Military Intelligence

CIA and Saudis cooperate on Chinese missile purchase

CIA and Saudis cooperate on Chinese missile purchase

© Collage: Voice of Russia

Undoubtedly, the role of the Saudi Arabia and its influence on the Middle East has long been under the discussion. Now with Iran and the West trying to reach an agreement on the nuclear matter, the monarchy is trying to amend the situation to their favor, with the Washington’s support, according to recent reports.

It is a well-known fact that back in 2007 Saudi Arabia has bought ballistic missiles from China. This information became available through an intelligence source, which stated that this decision was approved by Washington only after CIA experts verified that those missiles were not made for carrying the nuclear warheads.

Back in 1988 Saudis did acquire from China other outdated version of the missiles, which were DF-3s. Experts say that the new DF-21 model is a replacement for an old one though they still argue on the matter of how much they differ.

However, newer missiles, CSS-5s have a shorter range but greater accuracy. According to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies that makes them more useful against “high-value targets in Tehran, like presidential palaces or supreme-leader palaces.”.

The Chinese old DF-3s had poor accuracy and that was proved during the first Gulf War. Later on, in his memoir Saudi Prince Khaled bin Sultan, then-commander of the Riyadh’s Air Defense Forces wrote, “the coalition’s air campaign being waged against Iraq was sufficient retaliation.”

That means that as soon as the war was over, the Saudis started looking for something better than this. And they found it in China. Saudis even figured out a way of obtaining the new missiles through a couple of secretive meetings in Virginia over dinners in 2007. This information was later given by a source to Newsweek. The plan was so sensitive that very few people inside the CIA were informed. Among them were Associate Deputy Director Michael Morrell, John Kringen, head of the agency’s intelligence directorate; and the CIA’s Riyadh station chief, who is not identified, as he remains undercover. Two personnel members traveled to Saudi Arabia, checked the missiles on the subject that they were not carrying nuclear warheads, and came home, reports the same source.

Nobody from the Washington or the CIA officials agreed to comment on any part of this information. Neither did respond the Chinese or Saudi embassies.

Despite all that, the information that Saudis updated their missiles is not new. Former CIA analyst Jonathan Scherck, told in Patriot Lost, that China began supplying a “turnkey nuclear ballistic missile system” to Saudis with George W. Bush administration approval, “no later than December 2003.”

Meanwhile, Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA and White House National Security Council expert comments with these two words on Schreck’s statement “nonsense” and “disinformation”.

But Jeffrey Lewis seems not to agree with that completely, he states, “one can raise a number of questions about the logic in Scherck’s book – particularly when he starts imagining Pakistani warheads on those Chinese missiles or accusing Bush administration officials of various crimes but when Scherck sticks to the details about monitoring foreign missile shipments and deployments, he’s believable.”

It is important to note that Scherck got fired back in 2008, he self published a book and later was prohibited to talk about any of these matters anymore. Now he is working as a night manager in a hotel in California.

At the same time, Saudis changed their policy regarding the missiles trading. They started talking more openly about this as if wanting the press to know about the details on that operation. This is what Lewis writes about that: “Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia has started talking a lot about its Strategic Missile Force. And, in the course of doing so, Riyadh seems to be hinting that it has bought at least two new types of ballistic missiles.”

“For example,” Lewis writes, “in 2010, Khaled – by then deputy defense minister – cut the ribbon on a new headquarters building in Riyadh for the Strategic Missile Force. They released a number of images of the building, both inside and out. Moreover, since about 2007, the Saudi press has covered graduation ceremonies from the Strategic Missile Force school in Wadi ad-Dawasir – especially if the commencement speaker is a person of importance.

“The process of recruiting Saudis has also resulted in fair amount of information appearing in print, right down to the pay schedule,” he comments. “For a while, the Strategic Missile Force even had a website, although it is no longer active.”

The most interesting photo that came out, showed “Khaled’s replacement – the recently removed deputy minister of defense Prince Fahd – visiting the Strategic Missile Force headquarters in Riyadh,” Lewis writes. Instead of gifting him with the usual “solid-gold falcon in a glass case… the stuff dreams are made of.”

“The missile on the far left is, obviously, a DF-3 of the sort that Saudi Arabia purchased from China in the late 1980s,” Lewis writes. “But the other two? They could any one of Chinese or Pakistani missiles.

That gives a lot to think about, where the missiles came from and whether they could or could not carry the nuclear warheads. One thing is clear, Saudi Arabia and Washington worked in close cooperation together on many issues. And who knows, on what else?

Voice of Russia, Newsweek



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