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Context of 'December 4, 1999: Saudi Ambassador’s Wife Gives Funds that Are Possibly Passed to 9/11 Hijackers'

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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 receives 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 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

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

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

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

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

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