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Leaked Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Email suggests Gulf Allies’ Support for Islamic State Terrorist Group

The accusation is one among thousands of messages that were stolen from the personal email of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and released on the Wikileaks website

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FILE- Religious flags, photographs and tributes to 21 victims of a suicide bombing, claimed by the Islamic State group, of a Shiite mosque are seen attached to their graves at a cemetery in Qudeeh, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2015. VOA
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Foreign policy experts and analysts say they are perplexed by a hacked email in which Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears to accuse the Saudi and Qatari governments of providing logistical and financial support to Islamic State extremists.

The accusation is one among thousands of messages that were stolen from the personal email of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and released on the Wikileaks website.

The lengthy message is dated Aug. 17, 2014, and comes from the email address “hrod17@clintonemail.com.” It begins with a note saying “Sources include Western intelligence, US intelligence and sources in the region” and comprises a broad policy discussion of how to deal with Middle East terrorism.

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It says in part, “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 acronym used by the U.S. government for Islamic State.

Clinton’s presidential campaign did not respond to several attempts and requests by VOA to verify the authenticity of the emails released by WikiLeaks.

More specificity

While Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies, or individuals close to their governments, have long been suspected of financing extremist groups in the region, this accusation is more specific than anything uttered publicly by the Obama administration. It also is bewildering to terrorism experts, however, including some in the U.S. intelligence community, who say they never have seen evidence of direct Saudi or Qatari support for IS.

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“I have myself [during my term] never seen intelligence from the United States government that says the Saudi government, the government, is giving any help of any kind, any material assistance, any financial assistance, to a terrorist group,” former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told VOA on Wednesday.

Ford added, “However, there is a lot of information about Saudi private individuals, including charities, and particular business people, as well as others in the Gulf, private citizens, who have provided help.”

He said that he was not convinced the leaked emails were “genuine,” and that he could not “speculate” on the motivation behind the leak.

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry answers a question during a news conference with then-Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al Attiya at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Sept. 8, 2013. VOA
FILE – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry answers a question during a news conference with then-Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al Attiya at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, Sept. 8, 2013. VOA

Washington has viewed the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar as strong partners in the Gulf area for regional security and counterterrorism efforts, and it has argued that terrorist financing comes from wealthy individuals, rather than governments.

“I think we’ve seen over the past 10 years a huge shift in the Saudis’ approach to terrorist financing. And I really do regard them as our number one partner in the Gulf in our efforts against terrorist financing,” Daniel Glaser, assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing, said last Thursday in a webcast from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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In a statement to VOA on Wednesday, the Saudi Embassy said “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not comment on leaked documents. However, any claims that the Saudi government funds Daesh [IS] are preposterous and simply defy logic.”

The statement used an alternative name for Islamic State terrorist group.

According to the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism, issued this June, both the Saudi and Qatari governments are members of a regional financial action task force that combats terrorist financing.

‘Appropriate’ to review

A former senior congressional staff member, though, who wished not to be named, argued that a policy review on the Gulf allies would be “appropriate.”

One of the tools that could be used to accomplish this is that Congress could authorize the president through legislation to designate a country as a “Jurisdiction of Terrorism Financing Concern.” That designation triggers a menu of penalties and provides the president with additional leverage to pressure foreign governments that are failing to shut down terrorist financiers and facilitators.

“The Saudis and Qataris know very well the suspicion of their intentions and their actions exists in the U.S.,” Middle East Institute scholar Daniel Serwer told VOA, adding that Washington has yet to “reach any definitive conclusion” about how to stabilize the situation and reduce the level of violence, given a policy that “has not been stupendously successful” in the Middle East.

While expressing concerns about Wikileaks, the State Department declined to comment on the veracity of the leaked documents.

“What I can tell you is that Qatar and Saudi Arabia are members of the counter-ISIL coalition and have been contributing members of that coalition pretty much since its founding,” said spokesman John Kirby in a recent briefing.

Kirby added, “We rely a great deal on their efforts to help us counter terrorism in the region,” particularly the Islamic State militants.

FILE - Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students, faculty and staff at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 2, 2014. VOA
FILE – Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students, faculty and staff at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 2, 2014. VOA

In October 2014, Vice President Joe Biden once apologized to regional allies after bluntly expressing concerns about their role in the rise of the Islamic State militant group in a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

“The Saudis, the Emirates, et cetera,” said Biden, “what were they doing? They were so determined to take down [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad, and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? 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, [they] were al-Nusra, and al-Qaida, and the extremist elements of jihadis who were coming from other parts of the world.”

These policies ended up helping militants linked to al-Qaida and ultimately IS, according to Biden.

Bilateral tension

Glaser’s praise for Saudi Arabia as the number one U.S. partner in combating terrorist financing came at a time of serious strain between Washington and Riyadh over other issues.

The U.S. is reviewing its support for the monarchy after the Saudi bombing of civilians at a funeral in Yemen.

Moreover, the U.S. Congress has voted to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (VOA)

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Facebook Chief Operating Officer Supports Releasing Russia-linked Advertisements

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Facebook chief
Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, delivers a speech during the visit of a start-up companies gathering at Paris' Station F, in Paris. voa

Washington, October 12: Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Thursday she “absolutely” supports the public release of all advertisements produced by a Russia-linked organization during the 2016 presidential election.

Sandberg said the company is “working on transparency” following the revelation last month that a group with alleged ties to the Russian government ran $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook promoting “divisive” causes like Black Lives Matter.

“Things happened on our platform that shouldn’t have happened,” she said during the interview with Axios’s Mike Allen.

Later Thursday, Facebook Chief Operating Officer is set to meet with Congressional investigators who are looking into what role the advertisements which began running in 2015 and continued through this year may have played in the 2016 presidential election.

The $100,000 worth of ads represent a very small fraction of the total $2.3 billion spent by, and on behalf of, President Donald Trump and losing-candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaigns during the election.

Multiple congressional investigations have been launched, seeking to determine what effect alleged Russian meddling may have played in the election.

In addition, Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is conducting a criminal probe, including whether President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian operatives during the election season. Trump has denied working with the Russians.

Facebook had previously agreed to disclose the thousands of Facebook ads to congress. Sandberg said Thursday she thinks “it’s important that [the investigators] get the whole picture and explain that to the American people.”

In response to the Russian ad buys, Facebook Chief Operating Officer said that company is hiring 4,000 new employees to oversee ads and content. She said the company is also using “machine learning and automation” to target fake accounts that spread fake news.

She defined fake news as “things that are false hoaxes” and said Facebook is working to stamp out the bad information by teaming up with third-party fact checkers and warning users before they share news deemed fake by Facebook.

She said it is important to be cautious when going after fake news because “a lot of what we allow on Facebook is people expressing themselves” and “when you cut off speech for one person, you cut off speech for all people.”

“We don’t check the information posted on Facebook before people post it, and I don’t think people should want us to,” she said.

Hundreds of fake accounts were used to distribute the Russia-linked advertisements, Sandberg said. But had those ads been posted by legitimate users, “we would have let them run,” she said.(VOA)