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Monday, June 12, 2006

Saudi Arabia's Doomsday Plan

By Rick Shenkman

Saudi Arabia, bracing for the possibility of an attack either by an outside power or restive Shiite residents, implemented an intricate doomsday plan in the 1980s giving officials the power to blow up their own oil wells, according to a new book by journalist Gerald Posner. In the event of an attack, says Posner, the Saudis would trigger a series of "dirty bomb" explosions designed to destroy use of the kingdom's oil supplies for decades. Posner's account, related in his new book, Secrets of the Kingdom (Random House) is based on both Israeli and American intelligence.

The doomsday scenario, dubbed by the National Security Agency, Petroleum Scorched Earth (PSE), would give the Saudis the ability to fend off attacks by threatening to blow up the prized oil facilities and oil supplies which the attackers presumably would want to get their hands on. In the event an attack was carried out, the Saudis would be able to guarantee that little of value fell into the hands of their enemies. (During World War II Adolf Hitler adopted a similar strategy to prevent German infrastructure from falling into the hands of the advancing Soviet army.) The Saudis reportedly were worried about attacks from both Iran, Iraq and the United States as well as internal attacks staged by the oppressed Shiite minority.

American intelligence first picked up hints of this plan in 1986 using sophisticated eavesdropping technology, says Posner. His footnotes indicate that he reviewed a secret file by Israel and confirmed what he learned by discussions with American intelligence officials.

Posner traces the origins of the plan to events in the early 1970s when OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) began to limit the sale of oil to countries that helped Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In 1973 the British were told by American Defense Secretary James Schlesinger that the United States might use force to maintain open access to the key oil fields of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. Two years later, in 1975, the Sunday Times of London published an account of a classified American plan, "Dhahran Option Four," which provided for an American invasion to seize the oil wells of Saudi Arabia. In an interview with the media in 1975, Henry Kissinger publicly acknowledged that the United States might use force to free up oil supplies in the Middle East to save the West from strangulation.

Posner provides significant details about the Saudi doomsday plan. He says that it includes the use of Semtex, the durable plastic explosive made in the former Czechoslovakia, in combination with Radiation Dispersal Devices (RDD). The explosives have reportedly been placed at key critical junctures in the kingdom's oil infrastructure and concealed from the employees of Western corporations working in the oil fields. The risk of radiation would be small, but enough to deter rebuilding of the oil infrastructure. In any event, the radiation would contaminate supplies for years. "All 8 of the Kingdom's refineries are part of the destruction grid," says Posner, who warns that the collapse of the kingdom's oil network would lead to worldwide instability and the most severe recession since the Great Depression.

(article first appeared in History News Network in 2005)
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