Declassified 9/11 Report Details Claims of Saudi Ties
By ADAM KLASFELD
MANHATTAN (CN) — Five Saudi officials, including two intelligence officers, were among those believed by FBI and CIA sources to have helped the 9/11 hijackers, a secret chapter of the 9/11 Commission’s report, declassified on Friday, reveals.
The FBI said that one of the men, Abdullah bin Laden, was the half-brother of Osama bin Laden who claimed to work at the Saudi embassy in Washington, and U.S. intelligence sources said that three potentially Saudi-tied officials were in contact with two hijackers believed to have been handpicked by bin Laden for pilot training, according to the 28-page report.
U.S. and Saudi officials have been quick to downplay today’s release of the long-anticipated report.
Before its contents were known, the chapter had been known simply as the “28 pages,” a length that became a rallying cry against government secrecy and for those who suspected Saudi involvement on attacks that killed nearly 3,000 in New York and Washington.
Saudi Arabia insists that the report’s inconclusive contents — filled with raw, often-secondhand claims by intelligence sources — vindicate the kingdom.
But the release is sure to fuel continuing questions, with new information purporting to link one Saudi official to a relative of Osama bin Laden, and one of the most notable detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the kingdom’s former ambassador to the United States.
The commission details multiple contacts with Saudi officials that the FBI found in the phone book of Abu Zubaydah, the first Guantanamo Bay detainee to be subjected to CIA torture. One of those contacts included the Colorado company associated with Prince Bandar, the kingdom’s then-Ambassador to the United States, the commission said.
“While in the United States some of the 9/11 highkackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected with the Saudi government,” the once-Top Secret chapter begins. “There is information, primarily from FBI sources, that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
House and Senate intelligence investigators participating in the 9/11 Commission, as it became known, did not investigate or attempt to assess the accuracy of the information, the declassified report states.
In the report’s original public version, the commission noted that Saudi Arabia produced 15 out of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks, and that the kingdom generally is a “problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism.”
Though the commission uncovered “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization,” dozens of redacted pages detail alleged ties that have been censored for more than a decade.
“According to various FBI documents and at least one CIA memorandum, some of the September 11 hijackers, while in the United States, apparently had contacts with individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” the report states. “While the Joint Inquiry uncovered this material during the course of its review of FBI and CIA documents, it did not attempt to investigate and assess the accuracy and significance of this information independently, recognizing that such a task would be beyond the scope at this Joint Inquiry.”
Instead, the commission compiled the information from the FBI and CIA documents to return to these intelligence agencies for further investigation.
The Saudi-tied officials purportedly connected to the hijackers are: Omar al-Bayoumi, a reputed intelligence officer; Osama Bassnan, a former employee of the kingdom’s education mission; Shaykh al-Thumairy, an accredited diplomat with the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles; Saleh al-Hussayen, who is believed to be a Saudi Interior Ministry official; and Abdullah bin Laden, who claimed to work for the Saudi embassy in Washington.
“He is identified by the FBI as Usama bin Ladin’s half-brother,” the report states.
Al-Bayoumi, Bassnan, and al-Thumairy may have been in contact with Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, whom Osama bin Laden personally selected for training as pilot hijackers, the report states.
Both al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi boarded American Airlines Flight 77, but neither of them wound up flying the plane because their poor command of English made them fare poorly at pilot training.
The commission said that the “documentary evidence” linking al-Bayoumi to the hijackers during their time in San Diego is “solid,” but there is only “limited evidence” of Bassnan’s ties, according to the report.
Since the report’s release, Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington has been busy downplaying the revelations on Twitter. These posts highlight other portions of the more-than-1,200-page-report that vindicate the men of anything more than contacts with the hijackers.
The embassy notes the commission’s conclusion that Bassnan did not fund the hijackers, and that that “groundless” allegations fueled the counterterrorism investigation of al-Bayoumi, which the FBI promptly closed.
Another page of the report states that, “after exploring the available leads, we have not found evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two operatives,” referring to al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi.
Hoping that today’s disclosures will end “speculation,” Saudi Arabia’s embassy published a timeline showing that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called for the chapter’s release in 2003, the year after the report’s publication.
The embassy has been silent otherwise on the revelations regarding Guantanamo’s so-called “high-value” detainee Zubaydah.
While investigating the phone book of Guantanamo Bay’s high-profile detainee Zubaydah, the FBI found the number for the Colorado-based ASPOL Corporation, which the bureau’s Denver Field Office believed managed the affairs of Saudi Prince Bandar, the commission said.
“The Denver office did not attempt to make any local inquiries about ASPOL, as they believed that any inquiries regarding ASPCOL would he quickly known by Prince Bandar’s employees,” the report states. “Due to the sensitivity of this matter, they decided to hold their investigation of ASPCOL in abeyance until they received additional guidance from FBI Headquarters.”
Zubaydah’s phone book also listed the number of a bodyguard and driver at the Saudi embassy in Washington, according to the commission.
The report is filled with disclaimers casting doubt on the reliability of the information.
“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 FBI and CIA documents,” the report states. It was not the task of this Joint Inquiry to conduct the kind of extensive investigation that would be required to determine the true significance of any such alleged connections to the Saudi government.
“On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a [redacted] dated July 2, 2002, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Sandi government,'” the report states. “On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate. and innocent, and innocent explanations, for these associations.”
Though the Saudi government continues to deny any complicity in the attacks, the commission notes that the kingdom has often stonewalled U.S. intelligence officials who followed up on the leads.
“In testimony and interviews, 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 states. “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.”
U.S. officials have said that later investigations did not substantiate that the allegations contained in the 28 pages.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that the document “does not change the assessment of the U.S. government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded Al Qaeda,” according to the New York Times.
Earnest reportedly said that follow-up investigation “didn’t really turn up anything.”