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a.k.a. Saudi GIP, General Intelligence Presidency, Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah
Osama bin Laden begins providing financial, organizational, and engineering aid for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, with the advice and support of the Saudi royal family. (Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001) Some, including Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, believe he was handpicked for the job by Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence (see Early 1980 and After). (Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001; Fielding 8/25/2002) The Pakistani ISI want a Saudi prince as a public demonstration of the commitment of the Saudi royal family and as a way to ensure royal funds for the anti-Soviet forces. The agency fails to get royalty, but bin Laden, with his family’s influential ties, is good enough for the ISI. (Rosenberg 9/24/2001) (Clarke will argue later that the Saudis and other Muslim governments used the Afghan war in an attempt to get rid of their own misfits and troublemakers.) This multinational force later coalesces into al-Qaeda. (Clarke 2004, pp. 52)
As Osama bin Laden gets involved with the mujaheddin resistance in Afghanistan, he also develops close ties to the Saudi intelligence agency, the GIP. Some believe that Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal plays a middleman role between Saudi intelligence and mujaheddin groups (see Early 1980). Turki’s chief of staff is Ahmed Badeeb, and Badeeb had been one of bin Laden’s teachers when bin Laden was in high school. Badeeb will later say, “I loved Osama and considered him a good citizen of Saudi Arabia.” Journalist Steve Coll will later comment that while the Saudi government denies bin Laden is ever a Saudi intelligence agent, and the exact nature of his connections with the GIP remains murky, “it seems clear that bin Laden did have a substantial relationship with Saudi intelligence.” (Coll 2004, pp. 72, 86-87) The GIP’s favorite Afghan warlord is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, while Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is the Pakistani ISI’s favorite warlord. Bin Laden quickly becomes close to both Sayyaf and Hekmatyar, even though the two warlords are not allies with each other. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 268) Some CIA officers will later say that bin Laden serves as a semi-official liaison between the GIP and warlords like Sayyaf. Bin Laden meets regularly with Prince Turki and Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif. Badeeb will later say bin Laden developed “strong relations with the Saudi intelligence and with our embassy in Pakistan.… We were happy with him. He was our man. He was doing all what we ask him.” Bin Laden also develops good relations with the ISI. (Coll 2004, pp. 72, 87-88) Bin Laden will begin clashing with the Saudi government in the early 1990s (see August 2, 1990-March 1991).
Around the time of an al-Qaeda attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see November 13, 1995), four Yemeni mercenaries attempt to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The mercenaries jump off a pickup truck in front of bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan, and engage in a firefight with security guards. Three of the assassins and two of the guards are killed, but bin Laden emerges unscathed. The assassins were apparently employed by Saudi intelligence. There was an assassination attempt on bin Laden in 1994 as well (see February 4-5, 1994 and Shortly Afterwards). Double agent Ali Mohamed trained bin Laden’s bodyguards after that attempt. Now, working with Sudan’s intelligence agency, Mohamed increases bin Laden’s security. It is unknown if the attempt takes place before or after the Riyadh bombing. (MSNBC 6/22/2005)
The CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station sends a memo to CIA Director George Tenet warning him that the Saudi intelligence service should be considered a “hostile service” with regard to al-Qaeda. This means that, at the very least, they could not be trusted. In subsequent years leading up to 9/11, US intelligence will gather intelligence confirming this assessment and even suggesting direct ties between some in Saudi intelligence and al-Qaeda. For instance, according to a top Jordanian official, at some point before 9/11 the Saudis ask Jordan intelligence to conduct a review of the Saudi intelligence agency and then provide it with a set of recommendations for improvement. Jordanians are shocked to find Osama bin Laden screen savers on some of the office computers. Additionally, the CIA will note that in some instances after sharing communications intercepts of al-Qaeda operatives with the Saudis, the suspects would sometimes change communication methods, suggesting the possibility that they had been tipped off by Saudi intelligence. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184)
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that al-Qaeda attempts to smuggle weapons into Saudi Arabia to mount attacks on police stations. The plot is uncovered and prevented by Saudi intelligence, and two of the unsuccessful gunrunners, future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are watchlisted. (Follman 10/18/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 266, 310-311, 448) However, Almihdhar and Alhazmi continue to move in and out of Saudi Arabia unchecked and will obtain US visas there in April 1999 (see 1993-1999 and April 3-7, 1999). The US is supposedly informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s al-Qaeda connection by the end of 1999 (see Late 1999). Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an associate of Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000), is implicated in a plot to smuggle four Russian antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia around the same time, although it is unclear whether this is the same plot or a different one. The Saudi authorities uncover this plot and the US is apparently informed of the missile seizure in June 1998. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3, 491)
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that around this time its external intelligence agency tells the CIA that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have been put on a Saudi terror watch list. The Saudis have been tracking the two men, as well as Nawaf’s brother Salem, for some time (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and After Early April 1999). Saeed Badeeb, Turki’s chief analyst, and Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, support Turki’s account though Turki himself will later back away from it after becoming Saudi ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005). In 2003, Prince Turki will say, “What we told [the CIA] was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the  embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997,” (see 1997 and October 4, 2001). However, the CIA strongly denies any such warning, although it begins following Almihdhar and Alhazmi around this time (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). (Solomon 10/16/2003; Follman 10/18/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 310-311, 448) The US will not put Almihdhar and Alhazmi on its watch list until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a new passport in Saudi Arabia, despite being on the terrorist watch list there due to his part in a failed gunrunning plot (see 1997). The passport contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track terrorist suspects (see November 2, 2007) and lacks an expiry date. Although the nature of the indicator is not clear, one of the other hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, has an overlay of the Koran in his passport and immigration officials in the United Arab Emirates are said to find this suspicious, so the indicator in Almihdhar’s passport may be similar. Nevertheless, Almihdhar uses it to obtain a US visa (see June 13, 2001) and travels to the US on it (see July 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 496; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 27 )
Following the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as head of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) (see August 31, 2001), the CIA becomes nervous about its protection of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, according to investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. A CIA officer will tell the two reporters that the CIA protected the two hijackers in the US because they were working for the GIP, and the CIA did not realize they were loyal to Osama bin Laden, not the regime in Riyadh (see August 6, 2003). After Turki is replaced, the CIA apparently thinks: “Had Turki been forced out by more radical elements in the Saudi royal family? Had he quietly warned the CIA that he suspected the GIP’s assurances about the penetration of al-Qaeda were not as reliable as thought previously? Had al-Qaeda penetrated GIP?” This is said to be the reason the CIA allows the passage of more intelligence related to the two men to the FBI around this time (see August 30, 2001). (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 193) However, the 9/11 Commission will not say Almihdhar and Alhazmi were assets of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency or that they were protected by the CIA. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not say they were protected by the CIA. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
After 9/11, an unnamed former CIA officer who worked in Saudi Arabia will tell investigative journalist Joe Trento that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were allowed to operate in the US unchecked (see, e.g., February 4-Mid-May 2000 and Mid-May-December 2000) because they were agents of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. “We had been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda. The Saudis claimed that they had done it successfully. Both Alhazmi and Almihdhar were Saudi agents. We thought they had been screened. It turned out the man responsible for recruiting them had been loyal to Osama bin Laden. The truth is bin Laden himself was a Saudi agent at one time. He successfully penetrated Saudi intelligence and created his own operation inside. The CIA relied on the Saudis vetting their own agents. It was a huge mistake. The reason the FBI was not given any information about either man is because they were Saudi assets operating with CIA knowledge in the United States.” (Trento 8/6/2003) In a 2006 book the Trentos will add: “Saudi intelligence had sent agents Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to spy on a meeting of top associates of al-Qaeda in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, January 5-8, 2000. ‘The CIA/Saudi hope was that the Saudis would learn details of bin Laden’s future plans. Instead plans were finalized and the Saudis learned nothing,’ says a terrorism expert who asks that his identity be withheld… Under normal circumstances, the names of Almihdhar and Alhazmi should have been placed on the State Department, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and US Customs watch lists. The two men would have been automatically denied entry into the US. Because they were perceived as working for a friendly intelligence service, however, the CIA did not pass along the names.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 8)