Why Terrorists Aren’t Hitting the U.S. Now

Eric Zuesse

On 30 December 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a cable (subsequently released to the public by wikileaks) to America’s Ambassadors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Pakistan, headlined, “Terrorist Finance: Action Request for Senior Level Engagement on Terrorism Finance.” 

She told those Ambassadors to make clear to the given nation’s aristocrats that, under the new U.S. President, Barack Obama, there would no longer be any allowance for continuation of their donations to Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups that attack the United States.

It opened, “This is an action request cable,” meaning that the operations of the local U.S. Embassy in the given nation would be monitored for compliance with the Secretary of State’s “request.”

Clinton’s focus was:

on disrupting illicit finance activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the external financial/logistical support networks of terrorist groups that operate there, such as al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LeT). The IFTF’s [Interagency Illicit Finance Task Force] activities are a vital component of the USG’s [U.S. Government’s] Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af/Pak) strategy dedicated to disrupting illicit finance flows between the Gulf countries and Afghanistan and Pakistan. The IFTF has created a diplomatic engagement strategy to assist in the accomplishment of this objective. The strategy focuses on senior-level USG engagement with Gulf countries and Pakistan to communicate USG counterterrorism priorities and to generate the political will necessary to address the problem. The IFTF has drafted talking points for use by all USG officials in their interactions with Gulf and Pakistani interlocutors. These points focus on funding for terrorist groups threatening stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and targeting coalition soldiers. These points have been cleared through the relevant Washington agencies. 

Although the named concern was “groups threatening stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the U.S. Secretary of State was actually telling her agents (the Ambassadors) to warn the local aristocracy to stop funding the groups that pose a terrorist threat to the United States as well.

This cable initiated a process that has led to the world-affairs of today. However, as the cable itself made clear, it was itself the end-product of considerable discussions that had been begun earlier by Richard Holbrooke (whom Secretary Clinton confusingly misidentified in her cable as the “Special Representative to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan (S/SRAP) Ambassador Richard Holbrooke,” but who was actually the Special Representative of  the President, not to  the President — an important difference). 

Holbrooke was, in fact, a longtime friend and advisor to Hillary, and had been selected for his post jointly by Clinton and Obama, while those two were discussing the possibility of her becoming Obama’s Secretary of State, between the time when Obama was elected, and his inauguration. The arrangement that was settled upon was that Holbrooke would be the “Special Representative of the President” but would not be able to report directly to  him; he would instead need to report through the Secretary of State. Hillary was doing Holbrooke a favor to suggest his name, but she would not give him the direct access to the President that a person of Holbrooke’s desire for power would probably much have preferred. Nonetheless, this appointment of Holbrooke got him back into the game, after his eight years in the wilderness, during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

Obama and Clinton had conceived of Holbrooke’s “Special Presidential” post as being intended to engineer the U.S. out of Afghanistan, without getting the Taliban too much into Afghanistan; and, the inclusion of Pakistan among the targets of this cable was for that particular reason: Pakistan has been and is the haven where the Taliban stay when they’re not in power in Afghanistan.

All of the other targets of this cable consisted of the aristocracies that fund not only the Taliban but Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups. Those are the royal families, and their friends, who run the Arabic oil kingdoms. All of them are fundamentalist Sunnis.

Holbrooke was concerned about those Arabic aristocrats because they provide the essential funding for the extremist, Salafist-Wahhabist, ideology, the extremist-Sunni ideology, which drives all of those jihadist groups, not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but throughout the world.

Whereas Shia Islam also has an extremist group, Hezbollah, that group’s focus is specifically against Israel, and it poses no security-threat against the United States, nor against Europe (except to the extent those are helping Israel to cruch Palestinians). All of the jihadism against the U.S. and Europe comes from extremist Sunni Islam, the Wahhabist (inside Saudi Arabia) and the Salafist (outside Saudi Arabia) clergy and their followers. In turn, those clergy receive their funding from the given nation’s royal family and its retainers or associated aristocratic clans. And, in their turn, those fundamentalist Sunni clergy preach that the family that owns their country is approved by God to own it. That’s the basic deal there, and an important part of it is for the aristocracy to fund not only those clerics but the jihadists they inspire to kill nonbelievers.

Holbrooke was aiming to cut off that funding.

He had the right background for this task.

Holbrooke was the vice chairman of Perseus LLC, a leading private equity firm. From February 2001 until July 2008, he was a member of the Board of Directors of American International Group (AIG, which was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers in 2008). He was a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, which is Wall Street’s watering-hole between higher-paid assignments, sort of the door that’s often referred to as “the revolving door” between Washington and Wall Street, and he also formerly served on the Advisory Board of the National Security Network. He was additionally a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Economic Club of New York. He was a member of the Trilateral Commission, and of the Bilderberg group, at the latter of which he was a featured presenter. Consequently, Holbrooke knew all of the people who knew all of the people who knew what needed to be done in order to strangulate the sources of funding to jihadist groups flowing into Afghanistan.

That’s what stood behind Secretary of State Clinton’s cable.

This cable reviewed the existing situation regarding each one of the governments, and it included separate instructions to each of the Embassies:

Concerning Saudi Arabia:

While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) takes seriously the threat of terrorism within Saudi Arabia, it has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority. …

Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide. …

Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources. …

She noted that,

In 2002, the Saudi government promised to set up a Charities Committee that would address this issue, but has yet to do so. 

She instructed the U.S. Ambassador there to:

encourage the Saudi government to take more steps to stem the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia-based sources to terrorists and extremists worldwide, 

and to,

encourage the Saudi government to take more steps to stem the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia-based sources to terrorists and extremists worldwide.

Concerning Qatar:

Qatar’s overall level of CT [Counter Terrorist] cooperation with the U.S. is considered the worst in the region. Al-Qaida, the Taliban, UN-1267 listed LeT, and other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale.  Although Qatar’s security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals. …

However, given the current focus of U.S. engagement with the GOQ [Government of Qatar] on terror finance related to Hamas, it would be counter-productive for Embassy Doha to engage the GOQ at this time on disrupting financial support of terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [No explanation of that was provided, but one interpretation of it might be: Protecting Israel from Hamas is more important to the Obama Administration than is “disrupting financial support of terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” If so, then Ambassador Holbrooke would seem not to have been assigned to a top-priority function, after all. That might have been a bitter pill for him to swallow.]

Concerning Kuwait:

Kuwait … has been less inclined to take action against Kuwait-based financiers and facilitators plotting attacks outside of Kuwait. Al-Qa’ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point. …

Clinton noted that though

Kuwait’s law prohibits efforts to undermine or attack Arab neighbors, … the GOK [Government of Kuwait] faces an uphill battle to implement comprehensive terror finance legislation due to a lack of parliamentary support. 

In other words: Kuwait’s aristocracy refuse to donate to jihadist groups that attack themselves or the aristocracies of other “Arab” countries, but do contribute to jihadist groups which attack non-Arab countries. Furthermore, the official reason why they do is that the parliament, which consists of people who are elected by the public, supports jihadists who attack non-Arab countries. (Actually, when they support jihadists trying to take over Syria, they are violating that rule, but only because those Sunni jihadists would be replacing a Shiite leader, Bashar al-Assad, who is, to them, even worse: he’s a non-sectarian Shiite, whose political party, the Ba’athist Party, is committed to a separation between church-and-state.)

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung headlined on 25 April 2014, “Kuwait, ally on Syria, is also the leading funder of extremist rebels.” She reported that, “Last month, the administration decided to go public with its concerns. … Such fundraising was not illegal in Kuwait until last year, when the government took advantage of an unrelated parliamentary boycott to push through a new law. Disappointingly, since then there has not been much vigor shown in implementing a ban on terrorist financing.”

DeYoung went on: “Unlike other monarchies and autocracies in the region, Kuwait’s politics are relatively open and combative. The executive branch, headed by Emir Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, frequently clashes with a feisty parliament composed of warring political groups within both the Sunni majority and the Shiite minority. Unlike other Gulf countries, Kuwait allows broad freedom of association for its 2.7 million citizens, and Sabah’s rule is characterized more by political incorporation than confrontation.”

Secretary of State Clinton’s cable continued:

A particular point of difference between the U.S. and concerns Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS). … providing financial and material support to al-Qa’ida. … In Kuwait, RIHS enjoys broad public support as a charitable entity. The GOK to date has not taken significant action to address or shut down RIHS’s headquarters or its branches.

So: whereas the Sabah family had been saved by America’s 1991 war against Saddam Hussein’s invasion and attempted takeover there, they won’t crack down against Al Qaeda; they won’t stop the funding to Al Qaeda. They “took advantage of an unrelated parliamentary boycott to push through a new law,” but, after the boycott ended, don’t enforce the new law.

Concerning UAE:

UAE-based donors have provided financial support to a variety of terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups, including Hamas. 

Concerning Pakistan:

Pakistan’s intermittent support to terrorist groups and militant organizations threatens to undermine regional security and endanger U.S. national security objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Although Pakistani senior officials have publicly disavowed support for these groups, some officials from the Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continue to maintain ties with a wide array of extremist organizations, in particular the Taliban, LeT and other extremist organizations.  These extremist organizations continue to find refuge in Pakistan and exploit Pakistan’s extensive network of charities, NGOs, and madrassas.  This network of social service institutions readily provides extremist organizations with recruits, funding and infrastructure for planning new attacks.


President Obama’s first Administration concentrated on disengaging the United States from Afghanistan and from Iraq. Secretary of State Clinton’s cable was specifically motivated by the Afghan situation. Although Obama was able to kill almost all of the top leaders of Al Qaeda, including bin Laden, the United States remained militarily involved in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and even in Pakistan and many other countries, where American drones have killed lots of jihadists but also lots of non-militants. These drone-attacks killing civilians have increased the hostility that Muslims already feel toward the United States.

Why, then, has the jihadist situation against the U.S. been far less of a problem after Obama entered the White House than it had been prior to that? It’s certainly not because the hostility that many Muslims feel toward the U.S. has gone down; it has instead increased.

Whereas Muslim hostility against the U.S. has risen, the U.S. has become safer against Islamic terrorism. There is only one way that I can find to explain this puzzling fact:

Obama’s top international-affairs priority is actually different in his second Administration than it was in his first. In his second Administration, the top priority has been to war against Russia and its allies (which have included not only Putin but Russia’s allies: Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi, and Viktor Yanukovych), and this target is hated passionately also by Wahhabists-Salafists, ever since the days when the U.S. National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1979 told them, “your cause is right, and God is on your side.” Then, after Afghanistan, Russia dealt mercilessly with the breakaway jihadists in Chechnya; and Russia is dealing in the same way with the jihadists against the non-sectarian government in Syria. Russia’s leadership know that they will be hated by many Sunnis for killing and maiming so many of them in Syria; but, within Syria itself, the public, both Shiite and Sunni, know that the alternative to Assad is Shariah law, rule by jihadists, and even many Sunnis in Syria stand against that and for Assad.

The United States and the Sharia-law countries, the Wahhabist-Salafist nations, are working together in Obama’s second Administration, and the war against Russia and its allies has become co-led by both the Obama Administration and the Saud family, Saudi Arabia’s royal family, the chief financial backers of Al Qaeda.

International terrorism is a strategic foreign-policy tool, which, in almost all instances, is applied by fundamentalist Sunni Islamists, whose operations are financed by fundamentalist Sunni royal families of the Arabic nations. The royals (and their billionaire friends who receive state contracts from them) in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait, are the main financial backers of jihadists. Actually, those royal financial backers are terrorism’s controllers, and the jihadist fighters are merely their soldiers — soldiers who are well paid by their controllers, but who fight not only  for the pay: they fight also because they share the same fundamentalist Sunni faith as their controllers do. Their clerics tell them to obey their royal masters, and it’s a ‘holy war.’

Any jihadist group that would target the United States during this time, would lose its funding. The royals would cease donating. In order for the royal families to stay in power in the Arabic countries, they need the approval of their clerics; donations to approved jihadists are essential in order for that ‘holy’ authorization of the royals to rule to continue; and so, the donations continue, and those clerics preach to the faithful that terrorism against the United States would be wrong at the present time, and they issue fatwas against Russia, and against Bashar al-Assad, etc., instead. Consequently, the jihadist groups are now focused against Russia and its allies. The jihadist groups are America’s allies again, much as they had been when the U.S. armed the mujahideen to oust Russia’s allies from Afghanistan.

Holbrooke’s strategy might have failed, but he had been allowed to execute it only within the narrow confines of getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, not as a policy with broader scope. Once Obama became re-elected and switched to make Russia America’s top enemy, getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan was no longer being pressed as particularly important. And, all of the Arabic royals have followed through on their part of the limited bargain that they apparently struck with Obama: they avoid hitting the United States. They keep their armies of jihadists, but focus it only against Russia and its allies.

There is evidence that Obama was targeting against Russia even prior to his becoming President, but only laid the groundwork for the anti-Russia strike during his first Administration; and, then, during his re-election campaign, when he knew that at that time the American public didn’t yet share his hostility against Russia, Obama publicly derided Mitt Romney’s assertion, “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.” It was one of Obama’s most skillful tricks. He had fooled not only Russia, but Romney too, who apparently thought himself to be taking advantage of an Obama vulnerability, and who never imagined that Obama was just like Romney but much slicker. Obama benefited from both cons: both deceiving Medvedev, and deceiving Romney. And, now, Obama is quadrupling (by 2017) America’s military assets for invading Russia, all the while as he’s calling Russia the most aggressive country on the planet. His hatred of Russia appears to be visceral and perhaps outside the bounds of all reason. His eagerest supporters in this anti-Russia campaign are the Sauds and the other Arabic royals — the very same people who fund jihadists. They’re competing against Russia in the oil and gas markets, and the special prize to be won here is dominance in the world’s largest oil-and-gas market: Europe.

Nobody had figured out Obama prior to his becoming President. He behaved like a perfect CIA operative. Perhaps he even outdoes President George Herbert Walker Bush in that. America’s recent Presidents might not be good, but they’re incredibly slick. They run rings around the voters. Perhaps the days of democracy in America are over, especially after the 9/11 trick.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.