Home/The State of the Union/Shame: We Stood By While Saudis Helped Criminals Flee U.S.

Shame: We Stood By While Saudis Helped Criminals Flee U.S.

Sen. Wyden on explosive report: "if these are our friends, who needs enemies?"

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman walks past an honor guard as he arrives to attend a meeting of defense ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, July 20, 2016. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Thanks to a law quietly passed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and signed by President Trump in December, we now know that the Saudi government has helped an untold number of its citizens committing crimes here in the U.S. flee back to the Kingdom before facing justice.

This includes Saudis accused of assault, rape and manslaughter, including the 2013 hit-and-run of a 15-year-old girl. It is done, press reports indicate, right under the noses of the FBI, Homeland Security, and “other agencies,” who have not intervened, ostensively because of the special security relationship between the two countries.

In a stunning report yesterday, Shane Dixon Kavanaugh of the Oregonian/OregonLive said his paper obtained a declassified memo under the new directive. In it, the FBI reveals what it knows about Saudi criminals fleeing ahead of court dates, often in the middle of the night, and even after their passports were surrendered to judges. According to Dixon Kavanaugh:

The surreptitious action is done, in part, to spare the wealthy Persian Gulf kingdom embarrassment, the FBI said. Intelligence officials believe the flights from justice will continue without intervention by the American authorities.

Saudi officials “are unlikely to alter this practice in the near term unless the US Government directly addresses this issue with (Saudi Arabia) and ties US cooperation on (Saudi) priorities to ceasing this activity,” according to the FBI.

Wyden, who initiated the bill that would declassify FBI records about these myriad questions, was stunned when the paper first reported the news on Friday.

“I am shocked and appalled at what this memo describes,” he tweeted. “The Trump administration is out of excuses for sitting on its hands while the Saudi government helps these fugitives evade justice.”

But as the report relates, these cases go back some 30 years and several presidential administrations. The newspaper has been working on this story since April when it reported several recent cases in Oregon alone:

They include two accused rapists, a pair of suspected hit-and-run drivers and one man with child porn on his computer.

The five cases share many similarities:

– All were young men studying at a public college or university in Oregon with assistance from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the time of their arrest.

– In four of the cases, the Saudi government stepped in to help, posting large sums of money for bail and possibly underwriting legal fees.

– Three surrendered their passports.

– All disappeared while facing charges or jail time.

But we know that the problem goes way beyond Oregon and all the way to the top. According to a ProPublica report in April by Dixon Kavanaugh, Sebastian Rotella, and Tim Golden, the U.S. government has long put its security relationship ahead of its human rights and justice concerns.

“It’s not that the issue of Saudi fugitives from the U.S. wasn’t important,” said retired FBI agent Jeffrey Danik, who served as the agency’s assistant legal attache in Riyadh from 2010 to 2012. “It’s that the security relationship was so much more important. On counterterrorism, on protecting the U.S. and its partners, on opposing Iran, the Saudis were invaluable allies.”

While the federal officials interviewed by the reporters seemed to deflect the problem (“it never came to my desk,” “there was little communication from local agencies”) it becomes clear that there was no incentive to make it an issue. And because of the heavy redactions in the memo, and what we are going to assume is scattershot reporting on this across the board, it is difficult to get a handle on how widespread this is. 

Within the federal government, information about the Saudi cases has been scattered across several agencies, none of which have had much incentive to address the problem. FBI and CIA officials in Saudi Arabia have concentrated on preserving Saudi cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism; matters that might jeopardize that goal have often been avoided, officials said.

Obviously this raises even more questions about our foreign military trainees, 21 of which are being expelled from the U.S. this week because extremist material and child porn were found on their computers and/or personal devices (apparently not enough to prosecute). According to federal officials the men were not tied to the Saudi trainee at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola who killed three airmen and injured eight others, while his compatriots captured it on video on Dec. 6.

Wyden and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, have introduced additional legislation that would get to the bottom of how fugitives are allowed to slip through the system. They appear to be the only members of Congress who give a damn.

“The Saudis are supposed to be our allies,” Wyden told The Oregonian. “If these are our friends, who needs enemies?” 

 

about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, executive editor, has been writing for TAC since 2007, focusing on national security, foreign policy, civil liberties and domestic politics. She served for 15 years as a Washington bureau reporter for FoxNews.com, and at WTOP News in Washington from 2013-2017 as a writer, digital editor and social media strategist. She has also worked as a beat reporter at Bridge News financial wire (now part of Reuters) and Homeland Security Today, and as a regular contributor at Antiwar.com. A native Nutmegger, she got her start in Connecticut newspapers, but now resides with her family in Arlington, Va.

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