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The chief of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs, writes in a memo that the oil resources of Saudi Arabia are a “stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” (Curtis 1995, pp. 21; Muttitt 2005)
In 1954, Egyptian President Gamal Abddul Nasser’s nationalist policies in Egypt come to be viewed as completely unacceptable by Britain and the US. MI6 and the CIA jointly hatch plans for his assassination. According to Miles Copeland, a CIA operative based in Egypt, the opposition to Nasser is driven by the commercial community—the oil companies and the banks. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood’s resentment of Nasser’s secular government also comes to a head. In one incident, Islamist militants attack pro-Nasser students at Cairo University. Following an attempt on his own life by the Brotherhood, Nasser responds immediately by outlawing the group, which he denounces as a tool of Britain. The following years see a long and complex struggle pitting Nasser against the Muslim Brotherhood, the US, and Britain. The CIA funnels support to the Muslim Brotherhood because of “the Brotherhood’s commendable capability to overthrow Nasser.” (Baer 2003, pp. 99; Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 101-108) The Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia becomes an ally of the United States in the conflict with Nasser. They offer financial backing and sanctuary to Muslim Brotherhood militants during Nasser’s crackdown. Nasser dies of natural causes in 1970. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 90-91, 126-131, 150)
In 1973 Israeli military authorities in charge of the West Bank and Gaza allow Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to establish the Islamic Center, an Islamic fundamentalist organization. With Israel’s support, Yassin’s organization soon gains control of hundreds of mosques, charities, and schools which serve as recruiting centers for militant Islamic fundamentalism. In 1976 Yassin creates another organization called the Islamic Association that forms hundreds of branches in Gaza. In 1978 the Islamic Association is licensed by the government of Menachem Begin over the objections of moderate Palesinians including the Commissioner of the Muslim Waqf in the Gaza Strip, Rafat Abu Shaban. Yassin also recieves funding from business leaders in Saudi Arabia who are also hostile to the secular PLO for religious reasons. The Saudi government, however, steps in and attempts to halt the private funds going to Yassin, because they view him as a tool of Israel. (Sale 2/24/2001; Hanania 1/18/2003; Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 195 - 197) Yassin will go on to form Hamas in the 1980s, which is created with the help of Israeli intelligence (see 1987).
In 1973, the price of oil skyrockets, bringing a huge amount of wealth to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Middle Eastern countries. The Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington think tank, will calculate in 2003 that, between 1975 and 2002, the Saudi government spends over $70 billion on international aid. More than two thirds of the money goes to Islamic related purposes such as building mosques and religious schools. This money usually supports Wahhabism, a fundamentalist version of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia but far less popular in most other Islamic nations. CSP scholar Alex Alexiev calls this “the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted” in the history of the world. In addition, private Saudi citizens donate many billions more for Wahhabi projects overseas through private charities. Some of the biggest charities, such as the Muslim World League and its affiliate, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), are headed by Saudi government officials and closely tied to the government. The IIRO takes credit for funding 575 new mosques in Indonesia alone. Most of this money is spent on benign purposes with charitable intentions. But US News and World Report will assert in 2003: “Accompanying the money, invariably, was a blizzard of Wahhabist literature.… Critics argue that Wahhabism’s more extreme preachings—mistrust of infidels, branding of rival sects as apostates, and emphasis on violent jihad—laid the groundwork for terrorist groups around the world.” (Kaplan 12/7/2003; Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)
The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan. The Russians were initially invited in by the Afghan government to deal with rising instability and army mutinies, and they start crossing the border on December 8. But on December 26, Russian troops storm the presidential palace, kill the country’s leader, Haizullah Amin, and the invitation turns into an invasion. (Blum 1995, pp. 342) Later declassified high-level Russian documents will show that the Russian leadership believed that Amin, who took power in a violent coup from another pro-Soviet leader two months before, had secret contacts with the US embassy and was probably a US agent. Further, one document from this month claims that “the right wing Muslim opposition” has “practically established their control in many provinces… using foreign support.” (Cooley 2002, pp. 8) It has been commonly believed that the invasion was unprovoked, but the Russians will later be proven largely correct. In a 1998 interview, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, will reveal that earlier in the year Carter authorized the CIA to destabilize the government, provoking the Russians to invade (see July 3, 1979). (Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris) 1/1998; Pilger 1/29/2002) Further, CIA covert action in the country actually began in 1978 (see 1978), if not earlier (see 1973-1979). The US and Saudi Arabia will give a huge amount of money (estimates range up to $40 billion total for the war) to support the mujaheddin guerrilla fighters opposing the Russians, and a decade-long war will ensue. (Hiro 2/15/1999)
Much of the billions of dollars in aid from Saudi Arabia and the CIA to the Afghan mujaheddin actually gets siphoned off by the Pakistani ISI. Melvin Goodman, a CIA analyst in the 1980s, will later say, “They were funding the wrong groups, and had little idea where the money was going or how it was being spent.” Sarkis Soghanalian, a middleman profiting from the aid, will later say, “The US did not want to get its hands dirty. So the Saudis’ money and the US money was handled by the ISI. I can tell you that more than three quarters of the money was skimmed off the top. What went to buy weapons for the Afghan fighters was peanuts.” Sognhanalian claims that most of the money went through various accounts held at the notoriously corrupt BCCI bank, then was distributed to the ISI and the A. Q. Khan nuclear network. (Trento 2005, pp. 318) Robert Crowley, a CIA associate director from the 1960s until the 1980s, will also refer to the aid money going to Khan’s network, commenting, “Unfortunately, the Pakistanis knew exactly where their cut of the money was to go.” An early 1990s congressional investigation led by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) will also come to the same conclusion. (Trento 2005, pp. 314, 384)
Saudi Arabia offers the Pakistani government $800 million to help develop a nuclear bomb, according to the London Sunday Times. Reportedly, the offer is contingent on Pakistan not sharing the technology with Iraq or Libya, and Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan is involved in the negotiations. (Armstrong and Trento 2007, pp. 118, 248)
Shortly after the end of fighting in the US-led Persian Gulf war against Iraq, the US allows the Saudi government to conduct a massive program to convert US soldiers still stationed in Saudi Arabia (see March 1991) to Islam. Huge tents are erected near the barracks of US troops and Saudi imams lecture the soldiers about Islam and attempt to convert them. Within months, about 1,000 soldiers, and perhaps as many as 3,000, convert to Islam. Some US officials express concern about the aggressive conversion effort and the long term implications it may have, but the program is not stopped. Radical imam Bilal Philips helps lead the conversion effort. He will later explain that a special team of fluent English speakers, some trained in psychology, was amply paid by the Saudi government to convert the soldiers. Converts had their pilgrimages to Islamic holy cities paid for and Muslim imams were assigned to follow up with them when they returned to the US. Philips is openly hostile to the US, saying such things as, “Western culture led by the United States is an enemy of Islam.” He will later note that some of his converts went to fight in Bosnia and others were the subject of terrorism probes in the US. (US Congress, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary 10/14/2003; Mintz and Vistica 11/2/2003) Philips will work with the Saudi government and one of the “Landmarks” bombers to send 14 Muslim ex-US soldiers to fight in Bosnia in 1992 (see December 1992). Listed as an unindicted coconspirator in the 1993 WTC bombing, he will be deported from the US in 2004. (Australian Associated Press 4/4/2007)
Bin Laden, recently returned to Saudi Arabia, has been placed under house arrest for his opposition to the continued presence of US soldiers on Saudi soil. (PBS Frontline 2001) Controversial author Gerald Posner claims that a classified US intelligence report describes a secret deal between bin Laden and Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal at this time. Although bin Laden has become an enemy of the Saudi state, he is nonetheless too popular for his role with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to be easily imprisoned or killed. According to Posner, bin Laden is allowed to leave Saudi Arabia with his money and supporters, but the Saudi government will publicly disown him. Privately, the Saudis will continue to fund his supporters with the understanding that they will never be used against Saudi Arabia. The wrath of the fundamentalist movement is thus directed away from the vulnerable Saudis. (Posner 2003, pp. 40-42) Posner alleges the Saudis “effectively had [bin Laden] on their payroll since the start of the decade.” (Zabriskie 8/31/2003) This deal is reaffirmed in 1996 and 1998. Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1991, returning first to Afghanistan. (Coll 2004, pp. 229-31, 601-02) After staying there a few months, he moves again, settling into Sudan with hundreds of ex-mujaheddin supporters (see 1992-1996). (PBS Frontline 2001)
In 1996, the Washington Post reports that the Saudi Arabian government spent hundreds of millions of dollars to channel weapons to the Muslim Bosnians, and that the US government knew about it and assisted it. An anonymous Saudi official who took part in the effort will say that the US role “was more than just turning a blind eye to what was going on.… It was consent combined with stealth cooperation.… American knowledge began under [President George] Bush and became much greater under [President] Clinton.” The Bosnian program was modeled on Saudi and US cooperation to fund the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The major difference is that if Afghanistan the Saudis and Americans split the costs, but in Bosnia the Saudis pay for everything. They spend $300 million on illegal weapons deliveries plus around $500 million in Saudi aid to the Bosnian government. The US helps because Saudi Arabia lacks the “technical sophistication” to mount the operation on their own. The Post will report, “The official refused to go into detail about the American role in the operation, other than to say that the Saudis had made use of the same ‘network’ of undercover operatives, arms salesmen, and ‘former this and former that’ set up during the Afghan operation.” The official does say, “We did not set up a formal structure, the way we did in Afghanistan. But logic tells you that without the consent of NATO, the United States, and Germany, there was no way it could have happened.” Most of the weapons go through Croatia since Bosnia lacks good access to the sea, and the Croatian government takes a cut of up to half of all the weapons. Some emergency deliveries are made through “secret nighttime flights to Tuzla and other airports under the control of the Bosnian authorities.” Other supplies come by sea, with NATO apparently turning a blind eye in their naval blockade of the coastline. The direct aid given to Bosnia is used to buy weapons on the black market at high prices, sometimes from Serb enemies. US government officials will later deny any such arrangement took place, but British, French, and other officials believe the US was secretly involved in efforts to arm the Bosnians. (Dobbs 2/2/1996) Much of the money must go through the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), since most illegal weapons get to Bosnia through the TWRA. This charity front has ties to Osama bin Laden and other radical militants (see Mid-1991-1996).
By 1994, if not earlier, the NSA is collecting electronic intercepts of conversations between Saudi Arabian royal family members. Journalist Seymour Hersh will later write, “according to an official with knowledge of their contents, the intercepts show that the Saudi government, working through Prince Salman [bin Abdul Aziz], contributed millions to charities that, in turn, relayed the money to fundamentalists. ‘We knew that Salman was supporting all of the causes,’ the official told me.” By July 1996 or soon after, US intelligence “had more than enough raw intelligence to conclude… bin Laden [was] receiving money from prominent Saudis.” (Hersh 2004, pp. 324, 329-330) One such alleged charity front linked to Salman is the Saudi High Commission in Bosnia (see 1996 and After). Prince Salman has long been the governor of Riyadh province. At the time, he is considered to be about fourth in line to be king of Saudi Arabia. His son Prince Ahmed bin Salman will later be accused of having connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Early April 2002). (PBS 10/4/2004) It appears this surveillance of Saudi royals will come to an end in early 2001 (see (February-March 2001)).
The Saudi government revokes bin Laden’s citizenship and moves to freeze his assets in Saudi Arabia because of his support for Muslim fundamentalist movements. (Ibrahim 4/10/1994; PBS Frontline 2001) However, allegedly, this is only a public front and they privately continue to support him as part of a secret deal allegedly made in 1991 (see Summer 1991). In fact, bin Laden will travel to Albania as part of an official Saudi delegation later in the month (see Shortly After April 9, 1994). The Saudis were said to have been pressured into this move after US officials privately met with Saudi officials and confronted them with satellite images of al-Qaeda training camps in northern Sudan. (Follath and Mascolo 6/6/2005) But Alain Chouet, head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, will later claim that bin Laden’s “loss of Saudi nationality is nothing but a farce.” (DasquiÃ© 4/15/2007)
The southern part of Yemen attempts to cede from the rest of the country, but loses the ensuing war and north Yemeni forces take the south’s capital, Aden, reuniting the country. Yemen first united in 1990, but tensions between the two former independent halves of the country resulted in the civil war. As the south is regarded as communist, the north is backed by both the US and Osama bin Laden. (Whittaker 5/6/1994; Leupp 5/20/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Katz 4/8/2004) The New York Times will say that the north Yemeni president uses “large numbers of Arab Afghans formed into Islamic terrorist units as his shock troops.” (Burns 11/26/2000) CIA officer Michael Scheuer will comment, “In 1993 and 1994, bin Laden sent al-Qaeda fighters from Pakistan to Afghanistan—via Sudan—to fight the Yemeni Communists in the civil war that yielded a reunified Yemen.” (Scheuer 2006, pp. 151) According to Western intelligence, before the war Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a brother of north Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh, received US$ 20 million from bin Laden to help settle Arab Afghan fighters in the country. When war breaks out, as military commander he deploys these fighters in the war’s final battle for the south’s capital of Aden. Despite its socialist tendencies, the south is backed by Saudi Arabia, as it thinks a divided Yemen is less of a threat to it. (Leupp 5/20/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Katz 4/8/2004) Veteran Middle Eastern journalist Brian Whittaker will comment, “The Saudis invested hugely in the war on behalf of the South, and the outcome is a defeat for them as much as anyone.” (Whitaker 7/22/1994) After the war, the government will allow the radical fighters to settle in Yemen and use it as a base (see After July 1994).
Britain attempts to deport London-based Saudi dissident Mohammed al-Massari, but its efforts are unsuccessful. Al-Massari established a communications line for Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s (see 1994). The attempt is a result of pressure from the government of Saudi Arabia, to which al-Massari is opposed. The deportation is handled by what the BBC calls an “unusually senior British official,” which is “a sign of how important it was deemed.” However, Britain cannot deport him to his home country, because of torture concerns. Britain asks friendly countries to take him in and the small Caribbean nation of Dominica accepts, but this plan fails after it comes to light that Dominica has signed, but not incorporated the UN Convention on Refugees. (Reynolds 7/27/2005) The Saudis continue to urge action be taken against al-Massari, but he carries on operating from London. The Saudi ambassador will still be complaining about him in 2005 (see August 10, 2005).
The Saudi Arabian government, which allegedly initiated payments to al-Qaeda in 1991 (see Summer 1991), increases its payments in 1996, becoming al-Qaeda’s largest financial backer. It also gives money to other extremist groups throughout Asia, vastly increasing al-Qaeda’s capabilities. (Hersh 10/16/2001) Presumably, two meetings in early summer bring about the change. Says one US official, “96 is the key year.… Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys—it’s like the Grand Alliance—and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations.” The Saudi regime, he says, had “gone to the dark side.” Electronic intercepts by the NSA “depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country’s religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.” US officials later privately complain “that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.” (Hersh 10/16/2001) Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, will later write, “The Saudis had protected themselves by co-opting and accommodating the Islamist extremists in their midst, a move they felt was necessary in the uncertain aftermath of the Gulf War. Since Saddam Hussein remained in power, weakened but still capable of lashing out and intent on revenge, the Saudis could not afford to send their American protector packing. Instead, they found a way to provide the United States with the access it needed to protect Saudi Arabia while keeping the American profile as low as possible.… [O]nce Crown Prince Abdullah assumed the regency in 1996 (see Late 1995), the ruling family set about the determined business of buying off its opposition.” Saudi charities are “subverted” to help transfer money to militant causes. “[T]he Clinton administration indulged Riyadh’s penchant for buying off trouble as long as the regime also paid its huge arms bills, purchased Boeing aircraft, kept the price of oil within reasonable bounds, and allowed the United States to use Saudi air bases to enforce the southern no-fly zone over Iraq and launch occasional military strikes to contain Saddam Hussein.” (Indyk 1/1/2002)
In June 2004, the Los Angeles Times will report that, according to some 9/11 Commission members and US counterterrorism officials, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia cut secret deals with the Taliban and bin Laden before 9/11. These deals date to this year, if not earlier, and will successfully shield both countries from al-Qaeda attacks until long after 9/11. “Saudi Arabia provid[es] funds and equipment to the Taliban and probably directly to bin Laden, and [doesn’t] interfere with al-Qaeda’s efforts to raise money, recruit and train operatives, and establish cells throughout the kingdom, commission and US officials [say]. Pakistan provide[s] even more direct assistance, its military and intelligence agencies often coordinating efforts with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, they [say].” The two countries will become targets of al-Qaeda attacks only after they launch comprehensive efforts to eliminate the organization’s domestic cells. In Saudi Arabia, such efforts won’t begin until late 2003. (Meyer 7/16/2004) However, such allegations go completely unmentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, which only includes material unanimously agreed upon by the ten commissioners. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
The CIA creates a report for the State Department detailing support for terrorism from prominent Islamic charities. The report, completed just as the Bosnian war is winding down, focuses on charity fronts that have helped the mujaheddin in Bosnia. It concludes that of more than 50 Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in existence, “available information indicates that approximately one-third… support terrorist groups or employ individuals who are suspected of having terrorist connections.” The report notes that most of the offices of NGOs active in Bosnia are located in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla. There are coordination councils there organizing the work of the charity fronts. The report notes that some charities may be “backed by powerful interest groups,” including governments. “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal will later comment, “Disclosure of the report may raise new questions about whether enough was done to cut off support for terrorism before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001… and about possible involvement in terrorism by Saudi Arabian officials.” (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996; Simpson 5/9/2003) The below list of organizations paraphrases or quotes the report, except for informational asides in parentheses.
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). “The IIRO is affiliated with the Muslim World League, a major international organization largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia.” The IIRO has funded Hamas, Algerian radicals, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (a.k.a. the Islamic Group, an Egyptian radical militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman), Ramzi Yousef, and six militant training camps in Afghanistan. “The former head of the IIRO office in the Philippines, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, has been linked to Manila-based plots to target the Pope and US airlines; his brother-in-law is Osama bin Laden.”
Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. It has connections to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps support the mujaheddin battalion in Zenica. Their offices have been connected to smuggling, drug running, and prostitution.
Human Concern International, headquartered in Canada. Its Swedish branch is said to be smuggling weapons to Bosnia. It is claimed “the entire Peshawar office is made up of [Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya] members.” The head of its Pakistan office (Ahmed Said Khadr) was arrested recently for a role in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995). (It will later be discovered that Khadr is a founder and major leader of al-Qaeda (see Summer 2001 and January 1996-September 10, 2001).)
Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). Headquartered in Sudan, it has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. “The regional director of the organization, Elfatih Hassanein, is the most influential [charity] official in Bosnia. He is a major arms supplier to the government, according to clandestine and press reporting, and was forced to relocate his office from Zagreb in 1994 after his weapons smuggling operations were exposed. According to a foreign government service, Hassanein supports US Muslim extremists in Bosnia.” One TWRA employee alleged to also be a member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya carried out a suicide car bombing in Rijeka, Croatia (see October 20, 1995).
The Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA). Based in Sudan, it has offices in 30 countries. It is said to be controlled by Sudan’s ruling party and gives weapons to the Bosnian military in concert with the TWRA. (The US government will give the IARA $4 million in aid in 1998 (see February 19, 2000).)
Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) (the report refers to it by an alternate name, Lajnat al-Birr al-Islamiyya (LBI)). It supports mujaheddin in Bosnia. It mentions “one Zagreb employee, identified as Syrian-born US citizen Abu Mahmud,” as involved in a kidnapping in Pakistan (see July 4, 1995). (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996) (This is a known alias (Abu Mahmoud al Suri) for Enaam Arnaout, the head of BIF’s US office.) (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003, pp. 37 ) This person “matches the description… of a man who was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of six Westerners in Kashmir in July 1995, and who left Pakistan in early October for Bosnia via the United States.”
Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), a.k.a. Al-Kifah. This group has ties to Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and possibly Hezbollah. Both the former director of its Zagreb office [Kamer Eddine Kherbane] and his deputy [Hassan Hakim] were senior members of Algerian extremist groups. Its main office in Peshawar, Pakistan, funds at least nine training camps in Afghanistan. “The press has reported that some employees of MAK’s New York branch were involved in the World Trade Center bombing [in 1993].” (Indeed, the New York branch, known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, is closely linked to the WTC bombing and the CIA used it as a conduit to send money to Afghanistan (see January 24, 1994).
Muwafaq Foundation. Registered in Britain but based in Sudan, it has many offices in Bosnia. It has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and “helps fund the Egyptian Mujahedin Battalion in Bosnia” and “at least one training camp in Afghanistan” (see 1991-1995).
Qatar Charitable Society, based in Qatar. It has possible ties to Hamas and Algerian militants. A staff member in Qatar is known to be a Hamas operative who has been monitored discussing militant operations. (An al-Qaeda defector will later reveal that in 1993 he was told this was one of al-Qaeda’s three most important charity fronts (see 1993)).
Red Crescent (Iran branch). Linked to the Iranian government, it is “Often used by the Iranian [intelligence agency] as cover for intelligence officers, agents, and arms shipments.”
Saudi High Commission. “The official Saudi government organization for collecting and disbursing humanitarian aid.” Some members possibly have ties to Hamas and Algerian militants (see 1996 and After).
Other organizations mentioned are the Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties, and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) (a.k.a. the International Humanitarian Relief Organization), Kuwait Joint Relief Committee (KJRC), the Islamic World Committee, and Human Appeal International. (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996)
After 9/11, former National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin will say that the NSC repeatedly questioned the CIA with inquiries about charity fronts. “We knew there was a big problem between [charities] and militants. The CIA report “suggests they were on the job, and, frankly, they were on the job.” (Simpson 5/9/2003) However, very little action is taken on the information before 9/11. None of the groups mentioned will be shut down or have their assets seized.
Shortly after the CIA’s Alec Station is created to go after bin Laden (see February 1996), the CIA asks the Saudi government to provide copies of bin Laden’s records such as his birth certificate, passports, bank accounts, and so forth. But the Saudis fail to turn over any of the documents. By 9/11, the CIA will still not even be given a copy of bin Laden’s birth certificate. (Risen 2006, pp. 185)
US demands for Sudan to hand over its extensive files about bin Laden (see March 8, 1996-April 1996) escalate into demands to hand over bin Laden himself. Bin Laden has been living in Sudan since 1991, at a time when the Sudanese government’s ideology was similar to his. But after the US put Sudan on its list of terrorism sponsors and began economic sanctions in 1993, Sudan began to change. In 1994, it handed the notorious terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” to France. In March 1996, Sudan’s defense minister goes to Washington and engages in secret negotiations over bin Laden. Sudan offers to extradite bin Laden to anywhere he might stand trial. Some accounts claim that Sudan offers to hand bin Laden directly to the US, but the US decides not to take him because they do not have enough evidence at the time to charge him with a crime. (Gellman 10/3/2001; Gould 10/31/2001; Rose 1/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will call this story a “fable” invented by the Sudanese and Americans friendly to Sudan. He will point out that bin Laden “was an ideological blood brother, family friend, and benefactor” to Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi, so any offers to hand him over may have been disingenuous. (Clarke 2004, pp. 142-43) CIA Director George Tenet later will deny that Sudan made any offers to hand over bin Laden directly to the US. (US Congress 10/17/2002) The US reportedly asks Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to accept bin Laden into custody, but is refused by all three governments. (Coll 2004, pp. 323) The 9/11 Commission later will claim it finds no evidence that Sudan offers bin Laden directly to the US, but it does find evidence that Saudi Arabia was discussed as an option. (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) US officials insist that bin Laden leave Sudan for anywhere but Somalia. One US intelligence source in the region later will state: “We kidnap minor drug czars and bring them back in burlap bags. Somebody didn’t want this to happen.” (Gellman 10/3/2001; Gould 10/31/2001) On May 18, 1996, bin Laden flies to Afghanistan, and the US does not try to stop him (see May 18, 1996).
In the wake of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), the Saudi government continues to stonewall about their knowledge of radical militants in the country. Official inquiries about bin Laden go unanswered and the Saudis give no help to a US probe about the bombing. But often the US does not even ask the Saudis questions for fear of upsetting the Saudi government. Former US officials will later claim that even after the bombing, the CIA instructed officials at its Saudi station not to collect information on Islamic extremists in Saudi Arabia. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003) It is not known how long this policy will continue, but there is evidence it continues until 9/11. In August 2001, former CIA agent Robert Baer will attempt to give the CIA a list of hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but the CIA will show no interest in it (see August 2001). Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers will reportedly come from Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” (Rashid 2001, pp. 163)
Tayyib al-Madani (a.k.a. Abu Fadel) turns himself in to the Saudi government. He handled the distribution of al-Qaeda’s finances and ran some of Osama bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan. It is said that he had to approve every al-Qaeda expenditure of more than $1,000. (Risen 2006, pp. 181) Tayyib is close to bin Laden and is married to bin Laden’s niece. FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say that Tayyib had lost a leg many years earlier, fighting in Afghanistan against the Soviets. In constant pain since his amputation, he went to London to seek treatment. Eventually, he turns himself in to the Saudis in London in the hope that they can help with his medical problems. (Soufan 2011, pp. 45-46) The Saudi government gives the US some limited information it learns from questioning Tayyib. The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to him to learn more, but the Saudis will not allow it (see September-November 1998). In August 1997, the Daily Telegraph will publicly reveal that Tayyib has turned himself in. The article suggests that he may have been working as a Saudi double agent for some time before defecting. US sources will say that Saudis have shared information that some money has been sent from bin Laden bank accounts in Pakistan and Afghanistan to individuals in London, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Jersey City in New Jersey. The article will note that Tayyib’s “information is thought to have been the reason a federal grand jury has been secretly convened in New York to examine the financing of terrorism in America.” It is unclear what becomes of the individuals being sent the money, but the article will suggest that the recent arrest of two Palestinians planning an attack in New York City is connected to Tayyib’s revelations (see July 31, 1997). (Davies 8/2/1997)
The Saudi government becomes the first country to extend formal recognition of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates will follow suit. On 9/11, these three countries are the only countries that officially recognize the Taliban. (US Congress 7/24/2003)
Industry newsletter reports that Saudi Arabia has abandoned plans for open bids on a $2 billion power plant near Mecca, deciding that the government will build it instead. Interestingly, one of the bids was made by a consortium of Enron, the Saudi Binladin Group (run by Osama’s family), and Italy’s Ansaldo Energia. (Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections 1/22/1998)
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. (Serrano, McManus, and Krikorian 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)
When Saudi authorities foil a plot by al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to smuggle missiles into the kingdom (see 1997), CIA director George Tenet becomes so concerned they are withholding information about the plot from the US that he flies to Saudi Arabia to meet Interior Minister Prince Nayef. Tenet is concerned because he believes that the four antitank missiles smuggled in from Yemen by al-Nashiri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, may be intended for an assassination attempt on Vice President Albert Gore, who is to visit Saudi Arabia shortly. Tenet and another CIA manager are unhappy about the information being withheld and Tenet flies to Riyadh “to underscore the importance of sharing such information.” Tenet obtains “a comprehensive report on the entire Sagger missile episode” from Interior Minister Prince Nayef by making a not-so-veiled threat about negative publicity for Saudi Arabia in the US press. (Tenet 2007, pp. 105-6) It will later be reported that the militants’ plan is apparently to use the armor-piercing missiles to attack the armored limousines of members of the Saudi royal family. (Tyler 12/23/2002) There are no reports of the planned attack being carried out, so it appears to fail due to the confiscation of the missiles. However, al-Nashiri will later be identified as a facilitator of the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998) and will attend a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is monitored by local authorities and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000).
The State Department warns Saudi officials that bin Laden might target civilian aircraft. Three State Department officials meet Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and pass along a warning based on an interview bin Laden had just given to ABC News . In the interview, bin Laden threatened to strike in the next “few weeks” against “military passenger aircraft” and mentioned surface-to-air missiles. The State Department warns the Saudis that bin Laden does “not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians” and there is “no specific information that indicates bin Laden is targeting civilian aircraft.” However, they add, “We could not rule out that a terrorist might take the course of least resistance and turn to a civilian [aircraft] target.” NBC News will note that the 9/11 Commission “made no mention of the memo in any of its reports… It is unknown why the [Commission] did not address the warning.” (Shane 12/9/2005; MSNBC 12/9/2005)
Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. (Coll 2004, pp. 400-02) Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). (Whitaker 11/5/2001; Reid 8/3/2002)
On August 20, 1998, President Clinton signs an Executive Order imposing sanctions against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The order gives US officials the power to block accounts and impose sanctions on any government, organization, or person providing “material assistance” to al-Qaeda. Beginning in 1999, mid-level US officials travel to Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries seeking information about charities supporting al-Qaeda and attempting to put pressure of governments allowing such charities to operate (see June 1999). But these governments provide little to no assistance. The New York Times claims that by the end of 1999, “with the [US] embassy bombings receding into memory, the [Clinton] administration largely moved on. ‘These visits were not followed up by senior-level intervention by the State Department, or for that matter by Treasury, to those governments,’ [says] Stuart Eizenstadt, a Treasury official and a participant in the trips. ‘I think that was interpreted by those governments as meaning this was not the highest priority.’” William Wechsler, one US official involved in these efforts, will later claim, “We had only marginal successes.” He will cite the United Arab Emirates imposing money laundering laws for the first time in 1999 and efforts to ban flights by Ariana, the Afghan national airline (see November 14, 1999; January 19, 2001), as the main successes. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later notes that the Saudis promised information and support, but in the end gave little of either. He will claim that they “protested our focus on continuing contacts between Osama and his wealthy, influential family, who were supposed to have broken all ties with him years before. ‘How can we tell a mother not to call her son?’ they asked.” The New York Times concludes that by 9/11, “the assault on al-Qaeda’s finances had largely fallen by the wayside.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-195)
The New York Times reports that the training camps recently attacked by the US in Afghanistan were built by the US and its allies, years before. The US and Saudi Arabia gave the Afghans between $6 billion and $40 billion to fight the Soviets in the 1980s (see December 8, 1979). Many of the people targeted by the missile attacks were trained and equipped by the CIA years before. (Weiner 8/24/1998)
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” (Katz 8/21/1998) However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. (Soufan 2011, pp. 50) The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen 2006, pp. 181)
The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)
Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)
The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” (Pound 12/12/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002) At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before—
“off the charts” as one senator later puts it. (Drogin 5/18/2002; US Congress 9/18/2002) A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. (Gordon 5/19/2002)
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. (US Congress 9/20/2002) Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. (Mowbray 10/13/2003) Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004)
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. (Sheridan 10/31/2001) The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
United Press International (UPI) reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave interviews top Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan on June 13, 2001. The next day, in an article about the interview, de Borchgrave writes, “Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] secretly fund the Taliban government by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s official denials, the Taliban is entirely dependent on Pakistani aid. This was verified on the ground by UPI. Everything from bottled water to oil, gasoline and aviation fuel, and from telephone equipment to military supplies, comes from Pakistan.” (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001; Waterman 4/9/2004)
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 3 )
Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. (Baer 2002, pp. 55-58; Robinson 1/12/2002)
In interviews with the Boston Globe, flight instructors in Florida say that it was common for students with Saudi affiliations to enter the US with only cursory background checks and sometimes none. Some flight schools, including some of those attended by the hijackers, have exemptions that allow the schools to unilaterally issue paperwork that students can present at US embassies and consulates so they can obtain visas. Saudi Arabia is possibly the only Arab country with such an exemption. (Socolovsky 7/17/2002)
President Bush states on September 24, 2001: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” (US President 9/24/2001) On the same day, he says, “As far as the Saudi Arabians go, they’ve been nothing but cooperative,” and “[Am] I pleased with the actions of Saudi Arabia? I am.” But in fact, Saudi Arabia refuses to help the US trace the names and other background information on the 15 Saudi hijackers. One former US official says, “They knew that once we started asking for a few traces the list would grow.… It’s better to shut it down right away.” Several experts claim the Saudi government is being “completely unsupportive” and is giving “zero cooperation” to the 9/11 investigation. (Willman and Miller 10/13/2001; Hersh 10/16/2001) On September 25, it is also reported that the Saudi government “has not granted visas to reporters for major US publications to trace the hijackers’ roots.” (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001) By mid-October 2001, journalist Seymour Hersh will write in the New Yorker, “Other officials said that there is a growing worry inside the FBI and the CIA that the actual identities of many of those involved in the attacks may not be known definitively for months, if ever.” (Hersh 10/16/2001)
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League (MWL) are Saudi charities directly financed by the Saudi government. In 1996, the CIA gave the State Department a report detailing evidence that the IIIRO supported terrorism. It claimed the IIRO has funded Hamas and six militant training camps in Afghanistan, and one funder of the Bojinka plot to blow up airplanes over the Pacific was the head of the IIRO office in the Philippines (see January 1996). US intelligence officials also believe that MWL employees were involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Harper’s magazine claims that it has long been known that both groups helped fund al-Qaeda. However, in October 2001, it is reported that the Bush administration has left the two organizations off an October 12, 2001 list of designated terrorist groups to spare the Saudi government from embarrassment (see October 12, 2001). In March 2002, the Virginia offices of the IIRO and MWL will be raided by US Customs agents (see March 20, 2002). (Armstrong 3/2004) In September 2003, it will be reported that US officials recently gave Saudi officials a detailed documenting the IIRO’s terrorism links and asked the Saudis to close all of the organization’s overseas offices. (O'Brien 9/26/2003) However, as of January 2006, it will be reported that it appears the overseas offices of the IIRO and MWL are still open and the US has not officially declared either group to be terrorist sponsors. The US will still be complaining to the Saudis about these two organizations and others, and the Saudis will still not do anything about them (see January 15, 2006).
Bush administration officials go to Saudi Arabia in a second attempt to obtain Saudi government cooperation in the 9/11 investigation. The Saudis have balked at freezing assets of organizations linked to bin Laden. Shortly thereafter, the Boston Herald runs a series of articles on the Saudis, citing an expert who says, “If there weren’t all these other arrangements—arms deals and oil deals and consultancies—I don’t think the US would stand for this lack of cooperation.” Another expert states that “it’s good old fashioned ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.’ You have former US officials, former presidents, aides to the current president, a long line of people who are tight with the Saudis.… We are willing to basically ignore inconvenient truths that might otherwise cause our blood to boil.” These deals are worth an incredible amount of money; one Washington Post reporter claims that prior to 1993, US companies spent $200 billion on Saudi Arabia’s defenses alone. (PBS 2/16/1993; Wells, Meyers, and Mulvihill 12/10/2001; Mulvihill, Meyers, and Wells 12/11/2001)
Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz is said to have given the Operation Greenquest investigators some of the information that led to the March 2002 SAAR network raid (see March 20, 2002). She will later write that in the months after that raid, “The CIA was investigating me and the SAAR investigators from Greenquest and Customs. The CIA and the FBI investigated everyone who had anything to do with the SAAR investigation. White vans and SUV’s with dark windows appeared near all the homes of the SAAR investigators. All agents, some of whom were very experienced with surveillance, knew they were being followed. So was I. I felt that I was being followed everywhere and watched at home, in the supermarket, on the way to work… and for what?… The Customs agents were questioned. So were their supervisors. So was the US attorney on the SAAR case.… Risking criticism for being unfoundedly paranoid, I must convey my theory about the investigation and CIA’s involvement in it, I don’t know for certain what’s the deal with the CIA investigating the SAAR investigators, but it sure feels as if someone up in that agency doesn’t like the idea that the Saudi Arabian boat is rocked. The [SAAR raid] had taken place already—the CIA couldn’t change that—but investigating and giving the people behind the raids a hard time is a most efficient way of making sure the SAAR investigation stops there.” (Katz 2003, pp. 42) The internal governmental battle against Greenquest will continue until Greenquest will be shut down in 2003 (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003).
Sudan arrests an unnamed al-Qaeda leader who has confessed to firing a missile at a US plane taking off from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in May 2002. Saudi Arabia had failed to arrest him. This is just the latest in a series of events where “some countries long deemed key US allies—such as Saudi Arabia—are considered less than helpful in the war against terror, while other states remaining on the US State Department’s blacklist of terrorist sponsors, such as Syria and Sudan, are apparently proving more cooperative than their pariah status would suggest.” The US hasn’t been given access to al-Qaeda members arrested by Saudi Arabia, and “concerns over the Saudi authorities’ ‘unhelpful’ stance are increasing.” (Jane's Intelligence Review 7/5/2002)
A briefing given to a top Pentagon advisory group by RAND Corp. analyst Laurent Murawiec states: “The Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot-soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.… Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies.” Saudi Arabia is called “the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent.” This position still runs counter to official US policy, but the Washington Post says it “represents a point of view that has growing currency within the Bush administration.” The briefing suggests that the Saudis be given an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of their oil fields and financial assets invested in the United States. The advisory group, the Defense Policy Board, is headed by Richard Perle. (Ricks 8/6/2002) An international controversy follows the public reports of the briefing in August 2002 (for instance, (Scotsman 8/12/2002) ). In an abrupt change, the media starts calling the Saudis enemies, not allies, of the US. Slate reports details of the briefing the Post failed to mention. The briefing states, “There is an ‘Arabia,’ but it needs not be ‘Saudi.’” The conclusion of the briefing: “Grand strategy for the Middle East: Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize.” (Shafer 8/7/2002) Note that a similar meeting of the Defense Policy Board appears to have preceded and affected the United States’ decision to take a warlike stance against Iraq (see September 19-20, 2001). Murawiec is later identified as a former editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, a magazine controlled by Lyndon LaRouche, an infamous far-right conspiracy theorist and convicted felon. Perle invited Murawiec to make his presentation. (Hersh 3/17/2003)
Appearing on NBC’s Dateline, former CIA agent Robert Baer says the US collects virtually no intelligence about Saudi Arabia nor are they given any intelligence collected by the Saudis. He says this is because there are implicit orders from the White House that say: “Do not collect information on Saudi Arabia because we’re going to risk annoying the royal family.” On the same television program, despite being on a US list of suspected terrorist financiers since October 2001, Saudi millionaire Yassin al-Qadi says, “I’m living my life here in Saudi Arabia without any problem” because he is being protected by the Saudi government. Al-Qadi admits to giving bin Laden money for his “humanitarian” work, but says this is different from bin Laden’s militant activities. Presented with this information, the US Treasury Department only says that the US “is pleased with and appreciates the actions taken by the Saudis” in the war on terror. The Saudi government still has not given US intelligence permission to talk to any family members of the hijackers, even though some US journalists have had limited contact with a few. (MSNBC 8/25/2002)
The Washington Post reports, “A global campaign to block al-Qaeda’s access to money has stalled, enabling the terrorist network to obtain a fresh infusion of tens of millions of dollars and putting it in a position to finance future attacks, according to a draft UN report.” In the months immediately following 9/11, more than $112 million in assets was frozen. Since then, only $10 million more has been frozen, and most of the original money has been unfrozen due to lack of evidence. Private donations to the group, estimated at $16 million a year, are believed to “continue, largely unabated.” The US and other governments are not sharing information about suspected militants, and known militants are not being put on official lists of suspected terrorists. (Lynch 8/29/2002) One month later, a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential US think tank, largely blames the US relationship with Saudi Arabia for the failure. The report says, “It is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official US government spokespersons have not. For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda, and for years the Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” The report will also note that the Bush administration “appears to have made a policy decision not to use the full power of US influence and legal authorities to pressure or compel other governments to combat terrorist financing more effectively.” (Farah 10/16/2002) News reports from early 2006 will show little change to the situation (see November 29, 2005; January 15, 2006).
On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Saudi government announces that it is setting up a supervisory body to control Islamic charities accused of financing terrorism. The US government had been strongly pressuring them to do so. Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz states, “We have established the Saudi Higher Authority for Relief and Charity Work… so all relief and charity work comes under its umbrella.” He says this will help “ensure the aid goes to the right people and for the right purposes,” adding, “We are also creating accurate systems and means… to guarantee a continuous followup of charities.” (Agence France-Presse 9/11/2002) However, no such body is actually created, then or later. In July 2007, Stuart Levey, the top counterterrorism official at the Treasury Department, will say the Saudi government has failed to keep its promise to create such a body. “They are also not holding people responsible for sending money abroad for jihad. It just doesn’t happen.” The White House will respond with a generic statement saying that “the Saudis continue to be a strong partner in the War on Terror.” (Simpson 7/26/2007)
Saudi Arabia announces that Turki al-Faisal will be its next ambassador to Britain. Turki is a controversial figure because of his long-standing relationship to bin Laden. He has also been named in a lawsuit (see August 15, 2002) by 9/11 victims’ relatives against Saudi Arabians for their support of al-Qaeda before 9/11. It is later noted that his ambassador position could give him diplomatic immunity from the lawsuit. (Gerson and Motley 12/30/2002) Turki’s predecessor as ambassador was recalled after it was revealed he had written poems praising suicide bombers. (Harris and Bright 3/2/2003) Articles reporting on his new posting suggest that Turki last met bin Laden in the early 1990s, before bin Laden became wanted by the US for his anti-American militancy. (Beeston and Evans 10/18/2002; Whitaker 10/19/2002) However, these reports fail to mention other reported contacts with bin Laden, including a possible secret meeting in 1998 (see July 1998).
A CIA report this month concludes the Saudi government “has made little independent effort to uncover terrorist financiers, investigate individual donors, and tighten the regulation of Islamic charities,” largely because of “domestic political considerations.” However, the report cautions, “A key factor for continued successful counterterrorism initiatives with the Saudis, whose society is by tradition private, closed, and conservative, will be to ensure that their cooperation with the United States is handled discreetly and kept as much as possible out of the public eye.” (Simpson 7/26/2007)
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. (Isikoff 11/22/2002; Isikoff 11/22/2002; Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002; Farah 11/23/2003) Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. (Serrano, McManus, and Krikorian 11/24/2002) Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” (Isikoff 11/22/2002) Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. (MSNBC 11/27/2002) Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. (Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002) A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. (Reuters 11/24/2002; Johnston and Shenon 11/25/2002) Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” (ABC News 11/25/2002) FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers (Shannon, Zagorin, and Duffy 11/24/2002) , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
In the wake of news that two Saudis living in San Diego, California, may have helped two of the 9/11 hijackers, reports surface that the US has a secret, short list of wealthy individuals who are the alleged key financiers of al-Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. The Washington Post claims there are nine names on the list: seven Saudis, plus one Egyptian, and one Pakistani. (Farah 11/26/2002) ABC News claims the list consists of 12 names, all Saudis, and says they were financing al-Qaeda through accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland, and Malaysia, among other countries. (ABC News 11/25/2002) They also claim the Saudi government has a copy of the list. US officials privately say all the people listed have close personal and business ties with the Saudi royal family. (ABC News 11/26/2002) A secret report by French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard names seven prominent Saudi financiers of terror; the number matches the seven Saudis mentioned in the Washington Post article, though it’s not known if all the names are the same. The Saudis mentioned by Brisard include Yassin al-Qadi, Adel Batterjee, and Wael Hamza Julaidan (who has had his assets frozen by the US.) (US Department of State 9/6/2002) Brisard says al-Qaeda has received between $300 million and $500 million over the last ten years from wealthy businessmen and bankers. He claims that the combined fortunes of these men equal about 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP (gross domestic product). (Brisard 12/19/2002 ; Rottela 12/24/2002) However, Brisard’s study has been mistakenly described as a United Nations report. While he submitted the study to the UN, the UN didn’t request it. (Ruehsen 10/2003) It is also reported that a National Security Council task force recommends that the US demand that Saudi Arabia crack down on al-Qaeda’s financiers within 90 days of receiving evidence of misdeeds and if they do not, the US should take unilateral action to bring the suspects to justice. However, the US government denies this report and calls Saudi Arabia a “good partner in the war on terrorism.” (Farah 11/26/2002) Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says: “I think the fact that many of the hijackers came from that nation [Saudi Arabia] cannot and should not be read as an indictment of the country.” (Tully 11/27/2002)
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry concludes its seven-month investigation of the performance of government agencies before the 9/11 attacks. A report hundreds of pages long has been written, but only nine pages of findings and 15 pages of recommendations are released at this time, and these have blacked out sections. (Miller 12/12/2002) After months of wrangling over what has to be classified, the final report will be released in July 2003 (see July 24, 2003). In the findings released at the present time, the inquiry accuses the Bush administration of refusing to declassify information about possible Saudi Arabian financial links to US-based Islamic militants, criticizes the FBI for not adapting into a domestic intelligence bureau after the 9/11 attacks, and says the CIA lacked an effective system for holding its officials accountable for their actions. Asked if 9/11 could have been prevented, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, gives “a conditional yes.” Graham says the Bush administration has given Americans an “incomplete and distorted picture” of the foreign assistance the hijackers may have received. (ABC News 12/10/2002) Graham further says, “There are many more findings to be disclosed” that Americans would find “more than interesting,” and he and others express frustration that information that should be released is being kept classified by the Bush administration. (Jacoby 12/12/2002) Many of these findings will remain classified after the inquiry’s final report is released. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the vice chairman, singles out six people as having “failed in significant ways to ensure that this country was as prepared as it could have been”: CIA Director George Tenet; Tenet’s predecessor, John Deutch; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; NSA Director Michael Hayden; Hayden’s predecessor, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan; and former Deputy Director Barbara McNamara. (US Congress 12/11/2002; Priest and Schmidt 12/12/2002) Shelby says that Tenet should resign. “There have been more failures on his watch as far as massive intelligence failures than any CIA director in history. Yet he’s still there. It’s inexplicable to me.” (Reuters 12/10/2002; PBS 12/11/2002) But the Los Angeles Times criticizes the inquiry’s plan of action, stating, “A list of 19 recommendations consists largely of recycled proposals and tepid calls for further study of thorny issues members themselves could not resolve.” (Miller 12/12/2002)
The United States exports arms to 25 countries this year. Of these, 18 are involved in ongoing conflicts, including Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Colombia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Israel. Sales to these countries total almost $1 billion, with most it—$845.6 million—going to Israel. More than half of the top 25 recipients are currently designated “undemocratic” by the US State Department’s Human Rights Report. Those countries—including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan—account for more than $2.7 billion in US sales. When countries with a poor human rights records or serious patterns of abuse are also added to the list, 20 of the top 25 US arms recipients, or 80 percent, are either undemocratic regimes or governments with a poor human rights record. (Berrigan and Hartung 6/2005; Bender 11/13/2006)
On April 30, 2003, the US announces that it is withdrawing most of its troops from Saudi Arabia. About 10,000 US soldiers have been stationed there since the first Gulf War (see August 5, 1990 and After and March 1991). The withdrawal is completed by the end of August 2003. About several hundred US military personnel remain in the country to train Saudi forces and tend to military sales. The US moves the rest of its troops to new bases in Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries, as well as building new bases in Iraq, conquered just a month before the announcement. (Mannion 8/26/2003) The withdrawal of US troops from Saudi Arabia has been bin Laden’s most persistent demand since the troops entered the country in 1990. For instance, in his 1996 fatwa (see August 1996), he said, “The latest and greatest of these aggressions incurred by Muslims since the death of the Prophet… is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places… by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.” (O'Neill 4/30/2003) One senior US military official says the decision to leave was made partly to help relieve internal political pressure on the royal family: “The Saudis will be happy when we leave. But they’re concerned that it not look as if it’s precipitous, because it will look like bin Laden won.” (Loeb 4/30/2003) One unnamed senior Saudi prince who participated in high-level debates about the withdrawal says, “We are fighting for our lives, and we are going to do what is necessary to save our behinds.” (Tyler 4/30/2003)
Saudi Arabia is attacked by three suicide bombings in the capital of Riyadh. At least 34 people are killed. Some evidence suggests that elements within the Saudi government were complicit with or behind the attacks (see May 12, 2003). The Saudi government had taken very little action against al-Qaeda prior to this. However, it appears to more aggressively combat al-Qaeda afterward. (Meyer 7/16/2004) In early 2006, it will be reported that the Saudis aggressively combat al-Qaeda within Saudi Arabia, but do next to nothing to stop al-Qaeda or its financing outside of the country (see January 15, 2006).
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.” (Simpson 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). (Isikoff 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. (Simpson 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. (Shafer 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.” (Simpson 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. (Isikoff and Hosenball 6/11/2007) The US Treasury will later impose unusually strict controls on Riggs Bank and fine the bank $25 million. (Simpson 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. (O'Hara 1/28/2005)
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; US Congress 7/24/2003) Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” (Jacoby, Adair, and Fritz 9/29/2002) Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. (Lipman 9/21/2002) The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)
According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” (Johnston 7/26/2003)
CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
“There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003) Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. (Isikoff 5/25/2003) The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” (Priest 7/25/2003; Cocco 8/7/2003)
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report, pressure builds to release most of the still-censored sections of the report, but on this day President Bush says he is against the idea. (Associated Press 7/29/2003; New York Times 7/29/2003) Through an obscure rule, the Senate could force the release of the material with a majority vote (Kiely and Diamond 5/29/2003) , but apparently the number of votes in favor of this idea falls just short. MSNBC reports that “the decision to keep the passage secret… created widespread suspicion among lawmakers that the administration was trying to shield itself and its Saudi allies from embarrassment.… Three of the four leaders of the joint congressional investigation into the attacks have said they believed that much of the material on foreign financing was safe to publish but that the administration insisted on keeping it secret.” (MSNBC 7/28/2003) Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the main authors of the report, states that “90, 95 percent of it would not compromise, in my judgment, anything in national security.” Bush ignores a reporter’s question on Shelby’s assessment. (Associated Press 7/29/2003) Even the Saudi government claims to be in favor of releasing the censored material so it can better respond to criticism. (MSNBC 7/28/2003) All the censored material remains censored; however, some details of the most controversial censored sections are leaked to the media.
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) claims that Saudi leaders and members of the Saudi royal family continue to fund Islamic militant schools and groups in the US. He calls on the Bush administration to cut US ties with Saudi Arabia, and says, “There’s been much too close a relationship between Saudi royal family, the White House, and big oil. We have to be much tougher with the Saudis.” (Associated Press 7/11/2004)
The 9/11 Commission releases a report on terrorism financing. Its conclusions generally stand in complete contrast to a great body of material reported by the mainstream media, before and after this report. For instance, while the report does mention some terrorism-supporting organizations in great detail, such as the Global Relief Foundation or Al Barakaat, many seemingly important organizations are not mentioned a single time in either this report or the 9/11 Commission Final Report. The Commission fails to ever mention: BMI, Inc., Ptech, Al Taqwa Bank, Holy Land Foundation, InfoCom, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and the SAAR network or any entity within it. Additionally, important efforts to track terrorist financing such as Vulgar Betrayal and Operation Greenquest are not mentioned a single time. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ) Some select quotes from the report:
“While the drug trade was an important source of income for the Taliban before 9/11, it did not serve the same purpose for al-Qaeda. Although there is some fragmentary reporting alleging that bin Laden may have been an investor, or even had an operational role, in drug trafficking before 9/11, this intelligence cannot be substantiated and the sourcing is probably suspect.” Additionally, there is “no evidence of [al-Qaeda] drug funding after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 22-23 )
“[C]ontrary to some public reports, we have not seen substantial evidence that al-Qaeda shares a fund-raising infrastructure in the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
“The United States is not, and has not been, a substantial source of al-Qaeda funding, but some funds raised in the United States may have made their way to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A murky US network of jihadist (holy war) supporters has plainly provided funds to foreign mujaheddin with al-Qaeda links. Still, there is little hard evidence of substantial funds from the United States actually going to al-Qaeda. A CIA expert on al-Qaeda financing believes that any money coming out of the United States for al-Qaeda is ‘minuscule.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
The notion “that bin Laden was a financier with a fortune of several hundred million dollars” is an “urban legend.” “[S]ome within the government continued to cite the $300 million figure well after 9/11, and the general public still [incorrectly] gives credence to the notion of a ‘multimillionaire bin Laden.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 20, 34 ) (A few months after this report, it will be reported that in 2000 over $250 million passed through a bank account jointly controlled by bin Laden and another man (see 2000).)
“To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.… Ultimately the question of the origin of the funds is of little practical significance.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 144 )
“The US intelligence community has attacked the problem [of terrorist funding] with imagination and vigor” since 9/11. (Shenon 8/22/2004)
According to the New York Times, the report “largely exonerate[s] the Saudi government and its senior officials of long-standing accusations that they were involved in financing al-Qaeda terrorists.” (Shenon 8/22/2004) Author Douglas Farah comments on the Commission’s report, “The biggest hole is the complete lack of attention to the role the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the financing of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. While the ties are extensive on a personal level, they also pervade the financial structure of al-Qaeda.… According to sources who provided classified briefing to the Commission staff, most of the information that was provided was ignored.… [T]he Commission staff simply did not include any information that was at odds with the official line of different agencies.” (Farah 8/27/2004)
Cantor Fitzgerald Securities, a bond-trading firm that lost 658 employees in the World Trade Center attacks, files a $7 billion lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. The lawsuit names dozens of other defendants, including many Saudi banks and Islamic charities. Many of the defendants had also been named in the still-pending $300 billion Ron Motley lawsuit (see August 15, 2002). The Cantor Fitzgerald lawsuit claims the Saudi Arabian government “knew and intended that these Saudi-based charity and relief organization defendants would provide financial and material support and substantial assistance to al-Qaeda.… This uninterrupted financial and material support and substantial assistance enabled the al-Qaeda defendants to plan, orchestrate and carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Neumeister 9/3/2004)
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled Intelligence Matters, he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers, who lived in San Diego, “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. (Graham and Nussbaum 2004; Eckert 9/7/2004) In the words of author Philip Shenon, Graham is “convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack,” and that “Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 51) Graham also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. (Graham and Nussbaum 2004; Eckert 9/7/2004)
It is announced that Swiss prosecutors have suspended a three-year investigation into Al Taqwa Bank. The US and UN formally designated Al Taqwa and its founder Youssef Nada as terrorist financiers in November 2001 (see November 7, 2001). The suspension of the Swiss probe has no effect on those designations. Nada is self-acknowledged leader of the militant Muslim Brotherhood movement, but claims no ties to terrorism. (Isikoff and Hosenball 6/22/2005) Swiss investigators say that the Bahamas government failed to share information about the important Al Taqwa branch based in that country. They claim that was the decisive factor in not bringing a case. Additionally, Al Taqwa’s Swiss financial records were all shipped to Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government has not been cooperative in getting them back. (Swissinfo 6/2/2005)
The United States signs more than $21 billion in arms sales agreements with foreign countries—twice as much as the previous year. Between September 2001 and and September 2005, annual foreign military sales was typically between $10 billion and $13 billion. The 100 percent increase in sales in attributed to several factors, including the Bush administration’s practice of rewarding loyal allies and client-states with arms; the increased purchasing power of Middle Eastern countries flush with oil revenue; and the decision to drop bans against selling weapons to countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Serbia and Montenegro, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In 2005 Pakistan placed a $5 billion order for Lockheed Martin’s advanced F-16 jets. Next year’s arms sales is expected to be high also. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey B. Kohler, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, tells the New York Times, “We’ve got a good start on 2007.” India is hoping to purchase as many as 126 new fighter jets, while Saudi Arabia has plans to spend $5.8 billion on US weapons for its National Guard and an additional $3 billion for Black Hawk helicopters, Abrams and Bradley armored land vehicles, new radio systems, and other weapons. Christopher E. Kubasik, chief financial officer of Lockheed, tells the Times its foreign buyers are “valued customers,” adding that the company plans “to continue to grow in that area.” (Wayne 11/1/2006)
It had been widely reported that the Saudi government began to crack down seriously on al-Qaeda and other radical militants after a 2003 al-Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). However, the Los Angeles Times reports that US officials now claim that is not true. While Saudis have been very aggressive and cooperative in cracking down on militants within Saudi Arabia since that attack, they have done little outside the country. Millions of dollars continue to flow from wealthy Saudis through charity fronts to al-Qaeda and other suspected groups, and the Saudi government is doing next to nothing about it. In 2004, the Saudis promised to set up a government commission to police such groups, but they have yet to do so. The Saudi government has also done little to rein in influential radical religious leaders who openly encourage their followers to attack US interests in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. US officials claim that at least five organizations, including the Muslim World League (MWL), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WML), “are headquartered in Saudi Arabia but continue to engage in highly suspect activity overseas.” A senior US counterterrorism official says that some known terrorist financiers continue to “operate and live comfortably in Saudi Arabia” despite US objections. (Meyer 1/15/2006)
Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” (Democracy Now! 2/28/2007; Hersh 3/5/2007; Cooper 12/13/2007)
Saudi Arabia is funding the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, according to Congressional testimony by the new director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell. The Sunni insurgency is considered far more dangerous, at this point, to US troops than are the Shi’ite insurgents of the Mahdi Army and other groups, some of whom are funded by Iran. McConnell’s testimony highlights government worries that Iraq’s civil war could turn into a direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, by Iraqi proxies, with US troops caught in the middle. Brian Jenkins, a military expert with the Rand Corporation, says, "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia." While Iran has been considered, in recent years, an opponent of the US in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has had a long and close relationship with both the US government and the Bush family. In his testimony before Congress, McConnell is reluctant to identify the Saudis as the source of funding for the Sunni insurgents and only does so after tough questioning from Carl Levin (D-MI). McConnell and his deputy, Thomas Fingar, later qualify McConnell’s Senate testimony by saying that they cannot be sure whether the Saudi money is actually coming from the Saudi government. They also refuse to clarify whether the Saudis are supporting al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq (al-Qaeda being a Sunni organization) or homegrown Iraqi Sunni insurgents. A largely ignored section of the December 2006 report by the Iraq Study Group noted, "Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States even as those governments help facilitate US military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues." Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name." He continues, "There is a renewed desire to protect the US-Saudi bilateral relationship. So you don’t want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests." (Hearst News 3/4/2007)
Following the failed return of former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan (see September 10, 2007), officials from Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency meet secretly with Saudi representatives in Riyadh to plan another attempt at bringing him back to the country ahead of forthcoming elections. (It is possible that ISI Director General Nadeem Taj and retired brigadier Niaz Ahmed also meet Sharif in Jeddah). The effort is apparently successful, as Sharif re-enters Pakistan a short time later (see November 25, 2007). Washington Post commentator Bob Novak will say these meetings indicate that if the turmoil in Pakistan causes current President Pervez Musharraf to lose his position, Sharif is “the ISI’s chosen successor.” (Jabbar 11/25/2007; Novak 12/3/2007)
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” (Site Intelligence Group 2/25/2009; Salahuddin 2/26/2009)
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