Bush Administration Official: Saudi Ties to 9/11 Hidden to Protect Iraq War Narrative

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, Says Saudi Leads Never Thoroughly Investigated

By Brian P. McGlinchey

George Bush Sep 20 2001In his September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, President George W. Bush laid out a defining principle of his nascent war on terror: “We will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Even as he spoke those words, however, his administration had already embarked on a course that would mark them as a towering example of U.S. foreign policy hypocrisy. The Bush White House would soon present false claims linking 9/11 to Iraq, while simultaneously hiding credible evidence implicating Saudi Arabia—evidence summarized in the final, 28-page chapter of a 2002 joint congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11.

Bush demanded the 28 pages be kept from the American public, and it’s increasingly clear why: As former State Department official Lawrence Wilkerson tells 28Pages.org, to a White House bent on selling an invasion of Iraq, compelling evidence of Saudi complicity in the attacks was an unwelcome distraction.

“You Talked About It At Your Peril”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

“They wanted to go to war with Iraq. Anything that supported al Qaeda connections with Baghdad, therefore, was good. Saudi Arabia just confused things so keep that out of it,” says Wilkerson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “That wasn’t so much an effort to protect the Saudis, I don’t think, as it was an effort to justify the war with Iraq.”

The chilling effect on discussion of Saudi government links to 9/11 wasn’t confined to public statements—Wilkerson says the topic was taboo even within the Bush administration.

“It was verboten. It really was. You talked about it at your peril. You understood that the White House was going to close down anything associated with that sort of talk, so to what avail were you going to do it. I think one of the byproducts of (Vice President Dick) Cheney’s unprecedented eleven visits to CIA was to impress upon the most prominent of the intelligence agencies—and of course the Director of Central Intelligence himself—that you don’t want to go there,” says Wilkerson.

Cheney with King Abdullah in 2005
Cheney with King Abdullah in 2005

In other words, Saudi Arabia’s absence from the official 9/11 narrative was deliberate: “It wasn’t just passivity, it was action to prevent that from becoming a message,” he says.

To Wilkerson, the 28 pages—which detail direct and indirect links from the hijackers and other al Qaeda members to various Saudi government employees and even the Saudi ambassador to the United States—point to at least some degree of Saudi government attachment to the 9/11 attack.

All of these people probably were agents of Saudi intelligence in addition to being the sort of suspicious characters, or more than just suspicious characters, associated with al Qaeda. If they were working for Saudi intelligence, don’t tell me the government or some institutional aspect of the government didn’t know about it,” says Wilkerson, who retired from the Army as a colonel before serving in the State Department.

Real Intelligence Suppressed, Phony Intelligence Elevated

Regardless of how strong the evidence pointing toward Saudi Arabia, Wilkerson says Cheney effectively dampened discussion of it—even within the intelligence community that was charged with rooting out those who enabled 9/11.

“My first meeting with (CIA director) George Tenet out at Langley when we were getting ready to get going on Powell’s presentation to the United Nations reinforced that in spades, by simply having John Hannah from the vice president’s office start everything off with his clipboard that was jam-packed with ‘Scooter Libby’s smorgasbord,’ as John called it, from which we could pick and choose as we wanted—except his saying there’s nothing in here about Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia will not be discussed,” says Wilkerson. (Libby was Cheney’s chief of staff.)

As they prepared that pivotal address, Wilkerson says he and Powell were under constant pressure to include claims that al Qaeda was linked to the Iraqi government.

Tenet Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Tenet Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

“You couldn’t kill it. We tried. We put a stake in that ten times, and it kept raising its head. The vice president would not turn it loose,” says Wilkerson. “That’s part of why they tortured people to try to and get more information on the connections between al Qaeda and Baghdad. It’s part of why they shifted their interrogation focus away from another attack on the United States to connections between al Qaeda and Baghdad—and anything that reinforced that, anything that made their case for war more ‘legitimate’ and more acceptable to the American people, they wanted.”

Days before the UN speech, Powell’s agitation over being pressured to include dubious information in the speech boiled over, said Wilkerson, and the two agreed to remove any content linking al Qaeda to Iraq.

The decision would be reversed in short order. As Wilkerson related to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern for a piece at Consortium News, “Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] director’s conference room: a high-level al Qaeda detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between al Qaeda and Baghdad, including Iraqis training al Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.”

The DIA Disbelieved al-Libi's Claim About Iraq---A Year Before the Tenet Urged its Inclusion in UN Brief
DIA Memo Disputes al-Libi Claim About Iraq—A Year Before Tenet Urged Its Inclusion in UN Brief

Powell ordered it to be added to the presentation. Later, well after Powell had presented it to the United Nations assembly and the world, the two would learn the claim was extracted a year earlier from detainee Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi via torture at the hands of the Egyptians, and that the Defense Intelligence Agency gave it little credibility.

Al-Libi recanted the statement and died in a Libyan prison in 2009 of a reported suicide, but the tortured “evidence” had already served its terrible purpose: A September 2003 poll found that 69% of Americans felt it was likely Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attack.

Wilkerson has been an outspoken critic of U.S. torture of detainees; reflecting on the idea of torture to extract false intelligence, he described it as “even more heinous. It was not the lesser evil to prevent the greater evil, it was the lesser evil to enable the greater evil, because Iraq was the most catastrophic strategic decision in the post-World War II era, and that is a real powerful statement, because Vietnam was that before Iraq.”

“Vietnam in some sense is understandable as a theater in the Cold War that was badly misinterpreted,” he continues. “Iraq simply has no way of being understood. You have to lie, cheat and steal, as the neoconservatives are constantly doing, to explain Iraq. Iraq unleashed al Qaeda in Iraq. It unleashed ISIS. It unleashed everything that is happening that is destabilizing right now in western Asia.”

Hawijah Iraq After U.S. Coalition Airstrike in 2015
Hawijah, Iraq After U.S. Coalition Airstrike in 2015

Wilkerson relates a recent encounter that drives home the impact of the 2003 Iraq invasion: “A Jordanian prince said to me recently, ‘Go back to your country and tell your old boss—I know him well—that there is an Iraqi or Syrian family in every single Jordanian household, including the royal household. Go back and tell him that that is massively destabilizing and you are responsible.'”

Saudi Leads Never Pursued

There are, of course, two sides to the coin of post-9/11 Bush-Cheney duplicity: At the same time the administration falsely implied an Iraqi link to the attacks, it suppressed the broad evidence of Saudi connections detailed in the 28 pages.

Seeking to discredit those pages, the U.S. and Saudi governments and 9/11 Commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Tom Keane have claimed the commission thoroughly investigated the various circumstances in the 28 pages before concluding that—in the words of the its final report—it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

Wilkerson isn’t buying it.

“It’s utter hogwash with regard to the entire set of circumstances surrounding 9/11 in my view,” says Wilkerson. “As far as I know, there never was an official investigation of so many of the things that are intimated in there, not least of which is a really hard look by the intelligence community at the ultimate question of (Saudi) government knowledge, government direction, even government strategy associated with the Salafist movement in general but, more specifically, organizations like al Qaeda.”

Philip Zelikow
Philip Zelikow

Wilkerson says the 9/11 Commission’s avoidance of troubling conclusions about Saudi Arabia was pre-ordained with the selection of Philip Zelikow as its executive director. Zelikow had previously co-authored a book with Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, served on the Bush transition team and had even written an articulation of Bush’s preemptive war doctrine that was issued in 2002 under the president’s signature.

“It was clear to me from the very beginning that he was there as a control agent. I didn’t know how definitively he would control the process until later,” says Wilkerson.

“He was tuned into the administration. He was tuned into what the administration wanted and he made sure that people who would pontificate later that they were totally independent, like Lee Hamilton and others, were in fact following the script. That’s understandable from a political point of view, but from an accountability point of view and even more so from a national security point of view, it’s damnable,” he says.

“You watch these things happen, and you understand why they’re happening from the perspective of the institutions with which you’re involved, the government with which you’re involved, but you never dream the extent to which these things will go in the long run and how much history, such as it is, depends upon their efforts and often times is distorted by their efforts.”

Brian McGlinchey is the founder and director of 28Pages.org

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9/11 Commission’s Lehman Criticizes Statements by Kean, Hamilton

Tom Kean
Tom Kean

In an important development in the drive for greater 9/11 transparency, John Lehman, the former U.S. Navy secretary who served on the 9/11 Commission, has criticized recent statements by commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. The two had cast doubt on the reliability of 28 classified pages from a congressional intelligence inquiry and also said their commission had only identified one Saudi official as being implicated in aiding the hijackers.

Lehman’s statements appeared in a piece for The Guardian written by Philip Shenon, author of The Commission—the most exhaustive and revealing account of the 9/11 Commission’s work. Shenon wrote:

In the interview Wednesday, Lehman said Kean and Hamilton’s statement that only one Saudi goverment employee was “implicated” in supporting the hijackers in California and elsewhere was “a game of semantics” and that the commission had been aware of at least five Saudi government officials who were strongly suspected of involvement in the terrorists’ support network.

“They may not have been indicted, but they were certainly implicated,” he said. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence.”

Lehman wasn’t the only commission member who spoke out via Shenon:

Another panel member, speaking of condition of anonymity for fear of offending the other nine, said the 28 pages should be released even though they could damage the commission’s legacy—“fairly or unfairly”—by suggesting lines of investigation involving the Saudi government that were pursued by Congress but never adequately explored by the commission.

“I think we were tough on the Saudis, but obviously not tough enough,” the commissioner said.

Shenon also reviews several indications that the commission’s pursuit of Saudi leads may have been thwarted—with specific references to the actions of commission executive director Philip Zelikow.

It’s a must-read; rather than fully summarizing it, we’ll instead urge you to read it all, and to also read our recent piece that makes the case that recent statements by Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow about the 28 pages are likely intended to guard their reputations against a truth that’s becoming more evident each day: The 9/11 Commission failed to vigorously examine potential Saudi ties to 9/11.

In other news today:

  • Three more members of Congress have cosponsored House Resolution 14, which urges the president to declassify the 28 pages: Brad Sherman (D, CA-30), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Jackie Speier (CA-14). This new trio from the president’s own party brings the total to 52.
  • A story by Shane Harris at The Daily Beast dives deep into the mystery of the wealthy Saudi family that abrubtly left their Sarasota home just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks—but, according to some, not before having contacts with hijackers, including Mohammed Atta.
  • At Salon, Marcy Wheeler offers a new perspective on the NSA’s failures in the weeks leading up to 9/11, and the positively disturbing extent to which relationships with large government contractors influenced decisions and the drive for accountability.

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On 28 Pages, CIA’s Brennan Has Flawed Premise, Ulterior Motives

By Brian P. McGlinchey

John Brennan
CIA Director John Brennan

Echoing recent statements by the co-chairmen and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, CIA director John Brennan today used an appearance on Meet the Press to cast doubt on the contents of 28 classified pages from a joint congressional intelligence inquiry that are said to link Saudi Arabia to the attacks.

Claiming that he is “quite puzzled” by former Senator Bob Graham and others who have read the 28 pages and are campaigning for their declassification, Brennan described the final chapter of the 2002 inquiry’s report as containing “uncorroborated, unvetted information” and “basically just a collation of information that came out of FBI files.”

In his own Meet the Press appearance last week, Graham countered the notion that the 28 pages are a grab-bag of unsubstantiated leads, pointing to the fact that the 28 pages are just one part of a report spanning nearly 850 pages. “There’s been no questions raised about the professionalism and quality of the other 820 pages of that report and this chapter followed the same standards that they did,” said Graham.

Brennan’s Critical Yet Flawed Premise

911 Report CvrMuch as 9/11 co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and executive director Philip Zelikow have done in recent days, Brennan portrayed the 28 pages as obsolete: “The 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry, and those 28 pages or so, and followed through on the investigation. And they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution, or Saudi officials individually, had provided financial support to Al Qaeda.”

Brennan’s discrediting of the 28 pages relies on a key underlying premise: that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated the indications of Saudi support found in the 28 pages. However, as we described in detail on Thursday, there’s a compelling case that the commission failed to do so, thanks to obstructionism by the George W. Bush administration, the commission’s lackluster efforts to overcome it and the possibility that executive director Zelikow deliberately aided the White House in curtailing investigation of Saudi connections.

Meanwhile, a recently declassified document revealed that two 9/11 Commission investigators assigned to examine the kingdom’s links to the hijackers were so wary of political influence on their work that they actually recommended making a probe of that phenomenon a key facet of their investigation.

Document 17 Two Questions
Excerpt from Declassified 9/11 Commission Document

Brennan also pointed to the separate 9/11 Review Commission as having reinforced the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission: Note that undertaking was managed by the FBI—which has its own demonstrated record of concealing information that might implicate Saudi Arabia.

Ulterior Motives

Efforts by Brennan, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow to discredit the 28 pages should be viewed in light of their possible motives. For the 9/11 Commission leaders, those motives may be deeply personal: To the extent the 28 pages counter the commission’s verdict on Saudi links, they pose a very real threat to their professional reputations.

The CIA director’s potential motives are likely more far-reaching; we’ll examine three of them.

Brennan with Saudi King Abdullah
Brennan with Saudi King Abdullah in 2009

First, there’s the long and bipartisan tendency of the U.S. government to preserve U.S.-Saudi relations at all costs. That tendency is cultivated by Saudi Arabia’s enormous public relations and lobbying efforts in the United States, which includes financial ties to many of the think tanks that shape the opinions of government officials, journalists and the public. On Meet the Press, Brennan himself boasted, “I have very close relations with my Saudi counterparts.”

Second, there’s the possibility that the revelation of the 28 pages could strike an enormous blow against the entire narrative of the U.S.-led “war on terror,” in which Brennan’s bureaucracy plays a central role.

In the wake of 9/11, the United States and its partners have lashed out militarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. Graham, however, says the 28 pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as the principal financier” of the attacks, and Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan, who has read the 28 pages, recently said, “They confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong.”

Finally, the 28 pages may reveal embarrassing details about the CIA’s conduct before the 9/11 attacks. Many of the Saudi-9/11 connections detailed elsewhere in the joint inquiry revolve around San Diego-based hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, so it’s reasonable to think the chapter on financial support focuses on them as well.

In January 2000, the CIA learned that al-Midhar, who had already been linked to two 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, had obtained a multi-entry visa permitting him to freely travel to and from the United States. When two FBI agents assigned to the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit tried to alert their headquarters, the CIA stopped them.

Mark Rossini
Mark Rossini

One of those agents, Mark Rossini has a theory for the CIA’s catastrophic silencing of himself and agent Doug Miller: He believes the CIA was attempting to turn al-Midhar into a CIA asset. If conducted on U.S. soil, that action would have been unlawful, Rossini says. Former White House counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke shares Rossini’s theory.

Awaiting Media Scrutiny of Brennan’s Motives

Thus far, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow’s assault on the credibility of the 28 pages has been reported by journalists and echoed in editorials without any scrutiny of their potential motives. Let’s hope that one-dimensional approach subsides in the wake of Brennan’s own salvo against the 28 pages, and that his remarks are weighed against those of many others who’ve read them.

Said one unnamed government official: “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.”

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9/11 Commission Leaders Circle Wagons Around Their Legacy

By Brian P. McGlinchey

Tom Kean
9/11 Commission Co-Chair Tom Kean

With the campaign to declassify 28 pages from a congressional inquiry moving ever closer to its goal, the chairmen and executive director of the 9/11 Commission are doing their best to discount the significance of the pages, which are said to illustrate damning ties between Saudi Arabia and 9/11.

In interviews, a formal statement and an op-ed piece, the three have cast doubt on the contents of the final, 28-page chapter of a 2002 congressional report.

Their aspersions can be reduced to two propositions:

  • Comparable to “preliminary police notes,” the 28 pages are a collection of “raw, unvetted material,” and were rendered obsolete after the 9/11 Commission fully investigated those and other leads and issued its own final conclusions.
  • Releasing the 28 pages in full could cast a shadow of guilt on individuals who, via the 9/11 Commission’s investigation, were later deemed innocent.

As citizens and journalists weigh the commentary of commission chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and executive director Philip Zelikow, they should consider the possibility that members of the Saudi royal family aren’t the only ones whose reputations may be harmed by the release of the pages: To the extent that the release of the 28 pages undermines the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow may have an interest in minimizing their significance. 

Before we proceed, note the 28 pages are not in the 9/11 Commission Report—they’re in the report of a joint congressional intelligence inquiry that preceded the commission.

Conflicting Justifications for Secrecy

There’s a glaring disconnect between the rationale for the redaction of the 28 pages advanced by Zelikow, Kean and Hamilton and the one offered by President George W. Bush when he classified them. While the three commission leaders argue that secrecy was warranted because the material was unvetted and hence unreliable, Bush said classification was necessary to protect intelligence “sources and methods.”

Republican Porter Goss, who co-chaired the joint inquiry and supports the release of the pages, likewise struck national security chords in 2003 as he tried to put the best face on Bush’s decision, saying nothing to question the reliability of the information that was concealed.

Speaking broadly of the need to keep some information in the 838-page report secret, Goss said, “You have to remember we are at war and there are some actionable items still being pursued by the appropriate authorities.” Then, apparently referring to the 28 pages, he said, “You’ll find there’s a couple of blank pages…as soon as the actions that are necessary to deal with those issues are completed, those pages will be filled out.” Not revised, corrected or repudiated after vetting. “Filled out” after action is taken.

Former Sen. Bob Graham
Bob Graham

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the joint inquiry, flatly refuted the idea that the 28 pages are raw, unvetted material.

Asked if it’s correct to compare the 28 pages to leads in an initial police report, Graham replied, “No. This report was 850 pages. This is 28 pages out of that. There’s been no questions raised about the professionalism and quality of the other 820 pages of that report and this chapter followed the same standards that they did.”

Serious Doubts About Thoroughness of Commission

In their Friday statement, Kean and Hamilton remind us that the commission—as controversially stated on page 171 of its report—“found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

That assertion raises a question that goes to the heart of the 28 pages controversy, a question that could threaten the reputations of Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow: Just how thoroughly did the 9/11 Commission pursue leads both inside and outside the 28 pages that point toward Riyadh?  

Philip Zelikow
Philip Zelikow

Though it may come as a surprise to journalists who are reporting the trio’s criticism of the 28 pages without scrutinizing much less acknowledging their potential conflicts of interest, there are many reasons to doubt that the probe of Saudi links was pursued with the vigor that 9/11 victims and the American people deserved.

That doubt specifically springs from Hamilton and Kean’s lack of investigative assertiveness in the face of Bush administration obstructionism, and the manner in which executive director Zelikow ran the inquiry.

  • Commission member and former senator Bob Kerrey, in a statement submitted in the 9/11 victims’ suit against Saudi Arabia, said “evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
  • As Philip Shenon recounted in The Commission, 9/11 commission member and former Navy secretary John 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. ‘They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia,’ Lehman said. ‘Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.'”
  • Kean and Hamilton, against advice from commission member and former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, ruled out the routine use of subpoenas to compel full cooperation by various parts of the government, including the White House.
  • Bush had a close personal relationship with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Investigators learned Bandar’s wife wrote checks worth tens of thousands of dollars that eventually found their way to the wife of Omar al-Bayoumi, who is widely suspected of being a Saudi government operative. Bayoumi helped two future 9/11 hijackers find lodging and provided ongoing assistance to them. (With an admitted air of speculation, note that Lehman told 60 Minutes the 28 pages not only named names, but that “the average intelligent viewer of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”)
  • The commission bent to the White House’s controversial demands that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney only be interviewed by a limited number of commission members, in private at the White House, with no recording or transcription of the conversation. Kean and Hamilton also conceded to the extraordinary White House stipulation that Bush and Cheney were to be interviewed simultaneously, as a team.
  • Commission member Slade Gorton said the questioners, apparently mesmerized by the Oval Office environment, went easy on Bush and Cheney: “Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when they went in.” Lehman asked Bush about the money transfers from Bandar’s wife to the wife of the alleged hijacker-handler in San Diego. “He dodged the questions,” said Lehman.
  • Zelikow had close ties to the Bush administration: He co-authored a book with Condoleezza Rice, worked on the transition team and commission staffers were alarmed to learn, against policy, he had ongoing contacts with Bush political advisor Karl Rove during the investigation. The first public witness Zelikow called was an individual with no special expertise on 9/11 who used the opportunity to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq that had commenced the week before.
  • Mike Jacobson and Dana Lesemann wrote the 28 pages for the congressional inquiry and also worked for the commission. When they set out to further their investigation of Saudi links, they compiled a list of 20 individuals they wanted to interview. Zelikow declared 20 was too many, and directed them to pick just 10, going against basic investigative principles that suggest casting as wide an initial net as possible.
  • After repeatedly asking Zelikow for access to the 28 pages without effect, Lesemann, fed up, went around him to gain access on her own; when Zelikow found out, he fired her.
  • With the commission’s final report nearly complete, Jacobsen was alarmed by a midnight call tipping him off that Zelikow and commission investigator Dieter Snell were rewriting findings that dealt with Saudi Arabia. As Shenon wrote, they removed “virtually all of the most serious allegations against the Saudis” and shifted important information into the footnotes. Members of the investigative team felt the excessive standard of proof demanded by Snell would effectively exonerate the guilty.
  • Rep. Walter Jones read the 28 pages and is championing their release. Asked last week if the government derailed the investigation to protect Bandar and other VIPs, Jones said, “Things that should have been done at the time were not done. I’m trying to give you an answer without being too explicit.”

New Indications of Political Influence on Saudi Investigation

Last week, 28Pages.org broke news by drawing to public notice a recently declassified 9/11 Commission document. While its revelation of a mysterious Saudi embassy envelope made headlines around the world, another revelation has thus far flown largely under the media radar: Jacobson and Lesemann, at the outset of their commission work, questioned the aggressiveness of the investigation of links between the 9/11 attacks and the Saudi Arabia, and wanted to probe the extent to which “political, economic and other influences” had affected that line of inquiry.

Document 17 Two Questions

As we wrote last week:

Organizationally set apart from dozens of other questions as among the more important, overarching lines of inquiry for their particular avenue of the commission’s work, the significance of the questions’ presence in Document 17 is amplified by the absence of corresponding answers in the commission’s final report.

At some point—perhaps after Lesemann’s determined interest in Saudi links to 9/11 led to her dismissal—someone apparently determined a public study of those critical questions was beyond the scope of work.

Between facts old and new, there seems ample reason to place an asterisk after the 9/11 Commission’s declaration that it found no links between the Saudi government and the al Qaeda hijackers. With an eye on the commission’s dubious investigatory approach and stark indications of political influence and White House obstruction, informed citizens and journalists want to know: Just how hard did the commission really look?

As Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow continue their campaign against the credibility of the 28 pages, the world awaits the journalist who will ask them that.

Our gratitude to 9/11 justice advocate Jon Gold for his collections of many facts cited above

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28Pages.org Exclusive: A Buried Envelope and Buried Questions: Your First Look Inside Declassified Document 17

EXCLUSIVE- A Buried Envelope & Buried Questions: Your First Look Inside Declassified Document 17

9/11 Commission Work Plan Reveals FBI Found al Qaeda Member’s U.S. Pilot Certificate Inside Envelope of Saudi Embassy in D.C.

Investigators Sought to Probe Possible Political Influence on Examination of Saudi Government, Royal Family Links to 9/11

By Brian P. McGlinchey 

As President Obama prepares to visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, his administration is under increasing pressure to declassify 28 pages that, according to many who’ve read them, illustrate financial links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers.

Meanwhile, a far lesser-known document from the files of the 9/11 Commission—written by the same principal authors as the 28 pages and declassified last summer without publicity and without media analysis—indicates investigators proposed exploring to what extent “political, economic and other considerations” affected U.S. government investigations of links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11.

Tour of Al Janadriyah RanchDrafted by Dana Lesemann and Michael Jacobson as a set of work plans for their specific parts of the 9/11 Commission investigation, the 47-page document also provides an overview of individuals of most interest to investigators pursuing a Saudi connection to the 2001 attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Included in that overview is a previously unpublicized declaration that, after the capture of alleged al-Qaeda operative Ghassan al-Sharbi in Pakistan, the FBI discovered a cache of documents he had buried nearby. Among them: al-Sharbi’s U.S. pilot certificate inside an envelope of the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.

Declassified in July 2015 under the authority of the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) pursuant to a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) appeal, the document is the seventeenth of 29 released under ISCAP appeal 2012-48, which focuses on FBI files related to 9/11. One of two documents in the series identified as “Saudi Notes,” we’ll refer to it as “Document 17.”

Dated June 6, 2003, Document 17 was written by Lesemann and Jacobson in their capacity as staff investigators for the 9/11 Commission, and was addressed to 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Deputy Executive Director Chris Kojm and General Counsel Dan Marcus.

Commission Investigators Posed Two Questions That Linger Today

Lesemann and Jacobson had previously worked together on the 2002 joint congressional 9/11 intelligence inquiry and authored the classified, 28-page chapter on foreign government financing of the attacks. Document 17 outlines how the two investigators proposed to extend their earlier research. The plans include many questions Lesemann and Jacobson felt the investigation should answer.

Two of those questions seem strikingly relevant today, as a declassification review of just 28 pages said to implicate Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks has inexplicably taken three times as long as the entire joint inquiry that produced them, and while a growing number of current and former officials who are familiar with the pages emphatically assert there’s no national security risk in their release.

Lesemann and Jacobson, already veterans of investigating 9/11 with the congressional inquiry, asked:

Document 17 Two Questions

They are two questions Lesemann wouldn’t be permitted to answer: Zelikow fired her first. Her termination had an apparent Saudi aspect of its own: Impatient with Zelikow’s neglect of her repeated requests for access to the 28 pages, she circumvented him to gain access on her own. When Zelikow discovered it, he promptly dismissed her.

9/11 Executive Director Philip Zelikow
Philip Zelikow

Organizationally set apart from dozens of other questions as among the more important, overarching lines of inquiry for their particular avenue of the commission’s work, the significance of the questions’ presence in Document 17 is amplified by the absence of corresponding answers in the commission’s final report.

At some point—perhaps after Lesemann’s determined interest in Saudi links to 9/11 led to her dismissal—someone apparently determined a public study of those questions was beyond the scope of work.

Zelikow’s appointment over the commission was controversial, given his previous friendship with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and the fact he’d served on the Bush administration’s transition team. That history and, once appointed, his ongoing contacts with Bush political advisor Karl Rove, led some to question whether he was willing or able to achieve the high level of impartiality so essential to his role.

The Bush administration’s lack of cooperation with Saudi-related 9/11 inquiries is well-documented. According to Philip Shenon’s book, The Commission:

(Commission member and former Secretary of the Navy John) 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. “They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia,” Lehman said. “Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.” He raised the Saudi issue repeatedly with Andy Card. “I used to go over to see Andy, and I met with Rumsfeld three or four times, mainly to say, ‘What are you guys doing? This stonewalling is so counterproductive.”

The Bush family has a multi-generational relationship with the Saudi royal family, with ties that are both deeply personal and deeply financial. Prince Bandar bin Sultan was the Saudi ambassador to the United States on 9/11, and is considered a personal friend of George W. Bush.

With many investigatory leads pointing toward the Saudi embassy in Washington, some feel Bandar merits thorough investigation—or that he may even be directly implicated in the 28 pages that Bush controversially redacted.

Saturday, appearing on Michael Smerconish’s CNN program to discuss a Saudi threat to divest itself of some $750 billion in U.S. Treasury securities if Congress passes a law clearing a path for 9/11 victims’ lawsuit against the kingdom, former Senator Bob Graham said, “I believe that there is material in the 28 pages and the volume of other documents that would indicate that there was a connection at the highest levels between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 19 hijackers.”

A Redacted Question from Document 17
A Redacted Question from Document 17

Asked by 60 Minutes if the 28 pages name names, commission member Lehman replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

(If you watched the impactful prime time 60 Minutes segment on the 28 pages that aired last week and don’t remember Lehman’s intriguing statement, it’s because 60 Minutes oddly relegated perhaps their most newsworthy quote of all to this web extra.) There are many more examples of the U.S. government’s thwarting of Saudi-related inquiries, both outside and inside the work of the 9/11 Commission.

A Buried Flight Certificate

The FBI’s 2002 discovery of a U.S. pilot certificate or “flight certificate” inside a Saudi embassy envelope was news to Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional inquiry that produced the 28 pages. 

Al-Sharbi Excerpt Document 17

“That’s very interesting. That’s a very intriguing and close connection to the Saudi embassy,” said Graham, who has been championing the declassification of the 28 pages and a perhaps hundreds of thousands of pages of other documents since 2003.  

Since people often re-use envelopes and citizens of any country may have legitimate reasons for correspondence with the embassies of their government in foreign countries they live in, the Saudi embassy envelope isn’t by itself conclusive of anything. 28Pages.org couldn’t find any other history of the FBI’s find or of the government’s evaluation of its significance.

GitmoAl-Sharbi is one of 80 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay. His public record includes his graduation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, reported association with other al-Qaeda members and alleged attendance at training camps in Afghanistan.

He is also among the individuals identified in FBI agent Kenneth Williams’ July 2001 electronic communication, sometimes called the “Phoenix EC” or “Phoenix Memo.” With it, Williams attempted—unsuccessfully—to alert the rest of the bureau about suspicions that Middle Eastern extremists were attending flight schools with ill intent, and to recommend a nationwide investigation of the phenomenon.

While those aspects of al-Sharbi’s story have been widely discussed, the FBI’s reported discovery of his flight certificate inside a Saudi embassy envelope buried in Pakistan has not.

Additional Excerpts from Document 17

The al-Sharbi paragraph excerpted above is in a section titled, “A Brief Overview of Possible Saudi Government Connections to the September 11th Attacks.” Comprising a list of individuals of interest to the investigators, it begins with names central to the well-reported San Diego cell, including future hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, purported Saudi government operative Omar al-Bayoumi, Saudi diplomat Fahad al-Thumairy and Osama Bassnan, a former employee at a Saudi mission in Washington, D.C. who received “considerable funding from Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa, supposedly for his wife’s medical treatments.”

Here, we directly excerpt many entries from the list, with an emphasis on those that are more suggestive of a link to the Saudi government. Much of the information is already well-known.

It’s important to note that any given association described in these documents may well be benign, that witness statements aren’t always accurate, and that a previous government assertion of a fact may have already proved or may yet be proved wrong.

Omar Al-Bayoumi: Al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national, provided September 11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar with considerable assistance after the hijackers arrived in San Diego in February 2000. He helped them locate an apartment, co-signed their lease, and ordered Mohdhar Abdullah (discussed below) to provide them with whatever assistance they needed in acclimating to the United States. The FBI now believes that in January 2000 al-Bayoumi met with Fahad al-Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat and cleric, at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles before going to the restaurant where he met the hijackers and engaged them in conversation. Whether or not al-Bayoumi ‘s meeting with the hijackers was accidental or arranged is still the subject of debate. During his conversation with the hijackers, Al-Bayoumi invited them to move to San Diego, which they did shortly thereafter. Al-Bayoumi has extensive ties to the Saudi Government and many in the local Muslim community in San Diego believed that he was a Saudi intelligence officer. The FBI believes it is possible that he was an agent of the Saudi Government and that he may have been reporting on the local community to Saudi Government officials. In addition, during its investigation, the FBI discovered that al-Bayoumi has ties to terrorist elements as well.

Osama Bassnan: Bassnan was a very close associate of al-Bayoumi’s, and was in frequent contact with him while the hijackers were in San Diego. Bassnan, a vocal supporter of Usama Bin Ladin, admitted to an FBI asset that he met al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar while the hijackers were in San Diego, but denied this in a later conversation. There is some circumstantial evidence that he may have had closer ties to the hijackers, but the FBI has been unable to corroborate this additional reporting. Bassnan received considerable funding from Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa, supposedly for his wife’s medical treatments. According to FBI documents, Bassnan is a former employee of the Saudi Government’s Educational Mission in Washington, D.C.

Fahad Al-Thumairy: Until recently al-Thumairy was an accredited Saudi diplomat and imam at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, California. The news media reported that the U.S. Government revoked al-Thumairy’s visa in May 2003 ; the diplomat subsequently returned to Saudi Arabia. The FBI now believes that Omar al-Bayoumi met with al-Thumairy at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles before al-Bayoumi went to the restaurant where he met the hijackers. According to witness reporting, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were also taken to the King Fahad Mosque while they were in the United States.

Mohdhar Abdullah: Abdullah was tasked by Omar al-Bayoumi to provide al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with whatever assistance they needed while in San Diego. Abdullah, who became one of the hijackers’ closest associates in San Diego, translated for them, helped them open bank accounts, contacted flight schools for the hijackers, and helped them otherwise acclimate to life in the United States.

Osama Nooh and Lafi al-Harbi: Al-Harbi and Nooh are Saudi naval officers who were posted to San Diego while hijackers al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were living there. After the September 11th attacks, the FBI determined that al-Hazmi had telephonic contact with both Nooh and al-Harbi while al-Hazmi was in the United States.

Mohammed Quadir-Harunani: Quadir-Harunani has been the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation since 1999 and the FBI is currently investigating whether he had contact with the September 11th hijackers. In June 2000 a call was placed from Transcom International, a company owned by Quadir-Harunani, to a number subscribed to by Said Bahaji, one of the key members of the Hamburg cell. Quadir-Harunani is also a close associate of Usama bin Ladin’s half-brother, Abdullah Bin Ladin (discussed below), who was assigned to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C.-E87 2.

Abdullah Bin Ladin: Abdullah bin Ladin (ABL) is reportedly Usama bin Ladin’s half-brother. He is the President and Director of the World Arab Muslim Youth Association (WAMY) and the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Studies in America. Both organizations are local branches of nongovernmental organizations based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to the FBI, there is reason to believe that WAMY is “closely associated with the funding and financing of international terrorist activities and in the past has provided logistical support to individuals wishing to fight in the Afghan War.” ABL has been assigned to the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. as an administrative officer. He is a close associate of Mohammed Quadir Harunani’s and has provided funding for Transcom International.

Fahad Abdullah Saleh Bakala: According to an FBI document, Bakala was close friends with two of the September 11th hijackers. The document also notes that Bakala has worked as a pilot for the Saudi Royal Family, flying Usama Bin Ladin between Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia during UBL’s exile.

Hamad Alotaibi: Alotaibi was assigned to the Saudi Embassy Military Division in Washington, D.C. According to an eyewitness report, one of the September 11th hijackers may have visited Alotaibi at his residence; another FBI document notes that a second hijacker may have also visited this address.

Hamid Al-Rashid: Al-Rashid is an employee of the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority and was apparently responsible for approving the salary of Omar al-Bayoumi. Hamid al-Rashid is also the father of Saud al-Rashid, whose photo was found in a raid of an al-Qa’ida safehouse in Karachi and who has admitted to being in Afghanistan between May 2000 and May 2001.

Ghassan al-Sharbi: Al-Sharbi is a Saudi student who was taking flight lessons in the Phoenix area before the September 11 attacks and is mentioned in the “Phoenix EC.” The U.S. government captured al-Sharbi in the same location where Abu Zubaida was discovered in early 2002. After Al-Sharbi was captured, the FBI discovered that he had buried a cache of documents nearby, including an envelope from the Saudi embassy in Washington that contained al-Sharbi’s flight certificate.

Saleh Al-Hussayen: According to FBI documents, Saleh Al-Hussayen is a Saudi Interior Ministry employee/official and may also be a prominent Saudi cleric. According to one news article, Saleh Al-Hussayen is the Chief Administrator of the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina. An FBI affidavit notes that Saleh Al-Hussayen stayed in the same hotel as three of the hijackers on September 10, 2001. He told the FBI that he did not know the hijackers . The FBI agents interviewing him, however, believed he was being deceptive. The interview was terminated when al-Hussayen either passed out or feigned a seizure and was taken to the hospital; he then departed the country before the FBI could reinterview him. Saleh Al-Hussayen is ‘also the uncle of Sami Al -Hussayen (discussed below).

Mohammed Fakihi: Fakihi is a Saudi diplomat. Until recently he was assigned to the Islamic Affairs Section of the Saudi Embassy in Berlin, Germany. Soon after the September 11th attacks, German authorities searched SECRET 3 SECRET 10 the apartment of Munir Motassadeq, an associate of the hijackers in Hamburg , and found Fakihi’s business card. According to press reports , the Saudis did not respond to German requests for information on Fakihi. More recently, German authorities discovered that Fakihi had contacts with other terrorists; Fakihi was subsequently recalled to Saudi Arabia.

Salah Bedaiwi: Bedaiwi is a Saudi Naval officer who was posted to a U .S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida. He visited the Middle Eastern Market in Miami, a location frequented by several of the hijackers, and was in contact with at least one of the hijackers’ possible associates. The FBI has been investigating these connections, as well as his ties to other terrorist elements.

Mohammed Al-Qudhaeein and Hamdan Al-Shalawi: Al-Qudhaeein and Al-Shalawi were both Saudi students living in the Phoenix area. Qudhaeein was receiving funding from the Saudi Government during his time in Phoenix. Qudhaeein and Al-Shalawi were involved in a 1999 incident aboard an America West flight that the FBI’s Phoenix Office now believes may have been a “dry run” for the September 11th attacks. Al-Qudhaeein and Al-Shalawi were traveling to Washington, D.C. to attend a party at the Saudi Embassy; the Saudi Embassy paid for their airfare. According to FBI documents, during the flight they engaged in suspicious behavior, including several attempts to gain access to the cockpit. The plane made an emergency landing in Ohio, but no charges were filed against either individual. The FBI subsequently received information in November 2000 that Al-Shalawi had been trained at the terrorist camps in Afghanistan to conduct Khobar Towertype attacks and the FBI has also developed information tying Al-Qudhaeein to terrorist elements as well.

Ali Hafiz Al-Marri and Maha Al-Marri: Ali Al-Marri was indicted for lying to the FBI about his contact with Mustafa Al-Hasawi, one of the September 11th financiers. Ali Al-Marri, who arrived in the United States shortly before the September 11th attacks, attempted to call Al-Hasawi a number of times from the United States. The FBI has recently received reporting that he may also have been an al:.Qa’ida “sleeper agent.” According to FBI documents, Ali Al-Marri has connections to the Saudi Royal Family. The Saudi Government provided financial support to his wife, Maha Al-Marri, after Ali Al-Marri was detained and assisted her in departing the United States before the FBI could interview her.

Brian McGlinchey is the founder and director of 28Pages.org and principal at Liberty Messaging. This analysis was first published on April 18 and was republished April 19 to update the title and URL. Media inquiries.

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