In the War on Terror, Israel’s Government is Not a Reliable Friend of the American People—But Neither is Our Own
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Thanks to last summer’s release of 28 pages detailing a variety of links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials—and the October leak of a 2014 email from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring the Saudi government was directly supporting ISIS—it’s increasingly clear that the U.S. government’s depiction of Saudi Arabia as a vital ally in the “war on terror” is dishonest.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia isn’t the only supposed “ally” whose official depiction as a steadfast foe of terrorism is out of sync with reality: The branding of Israel is also deeply misleading. Continue reading →
False Arguments Aside, White House Knows JASTA is Only a Threat to U.S. Government Hypocrisy in War on Terror
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Following a meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the two explored how to “fix” a recently-passed law that cleared the way for 9/11 survivors and family members to sue the kingdom for its alleged support of the hijackers.
Kerry and al-Jubeir both claimed JASTA puts at risk the entire concept of sovereign immunity, which limits the rights of individual people to pursue justice for the crimes of governments. “If this issue takes hold, we will have chaos in the international order, and this is something that no country in the world wants,” said al-Jubeir.
Kerry also repeated previous Obama administration claims that JASTA threatens those serving in the U.S. military. “We discussed ways to try to fix this in a way that respects and honors the needs and rights of victims of 9/11 but at the same time does not expose American troops and American partners and American individuals who may be involved in another country to the potential of a lawsuit for those activities,” said Kerry.
“What happened yesterday is outrageous,” said 9/11 widow Terry Strada in a statement issued yesterday. “The fact that Secretary Kerry would lead off his public remarks not by talking about ISIS or Iraq, but instead by assuring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that he would work to destroy the 9/11 bill, speaks volumes and is very painful for all September 11th families,” continued Strada, who helped lead the effort to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
The Obama administration and Saudi monarchy want us to believe two things:
JASTA represents a major departure from the previous U.S. approach to sovereign immunity.
U.S. military service members will face suits in foreign courts as other nations reciprocate with similar adjustments to their own laws.
Bolstered by a multi-million dollar effort coordinated among Saudi Arabia’s armada of lobbying and public relations firms, these arguments are sadly working wonders on credulous pundits and editorial boards—but they’re flatly dishonest.
First, JASTA represents a very narrow adjustment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)—one that only addresses state sponsorship of terrorism. What’s more, prior to JASTA, the FSIA already provided an exception that allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign state sponsors of terror. That exception was enacted in 1996 without sparking the disproportionate global retaliation that Kerry says will result from JASTA.
Further, JASTA only allows plaintiffs to sue foreign governments—not individual officials or military service members—and only for acts of terrorism, specifically excluding acts of war. How does Kerry propose “fixing” a law that already protects U.S. servicemen and women from reciprocity?
What’s Really at Stake
The principal effect of JASTA is to now allow plaintiffs to sue foreign governments:
For actions those governments take abroad in aiding terrorism on U.S. soil. Before JASTA, a government that handed a briefcase full of cash to a terrorist in New York could be sued, but if that same act happened in Montreal, it enjoyed immunity.
That are not on the State Department’s list of official state sponsors of terror. The Secretary of State unilaterally decides who makes the list; today, it’s Iran, Sudan and Syria. [Nov 3 correction: Please note that, even before JASTA, State designation as a sponsor of terror was not a prerequisite for suits relating to injuries that occur on U.S. soil.]
It’s that second attribute that represents JASTA’s real threat—not to American soldiers, marines and airmen, but to an abused executive branch monopoly on declaring which countries are sponsoring terrorism. Rather than providing an honest catalogue of real-world villainy, the American government uses the terror list as a blunt force weapon to economically and diplomatically isolate selected countries that defy it.
Cuba was on the list until the Obama administration decided to abandon decades of counterproductive isolation of the country; one day it’s a menacing fomenter of terror, the next it’s not. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is absent from the list, despite 28 pages of damning details illustrating a variety of Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration in a leaked 2014 email that the kingdom was “providing clandestine financial and logistical support to ISIL.”
An exchange at a July House judiciary committee hearing on JASTA between State Department legal advisor Brian Egan and Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen summed up the situation nicely.
Egan: Under the existing terrorism exception, cases are allowed against countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism…The existing exception was crafted between Congress and the executive branch to allow for a decision and evidence to be looked at by the executive branch as to whether the relevant government has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. We think that’s an important part of the process and one that would change with this law.
Rep. Cohen: Mr. Egan, Saudi Arabia is not on the list, right?
Egan: That’s correct, sir.
Rep. Cohen: And if we change this law and they’re subject to liability, might we find that they should have been?
In a forgivable breach of decorum, 9/11 widows and widowers in attendance applauded.
A 2014 email released by Wikileaks, in which Hillary Clinton asserted that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were directly aiding ISIS and other extremist groups, may help stave off a Saudi lobbying effort aimed at reversing a newly-enacted law giving 9/11 families the power to sue the kingdom.
The email, sent to Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta, lays out an assessment of the situation in Syria and Iraq and includes various policy prescriptions.
One of them leveled a pointed indictment at Saudi Arabia: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (ISIL is an abbreviation for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—an alternative reference for ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.)
As Daily Caller’s Alex Pfeiffer noted in breaking the story, the email’s format matches previously revealed intelligence reports prepared for Clinton by her confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Though it may have been drafted by Blumenthal, Clinton’s sharing of the material without attribution seemingly signals her embrace of its contents, including the damning assertion about Saudi Arabia.
This isn’t the first time Wikileaks has revealed a Clinton assertion of ties between Saudi Arabia and terrorism. In a 2009 cable, then-Secretary of State Clinton said “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The newly-released email is particularly significant because, rather than vaguely implicating unidentified “donors” that may or may not include individual members of the royal family acting independently, it specifically points a finger of guilt at the Saudi government itself.
The email validates former Senator Bob Graham’s previous assertions that, by classifying Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS.
“I believe that the failure to shine a full light on Saudi actions and particularly its involvement in 9/11 has contributed to the Saudi ability to continue to engage in actions that are damaging to the US—and in particular their support for ISIS,” Graham told Patrick Cockburn in a 2014 interview.
Strengthening the Case for JASTA
The Clinton email leak comes just a few weeks after the enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in a way that enables 9/11 family members and victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged financial and logistical support of the hijackers.
President Obama vetoed the bill and, though his veto was overwhelmingly overridden, JASTA supporters are bracing for a determined Saudi counterattack in the lame duck session of Congress. That counterattack will likely take the form of a new alteration of FSIA to reverse some or all of JASTA’s effect.
Though JASTA explicitly limits its scope to terrorism and only applies to governments, opponents—under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. intelligence community—are claiming JASTA will leave individual U.S. military service members vulnerable to lawsuits filed abroad if foreign governments modify their own sovereign immunity laws in reciprocation.
In a statement issued after Obama’s veto, attorneys for 9/11 families said “a reciprocal statute could not permit claims against individual U.S. officials, employees or military personnel, as JASTA prohibits such actions…the inescapable conclusion is that the president’s rationale for opposing JASTA has nothing to do with JASTA itself.”
One of the distinguishing hallmarks of the drive to declassify the 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers is the absence of vocal opposition. That’s not to say there are no opponents—only that they are working quietly and effectively behind closed doors.
It’s likely that among the most powerful of those unseen opponents of 9/11 transparency are two strange bedfellows:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—which has fueled the growth of terror
The U.S. intelligence community—which is charged with thwarting terror
Saudia Arabia’s Broad Influence on U.S. Policy
Saudi Arabia has claimed it wants the 28 pages released, but the kingdom is surely bluffing. At a January 7 press conference promoting the reintroduction of a House resolution urging the president to declassify the 28 pages, former Senator Bob Graham was pointed in describing how Saudi Arabia figures in the censored chapter of the report of a joint Congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11: “The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.”
Like many other countries, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in building influence within American shores, and that influence may be a big reason why Barack Obama hasn’t reversed George W. Bush’s extraordinary redaction of 28 consecutive pages of a Congressional intelligence report, and why most of our federal legislators haven’t even bothered reading those pages despite the strong urging of peers who have.
One relatively new pillar in Saudi Arabia’s influence infrastructure illustrates its strength. In September, The Nation’s Lee Fang—in a piece outlining the remarkable depth and breadth of the Saudi web of influence—revealed that Saudi Arabia had made an eyebrow-raising addition to its army of lobbyists: Norm Coleman, former United States senator and current chair of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a prominent Republican super PAC.
The hire breaks new ground, writes Fang, as Coleman “appears to be the first leader of a significant Super PAC to simultaneously lobby for a foreign government.” The move also reveals cringe-inducing hypocrisy: In 2005, Coleman signed a letter condemning Saudi Arabia for fostering Islamic extremism around the world, and today he serves on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy.
While noteworthy, Coleman is just one star in a broad constellation of Saudi Arabian influence on American policymakers. As The New York Times reported in a September expose, another major avenue of foreign government influence is the funding of American think tanks:
“The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.”
The pressure on scholars isn’t always indirect: Some “donations” are accompanied by an explicit quid pro quo understanding that the think tank will advance the interest of its foreign state benefactor.
According to a Times infographic, Saudi Arabia has given money to many of the think tanks that journalists and policymakers turn to for analysis, including The Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, the Middle East Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Does the work product of these think tanks reflect their Saudi sponsorship? Consider the rather Saudi-friendly insights the CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman recently offered decision-makers on the transition of power following the death of King Abdullah. In it, Cordesman heralds Abdullah as “one of (Saudi Arabia’s) most competent and impressive kings” and “a strong ally.” While he touches briefly on extremism, strikingly absent from Cordesman’s examination of Saudi Arabia’s role as a “close partner” in U.S. counterterrorism efforts is any mention of the country’s well-documented financial support of Islamic extremism and terror. To the contrary, Cordesman declares that Saudi Arabia “has been critical to preserving some degree of regional stability…during the rise of Islamic extremism.”
Considering Saudi Arabia’s think tank sponsorship, it’s no wonder that 28Pages.org is only aware of one occasion where one of these influential entities has allowed an analyst to use its platform to promote the release of the 28 pages: Last month at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin urged their release and implored journalists to make the 28 pages a 2016 campaign issue.
Intelligence Community’s “Pervasive Pattern” of Covering Saudi Role
Saudi Arabia’s reasons for wanting the 28 pages kept secret are clear, but what about America’s intelligence community? Actually, its motives are likely identical: Shielding itself from public humiliation and the consequences that would accompany it.
The intelligence community would have us believe that publishing the 28 pages would somehow pose a threat to national security, a notion that’s been pointedly rebutted by many who’ve read them, including former Senate intelligence committee chairman Graham.
At the January 7 press conference, Graham said, “Much of what passes for classification for national security reasons is really classified because it would disclose incompetence. And since the people who are classifying are also often the subject of the materials, they have an institutional interest in avoiding exposure of their incompetence.”
The intelligence community’s failure in the years and months leading up to 9/11 isn’t exactly secret, but the 28 pages may shed powerfully unflattering new light on it. Remember, they’re found in the report of the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence CommunityActivities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”
Secrecy about American intelligence agencies’ performance before and after the 9/11 attacks stretches far beyond the 28 pages. Perhaps the most prominent example of that broad veil relates to a 9/11 hijacker cell in Sarasota: Graham says the FBI failed to disclose its knowledge of that cell to the joint congressional intelligence inquiry he co-chaired.
When the cell later came to the attention of investigative journalist Dan Christensen at FloridaBulldog.org, the FBI first denied that it found any connection between 9/11 hijackers and a wealthy Saudi family that suddenly fled the country two weeks before September 11, and then denied it had any documentation of its investigation. Now we know the FBI indeed found direct links between that family and the hijackers, and a federal judge is studying more than 80,000pages of FBI documents relating to the Sarasota investigation for potential release in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Relating the FBI’s Sarasota secrecy to the 28 pages, Graham said, “This is not a narrow issue of withholding information at one place, in one time. This is a pervasive pattern of covering up the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11 by all of the agencies of the federal government which have access to information that might illuminate Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11.”
The CIA may want the 28 pages kept secret, too. Richard Clarke, who was the White House’s counter-terrorism czar in the Clinton and Bush administrations, says the CIA never told him that two known Al Qaeda operatives were living in southern California under their own names. Considering the San Diego cell figures prominently in the joint inquiry report, the 28 pages may shed light on the CIA’s motives for its history-altering failure to inform Clarke or the FBI or elaborate on what disaster-averting information the CIA had and didn’t share.
Like the CIA, the NSA also knew about the San Diego-based hijackers well before September 11. Keeping the 28 pages under wraps may serve the agency in its fight to preserve the post-9/11 mass surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden: If the 28 pages amplify the fact that the government had all the information it needed to thwart the 9/11 attacks without those controversial programs, the NSA’s arguments would be further weakened.
A Deadly Bargain
Amid all this discussion of the actions and inactions that enabled the terrible loss of life on 9/11, one shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that lives continue to hang in the balance—and the fact that former Senator Graham and current Congressmen Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie have all said that declassifying the 28 pages is imperative to understanding and countering the ongoing terror threat.
Said Graham at the 28 pages press conference that came just hours after the terror attack on the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo: “There is no threat to national security in disclosure (of the 28 pages). I’m going to make the case today that there’s a threat to national security by non–disclosure, and we saw another chapter of that today in Paris.”
According to Graham, shielding Saudi Arabia from scrutiny of its role in 9/11 has emboldened the kingdom to continue its sponsorship of extremism and, in the process, enabled the rise of ISIS. If so, the continued censorship of the 28 pages has cost more lives around the world than were lost on September 11, 2001—and with growing U.S. involvement in the fight against ISIS, American lives could become increasingly imperiled.
Americans may not be surprised that a faraway monarchy would be willing to gamble the lives of innocents in a bid for continued power, but they should be deeply troubled that the U.S. intelligence community would—wittingly or not—make the same deadly bargain. By shielding themselves from the oversight that’s vital to our system of government, our national security agencies also shield Saudi Arabia from accountability. In so doing, they endanger the very lives they’re charged with saving.
Brian McGlinchey is the founder and director of 28Pages.org.
In an interview with Brent Bambury of Canada’s CBC Radio last week, former Senator Bob Graham said the unwarranted censorship of a 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers shielded Saudi Arabia from scrutiny—enabling that country to continue funding extremists in the Middle East and setting the stage for the rise of ISIS:
“I believe that had the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11 been disclosed by the release of the 28 pages and by the declassification of other information as to the Saudi role and support of the 9/11 hijackers that it would have made it much more difficult for Saudi Arabia to have continued that pattern of behaviour...and I think would have had a good chance of reigning in the activity that today Canada, the United States and other countries either are or are not considering going to war with.”
Graham reinforced assertions by Congressman Stephen Lynch—who joined Rep. Walter Jones in introducing a resolution urging the president to declassify the 28 pages—that the redacted finding is highly relevant to the country’s confrontation with ISIS:
“The connection is a direct one. Not only has Saudi Arabia been promoting this extreme form of religion, but it also has been the principal financier, first of Al Qaeda then of the various Al Qaeda franchises around the world specifically the ones in Somalia and Yemen and now the support of ISIS.”
Bambury asked Graham—who co-chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages—how he felt when he learned this section would be redacted. Graham said, “I was dismayed, surprised, angry (along) with my colleague, who was a Republican senator. Neither of us felt there was any national security issues involved in those 28 pages which justified their being censored from public scrutiny.”
Graham was blunt when asked what he thought of Saudi Arabia’s claim that it, too, wants the 28 pages declassified: “I think that was a farce,” said Graham.