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The illegitimacy of the Saudi regime was a favorite subject for bin Laden. His dream was that it, along with regimes in Egypt, Jordan and countries across the region, would be overthrown, and that he would rule a restored Muslim empire, a caliphate, stretching from Tehran to Cairo, from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. But this communication was not about grand designs and distant dreams. It was an action plan for whom to kill and what targets to hit. Specifically, kill members of the royal family, and destroy the oil fields.
The idea of sabotaging the Saudi oil fields the world's largest oil reserve strikes directly at the heart of the uneasy co-dependency of the gulf's oil-producing countries and their avid customers in the developed world. Fifteen percent of U.S. oil comes from Saudi Arabia. The strategic import of bin Laden's dictate was immediately clear to U.S. policymakers. His goal was never the untenable idea of engaging in a lasting struggle with America. It was, rather, to prompt the United States to withdraw its support for various Arab regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia, leaving them vulnerable to uprisings.
Tenet and his briefers informed Cheney and President Bush of the intercepted communications. Then they went to see Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Bandar greeted the delegation arriving at his palatial home in northern Virginia, Tenet and his small band of deputies. They hugged. Tenet is a hugger. He and Bandar have passed countless hours together, trust building, a Tenet specialty.
After brief cordialities, Tenet got down to business. He leaned forward. A concerned look crossed his wide mug. "Bad news," Tenet said. "Bin Laden has changed his focus. Now it's you. It's Saudi Arabia."
Bandar was grim. "Scotch?"
He got some. And they drank Johnnie Walker Blue Label as Tenet delivered the bad news. He described the intelligence.
"Can we see the cable?" Bandar asked.
"Can't," Tenet said. "But I'll tell you everything you need to know."
It was the start of a secret shift in relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, getting the Saudis off the sidelines and on the field. Bush's meeting with the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, a month earlier, hadn't done it, nor had a stream of U.S. dignitaries arriving in Riyadh, exhorting the Saudis to allow the Americans to interview the families of the 9/11 terrorists or, at least, to provide access to bank accounts that might yield leads to terror financiers. It was fear that moved the Saudis. The oil fields, the function of every equation, were targeted. The House of Saud was under direct attack.
Bandar poured a second glass. "Where do we begin?"
The King Fahd Causeway, connecting the countries of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, is seen by many Saudis both religious and not as an illicit passage.