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Context of '(April 2003): Zelikow Fires ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigator from 9/11 Commission in Dispute over 28 Redacted Pages from Congressional Inquiry'

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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 (see January 15-February 2, 2000 and January 15-February 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 pdf file] 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]
Others Concur Al-Bayoumi Was a Spy - Many US investigators will later conclude that al-Bayoumi is in fact a Saudi spy (see August 1-3, 2003 and September 7, 2004). Furthermore, some FBI officials will allegedly conclude that Alhazmi and Almihdhar also are connected to Saudi intelligence (see 2006 and After and August 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Omar al-Bayoumi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdussattar Shaikh, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

From left to right: Senator Bob Graham (D), Senator Jon Kyl (R), and Representative Porter Goss (R).From left to right: Senator Bob Graham (D), Senator Jon Kyl (R), and Representative Porter Goss (R). [Source: US Senate, National Park Service, US House of Representatives]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]

Entity Tags: Porter J. Goss, Maleeha Lodhi, Mohamed Atta, Mahmood Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Jon Kyl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hani Hanjour, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman, Michael Jacobson, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Daniel Marcus, Dana Leseman, Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tim Roemer.Tim Roemer. [Source: US Congress]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]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Tim Roemer, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Anwar al-Awlaki, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow in April 2004.9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow in April 2004. [Source: Joe Marquette/European Pressphoto Agency]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]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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