U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A cold “peace”, Part II

US_Saudi_Arabia_flagsPart One can be found here 

In August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and stationed four tank divisions on the border of Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden offered the services of his mujahidin soldiers, based in Afghanistan, to defend Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia sought the protection of the U.S. military and President George H.W. Bush agreed to take on the role. This eventually led to the Persian Gulf War in which the U.S. military routed the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and drove them back deeply into their own country.

Spurned and jilted, Bin Laden threatened to overthrow the Saudi government.

The Saudi government lived in fear of the powerful Wahhabi religious leaders and energetic young radicals like Osama Bin Laden. To counter this concern the country increased its funding for madrassas and mosques preaching the intolerant and anti-Western Wahhabi version of Islam. Most of the funding came through nominally charitable organizations and the wealthiest families in Saudi Arabia.

According to former Florida Senator Bob Graham, the Saudis were also concerned about a 1979-Iranian-styled revolution led by college-aged students and radicals. In order to counter this threat, the Saudi government created a network of agents to monitor Saudi Arabian citizens at home and abroad.

Does the Saudi Arabian government have something to hide linking them to the 9/11 attacks? Most of this controversy is centered on the 28 pages of the Congressional 9/11 committee report which address Saudi Arabia. These pages remain classified.

As a government, Saudi Arabia officially favors releasing the 28 pages and has denied any connection to the 9/11 hijackers. Former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan claimed “Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide” and said the commission had, “debunked the myths that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia.”

Terrorism

This article will focus on the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and what, if any, support the Saudi government and its citizens provided.

Initially, there is a question of direct and indirect support. Although the Saudis have funded Wahhabi madrassas and religious centers, none have been directly linked to any terrorist attacks.

The connection to 9/11 is an intricate question and there may be as many conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 as there are about the JFK assassination. Each lead darts off in multiple directions then races into an even greater number of rabbit holes. There is far more leading information than decisive conclusions. But, over time, some things have been clarified.

Former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the committee that drafted the 28 pages, believes they should be released.

During a recent 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft this commentary and exchange occurred:

Graham: I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak  English, most of whom had never been in the U.S. before, many of whom didn’t

have a high school education, could have carried out such a complicated task  without some support from within the U.S.

Kroft: Graham won’t discuss the classified information in the 28 pages. He will say  only that they outline a network of people that he believes supported the attackers

while they were in the U.S.

Kroft: You believe that support came from Saudi Arabia.

Graham: Substantially.

Kroft: When you say the Saudis you mean, the government, rich people in the country,

charities?

Graham: All of the above.

In a classified memo from 2009, then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, wrote, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups world-wide. Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LET and other terrorist groups, including Hamas.” The memo also stated, “(I)t is an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority.

The language from this memorandum was only released due to the Wikileaks hack.

Connections to Saudi Arabia?

The following sections rely on Sen. Bob Graham’s remarks and writing, as well as the Congressional 9/11 report, the independent 9/11 commission and 60 Minutes. Graham’s writing include his book, Intelligence Matters, which details his work on the Congressional 9/11 committee and was published in 2004. Graham has read the 28 pages, but been limited in what he can say or write. They also rely on other authoritative sources, including Robert Baer. Baer, is a former CIA operative that worked in the Middle East for decades. He has written extensively about the Middle East, including two books on Saudi Arabia.

Section C is based on these same sources, including Senator Graham’s fictional book, Keys to the Kingdom. The book is based on his experience and includes information which was restricted by classifying agencies in his book, Intelligence Matters. Keyes to the Kingdom, published in 2011, includes what Graham thought the public should know and was written to address “some unanswered questions.”

Should a responsible article give any weight to Graham’s work of fiction, Keys to the Kingdom? Yes. According to a Washington Post review of the book, Graham said it is 40 percent factual “based

the time he spent in the Senate, where he was privy to state secrets.” Graham said he was frustrated that Intelligence Matters, was “heavily redacted by security agencies.

This much is known beyond a reasonable doubt:

In January 2000, two Saudi Arabian citizens Nawaf al-Hazmi (NH) and Khalid al-Mihdhar (KM) landed in Los Angeles. On September 11, 2001, they hijacked the plane that crashed into the Pentagon killing 64 people on the plane and 106 in the building.

When NH/KM arrived in Los Angeles they were connected to a Saudi Arabian diplomat from the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. (Foreign governments have one embassy in the U.S., usually located in Washington D.C., and may have many consulates. The Saudi Arabian embassy is in D.C., and it has a consulate in Los Angeles.)

The diplomat was Fahad al-Thumairy. According to 60 Minutes, Thumairy was “known to hold extremist views.” In Senator Graham’s book, Intelligence Matters, he writes, Thumairy had a “number of terrorist ties” and was “no friend of the United States.” 9/11 investigators found him deceptive and suspicious.

Thumairy was regularly in contact with a Saudi Arabian citizen, Omar al-Bayoumi, who lived in San Diego. On February 1, 2000, Bayoumi had a big day. In the morning he met with Thumairy at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and later had lunch with NH/KM. Bayoumi helped the two find a place to live in San Diego and co-signed their lease. He also helped them obtain U.S. identification and sign up for English classes and flying lessons.

The same day Bayoumi also had four phone calls with an imam of a San Diego mosque, Anwar Al-Awlaki. Awlaki would later rise to the top of the terrorist kill list as a recruiting/propaganda chief for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

Thumairy left the U.S. for Saudi Arabia in 2003 and tried to return. On his return he was held in custody for two days and questioned. Eventually his visa was rejected and he was expelled from the U.S., due to his ties with terrorist activity. He was put on a flight back to Saudi Arabia.

This much is clear:

Omar al-Bayoumi was an agent of the Saudi Arabian government.

In Saudi Arabia, Bayoumi worked for the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation as a bookkeeper. In 1994 he moved to the U.S. and was employed by the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation. 

  • According to Senator Graham he was listed as a Saudi agent by the FBI, before the 9/11 attacks. According to 60 Minutes he was a ghost employee at a no show job with a Saudi aviation contractor, outside Los Angeles, while drawing a paycheck from SGACA. The CIA labeled Bayoumi and a colleague who helped NH/KM “spies” or “agents” and claimed “incontrovertible evidence” connecting them to the Saudi government.
  • According to the 9/11 commission, in 1999 the Saudi government insisted that the SGACA keep al-Bayoumi on its payroll. Bayoumi was apparently part of the network of agents the Saudi government hired to keep track on its students abroad. According to Senator Graham, at least part of Bayoumi’s job was monitoring students in Southern California to make sure they did not participate in radical activities.

After NH/KM arrived in the U.S., Bayoumi’s income increased substantially. This included money from the wife of then Saudi-U.S. Ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. In addition, his phone calls to Saudi government officials increased substantially while NH/KM were in San Diego.

Therefore, the 9/11 attackers, NH/KM, were assisted by Fahad al-Thumairy who was an employee of the Saudi Arabian government and Omar al-Bayoumi, who was indirectly employed, by the Saudi Arabian government, as a foreign agent.

Is it plausible that Bayoumi, an agent sent to keep a lid on radical activities of Saudi nationals, could take part in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history; an attack that involved 15 Saudi nationals?

Bayoumi has claimed that he ran into NH/KM randomly and assisted them without knowing their intentions. It may be impossible to tell for sure. There is no remaining question, however, that he was on the payroll of the Saudi government and was personally involved in the supporting two of the 9/11 hijackers.

For their part the Saudi Arabian government insists that Bayoumi was not an agent of the Saudi government.

Before September 11, 2001, Bayoumi moved to London and was arrested by British authorities working with the FBI. After questioning he was released and later returned to Saudi Arabia

Additional indications of Saudi involvement:

A 2011 lawsuit, filed by a subsidiary of Lloyds of London, seeks in excess of $250 million from banks and charities acting on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia. According to Lloyds, these organizations “knowingly provided material support and resources to al Qaeda in the years leading up to the September 11th Attacks, and bear primary responsibility for the injuries resulting from the September 11th

Lloyds contends that, “(a)bsent the sponsorship of al Qaeda’s material sponsors and supporters, (they) would not have possessed the capacity to conceive, plan and execute the September 11th Attacks.” The point Senator Graham made as well.

The suit further states, To this day, many of these arms of the Saudi government remain dedicated to promoting al Qaeda’s goals and operational objectives, and continue to play a singular role in propagating the violent and virulently anti-Western ideology that provides religious legitimacy for al Qaeda’s terrorist activities and draws new adherents to al Qaeda’s cause.” This charge is supported by the memo from the U.S. Secretary of State in 2009.

Omar al-Bayoumi was sent to the U.S. to keep a lid on radical activities of Saudi nationals in Southern California. The question recurs as to why he would take part in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history; an attack that involved 15 Saudi nationals?

Although he has claimed he didn’t realize the intentions of the hijackers, what was the reason for his involvement? He claims he simply wanted to help his fellow Muslims whom he met by accident in a Middle Eastern restaurant. This stretches his credibility to the breaking point.

What are the odds that Thumairy, who was helping NH/KM, met with Bayoumi, who randomly met the two at a Middle Eastern restaurant a few hours later? Considering there are more than 130 Middle Eastern restaurants in the Los Angeles area, the odds are close to zero.

Moreover, Bayoumi lived in San Diego. His dining options included any restaurant between Los Angeles and San Diego was well.

Senator Graham’s fictional book, Keys to the Kingdom, provides an explanation. Due to his exploits in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, Bin Laden remained highly regarded by many citizens of Saudi Arabia. In 1998, Al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The U.S.’s limited response encouraged Bin Laden to act again.

At this time, Bin Laden once again threatened civil disorder in Saudi Arabia unless it gave Al-Qaeda access to the network of Saudi foreign agents, like Bayoumi. According to Keys, this access was granted.

Did such blind indifference from a supposed ally, toward an organization known for anti-Western violence, occur? Is it possible the Saudis were more scared of Bin Laden’s ability to foment destruction in Saudi Arabia, than the U.S.’s willingness to do the same?

It may be noteworthy that the character in Keys, based on Senator Graham, states, “I do not conclude that the Saudi Royal family was aware of the specific purposes of Al-Qaeda; rather, such assistance was demanded and acquiesced to, with no explanation from Bin Laden’s intentions demanded by the regime.”

Conclusion

According to Senator Graham in Intelligence Matters, “On September 11, American was not attacked by a nation-state, but we discovered that the attackers were actively supported by one and that state was our supposed friend and ally Saudi Arabia.”

Will the release of the 28 pages prove definitively that the Saudi Arabian government was knowingly involved in aiding the 9/11 attacks? Probably not. From what the previous readers have said it likely includes far more charges than proof of responsibility.

But at that point the question will no longer be about classification nor will it be limited to the executive branch. It will shift back to the political and legal realm. The question of how this will play out is the focus of Part III.

2 comments

  1. Excellent piece.

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