Saudi intelligence sharing ‘has saved American lives,’ former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend tells Arab News

File Photo showing former US Homeland Security Adviser to President Georges W Bush, Frances Townsend speaking at Concordia University. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2018
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Saudi intelligence sharing ‘has saved American lives,’ former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend tells Arab News

WASHINGTON: The strength of the US counterterrorism relationship with Saudi Arabia “rivals” that with its historic ally the UK — although this has yet to register with the American public, a former homeland security adviser told Arab News.

Information provided by the Kingdom has prevented several terror attacks and helped save American lives, said Frances Townsend, who worked in the administration of former US President George W. Bush.

Saudi Arabia has stood “shoulder to shoulder” with the Americans in combating terrorism, Townsend said.

“This relationship has developed in terms of counterterrorism — in particular, information sharing and intelligence sharing — which from the United States’ point of view rivals (what we share with) Britain, our longest historic ally,” she said.

“We have a critical information and intelligence-sharing relationship that is almost unparalleled with any of our other partners

She cited two terror plots that were prevented specifically due to intelligence from Saudi Arabia.

“The intelligence exchange between Saudi and American officials has saved American lives,” Townsend said.

“It is a very important ... partnership. It is critical to protecting the American homeland.”

Yet this is not something recognized by many Americans, who are still acutely aware that 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 terror attacks were Saudi citizens, Townsend said.

“That ... single fact is what has stuck in people’s minds,” she said, adding that the attacks sought to “drive a wedge” between the Kingdom and the U

“We had to work very hard during the Bush administration, when I was in the White House, to repair that relationship,” she said.

Townsend, speaking to Arab News during the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Washington, said that the royal visit could help address some of these concerns.

“What you would hope is that people see this longstanding historic relationship is not just about oil, it is not just about money. But this is about economics, it is about security, it is ... a bigger, broader, stronger relationship,” she said.

The White House said earlier this week that the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE were planning a tripartite security forum that would meet regularly to address issues such as the alleged threat posed by Iran.

This agreement would help to strengthen intelligence ties, Townsend said

“That sort of a dialogue, at a strategic level, can be very productive,” she said.

“Our partners in the region — the Emiratis, the Saudis — have suffered from Iranian aggression, whether that is in Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Bahrain.

“I think the (Saudi) crown prince, in particular, has shown real leadership in terms of confronting and addressing that threat. And so I think that it is beneficial to all three parties to share intelligence, both tactical and strategic,” she said.


Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

Updated 14 December 2018
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Top Indian court says it will not probe French fighter jet deal

  • Congress party accused Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense as a domestic partner
  • India’s Supreme Court ruled there was no evidence of commercial favoritism

DELHI: India’s Supreme Court said Friday it would not probe the government’s multi-billion dollar decision to buy French fighter jets.
The opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense, owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, as a domestic partner.
Reliance has no aeronautical expertise and was chosen ahead of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which does, triggering allegations of a scam.
But the court said there was no evidence of commercial favoritism.
“Having heard the matter in detail, we find no reason for any intervention by this court on the sensitive issue. Perception of individuals cannot be the basis of fishing and roving enquiry by this court, especially in such matters,” the 32-page verdict said.
“We can’t compel the government to purchase 126 aircraft and it’s not proper for the court to examine each aspect of this case. It isn’t a job of the court to compare pricing details. The country cannot afford to be unprepared or underprepared in a situation where our adversaries are stated to have acquired not only fourth generation, but even fifth generation aircrafts, of which we have none,” the court added.
Indian defense procurement rules state that a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help to build up its manufacturing base and wean it off imports.
HAL was the sole contender for being the local partner of Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale jets, but when the deal was sealed in 2015 during Modi’s Paris trip it was Reliance Defense that got the contract.
“In our opinion, the Supreme Court judgment is totally wrong. The campaign will certainly not drop and we will decide if we will file a review petition,” one of the main petitioners Prashant Bhushan said after the verdict.
“This isn’t the first time when the Apex court has failed us in ordering a probe in cases of high-level corruption,” he told reporters.
Congress said the Supreme Court was not the forum to rule on such a sensitive defense contract.
“The verdict of the Supreme Court is a validation of what the Congress party has stated months ago. Only forum is a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) which can probe the entire corruption in Rafale deal,” said the party’s chief spokesman Randeep Surjewala.
Ambani denied there had been a scam, saying the allegations were politically motivated, while the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded an apology from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
“Truth always triumphs. Court’s judgment on the Rafale deal exposes the campaign of misinformation spearheaded by Congress president for political gains,” president of the BJP Amit Shah said.
Dr. Satish Mishra, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank, said that the court verdict did not mean that the Rafale deal was beyond reproach.
“It only means that the court does not have enough evidence to order a probe into the deal,” he told Arab News. “If the government does not have anything to hide then it should order an independent inquiry or set up a joint parliamentary team to clear the doubts raised by the opposition, otherwise the charges will remain in the public domain. The BJP is in a defensive mode after the defeat in the regional elections. Allegations of corruptions have sullied the image of Modi, the only asset that the party has. I don’t think the verdict in any way vindicates the PM or the BJP.”