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Context of 'December 31, 2004: Newspaper Reveals Deep Ties between Scandal-Plagued Riggs Bank and CIA'

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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

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

Deena Burnett, wife of Flight 93 passenger Tom Burnett, speaks on behalf of the victims’ relatives suing the Saudis.Deena Burnett, wife of Flight 93 passenger Tom Burnett, speaks on behalf of the victims’ relatives suing the Saudis. [Source: Associated Press]More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002; Newsweek, 9/13/2002] Defendants named include:
bullet The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. [CNN, 8/15/2002]
bullet The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. [Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
bullet The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet The Benevolence International Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
bullet Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002] “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 8/15/2002] The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. [BBC, 8/15/2002] Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. [BBC, 8/15/2002] A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). [Daily Telegraph, 8/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Saudi Binladin Group, Sudan, Taliban, SAAR Foundation, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Ron Motley, International Islamic Relief Organization, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Al-Qaeda, National Commercial Bank, Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., Turki al-Faisal, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Benevolence International Foundation

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

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)

US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina approves a plea agreement requiring Riggs Bank to pay a $16 million criminal fine for its failure to report suspicious transactions by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and leaders of Equatorial Guinea that occurred between 1994 and 2003. The judge calls the bank “a greedy corporate henchman of dictators and their corrupt regimes.” [Washington Post, 3/30/2005] Jonathan Bush, uncle to President Bush, has been a top executive at Riggs Bank since 2000, running their investment management division. [Washington Post, 5/15/2004] The plea agreement clears the way for Riggs Bank to be bought. It is dissolved into PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in May 2005. [Washington Post, 10/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Riggs Bank, Augusto Pinochet, Jonathan Bush

Timeline Tags: US-Chile (1964-2005)

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