Privacy SOS

TSA designation of Algeria as suspect nation upset the Algerian government

On January 12, 2010 the State Department filed a cable to DC: "Algerian Fm: TSA Listing "intolerable, Inappropriate, Inopportune."" It communicated to Washington the Algerian government's upset over TSA's inclusion of the north African nation on its "enhanced security" watch-list, which at that time contained fourteen countries. Citing enhanced cooperation with the Americans on counterterrorism issues, the Algerian foreign minister told US Ambassador David Pearce that "the GOA [Government of Algeria] had been extremely disappointed with Algeria's inclusion in the TSA list, as well as the press coverage the decision had generated. The decision was intolerable, inappropriate, and inopportune." 

The Algerians were reportedly concerned about more than just national humiliation; charges of religious discrimination and hypocrisy were also leveled against the United States. 

The GOA protested the discriminatory nature of the whole list. Thirteen of the 14 countries listed were Muslim. This sent a message that was inconsistent with President Obama's Cairo speech, and the administration's stated policy of outreach to Muslim communities. The decision will likely give further impetus to those who already question the sincerity of the administration's approach. 
Ambassador Pearce seemed to fear that Algerian discontent over the terror watch-listing could threaten US interests in the region — and not just oil and gas ("our commercial interests are rapidly expanding beyond the hydrocarbons sector…").
 
Among those interests were:
  • a then recent agreement to allow US surveillance flights over the country to monitor the Sahel. (Although the cable confirms no change in that agreement:      "[The foreign minister] reconfirmed GOA approval for a recent U.S. request to allow overflights of EP-3E surveillance aircraft");
  • increased cooperation between the US and Algerian militaries, which had "significantly improved the substance of our mil-mil engagement;" and
  • commercial concerns, including:
  • oil and gas ("USD 400 million in oil field equipment and services to Algeria in 2008 and imported USD 19 billion worth of Algerian oil and natural gas,");  
  • weapons sales ("Algeria signed two contracts, totaling USD 847 million, in December 2009, to purchase 11 Boeing aircraft. These were presidential decisions, made in the face of heavy French pressure for Airbus");  
  • and US competition "for politically sensitive security contracts" including that with "Cogent, a U.S. biometrics company, [which was] close to signing a USD 45-million deal to supply the Ministry of Interior with an automated fingerprint identification system but faces heavy competition from France." Another security industry firm, Harris Radio, was at the time of the cable's writing "bidding on a contract with a potential value of USD 500 million to manufacture and supply radios for Algeria's defense ministry and signals corps." Underscoring the importance of these contracts to the US government, Pearce wrote: "The Harris and Cogent contracts have significant implications for U.S. commercial and security interests."

In a rhetorical flourish somewhat unusual for the typically staid, understated cables, Pearce finishes his communique by issuing what reads like a stern warning to the policy makers in DC: do something or else all of these interests may be compromised. 

It is noteworthy that Medelci began and ended this conversation by stressing the importance the Algerian leadership attaches to continuing bilateral cooperation, especially on counterterrorism.  But in-between, however, he delivered an unmistakable message that the GOA feels the TSA moves are inconsistent with that relationship and that they will be watching closely to see how we respond to this demarche.  Over the past year, we have had a green light to develop important new ties across the board, from military to law enforcement. That light has now turned yellow. 

Maybe the special terror watch-lists for Muslim nations isn't such a good idea after all. Indeed, the Sudanese government was also reportedly perturbed by its inclusion on the list; CBS cites another cable wherein the US government advises Sudan that its officials would not be subject to the enhanced screening measures, only its people. Firedoglake cites a host of cables showing that other countries also protested.

Likely the governments of those nations are also providing key corporate and security related information, access and dollars to the US. Can the US have its cake and eat it too?

Your move, US government. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.