The redacted 28 pages describing the Saudi Arabian role in 9/11 have become somewhat of a political football. At this point, I suspect the Obama Administration is doing a damage assessment on them to determine whether they will in any way hurt Democratic electoral prospects in November. As the missing pages will likely lead to increased speculation about a major cover-up carried out by the George W. Bush Administration, Obama’s political advisers would likely be inclined to convince him to release the document if he is at all hesitating.
If the pages are released there will significant foreign policy fallout. There have already been demands that the Saudi government be considered fair game for remedial lawsuits in U.S. courts by filed by families of victims of 9/11. There is currently a bill in Congress specifically authorizing such action. Riyadh has already responded to it by threatening massive retaliation if official Washington does not take steps to prohibit such legal action, including the warning that it might consider selling off its $750 billion in American based assets, which might produce a surge in U.S. interest rates. Washington has up until now specifically protected Saudi Arabia in U.S. courts by having the State Department intercede and grant it sovereign immunity, a privilege not extended to the Palestinian Authority and to Iran, both of which have been hammered by adverse judgements in Manhattan courtrooms.
Given leaks from individuals who have either read the 28 pages or who have been informed of the contents it is pretty clear what will be revealed. The Saudi government, concerned lest al-Qaeda begin directing its activity against the Kingdom and Royal Family, was engaged in a program of bribing the group and even covertly supporting it as long as it carried out its actions somewhere else. This meant in practice that the Saudis were paying a modern equivalent of Danegeld to Osama bin Laden and not asking too many questions. In addition to the secret payments from the government, the 9/11 Commission also determined that a number of Islamic charities funded by individual Saudis as well as some prominent members of the Royal Family were also subsidizing al-Qaeda. In some cases, that the ostensibly charitable giving was clearly intended to aid extremist Sunni groups like al-Qaeda should have been clear to the donors, though such a link is necessarily difficult to demonstrate.
Some of the money that wound up in the hands of the 9/11 terrorists, 15 out of 19 of whom were Saudis, came through what is referred to as cut-out channels from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, where Prince Bandar bin Khalid al-Faisal was Ambassador. Nearly $130,000 appear to have wound up in the hands of two of the hijackers Nawaq al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, sums originating from the Embassy in Washington and the Saudi Consulate General in Los Angeles. Much of the money came from the personal bank account of Bandar’s wife Princess Haifa bint Faisal and also through the Embassy’s religious affairs office. Princess Haifa’s contributions were directed through a cut-out associate in California and wound up in the possession of Osama al- Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi intelligence operative, who in turn supported the hijackers. Princess Haifa’s checks were made out in small amounts of $3,500 per month.
After 9/11 occurred Prince Bandar was one of the first visitors to the Bush White House. The Justice Department immediately halted any investigation into the Saudi activity while the Administration took steps to fly official Saudis and members of the bin Laden family out of the country. A recent New York Post article identifies by name a number of FBI special agents who were astonished when they were told to stop looking at the Saudis as they were convinced that major leads in the investigation led directly to the Saudi Embassy. According to the agents and other sources, the White House effectively blocked inquiry into any possible Saudi role in 9/11.
Those who have read the 28 pages seem to agree that the top levels of the Saudi government, which means the King and Crown Prince and their cabinet, were uninvolved in the money transfers, but that does not preclude Saudi intelligence service and lower level bureaucratic involvement as part of an ongoing clandestine relationship with al-Qaeda. But even so, given the possible blowback, it should be considered probable that there was no intention on the part of Saudi officials to support an active terrorist plot unfolding in the United States. And the end recipients of other funding that wound up in the hands of hijackers might have been unknown to the donors and unrelated to any direct support of al-Qaeda, meaning that the 28 pages are likely little more than a series of allegations. Princess Haifa’s payments that could have supported two terrorists might, for example, have been conceived by her as being purely charitable, as some Saudi sources have suggested, and not part of some nefarious scheme.
And, of course, the big question is motive. That Saudi Arabia might be bribing a home grown terrorist group to leave it alone is perhaps not surprising, but if they were supporting that group knowing that it was planning a major terrorist attack in the United States that would be something quite different. Lacking Saudi government internal documents, I would imagine the 28 pages will be unable to determine whether or not that was the case and one might well assume that it would have been insanity for the Saudis to support such an initiative.
Another revelation from the discussion of the 28 pages, which reportedly constituted the entire “foreign involvement” section of the 592 page 9/11 Committee report, was that there was indeed no investigation of anyone but the Saudis. I have long argued that there were other plausible players in the drama, to include the Israelis, who were running a massive spying ring in the United States directed against Arabs and some of whom were seen celebrating as the twin towers went down. And there were also the Pakistanis, who appear to have facilitated the travel of several of the hijackers.
The five “dancing Israeli” celebrants, who turned out to be employees of an Israeli-owned moving company in New Jersey, were arrested after 9/11 and held in Brooklyn, initially on charges relating to visa fraud. FBI interrogators questioned them for more than two months. Several were held in solitary confinement so they could not communicate with each other and two of them were given repeated polygraph exams, which they failed when claiming that they were nothing more than students working summer jobs. The two men that the FBI focused on most intensively were believed to be Mossad staff officers and the other three were volunteers helping with surveillance. After 71 days, the Bush White House intervened, ordering the Israelis to be released and deported. They later complained about their treatment and sued the United States government.
There have also been unsubstantiated allegations that Pakistan might have helped fund or even carry out 9/11, but a stronger case can be made regarding the hijackers being known to the Pakistani Intelligence Service (ISI). Several of the alleged perpetrators of 9/11 spent considerable time in Pakistan prior to the attack and it is unlikely that ISI would have missed their presence or the opportunity to recruit them as sources.
It should surprise no one that the Saudis, Israelis and Pakistanis should all be pursuing their own agendas without regard for the interests of the United States and no one should get too exercised about it. One only has to look at contemporary Syria to realize that no one is playing straight there for all the talk of there being a “coalition” against ISIS. But one nevertheless has to ask why the White House did not demand a thorough investigation of possible foreign involvement after 9/11 and why only the 28 pages on the Saudis appeared in the final report. What if the Saudis were funding al-Qaeda or if the Israelis suspected something was about to happen, even if neither knew the details of an impending terrorist attack in the U.S.? What if the Bush Administration subsequently covered up those unpleasant revelations for various reasons? There should certainly be a reckoning, even now, and some people formerly in the government might well be good candidates for trial and imprisonment relating to their actions at that time. The American public is paying the bills and bearing the burdens of our fractured foreign and national security policies so it deserves a level of honesty from its government. As 9/11 has only served as a prelude to much worse slaughter and dislocation all around the world, much of it excused over what occurred on September 11th, 2001, it is past time for the people to learn what really happened on that day.