Hillary Clinton Knew Saudis Were Funding Extremists. Surprise!

The leaked Hillary Clinton emails include a memo written on September 17, 2014 that discusses the U.S. response to ISIS. The key line in the memo is point 4 that says that based on "western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region," she knows that "the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia . . . are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region."

But though this revelation is interesting news, it is not really news at all. It is only historical amnesia and the short attention span of the US media that made this leaked email news. Clinton discusses Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s financial support of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the context of a strategic approach to the problem and not as a discovery because it was not a discovery by 2014 at all. Clinton knew because everyone in the Obama administration knew.

Almost coincidentally with Clinton’s email, on October 2, 2014, according to Patrick Cockburn’s The Rise of the Islamic State, Vice President Biden openly stated:

[O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis. . . . All of a sudden everybody’s awakened because this outfit called ISIL which was al-Qaeda in Iraq, which when they were essentially thrown out of Iraq, found open space in territory in eastern Syria, work with Al Nusra who we declared a terrorist group early on and we could not convince our colleagues to stop supplying them.

Like Clinton, Biden talks about Saudi financial support for ISIS and al-Qaeda, not as a shocking, recent discovery about an ally, but as an established premise in an approach to the problem. And that’s because it was not a shocking recent discovery.

Two years earlier, on August 12, 2012, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency Information Intelligence Report made the rounds through the US intelligence community, including the CIA, FBI, State Department and CENTCOM. Section 8.C. of the Defense Intelligence Agency report says "If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor)," and goes on to say that "this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime. . . ." In the preceding section 7.B., the powers that are supporting ISIS are identified as "Western countries, the Gulf States and Turkey".

So two years before the leaked Clinton memo, the Clinton State Department knew that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were supporting ISIS.

In May of 2015, at a meeting at Camp David between President Obama the Princes of the Gulf Cooperation Council that knowledge was reiterated. According to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, at that summit, “Obama and other US officials urged Gulf leaders who are funding the opposition to keep control of their clients, so that a post-Assad regime isn’t controlled by extremists from the Islamic State or al-Qaeda." Again, Obama knew that the Gulf leaders were funding the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

And finally, a full five years before the recently released memo, in December of 2009, Hillary Clinton sent a State Department cable that already clearly stated that "Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban . . . and other terrorist groups." The cable goes on to say that "it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.

So, although the September 2014 memo is important as an additional piece of evidence, it is not news. Clinton’s State Department was in possession of that information two years earlier and she had already discussed it in a State Department cable three years before that. What is interesting is not that the White House and the State Department discovered that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda were being supported and financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but that they knew it from the beginning.

Ted Snider writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.