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Senator Bob Graham, former Co-Chair of the Joint Congressional Committee investigating 9/11, says there is evidence in the “28 redacted pages” that the FBI knew of Saudi Ambassador Bandar’s links to al-Qaeda terrorists before the attacks. This interview was produced September 10, 2016, with Paul Jay on Reality Asserts Itself.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. September 11th is the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade towers in New York. Of course, there are many unanswered questions about those attacks. There are few questions that are perhaps more pointed now. A few years ago I interviewed Senator Bob Graham, who was the chair of the congressional joint committee looking into the 9/11 attacks, and we discussed much of the issues of the role of the Saudi government. At the time, I asked him, if the Saudi government is involved, wouldn’t that mean that Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, would have to have been involved? At the time, Senator Graham said that he was not allowed to speak about that because the 28 pages–he didn’t say all of this–but we knew this was the case, that Bandar was mentioned in those 28 pages, and if he were to talk about Bandar’s role he’d be revealing what was in the 28 pages, and they had been kept secret. Well, now the 28 pages have been released. So now we’re going to pick up where the last interview left off and pursue the issue of what was the role of the Saudi government, and particularly what was the role of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States–and, should I say, extremely close friend of President Bush and the Bush family. So now joining us is Senator Bob Graham. Bob Graham was the Governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987, a United States senator from Florida from 1987 to 2005, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, co-chair of the bipartisan joint congressional inquiry into intelligence failures surrounding the 9/11 attacks. He’s the author of the book Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror, and also the author of the book Keys to the Kingdom. Thanks very much for joining us, Bob.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM, FMR. CHAIR, U.S. SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good, Paul. Thank you very much.
JAY: So let’s pick up where we left off. At the time, I said what I just said: Bandar had to have known, he had to have been involved. And, in fact, when the 28 pages were released just a few weeks ago, he is very much at the center of those what had been hidden, redacted pages from your report. So in this interview, I want to go through the report in some detail. But just first of all, overall what do you come away with as the role of Bandar in either financing or facilitating the 9/11 attacks?
GRAHAM: Paul, let me first say thank you for this opportunity to continue our previous conversation. Also, to put this in context, the 28 pages were written in the fall of 2002. A lot of things have happened since 2002, and we have better perspectives and insights. The second is that the 28 pages were largely written based on information gathered about three of the hijackers who lived in Los Angeles and San Diego. There was not much information available in the fall of 2002 relative to the other 16 hijackers, who lived primarily east of the Mississippi in states like Florida, Virginia, New Jersey. We now know more about those other hijackers. Now coming back to the question of Bandar, the 28 pages discussed the fact that one of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates, a man named Abu Zubaydah, was captured in Pakistan shortly after 9/11. Among his effects was a notebook of telephone numbers. Two of those numbers related to Prince Bandar. One of them was to his mansion/second home in Aspen, Colorado. The other was to his bodyguard in Washington, D.C. That’s all we know about those numbers. The second is that Bandar was alleged to have provided funding for an intermediary who was close to one of the persons in San Diego who was providing assistance and support to the three hijackers who lived there. Now, the fact that we didn’t come to closure on Bandar is not unusual. There were a number of trails in the 28 pages where the clock ran out. We had to get our report submitted by the end of December 2002, because that was the end of the session of congress which had given authorization for the joint inquiry in the first instance. What we did is we communicated with the FBI, with the CIA, and with the citizens 9/11 commission, which had just been formed and would start its work early in 2003, that here are a set of suspicious circumstances, here’s what we’ve developed about them, we urge you to pursue those. So one of the things that we, those of us who continue to be interested in this matter, are doing is asking the CIA, the FBI, and the National Archives, which currently has possession of all the documentation from the citizens 9/11 commission, to go over these trails, including the Bandar trail, to find out what else has been found out in the 13 years that the 28 pages were being held in seclusion: where is the state of the investigation of that today? We don’t know the answer to that question because we haven’t received a response from the FBI, the CIA, or the–.
JAY: In the actual 28 pages, you have the information of the link between Zubaydah’s phone book and numbers in the United States. In the 28 pages, it states on page 419: “The FBI noted that ASPCOL has an unlisted phone number.” Now, this is a company that helped manage the Bandar residence, if I understand it correctly. But then it says, “A November 18, 2002, FBI response to the Joint Inquiry”, which is the inquiry you chaired, “states that ‘CIA traces have revealed no direct links between numbers found in Zubaydah’s phone book and numbers in the United States.’” Well, that’s clearly not the case.
GRAHAM: I’m sad I have to say this about a venerated US institution like the FBI, but that was just one of the instances in which the FBI said that they had not found anything in their investigation and assumed that that was the end of it. Another example which is one of those things that we learned about after the 28 pages were written is that there were three of the hijackers (including Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 19) who did their flight training in Venice, Florida, a community near Sarasota, and that while they were taking their flight lessons, they had connections with a prominent Saudi family, a three-generational family: a grandfather who had been close to the royal family, his daughter and son-in-law, and then their grandchildren. The FBI stated, after having recognized that there was such a relationship, that they found that there were no connections between the three hijackers and this Saudi family. Subsequently, in the files of the FBI, a report written by the FBI agent in charge of the investigation in Sarasota, he stated there were many connections between the hijackers and the family. Again, we’re now through a Freedom of Information Act request attempting to find out what were those many connections and how far did the FBI investigation go in trying to establish the significance of those connections.
JAY: Bob, I’m going to read another section from the 28 pages. Let me ask you when I see something redacted, does that mean you can’t say what was redacted?
GRAHAM: Yes, and there was about 11 percent of the words in the 28 pages which were redacted.
JAY: And what is it that stops you from being able to say? What are you bound by?
GRAHAM: Well, I’m bound by an oath of confidentiality which I took when I became a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And having it redacted is the same as having it suppressed. The reason that it was redacted is somebody thought that there was a reason–which could have been national security, it could have been protecting sources and methods. There were other categories of reasons that can be the basis of withholding information.
JAY: Okay. I’ll read this paragraph to you. This is again on page 419 of the 28 pages.
According to an FBI agent in Phoenix, the FBI suspects Mohammed al-Qudhaeein of being [redacted] I don’t know. Does that mean a Saudi intelligence officer? Does it mean something else? The logic of the sentence suggests it might be that.
Al-Qudhaeein was involved in a 1999 incident aboard an America West flight, which the FBI’s Phoenix office now suspects may have been a “dry run” to test airline security. During the flight, al-Qudhaeein and his associate asked the flight attendants a variety of suspicious questions; al-Qudhaeein then attempted to enter the cockpit on two occasions. Al-Qudhaeein and his associate were flying to Washington, D.C. to attend a party at the Saudi Embassy, and both claimed that their tickets were paid for by the Saudi Embassy. During the course of its investigations, the FBI has discovered that both al-Qudhaeein and the other individual involved in this incident had connections to terrorism. What happened to that line of inquiry?
GRAHAM: You’ve carried it up to the endpoint of what the joint inquiry was able to find. And, again, this trail was turned over to the 9/11 Commission, FBI, and the CIA, probably primarily the FBI, to take to ground, to get all of the questions that those stated facts that you just read indicate that need to be answered. And we are pursuing those followups to the trails that started in the 28 pages, of which this is one of a dozen or more.
JAY: When you say “we” are following up, who’s the “we”?
GRAHAM: The we, is the same group that’s been pushing this so hard, and it includes the families of the victims of 9/11, the families who for over a decade have been suing Saudi Arabia and various entities of the Kingdom, alleging that they were essentially co-conspirators in 9/11 and should be held to account. They also are investigative journalists, First Amendment lawyers, who have had a longtime interest in this case.
JAY: Okay. I’m going to read another section from the 28 pages. This is on page 420.
Prior to September 11th, the FBI apparently did not focus investigative [redacted] Saudi nationals in the United States due to Saudi Arabia’s status as an American “ally”. [redacted]. A representative of the FBI’s [redacted] testified in closed hearings that, prior to September 11th, the FBI received “no reporting from any member of the Intelligence Community” that there is a [redacted] presence in the United States. What is that?
GRAHAM: Well, that sounds like it is one of the fundamental themes of 9/11, which was the failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to share information–in this case probably information between the CIA and the FBI. We know that happened at the very–what I call chapter one of 9/11, which is a meeting that was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000, at which the attendees were close operatives of bin Laden, including the first two to enter the United States, a man named al-Mihdhar and another, al-Hazmi. And the CIA had been clumsy in not getting a listening device in the room where that meeting was going to take place. And they knew where that room was because they had been monitoring the telephone and other communications between and among the hijackers that would be in attendance. But they did manage to get a large number of pictures of the attendees at that meeting, including Hazmi and Mihdhar. But they didn’t share any of that information with, for instance, the FBI or with the immigration service. So two weeks after the “summit of terrorists” (as it’s been called) concluded, Mihdhar and Hazmi walked through the Los Angeles airport undetected because the people who were handling the passport control had no reason to suspect that they were people of interest.
JAY: OK. On page 422 there’s a whole section on two men. One’s name is Omar al-Bayoumi and the other is Osama Bassnan. What was their connection to the terrorist plot? And what was their connection to the Saudi government? I’m not going to read it all. There’s paragraph after paragraph in the 28 pages linking, certainly, al-Bayoumi to the Saudi government. In fact, one paragraph on page 423 says,
Al-Bayoumi also had frequent contact with Saudi establishments in the United States. In a review of telephone toll records, the FBI learned that al-Bayoumi called Saudi Government establishments in the United States almost 100 times between January and May of 2000. According to the FBI, al-Bayoumi was in contact with at least three individuals at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC; two individuals at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington, DC; and three individuals at the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles. I mean, it goes on and on, the number of contacts with the Saudi government. Tell us a little bit who these two men were. And to what extent is Bandar implicated in this?
GRAHAM: Well, this requires some background. At the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991, the Kingdom was dissembling. They realized how close they came to be invaded by Saddam Hussein’s troops, who were in Kuwait. They recognized how weak their military was. And they also became very concerned that they were going to face an internal issue similar to what happened in Iran in 1979, where largely a group of college-aged Iranians overthrew the Shah and installed the government that is there today. In order to try to protect themselves against such a youth-led revolution, the Saudi government set up a series of monitors around the world whose job it was to watch over young–college-aged, particularly–Saudis wherever they were, to determine whether they were plotting against the Kingdom. One of those monitors was named Bayoumi. And he had been a bookkeeper for the civil aviation agency in Saudi Arabia, was selected to be trained to be a monitor, and then was assigned in the late 1990s to the southern California area. I’m now going to move to speculation. My speculation is that bin Laden was aware of this series of monitors. He also became aware, as he developed his plot of attacking the United States by expropriating commercial airliners, how difficult that was going to be and recognized that the people that he was selecting to lead this attack inside the United States who didn’t, in the main, speak English, they’d never been to the United States before, they weren’t highly educated, were not going to be able to carry out the plot without some assistance. And so he put the two together and said, I am going to create a situation where the Saudi Kingdom will make this system of monitors that they have available to me so that wherever the hijackers end up being placed in the United States, they will have someone who can be their overseer while they’re there. And since the first two hijackers to enter the United States came to Los Angeles and that was part of Bayoumi’s territory, he became the first mentor of these hijackers.
JAY: I want to get back to why the Saudis may have done this. And I also want to get to what the U.S. government’s role in all this was. But just one more thing from the 28 pages, ’cause I know you have to leave (and I hope we can get back to this in another session). But on page 428, Bassnan, who is described in this way: “The FBI has also developed additional information clearly indicating that Bassnan is an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin.” Now, Bassnan is connected with the people where?
GRAHAM: Well, Bassnan was essentially Bayoumi’s second-in-command and was in the course of being trained to become Bayoumi’s successor. Bassnan had been in the United States for a longer period than Bayoumi. In fact, there is a lot of smoke around his role with the so-called “Blind Sheikh” who had tried to blow up the World Trade Center back, I think, in 1993. Bassnan had a number of suspicious connections to that incident. Bassnan also had a wife who–and I think had legitimately had some serious medical issues. The Embassy of the Saudi Kingdom in Washington has a fund that’s under the direction of the wife of the ambassador, which is available for indigent Saudis living in the United States who have some urgent situation. And in this case, Bassnan went to the Embassy pleading on behalf of his wife for funds to pay for her medical attention. And she was given such assistance.
JAY: Now, according to the 28 pages, the FBI, at least it is–certainly, one would think–known to Prince Bandar and the Saudis that Bassnan is a supporter of bin Laden: “According to an FBI asset, Bassnan spoke of Bin Ladin ‘as if he were a God’” and so on. And then on page 427–.
GRAHAM: Can I just finish–
GRAHAM: –the train that I was on? So now we have Bassnan, who by this time has moved to San Diego, and he’s assisting Bayoumi. And he’s also getting a regular–or his wife has gotten a check for, first, her surgeries, and then, second, for the rehabilitation. And I think the checks were about $2,000 a month. In the early part of 2000, coincident with the time that the two hijackers came to San Diego, Mrs. Bassnan’s check, instead of going to her, started to go to Mrs. Bayoumi, the wife of the person who’s mentoring the two hijackers, and raising the suspicion that that was a money-laundering operation, where the money went from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, a fund under the control of the wife of the ambassador, to Bayoumi’s wife, bypassing Bassnan’s wife, and then from Bayoumi’s wife to the hijackers, to be part of the flow of money that was supporting them, including their flight lessons while they were [crosstalk]
JAY: And on page 427 it says, “On at least one occasion, Bassnan received a check directly from Prince Bandar’s account.”
JAY: So a direct connection between Bandar and Bassnan.
GRAHAM: Yeah. And that’s–again, I hope that when we get a response from the FBI, CIA, or the Archives, we’ll find that there were investigations done by one or more of those three groups which answered the questions of was Bassnan wife a conduit of money from the Saudi Embassy in Washington to the two hijackers, and why did the ambassador himself make a fairly sizable fund available to Mr. Bassnan.
JAY: I want to jump to something else, which we discussed in the previous interview. And that has to do with the role of the American government in this, particularly the Bush-Cheney administration. I’m going to play for you a little exchange we had in the previous interview.~~~
JAY: If you are right that Bandar knew this was going on, then he’s sitting, meeting with his friend President Bush regularly in the days leading up to 9/11, and either not saying anything or somehow does. I mean, I know you know there’s a lot of theory–and, I think, a lot of evidence that would at least require an inquiry–that there’s a deliberate attempt not to know. I mean, to believe that it’s just incompetency, then you have to think it’s like the Keystone Cops of intelligence agencies: they’re just tripping all over each other. But that seems hard to believe.
GRAHAM: Well, and also the fact that it was so pervasive, that virtually all of the agencies of the federal government were moving in the same direction, from a customs agent at an airport in Orlando who was chastised when he denied entry into the United States to a Saudi, to the president of the United States authorizing large numbers of Saudis to leave the country, possibly denying us–forever–important insights and information on what happened. You don’t have everybody moving in the same direction without there being a head coach somewhere who was giving them instructions as to where he wants them to move.
JAY: So that includes before and after the events.
GRAHAM: Primarily before the event. After the event, it shifts from being an action that supports the activities of the Saudis to actions that cover up the results of that permission given to the Saudis to act.~~~
JAY: So could you explain particularly this last couple of sentences, “Primarily before the event. After the event, it shifts from being an action that supports the activities to Saudis to actions that cover up the results of that permission given to the Saudis to act”? So can you elaborate on that?
GRAHAM: Well, and I’ll get to the why question: why would the U.S. government have done this? And let me say, I no longer use the words cover up to describe what’s going on. I find more accurate the words aggressive deception. The federal government has attempted to rewrite the narrative of 9/11 in order to exclude the role of the Saudis from that horrific story. Why did they do it? I think there are a number of reasons. Some of them relate to the longtime, special, personal relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi Kingdom–goes back three generations to Herbert Walker Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, a senator from Connecticut. I think it also involves the long relationship that started in World War II when the United States essentially committed to provide security to the Saudis. The Saudis committed to provide a reliable source of petroleum to the United States and its allies. And I think there’s another issue here. And that is, if you’ll recall, at the World Trade Center after 9/11, the president, with a bullhorn, said words to the effect that we are going to follow anyone who was found to have been in any way connected to this murder and that we will follow them to the ends of the earth–pretty strong words. And certainly, shortly thereafter, much of the information that you have outlined became available to the president. Problem: the president wanted to go to war with Iraq, and he has painted at the site of the crime a path that looks like it’s going directly to the Saudis, but that’s not the destination he wants. So what do you do? You have to suppress all the information that would cause people to think that the Saudis were the people that he was talking about with the bullhorn at the World Trade Center and get the country prepared and willing to go to war against a country which was subsequently found out to have virtually, if not totally, nothing to do with 9/11.
JAY: Right. Bob, I know you have to leave, so I just want to focus on this line: “You don’t have everybody moving in the same direction without there being a head coach somewhere who was giving them instructions as to where he wants them to move.” And that’s in reference to me talking about the various examples of American intelligence agencies that in fact did generate intelligence that could have prevented 9/11 if it had been followed up. And I had asked you if there was a deliberate culture created to the American intelligence agencies of not wanting to know, which in itself could prohibit the sharing of information that people talk about. You mentioned to me in this interview that in the famous memo, bin Laden plans to attack the United States, that in the subsequent memo that usually goes out to heads of agencies, that that was omitted, which one would think would have gone to head of agencies in order to take precautions. You mentioned the immigration, the border official who’s chastised. This was because there’d been a guideline handed down from the White House, if I understand it correctly, not to stop Saudis from coming into the country, even if under normal protocol you would have stopped them. So who’s the coach?
GRAHAM: Well, I think the coach is the president of the United States. He’s the only one who could have commanded agencies, from the Department of State to the Treasury Department, to the intelligence community, to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, to all act in the same manner, because they are all ultimately responsible to the president.
JAY: So, I mean, that does suggest that given the president’s relationship with Bandar and lots of evidence that Bandar is in the thick of the 9/11 conspiracy, that it’s very likely that this–I don’t know how else to say this–President Bush and, I assume, Dick Cheney, who was up to his eyeballs in this as well, create a culture of not wanting to know amongst the intelligence agencies. And it starts with the demotion of Richard Clarke, who was the antiterrorism czar, and apparently even after George Tenet briefs President Bush: in his first briefing, according to Tenet, he tells Bush the number-one national security threat to the United States is al-Qaeda and bin Laden; and then he demotes the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the fight against al-Qaeda and bin Laden, Richard Clarke. And is there not at the very least a very strong suggestion that the back door was open for this type of attack? Don’t know that there’s any evidence the White House knew what was coming, but Bandar certainly had a pretty good idea what was coming.
GRAHAM: Again, these are exactly the questions to which I hope that the information that was gathered subsequent to the writing of the 28 pages, in response, in many cases, to the trails that were first outlined–of course, we’ve lost 13 years. We should have been doing this not in 2016 but in 2002, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’06, etc. But we are where we are. And many people are asking, you know, does it make any difference now, 15 years later? Why don’t we move on? A prominent official in the FBI told me in 2011 to get a life and stop pestering them about this. I think it makes a lot of difference–justice to the families that have suffered so grievously, our national security. The Saudis, thinking that they have a status of immunity from the United States, have continued to fund terrorist organizations and continued to train the next generation of terrorists in Wahhabist mosques and schools, feeling that there’s going to be no negative reaction from the United States. And I think this has had an enormously detrimental impact on the American people. The presidential election is now well underway, and we’re every day seeing the depth of public cynicism and a sense of disconnection between the government and the people. And I believe that acts of secrecy such as we’ve been talking about are a significant part of that public attitude.
JAY: Can I suggest an alternative theory? If all this is true, what might have motivated it is a real convergence of interests between the Saudi regime and President Bush and Dick Cheney and the neocons around them. We know there’s a document that comes out called Project for the New American Century, which essentially calls for regime change, first of all in Iraq, then in Syria, and the ultimate prize being Iran. And we know the Saudis are extremely motivated to try to overthrow the regime in Iran. They hate the Iranians, and it frames itself as hating Shia. And it’s certainly a convergence of interests between the Saudi government and al-Qaeda that hate Shia probably more than they hate America. And, of course, Bush-Cheney’s stated objective was regime change in Iran. In fact, there was a time when they hoped to go to war with Iran, and perhaps only generals from the Pentagon stopped it from happening, that there was a real convergence of interests to create the conditions of what was called, in that Project for the New American Century, the need for a “new Pearl Harbor”, that they’re conniving in this. There’s no other way to say it.
GRAHAM: A lot of intriguing questions. I hope that we will have some answers. I only hope we don’t have to wait another decade and a half to get at the business of providing those answers.
JAY: That’s very much for joining us, Senator.
GRAHAM: Thank you very much. I appreciate this opportunity and the very incisive questions that you’ve asked. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to do it again as we learn more about this tragedy.
JAY: Great. Thank you very much. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.