Barack Obama may reveal secret Saudi links to 9/11
US may declassify 28 secret pages that could help explain attacks that killed nearly 3,000
Smoke pours from the World Trade Center in New York after it was struck by two planes during the September 11th attacks in 2001: 15 of the 19 people involved in the attacks were Saudi citizens. Photograph: David Surowiecki/Getty Images
Twenty-eight pages of the 2002 joint congressional inquiry into 9/11 lie in a guarded vault in the basement of the US Capitol building.
Former president George W Bush had them classified, allegedly to protect US sources and methods in the “war on terror”.
Now the Obama administration is under pressure from families of victims, members of Congress and the media to release the secret pages. They cover one of the most shocking and obscure aspects of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11th, 2001: the involvement of a close US ally, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
When Barack Obama visited Riyadh earlier this month, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said intelligence director James Clapper was reviewing the 28 pages for possible declassification. “When that’s done, we’d expect that there will be some degree of declassification,” Rhodes said.
Former senator Bob Graham was a co-chairman of the committee that drafted the report, and is campaigning for the release of the redacted pages. Graham told CBS News 60 Minutes he believed Saudi Arabia “substantially” supported the 9/11 hijackers. Fifteen of the 19 people involved were Saudi citizens.
“It is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the US before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education – could’ve carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the US,” Graham said.
Asked whether he meant the Saudi government, rich people or charities, Graham replied, “All of the above”.
The friendship between the House of Saud and the Bush family goes back generations. Walter Jones, a Republican congressman who supports a bipartisan motion for declassification, says Bush opposed publication because “It’s about the Bush administration and its relationship with the Saudis”.
Six private jetsAfter Bush met the Saudi ambassador on September 13th, 2001, “at least six private jets and nearly two dozen commercial planes carried the Saudis and the bin Ladens out of the US”, Michael Moore reported in his 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
Much is already known of the Saudi connection. Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, both Saudis, were the first hijackers to arrive in the US, in January 2000. They contacted Fahad al-Thumairy at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles.
In the 1990s, Saudi clerics had demanded the ministry of Islamic affairs be represented in diplomatic missions abroad, and Thumairy was the ministry’s envoy to Los Angeles.
He was later deported from the US for suspected terrorist links. Thumairy introduced the future hijackers to Omar al-Bayoumi, a “ghost employee” of Dallah Alco, a Saudi aviation services company.
The FBI listed him as a Saudi agent. Bayoumi found an apartment for Hazmi and Mihdhar in the complex where he lived in San Diego, paid their security deposit and co-signed their lease. He also introduced Hazmi and Mihdhar to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born al-Qaeda sheikh who the CIA later assassinated in Yemen. Awlaki became their spiritual leader.
Princess Haifa, the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to Washington and subsequently chief of Saudi intelligence, sent $75,000 to Osama Basnan, another Saudi in San Diego. The money was allegedly for medical care for Basnan’s wife, but Bayoumi received some of it.
Families of the 9/11 victims want to sue the kingdom on the grounds that Saudi institutions funded al-Qaeda despite its war on the US. But foreign governments enjoy immunity under a 1976 law.
A Bill that would lift sovereign immunity for terrorist attacks that kill Americans in the US is making its way through Congress. If it passes, the Saudis have threatened to sell $750 billion in treasury securities and other US assets.
Obama’s relationship with the Saudis is far less cosy than was Bush’s. As recounted by Jeffrey Goldberg in this month’s Atlantic magazine, Obama told Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull how Indonesia, where he lived as a child, was transformed into a fundamentalist Muslim country by Saudi money.
Obama has often criticised Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned misogyny, and tells the Saudis they must “share” the region with their Iranian enemies.
JihadismSaudi Arabia’s ambiguous attitude towards jihadism continues. In January, the kingdom executed 47 men. Most were decapitated with swords. Forty-three were close to or members of al-Qaeda. Yet Saudi Arabia supports the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda, in Syria. In their bombing campaign in Yemen, the Saudis are careful not to touch positions occupied by al-Qaeda.
Richard Falk, American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, says the US has formed “toxic special relationships” with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Falk accuses Washington of “indulging the Saudi role in the worldwide promotion of jihadism while spending trillions on counter-terrorism”.