9/11 Commission Didn’t Clear Saudis

As the Obama administration belatedly weighs releasing the 28 pages on the Saudi role in 9/11, Americans should not be fooled by claims minimizing the Saudi involvement, writes 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser.

By Kristen Breitweiser

Americans are not used to reading investigative pieces of journalism. We like to tweet and text in small bites. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, the most important things can’t be explained in 15 bites or less. Sometimes, it takes more space and time. And so I ask everyone who is reading this blog to please read it in its entirety — especially the bold parts.

And, if you care about our country, if you care about peace, and keeping American lives safe from terrorists, pay attention to what is being said here — and never forget it.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the United States, meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 27, 2002. (White House photo)

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the United States, meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 27, 2002. (White House photo)

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the United States, meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas, on Aug. 27, 2002. (White House photo)

The time has come to clarify some inaccuracies and misleading statements being made in the media regarding the 28 pages, the 9/11 attacks, the investigation of the 9/11 attacks, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). In doing so, perhaps the American public will come to understand the importance of passing JASTA (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) and releasing the 28 pages in their entirety.

The 9/11 Commission’s mandate was to not replicate, but rather to expand upon the investigation of the JICI. The JICI was the Joint Intelligence Committee’s Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, headed by Sen. Bob Graham and Rep. Porter Goss. The JICI is where the 28 pages originated. Furthermore, the JICI made a finding of fact and final recommendation that further investigation into the role of KSA and the 9/11 attacks needed to be done, immediately.

Therefore, the 9/11 Commission should have carried out this further investigation of the KSA and 9/11. But, they did not. It is only the 9/11 families and intrepid journalists who have continued to investigate the Saudi role for the past 12 years.

As reported and documented in The New York Time’s national security correspondent Philip Shenon’s book, “The Commission,” Staff Director of the 9/11 Commission, Phil Zelikow, actively worked against any thorough investigation into the KSA and its role in the 9/11 attacks.

So, when two JICI staffers were brought over to the 9/11 Commission to continue their work on the links between the KSA and the 9/11 attacks, they were blocked by Zelikow. Zelikow fired one investigator when she tried to access the 28 pages as part of her further investigation and work for the commission. And, the second staffer (who was the person responsible for writing the 28 pages in the first place when he worked on the JICI) was actively thwarted from his investigation by Zelikow, as well.

In fact, once the 9/11 Commission report was in its final draft form, Zelikow “re-wrote” the entire section that dealt with the Saudis — leaving out vital, highly pertinent, and extremely damning information.

King Salman greets the President and First Lady during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman greets the President and First Lady during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

King Salman greets the President and First Lady during a state visit to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 27, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Thus, when a person says the 9/11 Commission, “found no evidence linking the Saudis,” be wary of the cute context of the words. The 9/11 Commission “found no evidence” because they were either never allowed to look for any evidence or whatever evidence they did find was conveniently written out of the final report, compliments of Phil Zelikow.

Why would Zelikow block his own investigation? No one knows for sure, but for starters, Zelikow was taking regular phone calls from White House political adviser Karl Rove whose job at the time was to ramp up the drumbeat for the war in Iraq — not a war with Saudi Arabia.

In addition, Zelikow was part of George W. Bush’s transition team and good friends with Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. In fact, it was Zelikow’s job to brief the incoming Bush Administration about national security issues. It’s safe to say that the pre-9/11 “sleeper cells” living inside the U.S., and the other facets of the Saudi nexus of help for the 9/11 hijackers, which was occurring while Zelikow was on the transition team, was not something Zelikow was eager to delve into as Staff Director of the 9/11 Commission.

Had the information regarding the Saudis and 9/11 been properly and fully investigated by the 9/11 Commission, and had that investigation continued thereafter, the facts surrounding the FBI and CIA and their collective failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, would have certainly come to further light. Let’s not forget the Director of the FBI’s unacceptable “handling” and “covering up” of several Saudi accomplices before and after the 9/11 attacks by permitting them to leave the country, evade arrest, and prosecution.

Suffice it to say, both the JICI and the 9/11 Commission clearly document that prior to the 9/11 attacks, the KSA was not as helpful as it could be with regard to providing access to Al Qaeda prisoners, stopping the flow of money to UBL, and/or sharing information with regard to UBL.

But most importantly, both the JICI and the 9/11 Commission provide plenty of statements, facts and findings that show KSA aided, abetted and had roots and connections to the 9/11 hijackers. In short, there’s likely a very good reason that the name “Saudi Arabia” appears more often in both reports than names like Iran, Syria and Iraq.

The JICI Finding #15 states, “Regarding Saudi Arabia, the Committee heard testimony from U.S. government personnel that Saudi officials had been uncooperative and often did not act on information implicating Saudi nationals. According to a U.S. government official, it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters relating to Osama bin Laden … a number of U.S. government officials complained to the Joint Inquiry about a lack of Saudi cooperation in terrorism investigations both before and after the September 11th attacks.

The JICI Finding #20 states, “Through its investigation, the Joint Inquiry developed information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the U.S. The Joint Inquiry’s review confirmed that the Intelligence Community also has information, much of which has yet to be independently verified, concerning these potential sources of support. In their testimony, neither CIA nor FBI officials were able to address definitively the extent of such support for the hijackers globally or within the U.S. or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. … This gap in U.S. intelligence coverage is unacceptable, given the magnitude and immediacy of the potential risk to U.S. national security. The Intelligence Community needs to address this area of concern as aggressively and quickly as possible.”

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his "Mission Accomplished" speech about the Iraq War.

President George W. Bush in a flight suit after landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln to give his “Mission Accomplished” speech about the Iraq War.

The JICI’s Final Recommendation # 19, “The Intelligence Community and particularly the FBI and the CIA should aggressively address the possibility that foreign governments are providing support to or are involved in terrorist activity targeting the U.S. and U.S. interests. State sponsored terrorism substantially increases the likelihood of successful and more lethal attacks within the U.S.

This issue must be addressed from a national standpoint and should not be limited in focus by the geographical and factual boundaries of individual cases. The FBI and CIA should aggressively and thoroughly pursue related matters developed through this Joint Inquiry that have been referred to them for further investigation by these Committees.”

Commission Staff Statement #5, “Diplomacy” states, “the Saudis were reluctant or unable to provide much help.“ The Staff Statement concludes, “before 9/11 the Saudi and U.S. governments did not achieve full sharing of important intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort to track and disrupt the finances of the al Qaeda organization.”

Commission Staff Statement #8, “National Policy Coordination” states, “in June 1999, National Security Adviser Berger and Clarke summarized for President Clinton what had been accomplished against bin Laden. An active program to disrupt al Qaeda cells around the world was underway and recording some success. The efforts to track bin Laden’s finances with help from Saudi Arabia had not yet been successful.”?

Bush’s National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice’s testimony before the commission states, “Under [Bush’s] leadership, the U.S. and our allies are disrupting terrorist operations, cutting off their funding and hunting down terrorists one by one. Their world is getting smaller. The terrorists have lost a home base and training camps in Afghanistan. The governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now pursue them with energy and force.”

Upon questioning by 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman, Condoleeza Rice was asked, “Were you aware of the activities of the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs here in the United States during the transition? And Rice replied, “I believe that only after September 11th did the full extent of what was going on with the Ministry of Religious Affairs become evident.”

Lehman continued, “Were you aware of the extensive activities of the Saudi government in supporting over 300 radical teaching schools and mosques around the country, including right here in the United States?“ Rice replied, “I believe we’ve learned a great deal more about this and addressed it with the Saudi government since 9/11.”

Staff Statement #9, “Law Enforcement, Counterterrorism, and Intelligence Collection in the United States Prior to 9/11” in its “Terrorist Financing” section states, “Prior to September 11, these FBI offices had been able to gain a basic understanding of some of the largest and most problematic terrorist financing conspiracies that have since been identified. The agents understood that there was a network of extremist organizations operating within the U.S. supporting a global Islamic jihad movement. They did not know the degree to which these extremist groups were associated with al Qaeda. …

The World Trade Center's Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

The World Trade Center's Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers burning on 9/11. (Photo credit: National Park Service)

The FBI operated a web of informants, conducted electronic surveillance, and had opened investigations in a number of field offices. Numerous field offices including New York, San Diego, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit had significant intelligence investigations into groups that appeared to be raising money for Islamic extremist groups. Many of these groups appeared to the FBI to have some connection to either al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden.”

The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report states, “When Bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan, he relied on the Taliban until he was able to reinvigorate his fund-raising efforts drawing on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals. … Al Qaeda appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors … particularly in Saudi Arabia. Some surely knew the ultimate destination of their donations.

“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities. Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government individually funded the organization.

This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very limited oversight. To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.“ (170-172)

Of particular note is footnote #86 from Chapter 6, “From Threat to Threat” that states, “CIA analytic reports, “Usama Bin Ladin: Some Saudi Financial Ties Probably Intact,” OTI IR 99-005CX, Jan 11, 1999, “How Bin Ladin Commands a Global Terrorist Network,” CTC 99-40003, Jan 27, 1999, “Islamic Terrorists: Using Nongovernmental Organizations Extensively,” CTC 99-40007, April 9, 1999.

Also of note, footnote #29 from Chapter 7, “The Attack Looms,” that details a description of the two San Diego hijackers Hazmi and al Mihdhar stating, “He recalled Hazmi and al Mihdar arriving at the mosque on their own and describing themselves as clerks employed by the Saudi Arabian government. The two said they needed help finding a school where they could study English which neither spoke well enough. The mosque administrator suspected that Mihdar might have been an intelligence agent of the Saudi government. … We have no evidence contradicting the administrator’s account.”

From these statements, it can be seen that there was clearly a “network of extremist organizations operating within the U.S. supporting a global Islamic Jihad movement.” In addition, it seems crystal clear that at least one foreign government was supporting these networks of extremist organizations.

As stated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the world’s largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups is Saudi Arabia. Clinton stated, “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.”

It’s my opinion that the 28 pages will clarify the network of Saudis that supported the 9/11 hijackers. This network will likely have links to the Saudi Islamic Affair Ministry — “well known in intelligence circles to be the Saudi’s fifth column in support of Muslim extremists.”

In addition, clarification of the roles and connections to the 9/11 hijackers of several people will also likely happen with the release of the 28 pages. These people include: Fahad al Thumairy, Omar al Bayoumi, Osama Bassnan, Anwar Awlaki, and Eyad al Rababah. Go ahead and google them. The damning facts are plain to see.

More notably, the 28 pages will likely reveal that the FBI and CIA had open investigations with several of the aforementioned people both before and after the 9/11 attacks. This fact, alone, will prove to be uncomfortable since it will be difficult to explain why the 9/11 attacks were not prevented.

Furthermore, it will be difficult to understand why certain facts involving the aforementioned individuals were conveniently ignored and not fully investigated after the 9/11 attacks by the FBI, CIA, and the 9/11 Commission.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

So, please do me a favor: when you hear someone shrieking about all the dangerous reciprocal lawsuits being created as a result of the 9/11 families wanting to hold funders of mass murder accountable, look carefully into those good people’s involvement with the Saudis or less than successful intelligence policies.

And when you hear about certain Senators who outright or secretly oppose legislation that would ensure nations like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are held accountable for their funding of mass terrorism attacks, check to see what their involvement with the KSA has been for the past 15 years.

Finally, when you notice a person speaking out against ordinary citizens’ undeniable right to hold mass murderers accountable, look ever so closely and carefully because most likely there’s a reason they’re worried – and it’s got nothing to do with this nation’s well-being.

President Obama tells us we will have to wait another 60 days for the release of the 28 pages. I certainly hope that the President recognizes that anything less than the release of the full 28 pages will be seen as further proof of this government’s cover-up of Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks.

The clock is ticking …and the 9/11 families, along with the rest of America, are paying close attention.

Kristen Breitweiser is a 9/11 widow and activist who – working with other 9/11 widows known collectively as the “Jersey Girls” – pressured the U.S. government to conduct a formal investigation into the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Follow Kristen Breitweiser on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kdbreitweiser. [This article originally appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost. 9/11 widows Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg, and Lorie Van Auken also sign their names to this blog.]

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