Documents on Saudi 9/11 Ties Will Fuel Conspiracy Theories for Years to Come
The 28 pages reveal suspicious but circumstantial evidence of links to hijackers
by MATTHEW GAULT
Nothing fuels conspiracy theories quite like the right information at the wrong time.
Congress published 28 pages long held back from the 9/11 Commission Report on Friday, and the documents raise more questions than they answer. The pages concern the alleged connections between the Saudi Arabia’s ruling family and Al Qaeda and what, if any, role Riyadh played in the attacks.
The Saudi connection to 9/11 has long been the purview of both the canny geopolitical observer and the shock-haired conspiracy theorist. For the families of the victims, the evidence is so compelling that they’re moving legislation through the federal government that would allow them to sue Riyadh.
Washington hopes releasing these pages will change all that.
“We hope with the release of these pages, the aspersions that have been cast against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the past 14 years will come to an end,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said in a statement after the release of the documents.
“We need to put an end to conspiracy theories and idle speculation that do nothing to shed light on the 9/11 attacks,” Senate Intelligence Committee members Sens. Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein said in a press release.
The Twitter account for Riyadh’s embassy in Washington D.C. turned the quote into a meme and tweeted it out.
Senate Intelligence Committee Decries Conspiracy Theories and Idle Speculationpic.twitter.com/aQZxRGiG5i
But the 28 pages and following press blitz from Riyadh will likely have the opposite effect. There is context and mitigating factors, yes, but few who read the nearly 30 long suppressed pages will come away thinking the Saudi royal family had no connection to 9/11, despite tweets to the contrary.
The 28 pages don’t paint a pleasant picture of the American intelligence community, either. According to the report, in the years leading up to the attack, the FBI and CIA never considered Saudi Arabia a threat. And why would they? The kingdom has been America’s steadfast ally since the end of World War II.
“Prior to September 11th, the FBI apparently did not focus investigate [redacted] Saudi nationals in the United States due to Saudi Arabia’s status as an American ‘ally,’” the report explained.
Which seems odd considering that “while in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government. There is information from FBI sources, that at least two of these individuals were alleged to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
The way the report reads, it appears the Joint Inquiry rifled through the FBI and CIA’s documents, uncovered several possible but circumstantial connections between the Saudi government and terrorism, then pointed the information out to a bewildered intelligence committee.
“It should be clear that this Joint Inquiry has made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency of the information regarding these issues that we found contained in the FBI and CIA documents,” the pages explained.
“On one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in [redacted] … ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi Government.’ On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.”
According to the FBI and CIA, they did go ahead and investigate the Saudi connection and found nothing.
2005 FBI-CIA Joint Investigation Declassified Today Debunks Allegations in 28 Pagespic.twitter.com/egMbpzw2vm
There is a lot of shady, spooky and interesting stuff in the 28 pages, but it’s important to understand their context. The information is almost 15 years old and comprises leads and unsubstantiated testimony and evidence. It’s quite possible that the U.S. intelligence community debunked all the weird claims once the Joint Inquiry brought it to their attention.
It’s also important to understand the nature of the Saudi royal family. The House of Saud is inexorably bound up with the Saudi government, and its members are unimaginably wealthy, but that doesn’t mean they walk in lockstep. There’s far too many of them.
Royal Saudis comprise as many as 15,000 people, with the actual power concentrated among a minority of about 2,000. Their opinions about their allies in the West run the gamut as well.
Again, according to the papers, the FBI and CIA were not looking at Riyadh until the inquiry brought it up. “Only recently, and at least in part due to the Joint Inquiry’s focus on this issue, did the FBI and CIA establish a working group to address the Saudi issue.”
So what are the leads in the pages? Let’s start with Omar Al Bayoumi. According to the pages, Bayoumi — a Saudi national — was living in Southern California when hijackers Nawaf Al Hazmi and Khalid Al Mihdhar arrived.
“[Bayoumi] met the hijackers at a public place shortly after his meeting with an individual at the Saudi consulate … During this same timeframe, [Bayoumi] had extensive contact with Saudi Government establishments in the United States and received financial support from a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.”
“When [the hijackers] moved to San Diego, [Bayoumi] provided them with considerable assistance,” the report alleged. “They stayed at [Bayoumi’s] apartment for several days until [he] was able to find them an apartment. [He] then co-signed their lease and may have paid their first month’s rent and security deposit.”
The pages go on to detail extensive alleged links between Bayoumi and the Saudi government. He received $20,000 from the Saudi Ministry of Finance, worked for the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation from the early ’70s to the early ’90s and received a full scholarship from the Saudi government to attend school in America.
“[Bayoumi] acted like a Saudi intelligence officer, in my opinion,” an FBI case agent told the Joint Inquiry.
Bayoumi left the United States in July 2001 and moved to England where authorities scooped him up after 9/11. The FBI and Scotland Yard investigated Bayoumi and cleared him of any ties to the plot and terrorism in general.
That information is just the tip of the iceberg, and a lot of it is information we had before.
Money changed hands in a lot of strange ways. Osama Basnan, another suspected Saudi intelligence officer, reportedly cashed checks from Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Riyadh’s ambassador to Washington. “The FBI has now confirmed that … [Basnan’s] wife received money directly from Prince Bandar’s wife.”
Stranger still, Bayoumi’s wife attempted to cash checks written by the princess but for Basnan’s wife. Basnan lived across the street from the two hijackers in San Diego and claimed he’d met the two men. “Basnan made a comment to an FBI source after the September 11 attacks suggesting that he did more for the hijackers than [Bayoumi] did,” the report explained.
When American investigators tried to follow the trail of cash, the Saudis fended them off. “A number of FBI agents and CIA officers complained to the Joint Inquiry about a lack of Saudi cooperation in terrorism investigations both before and after the September 11 attacks,” the report revealed.
“For example, a veteran New York FBI agent stated that, from his point of view, the Saudis have been useless and obstructionist for years. In this agent’s opinion, the Saudis will only act when it is in their self interest.”
In another anecdote, an FBI agent explained how Saudi officials denied plain facts when placed in front of them. “He provided the Saudi Government with copies of the subjects’ Saudi Passports. The Saudi Government maintained they had no record of the subjects.”
The official line is that Bayoumi, Basnan and the others mentioned in the 28 pages had nothing to do with the attacks. “The surprise in the 28 pages is that there is no surprise,” Saudi Foreign Minister Al Jubeir told Wolf Blitzer in an interview after their release.
Every American should read the 28 pages for themselves and come to their own conclusions. It levels damning allegations against Riyadh, but it’s old and both the Saudi government and Washington stress that there’s nothing to see.
For them, the conspiracy theories should stop. But the report ensures they’ll have ample fuel for decades to come.