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Context of 'August 27, 2002: Close Relationship Between Saudi Ambassador and Bush Raises Questions'

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Osama Basnan.Osama Basnan. [Source: Fox News]US authorities discover a connection between Osama Basnan, who is later alleged to associate with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see April 1998 and December 4, 1999), and Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ). The US will connect EIJ to bin Laden in 1996 and the FBI will become aware that a high-level EIJ member sits on al-Qaeda’s Shura council. The State Department gives the FBI a box of documents recovered from an abandoned car in May 1992. The documents are in Arabic and one of them is a newsletter addressed to EIJ supporters reporting news about the EIJ council. The newsletter is marked “confidential.” In addition, the box contains letters addressed to Basnan discussing plans to import used cars into the US. The FBI opens a counterterrorism investigation on the EIJ, but finds little, closing it in December of the same year. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 176-7 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Eritrean Islamic Jihad, Osama Basnan, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama Basnan, who will later be accused of assisting two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego (see December 4, 1999), throws a party for the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The party is held at Basnan’s house in Washington, DC. In 1993, the FBI will receive reports about Basnan hosting this party. In 1992, the FBI was told that Basnan had a link to the Eritrean Islamic Jihad, a militant group later linked to al-Qaeda (see May-December 1992). Furthermore, records indicate Basnan entered the US in 1980 on a guest visa and has been in the country illegally ever since. But the FBI fails to investigate Basnan and no effort is made to deport him. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] A post-9/11 FBI report will indicate that in 1992 Basnan is working for the Saudi government in some capacity, but details of his job will remain classified (see October 3, 2001).

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama Basnan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama Basnan, a Saudi living in California, claims to write a letter to Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan and his wife, Princess Haifa bint Faisal, asking for financial help because his wife needs thyroid surgery. The Saudi embassy sends Basnan $15,000 and pays the surgical bill. However, according to University of California at San Diego hospital records, Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, is not treated until April 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] Basnan will later come under investigation for possibly using some of this money to support two of the 9/11 hijackers who arrive in San Diego (see November 22, 2002), although the 9/11 Commission will conclude that evidence does not support these charges. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Osama Basnan, Haifa bint Faisal, Majeda Dweikat, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bandar bin Sultan, 9/11 Commission, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Prince Bandar (pictures of his wife are not available).
Prince Bandar (pictures of his wife are not available). [Source: Publicity photo]Princess Haifa bint Faisal, the wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, begins sending monthly cashier’s checks of between $2,000 and $3,500 (accounts differ) to Majeda Dweikat, the Jordanian wife of Osama Basnan, a Saudi living in San Diego. Accounts also differ over when the checks are first sent (between November 1999 and about March 2000; a Saudi government representative will state December 4, 1999). [Fox News, 11/23/2002] Basnan’s wife signs many of the checks over to her friend Manal Bajadr, the wife of Omar al-Bayoumi. The payments are made through Riggs Bank, a bank which appears to have turned a blind eye to Saudi embassy transaction and also has longstanding ties to covert CIA operations (see July 2003). [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/24/2002; Guardian, 11/25/2002; Washington Times, 11/26/2002]
Did the Money Go to the Hijackers? - Some will later suggest that the money from the wife of the Saudi ambassador passes through the al-Bayoumi and Basnan families as intermediaries and ends up in the hands of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The payments from Princess Haifa continue until May 2002 and may total $51,000, or as much as $73,000. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002] While living in the San Diego area, al-Bayoumi and Basnan are heavily involved in helping with the relocation of, and offering financial support to, Saudi immigrants in the community. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] In late 2002, al-Bayoumi will claim he does not pass any money along to the hijackers. [Washington Times, 12/4/2002]
Basnan and Al-Bayoumi Are Close Friends - Basnan will variously claim to know al-Bayoumi, not to know him at all, or to know him only vaguely. [ABC News, 11/25/2002; Arab News, 11/26/2002; ABC News, 11/26/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002] However, early reports will say Basnan and his wife are “very good friends” of al-Bayoumi and his wife. Both couples live at the Parkwood Apartments at the same time as the two hijackers; prior to that, the couples lived together in a different apartment complex. In addition, the two wives will be arrested together in April 2001 for shoplifting. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/22/2002] According to an FBI agent who investigates Basnan after 9/11, Basnan and al-Bayoumi are close friends. For instance, phone call records will show that there are about 700 calls from various phone numbers between Basnan and al-Bayoumi in a one year period. The agent will add that even if one discounted some of the calls given that their wives are friends, the calls between the cell phones are most likely between Basnan and al-Bayoumi. [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Haifa bint Faisal, Majeda Dweikat, Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Manal Bajadr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Omar al-Bayoumi.Omar al-Bayoumi. [Source: Fox News]Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, goes to great lengths to help future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar settle in San Diego. Supposedly, al-Bayoumi meets them by chance in a Los Angeles restaurant and encourages them to move to San Diego, but the accounts of the meeting are highly doubtful (see February 1, 2000). The FBI’s “best source” in San Diego will later say that al-Bayoumi “must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.” A former top FBI official working on the al-Bayoumi investigation claims, “We firmly believed that he had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot], and that his meeting with them that day was more than coincidence.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
bullet When Alhazmi and Almihdhar move into apartment 150 in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early February, they indicate on their rental application that they have been staying at al-Bayoumi’s apartment in the same apartment complex since January 15, the day they arrived in the US (see January 15-February 2, 2000). (This would suggest the alleged accidental restaurant meeting never took place.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet He is the co-signer and guarantor for their rental application, because they do not have established credit. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet He pays $1,500 cash for their first month’s rent and security deposit. Some FBI officials claim the hijackers immediately pay him back, others claim they do not. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]
bullet The apartment manager will later claim al-Bayoumi occasionally paid rent for Alhazmi and Almihdhar on other occasions. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]
bullet Shortly after they arrive in San Diego, al-Bayoumi throws a welcoming party to introduce them to the local Muslim community. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001] One attendee will later say an al-Bayoumi party “was a big deal… it meant that everyone accepted them without question.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/25/2001]
bullet He also introduces hijacker Hani Hanjour to the community a short time later, and Hanjour is seen in his apartment later in the year (see Early 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002]
bullet Cayson Bin Don, a friend of al-Bayoumi, will later say al-Bayoumi “spent a lot of time at Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s apartment.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/8/2001 pdf file]
bullet Al-Bayoumi apparently loans the hijackers his cell phone until they can get phone service in their own apartment. On February 15, 2000, someone trying to call al-Bayoumi on his phone has the call answered by Alhazmi instead. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 516]
bullet He tasks an acquaintance, Mohdar Abdullah, to serve as their translator and help them get driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, information on flight schools, and more. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Hani Hanjour, Omar al-Bayoumi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohdar Abdullah, Cayson Bin Don

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama Basnan.Osama Basnan. [Source: Fox News]A Saudi citizen named Osama Basnan, who had an apparent connection to Eritrean Islamic Jihad in the early 1990s (see May-December 1992), lives across the street from 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and attends the same mosque in San Diego as them. He will later be alleged to have known the two men, but he will deny this. He will, however, admit to knowing one of their associates, Omar al-Bayoumi. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/22/2002; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 11/28/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 175-7 pdf file; Arab News, 8/5/2003] In early 2000, a US Army program called Able Danger identifies four of the hijackers as members of the so-called “Brooklyn” cell after the program links them to mosques that were visited by associates of the “Blind Shiekh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000). The US Army has not disclosed the identities of the sheikh’s associates, but it is possible that Osama Basnan, who is believed to have held a party for the sheikh in 1992 (see April 1998), is one of them.

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Omar al-Bayoumi, Khalid Almihdhar, Osama Basnan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514] The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.

Entity Tags: Mohdar Abdullah, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallam, Khalid Almihdhar, 9/11 Commission, Fahad al Thumairy, Khallad bin Attash, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001.Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Aafia Siddiqui.Aafia Siddiqui. [Source: FBI]In 1993, the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, disbanded after media reports revealed that it had ties to all of the 1993 WTC bombers as well as the CIA (see 1986-1993), but it quickly reappeared in Boston under the new name Care International. Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson had warned the government of the name change since 1993 (see April 1993-Mid-2003). But apparently US investigators only start looking closely at Care International shortly after 9/11, when the FBI interviews several current and former employees. [Wall Street Journal, 11/21/2001] Around the same time, the Fleet National Bank in Boston files a “suspicious-activity report” (SARS) with the US Treasury Department about wire transfers from the Saudi Embassy in Washington to Aafia Siddiqui, a long-time member of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center and then Care International, and her husband Dr. Mohammed Amjad Khan. Fleet National Bank investigators discover that one account used by the Boston-area couple shows repeated on-line credit card purchases from stores that “specialize in high-tech military equipment and apparel.” Khan purchased body armor, night-vision goggles, and military manuals, and then sent them to Pakistan. The bank also investigates two transfers totaling $70,000 sent on the same day from the Saudi Armed Forces Account used by the Saudi Embassy at the Riggs Bank in Washington to two Saudi nationals living in Boston. One of the Saudis involved in the transfers lists the same Boston apartment number as Siddiqui’s. The bank then notices that Siddiqui regularly gives money to the Benevolence International Foundation, which will soon be shut down for al-alleged Qaeda ties. They also discover her connection to Al-Kifah. The bank then notices Siddiqui making an $8,000 international wire transfer on December 21, 2001, to Habib Bank Ltd., “a big Pakistani financial institution that has long been scrutinized by US intelligence officials monitoring terrorist money flows.” [Newsweek, 4/7/2003] In April or May 2002, the FBI questions Siddiqui and Khan for the first time and asks them about their purchases. [Boston Globe, 9/22/2006] But the two don’t seem dangerous, as Siddiqui is a neuroscientist who received a PhD and studied at MIT, while Khan is a medical doctor. Plus they have two young children and Siddiqui is pregnant. There are no reports of US intelligence tracking them or watch listing them. Their whole family moves to Pakistan on June 26, 2002, but then Siddiqui and Khan get divorced soon thereafter. Siddiqui comes back to the US briefly by herself from December 25, 2002, to January 2, 2003. On March 1, 2003, Pakistan announces that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has been captured (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). Some days later, Siddiqui drives away from a family house in Pakistan and disappears. Some later media reports will claim that she is soon arrested by Pakistani agents but other reports will deny it. Reportedly, KSM quickly confesses and mentions her name as an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, working as a “fixer” for other operatives coming to the US. On March 18, the FBI puts out a worldwide alert for Siddiqui and her ex-husband Khan, but Khan has completely disappeared as well. Siddiqui will be arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 (see July 17, 2008). [Vanity Fair, 3/2005] The CIA will later report that Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of KSM and a reputed financier of the 9/11 attacks, married Siddiqui not long before her disappearance. Furthermore, in 2002 he ordered Siddiqui to help get travel documents for Majid Kahn (no relation to Siddiqui’s first husband), who intended to blow up gas stations and bridges or poison reservoirs in the US. It will also be alleged that Siddiqui bought diamonds in Africa for al-Qaeda in the months before 9/11. [Boston Globe, 9/22/2006] The Saudi Embassy will later claim that the wire transfers connected to Siddiqui were for medical assistance only and the embassy had no reason to believe at the time that anyone involved had any connection to militant activity. [Newsweek, 4/7/2003] Although Siddiqui seems to have ties with two key figures in the 9/11 plot and was living in Boston the entire time some 9/11 hijackers stayed there, there are no known links between her and any of the hijackers.

Entity Tags: Mohammed Amjad Khan, US Department of the Treasury, Steven Emerson, Riggs Bank, Majid Khan, Habib Bank Ltd., Fleet National Bank, Aafia Siddiqui, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Benevolence International Foundation, Care International (Boston), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Saudi Embassy (US)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A classified FBI report on this date indicates that alleged hijacker associate Osama Basnan has long-time links to both the bin Laden family and the Saudi government. The report states that Basnan has “been determined to have known Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia and to have telephonic contact with members of bin Laden’s family who are currently in the US.” It also states, “The possibility of [Basnan] being affiliated with the Saudi Arabian Government or the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service is supported by [Basnan] listing his employment in 1992 as the—.” Unfortunately, the rest of that sentence remains redacted. The report further notes that the fact that in July 2001 Basnan moved into the same San Diego apartment building where hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi lived right after al-Bayoumi moved away “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia” (see June 23-July 2001). The FBI report, which will be obtained by the website Intelwire.com in 2008, is heavily redacted, and all mentions of Basnan’s name appear to be redacted. However, one can sometimes determine when Basnan is being referred to. For instance, the same paragraph that mentions his link to the bin Laden family also says the same person with that link hosted a party for Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1992, and press reports have indicated that person was Basnan (see October 17, 1992). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama Basnan, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Omar al-Bayoumi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license.Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Fahad al Thumairy, Qualid Benomrane, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US, meets privately for more than an hour with President Bush and National Security Adviser Rice in Crawford, Texas. [Daily Telegraph, 8/28/2002] Press Secretary Ari Fleischer characterizes it as a warm meeting of old friends. Bandar, his wife Princess Haifa, and seven of their eight children stay for lunch. [Fox News, 8/27/2002] Bandar, a long-time friend of the Bush family, donated $1 million to the George W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. [Boston Herald, 12/11/2001] This relationship later becomes news when it is learned that Princess Haifa gave between $51,000 and $73,000 to two Saudi families in California who may have financed two of the 9/11 hijackers (see December 4, 1999). [New York Times, 11/23/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Bandar bin Sultan, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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 Commissioner John Lehman repeatedly meets with Bush administration officials and discusses links between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials.
Lehman Interested in Saudi Money - Lehman is aware that the Commission’s investigators are working the topic and is interested to see what they will find. According to author Philip Shenon, “He thought it was clear early on that there was some sort of Saudi support network in San Diego that had made it possible for the hijackers to hide in plain sight in Southern California.” He is especially intrigued by money possibly passed from Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US, to associates of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999), although Lehman thinks she would not have known the money’s real destination and had simply signed checks given her by radicals at the Saudi embassy in Washington. Lehman also doubts that the Saudi officials knew the details of the 9/11 plot, but thinks they knew the hijackers were “bad guys,” and “The bad guys knew who to go to to get help.”
Critical of 'Stonewalling' - Lehman is also interested in possible links between Iraq and al-Qaeda and goes to the White House to discuss these with administration officials. However, at the meetings he brings up the Saudi connection. There are several meetings, but the administration is not at all interested in the Saudi angle. Lehman will say: “I used to go over to see [White House chief of staff] Andy [Card], and I met with [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld three or four times, mainly to say, ‘What are you guys doing? This stonewalling is so counterproductive.’”
No Interest in Saudi Connection - However, there is an absolute lack of interest on the administration’s part about the Saudi information. According to Shenon, “Lehman was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda.” Lehman will say: “They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia. Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 185-186]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld, John Lehman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Riggs Bank in Washington, DC.Riggs Bank in Washington, DC. [Source: Washington Post]In late 2002, US federal banking investigators began looking into transactions at Riggs Bank because of news reports that some money may have passed from the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington through Riggs Bank to the associates of two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego (see December 4, 1999). But in July 2003, the probe expands as investigators discover irregularities involving tens of millions of dollars also connected to the Saudi embassy. The Wall Street Journal will later report, “Riggs repeatedly failed in 2001 and 2002 to file suspicious-activity reports related to cash transactions in the low tens of millions of dollars in Saudi accounts, said people familiar with the matter.” Riggs Bank “handles the bulk of [Washington’s] diplomatic accounts, a niche market that revolves around relationships and discretion.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/14/2004] Newsweek will later report that “investigators say the embassy accounts show a large commingling of funds with Islamic charities that have been the prime target of US probes.” In one instance, on July 10, 2001 the Saudi embassy sent $70,000 to two Saudis in Massachusetts. One of the Saudis wrote a $20,000 check that same day to a third Saudi who had listed the same address as Aafia Siddiqui, a microbiologist who is believed to have been a US-based operative for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Late September 2001-March 2003). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004] The Wall Street Journal will later discover that Riggs Bank “has had a longstanding relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, according to people familiar with Riggs operations and US government officials” (see December 31, 2004). The relationship included top Riggs executives receiving US government security clearances. Riggs also overlooked tens of millions of dollars in suspicious transactions by right wing dictators from Africa and South America such as former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] A connection between the CIA and Riggs Bank goes back to at least the early 1960s. And in 1977, journalist Bob Woodward tied Riggs Bank to payments in a CIA operation in Iran. [Slate, 1/10/2005] The CIA tie leads to suspicions that the bank’s failure to disclose financial activity by Saudi diplomats and other foreign officials may have been implicitly authorized by parts of the US government. Some of the suspicious Saudi accounts belong to Saudi diplomats, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Shortly after these irregularities are discovered, Prince Bandar meets with Treasury Secretary John Snow and details his work for the CIA. For instance, during the 1980s, Prince Bandar helped fund the anticommunist Nicaraguan Contra rebels at the request of the White House and CIA as part of what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, and he also helped the CIA support Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union. It is not known what was discussed but US intelligence officials suggest Prince Bandar disclosed his CIA connections “as an explanation for the prince’s large unexplained cash transactions at Riggs.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] It will later come to light that for many years $30 million a month were being secretly deposited into a Riggs Bank account controlled by Prince Bandar. It has been alleged that major British arms contractor BAE Systems funneled up to $2 billion in bribes through this account over the years as part of an $80 billion weapons deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia. Riggs Bank never knew the source of the funds. After the probe uncovers these suspicious transactions, the bank cuts off all business with the Saudis. [Newsweek, 6/11/2007] The US Treasury will later impose unusually strict controls on Riggs Bank and fine the bank $25 million. [Wall Street Journal, 1/14/2004] The bank will also plead guilty to one felony count of failing to file suspicious activity reports and pay an additional fine of $16 million. [Washington Post, 1/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Riggs Bank, John W. Snow, BAE Systems, Bandar bin Sultan, Central Intelligence Agency, Aafia Siddiqui, US Department of the Treasury, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is attacked for her role in extending the ‘wall’.9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is attacked for her role in extending the ‘wall’. [Source: Associated Press / Charles Dharapak]Attorney General John Ashcroft’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see April 13, 2004) sparks a wave of attacks against 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who was Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. In 1995 Gorelick played a leading role in extending the “wall,” a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors (see March 4, 1995 and July 19, 1995). Ashcroft calls the wall “the single greatest structural cause for September 11.” The attacks include:
bullet On April 14 James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls on Gorelick to resign because of her “crippling conflict of interest.” He says “the public cannot help but ask legitimate questions about her motives” and argues that the commission will be “fatally damaged” if she continues. Other Republican congresspersons repeat this call;
bullet On April 16 House Majority Leader Tom Delay writes to Commission Chairman Tom Kean saying Gorelick has a conflict of interest and accusing the commission of “partisan mudslinging, circus-atmosphere pyrotechnics, and gotcha-style questioning,” as well as undermining the war effort and endangering the troops;
bullet Criticism of Gorelick also appears in several media publications, including the New York Times, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal. For example, an op-ed piece published in the New York Times by former terrorism commissioners Juliette Kayyem and Wayne Downing says the commissioners are talking too much and should “shut up.” [National Review, 4/13/2004; National Review, 4/19/2004; Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 200-203]
bullet On April 22 Senator Christopher Boyd and ten other Republican senators write to the commission calling on Gorelick to testify in public;
bullet On April 26 Congressman Lamar Smith and 74 other Republicans write to Gorelick demanding answers to five questions about her time as deputy attorney general;
bullet On April 28 the Justice Department declassifies other memos signed by Gorelick;
bullet In addition to hate mail, Gorelick receives a bomb threat, requiring a bomb disposal squad to search her home.
Commission Chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton will call this an “onslaught” and say her critics used the wall “as a tool to bludgeon Jamie Gorelick, implicate the Clinton administration, and undermine the credibility of the commission before we had even issued our report.” Gorelick offers to resign, but the other commissioners support her and she writes a piece for the Washington Post defending herself. [Washington Post, 4/18/2004; Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 200-205] When the commission meets President Bush and Vice President Cheney at the end of the month (see April 29, 2004), Bush tells Kean and Hamilton he does not approve of memos being declassified and posted on the Justice Department’s website. At this point, the commissioners realize “the controversy over Jamie Gorelick’s service on the commission was largely behind us.” That afternoon, the White House publicly expresses the president’s disappointment over the memos and the effort to discredit Gorelick loses momentum. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 208, 210]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Wayne Downing, Lamar Smith, Thomas Kean, Juliette Kayyem, Jamie Gorelick, James Sensenbrenner, Andrew McCarthy, John Ashcroft, Christopher Boyd, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Tom DeLay

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony.There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) [New York Times, 4/30/2004; Washington Post, 4/30/2004]
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 342-343] Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. [Knight Ridder, 3/31/2004; Newsweek, 4/2/2004; New York Times, 4/3/2004]
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” [Washington Post, 4/29/2004]
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 343-345]
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 292] According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 344] Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 344]
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 345]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a late-night editing session, 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Dieter Snell, head of the Commission team investigating the 9/11 plot, delete sections of the 9/11 Commission Report linking two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to suspected Saudi government operatives.
Evidence of Saudi Link - The sections were drafted by two of Snell’s team members, Mike Jacobson and Raj De, and deal with Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had helped the two hijackers (see January 15-February 2000); Fahad al-Thumairy, another of their associates (see June 9, 2000); cash transfers from the wife of the Saudi ambassador in Washington to an associate of al-Bayoumi (see December 4, 1999); and a taxi driver who said he had seen the two hijackers in Los Angeles (see 2002).
Disagreement - However, Snell, a former prosecutor, is opposed to these sections, as he thinks the hijackers’ links to Saudi intelligence are not 100 percent proven, so it is better to leave them out. Jacobson is notified of the editing session just before midnight; he calls De and they both go into the Commission’s offices to discuss the material. Snell says that the final report should not contain allegations that cannot be backed up conclusively, but Jacobson and De say demanding this level of proof would exonerate the guilty.
Saudi Ties Moved to Endnotes - Zelikow appears sympathetic to Jacobson and De, and had also entertained suspicions of the Saudis at one point. However, he apparently sees his role at this late stage as that of a mediator and allows Snell to delete the sections from the main body of the report, although Jacobson and De are then permitted to write endnotes covering them. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 398-399] Material unfavorable to Pakistan is also omitted from the report (see July 22, 2004).

Entity Tags: Raj De, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, Dietrich Snell, Michael Jacobson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Despite previous leaks to the media showing the 9/11 Commission was given information showing Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see June 20, 2004) [Los Angeles Times, 6/14/2004] , and even reports of a document given to the commission claiming the “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot]” (see July 22, 2004) [United Press International, 7/22/2004] , the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report released on this day rarely mentions the ISI at all. The only significant mention is a brief comment that the ISI was the Taliban’s “primary patron.” ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is mentioned only twice, both in the context of post-9/11 diplomacy. Saeed Sheikh is not mentioned at all. The report notes that details of the 9/11 plot were widely known by the Taliban leadership, but fails to consider if the Taliban shared that knowledge or involvement with their “primary patron.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Indeed, far from criticizing Pakistan, the commission praises the country for its support in the war on terrorism, and suggests that the US should greatly increase its foreign aid there. [Associated Press, 7/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, 9/11 Commission, Saeed Sheikh, Al-Qaeda, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Riggs Bank is added to the list of defendants in a 9/11 lawsuit filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives (see August 15, 2002). The amended lawsuit alleges, “Riggs’ constant failure to comply with banking oversight laws resulted in funds being forwarded from high risk Saudi Embassy accounts at Riggs Bank to at least two September 11 hijackers.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/13/2004] Riggs Bank is under investigation at the time and will later plead guilty to violating banking laws (see March 29, 2005). The bank also appears to have a long standing but murky relationship with the CIA (see July 2003 and December 31, 2004).

Entity Tags: Riggs Bank

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Wall Street Journal reports that a government investigation into activities at Riggs Bank may be hampered because of its “longstanding relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency” (see July 2003). [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] Yet this story attracts almost no mention or follow up in the US media. For instance, the Washington Post, which covers Riggs Bank more than other newspapers because the bank is based in Washington, mentions the CIA connection only in one paragraph near the end of article in the newspaper’s business section two months after the Wall Street Journal article: “Another potential cloud for any acquirer is the bank’s long-standing relationship with the CIA. Sources familiar with the bank’s operations and sources in the intelligence community say that since the 1960s Riggs at least held funds related to CIA operations or agents, and several officers of Riggs had high-level security clearances. However, law enforcement authorities say Riggs’s CIA connections had nothing to do with the bank’s violations of anti-money-laundering laws. And the subject did not arise in the bank’s negotiations with the US attorney for the District over Riggs’s guilty plea, the sources said.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005] Only Slate appears interested, publishing two stories highlighting the Riggs-CIA connection. In one, it is noted that the connection “invites speculation that the Justice Department might abort the prosecutions lest courtroom brawls reveal more about Riggs and the CIA than the government wants made public.” [Slate, 1/10/2005] The other Slate article will lament, “Where is the rest of the press on the Riggs-CIA connection? Spooks, sheiks, dictators, millions in laundered money, and a $766 million merger in the balance! What does it take to entice an assignment editor these days, a tsunami or something?” [Slate, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Riggs Bank, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US-Chile (1964-2005)

The 9/11 Commission interviewed presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 2004 (see April 29, 2004) but the details of what was revealed in these interviews were not included in the commission’s final report (with one exception, see August 6, 2001). On this day, former 9/11 Commission Richard Ben-Veniste says, “I had hoped that we had—we would have made both the Clinton interview and the Bush interview a part of our report, but that was not to be. I was outvoted on that question.… I didn’t have the votes.… I think the question was that there was a degree of confidentiality associated with that and that we would take from that the output that is reflected in the report, but go no further. And that until some five years’ time after our work, we would keep that confidential. I thought we would be better to make all of the information that we had available to the public and make our report as transparent as possible so that the American public could have that.” [CNN, 9/25/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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