‘Penttbomb 2.0’ and the FBI’s brush-off of reports alleging 9/11 ties to Saudi Arabia

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

September 11, 2001
Photo: Det. Greg Semendinger NYC Police Aviation Unit

FBI officials who briefed the 9/11 Review Commission on the bureau’s sprawling 9/11 investigation code-named PENTTBOMB steered the discussion away from Saudi Arabia by repeatedly disavowing or downplaying reports by agents alleging terrorist ties to the kingdom.

The FBI’s stance is similar to its repudiation before the commission of a startling April 2002 FBI report that said investigators had determined that Saudis living in Sarasota had “many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The memo, made public by the FBI in March 2013, flatly contradicted earlier FBI statements that its Sarasota investigation, kept secret for a decade, had found no ties to terrorism.

The FBI’s March 31, 2014 Memorandum for the Record (MFR) about the briefing, stamped “SECRET,” was partially declassified and released to Florida Bulldog last week along with other records. The news organization is suing the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for access to 9/11 Review Commission records it has not released. A trial is scheduled for next month in federal court in Miami.

The FBI, which for more than a year refused to disclose any documents about the 9/11 Review Commission, recently has dribbled out records to comply with FOIA requirements following a judge’s admonishment this month that she was not satisfied with the FBI’s explanations for withholding certain information.

Many other FBI records on the commission continue to be withheld in full, while the bureau has yet to acknowledge the existence of additional documents that appear to exist.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who served as co-chair of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11, reviewed the MFR and called it “just another chapter in the cover-up.”

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

“It sounds like the FBI was going through the original reports that were submitted and 10 years later they were trying to change the facts and discredit much of the information that was in their original reports,” he said. “There’s no indication of the basis on which they thought the original reports were inaccurate other than they were poorly written.”

The Review Commission was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external” review of the FBI’s post-9/11 performance and to evaluate new evidence, but was largely controlled by the FBI. Its three members, including Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese, were chosen by FBI Director James Comey and paid $84,000 each by the FBI. The commission issued its final report in March 2015.

The March 2014 briefing was given by Jacqueline Maguire, supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Washington field office; Nikki Floris, director of the Analytical Branch of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, and an unidentified FBI supervisory special agent from New York.

Classified until 2039

The briefing’s title and much of its content was redacted from the three-page MFR on grounds of national security. The censored parts are to remain classified until Dec. 31, 2039.

The PENTTBOMB investigation is discussed in a less heavily redacted section. The document notes that PENTTBOMB, the FBI’s code-name for its Pentagon and Twin Towers inquiry was originally assigned to the New York field office, but that the investigation was later moved to FBI headquarters and the Washington field office.

“For 5 years,” the MFR states, “we worked from HQ and worked to prosecute (Zacarias) Moussaoui,” a French citizen who pleaded guilty in April 2005 to conspiring to murder U.S. citizens as part of the Sept. 11 attacks. “From 2006 to the present, it became Penttbomb 2.0 This was broken up into four teams for the four planes. This was the largest investigation in FBI history.”

The memorandum goes on to recount brief summaries of five cases involving individuals “who had interactions with the hijackers.”

9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar, right, and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

The first is Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi agent who befriended 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, both Saudis, shortly after their arrival in Southern California on Jan. 15, 2000. Here is what the MFR says about Bayoumi, though the wording is heavily garbled and confusing:

“The FBI found Bayoumi had role or at least not a role in terrorist activities, despite the 911 Commissions reporting that he was involved and a Saudi Intelligence Offices. The [FBI’s] 911 IG [Inspector General’s] report [written in November 2004 and made public in June 2006] cleared this individual. He came here for school and everything seems accidental with Bayoumi.”

Factual errors in FBI briefing

But the FBI’s briefing for the 9/11 Review Commission was seriously flawed.

The FBI Inspector General’s 9/11 report did not clear Bayoumi of involvement in 9/11. Rather, it found that a preliminary FBI inquiry of Bayoumi opened three years before 9/11 had been investigated and closed appropriately a year later. The inquiry was started after Bayoumi’s apartment manager reported several suspicious episodes.

Moreover, as Florida Bulldog reported on Dec. 19, a newly released FBI report from October 2012 identified Bayoumi as one of three “main subjects” of an active New York criminal investigation targeting an apparent support network for Mihdhar and Hazmi, who with three other terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

Among other things, the report said that in June 2012 a team of FBI agents, analysts and a federal prosecutor traveled to London “to exploit evidence seized in 2001 in New Scotland Yard’s searches of Omar al Bayoumi’s residences and offices” in England. The outcome of that 2012 investigation is not known.

The briefing memo also refers to a memorandum written by San Diego’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. The subject matter is blanked out for reasons of national security. It says, however, “This was based on early, bad FBI reporting, but it alleged a connection to Saudi Arabia. Subsequent investigations did not collaborate [sic] this.”

The MFR does not explain the basis for the FBI’s statement.

The name of another “individual with suspected ties to the hijackers” is redacted, but appears from other information in the report to be Osama Basnan, or Bassnan as it sometimes is spelled. The memorandum says he “hated Bayoumi” and was receiving money “for living, school and medical expenses.”

Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1983-2005

“The FBI didn’t see any connection or money going to terrorists,” the MFR says.

Documents prepared by investigators for the 9/11 Commission in June 2003, however, identify Basnan as “a very close associate of al-Bayoumi” who was “in frequent contact with him while the hijackers were in San Diego.” Basnan was “a vocal supporter of Usama Bin Laden” and “received considerable funding from Prince Bandar [then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S.] and Princess Haifa, supposedly for his wife’s medical treatments.”

A 9/11 Commission investigator interviewed Basnan in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in October 2003. “The interview failed to yield any new information of note. Instead, in the writer’s opinion, it established beyond cavil the witness’ utter lack of credibility on virtually every material subject.”

The MFR also briefly recounts two other matters involving Saudi nationals.

The first states how FBI briefers told the 9/11 Review commissioners about a pair of Saudi naval officers who had contact with the San Diego-based hijackers. The first several words about the matter were censored citing national security, but the MFR contains no other information about the naval officers.

Saudis on a plane

The second involves “a situation that happened when 2 Saudi individuals were on a plane asking questions about the aircraft. The plane ended up making an emergency landing and [blank]. We do not know what these individuals were doing and we do not have any additional bad information on them.”

In fact, the FBI had plenty of additional information about the Saudis that the briefers appear not to have shared with the 9/11 Review Commission.

The Saudis were Hamdan al Shalawi and Muhammad al-Qudhaieen.

The 9/11 Commission Report published in 2004 says that in November 1999 the pair were detained after the crew of a cross-country America West flight reported that Qudhaieen “had attempted to open the cockpit door on two occasions.”

Both men told investigators that Qudhaieen “was only looking for the lavatory on the plane,” the report says.

The FBI chose not to prosecute the two men who were traveling to Washington to attend a party at the Saudi embassy with tickets paid for by the government of Saudi Arabia.

After 9/11, however, FBI agents in Phoenix “considered whether the incident was a ‘dry run’ for the attacks,” according to the 9/11 Commission report.

Authorities later received information that both men had trained in al-Qaeda training camps.

9/11 victims: Saudi Arabia’s ‘lavish sponsorship’ of al Qaeda made attacks possible

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org twintowersexplosion

As defense attorneys tried again last week to get Saudi Arabia dropped from a massive federal lawsuit accusing it of complicity in the 9/11 attacks, lawyers for those who survived, and relatives of the dead, filed a sweeping new statement of the evidence they are marshaling for trial.

The 156-page pleading offers the court a fresh account of what’s become known about Saudi Arabia’s alleged ties to al Qaeda since it was initially dismissed from the lawsuit in 2005. An appeals court reinstated Saudi Arabia and its agency, the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC), as defendants late last year.

Likewise, the document seeks to counter retooled Saudi claims of sovereign immunity.

The 9/11 victims don’t argue that Saudi Arabia had foreknowledge of the attacks. Rather, they contend the attacks were made possible by the Saudis’ “lavish sponsorship” of al Qaeda for “more than a decade leading up to September 11, 2001.

The Saudis allegedly supplied that funding – as much as $35 million a year – even though they knew “of al Qaeda’s intent to conduct terrorist attacks against the United States,” according to the pleading filed in federal court in Manhattan on Sept. 15.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia’s memorandum of law in support of its motion to dismiss the multi-billion dollar lawsuit opens with a blanket denial of wrongdoing.

‘KINGDOM HAD NO ROLE’

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had no role in the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States has said often and vigorously that Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the fight against terrorism,” says the memo. It also says the 9/11 Commission found “no evidence” that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials funded terrorists.

Saudi Arabia’s claim to exoneration met stiff resistance. Lawyers for the victims cited affidavits made by 9/11 Commission member Bob Kerrey, an ex-Nebraska senator, and former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks, rebutting the Saudi’s assertions.

“Further undermining the Kingdom’s efforts to characterize the 9/11 Commission investigation as ‘exhaustive,’ recent disclosures make clear that both the 9/11 Commission and the 9/11 Joint Inquiry were deprived of critical information by the FBI,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.

9-11hijackers (1)“For example, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought against the FBI by BrowardBulldog.org has revealed that the FBI never disclosed to the 9/11 Commission or the 9/11 Joint Inquiry the existence of a massive investigation into an apparent Saudi support network for the 9/11 hijackers in Florida.”

That once-secret FBI investigation concerned links between 9/11 hijack pilots Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah and a Saudi family with ties to the royal family who lived in a gated community near Sarasota. Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, came to the FBI’s attention after they moved out of their home two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings.

BrowardBulldog.org, working with Irish journalist and author Anthony Summers, broke the story in September 2011. At the time, the FBI confirmed that it had investigated, but said no connection was found to the 9/11 plot.

Yet last year, seven months after the FOIA lawsuit was filed, the FBI made public records that say flatly the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The records tie three of those individuals to Huffman Aviation – the Venice flight school where hijackers Atta and al-Shehhi trained – but the FBI blacked out their names and other details citing national security.

Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing more than 80,000 pages of records turned over by the FBI in response to his order to decide what additional records can be made public.

The 9/11 victims, whose ranks include companies that suffered enormous property losses, are suing hundreds of other defendants – from Middle East banks and “purported” Islamic charities like the Muslim World League to the estates of the dead hijackers.

“Although representing themselves to the West as traditional charities or “humanitarian organizations,” these organizations are more accurately described as Islamic da’awa organizations, created by the government of the kingdom to propagate a radical strain of Islam throughout the world, commonly referred to as Wahhabism,” the 9/11 victims’ pleading says.

On Monday, a federal jury in New York City found Jordan-based Arab Bank liable for knowingly helping terrorists carry out two-dozen suicide bombings in Israel in the early 2000s. The verdict marked the first time a bank was found liable for violations of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

“It makes it pretty clear how jurors view this kind of conduct when courts allow cases to reach them,” said Sean P. Carter, an attorney for the 9/11 victims.

FSIA CLAIMS

The 9/11 case consolidates several lawsuits filed between 2002 and 2004. It proceeds today under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

FSIA generally bars plaintiffs’ claims against other nations. One exception, however, is when a foreign state commits a tort – a wrongful act that causes harm – in the U.S.

The current legal fight focuses on complex legal issues regarding FSIA applicability.

Michael Kellogg, a Washington, D.C. attorney who represents the kingdom, argues the case should be dismissed because FSIA’s “tort exception” does not apply. Among his reasons: the law says wrongful acts, like funding al Qaeda, must be committed in the U.S., but that no such acts took place here.

“It is irrelevant that the September 11 attacks themselves occurred in the United States. Those attacks were ‘distinct and separate’ torts from those that involve giving money and aid to purported charities that supported al Qaeda, and those attacks therefore cannot serve as a basis for avoiding the entire-tort rule,” Kellogg wrote.

But attorneys for the other side say their clients’ claims are based on wrongdoing within the U.S. – both by Saudi “agents” who “provided direct assistance and support” to the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi charity “collaborators” like the Saudi High Commission that supported al Qaeda “through offices located in the United States.”

“Literally troves of governmental investigative reports have been declassified,” since the lawsuit was dismissed in 2005 that supports those claims, says the pleading filed on behalf of more than a half-dozen law firms by Carter’s Philadelphia law firm, Cozen O’Connor. More “evidence” was obtained from the charities and other defendants as the lawsuit has proceeded.

Some of that developed evidence involves a terrorist support network in southern California whose members allegedly included suspected al Qaeda advance man Omar al-Bayoumi and two other Saudis, Fahad al-Thumairy, and Osama Basnan.

The trio is accused of aiding 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi when they entered the U.S. in January 2000 after attending an al Qaeda conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The support network “assisted them in settling in the United States and beginning preparations for the September 11th Attacks,” the pleading says.

Mihdhar and Hazmi were among the terrorists who flew a hijacked American Airlines jet into the Pentagon.

Bayoumi is described in the pleading as a Saudi intelligence agent. Bayoumi moved out of his San Diego apartment on June 23, 2001, telling his landlord he was leaving the U.S.

According to the pleading, Thumairy was a diplomat with the Saudi consulate’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs from 1996 to 2003. He was also a religious leader at the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Ca. with a reputation as an Islamic fundamentalist.

Basnan was an associate of Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheikh who is serving a life sentence for his role in supporting the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the pleading says.

New push to release censored pages in Congressional report that detail 9/11 link to Saudi Arabia

By Jamie Reno, International Business Times 

The skyline of New York's Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center.

The skyline of New York’s Lower Manhattan and One World Trade Center.

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims’ loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers – 15 of them Saudi nationals – and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue. (more…)

Newsletter

Notify me by email when new stories are published.