The Cable

Declassified ‘28 Pages’ Suggest Ties Between Associate of 9/11 Hijackers and Former Saudi Ambassador

The documents have no direct evidence of Saudi government ties to 9/11.

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Twenty-eight pages of a 2002 congressional report on the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, released Friday, suggest potential links between some of the hijackers and people with ties to the Saudi government, but contain no independent evidence of a direct relationship.

The release of the 28-pages, classified for more than a decade because of fears their release could upend relations between Washington and Riyadh, mark the end of a years-long fight by many lawmakers and families of the Sept. 11 victims to make the pages public. Since 9/11, which was carried out by 19 hijackers — 15 of whom were Saudis — allegations have swirled about possible official Saudi knowledge of or support for the attack.

The documents, lightly redacted, name people two of the hijackers in San Diego associated with before they carried out one of the attacks. The report details individuals, particularly Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan, who helped the hijackers get bank accounts, find apartments, get flight lessons, and showed them to local mosques.

But most of the material included in the previously-classified 28 pages was largely raw, unvetted intelligence. Later investigations by the CIA and the FBI largely debunked many of the claims or allegations made in the classified 2002 report. Indeed, the 2004 9/11 Commission Report and the conclusions of a 2005 joint FBI-CIA study, also released Friday, both dismissed the idea of any official Saudi connivance in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The Intelligence Community and the 9/11 Commission, which followed the Joint Inquiry that produced these so-called 28 pages, investigated the questions they raised and was never able to find sufficient evidence to support them,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which posted the report on its website Friday.

The Saudi government, in a statement, said the documents show no ties between the its government and the al-Qaeda operatives who conducted the attack.

“Since 2002, the 9/11 Commission and several government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, have investigated the contents of the ‘28 Pages’ and have confirmed that neither the Saudi government, nor senior Saudi officials, nor any person acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement for these attacks,” Saudi Ambassador to the United States Abdullah Al-Saud said in a statement following the release of the documents

He added, “Saudi Arabia has long called for the release of the classified ‘28 Pages,’ We hope the release of these pages will clear up, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s actions, intentions, or long-term friendship with the United States.”

Still, the declassified report shows that in 2002, just a year after the deadliest terror attacks in U.S. history, the FBI had plenty of leads indicating possible ties between Saudis in the United States and some of the hijackers, especially two that later took control of Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

They show ties between associates of the hijackers and Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former longtime ambassador to the United States. In a phone book found on al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, captured in Pakistan in 2002 and who is currently imprisoned at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, investigators discovered the unlisted phone number of an Aspen company that managed the “affairs of the Colorado residence of the Saudi Ambassador Bandar,” according to the documents.

The newly-released report also indicates that Osama Bassnan, a neighbor of and alleged financial supporter of two of the hijackers in San Diego, received cash from Bandar and Bandar’s wife.

“Bassnan received a check directly from Prince Bandar’s account. According to the FBI, on May 14, 1998, Bassnan cashed a check from Bandar in the amount of $15,000. Bassnan’s wife also received at least one check directly from Bandar,” according to the pages.

Nonetheless, the 9/11 Commission report concluded: “We have found no evidence that Saudi Princess Haifa al Faisal provided any funds to the conspiracy, either directly or indirectly.”

Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of Bassnan’s in San Diego, was repeatedly described to the FBI as a possible Saudi intelligence officer, the report said, and he was on the payroll of an aviation company linked to the Saudi Ministry of Defense, though he didn’t seem to work there.

“Al-Bayoumi was known to have access to large amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that he did not appear to hold a job,” the report said.

“This information does not change the assessment of the US government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaeda,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary. “The number one takeaway from this should be that this administration is committed to transparency even when it comes to sensitive information related to national security.”

Some lawmakers welcomed the belated release. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called it “welcome and long overdue.”

Others see it differently. Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the congressional inquiry, said in February the documents “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.”

The documents were originally classified by former President George W. Bush. Two years ago, under pressure from families of the 9/11 victims, President Barack Obama ordered them to be made public.

Photo credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/Getty Images

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