Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude

Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude

by Robert Baer

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“Saudi Arabia is more and more an irrational state—a place that spawns global terrorism even as it succumbs to an ancient and deeply seated isolationism, a kingdom led by a royal family that can’t get out of the way of its own greed. Is this the fulcrum we want the global economy to balance on?”

In his explosive New York Times bestseller, See No Evil, former CIA operative Robert Baer exposed how Washington politics drastically compromised the CIA’s efforts to fight global terrorism. Now in his powerful new book, Sleeping with the Devil, Baer turns his attention to Saudi Arabia, revealing how our government’s cynical relationship with our Middle Eastern ally and America’ s dependence on Saudi oil make us increasingly vulnerable to economic disaster and put us at risk for further acts of terrorism.

For decades, the United States and Saudi Arabia have been locked in a “harmony of interests.” America counted on the Saudis for cheap oil, political stability in the Middle East, and lucrative business relationships for the United States, while providing a voracious market for the kingdom’ s vast oil reserves. With money and oil flowing freely between Washington and Riyadh, the United States has felt secure in its relationship with the Saudis and the ruling Al Sa’ud family. But the rot at the core of our “friendship” with the Saudis was dramatically revealed when it became apparent that fifteen of the nineteen September 11 hijackers proved to be Saudi citizens.

In Sleeping with the Devil, Baer documents with chilling clarity how our addiction to cheap oil and Saudi petrodollars caused us to turn a blind eye to the Al Sa’ud’s culture of bribery, its abysmal human rights record, and its financial support of fundamentalist Islamic groups that have been directly linked to international acts of terror, including those against the United States. Drawing on his experience as a field operative who was on the ground in the Middle East for much of his twenty years with the agency, as well as the large network of sources he has cultivated in the region and in the U.S. intelligence community, Baer vividly portrays our decades-old relationship with the increasingly dysfunctional and corrupt Al Sa’ud family, the fierce anti-Western sentiment that is sweeping the kingdom, and the desperate link between the two. In hopes of saving its own neck, the royal family has been shoveling money as fast as it can to mosque schools that preach hatred of America and to militant fundamentalist groups—an end game just waiting to play out.

Baer not only reveals the outrageous excesses of a Saudi royal family completely out of touch with the people of its kingdom, he also takes readers on a highly personal search for the deeper roots of modern terrorism, a journey that returns time again and again to Saudi Arabia: to the Wahhabis, the powerful Islamic sect that rules the Saudi street; to the Taliban and al Qaeda, both of which Saudi Arabia helped to underwrite; and to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most active and effective terrorist groups in existence, which the Al Sa’ud have sheltered and funded. The money and arms that we send to Saudi Arabia are, in effect, being used to cut our own throat, Baer writes, but America might have only itself to blame. So long as we continue to encourage the highly volatile Saudi state to bank our oil under its sand—and so long as we continue to grab at the Al Sa’ud’s money—we are laying the groundwork for a potential global economic catastrophe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400053377
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 07/15/2003
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,041,207
File size: 484 KB

About the Author

ROBERT BAER was a case officer in the Directorate of Operations for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1976 to 1997. His overseas assignments included stints in locations such as Northern Iraq, Dushanbe, Rabat, Paris, Beirut, Khartoum, New Delhi, and elsewhere, handling agents that infiltrated Hizballah, PFLP-GC, PSF, Libyan intelligence, Fatah-Hawari, and al Qaeda. Fluent in Arabic, Farsi, French, and German, he divides his time between Washington, D.C., and France.

Read an Excerpt

We Deliver Anywhere

Caesarea, Israel
April 7, 2001

The marble Palace perched amid the olive trees above the sea looked like a lot of other posh resort hotels I'd seen around the Mediterranean. The shiny new Mercedes and canary yellow Ferrari parked out front fit right in. I knew that if I poked around a little, I'd find a casino somewhere on the premises.

It didn't take me long, though, to notice that a couple things were out of place: the pack of little blond boys running around on the front lawn, shouting in Russian, and the young girls wearing identical bandeau bikinis, reading glossy Moscow weeklies by the pool. When the bellboy greeted me in Russian, I knew I had landed on one of those Russian beachheads I'd heard so much about. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian mob, Russians fleeing the Russian mob, and just plain rich Russians had been setting up all along the Riviera, including Israel's coastline. The fancier the place, the better. Money never seemed to be a problem. And they liked to keep to themselves.

I was actually in Caesarea to see a Russian, someone I'd known only by reputation. Yuri, as I will call him, was a merchant of death. He had made a colossal fortune in the early 1990s trading small arms for West African oil. Over the last several years, with capital under his belt and the free run of Russia's state-arms-trading firm, Rosvoorouzhenie, he'd branched out and started peddling arms everywhere. Supposedly, Yuri could put his hands on almost any piece of Russian hardware, from a MIG-31 to a T-80 main-battle tank. But he did have his professional ethics. When a competitor floated the rumor that Yuri was moving weapons-grade uranium, Yuri had him squashed like a Volga tick. It was one thing to earn an honest living fueling civil wars in West Africa, but something entirely different to deal in the nasty stuff.

I saw Yuri come out of the elevator. Dressed in a pair of pressed Levi's, suede Italian loafers, and a diaphanous white linen shirt, he could have passed for a well-heeled tourist. Slim and sandy haired, he looked younger than his forty-five years.

We settled in a restaurant where Yuri waited glumly for his coffee. My chitchat about the weather, Caesarea, whatever I could think of that might keep the conversation from sinking into silence, barely got a nod out of him. I stopped talking and took a closer look. His waxy yellow skin told me he hadn't been spending his time on the beach or the links. To judge by the spiderweb of broken blood vessels in his cheeks, he liked to relax with a bottle of vodka.

My business with Yuri, if you want to call it that, was to do a favor for a friend who wanted to know if Yuri was interested in financing an oil contract, a perfectly legitimate one. My friend figured that the Russian, with all his loose cash, might want to get out of the arms trade and clean up his reputation.

As soon as Yuri finished his second espresso, I popped the question. I was halfway through it when he held up his hand to stop me. "You're on your way to Syria, our friend tells me," he said.

He was right. The next day I was flying to Amman, Jordan, and from there to Damascus. The borders between Syria and Israel had been closed ever since Israel's independence over half a century earlier. You had to touch down somewhere else before setting foot in Syria.

"I'm in the market for Syrian oil," Yuri said. "I'll take as much as they'll give me. And you know what? I'll pay two dollars above market price."

That was a curveball I hadn't seen coming. I didn't need to be a professional oil trader to understand that Yuri didn't have legitimate Syrian oil in mind--no one pays two dollars a barrel over world market for any oil. What Yuri was after, I had little doubt, was sanction-busting Iraqi oil, currently selling for a discount of ten to fifteen dollars a barrel in Syria. It was impossible to nail down the exact amounts involved--Syria obviously didn't publish figures--but I'd seen estimates that put the total trade above $3 billion a year, a business big enough to attract Yuri and lots of other vultures of the global economy.

Iraq was glad to have another market for its illicit oil, even at a steeply discounted price. It was thanks to smuggled oil that Saddam Hussein had stayed afloat since the end of the Gulf War. Saddam used the revenues to feed and equip his elite troops and intelligence services--his brutal praetorian guard. The clandestine trade in oil had started as soon as the last American M-16 fired its last round in February 1991. At first the oil moved via small barges hugging either side of the Persian Gulf coast and traveling at night, thereby avoiding detection by the American fleet. Iraq then started smuggling it out by truck, mostly to Turkey and Iran. I had seen miles-long truck convoys when I was in Kurdistan in 1994 and 1995. Syria came late to the game but was more than making up for that in sheer volume. Most oil went through an old pipeline to the Syrian port of Baniyas. Some came in by truck.

With all the revenue from Iraqi oil sold outside the United Nations-imposed oil-for-food regimen, Saddam did quite nicely. Not only could he pay for the forces that kept him from being overthrown, he had even started reequipping his regular army. Shipments of new Russian goodies were arriving every day. There was also enough money left over to keep Saddam's inner circle, including his vicious son Uday, who ran the oil business, from worrying about a shortage of Cuban cigars, sports cars, and prostitutes. The Iraqi in the street never saw a penny of it.

Syria didn't do badly, either. By selling the illegal Iraqi oil on its domestic market, Syria freed up the oil it pumped from its own fields to sell abroad at world prices. In 2000 the country's exports rocketed from 320,000 to 450,000 barrels a day. Syria, of course, denied that the increase had anything to do with Iraqi oil, insisting against all evidence that the extra 130,000 barrels were squeezed out of its own fields. The fact is, Syria was making hundreds of millions of dollars a year off illicit Iraqi oil. For a country whose economy had been about to crater, that was a godsend.

As for the commission agents and traders--the WD-40 of this lovely end run around the United Nations sanctions on Iraq--there was plenty of money to treat themselves to new estates in Saint-Tropez or on Spain's Gold Coast. Maybe that's what Yuri was after: He seemed to have taken a liking to sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

The problem with Iraqi oil wasn't buying; it was unloading. Although the trade in Iraqi crude was an open secret, Syria didn't want to give anyone the chance to make a case by seizing a tanker full of the stuff. Syria never knew when some powerful congressman might hammer the State Department and the navy, forcing them to do something about the oil. With the screws turned, it wouldn't take the navy long to find a Syrian oil tanker on the Mediterranean. Sobered by such an ugly prospect, Syria wouldn't allow a drop of Iraqi oil to be exported. Yuri would have to come up with a damn serious sweetener to change Syria's mind. Illegal oil trading isn't my thing, but curiosity is, so I played along. They'd taught us at Langley that involvement is the first step to understanding.

"How are we going to make any money if we pay two dollars more than we have to?" I asked.

Yuri cut me off before I could continue. "Leave the numbers up to me." He didn't say anything for a minute, probably deciding how much he could risk telling me. Like espionage, the oil and arms business is run on a strict need-to-know basis: Give up only what you have to.

"What I'll tell you is this," Yuri went on. "I intend to wrap up my offer in a nice, neat package. I'm talking about PMU-300s. Tomorrow I could put my hand on twenty TELs and a hundred pencils. You open the door in Damascus, and I'll convince the Syrians this is a deal they can't refuse."

Now things were starting to get interesting. In the arms lingo, a TEL is a transporter-erector-launcher, and a pencil is a missile, but this wasn't just any TEL. The PMU-300 is a sophisticated Russian mobile surface-to-air missile system. I wasn't surprised Yuri was offering it for sale--he sold Russian arms for a living. What did surprise me was that he was pitching it here in Israel. Technically, Syria and Israel are at war. Syria's possession of PMU-300s would upset the balance of force between the two countries. I couldn't imagine Israel would be pleased to find out that sophisticated arms were being sold to its archenemy on its own soil, one sunny morning halfway between Tel Aviv and the Lebanese border. Then again, money helps disguise a lot of unpleasant truths.

I wasn't going to buy illegal Iraqi oil, and I wasn't going to buy arms for Syria, but I was closing in on the answer to a question I'd had for a long time. If Yuri was prepared to sell PMU-300s from a luxury resort hotel in Caesarea, armed with an international cell phone and a fat Rolodex, what else could he sell? And to whom? You don't need to be ex-CIA to know that globalization isn't just about Diesel jeans, Sony PlayStations, and Mercedeses. What I intended to find out was exactly how globalized the shady side of the arms business had become.


An Interview with Robert Baer

Barnes & Sleeping with the Devil is the follow-up to your explosive bestseller See No Evil. What compelled you to write this new book?

Robert Baer: I first started thinking about the book, or rather the subject, in 1997 when I started talking to analysts about Saudi oil vulnerabilities. Their assessments were uniformly alarming. With very little explosives you could take down Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure, maybe for up to two years. I then wondered if there was anyone in the kingdom capable and ready to do it. What I found out was that we, the U.S. government, had no idea. There was no good intelligence on the kingdom. That started me wondering how it was that a superpower like the United States knew so little about a country so important to its economy.

B& Since your book was written, we've heard about the section of the joint House-Senate report on September 11th that, allegedly, deals with the Saudi connection to the terrorist attack. What have you heard about the contents of the still-classified document?

RB: I have not read the 28 blacked-out pages. But based on press leaks I'm left with the impression that there are Saudis currently living in Saudi Arabia who know more about the 9/11 plot than they are admitting. There may even be enough evidence in the 28 pages (and other documents) to indict some Saudis.

B& Will Congress be successful in its attempt to get President Bush to declassify that part of the report?

RB: Bush will resist as long as he can. He does not want a public outcry that would end up forcing him to take stronger actions against the Kingdom. He is hoping people will forget.

B& Should Mr. Bush have included Saudi Arabia as part of his "Axis of Evil?" If so, why didn't he?

RB: Good question. If you take the evidence on face value, it should have been included in the "Axis of Evil." But pragmatically speaking it's a tough call. We -- and the rest of the world -- are too dependent on Saudi oil to go after the country right now.

B& Just how corrupt is the Saudi regime, in your opinion?

RB: Grotesquely corrupt. The bulk of Saudi revenue goes into the pockets of the senior princes and their commission agents.

B& How vulnerable is the Saudi royal family to an overthrow? Have Bush's military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan made that scenario more likely, or less?

RB: Another good question. The family is in trouble. A few weeks ago, Crown Prince 'Abdallah acknowledged the country is in the middle of a "decisive battle." The wording suggests the outcome is uncertain. I think the war on Iraq has made the Al Sa'ud more vulnerable. Saudi subjects tend to identify with their brethren, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, the same people we dispossessed when we went to war against Saddam.

B& Just how cozy is the Bush administration with the Saudi royal family?

RB: Very. Their business relations go back decades. The Bush family is close to many of the senior princes and their children. But let's be fair. This does not mean the Bush family "sold out" our national security. Like any friends, you tend to overlook faults. But it is not too late for the president to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for 9/11.

B& Politically, how hazardous is the Bush-oil-Saudi connection to his 2004 reelection hopes?

RB: Probably not very. Oil and power is a complicated issue. Look at Enron. Everyone has forgotten it.

B& You left the CIA back in 1997. Have you been able to maintain your intelligence contacts around the world?

RB: Surprisingly, yes. I've been able to keep up on my contacts. Many Arabs have labeled my books anti-Arab, but many, especially my friends, know they are fair, assigning blame where it's due.

B& Since you did serve in the Agency, I have to ask you about the developing controversy concerning the "16 words" in the State of the Union that CIA head George Tenet has taken responsibility for. What's your take on this issue? Is the CIA being used?

RB: I come down on the side of Tenet. Reading between the lines, he did his best to resist pressure from the White House and the Pentagon. Ultimately, though, he had to defer to the White House. The president is the CIA's boss. The question is whether he should have resigned and made a public statement.

B& With world events unfolding as they are, what do you think your next book project will be about?

RB: I've been extremely lucky in writing two books that came out at just the right time. I'd now like to try fiction and find out if I can make it as a writer.

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Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul For Saudi Crude 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As much as I respect Mr. Baer's service and his unquestionable expertise on Middle East politics and terrorism, this was somewhat of a tough read. Indeed Baer's research into how deep in bed we are with Saudi Arabia, who w/out question are one of if not the largest state sponser of terror in the world, his narration of the facts can be quite confusing and easy to lose. Much of the book really does dig into the corruption of the Saudi royals and our history dealing with them. Baer explains how our relationship has been, currently is, and for the forseeable future is a real catch-22. We need and depend on their oil while knowing every gallon we buy likely contributes to the very terrorists we are trying to defeat. This book is quite thorough into exposing US and Saudi corruption.........but is somewhat confusing at times. Overall I'm glad I read it........
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was informative of many situations concerning the oil business, the true one in which deep politics, world security is involved, the one for which lifes, countries do not matter. But for someone familiar with this issue I found it informative but not too much.
bobcity on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The movie Syriana was a loose biography of Bob Baers experiences working the middle east for the CIA. A very frank accessment of the issues of geo-politics of the region. Very interesting read.
sgtbigg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As you can guess from the title, neither the US government or the Saudis come out looking good in this. Baer is a former CIA case officer, one of his later books was turned into the movie Syriana, it was very loosely adapted. I heard Baer speak once and he said he didn't even understand the movie. Baer maintains that the Saudis are much more involved in terrorism then they have been letting on and no one in Washington will call them on it because no one wants to upset the flow of cheap oil (the book was written in 2003 when there was cheap oil) or the chance of a Saudi funded job when they leave office. If you believe him, we're screwed. His ideas blend well with Michael Scheuer's in his book Osama Bin Laden, in that Scheuer credits the Saudis with "creating" bin Laden, while Baer explains why they did it. A little dated but a interesting book, not as good as his others though.
rebelwriter85 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a must-read! Baer is an ex-CIA agent and he writes with authority on the harmful alliance between the US and the Saudis.
jmcclain19 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good round up of the pungent and incestuous relationship between the US Govt and the House of Saud. I wish Baer would have done infinitely more work citing sources and facts, as you can't help but read it and wonder what is factual based and what is simply word of mouth statements from his sources. He makes the case at one point that the House of Saud has over one trillion (with a T) invested in the US Stock Market and the same amount stored in US banks per a deal with the govt. An amazing statement thats just left on its own at the end of a chapter. Not that I couldn't believe that the financing statement was true, but the complete lack of backing makes it a tad hard to swallow. For me - much of the history section was on the boring side - but I did my history thesis in college on Ibn Saud and his descendants so if you are unfamiliar this book is as good as any to bring yourself up to date. He also repeats himself quite a bit - making me wonder if the book was written over a long period of time and didn't have a thorough editor to clean that up.You'll also notice many of the themes & scenes in the movie Syriana were ripped directly from the 1st chapter in the book titled "The Doomsday Scenario".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Robert Baer, although using occassional hype, has documented the historical underpinnings of our relationship with and support of Saudi Arabia. He also uncovers the Kingdom's uneasy relationship with Islamic fundamentals, and their part in supporting terrorist agendas. A must read for anyone concerned with current affairs in the Middle East.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best documented story of the corruption of western politics around. It should be required reading for anyone who has an interest in how we got to where we are. Unfortunately those who are in a position to correct things already know that they don't want this info widely known.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you would like to know what has been going on in the middle east for the last 25 years this is the book for you. You could not get a better source, the career of a CIA anti-terrorism officer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
helps gain understanding on the world of terrorism and Saudi Arabi as a country.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this book....a lot of things made sense...the middle east is a timebomb waiting to explode...I hope the author is wrong about a lot of things...if not buy a Cobalt or a gas station!or both!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is 100% essential reading if we are to understand what is really happening in the world today - the Saudis are far more our enemy than Saddam was. Never forget that 15 out of the19 9/11 hijackes were Saudis and NONE of them came from Iraq!