Friday, February 24, 2006

Life imitates art

Minerva at Terrorism Unveiled has a detailed analysis of the failed attack on a Saudi oil production facility here. Interestingly, the Abqaiq oil production complex was the setting for a hypothetical scenario in a recent book authored by a former CIA analyst Robert Baer to illustrate a 'nightmare' attack on the energy heart of the West.

The Counterterrorism blog amplifies on the importance of Abqaiq as an economc target by quoting from Baer.

Former CIA officer Robert Baer describes this site as "the most vulnerable point and most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system." The huge facility processes around two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's oil output and is the single largest oil processing facility in the world. Oil industry experts on impact of successful attack: "If this has an impact on exports and production, it would be close to one of the things the industry fears the most" - "To have this happen in the world's largest oil-producing nation is what's really got people frightened." Oil markets are already touchy over Nigerian militants' continued attacks on that country's energy sector, a topic of Doug Farah's posts here and here.

Both Terrorism Unveiled and the Counterterrorism blog note that al-Qaeda, which both consider the likeliest perp, has long thought about the utility of an "oil weapon" against the West.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross wrote an article, "Al Qaeda's Oil Weapon," in the "Weekly Standard" last year, a longer version of his September 27 CT Blog post. ... On December 7, Daveed posted about Al Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri's call for attacks on oil facilities in a video. "I call on the holy warriors to concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims, most of the revenues of which go to the enemies of Islam." Daveed reminds me that the December 2004 tape by Osama Bin Laden includes this order (MEMRI translation): "Focus your operations on it [oil production], especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this [lack of oil] will cause them to die off [on their own]." An early attack by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq was of an oil terminal there, killing 3 Americans


My own thoughts is the attacks are less an "oil weapon" than an economic terror weapon. The scale of attacks which could physically halt or seriously interdict global petroleum flows would probably be past the capability of any terrorist group. However, by introducing psychological uncertainty into the oil market terrorists can spike the price, and hence the amount of money that the world pays the Middle East, to the cumulative tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's a manipulation of the market by perps who do not hesitate to describe themselves as victims.  ""I call on the holy warriors to concentrate their campaigns on the stolen oil of the Muslims", Zawahiri said.


Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

Seems like somebody who is trained in counter insurgence would be careful to not write a book that says, in effect, here is where you need to attack to make the maximum effect. Fortunately, AQ and company have proven themselves at only being able to attack un-armed citizens, preferably woman and children, with an occasional mosque thrown in there. Where are the protests against baby-killers? Jane Fonda is righteously silent on this one.

I suppose that while we all wait for the other shoe to drop, we can expect another attack on a super tanker. I am sure Green Peace will declare war on AQ finally.

Yeah, funny how the stolen money has found it’s way into AQ’s coffers. Look at me everybody, I’m a victim. Will this ruse ever get tiring? I done.

2/24/2006 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

The best way to make money in a market is asymmetrical information. Go long oil futures, send suicidal dummies to attack a refinery, collect on the price spike even if the attempt is a total failure. I believe part of OFF operated this way as well and helped Saddam increase his coffers.

2/24/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Oft we speculate on Global Nuclear threats, the Syrian and Hezbollah links, the photos of Hamas fighters, and still you thnk,
" ... The scale of attacks which could physically halt or seriously interdict global petroleum flows would probably be past the capability of any terrorist group. ... "
but US Troops must stay in Iraq, or it will fall, per Mr Rumsfeld, to Z and the Terrorists.

They can strike in the US, dropping the twin towers, and terrorize France,
but a pipeline across Turkey or the KSA, Mexico or Panama, now that's a bridge to far?

IMHO, not.

2/24/2006 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2/24/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger John Aristides said...

I concur with your analysis that this attack was fundamentally pyschological. Uncertainty, not oil, is the weapon here.

2/24/2006 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regard to telling them how to wage war on us, I suspect our "open society" will get a little less open in the coming years as more of us learn the hard lesson of 'Loose lips'.

2/24/2006 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Boys that were raised in the Petrochemical Society, that is Saudi Arabia, do not need lessons from US in the choke points of oil infrastructure. They were born and raised on it, Osama's daddy built most of it.

These plans were outline in aQ documents captured years ago, translated and released in the near past.

We know many things, we suspect more. But defending every chokepoint, there are dozens, is outside US jursidictions.

There is a World War comin', if not in depth, breadth.

2/24/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

They hit both Nigeria and Eucador last week, stopping pumping in both locales.

Not major incidents, to be sure.
Not of World shaking importance,
just another step, another slice.

The ability to escalate, I believe both Camps have capacity, as yet unleashed.

2/24/2006 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Fabio said...

Technically, it takes a lot to cause serious damage to a facility that big. Oil processing plants - and Abqaiq is a rather modern one according to Saudi Aramco itself -have many safeguards too. But in this case the psychological factor is indeed dominant.

2/24/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

do not confuse today's attempt with a real assualt.
Four guys in two cars
Keystone Cops, even if they made it through the Gate.

It is an escalation, though, however inept.

Suiciders, as witnessed in Samarra, are not the first string, of any group.

There is more street theater to these attacks than one would first imagine. But then as the points are connected and the picture forms, Most of their actions are Propaganda, not Reality based.

2/24/2006 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ticker said...

desert rat,

They're going to have to keep up the interdiction against guys determined to sell it, kind of like the caravan raiders against the caravans. Didn't stop the caravans, but it made the price of caravaning pretty high and eventually that included payoffs to the caravan raiders.

In many ways it was in the raider's interests to keep the caravans going. Were they shut down altogether the moolah would dry up.

2/24/2006 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Agreed, W, but the tribute has been being paid, to the PA for example. Now it is beginning to dry up.
Tensions escalate, tribute not paid?

Stopping the payments to the Palistinians, that, the more I think of it, is explosive, across the Region.

The US and Israel will have stopped subsidizing Terror, finally. After 5 years, perhaps there will be some teeth in the Rhetoric.
I had not seen it that way, previously, but the Crisis will pop, pretty damn quick over $80 Million a month USD.

2/24/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Factor in the Brits, the Tribute payment has been even higher.

If Hamas does not moderate, what become of Eygpts "Peace Payment".
Is it paid, if the Egyptians do not deliver?
That is what, $4 Billion USD annually?

Loose that, it'd put a crimp in your style.

2/24/2006 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

While AQ may be the likely perp in this case, Iran is also certainly capable of such actions. Given sufficient motivation I don't doubt that Iran would atack as much oil infrastucture as it could.

When I hear the Iranians making threats about how they can defend themselves against any US or Israeli attack on them and will certainly retaliate in devastating ways, attacks on oil infrastructure is what comes to my mind first.

I don't see this attack as a propaganda attack. Rather I think it's a testing of the waters. What would it take to succeed at such an attack? Also possible is that the perps were local free-lancers trying to gain brownie points or other sorts of cred from the intl jihad by making a successful attack.

2/24/2006 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

I believe I learned it first here, but I could be wrong, as the price of oil goes up, the supply also goes up because that which was once too expensive to consider becomes worth it at some point.

A great site to track oil, gas, etc prices.

Oil stuff

3rd down,
Notice supplies/current stocks are very good.

2/24/2006 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

false flag flyin', buddy.

2/24/2006 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

Hard to speculate with any confidence, sans a detailed report. It just doesn't seem like AQ management-style, tho. Too coarse, too simple, too easily-stopped. AQ would've had something on the inside, wouldn't you think? Unless AQ is weakening, and this is the best it can do.

2/24/2006 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

AQ claims it.

2/24/2006 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger vbwyrde said...

Actually, if Al Qaeda and their goons really want to take down the West in a very serious way without fail they merely need to arrange for a very large contingent of themselves and their supporters to sneak over the border from Mexico into the desert called Death Valley, which is actually a super secret US Paradise filled with fresh dates, almond trees, and thousands of beatiful virgins as well as our most super secret stash unattended and easily stolen WMDs, as well as a herd of 4,200 camels and 3,000 machine guns (with ammo). I hope no one in Al Qaeda reads any of this or believes it. Then we would be doomed very quickly. I'm sorry to have mentioned it, but as an American I can not help but impulsively divulge any national secrets that I happen to be privy to.

2/24/2006 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mark in Texas said...

Perhaps in light of these attacks, President Bush's mention of alternative energy sources in the State of the Union and several subsequent speeches makes strategic as well as economical sense.

There are already more than 5 million vehicles in the US that have the option of using a fuel mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

You may not have a gas station with an E85 pump in your town. I sure don't. However, I am going to look very seriously at making Flex Fuel capability a requirement for my next auto purchase.

That will be my personal contribution to lowering the FUD factor for our national energy supply.

2/25/2006 01:02:00 PM  

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