Was Saudi Arabia Involved?
By Paul Church
February 11, 2012
At 9:37 Eastern Daylight Time on September 11, 2001,
American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the western
side of the Pentagon, killing all 59 passengers and 125
others in the building. News of the crash went global
within minutes; yet another symbol of American power
was ablaze. For the few still struggling to believe
that the United States was under attack, doubt
evaporated like the bodies of the many dead.
Conspiracists have puzzled for a decade over the
failure to intercept the aircraft - or indeed, take
even the elementary step of phoning the Pentagon to
warn them of the approach. But only recently has wider
attention been paid to the failure of the Central
Intelligence Agency's (CIA's) Bin Laden unit to tell
anyone that "muscle" hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and
Nawaf al-Hazmi, were in the country.
The chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Keane, is
now on record  as calling this "one of the most
troubling aspects of our entire report". How is it
that, despite having known for several months about al-
Midhar and al-Hazmi, nobody at Alec Station saw fit to
mention them to the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), the counter-terrorism policy board in
Washington, Immigration or the Defense Department?
The Bin Laden Issue Station - codenamed Alec by
insiders such as US Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony
Shaffer - was the CIA unit dedicated to reporting on
al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and militants in
Afghanistan. It was this unit that had called on
authorities in Malaysia to monitor the Kuala Lumpur
"terror summit" at which plans for 9/11 were probably
finalized. Both al-Midhar and al-Hazmi were at that
Accounts differ as to exactly when the CIA became aware
of the hijackers' presence in America. But specific
orders were issued not to share the information: Doug
Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the Bin Laden unit, was
among those who received the instructions. In his book
Pretext for War, author James Bamford quotes another
FBI agent loaned to Alec: "[T]hey didn't want the
bureau meddling in their business - that's why they
didn't tell ... that's why September 11 happened."
Author Lawrence Wright has speculated that, so
desperate was the CIA to get a source inside al-Qaeda,
the agency shielded the aspiring terrorists while it
tried to recruit them. In his book The Looming Tower,
Wright also suggests a more serious possibility:
lacking any domestic jurisdiction, the agency colluded
with Saudi Arabian intelligence to keep their own
fingerprints off events. According to Wright, this was
the view of a team of FBI investigators known as Squad
In an interview for the documentary Who Is Richard
Blee?, former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke was
another insider to hint at possible Saudi involvement.
Sensationally, Clarke also accused Central Intelligence
Department head George Tenet of personally withholding
evidence from Washington.
Filmmakers John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski managed to
identify two key analysts involved in burying the
evidence. Despite legal threats from the agency ,
the film is now available as a podcast.
Backtrack to January 2003: Prince Bandar bin Sultan is
head of the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Bandar was the
man at the center of the al-Yammah arms deal, a
corruption scandal involving the exchange of arms for
crude oil with Britain. A White House insider since he
arrived in Washington nearly two decades before,
Bandar's close ties with the Bush family are common
knowledge. Less widely known is that in January 2003,
the Saudi Prince sat with vice president Dick Cheney,
defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard
Myers discussing US strategy for the invasion of Iraq.
In his book Plan of Attack, investigative journalist
Bob Woodward claimed that when Bandar was handed a map
labeled "Top Secret Noforn" in the vice president's
office, not even the secretary of state had been
informed that his country would be at war. Colin Powell
has denied this, but the incident serves to illustrate
the prince's extraordinary access to the inner workings
All the more shocking, then, that between 1998 and
2002, up to US$73,000 in cashier cheques was funneled
by Bandar's wife Haifa - who once described the elder
Bushes as like "my mother and father" - to two
Californian families known to have bankrolled al-Midhar
and al-Hazmi. The very same would-be terrorists
protected by the CIA.
Princess Haifa sent regular monthly payments of between
$2,000 and $3,500 to Majeda Dweikat, wife of Osama
Basnan, believed by various investigators to be a spy
for the Saudi government. Many of the cheques were
signed over to Manal Bajadr, wife of Omar al-Bayoumi,
himself suspected of covertly working for the kingdom.
The Basnans, the al-Bayoumis and the two 9/11 hijackers
once shared the same apartment block in San Diego. It
was al-Bayoumi who greeted the killers when they first
arrived in America, and provided them, among other
assistance, with an apartment and social security
cards. He even helped the men enroll at flight schools
When al-Bayoumi moved to England just days before the
attacks, his apartment was raided by Scotland Yard.
Beneath the floorboards were discovered the phone
numbers of several officials at the Saudi Embassy.
Bandar and his wife deny any links to terrorism, but
both former co-chairs of the US Senate Intelligence
Committee, Richard Shelby and Bob Graham, think
otherwise. They claim the FBI refused to allow the
committee to interview investigators who had followed
the money from the embassy. Other sources allege that
the 9/11 Commission similarly failed to fully
investigate leads, partly because commissioner Phillip
Zelikow removed or relegated to footnotes any findings
which cast doubt on the Saudis. A 28-page section of
the Congressional Joint Inquiry report exploring
possible foreign government involvement remains
Then there is the suppressed testimony of Special Agent
Steven Butler, described by officials familiar with his
account as "explosive".  Butler had been monitoring
a flow of Saudi money to the would-be hijackers. After
he testified, staff director for the 9/11 Committee
Eleanor Hill sent a memo to the Justice Department
detailing Butler's allegations. When reporters quizzed
the Justice Department about the content of Butler's
testimony, they were told it was classified.
If possible Saudi Arabian involvement in 9/11 raised
eyebrows at the Justice Department, what would they
have made of mysterious but little publicized meetings
between the Saudi ambassador and George Tenet? In his
book State of War, author James Risen recounts how
Tenet "set the tone for the CIA's Saudi relationship by
relying heavily on developing close relationships with
top Saudi officials, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan
Around once a month, Tenet would slip away to Bandar's
estate in McLean, Virginia, for talks so secretive he
refused to tell officers working under him what they
were discussing. Colleagues would complain that it was
difficult for them to tell what deals were being made
with the Saudis. Were al-Midhar or al-Hazmi ever
"Bandar and Tenet had a very close relationship,"
confirmed one CIA officer.
The frantic rush to get Saudi Arabian nationals -
including members of the Bin Laden family - out of
America in the days after the 2001 attacks led to
public outrage, and was featured in Michael Moore's
seminal but flawed documentary, Fahrenheit 911. Less
was made of a return trip by Crown Prince Abdullah,
then de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, in 2002. The Crown
Prince, Prince Saud al-Faisal and Prince Bandar bin
Sultan were scheduled to meet president George W Bush,
Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and national security advisor
Condoleezza Rice at the president's ranch in Texas.
No fewer than eight airliners arrived from Saudi
Arabia, and as the planes landed, US intelligence
learned that two members of the royal entourage were on
a terrorist watchlist. The next day, Osama Basnan
reported his passport stolen to Houston police -
proving he was in Texas the same day as the crown
prince. Were the wanted men on the planes Basnan and
According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI planned
to "storm the plane and pull those guys off" until,
evidently fearing an international incident, the State
Notes 1. Insiders voice doubts about CIA's 9/11 story
Salon, October 14, 2011.
2. See CIA's Maneuver: A Case of Bluffing? Buying Time?
Or Something More? September 13, 2011.
3. The road to Riyadh US News, November 29, 2002.
Paul Church is an independent journalist reporting on
geopolitics, warfare and counter-terrorism.
(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd.
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