#911Truth WTFact #7: Saudi Arabia
Did you miss the introduction to this year’s campaign?
One body of lies the mainstream media has at least been forced to admit is at least unanswered and remains hidden is the extent of the connections between the “hijackers” and important Saudi families linked to the rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Even Salon had to ask what was in the redacted 28 pages of the Commission report and how does it relate to the Saudi government, though they claim 9/11 “conspiracy theorists… have distracted attention from real unanswered questions about the attacks.”
What’s in the famously redacted 28 pages?
A joint inquiry of the House and Senate intelligence committees produced an 800-plus page report on activity of the intelligence community in connection with the 9/11 attacks, completed in December 2002. But 28 pages were redacted in the public version, all in the section titled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters.” It has been widely reported that those pages — which neither the Bush nor Obama administration have declassified — deal with links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials. Newsweek, for example, reported that the section “draws apparent connections between high-level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers.”
As long as those pages remain classified, though, it’s impossible to assess the nature of those connections.
What was the role of the Saudi government?
Short of getting a look at those redacted 28 pages, the best source of information on this crucial question is the “The Eleventh Day,” a new account of 9/11 by journalists Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. Bob Graham, the Florida senator who co-chaired the joint inquiry, told the authors that the investigation found evidence “that the Saudis were facilitating, assisting, some of the hijackers. And my suspicion is that they were providing some assistance to most if not all of the hijackers. … It’s my opinion that 9/11 could not have occurred but for the existence of an infrastructure of support within the United States. By ‘the Saudis, I mean the Saudi government and individual Saudis who are for some purposes dependent on the government — which includes all of the elite in the country.”
By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers
A Saudi family who “fled” their Sarasota area home weeks before 9/11 had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001,” according to newly released FBI records.
One partially declassified document, marked “secret,” lists three of those individuals and ties them to the Venice, Fla., flight school where suicide hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained. Accomplice Ziad Jarrah took flying lessons at another school a block away.
Atta and al-Shehhi were at the controls of the jetliners that slammed into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people. Jarrah was the hijacker-pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
The names, addresses and dates of birth of the three individuals tied to the flight school were blanked out before the records were released to BrowardBulldog.org amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation.
The information in the documents runs counter to previous FBI statements. It also adds to concerns raised by official investigations but never fully explored, that the full truth about Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks has not yet been told.
National security and other reasons are cited for numerous additional deletions scattered across the 31 released pages. Four more pages were withheld in their entirety.
The records cast new light on one of the remaining unresolved mysteries regarding Florida’s many connections to the 9/11 attacks: What went on before the attacks at 4224 Escondito Cir., the home of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his family?
The documents are the first released by the FBI about its once-secret probe in Sarasota. Information contained in the documents flatly contradicts prior statements by FBI agents in Miami and Tampa who have said the investigation found no evidence connecting the al-Hijjis to the hijackers or the 9/11 plot.
Details about the al-Hijji family and the Sarasota investigation first came to light in a story published simultaneously by BrowardBulldog.org and The Miami Herald on Sept. 8, 2011.
The story told how concerned residents in the gated community of Prestancia tipped the FBI, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to the al-Hijjis’ sudden departure in late August 2001. The family left behind three cars, clothes, furniture, diapers, toys, food and other items.
The story also reported that a counterterrorism officer and Prestancia’s former administrator, Larry Berberich, both said an analysis of gatehouse security records — log books and snapshots of license tags — had determined that vehicles either driven by or carrying several of the future hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home.
Phone records revealed similar, though indirect, ties to the hijackers, said the counterterrorism officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The FBI records as released do not identify al-Hijji or anyone else by name, citing various exemptions that protect persons’ names in law enforcement records. The names are apparent, however, because the documents describe unique, known events and were released in specific response to a request for information about the investigation at the al-Hijji residence.
An April 16, 2002, FBI report says “repeated citizen calls” led to an inspection of the home by agents of the Southwest Florida Domestic Security Task Force.
“It was discovered that the [family name deleted] left their residence quickly and suddenly. They left behind valuable items, clothing, jewelry and food in a manner that indicated they fled unexpectedly without prior preparation or knowledge,” the report says. “Further investigation of the [name deleted] family revealed many connections between the [name deleted] and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
The report lists three of those individuals. While their identities remain secret, the first person on the list was described as “a [name deleted] family member.”
That person and a second individual were said to be flight students at Huffman Aviation — the flight school at the Venice Municipal Airport attended by hijackers Atta and al-Shehhi.
The third person on the list “lived with flight students at Huffman Aviation” and was “arrested numerous times by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office,” the report says.
The next paragraph, which ends the report, is blanked out entirely.
A notice on the document indicates the censored information regarding the three individuals associated with the terrorist attacks is scheduled to remain classified for another 25 years — until March 14, 2038.
The FBI released the records as a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by BrowardBulldog.org inches toward trial this summer in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. The suit was filed in September after the FBI rejected both a request for its investigative records and an appeal of that request.
Thomas Julin, the news site’s attorney, called the FBI’s release of records that it had previously determined to be exempt from disclosure “highly unusual.”
“The government initially took the position that it had no documents. It hasn’t explained why things changed,” said Julin, of the Miami law firm Hunton & Williams.
Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carole Fernandez, who represents the FBI, declined comment.
The released FBI records are in two tiers: reports and other material written in 2001-2002, and memos, letters and email that followed publication of the first story about the matter in September 2011.
A number of pages recount information provided to the FBI by mail carriers and others, including a Sept. 18, 2001, observation that the al-Hijji family appeared to have “left in a hurry.”
A Sept. 25, 2001, report talks of bank records that agents had obtained. The report was referred to the counterterrorism division’s Usama Bin Laden Unit/Radical Fundamentalist Unit.
One of the reports written in September 2011, after the existence of the Sarasota investigation was revealed, discusses briefly the unnamed “family member” who took flight lessons at Huffman Aviation.
The family member “was interviewed multiple times after 9/11 and identified Atta and al-Shehhi as individuals [phrase deleted] flight training at Huffman. However, investigation did not reveal any other connection between [name deleted] and the hijackers and the 9/11 plot,” the report says.
FBI reports about those interviews were not made public.
Al-Hijji, who following 9/11 worked for the Saudi oil company Aramco in England, could not be reached by phone or email last week. Aramco staff said there was no longer anyone by that name in the London office.
Last year, al-Hijji told a reporter his family did not depart their Sarasota home in haste but left so he could take a job with Aramco in Saudi Arabia. He denied involvement in the 9/11 plot, which he called “a crime against the USA and all humankind.”
The FBI documents also disclose that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., queried Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller about the Sarasota investigation six days after its existence was disclosed in Broward Bulldog/Miami Herald story. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote Leahy that the FBI’s response to the 9/11 attacks “comprehensive and unprecedented,” and assured him that agents found no evidence of contact between the hijackers and the al-Hijjis.
Similarly, Weich denied an assertion by then Sen. Bob Graham of Florida that the FBI had not turned over its Sarasota records to Congress. The bureau, he stated, made all of its records available and suggested they may have been overlooked by investigators.
The documents the FBI has released do not mention other known aspects of the Sarasota investigation, including information provided to the FBI by al-Hijji’s former friend, Wissam Hammoud.
Hammoud, 47, is a federal prisoner classified by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons as an “International Terrorist Associate.” He is serving a 21-year sentence for weapons violations and attempting to kill a federal agent and a witness in a previous case against him.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement documents obtained by BrowardBulldog.org state that shortly after his 2004 arrest, Hammoud told agents that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero,” may have known some of the hijackers, and once introduced Hammoud to fugitive al-Qaeda leader and ex-Miramar resident Adnan Shukrijumah.
When reached last year, al-Hijji acknowledged having known Hammoud well. He did not, however, respond to a question about Hammoud’s allegations and said Shukrijumah’s name did not “ring a bell.”
What the FBI did about Hammoud’s allegations is not known.
Other FBI documents about Sarasota are known to exist, but were not released, including a report Graham says he read last year but can’t discuss because it is classified.
The Bulldog’s FOIA lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge William Zloch to order the FBI to produce all records of its Sarasota investigation, including the records seen by Graham.
Dan Christensen is the editor of Broward Bulldog. Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, who also contributed to this story. Are co-authors of “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden.”
Former Senator Bob Graham on Democracy Now in September 2011
This was part of the credible interest in the 9/11 links to the Saudi government that forced the eventual acknowledgement by the New York Times and other major media outlets in the following months. A few days after the interview, the FBI released a statement stating that there was no evidence of a connection between the hijackers and those families.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Former Florida Senator Bob Graham is calling on President Obama to reopen the investigation into the September 11th attacks after new information has emerged about the possible role of prominent Saudis in the 9/11 attack.
According to recent news reports, a wealthy young Saudi couple fled their home in a gated community in Sarasota, Florida, just a week or so before 9/11, leaving behind three cars and nearly all of their possessions. The FBI was tipped off about the couple but never passed the information on to the September 11 Commission, even though phone records showed the couple had ties to Mohamed Atta and at least 10 other al-Qaeda suspects.
Former Senator Bob Graham described the news as, quote, “the most important thing about 9/11 to surface in the last seven or eight years.” Graham said, “The key umbrella question is: What was the full extent of Saudi involvement prior to 9/11 and why did the U.S. administration cover this up?”
AMY GOODMAN: Back in 2004, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore drew attention to the fact that the White House had also approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis shortly after the Twin Towers were hit. In this clip from his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore speaks with Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who was on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation at the time.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: We had some airplanes authorized at the highest levels of our government to fly to pick up Osama bin Laden’s family members and others from Saudi Arabia and transport them out of this country.
MICHAEL MOORE: It turns that the White House approved planes to pick up the bin Ladens and numerous other Saudis. At least six private jets and nearly two dozen commercial planes carried the Saudis and the bin Ladens out of the U.S. after September 13th. In all, 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the country.
AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from Fahreneheit 9/11 by Michael Moore.
We’re joined now by former Florida governor and senator, Bob Graham. He’s in Washington, D.C. As the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a post he held on September 11, 2001, he chaired the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the deadly attacks. He has just written a novel called Keys to the Kingdom.
Senator Bob Graham, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start with this new information that we have learned. It may not be new information to the government, but talk about this Saudi couple in Sarasota, Florida.
BOB GRAHAM: Thank you, Amy, and good morning.
One of the questions around 9/11 is whether these 19 hijackers were operating alone or whether they had a support network that assisted them and gave them anonymity. It’s been my feeling that it was very unlikely that they could have been successful without such a network. We know a great deal about the network component that existed in San Diego. What we’ve just learned is about another pod of this network in Sarasota. What we know to date is that there was a wealthy Saudi family living in a gated community near Sarasota, which had numerous contacts with Atta, the leader of the hijackers, and two others who were doing their pilot training near Sarasota. We also know that this family left the United States under what appear to be very urgent circumstances on August the 30th, 2001, just before 9/11.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And is there any indication why this information was never revealed to the September 11th Commission?
BOB GRAHAM: No, but the same was true in San Diego. The FBI, although they were asked to provide the congressional inquiry all the information they had about 9/11, did not tell us about these extensive contacts—contacts in San Diego. It was because we had a very curious and effective investigative team, which went to San Diego and was able to uncover the relationship between, particularly, a key Saudi agent living in San Diego and the first two hijackers to have entered the United States.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, this is not—you have raised in the past concerns about a possible Saudi involvement with the hijackers. Could you talk about how your concerns have arisen over the years? Obviously you’re privy to information as a former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the average American or even the average politician or member of Congress is not. But why you have had these concerns?
BOB GRAHAM: Well, it started with the disbelief that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, had never been in the United States, could have come here, plotted, practiced and then executed such a complex plan as 9/11. My assumption had been that they had some support system that was already in place in the United States, which facilitated their activities. We learned a lot about such a facilitation in San Diego. Now we’re beginning to learn about Sarasota. The question in my mind is, what happened in places like Arlington, Virginia; Paterson, New Jersey; Phoenix, Arizona; Delray Beach, Florida, where we know hijackers lived for a considerable period of time? Were there similar facilitators in those communities?
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Bassnan is, and Bayoumi, and their relationship in San Diego.
BOB GRAHAM: Yeah. Right after the first Persian Gulf War, the monarchy in Saudi Arabia became very concerned that they were going to be the next Iran, a youth-led revolt. In order to avoid that, one of the steps they took was to begin to establish monitors in those areas of the world where there were significant number of Saudi youth, particularly college and university students. One of those places was San Diego. The man who was listed by the FBI, described prior to 9/11 as a Saudi agent, had the responsibility of that monitoring in Southern California, but he also, in January of 2000, took on a second task, which was to provide assistance to two Saudis who had recently entered the country. We know that they had been very important and experienced operatives of al-Qaeda, because, among other things, they had just attended a summit of terrorists held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the first week in January in 2000. Bayoumi, the agent in San Diego, and Bassnan, who was the successor to Bayoumi, provided substantial assistance to these two men. Now, it appears in Sarasota that it may not—that the facilitators may not have come from the same network of persons who were monitoring students, but rather from people who were close to the royal family and were considered reliable and who were given this assignment of helping hijackers.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Senator Graham, about the 9/11 Commission and the suppressed pages of that commission, what you believe is in them, and if it links to the Saudi royal family?
BOB GRAHAM: The suppressed pages were in the Congressional Joint Inquiry. We worked diligently throughout 2002 to gather as much of the information as we could and to make recommendations. We had an 800-plus-page report, one chapter of which, which related primarily to the role of the Saudis in 9/11, was totally censored. Every word of that chapter has been denied to the American people. One of the reasons that I wrote a novel, Keys to the Kingdom, was because I felt that that was a means of beginning to tell the American people some of the things which they have not been able to be told because of the degree of cover-up that has surrounded the Saudi activities in the United States prior to 9/11.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And your novel is based on a fictional former senator from Florida who’s basically involved in trying to ferret out the secrets that the rest of the public is denied knowledge of? Could you talk a little bit about the novel?
BOB GRAHAM: The novel does commence with a retired U.S. senator who’s living in Florida, who is obsessed with the unanswered questions of 9/11. He contacts a young intelligence officer who had previously worked with him in the inquiry into 9/11 and asks if he will come to Florida to discuss what the senator’s concerns are and some ideas of how to find those answers. The senator also writes a very detailed memorandum, which he would use for his discussion with the young man. Unfortunately, before that meeting can take place, the senator is killed in a very suspicious hit-and-run accident. That event starts the action of the novel, as the young intelligence officer reads the memo, agrees to undertake this assignment, as well as attempting to find out who killed Senator Billington.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you had written in 2004 a non-fiction book called Intelligence Matters that was heavily censored. Is this why you’re choosing to write a fictional book now that actually deals with a number of the issues that you were not able to get out more than five years ago?
BOB GRAHAM: Yes. The standards of censorship are much lower if you are not representing the book to be reality, but rather fiction. The fact is, the Keys to the Kingdom, about 40 percent of the material is truth, with the exception that I changed the names of most living people. Another 40 percent is fiction, and 20 percent is a blend.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you’ve been critical of the Bush administration—the second Bush administration and its handling of the aftermath of 9/11, specifically in terms of beginning to develop the plans for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Could you talk about how you reached these critical conclusions and what affected you in terms of taking that stance?
BOB GRAHAM: Well, the first concern about the degree of cover that has been given to the Saudi relationship around 9/11, there are multiple instances in which the Bush administration precluded the official investigators, a citizens’ 9/11 Commission and our commission of the Congress, and denied to the American people information which was not of a national security level, but rather could have been politically embarrassing.
A year after 9/11, the Senate was debating whether to authorize the United States to go to war against Iraq. I was strongly opposed to that, first because I thought that it would be a diversion from Afghanistan, which should have been our priority, and second, that the evidence that had been submitted on weapons of mass destruction was highly suspect. I’m afraid that, as it has turned out, the fact that we are still in Afghanistan 10 years later is in large part because we shifted our focus to Iraq, and, of course, there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Graham, if you could speak more about the Bush administration’s relationship with the Saudi royal family and the bin Ladens in the Saudi royal family, as well as others, what the relationship was, what was being protected, who was allowed to get out of this country after September 11th, and who wasn’t?
BOB GRAHAM: There are a number of suggestions as to why did the Bush administration engage in such a comprehensive cover-up. One of them is the close family relationship, which goes back to the president’s grandfather, Preston Bush—Prescott Bush, and the Saudi family. Another reason is for since ever—ever since World War II, the United States has had an understanding with the Saudis that they would provide us with oil, we would provide them with defense assistance. So, you can pick which reason you think explained it. A more current reason was that the United States, after 9/11, was obsessed with the question of—or avoiding another attack. And the feeling was, we can’t antagonize an important Middle Eastern country that may be able to give us good intelligence and other assistance in avoiding that other attack. All those are speculative, and history will have to come to the answer of which one really describes the basis of the Bush administration’s cover-up.
As to the Saudis who escaped, the Michael Moore movie accurately depicts it. Prince Bandar, the ambassador to the United States from Saudi Arabia, shortly after 9/11, within hours, went to the president and asked that Saudis who were in the United States, who felt that they might be subjected to some kind of adverse treatment because of the public attitude, knowing that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, that he asked if they could exit the country as quickly as possible. The president approved that, even though domestic aviation in the United States was shut down. And approximately 140 Saudis, including several members of the bin Laden family, left. The FBI later stated that there were people on that plane that the FBI would have desired to have interviewed before they left the United States but were denied the opportunity to do so.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you have called on the Obama administration to reopen the investigation, but given the original 9/11 Commission Report, your joint inquiry, what body or what group of people do you think would be independent enough to be able to conduct an investigation that could lay to rest all the many questions that still exist among the American people about what happened on 9/11 and who was responsible?
BOB GRAHAM: The White House is where this investigation should be conducted. The agencies that are involved are all executive agencies, the leadership appointed by the president. The president has the capability of declassifying, for instance, the 28-page chapter, if it chooses to do so. It would only be if the White House was unwilling or unable to carry forward the answer to a number of secrets about 9/11 that I would advocate that some independent group outside of the executive branch be assembled to do so.
AMY GOODMAN: Bob Graham, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Bob Graham is former Florida Democratic governor, as well as U.S. senator, founder of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, a post he held on September 11, 2001. Graham’s newest book is called Keys to the Kingdom. It’s billed as fiction.
Here are some of the pieces of the puzzle.
Much of what we know has been learned through the energy and competence of external investigators, state and local law enforcement officers, reporters and authors, and plaintiffs’ attorneys. Concisely:
Often over the FBI’s objections, the Congressional Joint Inquiry uncovered a good deal about a support network in San Diego, California. There, a man named Omar al-Bayoumi, whom the FBI had identified as a Saudi agent even before 9/11, provided direct assistance to future hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. Those two Saudi citizens, who came to the U.S. only ten days after attending a terrorist summit, were the vanguard of the operation on U.S. territory. Bayoumi, a “ghost employee,” was paid by a Saudi company but not expected to report for work. The company’s monthly non-salary payments to him increased eight-fold after the two hijackers arrived in San Diego. He and his family left the country seven weeks before 9/11.
The FBI withheld from the Congressional Inquiry, and from the subsequent 9/11 Commission, the fact that it had investigated another potential support pod for the hijackers in Sarasota, Florida. That information became public on the tenth anniversary last year, following persistent work by Anthony Summers, co-author of The Eleventh Day, this year’s Pulitzer Prize for History finalist, and his colleague Dan Christensen, an investigative journalist in South Florida with BrowardBulldog.org.
In the Sarasota case, law enforcement officials suspected that several hijackers, including their leader Mohamed Atta, repeatedly visited the home of a Saudi couple in a suburban gated community. Their visits, sources who were involved at the time say, were on record — the license plates of vehicles they used to enter the community had been automatically photographed. The Saudi couple abruptly left their posh home, bound for Saudi Arabia, about two weeks before 9/11. The husband and his father-in-law were apparently on a watch list at the FBI and a U.S. agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.
When the Sarasota case erupted in September of 2011, the FBI issued two public statements, each of which declared there had been a full investigation of the alleged relationship between hijackers and persons in Sarasota; that investigation determined there was no such relationship; and that the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission had been informed.
Through personal knowledge, interviews and files which were made available it was found that these public statements were untrue.
In July of this year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Committee on Homeland Security, issued a 330-page report faulting banking giant HSBC for ignoring the ties to terrorist financing of Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia’s largest private bank. The report states that after the 9/11 attacks, “evidence began to emerge that Al Rajhi Bank and some of its owners had links to organizations associated with financing terrorism, including that one of the bank’s founders was an early financial benefactor of al Qaeda.” This individual was identified in the report as being part of Osama bin-Laden’s “Golden Chain” of al-Qaeda financiers.
Other information indicating that there was a Saudi role has come from the determined litigation by survivors of 9/11, the families of the dead and property insurers. A U.S. report, disclosed only after a FOIA lawsuit, hints at deeper institutional links between the Kingdom and al-Qaeda. It states that the Saudi charity, International Islamic Relief Organization’s (IIRO), “support for terrorist organizations began in the early 1990s and continued through at least the first half of 2006” and linked a Saudi IIRO official to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The legal efforts that target Saudi Arabia, however, have so far been thwarted. The Saudis have been able to dodge the suits, thanks to what is known as “sovereign immunity” which exempts most foreign states from being sued.
The Saudis claimed, meanwhile, that the 9/11 Commission Report exonerated the Kingdom. As former U.S. senator and 9/11 Commission member Bob Kerrey — and one of the authors of this article Bob Graham, as co-chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry — emphasized in affidavits filed last March, the Commission and the congressional inquiry did not do that at all.
Our Department of State supported the Saudis’ dismissal from the litigation, arguing that delicate matters of U.S.-Saudi relations should be handled not by the judiciary but by the executive branch. An appellate court later found this to be an erroneous interpretation of the law in a case against Afghanistan, but the State Department’s intervention on behalf of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 families’ suit had already placed the Kingdom beyond judicial reach.
What should the United States do now?
The investigation of the extent of foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers ought to be reopened by the president, who has the authority to order the FBI to pursue the existing leads seriously, or he should designate another appropriate entity to do so. This investigation should reach all the places where the hijackers spent significant time, such as Paterson, New Jersey, Falls Church and Arlington, Virginia, and Delray Beach, Florida.
The president should also order the declassification of the relevant documents. They have been hidden from the American people too long. That declassification must include the 28-page chapter that has been censored from the report of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, as well as the reports cited in the notes of the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report concerning al-Qaeda’s financial and logistical support network.
The Congress should amend the sovereign immunity statute. Those who framed it did not intend that it should shield terrorists or their collaborators from claims against them for the murder of Americans on U.S. soil. A bill pending in both the Senate and House called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which enjoys broad bi-partisan (or more accurately non-partisan) support, would achieve that goal through modest amendments to the sovereign immunity statute, and should be passed immediately.
What the Joint Inquiry learned — and has emerged since — shows where the proverbial finger of suspicion points. It points to Saudi Arabia, and we need to know the full truth.
Bob Graham is a former U.S. Senator from Florida, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and co-Chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11. He is the author of two books on 9/11. Sharon Premoli, a survivor of the attack on the North Tower of the World Trade Center, now runs the website Justiceagainstterrorism.net.
Bush Administration blocks investigation
President Bush refused on Tuesday to release a congressional report alleging possible links between Saudi Arabian officials and the Sept. 11 hijackers. The White House sought to question a Saudi citizen who befriended two of the hijackers.
Bush said he could not comply with a request by the Saudi foreign minister for a chance to clear the Arab kingdom’s name because publication of the report could hurt U.S. intelligence operations.
The foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, said he was disappointed but understood.
The information is widely believed to center on Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied supporting the hijackers.
Sources tell CBS the redacted section lays out a money trail between Saudi Arabia and supporters of al Qaeda, reports CBS White House Chief Correspondent John Roberts.
Among others, it singles out Omar al-Bayoumi, who gave financial assistance to 9-11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
The FBI charges al-Bayoumi, an official of the Saudi civil aviation authority, never lacked for money and is believed to have received funds from a charitable trust run by the wife of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. The Saudis, for all their protestations of cooperating in the war on terror, still refuse to allow the FBI access to al-Bayoumi.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called suggestions of such links “an outrage to any sense of fairness” and said his country had been “wrongfully and morbidly accused of complicity in the attacks.”
“Twenty-eight blank pages are now considered substantial evidence to proclaim the guilt of a country that has been a true friend and partner of the United States for over 60 years,” the foreign minister said.
After the White House meeting, Saud spoke for about an hour with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. He said later she told him U.S. authorities want to question Bayoumi.
Saud said he replied that FBI and CIA agents in Saudi Arabia could freely question Bayoumi, who was questioned already by American, British and Saudi investigators. They found “no proof” of a connection to the terror attacks, Saud told reporters at the Saudi Embassy.
The Saudis have complained that they cannot respond to a report they cannot see. But Bush made plain he has no intention of declassifying the material.
“I absolutely have no qualms at all because there’s an ongoing investigation into the 9-11 attacks, and we don’t want to compromise that investigation,” Mr. Bush said at an earlier news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Rose Garden.
“If people are being investigated, it doesn’t make sense for us to let them know who they are,” Mr. Bush told reporters before meeting with al-Faisal.
Moreover, Mr. Bush said, “declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror. … It would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods.”
The decision came against a background of controversy over whether officials in Saudi Arabia had connections with the terrorists.
Earlier, citing the Saudi ambassador’s claim that his country has “nothing to hide,” Sen. Bob Graham called on Mr. Bush to release the report.
Doing so “will permit the Saudi government to deal with any questions which may be raised in the currently censored pages, and allow the American people to make their own judgment about who are our true friends and allies in the war on terrorism,” Graham, D-Fla., said in a letter to Mr. Bush. Graham, who co-chaired the inquiry, is a Democratic presidential candidate.
After the report was released last Thursday, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan issued a statement saying that “28 blanked-out pages are being used by some to malign our country and our people.”
“Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide. We can deal with questions in public, but we cannot respond to blank pages,” he said.
Citing those comments, Graham said Bandar “has joined in asking that the pages be declassified.”
After the FBI at first had denied there was any connection between a Saudi family whose home had been visited by some of the 9/11 hijackers, and which then fled Sarasota shortly before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI now claims that disclosure of certain classified information about the Saudi family “would reveal current specific targets of the FBI’s national security investigations,” according to the Miami Herald.
In other words: “We never found anything, and there’s nothing there, but we can’t tell you about it, because it would endanger national security.”
The FBI’s preposterous claims come in a sworn declaration as part of a Justice Department motion to dismiss a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit brought by the Broward Bulldog, which, along with journalist Anthony Summers, discovered and published an account of the Sarasota links of the 9/11 hijackers.
Again, it’s important to note that the FBI later said that there were no connections between the family and the hijackers. Furthermore, the family claims that its departure was scheduled. Clearly, there’s some disagreement.
The records are 31 pages long, although there are some areas that are blackened out and four pages were not released (so, there are 35 pages in sum), as authorities cited national security for these exclusions. The new information about the family’s ties sparks questions about what role, if any, Saudi Arabia played in the attacks (or, at the least, if the terrorists had additional help from other Saudis in the U.S.).
As the Herald noted earlier this month, the newer information in the document runs counter to previous statements made by FBI agents who said that an investigation found evidence linking hijackers to the al-Hijjis family. It has been nearly two years since the Herald and the BrowardBulldog.org first released information about the family and its alleged ties to 9/11 terrorists.
According to those earlier reports, neighbors tipped the FBI after the attacks, noting that the family fled in August of 2001, leaving cars, personal items and food behind. The Herlad continues, providing more information about the new revelations:
FOIA Lawsuit reveals more
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit brought by the Broward Bulldog
On September 5, 2012, Broward Bulldog filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court in Fort Lauderdale against the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The 25-page complaint seeks records of an investigation involving a Saudi family, former residents of Sarasota, who may have provided aid or assistance to the 9/11 hijackers.
Here are some of the key documents filed in the case, plus related documents:
**NEW** 8/15 – Our Reply to Government’s Response to Motion to Compel
**NEW** 8/8 – Government’s Response to Motion to Compel
In San Diego, allegations of links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers revolve around two enigmatic Saudi men: Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, both of whom have long since left the United States.
Al-Bayoumi had previously worked for the Saudi government in civil aviation (a part of the Saudi defense department), and was alleged by many San Diego Muslims to be an agent for the Saudi government who reported on the activities of Saudi-born students living in Southern California.
In early 2000, al-Bayoumi invited two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to San Diego from Los Angeles. He told authorities he met the two men by chance when he sat next to them at a restaurant.
As Newsweek reported in 2002, al-Bayoumi’s invitation was extended on the same day that he visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles for a private meeting.
Al-Bayoumi arranged for the two future hijackers to live in an apartment near the San Diego Islamic Center mosque and paid $1,500 to cover their first two months of rent.
When asked not long after the 9/11 attacks about al-Bayoumi’s possible involvement, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, then the San Diego head of the FBI, told this reporter that there was no evidence al-Bayoumi played a role.
But a former top FBI official later told Newsweek, “We firmly believed that [al-Bayoumi] had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot].”
After 9/11, al-Bayoumi was detained by New Scotland Yard while living in the U.K. Gore said the FBI sent agents to London to interview him, but he was released a week later and allowed to return to Saudi Arabia.
Newsweek reported that classified sections of the congressional 9/11 inquiry indicated that the Saudi Embassy in London pushed for al-Bayoumi’s release.
Where is al-Bayoumi now? “I can’t say too much, but what I can tell you is that he is still alive and living in Saudi Arabia,” says Graham.
As for Basnan, whom Graham calls “Bayoumi’s successor,” Newsweek reported that he received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal.
The checks were sent because Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, needed thyroid surgery, Newsweek and other media outlets reported. But Dweikat inexplicably signed many of the checks over to al-Bayoumi’s wife, Manal Bajadr. This money allegedly made its way into the hands of hijackers Almihdhar and Alhazmi, according to the congressional report.
At a post-9/11 gathering in San Diego, Basnan allegedly called the attack “a wonderful, glorious day” and celebrated the hijackers’ “heroism,” a law-enforcement official told Newsweek.
Despite all this, he was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan. “I am not aware of [Basnan’s] current whereabouts,” says Graham.
Another man who might have helped investigators get to the bottom of this mystery is Abdussattar Shaikh, a longtime FBI asset in San Diego who was friends with al-Bayoumi and invited two of the San Diego-based hijackers to live in his home.
However, Shaikh was not allowed by the FBI or the Bush administration to testify before the 9/11 Commission or the JICI.
“For me, that was the low point of the [JICI] investigation,” says Graham. “Bayoumi introduced the hijackers to Shaikh, who clearly knew a lot, but the FBI, who had Shaikh in protective custody, seemed to care more about protecting their asset than allowing us to find out what he knew about 9/11.”
During roughly the same period after the 9/11 attacks, San Diego FBI agent Steven Butler alerted his superiors about a flow of money from Saudi government officials that had made its way into the hands of two of the San Diego-based hijackers, according to U.S. News & World Report. But the warning was ignored.
“Butler is claiming that people [in the FBI] didn’t follow up,” a congressional source told U.S. News & World Report. Another congressional source told U.S. News: “Butler saw a pattern, a trail, and he told his supervisors, but it ended there.”
The investigation into the Saudi government’s alleged connections to the hijackers seemed to end there. Arguably the greatest crime mystery of our time has become a cold case.
“I can’t believe the American public has let this go,” says Randall Hamud, the attorney who represented several of the San Diego-based hijackers’ non-Saudi friends as well as the family of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.
Hamud insists the Saudis were “given a pass by [President] Bush” throughout the 9/11 investigation. “There was overwhelming evidence that the Saudi government was connected to 9/11, but we still let Bayoumi return to Saudi Arabia,” he says. “What more do you need to know?”
An FBI informant hosted and rented a room to two hijackers in 2000. Specifically, investigators for the Congressional Joint Inquiry discovered that an FBI informant had hosted and even rented a room to two hijackers in 2000 and that, when the Inquiry sought to interview the informant, the FBI refused outright, and then hid him in an unknown location, and that a high-level FBI official stated these blocking maneuvers were undertaken under orders from the White House. As the New York Times notes:
Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the White House on Tuesday of covering up evidence ….The accusation stems from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s refusal to allow investigators for a Congressional inquiry and the independent Sept. 11 commission to interview an informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had been the landlord in San Diego of two Sept. 11 hijackers.
The 2 hijackers were Saudis.
Why “no one seems to care”
Lloyd’s of London cares… about their money
A Lloyd’s insurance syndicate has begun a landmark legal case against Saudi Arabia, accusing the kingdom of indirectly funding al-Qa’ida and demanding the repayment of £136m it paid out to victims of the 9/11 attacks.
The Brighton-based Lloyd’s 3500 syndicate, which paid $215m compensation to companies and individuals involved, alleges that the oil-rich Middle Eastern superpower bears primary responsibility for the atrocity because al-Qa’ida was supported by banks and charities acting as “agents and alter egos” for the Saudi state.
The detailed case, which names a number of prominent Saudi charities and banks as well as a leading member of the al-Saud royal family, will cause embarrassment to the Saudi government, which has long denied claims that Osama bin Laden’s organisation received official financial and practical support from his native country.
Outlined in a 156-page document filed in western Pennsylvania, where United Airlines flight 93 crashed on 9/11, the claim suggests that the nine defendants “knowingly” provided resources, including funding, to al-Qa’ida in the years before the attack and encouraged anti-Western sentiment which increased support for the terror group.
The legal claim states: “Absent the sponsorship of al-Qa’ida’s material sponsors and supporters, including the defendants named therein, al-Qa’ida would not have possessed the capacity to conceive, plan and execute the 11 September attacks. The success of al-Qa’ida’s agenda, including the 11 September attacks themselves, has been made possible by the lavish sponsorship al-Qa’ida has received from its material sponsors and supporters over more than a decade leading up to 11 September 2001.”
The Lloyd’s syndicate is known as a “run-off”, meaning that it does not accept new premiums on the Lloyd’s of London insurance market and instead deals with historic claims. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, its members settled a raft of multimillion-pound claims from affected businesses, including airlines, airports and security companies, as well as injured individuals and relatives of those killed.
Its complaint, which quotes heavily from US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks detailing investigations by the US authorities into al-Qa’ida, attempts to establish funding links between some Saudi charities, and the terror group, and implicate the Saudi government in that funding through its support of the charities.
The case singles out the activities of a charity, the Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo and Chechnya (SJRC), which was alleged by UN officials to have been used as a cover by several al-Qa’ida operatives, including two men who acted as directors of the charity. It is alleged that at the time the SJRC was under the control of Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, half-brother of King Abdullah and the long-standing Saudi Interior minister. The claim states: “Between 1998 and 2000, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through the SJRC, diverted more than $74m to al-Qa’ida members and loyalists affiliated with SJRC bureaus. Throughout this time, the Committee was under the supervision and control of Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz.”
The Saudi embassies in London and Washington did not respond to requests from The Independent for a response to the allegations in the claim. The 9/11 Commission, America’s official report on the attacks, found that there was no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials individually funded al-Qa’ida.
Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks showed that American officials remained concerned that the Saudi authorities were not doing enough to stop money being passed to the terror group by Saudi citizens.
After January 15, 2000: 9/11 Hijacker Alhazmi Allegedly Suspects Omar Al-Bayoumi Is Saudi Spy
After getting to know San Diego resident Omar al-Bayoumi, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi allegedly begins to suspect that he is a Saudi spy. Alhazmi, fellow hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Bayoumi all live in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early 2000. In discussing why the hijackers move from there, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “They may also have been reconsidering the wisdom of living so close to the video camera-wielding al-Bayoumi, who Alhazmi seemed to think was some sort of Saudi spy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 219]
Alhazmi Warns Friend Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy – An FBI report from shortly after 9/11 obtained by the website Intelwire.com will similarly mention, “Alhazmi disclosed to _____ [that al-Bayoumi] was a spy for the Saudi government and directed ______ not to socialize too much with him.” (Several names mentioned are redacted, and al-Bayoumi’s name is inferred from other references to him.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/15/2002 ] It is unclear what the source for this information is, or when exactly Alhazmi may say this.
Alhazmi Also Tells FBI Informant Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy – From May until December 2000, Alhazmi lives at the house of Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant. In a 2004 interview by the 9/11 Commission, Shaikh will say that Alhazmi told him that al-Bayoumi was an agent for the Saudi government. Alhazmi also told him that he didn’t like al-Bayoumi, and he complained that al-Bayoumi constantly videotaped people at the local mosque, and made comments on the video camera’s microphone as he recorded them. Shaikh already knew al-Bayoumi from the local mosque (the Islamic Center of San Diego) and al-Bayoumi also visited Alhazmi at his house. Shaikh pointed out that he’d noticed this too, and he says he told Alhazmi, “I have heard that al-Bayoumi is an agent (of the Saudis).” Later, Shaikh warned someone he knew not to help al-Bayoumi after being requested to do so, because he feared al-Bayoumi was an intelligence agent. [9/11 Commission, 4/23/2004]
Late May 2001: Pentagon PR Chief Forms ‘Rumsfeld Group’ to Manage Public Relations for War on Terror
Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup – Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon’s Involvement – John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
September 11, 2001: Intelligence Committee Chairs Meet with ISI Head and Possible 9/11 Attack Funder as the Attack Occurs
Around 8:00 a.m., on September 11, 2001, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is at a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), a 10-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine operations wing. Also present at the meeting are Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, as well as other officials and aides. (Goss, Kyl, and Graham had just met with Pakistani President Pervez Mushrraf in Pakistan two weeks earlier (see August 28-30, 2001)). [Salon, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 5/18/2002] Graham and Goss will later co-head the joint House-Senate investigation into the 9/11 attacks, which will focus on Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but will say almost nothing about possible Pakistani government connections to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks (see August 1-3, 2003 and December 11, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/11/2002] Note that Senator Graham should have been aware of a report made to his staff the previous month (see Early August 2001) that one of Mahmood’s subordinates had told a US undercover agent that the WTC would be destroyed. Some evidence suggests that Mahmood ordered that $100,000 be sent to hijacker Mohamed Atta (see October 7, 2001).
Pakistan’s Demands – Graham will later say of the meeting: “We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan.” The New York Times will report that bin Laden is specifically discussed. [Vero Beach Press Journal, 9/12/2001; Salon, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 6/3/2002] The US wants more support from Pakistan in its efforts to capture bin Laden. However, Mahmood says that unless the US lifts economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan and improves relations, Pakistan will not oppose the Taliban nor provide intelligence and military support to get bin Laden. He says, “If you need our help, you need to address our problems and lift US sanctions.” He also encourages the US to engage the Taliban diplomatically to get them to change, instead of isolating them. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was absurd for Mahmood to insist now that the Americans engage with the Taliban, when [Pakistan’s] own influence over them was declining and al-Qaeda’s increasing.”
Meeting Interrupted by 9/11 Attacks – Zamir Akram, an accompanying Pakistani diplomat, leaves the room for a break. While outside, he sees a group of Congressional aides gathered around a television set. As Akram walks up to the TV, he sees the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. He immediately runs back to the meeting to the tell the others. But even as he gets there, a congressional aide comes in to say that Capitol Hill is being evacuated. The aide says, “There is a plane headed this way.” Mahmood and the rest of the Pakistani delegation immediately leave and attempt to return to the Pakistani embassy. But they are stuck in traffic for three hours before they get there. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 26-27]
August 2, 2002: CIA Memo Says Evidence of Saudi Government Support for Hijackers Is ‘Incontrovertible’
According to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry he co-chairs later will uncover a CIA memo written on this date. The author of the memo writes about hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and concludes that there is “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 169] Apparently, this memo will be discussed in the completely censored section of the Inquiry’s final report that deals with foreign government involvement in the 9/11 plot (see August 1-3, 2003). Osama Basnan, one of the key players in a suspected transfer of funds from the Saudi government to these two hijackers, is arrested in the US a few weeks after this memo is written, but he will be deported two months after that (see August 22-November 2002).
Late 2002-2004: Imam Al-Awlaki Lives Openly in Britain, despite Growing Evidence of Link to 9/11 Plot
Anwar al-Awlaki, the imam for three of the 9/11 hijackers in the US, lives openly in Britain.
Growing Suspicions about Al-Awlaki in US – After 9/11, US investigators increasingly suspect that al-Awlaki’s links with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour in the US were more than just a coincidence. In October 2002, al-Awlaki is briefly detained while visiting the US but is not arrested, even though there is an outstanding warrant for his arrest (see October 2002). The FBI as a whole does not believe he was involved in the 9/11 plot. However, some disagree. One detective tells the 9/11 Commission in 2003 or 2004 that al-Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry releases its final report in 2003, and it states that al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided [Alhazmi and Almihdhar]” (see August 1-3, 2003).
No Attempt to Arrest Him Living Openly in Britain – Al-Awlaki does not visit the US again, after his near arrest. But he lives openly in Britain, a close US ally. He teaches Islam to students in London and adopts an increasingly religious fundamentalist stance. His lectures grow in popularity, especially through sales of CDs of recorded speeches. He travels widely through Britain giving lectures. But despite growing evidence against him in the US, there is no known attempt to have him arrested in Britain. At some point in 2004, he moves to Yemen to preach and study there. [New York Times, 5/8/2010]
April 2003: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Refuses to Approve Half of Interview Requests for ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigators
Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
‘We Need the Interviews’ – Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts – This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 109-111]
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report – Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).
April 2003: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Blocks Access to Key Document by ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigators
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages – The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled – Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
(April 2003): Zelikow Fires ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigator from 9/11 Commission in Dispute over 28 Redacted Pages from Congressional Inquiry
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked – The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
‘Zero-Tolerance Policy’ – Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret – Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
‘Do Not Cross Me’ – Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).
Before April 24, 2003: 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Cuts off Commissioners’ Access to Congressional Inquiry Files
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]
August 1-3, 2003: Leaks Hint at Saudi Involvement in 9/11
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]
Summer 2004: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Investigated over Mishandling of Classified Information
9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow is investigated by the Justice Department following a complaint by the CIA that he mishandled classified information. Zelikow did not leak information to reporters, but there are suspicions he has included classified information in e-mails with other people on the Commission, including e-mails that were sent overseas. The CIA received notification that Zelikow may have mishandled the information from an unnamed member of the Commission’s staff. Zelikow is not interviewed during the investigation, and will later say that he does not become aware of it until later and that his security clearances will later be renewed. Zelikow will also say that the investigation may be an attempt by the CIA to play “hardball” in a dispute over the declassification of information, and to “criminalize this dispute and target me in the process.” The CIA will deny this, saying that they could have leaked news of the investigation to the press, but did not do so. Some of the Commission’s staff find the investigation to be ironic, because Zelikow fired staffer Dana Lesemann for a less serious breach of the rules for handling classified documents soon after the Commission started. The information is closely held within the 9/11 Commission, and even some commissioners do not learn of the investigation. It is unclear how the investigation concludes and how seriously it is taken at the Justice Department. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 406-410]