UPDATE, September 12, 2021: Late Saturday night — a timeslot usually reserved for announcements designed to be buried — the FBI released a previously classified report related to its extraordinarily sensitive investigation of possible Saudi government complicity with the September 11 attackers.
The report on “Operation Encore” contains critical admissions that move forward, to some extent, understanding of the relationship between the Saudi government and the perpetrators of the greatest attack ever committed on American soil.
The release was in compliance with an executive order from President Joe Biden.
However, significant information was redacted, continuing a long pattern of the government withholding crucial material.
Among the assertions from the April 4, 2016, “review and analysis” report was an admission that Saudi officials had met with hijackers — but while the meetings were termed “accidental,” that was contradicted by an eyewitness who said it appeared pre-arranged. The report also shows that one Saudi official had actually lived with a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative in the United States.
As readers will see from the WhoWhatWhy article below, published less than 24 hours before the new release, the involvement of Saudi officials with the hijackers could in no way be construed as limited and accidental, as they included writing checks to and finding housing for the hijackers.
Despite the continued withholding of information, particularly the names of sources interviewed by the Bureau, the report was welcomed by families of 9/11 victims suing the Saudis.
“With this first release of documents, 20 years of Saudi Arabia counting on the U.S. government to cover up its role in 9/11 comes to an end,” said New York attorney James Kreindler, who represents the families. “The findings and conclusions in this FBI investigation validate the arguments we have made in the litigation regarding the Saudi government’s responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. This document, together with the public evidence gathered to date, provides a blueprint for how al Qaeda operated inside the US with the active, knowing support of the Saudi government.”
Kreindler highlighted several areas of the 16-page report that seem particularly significant. They include:
- A Saudi embassy official with diplomatic immunity actually lived in the US with al-Qaeda’s chief procurement officer in 2000, the year before the attack. That man, Mutaeb al-Sudairy, bought communications equipment for Osama bin Laden. He also spoke repeatedly with Omar al-Bayoumi, another Saudi official, who was busy helping the hijackers get settled in San Diego; Bayoumi, according to witnesses, was quite open in speaking about the need for jihad, or the struggle against the enemies of Islam.
- Saudi diplomat Fahad al-Thumairy, who provided hijackers with lodging and other help in Los Angeles, had contacts with other al-Qaeda operatives involved in separate plots — including Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “millennium bomber” who planned an earlier attack, for January 1, 2000, on Los Angeles International Airport.
One unanswered question is: Why would the Saudi officials act in this sort of a transparent manner, given the stakes? We will provide updates and original reporting.
September 11, 2021: When it comes to traumatic events that permanently alter the psychic landscape, some things are just too big, too unsettling, and too dangerous to the stability of our systems. And that’s certainly the case with the September 11 attacks.
And that helps explain why, 20 years after the fact, we are left with a sad state of affairs: The “war to end terrorism” has spawned endless terrorism, and we today understand virtually nothing about how and why an odd gaggle of young men, mostly Saudis, most of them anything but sophisticated, could pull off the crime of the century against the most sophisticated machine the world has ever created.
Over the years, a trickle of facts has emerged to suggest something very disturbing about the Saudi royal family in relation to the hijackers. Somehow, though, this has never been permitted to evolve into a rational explanation of the 2001 cataclysm.
This may be why:
The Saudi royals, like all corrupt, brutal despots, are always one step from the grave. If the Saudi people rise up, with or without help from others in the region, the elites are done for. So they need constant US backing for their vast repression apparatus.
For almost a century, ever since oil was discovered beneath the shifting sands, the family of former bedouins has been assured that the world’s great consumers of oil will protect them.
Now, with oil production diffused, fossil fuel demand on the decline, the goose’s golden egg is more fragile than ever.
What else could compel the West to direct its military might at propping up this family of billionaires in their lavish lifestyles amid a society with medieval practices?
A problem as great as the need for oil: the need to remain safe.
The Saudis can and do present themselves as, like Israel, a bulwark against terror. Their business cards might as well say: “The Last Line of Defense.” After all, they allow the US to have five military bases on their soil in a region typically hostile to hosting American forces.
Terrorism, in one form or another, has perhaps always existed, but the 9/11 attacks seared the threat into the global consciousness like nothing else. They changed life for Americans and non-Americans alike — perhaps forever.
And they virtually guaranteed the Saudis a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Paradoxically, the 9/11 attacks boxed the US in. The US should have investigated the role of the Saudi royal family but, for a variety of reasons, covered it up instead, and so, despite the heinousness of the crime, Washington has had to actually get closer to the oil-rich regime.
That’s why the US couldn’t do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a small-scale act of shocking savagery for which there has also been no accountability.
As I noted in an article we published at the time of Khashoggi’s grisly death, “Most everyone, it seems, recently awoke to the fact that the rulers of Saudi Arabia are not exactly the kindest, gentlest of folks.”
It took the murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post columnist to get people (and the media) focused on a government that, by most standards, does not deserve the kind of diplomatic favor it has long enjoyed with democratic Western powers.
One might say the same about other countries, but Saudi Arabia is truly extraordinary, by many measures. Its years-long bombing campaign in neighboring Yemen has produced what the UN called “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” — with millions on the verge of starvation and an ongoing cholera outbreak seen as the worst in recorded history.
“Criminals” in Saudi Arabia — including those who challenge the regime, such as activists and journalists — are routinely flogged in public, beheaded, and even crucified. And while Western journalists lauded the government’s 2018 decision to allow women to drive, women’s rights are still severely restricted.
The royal family itself is a massive kleptocracy, living in unimaginable splendor and binging on luxuries worldwide like drunken sailors.
Of course, the basis for their special treatment comes largely from the nation’s massive oil reserves, which have bought it astonishing impunity — even, it seems, when the lives of thousands of Americans are involved.
One issue that always remains in the background but is never addressed: the little-understood, though well-documented, relationship between the Saudi royal family and 9/11.
On the surface, the simple fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia should give one pause. Plus, a congressional report declassified in 2016 found that some of the hijackers “were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.”
But we’re still not getting the whole story. Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who co-chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and led efforts to investigate, said in a 2018 interview:
The mystery is, over three administrations, why has there been this reticence to release information? … So we’ve gone for three presidencies, [with] no assertive effort from the White House to let the American people share the information that the government has, and form opinions as to who has responsibility for 9/11.
It certainly begs for further scrutiny by the major media outlets. Instead, the public’s attention — focused in 2001 on Afghanistan, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Saddam Hussein, WMDs, and anthrax — has never been directed toward the Saudi royal family connection.
In the wake of the global war on terrorism, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi was taken out, and a “civil war” was fomented by the US and Western allies in partnership with Gulf State countries — including Saudi Arabia — to overthrow the government of Syria by arming “moderate rebels” (in a CIA operation code-named Timber Sycamore).
It all sounds vaguely like the secret plan that Gen. Wesley Clark warned us about. Clark claimed that, right after 9/11, he was privy to information contained in a classified memo. In it were US plans to use the attacks on Washington and New York to justify America’s own project to remove governments in seven countries over five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.
Most, if not all, of these nations were seen as hostile to American (particularly corporate) interests and, just as significantly, to Saudi interests.
To take this further, we need to remind ourselves of the clarion call within the neocon movement for a “New American Century,” where the US could move around the world, make and break governments, and virtually seize mineral deposits at will. In a seminal report, the then-influential Project for a New American Century (PNAC) warned that a reduction in military spending threatened “the loss of a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity.”
PNAC stated that “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”
All of this contributes to the shared understanding that nobody wants to “go there” — and of course there is the fact that the panic around the dramatically heightened terror threat after 9/11 created new reasons for heavy Western support of another security-conscious regime that has been quietly rather close with the Saudis — the Israelis, a key ally of the neocon coalition. More needs to be discovered about what the very capable and active Israeli intelligence service knew about the Saudi network, and of course what the American CIA, NSA, etc., knew.
While the government and the media may be reluctant to call out the Saudi kingdom for its links to 9/11, the families of victims certainly have not forgotten. Following the passage of a law in 2016 allowing families to sue Saudi Arabia, a class-action lawsuit was brought claiming Saudi involvement; it has recently collected depositions of former Saudi officials.
Some years back, WhoWhatWhy conducted its own inquiry into the Saudi royal family-9/11 connection. We built on work conducted by another news nonprofit, Florida Bulldog, and were able to connect the hijackers almost directly to the Saudi royal family. You can read more about that here.
The Florida angle we helped develop is important. But there’s a lot more. Here are just a few disturbing examples from among many that one could cite:
In court filings seeking to stave off a media Freedom of Information request some years back, the FBI stated that releasing documents relating to this issue would harm “national security.” As proof of the sensitivity of the matter, the FBI gave the judge a document dated April 4, 2002, in which the FBI states that its own inquiries “revealed many connections” between a well-connected Saudi family with a house in south Florida and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the person who may know the most about all of this — and appears to have been one of the sponsors of the 9/11 attacks — has consistently refused to be questioned by lawyers representing thousands of 9/11 survivors and relatives of the dead who are suing Saudi Arabia.
You may remember Bandar as a close friend of former President George W. Bush. For 22 years he was Saudi Arabia’s most powerful influencer in Washington, dealing with five presidents, 10 secretaries of state, 11 national security advisors, and 16 sessions of Congress. He was also a former intelligence chief in his own country.
Bandar’s own ties to the hijackers are fairly astonishing. As toted up by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, journalists and authors who investigated the Saudi connection extensively,
Bandar had a very personal reason to be sensitive to the Inquiry’s work. The unclassified version of the Inquiry Report, and press leaks of the content of 28 then still classified pages, implicated Prince Bandar himself, and his wife, in payments made to Osama Basnan, a U.S.-based Saudi suspected of being part of the hijackers’ support system.
Basnan in turn was close with Omar al-Bayoumi, who befriended 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi on their arrival in the US in early 2000. Bayoumi, according to FBI files, rendered substantial assistance to the duo — helping them move to San Diego and get settled, and even co-signing their lease. The topper: He threw them a welcome party.
And Bayoumi was in constant contact with people at the Saudi embassy in Washington. And he had a no-show job with the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority. FBI agents searching Basnan’s home found 31 canceled checks totaling more than $70,000, made out to Basnan’s wife and drawn on the account of Prince Bandar’s wife Princess Haifa. And Basnan and his wife each received at least one check from Ambassador Bandar himself.
Over the intervening years, I and other reporters were told of efforts — at high levels of government — to block the legitimate inquiries of investigators, including FBI agents trying to get at the truth.
Flash forward to 2021, and the continuing lawsuit by the families of 9/11 victims alleging Saudi complicity in the 9/11 attacks. After years of successful stonewalling, the Saudis finally produced some former officials for questioning. But, in the words of the Associated Press, “Those depositions remain under seal and the U.S. has withheld a trove of other documents as too sensitive for disclosure.”
President Biden this month issued an executive order to review and release information sought by the families, declaring that “the American people deserve to have a fuller picture of what their Government knows about those attacks.” He said, “Information should not remain classified when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.” There was a caveat, of course: “Except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.”
As we remember the dead, let’s also honor them, not just with words, but by insisting that our government level with us on what it knows. If the problem is that certain relationships are too important for the truth to be told, then that itself is perhaps an even bigger problem, and one that a democracy has to address.