The CIA and MI6 have recruited hundreds of Yemenis to work as mercenaries and spies gathering intelligence and coordinates of Yemeni military positions, promising them money and even passports for the dangerous work.
SANA’A, YEMEN — There is little dispute that the United States and the United Kingdom have been major benefactors to the Saudi Kingdom in its six-year-long attempt to use military might to bring Yemen to heel. Both countries have provided billions in hi-tech weapons, intelligence information, and training to what is arguably the Middle East’s most repressive monarchy. But according to the confessions of six men arrested last month amid the ongoing battle over Yemen’s strategic Marib province, Western support for the Saudi-led Coalition goes much farther than conventional military support.
Arrested Yemeni spies speak to MintPress
The CIA and MI6, its British counterpart, have recruited hundreds of Yemenis to work as mercenaries and spies gathering intelligence and coordinates of Yemeni military positions in Marib, al-Mahrah, Sana’a and Sadaa, and providing that information to their handlers, according to confessions given to the Yemeni Security Intelligence Service (YSIS) by at least six Yemeni nationals currently on trial in Sana’a for violating Article 130 of Yemen’s Penal Code.
The six men, who are being held in a detention facility in Sana’a, agreed to speak to MintPress about their experiences. They insist that abject poverty as a result of the ongoing war drove them to participate in the operation, which they said came with the promise of a $300 payout.
According to the men, the operation was carried out primarily at the Ghaydah Airport in eastern al-Mahrah. There, they joined dozens of young Yemenis recruited by the CIA for training by American and British officers on how to properly identify and describe; the use of cameras, sophisticated software programs and devices used to share coordinates; information gathering; and how to find and identify military leaders and headquarters, workshops, factories, laboratories, warehouses, checkpoints and launching sites for missiles and drones. Even the locations of the personal homes and vehicles of Ansar Allah members and other vocal opponents of the Saudi intervention were sought, according to the men.
A careful recruitment process
Their recruitment process was long and delicate, beginning when the men were approached by Yemeni officers working for the Aden-based National Security Agency. After agreeing to travel to al-Mahrah to learn more, the men were housed in hotels before being brought to special cottages at the Ghaydah Airport where they were interviewed by American and British intelligence officers. Muhammad Har, one of the six charged, told MintPress that he was initially approached by Fayez Muhammad Ismail Al-Muntaser, a former officer of the National Security Agency and commander of the Saudi-led Coalition’s Special Missions Battalion.
“When it was my turn, I entered the [unintelligible] and was surprised that members of the committee were Americans. One was asking the questions, the second was writing data, the third was taking fingerprints, while the fourth black-skinned one was translating,” Ali Mohammed Abdullah al-Jomani, a 34-year-old detainee from Haddah recalled. Al-Jomani, who says he used to earn the equivalent of about $10 per day, was put up in the Taj Al-Arab Hotel for three months during the initiation process. “When we went back to conduct the second interview, we did not find the Americans, but rather British officers. They repeated the previous questions about our ability to use maps, drive cars, and use computers.” This tracks with allegations by the Yemeni Security Intelligence Service that the CIA was recruiting young Yemenis and handing them over to British officers for training and further handling.
According to the men, there were two separate camps at the airport, one American and the other Saudi. “After we were accepted, we were trained on how to describe people, cars, and homes and how to share data and photos through WhatsApp,” recalled Basem Ali Ahmed al-Kharouga, a 29-year-old detainee from Sana’a. “The training included field exercises inside and outside of the airport.” Al-Kharouga had long dreamed of traveling abroad and thought that he had finally found his way to flee the violence when he was promised a foreign passport in exchange for the work.
Few options for young Yemenis
In addition to poverty and unemployment, there are other reasons that Yemen’s youth would risk life and freedom to work with foreign intelligence services, perhaps the most prominent being the blockade levied against the country by the Saudi Coalition since 2015. Before the war, Yemenis would regularly leave the country for business, pleasure and to seek medical care. Now — with seaports and airports, especially the once-bustling Sana’a International Airport, effectively shuttered by the Saudi Coalition — Yemenis are no longer able to flee the violence in their country or travel abroad, leaving many desperate young Yemenis with few options.
Hospitals, schools, office buildings, and infrastructure like water wells and sewage networks have been destroyed in the wake of Saudi bombing campaigns, which are often carried out with U.S. and British targeting information gleaned from their network of recruited spies. Funerals, weddings, homes, and other civilian facilities have been targeted, leading to the death and wounding of thousands of civilians and making American and British intelligence services complicit, at best, in the wanton violence.
“We were sent to Marib, me and another guy who went by the name of ‘Akram Amer,’ on one mission that lasted for four days. We were assigned by [a man named] ‘George’ to spy on the home of Ali Salem al-Huraizy near al-Rawda Park,” Aymen Mujahid Qaid Muhammad Harish, one of the six detainees, told MintPress. Among Harish’s tasks was to monitor sites in the city of Arhab, north of Sana’a, where the Saudi Coalition would later target a home where a funeral was taking place. The double-tap airstrike left a child and nine women dead and, according to Harish, his Western handlers, who were responsible for providing the Saudis with targeting data, are to blame for the attack.
Feature photo | Men are silhouetted against a large representation of the Yemeni flag as they attend a ceremony in Sanaa, Yemen. Hani Mohammed | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist based in Sana’a. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.