I come not to praise Zbigniew Brzezinski, but to bury him beneath a damning fact omitted from his New York Times and Washington Post obituaries: He bears enormous responsibility for the rise of the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS. Continue reading →
After a 13-year battle that 28Pages.orgjoined two years ago, 28 pages on Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers were finally declassified on Friday. While there are frustratingly many redactions amounting to about three pages of content, the declassified pages contain many new details that should prompt demands for the release of additional documents that would shed further light on those details.
Continuing a pattern that began well before the pages were released, both the Saudi and U.S. governments assert that the 28 pages do not implicate senior Saudi government officials or members of the royal family in facilitating the attacks, and that Saudi Arabia is an important partner in the war on terror. A handful of revelations in the 28 pages undermine both claims.
Direct Payments from Prince Bandar to Hijackers’ Helper
Osama Bassnan was a Saudi citizen who lived in San Diego and boasted to an FBI asset about the assistance he provided to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar. The 28 pages describe Bassnan as an extremist and supporter of Osama Bin Laden who hosted a party for Omar Abdel-Rahman. Also known as “the Blind Sheikh,” Abdel-Rahman is now in prison for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
It had previously been established that Bassnan’s wife had received a series of cashier’s checks from Princess Haifa, the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States and close confidant of President George W. Bush Prince Bandar. Those checks—which the 28 pages say totaled $74,000—were claimed to have been charitable in nature, meant to aid Bassnan’s wife in paying for medical treatments.
Newly revealed in the 28 pages is a direct payment of $15,000 from Bandar to Bassnan in May 1998. The pages also cite a CIA report that indicates Bassnan received a “significant amount of cash” from an unidentified member of the Saudi royal family in a 2002 Houston meeting—seven months after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Bandar, Embassy Links to al Qaeda Associate Abu Zubaydah
In March 2002, U.S. and coalition forces in Pakistan captured Abu Zubaydah, an apparent al Qaeda associate who was originally identified as a senior member of the terror organization but whose actual status is now in doubt. The 28 pages reveal that Zubaydah’s phone book contained an unlisted phone number linked to a small Colorado corporation was formed to facilitate the management of Prince Bandar’s spectacular Aspen home.
It also held a phone number of an individual whose name is redacted but who is identified as a bodyguard at the Saudi embassy in Washington. The 28 pages say “The FBI suspects that he may be a [ redacted ]” and that he was being investigated due to “the size and value of this residence and his suspicious activity in approaching U.S. Intelligence Community personnel.”
Suspicions of Saudi Government Money-Laundering
The 28 pages describe FBI suspicions that Saudi money was being laundered through businesses associated with Osama bin Laden, as well as through mosques and charities. Describing one such conduit, the 28 pages read, “According to the former FBI agent in San Diego who was involved in this investigation, this scheme may allow the Saudi government to provide al-Qa’ida with funding through covert or indirect means.”
The 28 pages also say “there are also indication of Saudi government support for terrorist activity through charitable organizations,” including the Saudi-based Umm al-Qura Islamic Charitable Foundation (UQ), which is described as being involved in “suspicious money transfers, document forgery, providing jobs to wanted terrorist suspects, and funding travel for youths to attend jihad training.” According to reports cited in the 28 pages, UQ couriers had transported more than $330,000 in cash, “most of which they received from Saudi embassies in the Far East.”
The American and Saudi governments would have us believe the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated these and many other leads before concluding it found no evidence of Saudi government support of al Qaeda. As we’ve explained before, an overwhelming amount of evidence—including statements from 9/11 Commission member John Lehman—undermines the idea that links to Saudi Arabia were thoroughly investigated.
Lack of Saudi Cooperation in Countering Terrorism
The 28 pages undermine the idea that Saudi Arabia’s is a reliable partner for the United States in countering terrorism. A veteran New York FBI agent described the Saudis as having been “useless and obstructionist for years.”
The pages also reveal that, in May 2001, the U.S. intelligence community sought Saudi assistance in finding an individual in Saudi Arabia who was in contact with Zubaydah and who was “most likely aware of an upcoming al-Qa’ida operation.” The Saudi government put conditions on assisting U.S. authorities with the matter and ultimately did not cooperate.
According to the 28 pages, the former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit said it was clear to him that, after 1996, the Saudi government would render no aid to the United States in its tracking of the al Qaeda leader. They also refer to a CIA memo that says the Saudis stopped providing information on bin Laden because he had “too much information about official Saudi dealings with Islamic extremists in the 1980s for Riyadh to deliver him into U.S. hands.”
Recommended Additional Reading
Much has been written about the 28 pages since their release; here are a few of the more noteworthy pieces so far.
Earlier this month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh challenged nearly every essential aspect of the United States government’s account of how it tracked, killed and disposed of Osama bin Laden.
Key threads in Hersh’s account, if true, suggest enduring ties between Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda, and paint alleged White House lies about bin Laden’s demise as yet another part of a multifaceted U.S. effort to keep Saudi Arabia’s terror ties under wraps—an effort that, according to former Senator Bob Graham, depends heavily on the continued classification of a 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers.
A Challenge to the White House Story
In case you blinked and missed the media’s fleeting examination of Hersh’s 10,000-word piece for the London Review of Books, here are some of the most noteworthy claims Hersh attributes to confidential sources:
Bin Laden wasn’t hiding from Pakistani authorities—he’d been captured by them and secured at the Abbottabad compound under house arrest.
Bin Laden’s location in Abbottabad wasn’t uncovered by the CIA’s savvy tracking of an al Qaeda courier or aided by the torture of captives—it was handed to the CIA by a Pakistani informer keen on securing a $25 million reward.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia financed bin Laden’s Abbottabad accommodations.
The raid to kill bin Laden was conducted with the acquiescence of the Pakistani army and intelligence service.
Pakistani guards had been instructed to flee the compound upon hearing the sound of approaching helicopters—and an unarmed bin Laden was simply exterminated by Navy SEALs who entered the structure unopposed.
Bin Laden wasn’t buried at sea; his body was thrown from a helicopter flying over the Hindu Kush mountains.
To hide Pakistan’s role, the original arrangement called for the U.S. government to wait about a week after bin Laden’s murder and then announce he’d been killed in a drone strike. The crash of a helicopter used in the raid prompted the Obama administration to hastily craft a different set of lies for public digestion.
Delving Deeper into the Alleged Saudi Connection
For those seeking the declassification of a 28-page passage on foreign government ties to the 9/11 hijackers, the claim that Saudi support of bin Laden lasted years after 9/11 is of particular interest, as it complements an assertion by Senator Graham that the 28 pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the September 11 attacks.
Consider this passage from Hersh’s piece:
A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired (senior U.S. intelligence) official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it.
Hersh’s intelligence source also pointedly counters the White House’s assertion that Seal Team Six aimed to take bin Laden alive: “It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.” According to Hersh, Pakistan had made bin Laden’s death a condition for its easing the path for the Seal team’s assault.
However, given the U.S. intelligence community’s claims about its prowess in extracting valuable intelligence from captives—and the government’s portrayal of bin Laden as having continued to play a vital role in al Qaeda well after 9/11—one would expect the White House to place an extraordinarily high priority on capturing him alive. Holding extraordinary leverage over the Pakistanis, such a demand should have been dismissed out of hand.
It’s speculative, but did the U.S. government have its own reasons for silencing bin Laden—perhaps to shield Saudi Arabia’s ties to the al Qaeda leader? Earlier this year, it was revealed that “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui testified—in lawsuits filed against Saudi Arabia by 9/11 family members, victims and insurers—that the Saudi royal family had financed al Qaeda. Did the American government want to prevent bin Laden from emerging as a far more credible star witness against the Saudis?
If so, such a “dead men tell no tales” rationale for bin Laden’s execution would be consistent with a striking statement Senator Graham made earlier this year:
“While the 28 pages are maybe the most important and the most prominent, they are by no means the only example of where information that is important to understanding the full extent of 9/11 havealso been withheld from the American people.
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.”
Controversy Over the Hersh Story
Hersh’s story immediately came under fire from the White House and others inside and outside of government. Some of the criticism focused on the fact that Hersh’s sources are confidential—an avenue of attack that seems rather blunt given the widespread use of confidential sources in national security reporting and the Obama administration’s record-breaking prosecutions of whistleblowers.
On the other hand, other writers support many of the most important claims in the Hersh piece. For example, just days after the 2011 raid, Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer, wrote about the Pakistani informer, Pakistan’s house arrest of Bin Laden and the Saudi maintenance payments.
Responding to Hersh’s work, veteran Pakistan and Afghanistan reporter Carlotta Gall wrote a piece in The New York Times in which she said “the story of the Pakistani informer was circulating in the rumor mill within days of the Abbottabad raid,” and added, “two years later…I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding Bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset.”
28Pages.org cannot validate Hersh’s reporting. However, given his credentials and other outlets reinforcing key parts of his story, we think his account at least merits consideration by the public and further investigation by other journalists.
Of course, there’s one aspect of 9/11 that’s incontrovertible: There exists a 28-page finding on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers that’s being hidden from the American people—28 pages that have been called “shocking” by legislators who’ve read them. And it’s time for those pages to be published for all the world to see.