In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks to Brian McGlinchey, the founder of 28pages.org. For years, McGlinchey led efforts to uncover the 28 redacted pages from the Senate Intel Report on 9/11. That section, largely declassified last year despite a Barack Obama veto, raises serious questions about the involvement of multiple Saudi officials in the 9/11 attacks.
Today, McGlinchey is focused on exposing Saudi efforts aimed at getting US veterans to speak out against a new law allowing 9/11 victims and their families to sue the Saudi government.
McGlinchey tells Schechtman stories about specific veterans who were “tricked” by the Saudis into lobbying against the law, and he details current Saudi efforts to weaken it. In particular, he reveals a Saudi payment of $90,000 — via a conservative PR firm in the US — to bring veterans to DC and lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
McGlinchey points out that the PR firm in question is owned by Scott Wheeler, executive director of the Republican National Trust PAC. None of this was ever disclosed to the veterans who were recruited.
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|Jeff Schechtman:||Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman. We’ve talked several times over the years, most recently with former US senator Bob Graham about the 28 redacted pages of the Senate intel report on 9/11. Those 28 pages finally saw the light of day last summer, and one of the leaders of the effort to get those pages released is our guest today, Brian McGlinchey. Now, McGlinchey is engaged in a new effort to help a group of 9/11 families, survivors, and veterans, who were, in many ways, co-opted and traveled to Washington at the expense of a conservative lobbying firm to lobby against the law enabling suit against the government of Saudi Arabia. Here to explain all of this, it is my pleasure to be joined by the head of 28Pages.org, Brian McGlinchey. Brian, thanks so much for joining us.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||It’s great to be with you. Thank you so much, Jeff.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Before we talk about the current battle that’s going on, talk a little bit about your efforts with respect to getting these 28 pages released and how you got involved in that in the first place.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Yes, I got involved by seeing a video of a press conference on Capitol Hill that was being conducted by the legislators who were leading the effort to get those 28 pages declassified: Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch, and Thomas Massie. It was in particular the comments of Thomas Massie, a legislator whom I’d already respected, that grabbed my attention and I was intrigued, and for me, it was an issue of foreign policy, transparency, and an opportunity, perhaps, to expose hypocrisy in the narrative and the execution of the war on terror.|
|I’m a writer by trade, a freelance copywriter. I decided to create a website to fill a niche that was needed in that movement. You had legislative leadership, but I only created a site that would help facilitate activism by individual citizens, and also we provide reliable information, in-depth reporting on the issue to help nudge that movement along.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Ultimately, last summer, those 28 pages were released. They were still redacted somewhat. Talk a little bit about what you felt was accomplished by that.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Yeah, as you say, there were probably accumulative three pages worth of paragraphs that are still redacted. However, those 28 pages revealed some important new things, and most of them … What is most striking about the 28 pages is how frequently the name Prince Bandar comes up in these 28 pages. Bandar was the ambassador to the United States and a close friend of the George W. Bush family and the entire Bush family, really.|
|His name comes up time and again, and it was revealed in the 28 pages that he made direct cash payments to a man in Southern California, Osama Basnan, who is identified in the 28 pages as an extremist, who hosted a party for the Blind Sheik who helped mastermind the World Trade Center bombing, who’s a devotee of Osama bin Laden, and most importantly, was said to have bragged about how much assistance he personally provided to two of the 9/11 hijackers that crashed the aircraft into the Pentagon.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Talk a little bit about the reaction, as you understand it, from families and survivors to what was in these 28 pages.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||I think they felt it was a very important step forward in peeling back what has been a veil that the government has continued to put over Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks, I think, out of the interest of preserving that US-Saudi relationship and shielding Saudi Arabia from scrutiny. As far as the significance, recently the 9/11 families’ lawsuit was resumed under JASTA, which we’ll probably talk about in a minute.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||The updated complaint in that cites the 28 pages as new evidence as they’re making their case.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Explain to our listeners who don’t know what JASTA is.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||You bet. JASTA is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. It is a law that was years in the making. Last spring, [it] had a significant revision to address concerns that had been brought up, and then it was passed unanimously by both Houses, unanimous consent last summer, and then President Obama vetoed it, and then it was the only override of his entire tenure in office, and so it became enacted in late September. What it does, it updates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which addresses the circumstances under which individual US citizens can sue foreign governments.|
|It updated that in such a way that would allow the 9/11 families to proceed with their lawsuit, naming Saudi Arabia as a defendant for its links to the attacks and to hijackers and so forth. It’s not specifically about 9/11. Saudi Arabia is not mentioned anywhere in JASTA, in that legislation. It’s an ongoing power and clarification that citizens — for acts of terror conducted on US soil — that US citizens can sue foreign governments that they believe sponsored that act.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Explain what the argument was, why President Obama at the time vetoed it.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||The arguments against it, frankly, I find disingenuous. One of the principle arguments is that this would somehow jeopardize individual US military service members, individual officials, that they say that if … The big question is, okay, now that the United States has passed this law, they say, “What if everybody does? What if other countries adopt their own version of JASTA, enabling their citizens to sue, let’s say, the United States for alleged sponsorship of terrorist, and so forth?”|
|That’s a question about whether they would do that. Unfortunately, most of the op-ed pieces and so forth that are being sponsored by Saudi lobbyists and others, and an argument that President Obama used, himself, in a town hall, speaking to the military, they tried to say that if other countries passed laws like JASTA that individual US military service members and officials would find themselves sued in foreign courts.|
|Well, as I noted earlier, JASTA doesn’t authorize suits against individuals in other countries, only governments. That was underscored by the recent filing that is referred to in the 9/11 suit. Under JASTA, they updated their complaint in the court process, and there are hundreds of pages of plaintiffs, the 9/11 families and victims, so forth, and one defendant, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not an individual.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Tell us a little bit about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to try and get this law overturned, originally, to prevent it from being passed, and then to try and get it overturned.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Saudi Arabia has one of the most formidable lobbying operations, probably, in our entire country, many, many firms, and being paid millions, and millions of dollars across the board. In the run-up, while JASTA was in the works, and then going to the legislative process, they were fully engaged in trying to thwart it. Then when it was enacted over President Obama’s veto, they kicked into overdrive. It was not game over for them. They then engaged many, many more firms to now try to go back and water it down, to amend it, change it, repeal it, whatever they can do to put those barriers back in place between the 9/11 families and the courtroom.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||To what extent were they successful, were these efforts on the part of Saudi Arabia successful in trying to really create pressure to overturn this?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||I don’t think they’ve been very successful at all, just based on the observed action on Capitol Hill. The two principal people in the legislature who are leading the effort to weaken this law — they would say, “Enhance it,” or “Correct it,” but to weaken it — are Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Those two in November and December, they made some poor speeches, talking about the need to change this. They talked about … They offered, again, the same flawed arguments about jeopardy to military service members during attacks, that kind of thing. There’s been no real legislative action. They never actually, to my knowledge, put forward an actual amendment. At this point, I don’t think there’s been much momentum at all in that other direction.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Talk a little bit about the veterans that were brought to Washington to engage in these lobbying effort, veterans who were arguably misled as to what they were coming to Washington for and who was paying for it.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Yes, so this is the most fascinating part of this story. So aggressive was this operation Saudi Arabian Qorvis, Qorvis MSLGroup, which is its main … I believe it is its main flagship lobbying and PR firm managing its affairs and reputation around the world. They engaged Qorvis who in turn began a program by which they would recruit veterans to oppose JASTA based on that argument that, “Hey, if other countries pass laws like JASTA, individual military service members will be sued in foreign courts. We can’t have that.” That was the principal argument that they used. They attracted veterans to this effort, and then they had a program by which they were inviting veterans to travel to Washington, all expenses paid, to lobby for this alongside fellow veterans and for the betterment of military service members and veterans.|
|Now, what I was able to discover through my reporting, I contacted some veterans who had actually made those trips to Washington, DC, and the fact that they were making trips was first reported by Daily Caller, then the question became, “Do these people know who’s behind this?” I contacted some veterans and hit the jackpot in that they said, “No, we did not know that this was the case until we got there and an intoxicated organizer of the event spilled the beans and said, ‘Yes, the Kingdom is paying for it.’ ” They were outraged.|
|The first three that I interviewed were Marine veterans, two of them are brothers, and a couple of them said, “We enlisted because of 9/11, and to find out that we had been unwittingly advancing the interest and the agenda of the government that’s been accused of helping to facilitate that attack,” … you can imagine how that would make them feel. They were initially three, and then four more veterans from that operation came forward, which, by the way, was being conducted out of the Trump International Hotel. And now, more veterans are continuing to come forward with other organizations.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||What is your sense of how this is playing out now and what’s next in this battle?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Well, with JASTA the law of the land, it’s a matter of playing defense for those 9/11 families to keep that law in the books. Right now, it’s been pretty quiet. Those lobbying trips, and to give you a sense of a budget, we’re talking … under that Qorvis operation, somewhere around seven trips, and we’re talking about upwards of 40 and 50 veterans on several of those trips, staying at the Trump International Hotel with meals provided, open bars in the evening. The hotel is known for the most expensive drinks in all of Washington, so, I mean, a big-budget operation.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||What is the attitude of the current administration towards this?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Well, when JASTA was at that final threshold of being passed, then-candidate Trump was asked for his opinion on it, and he slammed President Obama for vetoing it. As we’ve observed though, President Trump is not known for his consistency of beliefs and positions, and so, I’d say, there’s a great cause for concern among people who watch this issue given the fact that the Trump administration appears to be going extremely cozy with the Saudi Arabian government.|
|A couple examples of that are restoring arms sales, specific types of weapons that had been restricted under the Obama administration because of their misuse in Yemen, and aggressively supporting and talking about amping up the level of support that the US government is providing for that war in Yemen. I think that signals that there’s reason to be wary of the Trump administration on this issue.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||How much litigation has been brought under JASTA up to this point?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Many litigants have come forward, and it’s a very complex case. They’re all combined under the heading of this case called “in re: Terrorist Attacks of September 11th, 2001”, which there are a number of firms in that, each representing groups of plaintiffs, families and so forth, and also insurers who covered damage inflicted by those attacks. These cases represent many, many clients, and now you do have additional people filing complaints down, joining the case as it has renewed momentum.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Tell us a little bit about your continuing efforts with 28Pages.org, and what’s the story that you want to keep out there and what you hope to accomplish at this point?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||Well, the main theme that I’ve been reporting on recently is the Saudi lobbying. It’s funny, because at the beginning of the year, I’ve made announcements on the website that I would be widening the scope of what I was covering there, broader scrutiny of the war on terror. I only got one article into that until this Saudi lobbying story bubbled up. Now, in the absence of the big media covering this scandal, I’m continuing to try to shed light on it and bring attention to it. Importantly, a few weeks ago, a group of 9/11 families and survivors filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging broad misconduct by a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, including his failure to disclose the Saudi sponsorship of these trips and basically bringing people to Washington on false pretenses.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Why do you think there’s been so little mainstream coverage of this issue?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||That’s a great question. I really don’t know quite what to say. I was quite shocked. At a time when there’s a lot of other coverage about alleged interference by foreign governments in our political processes and so forth, here, you’ve got one that’s just extremely well-documented. We had a lot of first-hand witnesses, veterans who are being victimized and made into unwitting pawns of a foreign government. This deception extends even to Members of Congress. The veterans were told in that Trump hotel operation, they were told, “If anyone asks who brought you here, just tell them you’re concerned veterans here on your own.”|
|For this giant-budget operation, they were missing something that’s a part of any lobbying operation, and that is leave-behind material. If you and I were going to be lobbying City Hall about any mundane little topic, we would leave behind a leaflet or a flyer or something to reinforce our position and explain what we were seeking. This multi, multi-million-dollar operation didn’t have that. I’ll tell you why: It’s that any informational material that’s left behind that’s part of a foreign government-driven lobbying operation, it’s a requirement that you have to have a conspicuous disclosure of who sponsored it.|
|Really, what I’m saying is that this deception carried over to members of Congress that there was this charade that was going on where they wanted Congress to have the impression that it was individual veterans who were sincerely concerned about this issue. The Members of Congress weren’t being told that they were there, essentially, on behalf, unwittingly, but acting on behalf of a foreign power. The Foreign Agents Registration Act passed in the ’30s, that’s what that’s all about. It doesn’t restrict anybody’s speech, but it does call for transparency, so everybody knows above board that this is a foreign power that’s trying to affect policy in the United States.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Are there any veterans organizations that have gotten involved in this issue?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||There are none that have gotten involved on the good side. Some have been potentially misused on the other side. One of the chief organizers of the Qorvis operation that operated out of the Trump hotel used to be the second-in-command of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. However, the Military Order of the Purple Heart says that they have nothing to do with it. That was his own activity. However, some veterans seem to get the indication that they were led to believe that there was an endorsement from that organization, but their spokesperson was very clear in saying that that was his activities alone.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Has there been any lessening of the efforts on the part of the Saudi lobbying firms of late?|
|Brian McGlinchey:||It appears that all these trips have halted, that they stopped. The most recent one that I’m aware of was in early March. Whether they had already run their course or budget, or that they were intending to do, or whether the coverage of this was the cause of that, I don’t know, but for now, it seems that they’re over. I do know word is getting around Capitol Hill, at least in some quarters, that these were about the Saudi operations. I think they’re going to be very wary of anybody doing it again.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Brian McGlinchey, I thank you so much for spending time with us.|
|Brian McGlinchey:||It was great to be with you. Thank you very much.|
|Jeff Schechtman:||Thank you. Thank you for listening and joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you liked this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to WhoWhatWhy.org/donate.|
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