A US News and World Report cover story culminating a five-month investigation into Saudi financing touches on two topics dear to my heart.
(1) David E. Kaplan and his colleagues report that "Over the past 25 years, the desert kingdom has been the single greatest force in spreading Islamic fundamentalism, while its huge, unregulated charities funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to jihad groups and al Qaeda cells around the world." Those charities "were part of an extraordinary $70 billion Saudi campaign to spread their fundamentalist Wahhabi sect worldwide. The money helped lay the foundation for hundreds of radical mosques, schools, and Islamic centers that have acted as support networks for the jihad movement." I could not have provided such specificity, but in a book I published in 1983, In the Path of God, I argued that Saudi funding, as well as Iranian and Libyan, for militant Islam was the key factor in its spread worldwide.
(2) The investigation also found that "Saudi largess encouraged U.S. officials to look the other way. … Billions of dollars in contracts, grants, and salaries have gone to a broad range of former U.S. officials who had dealt with the Saudis: ambassadors, CIA station chiefs, even cabinet secretaries." This is a subject I took up in "The Scandal of U.S.-Saudi Relations," where I proposed a prohibition of former government officials receiving money from Saudi Arabia for a decade after their public service. The US News and World Report article provides further grist for this mill:
Vast sums from Saudi contracts have bought friends and influence here. In his recent book Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, former CIA operative Bob Baer calls it "Washington's 401(k) Plan." "The Saudis put out the message," Baer wrote. "You play the game—keep your mouth shut about the kingdom—and we'll take care of you." The list of beneficiaries is impressive: former cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, and CIA station chiefs. Washington lobbyists, P.R. firms, and lawyers have also supped at the Saudi table, as have nonprofits from the Kennedy Center to presidential libraries. The high-flying Carlyle Group has made fortunes doing deals with the Saudis. Among Carlyle's top advisers have been former President George H.W. Bush; James Baker, his secretary of state; and Frank Carlucci, a former secretary of defense. If that wasn't enough, there was the staggering amount of Saudi investment in America—as much as $600 billion in U.S. banks and stock markets. That kind of clout may help explain why the House of Saud could be so dismissive of American concerns on terrorism.
The solution is simple, and I repeat my conclusion to "The Scandal of U.S.-Saudi Relations": a "culture of corruption in the Executive Branch renders it quite incapable of dealing with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the farsighted and disinterested manner that U.S. foreign policy requires. That leaves Congress with the responsibility to fix things. The massive pre-emptive bribing of American officials requires urgent attention. Steps need to be taken to ensure that the Saudi revolving-door syndrome documented here be made illegal. That might mean that for ten years or more after having extensive contacts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an official may not receive funds from that source. Only this way can U.S. citizens regain confidence in those of their officials who deal with one of the world's more important states." (December 15, 2003)