Report on Boston Bombing Intelligence Warning Discounted

Published: May 1, 2013

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The Saudi Embassy in Washington released a statement this morning in response to an article in a British online newspaper about warnings in the case of the April 15, 2013 deadly bombing in Boston. It refuted the claim that Saudi Arabian officials had prior information about the suspects and had warned the U.S. government:

“The Saudi government had no prior information about the Boston bombers. Therefore, it is not true that any information, written or otherwise, was passed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or any other US agency in this regard.”

The official statement went on to say that, despite the Daily Mail’s assertion, it did not have any record of Tamerlan Tsarnaev seeking a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia.

The Daily Mail report was the first claim of foreknowledge of the threat by Saudi officials and communications between Riyadh and Washington on the case. The Daily Mail cited a “highly placed source” for its report. The original report is no longer available online.  The article at that URL has been replaced by an updated story, “Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington now DENIES his nation warned the United States about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2012.

The ForeignPolicy.com morning “Situation Report” noted that Caitlin Hayden of the National Security Council denied having advanced warning in the bombing case, “We and other relevant U.S. Government agencies who deal with this kind of information have no record of any such letter being received.”

Saudi Arabian intelligence officials have worked closely with their American counterparts to thwart terrorist threats for many years. In February, as news reports circulated about Saudi-US cooperation against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula militants based in Yemen, SUSRIS provided perspectives on Washington-Riyadh intelligence coordination, ["Drone Basing Revelation Underscores Strong Defense and Security Bonds"], stating in part:

In 2011 the Saudi Embassy in Washington summarized counterterrorism cooperation between the U.S. and the Kingdom up to that point:

  • Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have established two Joint Task Forces—one to combat terrorists, another to combat terror financing. Experts from both governments work side-by-side, sharing real-time information about terror networks.
  • The Saudi government has increased the size, training and professionalism of its security forces, which are now seasoned by direct experience in Saudi Arabia. Saudi security forces have trained alongside American counterterrorism forces in the U.S.
  • This experience and training has led to the arrest and conviction of hundreds of wanted terrorists and the destruction of most of the known terrorist cells in the Kingdom.
  • The Saudi-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, a counterterrorism working group created following September 11, 2001, continues to help ensure the governments’ efforts and resources are aligned.
  • This year, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud met with U.S. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan while President Obama met with the Assistant Minister of Interior for Security Affairs Prince Mohammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz. These visits are part of ongoing consultations and exchange of views between the two countries.
  • In October 2010, Saudi intelligence provided key information to American officials that foiled an attempted terrorist plot involving bombs heading to the United States that originated in Yemen. The bombs were found and defused before reaching their targets.

To that list is added the successful interdiction by Saudi intelligence assets of an attack against the U.S. launched from Al Qaeda in Yemen last year. In that case an improved version of the infamous “underwear bomb” was to be used against a U.S. bound aircraft, but the attack was thwarted by a Saudi-born double agent.  The earlier effort, the unsuccessful 2009 Christmas Day “underwear bomb” attack by Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is believed to have been aided by AQAP’s Anwar Awlaki, the first target of a Saudi-based American drone strike.

The recent news reports that American remotely operated aircraft are operating against Al Qaeda targets in Yemen should come as no surprise to those who have followed the close collaboration between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the course of the historic relationship. The revelations may be uncomfortable to those who seek to keep these sensitive operations under wraps but the disclosure underscores the importance of the defense and security cooperation measures between Washington and Riyadh.

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