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Profile: Michael Jacobson
Michael Jacobson was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
The FBI is initially reluctant to provide documents to the 9/11 Commission team investigating possible links between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on the one hand and some Saudi government officials on the other.
Investigators' Attitude - The investigators, Michael Jacobson, Raj De, and Hyon Kim, have come to believe that, in author Philip Shenon’s words, there could be “few innocent explanations for why so many Saudis and other Arab men living in Southern California had come forward to help the two hijackers—to help them find a home, to set up bank accounts, to travel.” Jacobson previously worked on the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and formed the opinion then that FBI officials had tried to hide much of the evidence in its files linked to Almihdhar and Alhazmi.
FBI Drags Its Feet - At first, according to Shenon, the FBI “is as uncooperative with the 9/11 Commission as it had been in the Congressional investigation” and is “painfully slow to meet the Commission’s initial request for documents and interviews.” The three investigators want a formal protest to be made over the foot-dragging, but realize their team leader, Dietrich Snell, will not make one, due to what they perceive to be overcaution on his part. Therefore, they approach 9/11 commissioner and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and she then contacts FBI Director Robert Mueller, warning him he will lose the Commission’s goodwill if he does not start co-operating. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 184-185] In the spring of 2004, Mueller will launch a charm offensive against the Commission and will make significant efforts to comply with its requests (see Spring 2004).
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat the 9/11 Commission thinks is tied to an associate of two 9/11 hijackers named Omar al-Bayoumi, is interviewed by the Commission and lies about these connections. The Commission’s staff thinks that al Thumairy was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a middleman of some sort for [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar,” and they have compiled a long dossier on him, mostly based on evidence that staffer Mike Jacobson found in FBI files. According to Shenon, the evidence suggests al Thumairy “had orchestrated help for the hijackers through a network of Saudi and other Arab expatriates living throughout Southern California and led by… al-Bayoumi.” When al Thumairy is interviewed by Raj De and other Commission investigators in Riyadh—in the presence of Saudi government minders—he initially claims, “I do not know this man al-Bayoumi.” However, the investigators have witnesses who say al Thumairy and al-Bayoumi know each other, have records of phone calls between the two men (see December 1998-December 2000 and January-May 2000), and al-Bayoumi has admitted knowing al Thumairy, although they allegedly spoke “solely on religious matters.” De cuts off al Thumairy’s denial, telling him: “Your phone records tell a different story. We have your phone records.” Although al-Bayoumi still professes ignorance, De explains they have the phone records from the FBI, at which point al Thumairy realizes his difficulty and says, “I have contact with a lot of people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309-311]
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).
A front page article in the Los Angeles Times reports that the US effort to fight the financing of terrorism is “foundering.” Insiders complain that the Bush administration’s efforts are stumbling over legal difficulties, interagency fighting, and disagreements with allied nations. Michael Jacobson, a recently retired senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, says, “The international cooperation and focus is dropping, the farther we get from 9/11.” The Times notes that “Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other key nations have not taken the necessary steps to crack down on terrorist financing or suspect money flowing across their borders.” Designations of terrorist financiers has slowed to a “trickle.” Militant groups are also using methods that are harder to trace, including sending money by donkey or mule. Robert Grenier, recently retired director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the US has exaggerated the successes of financial enforcement: “There’s been a lot of work done on it, a lot of focus. But as a method for identifying and capturing terrorists, it has not been significant.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/24/2008]
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