In July 2014, I launched 28Pages.org to serve as an information and activism hub for the movement to bring about the release of 28 classified pages describing links between the government of Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers. Continue reading
By Brian P. McGlinchey
As reported earlier, the Saudi government’s enormous lobbying force has grown to include 14 firms as it works to pressure lawmakers into revising a new law that enables victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in aiding the hijackers. Yesterday, Daily Caller put a spotlight on one front in that far-reaching Saudi campaign: a series of op-ed pieces penned by military and national security veterans that use identical sentences to make their points. Continue reading
With governors as new political targets, Saudi Arabia has again expanded its already formidable array of lobbying firms. Following a September surge that brought the tally to 10, an October expansion now brings the total to 14.
The influence spending spree has spanned nearly a year and has coincided with three major developments:
- Saudi Arabia’s war and blockade on Yemen, which has taken a terrible humanitarian toll.
- A campaign that prompted the July release of 28 pages detailing a variety of Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers and their associates.
- The September passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which cleared the path for 9/11 family members and other victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia.
The measure passed both houses of Congress by unanimous voice votes; President Obama vetoed it and then endured the first override of his tenure. The fight is far from over; Saudi Arabia is now waging a fierce, multi-pronged attack on the measure with an eye on reversing it during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.
Coming Soon: Governors Against JASTA
A document filed with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) indicates one of the lobbying firms, Flywheel Government Solutions, will, for an initial fee of $25,000:
- “Conduct outreach to Governors and Lieutenant Governors from across the United States, educating them on the impacts and potential risks/threats that JASTA poses on their states’ business and economic interests, members of the military and national security”
- “Engage and align selected Governors and Lieutenant Governors to take grasstops action, such as writing letters to their respective state’s congressional delegation, to appeal to Congress to repeal JASTA.”
- “Attempt to enlist Governors and Lieutenant Governors to write opinion pieces in newspapers or other publications or to make public statements opposing Congress’ passage of JASTA.”
What the Saudi lobbying effort boasts in budget, it lacks in facts. For example, though JASTA only enables lawsuits against foreign governments, and merely modifies an existing allowance for suits against terror sponsors, the kingdom and its many domestic sympathizers routinely claim that it is an unprecedented departure from the principle of sovereign immunity and will somehow expose individual U.S. military service members to litigation in foreign courts.
As Flywheel gets to work in immersing state executives in the kingdom’s false arguments and urging them to publicly oppose JASTA, other voices have already started a stream of misleading opinion pieces and editorials. Two representative samples:
- Former CIA agent Chet Nagle: “JASTA abrogates the principle of sovereign immunity….JASTA means that American diplomats and soldiers will be sued in Iraq and other foreign courts, crippling our ability to…defend our national security.”
- Defense Intelligence Agency veteran Paul Crespo: “JASTA would gut the 500-year-old principle of sovereign immunity across the board…without sovereign immunity, countries…could prosecute our soldiers.”
Once the election is over, expect the anti-JASTA drumbeat to grow ever louder; it will be up to the same coalition that made JASTA the law to now guard it against Saudi counterattack—and in so doing, preserve for 9/11 victims the chance to present their case in court.
False Arguments Aside, White House Knows JASTA is Only a Threat to U.S. Government Hypocrisy in War on Terror
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Following a meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the two explored how to “fix” a recently-passed law that cleared the way for 9/11 survivors and family members to sue the kingdom for its alleged support of the hijackers.
Kerry and al-Jubeir both claimed JASTA puts at risk the entire concept of sovereign immunity, which limits the rights of individual people to pursue justice for the crimes of governments. “If this issue takes hold, we will have chaos in the international order, and this is something that no country in the world wants,” said al-Jubeir.
Kerry also repeated previous Obama administration claims that JASTA threatens those serving in the U.S. military. “We discussed ways to try to fix this in a way that respects and honors the needs and rights of victims of 9/11 but at the same time does not expose American troops and American partners and American individuals who may be involved in another country to the potential of a lawsuit for those activities,” said Kerry.
“What happened yesterday is outrageous,” said 9/11 widow Terry Strada in a statement issued yesterday. “The fact that Secretary Kerry would lead off his public remarks not by talking about ISIS or Iraq, but instead by assuring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that he would work to destroy the 9/11 bill, speaks volumes and is very painful for all September 11th families,” continued Strada, who helped lead the effort to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
The Obama administration and Saudi monarchy want us to believe two things:
- JASTA represents a major departure from the previous U.S. approach to sovereign immunity.
- U.S. military service members will face suits in foreign courts as other nations reciprocate with similar adjustments to their own laws.
Bolstered by a multi-million dollar effort coordinated among Saudi Arabia’s armada of lobbying and public relations firms, these arguments are sadly working wonders on credulous pundits and editorial boards—but they’re flatly dishonest.
First, JASTA represents a very narrow adjustment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)—one that only addresses state sponsorship of terrorism. What’s more, prior to JASTA, the FSIA already provided an exception that allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign state sponsors of terror. That exception was enacted in 1996 without sparking the disproportionate global retaliation that Kerry says will result from JASTA.
Further, JASTA only allows plaintiffs to sue foreign governments—not individual officials or military service members—and only for acts of terrorism, specifically excluding acts of war. How does Kerry propose “fixing” a law that already protects U.S. servicemen and women from reciprocity?
What’s Really at Stake
The principal effect of JASTA is to now allow plaintiffs to sue foreign governments:
- For actions those governments take abroad in aiding terrorism on U.S. soil. Before JASTA, a government that handed a briefcase full of cash to a terrorist in New York could be sued, but if that same act happened in Montreal, it enjoyed immunity.
- That are not on the State Department’s list of official state sponsors of terror. The Secretary of State unilaterally decides who makes the list; today, it’s Iran, Sudan and Syria. [Nov 3 correction: Please note that, even before JASTA, State designation as a sponsor of terror was not a prerequisite for suits relating to injuries that occur on U.S. soil.]
It’s that second attribute that represents JASTA’s real threat—not to American soldiers, marines and airmen, but to an abused executive branch monopoly on declaring which countries are sponsoring terrorism. Rather than providing an honest catalogue of real-world villainy, the American government uses the terror list as a blunt force weapon to economically and diplomatically isolate selected countries that defy it.
Cuba was on the list until the Obama administration decided to abandon decades of counterproductive isolation of the country; one day it’s a menacing fomenter of terror, the next it’s not. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is absent from the list, despite 28 pages of damning details illustrating a variety of Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration in a leaked 2014 email that the kingdom was “providing clandestine financial and logistical support to ISIL.”
An exchange at a July House judiciary committee hearing on JASTA between State Department legal advisor Brian Egan and Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen summed up the situation nicely.
Egan: Under the existing terrorism exception, cases are allowed against countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism…The existing exception was crafted between Congress and the executive branch to allow for a decision and evidence to be looked at by the executive branch as to whether the relevant government has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. We think that’s an important part of the process and one that would change with this law.
Rep. Cohen: Mr. Egan, Saudi Arabia is not on the list, right?
Egan: That’s correct, sir.
Rep. Cohen: And if we change this law and they’re subject to liability, might we find that they should have been?
In a forgivable breach of decorum, 9/11 widows and widowers in attendance applauded.
A 2014 email released by Wikileaks, in which Hillary Clinton asserted that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were directly aiding ISIS and other extremist groups, may help stave off a Saudi lobbying effort aimed at reversing a newly-enacted law giving 9/11 families the power to sue the kingdom.
The email, sent to Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta, lays out an assessment of the situation in Syria and Iraq and includes various policy prescriptions.
One of them leveled a pointed indictment at Saudi Arabia: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (ISIL is an abbreviation for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—an alternative reference for ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.)
As Daily Caller’s Alex Pfeiffer noted in breaking the story, the email’s format matches previously revealed intelligence reports prepared for Clinton by her confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Though it may have been drafted by Blumenthal, Clinton’s sharing of the material without attribution seemingly signals her embrace of its contents, including the damning assertion about Saudi Arabia.
This isn’t the first time Wikileaks has revealed a Clinton assertion of ties between Saudi Arabia and terrorism. In a 2009 cable, then-Secretary of State Clinton said “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The newly-released email is particularly significant because, rather than vaguely implicating unidentified “donors” that may or may not include individual members of the royal family acting independently, it specifically points a finger of guilt at the Saudi government itself.
The email validates former Senator Bob Graham’s previous assertions that, by classifying Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS.
“I believe that the failure to shine a full light on Saudi actions and particularly its involvement in 9/11 has contributed to the Saudi ability to continue to engage in actions that are damaging to the US—and in particular their support for ISIS,” Graham told Patrick Cockburn in a 2014 interview.
Strengthening the Case for JASTA
The Clinton email leak comes just a few weeks after the enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in a way that enables 9/11 family members and victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged financial and logistical support of the hijackers.
President Obama vetoed the bill and, though his veto was overwhelmingly overridden, JASTA supporters are bracing for a determined Saudi counterattack in the lame duck session of Congress. That counterattack will likely take the form of a new alteration of FSIA to reverse some or all of JASTA’s effect.
Though JASTA explicitly limits its scope to terrorism and only applies to governments, opponents—under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. intelligence community—are claiming JASTA will leave individual U.S. military service members vulnerable to lawsuits filed abroad if foreign governments modify their own sovereign immunity laws in reciprocation.
In a statement issued after Obama’s veto, attorneys for 9/11 families said “a reciprocal statute could not permit claims against individual U.S. officials, employees or military personnel, as JASTA prohibits such actions…the inescapable conclusion is that the president’s rationale for opposing JASTA has nothing to do with JASTA itself.”
What remains to be seen: Whether the revelation of Clinton’s assertion that Saudi Arabia was funding ISIS as late as 2014 will strengthen legislators’ resistance to pressure from a foreign government…and from an intelligence community that often appears to be more closely aligned with an oppressive Middle Eastern monarchy than with its own citizens.