By Stanley Heller
*** The report was kept secret for 13 years, but we’re told there was nothing important in them. Really?
28 pages of the report of the Joint Inquiry Senate/House Intelligence Committee into 9/11 have been released after being kept secret for over 13 years. Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times says it talks about “suspicious coincidences”, but that “subsequent investigations into the terror attacks pursued the leads described in the document and found that many had no basis in fact”. Mazzetti’s article says the pages show the Saudi government was not cooperative in fighting Islamic terrorism before 9/11, but on the whole the article can be summarized, “nothing much here. It’s a non-story”.
Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a statement. Michael Isikoff Chief Investigative Correspondent of Yahoo News wrote, “Citing later investigations by the CIA and FBI ‘that debunk many of the allegations’ in the congressional report, the senators continued: ‘We need to put an end to conspiracy theories and idle speculation that do nothing to shed light on the 9/11 attacks.’”
Not everybody agrees. When the pages were made public Bob Graham who as a U.S. Senator was co-chair of the Joint Inquiry panel and who fought for years to make the 28 pages public told Stephanie Sy of Yahoo News “there was significant Saudi involvement going up at least to the Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar in the time leading up to 9/11.”
Back in May John F Lehman a Republican member of the “U.S. 9/11 Commission” dramatically told the British paper “The Guardian”, “There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government”. He said, “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”
The Guardian piece by Philip Shenon said, “Behind closed doors, members of the panel’s staff fiercely protested the way the material about the Saudis was presented in the final report, saying it underplayed or ignored evidence that Saudi officials – especially at lower levels of the government – were part of an al-Qaida support network that had been tasked to assist the hijackers after they arrived in the US.”
Some things stick out in a reading of the 28 pages. The first is that lots of words and sentences are blacked out. One intriguing sentence is from a statement or report that concludes that there is “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi Government” (p.421)
Another striking finding is about a man who undoubtedly gave assistance to two 9/11 hijackers, a Saudi named Omar al-Bayoumi. The report says al-Bayoumi hosted Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in his San Diego apartment, found them an apartment and co-signed their lease. He “tasked” a man to help them, to translate for them, to assist them into getting a driver’s license and to help enroll them in flight school. (p.422) Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi were part of the team that crashed flight 77 into the Pentagon. Al-Bayoumi was never questioned about this by the FBI. He had left the United States in August of 2001.
Now who was Omar Al-Bayoumi? The 28 pages say that according to the FBI al-Bayoumi lived in the U.S. for a number of years before 9/11 and had “extensive ties” to the Saudi government. While he was in San Diego he received money from the Saudi Ministry of Defense through a Saudi company called “Ercan”, a sub-contractor of Avco/Dallah. He got a “monthly salary and allowances” even though he only reported for work “once”. He “called Saudi government establishments 100 times between January and May of 2000.” The FBI received “half a dozen” reports that al-Bayoumi was a Saudi intelligence officer. Very interesting is the fact that his “allowances” increased from $465 a month to $3,700 a month after al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi came to the U.S.
It’s not in the 28 pages but in an article by Michael Isikoff in Newsweek in Dec. 2002 he says al-Bayoumi was in Britain shortly after 9/11 and was detained by New Scotland Yard. “The British investigators arrested al-Bayoumi, and tore up the floorboards in his house. They discovered records of phone calls to two diplomats in the Saudi Embassy in Washington.” He maintained he had no connection to the 9/11 attack and he had innocently bumped into al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi in an airport restaurant and assisted them as one Muslim to another. Isikoff said the British let al-Bayoumi go after one week and he “disappeared to Saudi Arabia”.
Then there is Osama Bassnan whom the Joint Inquiry gives a lot of attention. He lived across the street from al-Midhar and al-Hazmi. He was a close associate of al-Bayoumi and boasted to (FBI informants) that he did more for the hijackers than al-Bayoumi. The FBI “developed information” that Bassnan was “an extremist and supporter of Usama bin Laden”. The Joint Inquiry said “Bassnan has close ties to other individuals connected to the hijackers”. It makes findings about Bassnan’s connection to the Saudi government. According to the Joint Inquiry, a CIA memo said he received “funding and possibly a fake passport” from Saudi officials” and that “he and his wife received funding from the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and his wife”. Bassnan was in Houston as late as 2002 and a CIA report said during his trip there “a member of the Saudi royal family” provided him with “a significant amount of cash.”. However it should be noted the Joint Inquiry is careful to say that it had no actual proof that Bassnan assisted the hijackers.
Time magazine said that Bassnan was deported for visa fraud in November 2002. This is not mentioned in the Joint Inquiry dated December 2002, but it might have happened after they finished their work.
The “Saudi Ambassador” that the CIA claimed helped Bassnan was Bandar al-Sultan. The Joint Inquiry mentions him in another respect. A phone number was found in the possession abu-Zubaidah, a key Bin Laden aide after he was arrested in Pakistan in March 2002. The phone number was an unlisted number of the company “manages the affairs of the Colorado residence of Saudi Ambassador Bandar”. In addition a phone number of a guard at the DC Saudi embassy was also found in abu-Zubaidah’s possession.
Now the Joint Inquiry openly states it didn’t have the authority or job of investigating these findings or charges. That was a job for the FBI, CIA and prosecutor. Did they do it and did they do it competently? After all, this is the intelligence apparatus that missed numerous clues that Bin Laden was going to mount the 9/11 attack. This was the crew that got the Iraq WMD story totally wrong for over a decade.
Another question was whether the authorities gave extraordinary courtesy to these Saudis. We know the special privileges the Bush Administration gave to the Bin Laden family, flying them out of the U.S. at a time when every single American was unable to take a flight. We know these 28 pages have been withheld for almost 14 years even though the blacking “to protect sources” that’s in the released pages could have been put in any time. Think of the people detained in Guantanamo, sweating for a decade often for nothing at all, and wonder if people like al-Bayoumi and Bassnan were afforded special treatment because the U.S. didn’t want to disturb its “ally”.
Now admittedly it might indeed all have truly been “coincidences”. Still, the American people (and the 9/11 families who have been fruitlessly suing the Saudi government) need more than a claim that no “senior” Saudi government official was involved in 9/11. We should see that report that says there’s “incontrovertible evidence” of Saudi government responsibility. We should get a full and honest assessment about al-Bayoumi and Bassnan, the two Saudis who seem extremely likely to have been Saudi government agents. Let the Saudis level with us. Show us what those two reported to their handlers. Let the Avco Dallah company explain what al-Bayoumi did as their employee. Interview the two men now with attorneys present and let the public know the result. Put Prince Bandar under oath, too. Maybe they were all just spying on every Saudi and they can show the hijackers played them for fools. It’s possible.
What we shouldn’t be satisfied with is bland assurance that a report was held back for 13 years for no real reason and that our wise authorities have things well in hand.
Stanley Heller is Administrator of Promoting Enduring Peace and host of TSVN, The Struggle Video News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org