Saudi Arabia: How does the Intelligence Service Really Work?

Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services an attack against America by Al Qaida operatives from Yemen was avoided.  Yet, how does Saudi Intelligence really work?  Is it all that different from Western intelligence services?

All intelligence services rely on different mechanisms and techniques to gather secret information which allows heads of state access to information that allows them to make appropriate decisions.  Now that is a simplified statement on the work of an intelligence service and why clandestine methods are necessary to acquire secret information.

However, there are wide distinctions in just how intelligence services actually gather and acquire the secrets.  Both services (both meaning East and West) have human sources which provide information. This is known as HUMINT or human intelligence.  It is also of importance to have the ability to acquire information through other means which can further validate that which has been acquired from HUMINT intelligence.  A favored method is through technical means which can include the intercepts of phone (landline and mobile) and data (internet, email) communications.  This is known as SIGINT or signals intelligence.

Saudi intelligence has been widely known for its practice of buying necessary information.  That’s not to say that Saudi intelligence does not spot, assess, develop and ultimately recruit HUMINT sources but that it is a newer practice of Saudi intelligence as compared to Western intelligence practices.  While Saudi intelligence began to change its practices in 2003 after a series of bombings within Saudi Arabia which were targeted at Western compounds, Saudi Intelligence had a rude wake-up call in 2009. Al Qaida mounted a direct attack using a suicide bomber against HRH Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud not only in his own backyard but within the once safe confines of his own home in Jeddah!

As a result, Saudi intelligence has learned that using its vast wealth was not the most effective way to acquire actionable intelligence.  It has since conformed and is now more in align with the practices of Western Intelligence agencies.


8 Responses

  1. slightly different but ivery interesting post! how did the attact of Al Qaida against Prince Mohammed bin Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud end up?

  2. Thanks Carol for this article. The amazing thing is that the saudi intellieginces’ tips to america included the tracking numbers of the packages which is something extraordinaroty. I think that Saudi intelliegnces infiltarted Al qiadah through the rehab proram and I do not like to speculate how becaause it may considered intelligeince secrets. If Yemen gives more access to Saudi intelligences for working in Yemen, I think they will eradicate Al qiadah from there very soon.

    The attempt assassination failed and it only caused minor injuries to prince Mohmmad.

  3. Intesesting post topic.
    One of the reasons I actually feel safe in the Gulf region is it is tighly monitored, for head to foot.
    I think, or at least have a hunch, the UAE is so good is because the influence of the British. The British have a very thourough intelligence service, MI6, which, I think, I am not sure, has a cardon copy in the UAE.
    Off the topic: I read a book from a former CIA agent who claims that there has been cut backs HUMIT? I hope that is not true as I find HUMIT is probably quite effective.

  4. Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  5. One of the reasons I feel so safe in the Gulf is I do feel very protected. In the UAE in particular. I suspect they might have some MI6 influence, since the British were there. I was impressed the other day in Abu Dhabi International Airport, the authorities run everything through a ‘fine tooth and comb’ before one can even go to the gate.

  6. @Medina,

    I think you miss Irina’s point. It was shear luck,or misfortune depending on how you look at it, that the prince was not killed. It was an intelligence failure of the highest order. One cannot be lucky all of the time.

    Like it has been said before, the terrorists only have to be lucky once, the intelligence services must get it right 100% of the time.

    I think one of the reasons why the Saudis are so good at watching these guys is because they are part and parcel of the early development of these people. The establishment played a large role in setting up and financing these people so it is little wonder they’d have good intelligence.

  7. And lets not forget that the saudi Royal family itself is a huge target for Al Qaida so they have quite an interest in having some serious intelligence.

  8. Saudi Intelligence and many of the intelligence services in the GCC have effective methods of operating which may differ from the modus operandi and regulations of some Western intelligence services. It is important to remember that effectiveness and results do not come from what I refer to as “mirror imaging.”

    Thankfully many intelligence organizations will cooperate and share information for the good of each other’s countries and interests. Last but not least, the biggest intelligence coups are those that will likely never be revealed but at the same time, have protected nations and individuals from threat and harm.

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