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Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah writes to President Bush saying that the administration’s increasingly pro-Israel stance with regard to the Palestinians and other issues is putting the Saudis in a very difficult position. The prince warns that Saudi Arabia may need to reassess its relations with the United States. Bush immediately responds by promising a new, more balanced initiative for peace in the Middle East, including support for a Palestinian state. But the new American initiative will be derailed by the events of September 11. [BBC, 11/9/2001; Tel Aviv Notes, 5/7/2002]
Crown Prince Abdullah, the effective leader of Saudi Arabia, is upset with US policy over Israel and Palestine and threatens to break the Saudi alliance with the US. He has Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US, personally deliver a message to President Bush on August 27. Bandar says, “This is the most difficult message I have had to convey to you that I have ever conveyed between the two governments since I started working here in Washington in 1982.” He brings up a number of issues, including the complaint that since Bush became president US policy has tilted towards Israel so much that the US has allowed Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to “determine everything in the Middle East.” The message concludes, “Therefore the Crown Prince will not communicate in any form, type or shape with you, and Saudi Arabia will take all its political, economic and security decisions based on how it sees its own interest in the region without taking into account American interests anymore because it is obvious that the United States has taken a strategic decision adopting Sharon’s policy.” Bush seems shocked and replies, “I want to assure you that the United States did not make any strategic decision.” Secretary of State Powell later confronts Bandar and says, “What the fuck are you doing? You’re putting the fear of God in everybody here. You scared the shit out of everybody.” Bandar reportedly replies, “I don’t give a damn what you feel. We are scared ourselves.” Two days later, Bush replies with a message designed to appease the Saudi concerns (see August 29-September 6, 2001). [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-79]
A Saudi family abruptly moves out of a Sarasota, Florida, residence linked to individuals who will later be accused of being among the 9/11 hijackers. The residence is owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American-born wife, Deborah, and is occupied by Esam’s daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulaziz al-Hijji. An unnamed counterterrorism officer will, in 2012, describe, “The car registration numbers of vehicles that had passed through the Prestancia community’s North Gate in the months before 9/11, coupled with the identification documents shown by incoming drivers on request, showed that Mohamed Atta and several of his fellow hijackers [Marwan al-Shehhi, Walid al-Shehri, and Ziad Jarrah]—and another Saudi terror suspect still at large [Adnan Shukrijumah]—had visited 4224 Escondito Circle on multiple occasions.” The counterterrorism officer will also say that “link analysis… tracked phone calls—based on dates, times, and length of phone conversations to and from the Escondito house—dating back more than a year before 9/11. And the phone traffic also connected with the 9/11 terrorists—though less directly than the gate logs did.” [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012] According to the Broward Bulldog, “The counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi and al-Hijji had been on a watch list at the FBI and that a US agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/8/2011]
Residence Hastily Abandoned - A suspicious neighbor, Patrick Gallagher, will email the FBI on the day of the 9/11 attacks, but apparently the FBI will not investigate until about a month later, after Larry Berberich, senior administrator and security officer of the Prestancia gated community, contacts local law enforcement. According to Berberich and the counterterrorism officer: “[T]here was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms… all the toiletries still in place… all their clothes hanging in the closet… TVs… opulent furniture, equal or greater in value than the house… the pool running, with toys in it. The beds were made… fruit on the counter… the refrigerator full of food.… It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie.… [But] the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip.… A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they’d taken [another] computer and left the cord.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/8/2011] The family also leaves three vehicles and “huge piles of trash in front of the… home.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/13/2011]
Terrorism Links Alleged by FBI Informant - In addition to the visitor logs and call records, FBI informant Wissam Taysir Hammoud will allege that al-Hijji has links to the 9/11 hijackers. In 2004, the FBI and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will interview Hammoud at the Hillsborough County Jail. Hammoud will tell them that al-Hijji introduced him to Adnan El Shukrijumah, that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero,” that al-Hijji may have known some of the 9/11 hijackers, that al-Hijji talked about “going to Afghanistan and becoming a freedom fighter,” and that al-Hijji tried to recruit him. At the time of the interview, Hammoud will be serving a 21-year sentence for attempted murder and weapons violations, and is classified as an “International Terrorist Associate” by the US Bureau of Prisons. [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012]
Al-Hijji Professes Innocence - Responding to the allegations in email correspondence with the London Daily Telegraph in 2012, al-Hijji will acknowledge having been friends with Hammoud, but will say the other allegations against him are false: “I have neither relation nor association with any of those bad people/criminals and the awful crime they did,” he will say. “9/11 is a crime against the USA and all humankind, and I’m very saddened and oppressed by these false allegations.” [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012]
FBI Repeatedly Denies 9/11 Links - Following news reporting on the events, the FBI will say in a prepared statement given to the Tampa Bay Times that the related leads “were resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot,” and that “[a]ll of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 Commission” and the Joint Inquiry. [Tampa Bay Times, 9/13/2011] And in a letter denying records requested under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI will say, “At no time during the course of its investigation of the attacks, known as the PENTTBOM investigation, did the FBI develop credible evidence that connected the address at 4224 Escondito Circle, Sarasota, Florida to any of the 9/11 hijackers.” [Broward Bulldog, 2/20/2011]
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Disputes FBI Statements - Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will deny that the Joint Inquiry received information regarding the Saudis and the Escondito Circle address, and will press the FBI to provide the records it says it turned over. The FBI will delay turning these records over for several months, and when it finally does provide two classified documents from 2002 and 2003 to Graham, Graham will say, “An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as truth.” The Broward Bulldog will also report that Graham says, “[T]he agent suggested that another federal agency be asked to join the investigation, but that the idea was ‘rejected.’” Graham will attempt to interview this agent, but find he has been ordered by FBI headquarters not to talk. [Broward Bulldog, 2/20/2011]
The Bush administration attempts to repair its relation with Saudi Arabia after a dramatic letter from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. On August 27, 2001, Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, sent a message to President Bush threatening to end the Saudi alliance with the US because of what they see as US favoritism towards Israel (see August 27, 2001). Two days later, Bush sends a two-page letter to Abdullah: “Let me make one thing clear up front: nothing should ever break the relationship between us. There has been no change in the strategic equation. I firmly believe the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and to live peacefully and securely in their own state, in their own homeland, just as the Israelis have the right to live peacefully and safely in their own state.” Journalist Bob Woodward will later note that this “was a much bigger step than President Clinton had taken. Even as Clinton had tried to fashion a Middle East peace agreement as his legacy, he had never directly supported a separate Palestinian state.” On September 6, Abdullah replies, “Mr. President, it was a great relief to me to find in your letter a clear commitment confirming the principle in which the peace process was established. I was particularly pleased with your commitment to the right of the Palestinians to self-determination as well as the right to peace without humiliation, within their independent state.” The Saudis appear appeased. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-79] Also on September 6, Bush holds a meeting with his top advisers and suggests a change of policy towards Palestine, including public support for a separate Palestinian state. However, days before Bush is to announce these new policies, the 9/11 attacks take place. None of the planned US policy changes materialize (see September 6, 2001).
Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, is replaced. No explanation is given. He is replaced by Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, his nephew and the king’s brother, who has “no background in intelligence whatsoever.” [Agence France-Presse, 8/31/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001; Seattle Times, 10/29/2001] The Wall Street Journal later reports: “The timing of Turki’s removal—August 31—and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is probably not, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, although they did not know what or when. (An interesting and possibly significant detail: Prince Sultan, the defense minister, had been due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason less than two days before an alleged planned departure.)” [Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001] It will later come out that Turki’s removal takes place during a time of great turmoil in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, though it is not known if there is a connection (see August 27, 2001, August 29-September 6, 2001, and September 6, 2001). Turki is later sued in August 2002 for his role in 9/11 (see August 15, 2002), and is later appointed ambassador to Britain (see October 18, 2002) and then ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005).
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]
F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch. [Source: Jack Braden / United States Air Force]At the time of the 9/11 attacks, the 94th Fighter Squadron, which is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, is away on a 90-day combat deployment to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Two days before 9/11, on September 9, the 27th Fighter Squadron, which is also stationed at Langley AFB, returns from Saudi Arabia, where it has been performing the same mission. [BBC, 12/29/1998; Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; 1st Fighter Association, 2003] The 94th and 27th Fighter Squadrons are two of the three F-15 fighter squadrons that are part of the 1st Fighter Wing, which is the “host unit” at Langley AFB. The third of these is the 71st Fighter Squadron. Between them, the three squadrons have 54 “primary assigned” F-15C fighter jets. [Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 2/12/2006] On September 11, most of the F-15s of the 71st FS are also away from base, for the Red Flag exercise in Nevada (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]
Langley Jets Not Part of NORAD Alert Unit - Langley Air Force Base, which is 130 miles south of the Pentagon, is one of two “alert sites” that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can call upon to get jets quickly launched. However, the F-15s of the 1st Fighter Wing are not involved in this mission. Instead, that task belongs to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which has a small detachment at Langley AFB and keeps two fighter jets there ready to take off when required. [USA Today, 9/16/2001; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Despite not being part of the NORAD alert unit, aircraft from the 1st Fighter Wing are involved in the military response to the 9/11 attacks. Jets belonging to the 27th FS are airborne within two hours of the attacks, “providing protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership.” [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002] And F-15s belonging to the 71st FS are launched from Langley AFB following the attacks, to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006]
Possible Effect on 9/11 Response - Whether the deployment of the 94th Fighter Squadron to Saudi Arabia diminishes Langley AFB’s ability to respond on 9/11 is unknown. However, Air Force units are cycled through deployments like Operation Southern Watch by the Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) Center, which is at Langley Air Force Base. And according to NORAD Commander Larry Arnold, “Prior to Sept. 11, we’d been unsuccessful in getting the AEF Center to be responsible for relieving our air defense units when they went overseas.” [Air Force Print News, 6/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org), 12/21/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 99]
9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi transfers $200 from his and Atta’s joint account at SunTrust Bank to fellow hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari’s account in Buraidah, Saudi Arabia. Alomari’s account is with Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, which will later be unsuccessfully sued for allegedly supporting terrorism (see August 15, 2002). The transfer costs $50 plus charges. The reason for the transfer is not clear, as Alomari, who also has an account with the Hudson United Bank in the US (see June 27-August 23, 2001), had only left Florida the previous day and will be in Boston at the same time as Alshehhi on September 9. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] Records show that Alshehhi completes the transaction just before 4.00 p.m. However, according to some accounts, Alshehhi is drinking at Shuckums bar at this time (see September 7, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/13/2001; Observer, 9/16/2001]
At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002; Reuters, 6/19/2002] Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 139] On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/2002]
Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 ] And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, Salah al-Rajhi, Red Crescent (Saudi branch), World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Muslim World League, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Global Relief Foundation, Hani Hanjour, International Islamic Relief Organization, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Abdulaziz Alomari, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In June 2004, future 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will say that before 9/11, “There’s no question the Taliban was getting money from the Saudis… and there’s no question they got much more than that from the Pakistani government. Their motive is a secondary issue for us.” He claims this finding is based almost entirely on information known to the US government before 9/11. “All we’re doing is looking at classified documents from our own government, not from some magical source. So we knew what was going on, but we did nothing.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004] However, the 9/11 Commission will leave such material out of its final report and in fact make the claim in its last staff statement, “There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
A secret French intelligence report from this date is skeptical of the Saudi Binladin Group, the bin Laden family company. Called “Elements on the Financial Resources of bin Laden,” the report discusses a powerful banker apparently connected to the company who was once close to the Saudi royal family and is the chief architect of a plan “that seems to have been used for the transfer to the terrorist of funds that came from the Gulf countries.” The report also lists assets believed to be under Osama bin Laden’s direct control. In addition to businesses in Sudan, Yemen, Malaysia, and Bosnia, he apparently still owns a hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other French reports from before 9/11 also question his ties to the Saudi royal family. One French intelligence official will later say that he and other top French officials “had a lot of difficulty believing that [bin Laden] didn’t have any relations with the Saudi monarchy just because he was banished. It was hard to accept.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Ironically, the same day this French report is completed, the US allows Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family to fly out of the US after only cursory FBI checks (see September 13, 2001 and September 14-19, 2001).
From left to right: Dick Cheney, Prince Bandar, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush, on the Truman Balcony of the White House on September 13, 2001. [Source: White House]President Bush and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, hold a private meeting at the White House. Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, and Bandar’s aide Rihab Massoud also attend. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80] Bandar is so close to the Bush family that he is nicknamed “Bandar Bush.” Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) later will note that while little is known about what is discussed in the meeting, mere hours later, the first flights transporting Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family are in the air (see September 13, 2001). Over the next week, they will be taken to several gathering points, and then flown back to Saudi Arabia, apparently without first being properly interviewed by the FBI (see September 14-19, 2001). Graham will say, “Richard Clarke, then the White House’s counterterrorism tsar, told me that he was approached by someone in the White House seeking approval for the departures. He did not remember who made the request… The remaining question is where in the White House the request originated, and how.” Graham will imply that, ultimately, the request originated from this meeting between Bush and Bandar. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 105-107] Others also will later suggest that it was Bandar who pushed for and helped arrange the flights. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003; Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 ] Bob Woodward will mention in a 2006 book that during the meeting, Bush tells Bandar, “If we [capture] somebody and we can’t get them to cooperate, we’ll hand them over to you.” Woodward will later comment, “With these words, the president casually expressed what became the US government’s rendition policy-the shifting of terrorist suspects from country to country for interrogation.… Though the Saudis denied it, the CIA believe the Saudis tortured terrorist suspects to make them talk.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80]
Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 ] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: New York Times]According to the private intelligence service Intelligence Online, a secret meeting between fundamentalist supporters in Saudi Arabia and the ISI takes place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on this day. Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, the new head of Saudi intelligence, meet with Gen. Mohamed Youssef, head of the ISI’s Afghanistan Section, and ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed (just returning from discussions in Afghanistan). They agree “to the principle of trying to neutralize Osama bin Laden in order to spare the Taliban regime and allow it to keep its hold on Afghanistan.” There has been no confirmation that this meeting in fact took place, but if it did, its goals were unsuccessful. [Intelligence Online, 10/4/2001] There may have been a similar meeting before 9/11 in the summer of 2001.
A private plane picks up Saudis who have gathered in Boston and flies them to Paris, then ultimately to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Because most of the passengers on board are relatives of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission calls this the “so-called bin Laden flight.” The commission claims there are 26 passengers on board, three of them security personnel. They further report that “22 of the 26… were interviewed by the FBI. Many were asked detailed questions.” However, the commission does not answer how many were not asked detailed questions, or were not questioned at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 557] However, Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saud, publishes the flight manifest during the same week as the 9/11 Commission’s final report is released, and this list contains 29 names (including the three security personnel), not 26. [Craig Unger website, 7/22/2004] The 2005 book Al-Qaeda Will Conquer by Guillaume Dasquié also makes note of this three-person discrepancy. [Financial Times, 4/27/2005]
Mustafa Ahmed Alhawsawi. [Source: FBI]In 2000, the 9/11 hijackers receive money from a man using “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi” and other aliases. On September 8-11, 2001, the hijackers send money to a man in the United Arab Emirates who uses the aliases “Mustafa Ahmed,”
“Mustafa Ahmad,” and “Ahamad Mustafa.” Soon the media begins reporting on who this 9/11 “paymaster” is, but his reported names and identities will continually change. The media has sometimes made the obvious connection that the paymaster is Saeed Sheikh—a British financial expert who studied at the London School of Economics, undisputedly sent hijacker Mohamed Atta money the month before the attacks, made frequent trips to Dubai (where the money is sent), and is known to have trained the hijackers. However, the FBI consistently deflects attention to other possible explanations, with a highly confusing series of names vaguely similar to Mustafa Ahmed or Saeed Sheikh:
September 24, 2001: Newsweek reports that the paymaster for the 9/11 attacks is someone named “Mustafa Ahmed.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] This refers to Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, an Egyptian al-Qaeda banker who was captured in Tanzania in 1998 then later released. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/28/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001]
October 1, 2001: The Guardian reports that the real name of “Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad” is “Sheikh Saeed.” [Guardian, 10/1/2001] A few days later, CNN confirms from a “senior-level US government source” that this “Sheik Syed” is the British man Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh rescued from an Indian prison in 1999. [CNN, 10/6/2001; CNN, 10/8/2001] However, starting on October 8, the story that ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed to give Mohamed Atta $100,000 begins to break. References to the 9/11 paymaster being the British Saeed Sheikh (and the connections to the ISI Director) suddenly disappear from the Western media (with one exception [CNN, 10/28/2001] ).
October 2001: Other articles continue to use “Mustafa Mohammed Ahmad” or “Shaykh Saiid” with no details of his identity, except for suggestions that he is Egyptian. There are numerous spelling variations and conflicting accounts over which name is the alias. There is an Egyptian al-Qaeda financier leader named Mustafa Abu al-Yazid who uses some variant of Saeed Sheikh as an alias. [Evening Standard, 10/1/2001; BBC, 10/1/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001; Associated Press, 10/6/2001; Washington Post, 10/7/2001; Sunday Times (London), 10/7/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/9/2001; New York Times, 10/15/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2001]
October 16, 2001: CNN reports that the 9/11 paymaster “Sheik Sayid” is mentioned in a May 2001 trial of al-Qaeda members. However, this turns out to be a Kenyan named Sheik Sayyid el Masry. [Day 7. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/20/2001; United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001]
November 11, 2001: The identity of 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed” is suddenly no longer Egyptian, but is now a Saudi named Sa’d Al-Sharif, who is said to be bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [United Nations, 3/8/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2001; Associated Press, 12/18/2001]
December 11, 2001: The federal indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui calls the 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi a/k/a ‘Mustafa Ahmed,’” and gives him Sa’d’s nationality and birth date. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] Many articles begin adding “al-Hawsawi” to the Mustafa Ahmed name. [Washington Post, 12/13/2001; Washington Post, 1/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002]
January 23, 2002: As new information is reported in India, the media returns to the British Saeed Sheikh as the 9/11 paymaster. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/24/2002; Independent, 1/24/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/27/2002] While his role in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl is revealed on February 6, many articles connect him to 9/11, but many more do not. Coverage of Saeed’s 9/11 connections generally dies out by the time of his trial in July 2002.
June 4, 2002: Without explanation, the name “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif” begins to be used for the 9/11 paymaster, presumably a combination of Saeed Sheikh and S’ad al-Sharif. [Associated Press, 6/5/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002; Associated Press, 9/26/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15/2002] Many of the old names continue to be used, however. [New York Times, 7/10/2002; Time, 8/4/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/8/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/24/2002]
June 18, 2002: FBI Director Mueller testifies that the money sent in 2000 is sent by someone named “Ali Abdul Aziz Ali” but the money in 2001 is sent by “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif.” The 9/11 Commission will later identify Aziz Ali as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s nephew and agree with Mueller that he sent the money in 2000. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1]
September 4, 2002: Newsweek says “Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi,” presumably Saudi, is a deputy to the Egyptian “Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif.” However, it adds he “remains almost a total mystery,” and they are unsure of his name. [Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
December 26, 2002: US officials now say there is no such person as Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif. Instead, he is probably a composite of three different people: “[Mustafa Ahmed] Al-Hisawi, Shaikh Saiid al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s finance chief, and Saad al-Sharif, bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a midlevel al-Qaeda financier.” [Associated Press, 12/27/2002] Shaikh Saiid al-Masri is likely a reference the Kenyan Sheik Sayyid el Masry. Note that, now, al-Hisawi is the assistant to Shaikh Saiid, a flip from a few months before. Saiid and/or al-Hisawi still haven’t been added to the FBI’s official most wanted lists. [London Times, 12/1/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/17/2002] Despite the confusion, the FBI isn’t even seeking information about them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2/14/2002] Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi is said to be arrested with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003, but no photos of him are released, and witnesses of the supposed arrest did not see al-Hawsawi or Mohammed there (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [Reuters, 3/3/2003] A few weeks later, it will be reported that “the man US intelligence officials suspected of being al-Qaeda’s financial mastermind, Sheik Said al-Masri, remains at large.” [Business Week, 3/17/2003]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel Pearl, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Khalid el-Masri, Ahamad Mustafa, Mustafa, Mahmood Ahmed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi, Sa’d Al-Sharif, Saeed Sheikh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, Osama bin Laden, Robert S. Mueller III
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
According to analyst Maher Osseiran, a home video in which Osama bin Laden admits foreknowledge of 9/11 is made around this date, not on a later date suggested by US officials (see Mid-November 2001). Osseiran argues that the video was part of a sting operation run by the US (see January 19, 2001), and that the first part—making the video—was successful, but the second part—capturing or killing bin Laden—failed. [CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] This is supported by a report in the Observer, which will write that “several intelligence sources have suggested… that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.” [Observer, 12/16/2001] Osseiran points out that the main person bin Laden talks to in the video, veteran fighter Khaled al-Harbi, actually left Saudi Arabia on September 21, and therefore presumably met bin Laden shortly after. A video expert also finds that two cameras were used to make the tape, on which footage of the confession is recorded over footage of a downed US helicopter, and that only part of the footage was transmitted by phone line or satellite. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-29; CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] On the tape, bin Laden and al-Harbi discuss events in Saudi Arabia immediately after 9/11. There are no references to events in October or November of 2001, such as the US attack on Afghanistan, which occurred on October 7 (see October 7, 2001), or the attack by the Northern Alliance against Kabul in mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ]
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. [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001; New Yorker, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [New Yorker, 10/16/2001]
In January 2002, the US Treasury Department will send a letter to Swiss authorities stating that Youssef Nada and Ali bin Mussalim, two leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland, provided “indirect investment services for al-Qaeda, investing funds for bin Laden, and making cash deliveries on request to the al-Qaeda organization.” Furthermore, the letter will claim that such assistance continued until “late September 2001,” and that Mussalim carries a Saudi diplomatic passport. Mussalim had been known for controversial financial dealings since the early 1980s, when US prosecutors accused him of taking part in attempts to corner the world silver market. In 1994 he was an intermediary in a multi-billion dollar deal between the Saudi and French governments. He will die of cancer in June 2004, one month after reports of the US Treasury letter first publicly emerged. The Financial Times will call Al-Qaeda Will Conquer, the 2005 book which will be the first to reveal documentation of these claims about Mussalim, “uncomfortable reading for the Saudi government.” [Newsweek, 4/12/2004; Financial Times, 4/27/2005] For many years up to and past 9/11, he held Saudi ministerial status as an “advisor at the Royal Court” and was a close confidant of Saudi King Fahd. The Los Angeles Times will comment, “One is left wondering how the Sept. 11 commission could report that ‘we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al-Qaeda].’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2005] The US will declare the Al Taqwa Bank a terrorist financier in November 2001 (see November 7, 2001).
Aafia Siddiqui. [Source: FBI]In 1993, the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, disbanded after media reports revealed that it had ties to all of the 1993 WTC bombers as well as the CIA (see 1986-1993), but it quickly reappeared in Boston under the new name Care International. Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson had warned the government of the name change since 1993 (see April 1993-Mid-2003). But apparently US investigators only start looking closely at Care International shortly after 9/11, when the FBI interviews several current and former employees. [Wall Street Journal, 11/21/2001] Around the same time, the Fleet National Bank in Boston files a “suspicious-activity report” (SARS) with the US Treasury Department about wire transfers from the Saudi Embassy in Washington to Aafia Siddiqui, a long-time member of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center and then Care International, and her husband Dr. Mohammed Amjad Khan. Fleet National Bank investigators discover that one account used by the Boston-area couple shows repeated on-line credit card purchases from stores that “specialize in high-tech military equipment and apparel.” Khan purchased body armor, night-vision goggles, and military manuals, and then sent them to Pakistan. The bank also investigates two transfers totaling $70,000 sent on the same day from the Saudi Armed Forces Account used by the Saudi Embassy at the Riggs Bank in Washington to two Saudi nationals living in Boston. One of the Saudis involved in the transfers lists the same Boston apartment number as Siddiqui’s. The bank then notices that Siddiqui regularly gives money to the Benevolence International Foundation, which will soon be shut down for al-alleged Qaeda ties. They also discover her connection to Al-Kifah. The bank then notices Siddiqui making an $8,000 international wire transfer on December 21, 2001, to Habib Bank Ltd., “a big Pakistani financial institution that has long been scrutinized by US intelligence officials monitoring terrorist money flows.” [Newsweek, 4/7/2003] In April or May 2002, the FBI questions Siddiqui and Khan for the first time and asks them about their purchases. [Boston Globe, 9/22/2006] But the two don’t seem dangerous, as Siddiqui is a neuroscientist who received a PhD and studied at MIT, while Khan is a medical doctor. Plus they have two young children and Siddiqui is pregnant. There are no reports of US intelligence tracking them or watch listing them. Their whole family moves to Pakistan on June 26, 2002, but then Siddiqui and Khan get divorced soon thereafter. Siddiqui comes back to the US briefly by herself from December 25, 2002, to January 2, 2003. On March 1, 2003, Pakistan announces that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has been captured (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). Some days later, Siddiqui drives away from a family house in Pakistan and disappears. Some later media reports will claim that she is soon arrested by Pakistani agents but other reports will deny it. Reportedly, KSM quickly confesses and mentions her name as an al-Qaeda sleeper agent, working as a “fixer” for other operatives coming to the US. On March 18, the FBI puts out a worldwide alert for Siddiqui and her ex-husband Khan, but Khan has completely disappeared as well. Siddiqui will be arrested in Afghanistan in 2008 (see July 17, 2008). [Vanity Fair, 3/2005] The CIA will later report that Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of KSM and a reputed financier of the 9/11 attacks, married Siddiqui not long before her disappearance. Furthermore, in 2002 he ordered Siddiqui to help get travel documents for Majid Kahn (no relation to Siddiqui’s first husband), who intended to blow up gas stations and bridges or poison reservoirs in the US. It will also be alleged that Siddiqui bought diamonds in Africa for al-Qaeda in the months before 9/11. [Boston Globe, 9/22/2006] The Saudi Embassy will later claim that the wire transfers connected to Siddiqui were for medical assistance only and the embassy had no reason to believe at the time that anyone involved had any connection to militant activity. [Newsweek, 4/7/2003] Although Siddiqui seems to have ties with two key figures in the 9/11 plot and was living in Boston the entire time some 9/11 hijackers stayed there, there are no known links between her and any of the hijackers.
Entity Tags: Mohammed Amjad Khan, US Department of the Treasury, Steven Emerson, Riggs Bank, Majid Khan, Habib Bank Ltd., Fleet National Bank, Aafia Siddiqui, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Benevolence International Foundation, Care International (Boston), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Saudi Embassy (US)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
A classified FBI report on this date indicates that alleged hijacker associate Osama Basnan has long-time links to both the bin Laden family and the Saudi government. The report states that Basnan has “been determined to have known Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia and to have telephonic contact with members of bin Laden’s family who are currently in the US.” It also states, “The possibility of [Basnan] being affiliated with the Saudi Arabian Government or the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service is supported by [Basnan] listing his employment in 1992 as the—.” Unfortunately, the rest of that sentence remains redacted. The report further notes that the fact that in July 2001 Basnan moved into the same San Diego apartment building where hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi lived right after al-Bayoumi moved away “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia” (see June 23-July 2001). The FBI report, which will be obtained by the website Intelwire.com in 2008, is heavily redacted, and all mentions of Basnan’s name appear to be redacted. However, one can sometimes determine when Basnan is being referred to. For instance, the same paragraph that mentions his link to the bin Laden family also says the same person with that link hosted a party for Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1992, and press reports have indicated that person was Basnan (see October 17, 1992). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ]
Ghaith Pharaon shaking hands with Alexander Haig. [Source: Bob Morris / Sygma]Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that Ghaith Pharon is “directly linked to bin Laden through banks, holding companies, and charities.” This information is said to come from a French intelligence report (see October 10, 2001). [Guardian, 10/10/2001] Pharon was a pivotal figure in the criminal BCCI bank. A Saudi, he built up a Saudi construction firm called REDEC that had over $1 billion in revenues by the mid-1970s. He lives an extremely opulent lifestyle and moves easily in high-powered circles in Western countries. But in the 1980s his businesses began failing and he became a BCCI front man. BCCI used his charm and his connections in Saudi Arabia and the US to buy banks in the US, such as the First American Bank. He threw lavish parties and became friends with many influential Americans, such as former President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, he stole at least $500 million of the money invested in BCCI. When the BCCI scandal broke in 1991, many of the key figures cut deals with prosecutors, but Pharon did not. An international warrant was issued for his arrest, and in 1997 it was determined that he owes $2 billion for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 168-182; Financial Times, 9/6/1997] But Pharaon continues to run his business empire and live a lavish lifestyle. In 1997, it was reported that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are both refusing to acknowledge the warrant for his arrest. He spends time in both countries, but mostly lives on his large yacht. [Financial Times, 9/6/1997]
A 70-page French intelligence report claims: “The financial network of [Osama] bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people (former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors). The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” The BCCI was the largest Islamic bank in the world before it collapsed in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991). A senior US investigator will later say US agencies are looking into the ties outlined by the French because “they just make so much sense, and so few people from BCCI ever went to jail. BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations.” The report identifies dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden after the bank collapsed. Many went on to work in banks and charities identified by the US and others as supporting al-Qaeda. About six ex-BCCI figures are repeatedly named, including Saudi multi-millionaire Ghaith Pharaon (see October 10, 2001). The role of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in supporting bin Laden is emphasized in the report. In 1995, bin Mahfouz paid a $225 million fine in a settlement with US prosecutors for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Bin Laden lost money when BCCI was shut down, but may have benefited in the long term as other militants began relying on his financial network instead of BCCI’s (see July 1991 and After July 1991). Representatives of bin Mahfouz will later argue that this report is false and was in fact prepared by Jean-Charles Brisard and not the French intelligence service. Bin Mahfouz has begun libel proceedings against Mr. Brisard, claiming that he has made unfounded and defamatory allegations, and denies that he has ever supported terrorism. [Kendall Freeman, 5/13/2004 ]
Yassin al-Qadi. [Source: Arab News]Yassin al-Qadi is included in a new US list of 39 individuals and organizations designated by the US as connected to terrorism (see October 12, 2001). The US officially declares him a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” and his US assets are frozen. [Chicago Tribune, 10/14/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001] Al-Qadi says he is “horrified and shocked” by the allegations. [Chicago Tribune, 10/16/2001] There have been several accusations that al-Qadi laundered money to fund Hamas and al-Qaeda. He headed the Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, a Saudi-based charity. Treasury officials allege it has funneled millions of dollars to al-Qaeda (see 1995-1998). [Chicago Tribune, 10/16/2001; Chicago Tribune, 10/29/2001] An investigation into his al-Qaeda connections was canceled by higher-ups in the FBI in October 1998 (see October 1998). In late 2002, Saudi Arabia will freeze al-Qadi’s accounts, an action the Saudis have taken against only three people. However, he has yet to be charged or arrested by the Saudis or the US. [Washington Post, 12/7/2002]
Muslim World League logo.
[Source: Muslim World League]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). [Harper's, 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. [New York Times, 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).
The Boston Herald reports: “Three banks allegedly used by Osama bin Laden to distribute money to his global terrorism network have well-established ties to a prince in Saudi Arabia’s royal family, several billionaire Saudi bankers, and the governments of Kuwait and Dubai. One of the banks, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in the Sudan, was controlled directly by bin Laden, according to a 1996 US State Department report.” A regional expert states, “I think we underestimate bin Laden. He comes from the highest levels of Saudi society and he has supporters at all levels of Saudi Arabia.” [Boston Herald, 10/14/2001] The US has yet to take any official steps against the Al-Shamal bank, and some suggest this is because of its ties to influential Saudi figures (see September 24, 2001 and After).
Carlyle Group logo.
[Source: Carlyle Group]The Carlyle Group, based in Washington, DC, is one of the world’s largest private-equity investment firms. One of its brochures described it as investing “in niche opportunities created in industries heavily affected by changes in governmental policies.” [Fortune, 3/18/2002] It is also the 11th-largest defense contractor in the US. [Red Herring, 12/11/2001] Since being established in 1987, it has signed up many former politicians and used their contacts and influence to promote itself. [Guardian, 10/31/2001] Those on its payroll include former Secretary of State James Baker, former White House budget director Dick Darman, former British Prime Minister John Major, and former US President George H. W. Bush. Its chairman is former CIA Director Frank Carlucci. [Fortune, 3/18/2002] Following 9/11, news reports revealed that Carlyle had a business relationship with Osama bin Laden’s family. According to a Carlyle executive, in 1995 the bin Ladens invested $2 million in the Carlyle Partners II fund, which includes various defense holdings. This was a fairly small amount considering the entire fund is worth $1.3 billion. However, a foreign financier with ties to the bin Ladens claimed their overall investment with Carlyle was much larger. [Wall Street Journal, 9/27/2001; London Times, 5/8/2003] Shafig bin Laden, one of Osama’s brothers, had actually been in Washington, DC, on the morning of 9/11, attending the Carlyle Group’s annual investor conference there (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Former President George H. W. Bush, who is senior adviser to Carlyle Group’s Asian Partners fund, has twice met with the bin Laden family on behalf of the company (see November 1998; January 2000). On this day though, the Carlyle Group ends its relationship with the bin Ladens, and gives them back their investment. [Red Herring, 12/11/2001; Fortune, 3/18/2002] But the family is very well-connected, and their investment in Carlyle is hardly unusual for them. The New Yorker will note, “Much of the family’s private banking is handled by Citigroup, which is chaired by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The family has equity investments with Merrill Lynch and Goldman, Sachs. Among the family’s business partners is General Electric. A spokesman for Jack Welch, the chairman of G.E., says that the family threw a party for him in the nineteen-nineties in Saudi Arabia, and that Welch ‘considers them good business partners.’ One American diplomat says, ‘You talk about your global investors, it’s them. They own part of Microsoft, Boeing, and who knows what else.’” [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
Neoconservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol predict “a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States,” of which the Afghanistan conflict is merely “an opening battle.” The “unequivocal destruction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden” are the first steps in a larger conflict that must “spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity,” requiring US forces to invade “multiple” countries. “It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. And it is going to put enormous and perhaps unbearable strain on parts of an international coalition that today basks in contented consensus.” Kagan and Kristol say that both the 9/11 attacks and the recent anthrax mailings are likely the work of Iraq, and thus President Bush “ha[s] no choice” but to destroy the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The continued security of Israel is of paramount importance, they write; the US must join with Israel in battling Islamist terrorism in the region by any means necessary. There is virtually no difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority, they write; both must be shut down. Putative US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might object, and may even declare war against Israel. If so, they must be given the same treatment as the Taliban, the Palestinians, and Iraq: overthrow and domination. “With or without a new Arab-Israeli war, it is possible that the demise of some ‘moderate’ Arab regimes may be just around the corner.” [Weekly Standard, 10/29/2001]
The Binladin Group logo. [Source: Bin Ladin Group]The New Yorker points to evidence that the bin Laden family has generally not ostracized itself from bin Laden as is popularly believed, but retains close ties in some cases. The large bin Laden family owns and runs a $5 billion a year global corporation that includes the largest construction firm in the Islamic world. One counterterrorism expert says, “There’s obviously a lot of spin by the Saudi Binladin Group [the family corporation] to distinguish itself from Osama. I’ve been following the bin Ladens for years, and it’s easy to say, ‘We disown him.’ Many in the family have. But blood is usually thicker than water.” The article notes that neither the bin Laden family nor the Saudi royal family have publicly denounced bin Laden since 9/11. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed bin Laden, with Faisal al-Saud, the Saudi king in the middle of the 20th century. [Source: CNN]The Financial Times estimates that the bin Laden family’s business, the Saudi Binladin Group, is worth about $36 billion. Osama bin Laden inherited about $300 million at the age of ten on the death of his father, but he may be worth much more today. While he spends large amounts each month supporting terror, he reportedly gets large amounts from rich Saudis every month to make up for the losses. [Financial Times, 11/28/2001] The 9/11 Commission later disputes these figures and claims that bin Laden only gets about $1 million a year for about two decades until around 1994 (see August 21, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Christopher DeMuth. [Source: American Enterprise Institute]Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arranges for Christopher DeMuth, president of the neoconservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to create a group to strategize about the war on terrorism. The group DeMuth creates is called Bletchley II, named after a team of strategists in World War II. The dozen members of this secret group include:
Bernard Lewis, a professor arguing that the US is facing a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world.
Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek editor and columnist.
Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary.
Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
James Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime.
Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert.
Steve Herbits, a close consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to journalist Bob Woodward, the group comes to quick agreement after just two days of discussions and a report is made from their conclusions. They agree it will take two generations for the US to defeat radical Islam. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the keys to the problems of the Middle East, but the problems there are too intractable. Iran is similarly difficult. But Iraq is weak and vulnerable. DeMuth will later comment: “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam [Hussein] was inevitable. He was a gathering threat - the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That is the key to transform the region. Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly pleased with their report. So is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who finds it “very, very persuasive.” It is said to have a strong impact on President Bush as well. Woodward later notes the group’s conclusions are “straight from the neoconservative playbook.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 83-85]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steve Herbits, Paul Wolfowitz, Fareed Zakaria, Fouad Ajami, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Mark Palmer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Bernard Lewis, Christopher DeMuth, James Wilson
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
On September 17, 2001, President Bush gave the CIA broad powers to interrogate prisoners (see September 17, 2001), but the CIA does not have many officers trained in interrogation. As a result, in late 2001 and early 2002, while the CIA waits for high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders to be captured, senior CIA officials begin investigating which interrogation procedures to use. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The CIA “construct[s] its program in a few harried months by consulting Egyptian and Saudi intelligence officials and copying Soviet interrogation methods long used in training American servicemen to withstand capture.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007] Both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are notorious for their brutal and widespread use of torture. The Soviet interrogation techniques mentioned were designed not to get valuable intelligence, but to generate propaganda by getting captured US soldiers to make statements denouncing the US. The CIA hires two psychologists willing to use the techniques, James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, even though the two have no never conducted any real world interrogations and there is no evidence at the time (or later) that the Soviet torture techniques are effective in obtaining valuable intelligence and not just false confessions (see Mid-April 2002). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; New York Times, 10/4/2007] In mid-March 2002, the CIA will draw up a list of ten permissible aggressive interrogation techniques based on the advice from these governments and psychologists (see Mid-March 2002).
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) [CNN, 12/13/2005] The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003] He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alice Fisher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Bradley University, Osama bin Laden, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.
Ali Abdallah Saleh. [Source: Helene C. Stikkel / Defense Department]In 2002, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh is facing pressure from the US, who wants him to imprison Islamist militants, and many people in Yemen who are sympathetic to militant groups like al-Qaeda. Saleh comes up with a compromise program of “intellectual dialogue.” Hundreds of imprisoned militants are lectured by religious figures and discuss Islamic law and ethics. Those who sign a pledge not to carry out any attacks on Yemeni soil are let go, and are often helped with money and new jobs. Abu Jandal, bin Laden’s former chief bodyguard, goes through the program and later explains that it is basically a political bargain. Few militants actually change their views, but they understand that if they do not attack within Yemen they will be left alone. When interviewed in 2008, Jandal will say he still supports al-Qaeda, and urges other militants to avoid violence in Yemen. The New York Times will later comment, “American counterterrorism officials and even some Yemenis say the Yemeni government… is in effect striking a deal that helps stop attacks here while leaving jihadists largely free to plan them elsewhere.” For instance, Jandal claims to know some men who go through the program, only to later fight against US troops in Iraq. Another militant who went through the program admits to training militants to fight in Iraq, since that is not prohibited either. This program is officially canceled in Yemen in 2005, but it effectively continues. For instance, in 2007 the Yemeni government secretly frees Fahad al-Quso, a key figure in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see May 2007). The program also is copied in Saudi Arabia and still in use there. [New York Times, 1/28/2008]
In 2005, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) will claim in an interview, “I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that [President] George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.” Rockefeller is Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of his trip. [Fox News, 11/14/2005] Interestingly, CIA Director George Tenet gives the same warning to the president of Egypt in the same month (see January 16, 2002).
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Attorney General John Ashcroft says “I want to encourage…all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert.” The FBI warns of a threat from Yemeni or Saudi Arabian terrorists who may be planning an imminent attack. [CNN, 2/12/2002] It is later revealed that the threat hadn’t been corroborated by other US intelligence agencies. In addition, the threat actually indicated a more likely attack in Yemen. This announcement was made the same day that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared before Congress. A week earlier, the White House had been ordered to refrain from destroying any documentation related to Enron. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Faisal al-Salmi, a Saudi man who knew 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, is convicted of making false statements to the FBI. Al-Salmi, 34, trained at the same Arizona flight school as Hanjour where they both used the flight simulator (see Summer 2001). Al-Salmi denied knowing Hanjour but, according to investigators, they spoke several times and were seen together in the summer of 2001. He is not accused of being involved in the 9/11 plot. Al-Salmi will later receive a six-month sentence. [Associated Press, 10/13/2001; Time, 10/28/2001; Arizona Daily Wildcat, 2/14/2002; New York Times, 2/16/2002; CNN, 4/20/2002; Arizona Daily Star, 7/24/2004]
Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, flies to Texas to meet with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. Abdullah has been working to convince Arab leaders to accept a proposed peace treaty between Israel and Palestine (see April 2002), but has had no support from the White House. The course of the meeting is later paraphrased by National Security Council staffer Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division. As Leverett will recall, the usually deferential Abdullah tells Bush that he has a direct question and wants a direct answer. Abdullah asks Bush: “Are you going to do anything about the Palestinian issue? If you tell me no, if it’s too difficult, if you’re not going to give it that kind of priority, just tell me. I will understand and I will never say anything critical of you or your leadership in public, but I’m going to need to make my own judgments and my own decisions about Saudi interests.” Bush attempts to stall, telling Abdullah he understands his concerns and that he will see what he can do. Abdullah refuses to be mollified. Standing up, he says: “That’s it. This meeting is over.” Bush retreats to another room with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss Abdullah’s position. Bush returns shortly thereafter and gives Abdullah his word that he will deal seriously with the Palestinian issue. “Okay,” Abdullah says. “The president of the United States has given me his word.” After the meeting, Powell calls Abdullah’s threat “the near-death experience”; Bush, rolling his eyes, says, “We sure don’t want to go through anything like that again.” As Powell later recalls, “It was a very serious moment and no one wanted to see if the Saudis were bluffing.” It is unclear whether Bush is expressing relief or making a sarcastic comment. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
In March 2002, the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) office in Sarajevo, Bosnia, is raided by US and Bosnian agents and a “treasure trove” of documents are found. One document found is the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989). Enaam Arnaout is living in the US as head of BIF, but the Sarajevo investigators discover letters between him and bin Laden, including a handwritten note by bin Laden authorizing Arnaout to sign documents on his behalf. Arnaout prepares to flee the US, but is arrested. On November 19, 2002, the US declares BIF a terrorist financier and its Chicago office is closed down. In February 2003, Arnaout pleas guilty to working with al-Qaeda, but US prosecutors agree to drop the charges against him in return for information. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 46-47]
A sign on top of the Al Haramains Islamic Foundation’s four-story office building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in June 2004. [Source: Rafiqur Rahman / Reuters / Corbis]The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation was founded in 1988 as a branch of the Muslim World League charity, and just like the Muslim World League it is closely linked to the Saudi government. It develops branches in about 50 countries, including a US branch based in Oregon. It has an annual budget of $40 million to $60 million, paid by the Saudi government, and about 3,000 employees. It gives considerable aid to religious causes such as building mosques. But by the early 1990s evidence began to grow that it was funding Islamist militants in Somalia and Bosnia, and a 1996 CIA report detailed its Bosnian militant ties (see January 1996). In 1998, several links were discovered between the charity and the African embassy bombings that year (see Autumn 1997 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
In March 2002, the US and Saudi governments jointly announce the closing of Al Haramain’s branches in Somalia and Bosnia, but Al Haramain defiantly keeps its Bosnian branch open and it is shut down again after police raids in December 2003. [Washington Post, 8/19/2004; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41] In December 2002, it is reported that the Somali branch is still open as well. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/18/2002]
In late 2002, Al Haramain is linked to the October 2002 Bali bombing and al-Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia in general (see September-October 2002).
In May 2003, Al Haramain announces the closing of its branches in Albania, Croatia, and Ethiopia, soon followed by branches in Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Indonesia. But this is because of pressure due to suspected militant links, and at least the Indonesian branch secretly changes locations and stays open. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In late 2003, Al Haramain Director-General Aqeel al-Aqeel indiscreetly mentions that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah recently donated money to his charity. Al-Aqeel, Deputy General Mansour al-Kadi, and two other senior officials are fired from the charity by the Saudi minister of religious affairs in January 2004. Interestingly, the Saudi minister is also the chairman of Al-Haramain’s board. In 1997, US intelligence found al-Kadi’s business card in the possession of Wadih el-Hage, Osama bin Laden’s former personal secretary (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). [Netherlands Interior Ministry, 1/6/2005 ; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 38-41]
In February 2004, the US Treasury Department freezes the organization’s US financial assets pending an investigation.
In June 2004, The charity is disbanded by the Saudi Arabian government and folded into an “umbrella” private Saudi charitable organization, the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
In September 2004, the US designates Al-Haramain a terrorist organization, citing ties to al-Qaeda. [US Treasury Department, 9/9/2004; Washington Post, 3/2/2006] The United Nations also bans the organization, saying it has ties to the Taliban. [United Nations, 7/27/2007]
Entity Tags: United Nations, US Department of the Treasury, Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad, Muslim World League, Al-Qaeda, Aqeel al-Aqeel, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Taliban, Mansour al-Kadi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Abdullah bin Laden, bin Laden family spokesman (not the Abdullah connected to WAMY). [Source: Agence France-Presse.]Abdullah bin Laden, spokesman for the bin Laden family and one of Osama’s many brothers, speaks directly to the press for the first time since 9/11. He says that the family cut all personal and financial ties to Osama in 1993 and that no family member has contact with him or provides any kind of support for him. “We went through a tough time. It was difficult. We felt we are a victim as well.” [ABC News, 3/29/2002]
Abu Zubaida pictured shortly after he was captured in Pakistan. He appears to be bloodied and on some type of stretcher. [Source: ABC News]When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is found to be carrying two bank cards, similar to US ATM cards. One is from a Kuwaiti bank and the other is from a Saudi bank. A US source involved in Zubaida’s capture believes this is the only time an al-Qaeda leader was ever captured with direct evidence of using Western-styled bank accounts. Author James Risen later notes that the “cards had the potential to help investigators understand the financial structure behind al-Qaeda, and perhaps even the 9/11 plot itself. The cards… could unlock some of al-Qaeda’s darkest secrets.” One US source later tells Risen that the cards “could give us entrée right into who was funding al-Qaeda… You could track money right from the financiers to a top al-Qaeda figure.” But Risen claims that two US sources familiar with the case believe no aggressive investigation into the cards is ever done and Zubaida is never even questioned about the cards. Risen says, “It is not clear whether an investigation of the cards simply fell through the cracks, or whether they were ignored because no one wanted to know the answers about connections between al-Qaeda and important figures in the Middle East—particularly in Saudi Arabia.” Nevertheless, some US investigators eventually pursue the trail of the cards on their own time. Over a year later, they will learn that around the time of Zubaida’s capture, Saudi intelligence officials seized all the financial records connected to the Saudi card and the records then disappeared. [Risen, 2006, pp. 173-177] In 2007, former CIA officer Robert Baer will similarly comment, “When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts.… There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] Zubaida otherwise proves resistant to interrogation until he is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Jordan and tortured there in May 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
Flynt Leverett, the newly named head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council (see December 2001-January 2002), has worked hard for the last months to persuade Bush administration officials to consider a proposal by Saudi Arabia for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The proposal, originated by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, calls for “full normalization” of relations between Israel and Arab nations in exchange for Israel’s “full withdrawal” from the occupied territories. Abdullah promised that he can persuade all the Arab nations of the region to sign off on the accords. But even with concessions insisted upon by the Israelis, the Bush administration refused to consider the deal. Even after Abdullah persuaded every nation of the Arab League to sign his proposal, the White House refused to listen. In April, Secretary of State Colin Powell, accompanied by Leverett, travels to the Middle East to negotiate an end to an Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s compound. Powell believes he has authorization from the White House to explore what are called “political horizons,” diplomatic shorthand for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Powell and Leverett use the Saudi proposal as a springboard for discussions. On their final day in the Middle East, Leverett, with a group of senior American officials, is trying to hammer out Powell’s final speech when a telephone call from the White House short-circuits the procedure. On the other end, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells Leverett: “Tell Powell he is not authorized to talk about a political horizon. Those are formal instructions.” Leverett responds by telling Hadley it is a bad idea to abruptly stop negotiations. As he later recalls the conversation, Leverett tells Hadley, “It’s bad policy and it’s also humiliating for Powell, who has been talking to heads of state about this very issue for the last 10 days.” Hadley retorts: “It doesn’t matter. There’s too much resistance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and the VP [Dick Cheney]. Those are the instructions.” Powell is furious at the instructions. “What is it they’re afraid of?” he demands. “Who the hell are they afraid of?” Leverett responds, “I don’t know sir.” Powell will later recall, “I had major problems with the White House on what I wanted to say.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Prince Ahmed bin Salman. [Source: Thoroughbred Corp.]Author Gerald Posner, controversial for his books dismissing JFK assassination and other conspiracy theories, will claim that a remarkable interrogation of al-Qaeda prisoner Abu Zubaida begins at this time. Zubaida, arrested three days earlier (see March 28, 2002), is flown to a US Special Forces compound outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, he is tricked into thinking the US has handed him to the Saudis for a more brutal interrogation, but in fact “the Saudis” are still American agents. Zubaida expresses great relief at this and, under the influence of the “truth serum” sodium pentothal, tells his interrogators to call Prince Ahmed bin Salman, a nephew of the Saudi king. He provides telephone numbers from memory and says, “He will tell you what to do.” He proceeds to give more information and phone numbers, claiming ties with higher-ups in both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. He also names:
Pakistani Air Force chief Mushaf Ali Mir, who is said to be closely tied to the fundamentalists in the ISI.
Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal.
Prince Sultan bin Faisal, another nephew of the Saudi King.
Prince Fahd bin Turki, another member of the Saudi royalty.
9/11 'Rosetta Stone?' - According to Posner, Zubaida claims that all of these people were intermediaries he dealt with in the frequent transfer of money to al-Qaeda. The phone numbers and other details he provides are consistent with information already known by US intelligence. Zubaida then lays out many secrets about the 9/11 attacks. One unnamed investigator will later call them “the Rosetta Stone” of 9/11. According to Zubaida, he was present in a meeting in 1996 where the Pakistanis and the Saudis struck a deal with Osama bin Laden (see 1996), promising him protection, arms, and supplies in exchange for not being the targets of future terror attacks. He claims both governments were told the US would be attacked on 9/11, but not given the details of how the attack would work. Within months, all of the people named by Zubaida will die mysteriously except for Prince Turki, who is made an ambassador, giving him diplomatic immunity. [Posner, 2003, pp. 186-94]
Zubaida Sent to Thailand - Shortly after his stint in Afghanistan, Zubaida is sent to a secret detention facility in Thailand, where he is subjected to extensive torture and abuse (see April - June 2002).
Questionable Sourcing - Posner will say he learned of this story from two unnamed US government sources who gave similar, independent accounts. One is from the CIA and the other is a senior Bush administration official “inside the executive branch.” [Salon, 10/18/2003] With the notable exception of a prominent Time magazine article [Time, 8/31/2003] , few news outlets will cover the story [MSNBC, 9/5/2003; Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003] , and some that cover it only do so in the form of book reviews. [Washington Post, 9/10/2003; New York Times, 10/12/2003; New York Times, 10/29/2003] Some experts will put forth the theory that the story could have been made up by neoconservatives interested in starting a war with Saudi Arabia. It is also possible Zubaida mixed facts with lies, as he will be found to have lied to interrogators on many other occasions. [Salon, 10/18/2003] There will also be speculation that the gist of the story may be true, but that Zubaida’s Saudi and Pakistani contacts may have been pinned on dead men to protect the actual guilty parties. [Asia Times, 9/17/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003]
Later Confirmation from US Government Officials - New York Times reporter James Risen will essentially repeat and confirm Posner’s account in his 2006 book State of War. He will add, “In addition to the incidents described by Posner, a senior former American government official said that the United States has obtained other evidence that suggests connections between al-Qaeda operatives and telephone numbers associated with Saudi officials.” Risen further points out, “There is no evidence that a thorough examination of [Zubaida’s] claims of ties to powerful Saudis was ever conducted.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 187] Also, in 2005, the New York Times will report that Michael Chertoff, who is currently a Justice Department official, advised the CIA about which interrogation techniques they could use on Abu Zubaida and others, and allowed the use of trickery to make the detainee believe “he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country” (see 2002-2003).
Prince Bandar and President Bush meet at Bush’s ranch in August, 2002. [Source: Associated Press]Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, is due to arrive in Houston, Texas, to meet with President Bush at his ranch in nearby Crawford, Texas. Abdullah’s entourage is so large that it fills eight airplanes. As these planes land, US intelligence learns that one person on the flight manifests is wanted by US law enforcement, and two more are on a terrorist watch list. An informed source will later claim that the FBI is ready to “storm the plane and pull those guys off.” However, the State Department fears an international incident. An interagency conflict erupts over what to do. The Wall Street Journal will report in 2003, “Details about what happened to the three men in the end are not entirely clear, and no one at [the State Department] was willing to provide any facts about the incident. What is clear, though, is that the three didn’t get anywhere near Crawford, but were also spared the ‘embarrassment’ of arrest. And the House of Saud was spared an ‘international incident.’” [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] The next day, Osama Basnan, an alleged associate of 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, reports his passport stolen to Houston police. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002] This confirms that Basnan is in Houston on the same day that Crown Prince Abdullah, Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Saudi US Ambassador Prince Bandar meet with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, and National Security Adviser Rice at Bush’s Crawford ranch. [US-Saudi Arabian Business Council, 4/25/2002] While in Texas, it is believed that Basnan “met with a high Saudi prince who has responsibilities for intelligence matters and is known to bring suitcases full of cash into the United States.” [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; Guardian, 11/25/2002] The still-classified section of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is said to discuss the possibility of Basnan meeting this figure at this time. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] It is unknown if Basnan and/or the Saudi prince he allegedly meets have any connection to the three figures wanted by the FBI, or even if one or both of them could have been among the wanted figures. Basnan will be arrested in the US for visa fraud in August 2002, and then deported two months later (see August 22-November 2002).
Entity Tags: Osama Basnan, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nawaf Alhazmi, Saud al-Faisal, US Department of State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Bandar bin Sultan, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Khalid Almihdhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
[Source: FBI]A CD-ROM containing a picture of a young Saudi man named Saud al-Rashid is seized in an al-Qaeda safe house in Karachi, Pakistan. The CD also contains the pictures of three 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Abdulaziz Alomari, placed in the same folder with the picture of al-Rashid. The pictures are all passport photos or pages of entry and exit stamps from the same passports. All the computer files of the pictures were saved in May 2001. A senior US official says that investigators “were able to take this piece of information and it showed clear signals or lines that [al-Rashid] was connected to 9/11.” Media reports in 2002 say that the raid takes place on August 15, but an FBI report made public years later will show the raid took place on May 16 but the importance of the CD-ROM’s contents was not discovered until August 15. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010]
Al-Rashid Escapes Dragnet - On August 21, six days after the files on the CD-ROM are discovered, the US will issue a worldwide dragnet to find al-Rashid. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] But they are unable to catch him because a few days later, he flees from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and turns himself in to the Saudi authorities. The Saudis apparently will not try him for any crime or allow the FBI to interview him. [CNN, 8/26/2002; CNN, 8/31/2002]
Al-Rashid's Background - Al-Rashid was in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, where he met 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi “once or twice” in a guest house. [New York Times, 7/29/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526] Although detainees identify him as a candidate 9/11 hijacker, he claims not to have met Osama bin Laden or Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), or even to have heard of al-Qaeda. Under interrogation, KSM will say al-Rashid was headstrong and immature and dropped out of the plot after returning to Saudi Arabia for a visa, either due to second thoughts or the influence of his family. However, doubts will be raised about the reliability of KSM’s statements under interrogation (see August 6, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 526] Intriguingly, al-Rashid’s father is Hamid al-Rashid, a Saudi government official who paid a salary to Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of both Almihdhar and Alhazmi who is later suspected of being a Saudi agent. [New York Times, 7/29/2003]
Passport Clue - Also intriguingly, the pictures from Saeed Alghamdi’s and Khalid Almihdhar’s passports show the passports were issued at “Holy Capital.” This may be an indicator placed by the Saudi government to show that the passport holders are radicals. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2010]
Other Evidence? - Florida FBI agent Tom Yowell will later mention to the 9/11 Commission that he remembers some other 9/11-related evidence captured in a May 2002 Karachi raid, including mention of the address of a Virginia post office box (see February 19-20, 2001 and April 3-4, 2001 and around) and videos of the 9/11 hijackers. But which hijackers were videotaped, and where and when, is not mentioned. [9/11 Commission, 12/4/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Omar al-Bayoumi, Tom Yowell, Hamid al-Rashid, Saud al-Rashid, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alhaznawi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, visits Washington to discuss the Israel-Palestinian peace process. Abdullah’s visit comes on the heels of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s earlier visit, where he threatened to break off discussions with the US if President Bush refused to deal seriously with the matter (see Spring 2002). Though the Saudi leader seemingly shook up Bush with his unusually direct insistence on American action, Bush appears surprised that the Jordanian king is also concerned with the issue. Bush listens politely to Abdullah’s appeal, and says that the king’s idea of a “road map to peace” sounds reasonable. National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, the head of the NSC’s Mideast affairs division, promises Abdullah that such a “road map” will be drawn up by the end of 2002. No such proposal is ever completed; neoconservatives in the Defense Department (Donald Rumsfeld and Douglas Feith), the Vice President’s Office (John Hannah and Lewis “Scooter” Libby), and the NSC (Elliott Abrams) continue to oppose the idea, calling it nothing but a reward to the Palestinians for “bad behavior” (see December 2001-January 2002). Only if Palestine rejects terrorism and implements democracy will the US enter into negotiations, they insist, regardless of what promises Bush has made. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Douglas Feith, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Flynt Leverett, National Security Council, John Hannah
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Saudi national Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi flies from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Baku, Azerbaijan. While he is at customs at Baku airport waiting to be processed for entry, he is taken into custody by the local authorities. He will later say that when he was apprehended he did not know why the Azerbaijani authorities had taken him into custody and that he did not think beforehand that they would do so. He is held in Azerbaijani custody for about two months, later being handed over to the US (see August 2002). [al-Darbi, 7/1/2009]
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]
Laurent Murawiec. [Source: Hudson Institute]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. [Washington Post, 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.” [Slate, 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. [New Yorker, 3/17/2003]
Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 ] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
According to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry he co-chairs later will uncover a CIA memo written on this date. The author of the memo writes about hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and concludes that there is “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 169] Apparently, this memo will be discussed in the completely censored section of the Inquiry’s final report that deals with foreign government involvement in the 9/11 plot (see August 1-3, 2003). Osama Basnan, one of the key players in a suspected transfer of funds from the Saudi government to these two hijackers, is arrested in the US a few weeks after this memo is written, but he will be deported two months after that (see August 22-November 2002).
Deena Burnett, wife of Flight 93 passenger Tom Burnett, speaks on behalf of the victims’ relatives suing the Saudis. [Source: Associated Press]More than 600 relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks file a 15-count, $1 trillion lawsuit against various parties they accuse of financing al-Qaeda and Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime. The number of plaintiffs will quickly increase to 2,500 after the suit is widely publicized. Up to 10,000 were eligible to join this suit. The lawsuit does not allege that Saudi defendants directly participated in the 9/11 attacks, or approved them. Instead, it is alleged they helped fund and sustain al-Qaeda, which enabled the attacks to occur. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002; Newsweek, 9/13/2002] Defendants named include:
The Saudi Binladin Group, the conglomerate owned by the bin Laden family. [CNN, 8/15/2002]
The National Commercial Bank, one of the largest banks in Saudi Arabia. [Associated Press, 8/15/2002]
The government of Sudan, for letting bin Laden live in that country until 1996. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The SAAR Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., which the plaintiffs contend is the primary bank for a number of charities that funnel money to terrorists. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The Benevolence International Foundation. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and its parent organization, the Muslim World League (MWL). The suit claims that the IIRO gave more than $60 million to the Taliban. [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Khalid bin Mahfouz, one-time prominent investor in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) who had to pay a $225 million fine following the collapse of that bank. It is claimed he later operated a bank that funneled millions of dollars to charities controlled by al-Qaeda. (Mahfouz denies supporting terrorism and has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Mohammed al Faisal al Saud, a Saudi prince. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former chief of Saudi intelligence. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Washington Post, 8/16/2002] “The attorneys and investigators were able to obtain, through French intelligence, the translation of a secretly recorded meeting between representatives of bin Laden and three Saudi princes in which they sought to pay him hush money to keep him from attacking their enterprises in Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 8/15/2002] The plaintiffs also accuse the US government of failing to pursue such institutions thoroughly enough because of lucrative oil interests. [BBC, 8/15/2002] Ron Motley, the lead lawyer in the suit, says the case is being aided by intelligence services from France and four other foreign governments, but no help has come from the Justice Department. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] The plaintiffs acknowledge the chance of ever winning any money is slim, but hope the lawsuit will help bring to light the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks. [BBC, 8/15/2002] A number of rich Saudis respond by threatening to withdraw hundreds of billions of dollars in US investments if the lawsuit goes forward (see August 20, 2002). More defendants will be added to the suit later in the year (see November 22, 2002). [Daily Telegraph, 8/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Saudi Binladin Group, Sudan, Taliban, SAAR Foundation, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Ron Motley, International Islamic Relief Organization, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Al-Qaeda, National Commercial Bank, Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., Turki al-Faisal, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Benevolence International Foundation
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US, meets privately for more than an hour with President Bush and National Security Adviser Rice in Crawford, Texas. [Daily Telegraph, 8/28/2002] Press Secretary Ari Fleischer characterizes it as a warm meeting of old friends. Bandar, his wife Princess Haifa, and seven of their eight children stay for lunch. [Fox News, 8/27/2002] Bandar, a long-time friend of the Bush family, donated $1 million to the George W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. [Boston Herald, 12/11/2001] This relationship later becomes news when it is learned that Princess Haifa gave between $51,000 and $73,000 to two Saudi families in California who may have financed two of the 9/11 hijackers (see December 4, 1999). [New York Times, 11/23/2002; MSNBC, 11/27/2002]
Wael Hamza Julaidan. [Source: Public domain, via Evan Kohlmmann]The US and United Nations designate Wael Hamza Julaidan a terrorist financier and freezes the funds of the Rabita Trust. Julaidan worked with bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam in the Muslim World League in Pakistan in the 1980s and was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003] Julaidan’s name was on the “Golden Chain” list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989), serving as an intermediary between bin Laden and Saudi multimillionaires. Beginning in 2000, he became director general of the Rabita Trust, a Pakistani charity which the UN determined has been funding al-Qaeda. The US froze the bank accounts of the Rabita Trust shortly after 9/11 due to suspected terrorist links, but the organization changed its name and continued to operate (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001). Julaidan is considered highly connected in Saudi Arabia and even though the Saudi government officially goes along with the terrorist designations of Julaidan and the Rabita Trust, some top Saudi officials publicly defend him. For instance, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz publicly suggests that Julaidan is innocent. Julaidan is not arrested and the Saudi government offers no proof that they seized any of his or Rabita’s bank accounts. In December 2003, the Washington Post will report that US and UN officials believe Julaidan continues to work with charity fronts and handles large sums of money. [Washington Post, 12/14/2003; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 100-101]
Stuart Levey. [Source: US Treasury Department]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.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
CBS reports that in the days after the arrest of Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see September 11, 2002) and four other al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan on September 11, 2002 (see September 10-11, 2002), “a search of the home of the five al-Qaeda suspects turned up passports belonging to members of the family of Osama bin Laden.” No more details, such as which family members, or why bin al-Shibh’s group had these passports, is given. [CBS News, 9/17/2002]
A Bosnian government probe connects the Saudi charity Talibah International Aid Association to the funding of Islamic militant groups and an al-Qaeda front group. Talibah has been under investigation since shortly after 9/11 due to a foiled attack in Bosnia that has been connected to Talibah and al-Qaeda. Abdullah Awad bin Laden, one of bin Laden’s nephews, is a Talibah officer in its Virginia office. An investigation into him was cancelled in September 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996). The US has been criticized for failing to list Talibah as a sponsor of terrorism and for not freezing its assets. [Wall Street Journal, 9/20/2002]
Visa applications for the 15 Saudi Arabian hijackers are made public, and six separate experts agree: “All of them should have been denied entry [into the US].” Joel Mowbray, who first breaks the story for the conservative National Review, says he is shocked by what he saw: “I really was expecting al-Qaeda to have trained their operatives well, to beat the system. They didn’t have to beat the system, the system was rigged in their favor from the get-go.” A former US consular officer says the visas show a pattern of criminal negligence. Some examples: “Abdulaziz Alomari claimed to be a student but didn’t name a school; claimed to be married but didn’t name a spouse; under nationality and gender, he didn’t list anything.”
“Khalid Almihdhar… simply listed ‘Hotel’ as his US destination—no name, no city, no state but no problem getting a visa.” Only one actually gave a US destination, and one stated his destination as “no.” Only Hani Hanjour had a slight delay in acquiring his visa. His first application was flagged because he wrote he wanted to visit for three years when the legal limit is two. When he returned two weeks later, he simply changed the form to read “one year” and was accepted. The experts agree that even allowing for chance, incompetence, and human error, the odds were that only a few should have been approved. [National Review, 10/9/2002; New York Post, 10/9/2002; ABC News, 10/23/2002] In response to the revelation, the State Department says, “The fact is that with 20/20 hindsight, I’m sure one can always find a reason that you might have turned down a visa.” [Nation Review Online, 10/10/2002; State Department, 10/10/2002]
San Diego FBI agent Steven Butler reportedly gives “explosive” testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. Butler, recently retired, has been unable to speak to the media, but he was the handler for Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant who rented a room to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Butler claims he might have uncovered the 9/11 plot if the CIA had provided the FBI with more information earlier about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002] He says, “It would have made a huge difference.” He suggests they would have quickly found the two hijackers because they were “very, very close.… We would have immediately opened… investigations. We would have given them the full court press. We would… have done everything—physical surveillance, technical surveillance, and other assets.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] Butler discloses that he had been monitoring a flow of Saudi Arabian money that wound up in the hands of two of the 9/11 hijackers, but his supervisors failed to take any action on the warnings. It is not known when Butler started investigating the money flow, or when he warned his supervisors. [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002] The FBI had tried to prevent Butler from testifying, but was unsuccessful. [Washington Post, 10/11/2002] Following Butler’s testimony, Staff Director Eleanor Hill “detail[s] his statements in a memo to the Justice Department.” The Justice Department will decline comment on the matter, saying Butler’s testimony is classified. [US News and World Report, 12/1/2002] This testimony doesn’t stop the US government from deporting Basnan to Saudi Arabia several weeks later. [Washington Post, 11/24/2002]
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. [New York Times, 12/30/2002] Turki’s predecessor as ambassador was recalled after it was revealed he had written poems praising suicide bombers. [Observer, 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. [London Times, 10/18/2002; Guardian, 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).
The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, releases a report asserting that at least 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were never interviewed by US consular officials before being granted visas to enter the US. This contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that 12 of the hijackers had been interviewed. It also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Records for four other hijackers (the four non-Saudis, i.e., Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Marwan Al Shehhi) could not be checked because they were accidentally destroyed. [National Review Online, 10/21/2002; United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 ; Washington Post, 10/22/2002] The State Department maintains that visa procedures were properly followed. In December 2002, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) state in a chapter of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that “if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia… 9/11 would not have happened.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. pp. 653-673 ]
Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, US Department of State, Pat Roberts, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Mohand Alshehri, Government Accountability Office, Ahmed Alnami, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Jon Kyl
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007]
9/11 victims’ relatives add nearly 50 defendants to their $1 trillion lawsuit against mostly Saudi citizens and organizations (see August 15, 2002). The suit alleges the defendants knowingly provided money and other aid to terrorists, which enabled the 9/11 attacks and other attacks to occur. There are now a total of 186 defendants named in the suit. [Wall Street Journal, 11/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/23/2002] Newly-named defendants include:
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef. The suit claims he was engaged in payoffs to al-Qaeda. Additionally, as interior minister he controls the activities of numerous Islamic charities said to help finance al-Qaeda. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Wall Street Journal, 11/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/23/2002]
Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The suit claims he also was engaged in payoffs to al-Qaeda. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Wall Street Journal, 11/22/2002]
The Saudi American Bank, that nation’s second largest financial institution. The suit alleges that this bank, partly owned and managed by Citibank, financed development projects in Sudan benefiting bin Laden in the early 1990s when he was living there. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) [Wall Street Journal, 11/22/2002]
Bank Al Taqwa, for raising, managing, investing, and distributing funds for al-Qaeda. [Los Angeles Times, 11/23/2002]
Mohamed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al., 11/22/2002 ]
Yassin al-Qadi. [Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al., 11/22/2002 ]
Saleh Kamel and the Dallah al-Baraka Group. [Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al., 11/22/2002 ]
Individual members of the bin Laden family, including Bakr bin Laden, Tarek bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, Abdullah Awad bin Laden, and Yeslam Binladin. The suit claims that in the early 1990s, Tarek bin Laden was the general supervisor of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi charity suspected of terrorist ties (see October 12, 2001). [Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al., 11/22/2002 ]
Entity Tags: Saleh Abdullah Kamel, Saudi American Bank, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Yeslam Binladin, Yassin al-Qadi, Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Abdullah Awad bin Laden, Al Taqwa Bank, Al-Qaeda, Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, Dallah Al-Baraka, Omar bin Laden, Tarek bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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. [Newsweek, 11/22/2002; Newsweek, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 11/23/2002; Washington Post, 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. [Los Angeles Times, 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…” [Newsweek, 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. [New York Times, 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; New York Times, 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 [Time, 11/24/2002] , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Entity Tags: Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman, Omar al-Bayoumi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Saudi Arabia, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama Basnan, Richard Shelby
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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. [Washington Post, 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 ; Los Angeles Times, 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. [Money Laundering Alert, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [Radio Free Europe, 11/27/2002]
During the German trial of Mounir El Motassadeq, accused of participation in the 9/11 attacks, a German police officer testifies that the business card of Muhammad J. Fakihi, the chief of Islamic affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Berlin, was found in a raid on El Motassadeq’s apartment. The raid also turned up a credit card belonging to Mohamed Atta and the password to Atta’s e-mail account. Saudi officials deny that Fakihi had ever met El Motassadeq. Fakihi is recalled to Saudi Arabia three months later, following demands by Germany that he leave. [International Herald Tribune, 12/4/2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 12/5/2002; New York Times, 12/8/2002; Newsweek, 12/9/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/26/2003]
CIA Director Tenet says in a speech, “The Saudis are [providing] increasingly important support to our counterterrorism efforts, from making arrests to sharing debriefing results.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] Several terrorist suspects have been sent to Saudi Arabia for interrogation as part of a special rendition program. But US officials often “remain closely involved” with the questioning (see 1993).
In discussing the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 9/11, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, says he is “surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the [9/11] terrorists in the United States.… To me that is an extremely significant issue and most of that information is classified, I think overly classified. I believe the American people should know the extent of the challenge that we face in terms of foreign government involvement. I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing—although that was part of it—by a sovereign foreign government and that we have been derelict in our duty to track that down.… It will become public at some point when it’s turned over to the archives, but that’s 20 or 30 years from now.” [PBS, 12/11/2002] In March 2003, Newsweek says its sources indicate Graham is speaking about Saudi Arabia, and that leads pointing in this direction have been pursued. Graham also says that the report contains far more miscues than have been publicly revealed. “There’s been a cover-up of this,” he says. [Newsweek, 3/1/2003]
The top two dozen US government officials meet for a year-end review of counterterrorism efforts. Counterterrorism “tsar” Gen. John Gordon chairs the meeting. At one point, President Bush turns to Deputy Treasury Secretary Kenneth Dam and asks him, “Ken, where are we on terror finances?” Dam replies, “Mr. President, the majority of the funders for al-Qaeda are Saudis.” Dan gave all the meeting participants a one-page memo listing the fifteen or so top al-Qaeda funders, and almost all of them are Saudis. According to journalist Ron Suskind’s account, “Bush looked at Dam, perplexed, as though he either hadn’t read the handout in front of him, or was somehow surprised—though this was all but common knowledge.” Bush then asks how this is known and is told it is based on CIA intelligence. Bush then ends the meeting a few minutes later without any further comments or plan for action about terrorism financing. Apparently, he takes no significant action on the issue in the following months, either. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 184-186]
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; Boston Globe, 11/13/2006]
Entity Tags: Angola, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Israel, Egypt, Philippines, Ethiopia, United States, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Colombia
Timeline Tags: US Military, US International Relations
The CIA produces a report entitled “A Reference Guide to Terrorist Passports.” The report discusses a suspicious indicator of terrorist affiliation that was contained in the passports of at least three of the 9/11 hijackers, possibly more. The indicator was placed there deliberately by the Saudi government, which used such indicators to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). However, this report is classified and is not disseminated, meaning that if a radical were to arrive at a US port with a passport indicating he was a terrorist, an immigration official would be unable to recognize the indicator and would admit him. Over a year after this report is completed, the 9/11 Commission will show a passport bearing this indicator to one of the immigration officials who admitted 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to the US, but she will still be unable to recognize the indicator. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25, 27, 41 ]
In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publishes a scathing portrayal of Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle, who Hersh alleges is using his position in the Pentagon to profiteer on the upcoming Iraq war. Hersh does not accuse Perle of breaking any laws, but he does show that Perle is guilty of conflicts of interests. The article, which is released days before its official March 17 publication date, prompts outrage from Perle and his neoconservative defenders, with Perle saying any questions of his potential conflicts of interest would be “malicious,” calling Hersh a “terrorist” (see March 9, 2003), and threatening to sue Hersh, a lawsuit that is never filed (see March 12, 2003). Later in the month, Perle will resign from the DPB over his conflicts of interest as detailed by Hersh (see March 27, 2003).
Dealings with Corrupt Saudis in Violation of Federal Conduct Guidelines - Hersh provides readers with details of Perle’s business dealings with the notoriously corrupt Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi (perhaps most famous in the US for his involvement in Iran-Contra—see July 3, 1985) and his activities as a managing partner of the venture capital firm Trireme Partners LP. Trireme is involved in investments that will make large profits if the US actually invades Iraq. Perle, as chairman of the DPB, is subject to the Federal Code of Conduct that bars officials such as himself from participating in an official capacity in any matter in which he has a financial interest. A former government attorney who helped write the code says, “One of the general rules is that you don’t take advantage of your federal position to help yourself financially in any way.” The point is to “protect government processes from actual or apparent conflicts.”
'Off the Ethical Charts' - One DPB member says that he and his fellows had no idea about Perle’s involvement with either Trireme or Khashoggi, and exclaims: “Oh, get out of here. He’s the chairman!… Seems to me this is at the edge of or off the ethical charts. I think it would stink to high heaven.” The DPB member is equally disturbed that fellow board member Gerald Hillman, Perle’s partner in Trireme, was recently added to the board at Perle’s request. Hillman has virtually no senior policy or military experience in government before joining the board. Larry Noble, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, says of Perle’s Trireme involvement: “It’s not illegal, but it presents an appearance of a conflict. It’s enough to raise questions about the advice he’s giving to the Pentagon and why people in business are dealing with him.… The question is whether he’s trading off his advisory-committee relationship.”
Lining up Investors, Overthrowing Saddam - According to Khashoggi, Perle met with him in January 2003 to solicit his assistance in lining up wealthy Saudi investors for Trireme. “I was the intermediary,” Khashoggi says. Together with Saudi businessman Harb Zuhair, Perle hoped to put together a consortium of investors that would sink $100 million into his firm. “It was normal for us to see Perle,” Khashoggi says. “We in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices for whatever business they want.” But Khashoggi says Perle wanted more than just money—he wanted to use his position in both Trireme and the DPB to, in Perle’s words, “get rid of Saddam” Hussein. Perle admits to meeting with Khashoggi and Zuhair, but says that money never came up in conversation, and as for Hussein, Perle says he was at the meeting to facilitate a surrender bargain between Hussein and the US.
Khashoggi Amused - Khashoggi is amused by Perle’s denials. “If there is no war, why is there a need for security? If there is a war, of course, billions of dollars will have to be spent.… You Americans blind yourself with your high integrity and your democratic morality against peddling influence, but they were peddling influence.” Hillman sent Zuhair several documents proposing a possible surrender, but Zuhair found them “absurd,” and Khashoggi describes them as silly. (Hillman says he drafted the peace proposals with the assistance of his daughter, a college student.) Perle denies any involvement in the proposals. When the proposals found their way into the Arabic press, Perle, not Hillman, was named as the author.
Blackmailing the Saudis? - Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the influential Saudi ambassador to the US and a close friend of the Bush family, says he was told that the meeting between Perle and the Saudi businessmen was purely business, but he does not believe the disclaimers. He says of Perle, who publicly is a vociferous critic of Saudi Arabia (see July 10, 2002): “There is a split personality to Perle. Here he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal, and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail—‘If we get in business, he’ll back off on Saudi Arabia’—as I have been informed by participants in the meeting.” Iraq was never a serious topic of discussion, Bandar says: “There has to be deniability, and a cover story—a possible peace initiative in Iraq—is needed. I believe the Iraqi events are irrelevant. A business meeting took place.” [New Yorker, 3/17/2003]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).
US troops in Saudi Arabia at some point before 9/11. [Source: PBS]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. [Agence France-Presse, 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.” [Daily Telegraph, 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.” [Washington Post, 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.” [New York Times, 4/30/2003]
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi official suspected of contacts with two 9/11 hijackers, is deported from the US. Al Thumairy had worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles since 1996. In March 2003, he was secretly put on a watch list due to suspected terrorist links. He then left the US to visit Saudi Arabia. When he returns on May 6, he is stopped at the Los Angeles International Airport and detained, despite having a special diplomatic visa. He is held in custody for two days and questioned for several hours, but apparently he says very little. Then he is deported to Saudi Arabia. [Los Angeles Times, 5/10/2003] Al Thumairy was in frequent contact with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi (see December 1998-December 2000), and the FBI gained evidence he could have been in contact with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see 2002), as well as al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash (see June 9, 2000). Journalist Philip Shenon will later comment that al Thumairy “had a reputation as fanatically anti-American.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 53]
The May 12, 2003, Riyadh suicide bombings, which left 35 dead, targeted several housing compounds for Westerners, include one for Vinnell Corporation employees (see May 12, 2003). (Vinnell had a large contract to train Saudi forces.) Some former Vinnell employees, who are predominantly former American servicemen, will later allege in interviews and court documents that the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), the elite force which protects the royal family, colluded with the bombers to facilitate the attacks. They claim that an exercise organized by the National Guard removed most security staff for the day of the bombing, suggesting foreknowledge. They also claim that warnings were ignored and that security was inexplicably lax. [Independent, 5/16/2004] They will then sue Vinnell and Saudi Arabia for negligence. [Independent, 5/8/2005]
Reconstruction begins after the Riyadh bombings. [Source: US Rewards for Justice] (click image to enlarge)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. [Los Angeles Times, 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).
Yusef al-Ayeri, believed to be in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, is shot and killed while attempting to flee a security checkpoint in Saudi Arabia. His body was strapped with explosives and a 6-month-old letter from Osama bin Laden was reportedly in his pocket. Al-Ayeri was publicly named earlier in the month and his photograph was distributed nationwide. [Knight Ridder, 6/4/2003] US intelligence had known of al-Ayeri by his alias “Swift Sword” for a year and had eventually learned his real name. They had told Saudi intelligence that he may be behind an aborted al-Qaeda plot to attack the US with a chemical bomb (see February-Late March 2003) and said they were highly interested in questioning him. However, not only is he killed, but the Saudis apparently never collect his personal effects, such as his cell phone, his address book, or his car registry, and never trace such clues back to any residence that can be searched. One CIA operative involved in the search to find him will later recall, “We wondered, was it an accident that they killed him, or not? The Saudis just shrugged.… The bottom line: the missing link [that could reveal who took part in the planned US attack] was dead and his personal effects, which can be pretty important, were gone. Like so much else when you’re dealing with these countries, you’re never sure—was it an issue of will or capability?” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 146, 237-239] The Internet communications run by al-Ayeri will be taken over by a previously unknown figure named Lewis Atiyallah. In 2005, it will be reported that some counterterrorism experts believe Atiyallah “is a pseudonym for Yusef al-Ayeri… Al-Ayeri was reported killed in 2003, however there are lingering doubts about whether he is in fact dead.” [AKI, 6/8/2005]
9/11 Commissioner John Lehman repeatedly meets with Bush administration officials and discusses links between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials.
Lehman Interested in Saudi Money - Lehman is aware that the Commission’s investigators are working the topic and is interested to see what they will find. According to author Philip Shenon, “He thought it was clear early on that there was some sort of Saudi support network in San Diego that had made it possible for the hijackers to hide in plain sight in Southern California.” He is especially intrigued by money possibly passed from Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US, to associates of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999), although Lehman thinks she would not have known the money’s real destination and had simply signed checks given her by radicals at the Saudi embassy in Washington. Lehman also doubts that the Saudi officials knew the details of the 9/11 plot, but thinks they knew the hijackers were “bad guys,” and “The bad guys knew who to go to to get help.”
Critical of 'Stonewalling' - Lehman is also interested in possible links between Iraq and al-Qaeda and goes to the White House to discuss these with administration officials. However, at the meetings he brings up the Saudi connection. There are several meetings, but the administration is not at all interested in the Saudi angle. Lehman will say: “I used to go over to see [White House chief of staff] Andy [Card], and I met with [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld three or four times, mainly to say, ‘What are you guys doing? This stonewalling is so counterproductive.’”
No Interest in Saudi Connection - However, there is an absolute lack of interest on the administration’s part about the Saudi information. According to Shenon, “Lehman was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda.” Lehman will say: “They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia. Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 185-186]
The FBI is initially reluctant to provide documents to the 9/11 Commission team investigating possible links between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on the one hand and some Saudi government officials on the other.
Investigators' Attitude - The investigators, Michael Jacobson, Raj De, and Hyon Kim, have come to believe that, in author Philip Shenon’s words, there could be “few innocent explanations for why so many Saudis and other Arab men living in Southern California had come forward to help the two hijackers—to help them find a home, to set up bank accounts, to travel.” Jacobson previously worked on the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and formed the opinion then that FBI officials had tried to hide much of the evidence in its files linked to Almihdhar and Alhazmi.
FBI Drags Its Feet - At first, according to Shenon, the FBI “is as uncooperative with the 9/11 Commission as it had been in the Congressional investigation” and is “painfully slow to meet the Commission’s initial request for documents and interviews.” The three investigators want a formal protest to be made over the foot-dragging, but realize their team leader, Dietrich Snell, will not make one, due to what they perceive to be overcaution on his part. Therefore, they approach 9/11 commissioner and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and she then contacts FBI Director Robert Mueller, warning him he will lose the Commission’s goodwill if he does not start co-operating. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 184-185] In the spring of 2004, Mueller will launch a charm offensive against the Commission and will make significant efforts to comply with its requests (see Spring 2004).
US intelligence has long suspected the Al-Rajhi Bank for supporting radical militant causes. However, the US has not acted overtly against the Saudi bank because it is so large and influential, with an estimated $26 billion in assets and yearly profits of almost $2 billion in 2006. In mid-2003, a new CIA report details linkages between the bank and militants (see Before September 11, 2001), and suggests that the owners of the bank are aware of these links and have an extremist agenda (see Mid-2003). The US begins to rethink the quiet diplomacy approach. Deputies from the CIA, National Security Council, Treasury and State departments meet to discuss the problem. They debate officially listing the bank as a supporter of terrorism. They also consider the possibility of covert operations against the bank, such as interfering with the bank’s internal operations. Another possibility is working with other countries for more scrutiny and regulatory action against the bank. But ultimately, the Bush administration decides against all these options and chooses merely to continue privately exerting pressure on the Saudi government in hopes that the Saudis will do something. [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] In late 2004, Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend will make a secret visit to Saudi Arabia to put more pressure on the government to do something about the bank. [Wall Street Journal, 10/1/2004] What the US has done regarding the bank since that time is unknown. The bank denies any ties to Islamic militancy.
Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi. [Source: Nadec]A CIA report strongly suggests that the Al-Rajhi Bank is being used to finance militants. The bank is one of the biggest in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated $26 billion in assets in 2006. The report states, “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank. Reporting indicates that senior al-Rajhi family members control the bank’s most important decisions and that [their] principal managers answer directly to Sulaiman [Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi]. The al-Rajhis know they are under scrutiny and have moved to conceal their activities from financial regulatory authorities.” It adds that in 2002, Sulaiman ordered the bank’s board “to explore financial instruments that would allow the bank’s charitable contributions to avoid official Saudi scrutiny.” US intelligence have extensive circumstantial evidence but no direct proof that bank managers knowingly support terrorism. For instance, the report says that in December 1998, Sulaiman and his brother Salah sent $4 million to Germany and Pakistan using “a unique computer code to send funds at regular intervals to unspecified recipients, suggesting they were trying to conceal the transactions and that the money may have been intended for illegitimate ends.” Islamist operatives in many countries have used the bank, including at least some al-Qaeda leaders and 9/11 hijackers (see Before September 11, 2001). In 1997, US investigators recovered the address book of al-Qaeda financier Wadih El-Hage, and discovered Salah al-Rajhi’s phone number in it (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). Salah is Sulaiman’s brother and co-owner of the bank. In 2002, the US will raid the SAAR Network, a collection of linked financial entities in the US suspected of funding militants. SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, and the network was founded and funded by him (see March 20, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007; Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2007] The US government will subsequently consider taking overt action against the bank, but will ultimately decide against it (see Mid-2003). The bank continues to deny any links to Islamic militancy.
Riggs Bank in Washington, DC. [Source: Washington Post]In late 2002, US federal banking investigators began looking into transactions at Riggs Bank because of news reports that some money may have passed from the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington through Riggs Bank to the associates of two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego (see December 4, 1999). But in July 2003, the probe expands as investigators discover irregularities involving tens of millions of dollars also connected to the Saudi embassy. The Wall Street Journal will later report, “Riggs repeatedly failed in 2001 and 2002 to file suspicious-activity reports related to cash transactions in the low tens of millions of dollars in Saudi accounts, said people familiar with the matter.” Riggs Bank “handles the bulk of [Washington’s] diplomatic accounts, a niche market that revolves around relationships and discretion.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/14/2004] Newsweek will later report that “investigators say the embassy accounts show a large commingling of funds with Islamic charities that have been the prime target of US probes.” In one instance, on July 10, 2001 the Saudi embassy sent $70,000 to two Saudis in Massachusetts. One of the Saudis wrote a $20,000 check that same day to a third Saudi who had listed the same address as Aafia Siddiqui, a microbiologist who is believed to have been a US-based operative for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Late September 2001-March 2003). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004] The Wall Street Journal will later discover that Riggs Bank “has had a longstanding relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, according to people familiar with Riggs operations and US government officials” (see December 31, 2004). The relationship included top Riggs executives receiving US government security clearances. Riggs also overlooked tens of millions of dollars in suspicious transactions by right wing dictators from Africa and South America such as former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] A connection between the CIA and Riggs Bank goes back to at least the early 1960s. And in 1977, journalist Bob Woodward tied Riggs Bank to payments in a CIA operation in Iran. [Slate, 1/10/2005] The CIA tie leads to suspicions that the bank’s failure to disclose financial activity by Saudi diplomats and other foreign officials may have been implicitly authorized by parts of the US government. Some of the suspicious Saudi accounts belong to Saudi diplomats, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Shortly after these irregularities are discovered, Prince Bandar meets with Treasury Secretary John Snow and details his work for the CIA. For instance, during the 1980s, Prince Bandar helped fund the anticommunist Nicaraguan Contra rebels at the request of the White House and CIA as part of what became known as the Iran-Contra affair, and he also helped the CIA support Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union. It is not known what was discussed but US intelligence officials suggest Prince Bandar disclosed his CIA connections “as an explanation for the prince’s large unexplained cash transactions at Riggs.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2004] It will later come to light that for many years $30 million a month were being secretly deposited into a Riggs Bank account controlled by Prince Bandar. It has been alleged that major British arms contractor BAE Systems funneled up to $2 billion in bribes through this account over the years as part of an $80 billion weapons deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia. Riggs Bank never knew the source of the funds. After the probe uncovers these suspicious transactions, the bank cuts off all business with the Saudis. [Newsweek, 6/11/2007] The US Treasury will later impose unusually strict controls on Riggs Bank and fine the bank $25 million. [Wall Street Journal, 1/14/2004] The bank will also plead guilty to one felony count of failing to file suspicious activity reports and pay an additional fine of $16 million. [Washington Post, 1/28/2005]
Map of Iraqi oil fields included in released documents. [Source: Judicial Watch]The conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch releases documents recently turned over by the US Commerce Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The documents show some of the activities of the secretive energy task force chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). Cheney and the White House successfully blocked Congress from learning even the most basic information about the task force’s activities (see February 22, 2002). The Commerce Department documents include maps of Iraqi oil fields and oil infrastructure, and other charts showing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” Other maps and documents show detailed information about oil fields and infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of the documents are dated March 2001. Judicial Watch has sought these documents under FOIA since April 2001, and only secured them after a federal judge ordered their release in March 2002. (The Judicial Watch lawsuit was consolidated with a similar suit from the Natural Resources Defense Council.) Why the government waited over a year to release the documents, even after a court order compelling them to do so, is unclear. “These documents show the importance of the Energy Task Force and why its operations should be open to the public,” says Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton. “This was not about national security. This was about an undersecretary talking to a lobbyist.” [Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Judicial Watch, 7/17/2003; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein call the Iraqi oil field documents “stunning,” and ask: “Why were the vice president and a group of oilmen poring over maps of Iraq long before there was any pretext to invade the country? Iraq’s oil was technically embargoed and under UN control—why make plans for divvying up oil reserves?” Dubose and Bernstein believe that Cheney may have been planning for US control of Iraq long before the Bush administration’s public push for war with that nation. Fitton is not so sure, but says worriedly: “We don’t know because we weren’t given the context. We have no way of knowing what they were deliberating.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 14-15] Judicial Watch, with other public interest groups such as the Sierra Club, will continue to seek information about the Cheney task force (see December 15, 2003 and April 27, 2004).
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal after meeting Bush over the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. [Source: Associated Press]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 [USA Today, 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.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz vows not to extradite Omar al-Bayoumi, who has been alleged to be a Saudi spy who assisted two of the 9/11 hijackers in the US. He says, “We have never handed over a Saudi to a state or a foreign side, and we will never do it.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 224, 277]
In the wake of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report, and “under intense pressure from Congress,” as the Boston Globe puts it, the FBI and CIA reopen an investigation into whether Saudi Arabian officials aided the 9/11 plot. [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003] In early August, Saudi Arabia allows the FBI to interview Omar al-Bayoumi. However, the interview takes place in Saudi Arabia, and apparently on his terms, with Saudi government handlers present. [New York Times, 8/5/2003; Associated Press, 8/6/2003] Says one anonymous government terrorism consultant, “They are revisiting everybody. The [FBI] did not do a very good job of unraveling the conspiracy behind the hijackers.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003] But by September, the Washington Post reports that the FBI has concluded that the idea al-Bayoumi was a Saudi government agent is “without merit and has largely abandoned further investigation… The bureau’s September 11 investigative team, which is still tracking down details of the plot, has reached similar conclusions about other associates named or referred to in the congressional inquiry report.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2003] Yet another article claims that by late August, some key people who interacted with al-Bayoumi have yet to be interviewed by the FBI. “Countless intelligence leads that might help solve” the mystery of a Saudi connection to the hijackers “appear to have been underinvestigated or completely overlooked by the FBI, particularly in San Diego.” [San Diego Magazine, 9/2003] Not only were they never interviewed when the investigation was supposedly reopened, they were not interviewed in the months after 9/11 either, when the FBI supposedly opened an “intense investigation” of al-Bayoumi, visiting “every place he was known to have gone, and [compiling] 4,000 pages of documents detailing his activities.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]
Joe Trento. [Source: Canal+]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.” [Stories That Matter, 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]
Abdulaziz al-Muqrin. [Source: Agence France-Presse]A suicide bombing at a housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, kills 17. Most of the victims are Muslims working in Saudi Arabia. US and Saudi officials believe the bombing was masterminded by Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, believed to be al-Qaeda’s top figure in Saudi Arabia. [BBC, 12/6/2004]
Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.
[Source: Public domain]In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Charleston Post and Courier, 11/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/19/2005; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. [Newsweek, 4/16/2003; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]
David Frum. [Source: PBS]Two prominent neoconservatives, Richard Perle and David Frum, publish a book titled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. Both are fellows at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute. In the book, they suggest mobilizing Shi’ites living in eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the Saudi oil is. They note that the Saudi government has long feared “that the Shi’ites might someday seek independence for the Eastern Province—and its oil.… Independence for the Eastern Province would obviously be a catastrophic outcome for the Saudi state. But it might be a very good outcome for the United States. Certainly it’s an outcome to ponder. Even more certainly, we would want the Saudis to know we are pondering it.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 337-338] At the time, Perle is head of the Defense Policy Board, which advises the Defense Department. In 2002, a Defense Policy Board briefing argued that the US should work to split Saudi Arabia apart so the US can effectively control its oil (see July 10, 2002). Other neoconservatives like Michael Ledeen express similar views. In early 2003, James Akins, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, mentioned the possibility that Osama bin Laden could take over Saudi Arabia if the US invaded Iraq. “I’m now convinced that that’s exactly what [the neoconservatives] want to happen. And then we take it over.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 338]
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat the 9/11 Commission thinks is tied to an associate of two 9/11 hijackers named Omar al-Bayoumi, is interviewed by the Commission and lies about these connections. The Commission’s staff thinks that al Thumairy was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a middleman of some sort for [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar,” and they have compiled a long dossier on him, mostly based on evidence that staffer Mike Jacobson found in FBI files. According to Shenon, the evidence suggests al Thumairy “had orchestrated help for the hijackers through a network of Saudi and other Arab expatriates living throughout Southern California and led by… al-Bayoumi.” When al Thumairy is interviewed by Raj De and other Commission investigators in Riyadh—in the presence of Saudi government minders—he initially claims, “I do not know this man al-Bayoumi.” However, the investigators have witnesses who say al Thumairy and al-Bayoumi know each other, have records of phone calls between the two men (see December 1998-December 2000 and January-May 2000), and al-Bayoumi has admitted knowing al Thumairy, although they allegedly spoke “solely on religious matters.” De cuts off al Thumairy’s denial, telling him: “Your phone records tell a different story. We have your phone records.” Although al-Bayoumi still professes ignorance, De explains they have the phone records from the FBI, at which point al Thumairy realizes his difficulty and says, “I have contact with a lot of people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309-311]
It is reported that the FBI has closed down their investigation into Saudis Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. The Associated Press reports, “The FBI concluded at most the two Saudi men occasionally provided information to their kingdom or helped Saudi visitors settle into the United States, but did so in compliance with Muslim custom of being kind to strangers rather than out of some relationship with Saudi intelligence.” [Associated Press, 3/24/2004] Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) had cochaired the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that found considerable evidence tying these two men to two 9/11 hijackers and also to the Saudi government. When he sees this news report, he contacts the FBI and is told the report is not correct and that the investigation into the two men is still ongoing. A month later, FBI Director Robert Mueller tells Graham that the report was correct, and the case has been closed. Graham asks Mueller to speak to the two FBI agents who reached this conclusion and find out why they reached it. He asks that he should be allowed the same access to them that the Associated Press had been given. Both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft refuse to give clearance for the agents to speak to Graham. Graham then writes a letter with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), again asking for clarification and the right to meet with the agents. Their request is denied. Graham concludes that this is something it “seems that neither the FBI nor the Bush administration wants the American people to find out about.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 224-227]
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