five years, there is better than a 50-50 chance that our friendly military government in Pakistan won't exist. The CIA already warned the Bush Administration last year that al-Qaeda sympathizers "at the highest level of the ISI [Pakistan's intelligence agency] and inside Pakistani military units" are a threat to the safety and control of that nation's nuclear arsenal. And the potential command and control problems in Pakistan predated the al-Qaeda fear. The problem was so worrisome that right after Pakistan tested its first nuclear device, the Clinton administration ordered the Defense Department to draw up contingency plans for a United States mission to secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. Sources at the Pentagon tell NSNS that these scenarios have been updated in recent years.


The Iranians divided between less-educated, rural conservatives who support the most conservative Mullahs (and thus the armed forces and intelligence apparatus) and younger, more-educated, dissatisfied urbanites can come together on one issue: They distrust the United States and Saudi Arabia.


Having lost a million of their citizens in a proxy war with Iraq that was concocted and funded by the late Saudi Arabian Sheik Kamal Adham and Vice President George H. W. Bush, such distrust should not be a shock. Convinced that the United States and the Saudis would someday attack Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Council has been working toward nuclear weapons with the Russians, their good friends in Pakistan's intelligence service, and the military. That Pakistan, which had the bulk of its own nuclear program paid for by Saudi Arabia, is now helping Iran sends a clear message that Saudi Arabia can't even buy loyalty or love with tens of billions.


The Islamic Republic of Iran, with the help of the Russians, is on the verge of going nuclear. The Bush administration only seems to make war on countries without weapons of mass destruction or any real prospect of procuring them. The Bush dream team of "grown-ups" seems clueless on what to do about the looming reality of Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia all having the bomb and very little internal security to go with.


After two years of George Bush's policy of preemptive action, the United States has managed to unite the most extreme elements of Islam and scare Saudi Arabia into going nuclear. Meanwhile, the one country that was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction is serving as a killing field for American soldiers and a gathering place for wanna-be terrorists. It may be time for the American people to ask George W. Bush, "How's that policy of preemption working out for you?"


NOTE: This is a reprint of a column written and originally posted on 09-29-03. 



Copyright 2003-2006 Public Education Center, Inc. All rights reserved.  This essay is reprinted herein with the author's permission.


Joe Trento has spent more than 35 years as an investigative journalist, working with both print and broadcast outlets and writing extensively on national security issues. Before joining the National Security News Service in 1991, Trento worked for CNN's  Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and prominent journalist Jack Anderson. Trento has received six Pulitzer nominations and is the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Secret History of the CIA. He regularly publishes a blog at


Posted  May 09, 2006

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