CNN presents a — if not tell-all, then tell-much — story on what it characterizes as the greatest computer hack in history… against Saudi ARAMCO.
The attack happened in 2012 and brought the company to its knees, a blow that could have bankrupted smaller concerns. And it all started with a spammy e-mail.
Read the whole thing.
Three years ago, the world witnessed the worst hack ever seen.
And for the first time, we’re now learning new details about the monstrous cyberattack on Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies.
In a matter of hours, 35,000 computers were partially wiped or totally destroyed. Without a way to pay them, gasoline tank trucks seeking refills had to be turned away. Saudi Aramco’s ability to supply 10% of the world’s oil was suddenly at risk.
And one of the most valuable companies on Earth was propelled back into 1970s technology, using typewriters and faxes.
When it comes to sheer cost, the recent cyberattacks on Sony Pictures and the American government pale in comparison.
The average person has never heard about Saudi Aramco — or this hack. But we all felt its mysterious reverberations.
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed says that trying to shut down social media (typified by Twitter) won’t do much to address the real problems caused by ISIS or other extremist groups. Social media are just that: media. They’re the channels through which information is flowing. Blocking the channels won’t alter the information; won’t make the groups or their ideologies any less dangerous. Block one channel, and another one will appear.
Blocking social media will, however, annoy and inconvenience multitudes of people who aren’t involved in extremism for no good purpose. It’ll be just another ham-handed government effort that burdens citizens, including those who use social media to fight against extremism.
Blocking Twitter is not the solution
Many counterterror experts believe they have pinpointed the source of the problem when it comes to terrorism and extremism. They believe social media networks are to blame because they play a hand in inciting extremism and help with the recruitment of militants. Some experts have even called for blocking these sites in order to starve the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its ilk of their primary means of communicating with sympathizers and potential recruits.
Despite the rush of calls to shut down Twitter and other social media sites, this is not an ideal solution, because these groups will just end up using alternative platforms. It’s also not fair to punish millions of ordinary users in order to get rid of the thousands of militants or militant supporters online. It is a known fact that the world is battling against extremist ideologies, and therefore it is understandable that this sometimes requires giving up our privacy and freedom. However, even the necessities of war aren’t enough of a reason to restrain millions of people just because the problem was not dealt with from another angle. Reform education, reform da’wah (the preaching of Islam), and spread Islam’s real and beautiful values, then you’d realize that extremist concepts are an exception and are actually rejected. If such steps are implemented, moderation would become a real ideological movement that everyone adopts.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other websites are a means of communication that can either eliminate extremism or help spread it. What distinguishes extremists is that they are an active and determined party with a cause which they believe is righteous. They are capable of adapting to technological changes. They exploit religious communities, which they don’t belong to, and try to lure people into their extremist ideologies. There are hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of militants who spend hours surfing these websites in search of lost, angry, or curious youths, attempting to “guide them” to jihadist solutions and then recruit them as soldiers who await orders.
The Washington Post runs an Associated Press article talking about the Saudi Ramadan TV series “Selfie,” noted here earlier.
The article describes the content of some of the shows, along with the reactions — positive, negative, and deadly — it’s drawing.
Saudi TV show becomes a hit by mocking Islamic State group
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A new TV satire program has become a hit in the Arab world by mocking some of the region’s most serious issues, from the intractable Sunni-Shiite divide and religious extremism to the brutality of militants like the Islamic State group.
The show, “Selfie,” has also brought a backlash. Islamic State group sympathizers have made death threats against its Saudi star and top writer on social media. One mainstream Saudi cleric denounced the show of heresy for mocking the country’s ultraconservative religious establishment. That has made it the buzz of the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is the peak television viewing season in the Middle East.
Naser al-Qasabi, the series’ star, and its writer Khalaf al-Harbi told The Associated Press in their first interview with foreign media that they expected the backlash, but weren’t prepared for the popularity. It’s one of the top shows on MBC, the privately owned Saudi network that airs it, and has been the talk of the Gulf press.
Al-Qasabi says the series’ dark humor reveals just how tragic the situation across the Middle East has become.
In the Yahoo.com news carriage of the same piece, there are photos and a few video clips included:
American magazine “The Atlantic” takes a look at Saudi Arabia’s solar power aspirations. It notes some of the problems it faces in trying to replace petroleum-based energy with solar energy, including such simple things as dust storms that can drop the energy production of solar cells precipitously.
Worth reading in its entirety.
Why the Saudis Are Going Solar
The fate of one of the biggest fossil-fuel producers may now depend on its investment in renewable energy
Prince Turki bin Saud bin Mohammad Al Saud belongs to the family that rules Saudi Arabia. He wears a white thawb and ghutra, the traditional robe and headdress of Arab men, and he has a cavernous office hung with portraits of three Saudi royals. When I visited him in Riyadh this spring, a waiter poured tea and subordinates took notes as Turki spoke. Everything about the man seemed to suggest Western notions of a complacent functionary in a complacent, oil-rich kingdom.
But Turki doesn’t fit the stereotype, and neither does his country. Quietly, the prince is helping Saudi Arabia—the quintessential petrostate—prepare to make what could be one of the world’s biggest investments in solar power.
Near Riyadh, the government is preparing to build a commercial-scale solar-panel factory. On the Persian Gulf coast, another factory is about to begin producing large quantities of polysilicon, a material used to make solar cells. And next year, the two state-owned companies that control the energy sector—Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, and the Saudi Electricity Company, the kingdom’s main power producer—plan to jointly break ground on about 10 solar projects around the country.
The American conservative magazine, “The Weekly Standard” writes that Saudi Arabia has all but given up on the Obama administration when it comes to protecting Saudi Arabia’s regional concerns. If the Kingdom cannot count on the US, it will have to take matters into its own hands.
The Saudis push back against the Obama foreign policy
The Obama administration put a happy face on its Camp David summit last week, even as four of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six leaders turned down Obama’s invitation to attend. The most significant absence, of course, was that of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman. In his place, Riyadh sent Salman’s 55-year-old nephew, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Salman’s 28-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defense minister.
Both men are said to be responsible for the aggressive Saudi policies in confronting Iran, especially in Yemen, where Mohammed bin Salman is leading the campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis. In other words, while snubbing Obama, King Salman also delivered a strong message through the two men who are in line to lead Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. They’re not happy with what they correctly perceive as the White House’s pro-Iranian tilt in the Middle East—and they’re in a position to challenge it.
In Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, referred to in Western policymaking circles as MBN, the White House is likely to find an especially able statesman. MBN served as the deputy minister of the interior under his father and then won the top post himself, where he has distinguished himself as a tough-minded security official who proved instrumental in dismantling terrorist networks and providing U.S. officials with valuable insight into their workings. He has survived at least four assassination attempts.
An interesting analysis in The Washington Post arguing that Saudi Arabia has already achieved its goals in Yemen and it’s now time to step back a bit. Silvana Toska, a PhD candidate at Cornell University says that the Saudis have accomplished the major objectives they set for themselves: Consolidate power clearly within the ruling family; put Iran front-and-center on American radar; shown that they will take action against Iranian encroachment; increase Saudi nationalism. Worth reading.
Has Saudi Arabia already won its Yemen war?
Despite the current humanitarian ceasefire, Saudi Arabia’s military operation in Yemen is now in its second month with no end in sight and no sign that any of the parties are willing to negotiate. The intervention has caused devastating destruction in Yemen, a deepening of divisions between already divided Yemeni factions, a large number of casualties and refugees and has done nothing to stabilize the country.
Militarily, Saudi Arabia has not achieved its goals. However, to understand the rationale behind the intervention, Saudi Arabia’s actions must be seen in a wider context that includes both its domestic and regional goals. From this perspective, this military incursion serves the present interests of Saudi Arabia in a number of ways, regardless of the military outcome.
According to an Associated Press item run on Al Arabiya TV, Iran is warning both the US and the Saudi-led coalition to not interfere with a shipment it categorizes as “humanitarian” now en route to Yemen. The Iranian government is definitely rattling its spears. The US says that the ship should put into port in Djibouti, where international humanitarian efforts are being coordinated.
TEHRAN (AP): A senior Iranian military official has warned the U.S. and the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni militias that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will “spark a fire,” as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.
“I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless,” Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff, told Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV late Tuesday.
“Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands.”
Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen’s port city of Hodeida next week. Iran’s navy said Tuesday it will protect the ship.
The US stance, if push comes to shove, isn’t entirely clear, but Pres. Obama, in an interview with Al Arabiya TV, characterizes Iran as “a state sponsor of terrorism” and not playing a helpful role in the region.
While some media are portraying King Salman’s decision to stay home and not attend the Washington/Camp David summit called by Pres. Obama, a snub, the Saudi media is reporting that he has other important things to be doing over the time period. Apparently, so does the King of Bahrain.
Al Arabiya TV notes that the King has his own programs going on, including a five-day truce in Yemen, where Saudi forces are engaged.
Sending the Crown Prince in his stead doesn’t strike me as much of a blow to US honor and prestige. The Crown Prince also happens to be Minister of Interior.
Saudi King Salman has designated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to attend a Gulf Arab summit with U.S. President Barack Obama in his place, the Saudi foreign minister said, the state news agency, SPA, said on Sunday.
The minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the summit coincides with the start of a five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen and the opening of a humanitarian relief center that carries the Saudi monarch’s name, SPA said.
The summit will include all of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Thursday. It will begin at the White House and then continue at Camp David.
If Saudi Arabia’s opinions and policies can be garnered from its media, then the Saudis have all but abandoned Pres. Obama and his Middle Easter policies. Asharq Alawsat — sometimes known as “The Green Truth” as a nod to its line to Saudi policy makers — runs editorials from two former Editors-in-Chief that lambaste the President for his errant views brought forth in an interview with The New York Times‘s columnist Thomas Friedman.
From Tariq Alhomayed:
Obama is always wrong on the Middle East
In his interview with journalist Thomas Friedman this week, US President Barack Obama said that the threat to regional states, including Saudi Arabia, is not Iranian intervention, but rather “internal threats.” Can this be true?
The reality is that Obama has an incorrect view of the region, and this is something that has become increasingly clear since he took office. He is always wrong on our region, and has made the biggest mistakes here, and these mistakes have had major consequences.
Obama rushed to withdraw from Iraq, and now here we see him returning once again. He played down the Syrian revolution and Assad’s crimes. He talked about “red lines” but Assad has crossed each and every one of these, while Obama has done nothing. He played down the threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) only to subsequently be forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation, although he still had enough time to blame his country’s intelligence services for failing to realize this earlier.
It is also interesting to note a recent Washington Post report that revealed the extent of ISIS’s connection with the former ruling Ba’athist regime in Iraq, and that many members of the group are ex-members of Saddam Hussein’s military. This is the same military that was controversially disbanded following the Iraq invasion. Washington has made many mistakes in Iraq, and Obama must bear some share of the responsibility for this.
From Abdulrahman Al-Rashed:
Contradictions in Obama’s Doctrine
I tried to ignore US President Barack Obama’s interview with the New York Times because I was sure it would be part of his propaganda campaign for the framework nuclear deal with Iran. Still, the interview’s impact cannot be ignored. Rather than calming the fears of those in the Gulf region, Obama has provoked many here.
Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ most prominent writers who is extremely knowledgeable about the region’s affairs, interviewed the president. Perhaps this was why the nation’s leader was dragged into arguing his points, instead of justifying them.
What’s strange about the conversation was that Obama commended the Iranian regime, justifying its actions and implying a sense of guilt over what the US had done against Iran.
I don’t know what books the American president reads before he goes to bed or how he understands the events of the past three decades. Tehran’s mentality and practices are close to those of Al-Qaeda: religious, fascist and hostile towards anyone who opposes their ideology. Tehran’s understanding of the world considers others as either believers or infidels. It is Iran that was responsible for much of the violence in the region under the banner of religion—and this was around 15 years before Al-Qaeda even emerged.
The fact that so many unhinged fatwas make it into the public realm has led to a situation where satire is confused with reality.
Al Arabiya TV reports that an article appearing in a Moroccan satire paper alleging that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti supports cannibalism as a way to show “togethernesss” needed a blunt denial from the Grand Mufti himself. Of course the Arab media isn’t the only one that mistakes satire with facts. Articles appearing in the American satirical paper The Onion are sometimes picked up by major media.
But when real life takes on bizarre aspects — be they in laws or fatwas — a little confusion is understandable. It’s just not very good journalism.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh has denied issuing a fatwa (religious edict) which allows a hungry man to eat his wife, or parts of her body, in the case of famine or if eating his wife would result in saving his own life.
Over the past few days, several pro-Iranian media outlets, such as the online portal of Al Allam news channel and Lebanon’s al-Jumohouria newspaper have carried the story without backing it with any evidence or specifying where or when such a fatwa has been issued.
The unsubstantiated fatwa attributed to the Grand Mufti claims that such sacrifice is the ultimate way of showing subordination and love to her husband as a “way for their two bodies to become one.”
The Washington Post runs an analysis of Saudi Arabia’s assertive role in Yemen. It notes the way the Kingdom once supported the Shi’ite government of Imam Yahya Hamiduddin, but shifted gears following the Imam’s death. Now, the piece says, the Saudis and their coalition partners are seeking to restore peace in Yemen and thwart Iranian ambitions.
For Saudi Arabia, struggles in Yemen have deep roots
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — In the two weeks since Saudi Arabia launched a bombing campaign in Yemen, the kingdom has barely slowed the advance of Shiite rebels who appear to be digging in for a long fight.
But so far, Saudi commanders have projected no outward signs of concern that the campaign is falling short.
“We should not be impatient for the results,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad Asseri, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, cautioned on Friday.
Saudi Arabia’s determination is rooted in something deeper than overcoming insecurity on its borders and the fear that rival Iran could take advantage of it through perceived links to the insurgents. Saudi Arabia’s leaders — backed by its powerful Islamic religious establishment — also have taken on a special role as guardian of both its southern neighbor and the wider Arabian Peninsula.
“This is a blessing .?.?. but it also places a responsibility on all of us,” King Salman told a gathering of the nation’s political and armed forces elite at his Riyadh palace last week.
Writing at The National Interest, Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer argues that a new, more assertive Saudi Arabia is developing under the leadership of the new King, Salman. While continuing to share many goals with the US, there are differences about how to achieve them and Saudi Arabia is willing and able to go in the manners it seems most likely to achieve those goals.
Almost immediately after the death of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on January 22 and the ascension of his half-brother, Salman, to the throne, Saudis and Saudi-watchers in the West began speculating about the contours of Saudi domestic and foreign policy under the new king. While the first speech delivered by Salman within hours of becoming monarch stressed continuity, some seemed convinced that Saudi foreign policy in particular might experience an important shift under his watch. A mere two months after assuming the crown, it is becoming clear that King Salman has a different vision than did his predecessor Abdullah, and perhaps all those who came before him. Between restructuring some of the country’s most important political and economic institutions and launching an unprecedented, large-scale military operation in a neighboring country on the verge of a civil war, we could be witnessing the beginning of a completely new Saudi way of thinking. We could be on the verge of a Saudi perestroika.
The notion that Salman intends to forge his own unique legacy, gained credence a week into his reign, when he not only orchestrated one of the more significant cabinet reshuffles in recent history but also engineered a major overhaul of some of the kingdom’s advisory bodies. Royal decrees he issued eliminated twelve different political and economic advisory bodies. In their stead, he created two new bodies, one overseeing the Economy and Development, the other Political and Security Affairs. While some described the move as Salman’s attempt to consolidate power, others saw it as needed “streamlining” of an inflated bureaucracy.
While the cabinet reshuffle and bureaucratic restructuring was the talk of Saudi Arabia for days, the international community was more interested in gleaning clues about the direction Saudi foreign policy might take under Salman, especially at a time of widening violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.