Did operatives from Saudi Arabia play a vital role helping the 19 known hijackers who died on 9/11? High-ranking former U.S. government leaders, 9/11 victim families and investigative reporters increasingly seek answers.
Last November, a federal appeals court opened the door for families of victims to reinstate their multi-billion dollar damage suit against Saudi defendants despite years of objections by Bush and Obama officials eager to keep good relations with the wealthy kingdom, a key ally for the United States in the Mideast.
Saudis have denied complicity and also claimed that key U.S. officials have exonerated them. But former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham -- shown at right in a photo from the years when he was a U.S. Senator and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman -- denied that a major investigation he led in 2002 cleared the Saudis. "I am convinced," Graham says in an affidavit recently filed by the 9/11 plaintiff families, "that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia."
Graham, a Democrat from Florida, became co-chair in early 2002 with his House counterpart, Porter Goss (R-Florida), of the Senate-House “Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities.” That probe into activities before and after 9/11 resulted in a report rushed out to meet its deadline at the end of 2002. Bob Kerrey is another former senator who submitted a court affidavit on Feb. 24 that questions the Saudi role. The Democrat from Nebraska, a former SEAL and Medal of Honor winner in the Vietnam War, was a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks.
“Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,” Kerrey wrote the court last month in the 9/11 families' suit. Kerrey is at right in a photo from his time as Senator, from 1989 to 2001. He left office to become New School president in New York City. He has decided to become a candidate this year for his old Nebraska Senate seat, succeeding Ben Nelson.
Aggressively following up is Christensen, who founded the not-for-profit news site Broward Bulldog in 2009 after a distinguished reporting career at the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. With Summers and Swan, shown at left, Christensen published several columns last week on the MSNBC and Bulldog websites. Titles included: New questions about FBI probe of Saudis’ post-9/11 exodus, Classified documents contradict FBI on post-9/11 probe of Saudis, ex-senator says, and Saudi who left Fla. before 9/11 considered bin Laden a 'hero,' informant told FBI in '04.
The families' lawsuit is on behalf of 6,000 individual victims and insurance companies. It seeks billions of dollars from losses at Ground Zero. It alleges that Islamist charities closely affiliated with the Saudi government and terrorism financiers bankrolled al-Qaeda in the decade before the attacks.
The importance of the dispute goes far beyond the victims families' lawsuit, which the federal appeals court in New York City dismissed on technical grounds in 2008. The courts may allow the suit to be revived under a little-noticed ruling in November allowing similar claims to proceed against Afghanistan defendants.
The suit is clearly about fact-finding as well as damages. The 9/11 attacks changed world history, but even members of investigating commissions say their procedures were rushed and some information has been kept secret. Regarding consequences, the United States embarked on wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and expanded operations into at least half a dozen other Muslim nations -- but not against Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 reported hijackers were citizens.
President George W. Bush's family has long enjoyed close relations with the Saudi royal family and other top echelons. At right, Bush poses with Crown Prince Abdullah, who succeeded to the throne in 2005 after the death of his half-brother, King Fahd. At age 89, he is one of the world's richest and oldest nobles.
The ties between the nations fanned suspicions in some quarters that Bush administration was reluctant to press hard for 9/11 information, especially after the Bush allowed prominent Saudis to leave the United States soon after 9/11 without being questioned and when nearly all other air traffic was banned. Some have reported that at least two of the hijackers, located in California and Florida, seemed to have Saudi handlers or other liaison figures before the attack.
Additionally, investigating commissions heard extensive evidence that authorities paid insufficient attention to credible intelligence reports that an attack on the United States could be expected. Bush is shown at right below in an iconic photo on 9/11 as learns about the 9/11 attacks from aide Andrew Card.
Former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a Democrat who lost three limbs during his Vietnam War service, resigned from the Kean-Hamilton commission before its final report. He alleged that the Bush White House was blocking the commission from doing its job, obstruction which described as "a national scandal."
The commission co-chairs, while far from so outspoken, have said the CIA obstructed its work, as Summers and Swan describe in their book. Summers is author or co-author of seven best-selling non-fiction books on investigative topics. His wife is co-author of the three most recent. They published The Eleventh Day last fall for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Their goal in the 624-pages was "the full story" with the help of thousands of recently declassified documents. They argue (p. 365 ff.):
The story of September 11, 2001 -- that of the victims and of terrorists is told....There are two areas, though, on which the 09/11 Commission fudged or dodged the issue: the full truth about U.S. and Western intelligence before the attacks; and whether the terrorist operation ten years ago had the support of other nation-states or of powerful individuals within those nation-states.
Families of victims have sought to probe such questions. But first the Bush and then the Obama administration have deflected such efforts. Obama Solicitor General and future Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, for example, argued to the Supreme Court in 2009 against letting families pursue their litigation against Saudis in New York courts.
The U.S. Second Circuit of Appeals largely sustained that argument in 2009 but then appeared to backtrack with a ruling in November in a separate case involving Afghanistan. The New York Times published Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11, 2 Ex-Senators Say Feb. 29 about the Graham and Kerrey affidavits.
The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the overall status of the litigation March 11 in Local law firm seeks to reinstate Saudi Arabia as a 9/11 defendant. The Inquirer reported:
"The Second Circuit decision is critically important because they recognized that they made a mistake," said Jerry S. Goldman, a lawyer who represents the estate of John O'Neill, the former head of counterintelligence at the FBI. O'Neill, who was raised in Atlantic City, sounded some of the earliest warnings on Osama bin Laden. He left the FBI to become head of security at the World Trade Center and died in the attacks there a short time later.
Saudi Arabia has denied responsibility, the Inquirer further reported: "More than seven years later, plaintiffs in these consolidated cases continue to press conclusory and unsupported allegations that Saudi Arabia . . . was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks," Saudi attorneys said.
Attorneys for the families are particularly interested in 28 pages of the Graham-Goss committee report that has all but one page classified. Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States, suggested in 2003 that his nation would be glad to have the material released. Graham is quoted by Summers and Swan as suggesting this is a "good cop-bad cop routine" whereby the U.S. officials keep the material secret while Saudis get to protest innocence. The authors quote Graham's Republican counterpart on the congressional probe, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, as agreeing independently that virtually all of the censored pages were "being kept secret for reasons other than national security." Graham is described further in the book as suggesting that Bush's role in suppressing important information about 9/11, along with other transgressions, "should have led to his impeachment and removal from office." That remark is not footnoted, and in a phone interview Graham told me the remark over-states the formality of his remark. He said he did not formally call for Bush's impeachment, and meant merely that the matter was at least as serious as the charges considered by the Senate against former President Clinton.
Our Justice Integrity Project has been tracking the issues also, including Graham's novel last year, Keys to the Kingdom. We reported last August how the three-term senator told a National Press Club audience that he wrote his spy thriller in part because he is “angry” that the government keeps so much information secret. But, he said, he can’t speak out about many of the specifics because of security restriction in place even after his Senate retirement in 2005.
So, Graham wrote a novel in order to receive clearance for his writing from the Central Intelligence Agency. “Forty percent of the book is fact,” he told the Press Club audience. "Forty percent is pure fiction. Twenty percent is a combination.”He is portrayed at left in a photo by Club photographer Noel St. John.
The well-received novel begins as a prominent Florida senator seeks to alert the public to important information about 9/11, but is killed in a mysterious traffic accident. The story goes on, both in the novel and real life.
Related News Coverage
Updated: Guardian (United Kingdom), US acted to conceal evidence of intelligence failure before 9/11; Operation Foxden, delayed by turf war between the FBI and the CIA, given green light three days before the al-Qaida attacks, Ian Cobain, March 27, 2012. The US government shut down a series of court cases arising from a multimillion pound business dispute in order to conceal evidence of a damning intelligence failure shortly before the 9/11 attacks, MPs were told. Moreover, the UK government is now seeking similar powers that could be used to prevent evidence of illegal acts and embarrassing failures from emerging in court, David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, told the Commons. The Justice and Security green paper being put forward by Ken Clarke's justice ministry has already faced widespread criticism from civil rights groups, media representatives and lawyers working within the secret tribunal system that hears terrorism-related immigration cases.
Boiling Frogs, What Will Happen Today? Bill Bergman, March 15, 2012. A hearing is scheduled today in a federal district court in New York City in a 9/11 case still winding its way through the court system. The case was brought by thousands of relatives of people killed on 9/11, as well as insurance companies exposed to heavy losses. The case was originally brought against defendants including members of the Saudi royal family and the Saudi government. The plaintiffs are seeking to have the government of Saudi Arabia reinstated as a defendant, after it had previously been insulated under theories of sovereign immunity. Today’s hearing deals with issues relating to affidavits filed a few weeks ago by two former United States Senators in the case. The material reportedly in these affidavits raises important questions about the integrity of the government’s 9/11 investigation.The affidavits came from Robert Graham, a former 18 year Senator from Florida, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and chairman of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, along with Robert Kerrey, former Senator from Nebraska and a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Boiling Frogs, Who is Ken, or Kenneth, Wainstein? Part II, Bill Bergman, March 9, 2012. Kenneth Wainstein earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in 1984, and went on to receive a law degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1988. He began working for the U.S. Justice Department in 1989 as an assistant U.S. attorney, with his work including narcotics and public corruption cases. He served nine years in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington D.C. beginning in 1992, where he rose in rank to become the “Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney.” In April 2001, Wainstein filled a vacancy and served as Interim United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. Four months later, in August 2001, at a time of heightened importance for interdepartmental communication in counterterrorism efforts, he became the director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys at the Justice Department. This office provided oversight and organizational services for U.S. Attorneys around the country.
Boiling Frogs, Who is Ken, or Kenneth, Wainstein? Bill Bergman, March 5, 2012. Did the mainstream media just wake up? In last Wednesday’s New York Times, Eric Lichtblau had an article titled “Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11, 2 Ex-Senators Say.” Lichtblau cited sworn statements from Graham as well as Robert Kerrey in affidavits filed last Friday in a court case still developing inManhattan. As the day wore on, it looked like the dam was starting to burst, with numerous traditional media outlets reporting on the matter. At least one item in the March 1, 2012 New York Times article looked pretty interesting. At the close of the article, Lichtblau quoted Kenneth L. Wainstein, identified as a “senior national security official with the George W. Bush administration,” in the following way: The senators’ assertions “might inject some temporary strain or awkwardness at a diplomatic level,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, a senior national security official in the George W. Bush administration. Even so, he said, “the United States and the Saudis have developed strong counterterrorism cooperation over the last decade, and that relationship will not be undermined.”
Broward Bulldog, New questions about FBI probe of Saudis’ post-9/11 exodus, Robbyn Swan, March 14, 2012. A departure board at South Carolina's Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport shows cancelled flights around the country on September 11, 2001. The FBI mishandled its investigation of the travel of a Saudi prince and his companions out of Florida within days of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, new interviews, 9/11 Commission documents and FBI files reveal. And its detailed report on the matter, drawn up for members of Congress and President George W. Bush, was inaccurate. The new reporting springs from suspicions that a well-connected Saudi living in Sarasota, Fla., may have associated with the 9/11 hijackers. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham has suggested that the FBI’s investigation of the Sarasota matter “was not the robust inquiry claimed by the FBI. An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as fact.”
MSNBC, Classified documents contradict FBI on post-9/11 probe of Saudis, ex-senator says, Anthony Summers and Dan Christensen, March 13, 2012. Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has seen two classified FBI documents that he says are at odds with the bureau’s public statements that there was no connection between the hijackers and Saudis then living in Sarasota, Fla. “There are significant inconsistencies between the public statements of the FBI in September and what I read in the classified documents,” Graham said. “One document adds to the evidence that the investigation was not the robust inquiry claimed by the FBI,” Graham said. “An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as truth.” Whether the 9/11 hijackers acted alone, or whether they had support within the U.S., remains an unanswered question -- one that began to be asked as soon as it became known that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Daily Beast, Was the Saudi Government Involved in the 9/11 Terror Attacks? March 13, 2012. Since 2002, when former Senator Bob Graham led the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) into the 9/11 attacks, he has insisted that members of the Saudi government played a role. But he’s had a hard time getting others to listen. “There’s no question in my mind that the Saudi government was involved in 9/11,” the Florida Democrat tells The Daily Beast. “But there’s still so much we don’t know. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to have lost interest.”
MSNBC, Saudi who left Fla. before 9/11 considered bin Laden a 'hero,' informant told FBI in '04, Anthony Summers and Dan Christensen, March 12, 2012. A Saudi man who triggered an FBI investigation after he and his family left their Sarasota, Fla., area home and moved overseas two weeks before 9/11 considered Osama bin Laden a “hero” and may have known some of the hijackers, an informant told the FBI in 2004.
Philadelphia Inquirer, Local law firm seeks to reinstate Saudi Arabia as a 9/11 defendant, Chris Mondics, March 11, 2012. In late January 2000, two young men who would later participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon met with a young Saudi in San Diego. The Saudi, Omar al-Bayoumi, had earlier been the focus of a Federal Bureau of Investigation antiterrorism probe and had close ties to the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. He offered to put up the two hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, in his apartment for a short time, helped them find a place of their own, and gave them money. Throughout, Bayoumi was in frequent contact with a Los Angeles-based Saudi diplomat and imam who was later banned by the State Department from entering the country because of suspected ties with terrorist groups. Now, more than a decade later, a leader of the congressional Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks says in a sworn statement that Bayoumi likely was a Saudi government agent and probably played a role in the lead-up to the attacks, along with other Saudi officials.
The Daily Commercial (Leesburg, FL), Families support 9/11 lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, Staff report, March 4, 2012. Families of 9/11 victims are applauding affidavits filed in court by two former senators as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government. "No one -- neither the 9/11 Commission nor the Congressional Investigation -- cleared Saudi Arabia or the High Commission," said Bill Doyle of The Villages, father of Joseph M. Doyle, who died in the World Trade Center. "We know 28 pages of the Congressional Report that were redacted were specifically about the Kingdom. The U.S. Government needs to stop blocking the public from seeing those 28 pages and let this investigation go forward."
New York Times, Saudi Arabia May Be Tied to 9/11, 2 Ex-Senators Say, Eric Lichtblau, Feb. 29, 2012. (Photo of Bob Kerrey at right courtesy of WikiPedia.) For more than a decade, questions have lingered about the possible role of the Saudi government in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, even as the royal kingdom has made itself a crucial counterterrorism partner in the eyes of American diplomats. Now, in sworn statements that seem likely to reignite the debate, two former senators who were privy to top secret information on the Saudis’ activities say they believe that the Saudi government might have played a direct role in the terrorist attacks.
Boiling Frogs, Media Sleepwalks, While History Is In the Making, Bill Bergman, Feb. 24, 2012. In the last week, three important new articles have added to our understanding and raised new questions about the crimes of September 11, 2001.
As of today, Friday morning, there is nary a peep about their contents in the U.S.mainstream media. The lack of apparent media attention may be in keeping with character, and predictable, but sad nonetheless. When are they going to wake up? Can we make a valid prediction market for that date? Last Saturday, the London-based Daily Telegraph published an article by Anthony Summers, Neil Tweedie and Dan Christensen titled “London-based oil executive linked to 9/11 hijackers.” The same day, the independent Florida-based Broward Bulldog published a related article by Christensen and Summers, titled “FBI informant says Sarasota Saudi praised bin Laden; knew Broward County Qaeda suspect.” And then on the next Monday morning, the Broward Bulldog put out another article by Summers and Christensen, titled “Graham: FBI’s public statements are in conflict with still secret records of Sarasota 9/11 probe.”
Justice Integrity Project, Senator Unlocks Mystery in 'Keys to the Kingdom,' Andrew Kreig, Dec. 22, 2011. Retired U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D) is the featured guest Dec. 22 on the Washington Update radio show I co-host. He authored Keys to the Kingdom, a well-received new spy thriller with a real-life theme.
WNYC, Bill Would Allow 9/11 Families to Sue Saudi Arabia, Caitlyn Kim, Nov. 19, 2011. A bill introduced by New York Senator Charles Schumer to Congress this week would enable victims of terrorism to hold foreign sponsors of terrorism accountable in U.S. courts. According to Schumer, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) would “allow the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to receive some justice for the losses they experience on that fateful day.” “No individual or country should be shielded from being held accountable for their role in the most heinous act of terrorism to ever occur in the United States,” Schumer said.
Justice Integrity Project, Former Senate Chair Declassifies Intel In Novel Way, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 2, 2011. A former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee announced Aug. 1 that he wrote his spy thriller Keys to the Kingdom in part to reveal vital national security information that he considers over-classified.
CBS-TV, 9/11 Families Angered As U.S. Backs Saudis, September 10, 2009. Relatives of Sept. 11 victims say they're angry that the Justice Department is supporting the Saudi royal family's bid to be removed from a 9/11 lawsuit. The families of some victims have accused the royal family of financially backing terror groups that carried out the 2001 attack. Their complaint alleges that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi High Commission for Relief to Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC), and four Saudi Princes (acting in both official and personal capacities) made donations to charitable organizations with the knowledge that those organizations were diverting funds to al Qaeda, and that a fifth Saudi prince knowingly provided banking and financial services to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The Justice Department filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday. It supports the Saudis' argument that the royal family as a sovereign state cannot be sued in a U.S. court. "The lower courts correctly concluded that Saudi Arabia and its officials are immune from suit for governmental acts outside the United States," wrote Solicitor General Elena Kagan, left. "Although the United States disagrees in certain respects with the analysis of the court of appeals, further review by this Court to determine the best legal basis for that immunity is unwarranted."
Wall Street Journal Law Blog, 2nd Circuit Immunizes Saudis from September 11 Suit, Dan Slater, Aug. 14, 2008. The Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act has functioned to provide immunity to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four princes and other Saudi entities from a lawsuit filed by victims of the September 11 attacks and their families. Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Casey dismissing a claim against the Saudis.