Telegraph News Saddam, Osama and me
As indicated in another blog http://kmwakak8.blogspot.com; Prince Turki al-Faisal was attending the Jan 31, 2006 State of the Union Address, and the camera panned to him during the speach.
As the controversy over the Saudi government's alleged involvement with Osama bin Laden and 9/11 deepens, Prince Turki al-Faisal grants an exclusive interview to Con Coughlin to defend his reputation and that of his country
Running Saudi Arabia's intelligence service is not a job for the faint-hearted. During the 24 years that Prince Turki al-Faisal ran the organisation he had intimate dealings with the world's two most notorious outlaws, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
"The most glaring similarity between them is that they do not mind shedding innocent blood. In both cases, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden made it an aim of theirs to shed the blood of the innocent."
Prince Turki al-Faisal
Prince Turki, 57, a direct descendant of King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the Saudi kingdom, is speaking surrounded by the splendour of the Saudi Arabian embassy in London where he has recently taken up residence as ambassador. Given the clandestine nature of his previous profession, the urbane, Cambridge-educated prince is normally reticent about speaking in public.
However the continuing controversy concerning the Saudi government's alleged involvement with bin Laden and the September 11 suicide attacks has prompted him to break cover to defend both the reputation of his country and himself.
The Saudi ambassador is named in a £600 billion law suit that has been launched by the families of those killed in the September 11 attacks against a number of Saudi princes, banks and charities that are alleged to have helped fund the terrorists responsible for the attack.
And the Saudi government, in the form of Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister and Prince Turki's brother, has expressed its extreme displeasure at the American government's decision to withhold 28 pages of a congressional report that has cast suspicion on the kingdom's role in the attacks.
Yesterday the New York Times reported that the classified section says that two Saudi citizens who had indirect links with some of the hijackers were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.
Speaking in his first British newspaper interview since taking up residence in London last January, Prince Turki is diplomatic about the charges that have been levelled against him personally. "When you work in the intelligence business for nearly 30 years you expect to get a lot of flak, especially when you are undertaking intelligence operations," he told The Telegraph.
"I am not saying that I am thick-skinned about it or affected by it; of course I am. But I am here to do a job. Hopefully I will succeed in doing that job regardless of such attention."
But Prince Turki is more forthright when tackled about Washington's decision to classify sections of the congressional report into September 11 that relate to Saudi Arabia. "All of us are very angry," he declares.
"We are accused of something and they will not tell what we are accused of. We're asked to do things and we don't know what we are supposed to do. And those who have seen those 28 pages have come out and issued statements about Saudi Arabia that are vicious and, from our point of view, completely untrue," he says, emphasising his profound sense of indignation by re-arranging his gold-braided Arab head-dress.
One of the main reasons, of course, that Saudi Arabia's conduct is under such intense scrutiny is that bin Laden was in many respects a creation of the Saudi intelligence community when the Saudis were actively supporting Islamic fighters during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. As the head of Saudi intelligence during that period, Prince Turki had several meetings with bin Laden, although he firmly rejects any suggestion that he has had dealings with the al-Qa'eda leader since he founded the terror group in the early 1990s.
"At that time [during the 1980s] I would describe him as gentle and self-effacing, and hardly talking to anyone. Very shy," says Prince Turki. "There has been a remarkable transformation. Now he is in a self-deluding, maniacal stage where he believes that he is the annointed of God and everybody else is in league with the devil."
The prince also insists that it was wrong to categorise al-Qa'eda as a predominantly Saudi organisation. "al-Qa'eda did not come out of Saudi Arabia, it came out of Afghanistan," he says. "The fact that bin Laden is the leader of al-Qa'eda does not mean to say that it is a Saudi organisation or group."
While Prince Turki's critics concentrate their energies on his relations with bin Laden and al-Qa'eda, relatively little attention is paid to his dealings with Saddam Hussein - even though his previous job required him to play a central role in monitoring the former Iraqi dictator's weapons of mass destruction programme.
As a consequence of Saddam's ill-fated invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Prince Turki spent most of the ensuing decade working closely with British and American intelligence officials trying to find out whether Saddam continued to pose a threat to the region.
Although Prince Turki stepped down as Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief on September 1, 2001, just 10 days before the World Trade Center attacks, he remains deeply sceptical about Saddam's alleged links with both weapons of mass destruction and bin Laden's al-Qa'eda network.
"Having worked closely with the British and American intelligence services on both these issues, we had not by then found any such weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or links between al-Qa'eda and Iraq," he says. "We definitely received lots of information on both these issues and, knowing how Saddam cheated on the efforts of the UN inspectors since 1991 it was not beyond the imagination to think that he was seeking these weapons of mass destruction. But there was never ever any proof."
Prince Turki reassumes his diplomatic persona when I inquire whether the Saudi Arabian intelligence assessment of the threat posed by Saddam was relayed to his British and American counterparts. After all, these were the main justifications given for the war to remove Saddam. "We shared our information with all our friends, not just the British and Americans," he says.
As for the war itself, he refuses to be drawn on whether or not it was justified, stating simply that he is happy that the Iraqi people are now masters of their own destiny.
And what of Saddam himself? Would the Saudis be prepared to offer him refuge, just as they did with Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator. Prince Turki, in a reference to Amin's recent ill health, quips: "If Saddam is going to come in a coma, then maybe we will accept him."
5 December 2002: Terror-linked Saudi prince named envoy to Britain
1 December 2002: New Saudi ambassador summonsed over Sept 11
19 October 2002: New Saudi envoy to London has bin Laden links
19 September 2002: Saudi Arabia recalls renegade ambassador