Saudis Engage in Chilling Information War That Spans to U.S.

At the root of the crackdown on Saudi dissent that ultimately cost the life of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a fierce battle for control of information and public narrative about the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its enemies.

This sometimes-lethal battle for information supremacy is to a large degree playing out inside the United States, via U.S. media coverage, notes Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. And it involves cyber technologies being developed by Israel and the U.A.E. among others, that while useful in combating violent extremism, also were deployed aggressively against Saudi citizens.

Ignatius writes:

“For the Saudis, as for Russian hackers in their assault on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the information space became a zone of warfare. The weapons of defense and offense became interchangeable. As one European intelligence official told me ruefully: ‘The tools you need to combat terrorism are the same ones you need to suppress dissent.’ The Saudis pushed hard on this double throttle.”

Added Ignatius, “What most observers, including me, didn’t understand was how quickly those tools could be adapted to combat dissident Saudi voices such as Khashoggi’s.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the dangers of this two-sided cyber sword: “Every new surveillance tool has a potential for abuse. That’s why in this country, we have a robust system of law and even a special court to oversee how they are used. In places with fewer legal protections for individuals and no real oversight from other parts of government, these tools are easily abused, and that should concern us all.”

We now know that Saudi Arabia—in addition to Russia and China— cultivated human assets in the U.S. to support their information campaigns.

While the Saudis do not appear to have deliberately attacked U.S. commercial interests thus far, unlike China, Russia and Iran, their crackdown on free speech, aggressive cyber hacking and surveillance, and murder of a U.S.-based journalist are indeed chilling. 

Read the full story at The Washington Post