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.


UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

Updated 10 min 44 sec ago
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UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

  • May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in attempt to get support for Brexit delay
  • The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent

LONDON: UK companies have ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit as best they can over the past couple of months, the Bank of England said on Thursday.
With the prospect of a chaotic Brexit potentially eight days away, a survey by the central bank’s agents showed that around 80 percent of companies “judged themselves ready” for such a scenario, in which the country crashes out of the European Union with no deal and no transition to new trading arrangements with the bloc. That’s up from around 50 percent in an equivalent survey in January.
For decades, trading with the rest of the EU has been seamless. A disorderly Brexit could see the return of tariffs and other restrictions on trade with the EU, Britain’s main export destination.
To prepare, some firms have moved jobs and operations to the EU to continue to benefit from its seamless trade. Many have had to learn how to file customs declarations and adjust labels on goods. Exporters of animals are learning about health checks they will need to comply with.
According to the bank’s survey, however, many of those companies preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit said “there were limits to the degree of readiness that was feasible in the face of the range of possible outcomes in that scenario.”
There’s only so much companies can do, for example, to prepare for new tariffs and exchange rate movements.

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Britain appears headed for a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29 if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement with the EU.
She is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to get support for a delay to the country’s departure date to June 30. EU leaders have said a short extension would have to be conditional on her Brexit plan getting parliamentary backing and have indicated they would only be willing to back a delay to May 22, the day before elections to the European Parliament. After two heavy rejections in parliament, there are doubts as to whether she will be able to get parliamentary approval. What would happen next is uncertain.
European leaders, including those from France and Luxembourg, have said any extension will be granted dependent on May's deal passing a third parliamentary vote.
The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent within months, though Governor Mark Carney has indicated the recession will be less savage, partly because of heightened preparedness.
According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, at which the main interest rate was kept at 0.75 percent, rate-setters warned “Brexit uncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment.”
Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years. In 2018, the economy grew by 1.4 percent, its lowest rate since 2012, even during what was then a global upswing. Business investment was down 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the year before.
“Business investment had now fallen in each of the past four quarters as uncertainties relating to Brexit had intensified,” the rate-setters said.
The survey showed uncertainty was likely to remain for months, even years, as Britain works out its long-term relationship with the EU. It said around 60 percent of UK firms in February said Brexit was one of their top three uncertainties, compared with 40 percent just after the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Around 40 percent of firms expect the uncertainty to be resolved only by the end of 2019 and 20 percent anticipate it persisting into 2021 or beyond.