FBI probe of tie between Saudi ambassador, al Qaeda leader put on ice

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, right, and Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah

For 14 years, the FBI kept secret that a top al Qaeda leader captured in Pakistan in 2002 possessed the unlisted phone number of an offshore company tied to Saudi Arabia’s U.S. ambassador, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

The news got out last year after President Obama ordered the release of the “28 pages,” a long-suppressed chapter of a 2003 congressional report on 9/11. Also disclosed: FBI agents in Denver were assigned to investigate the company, ASPCOL Corporation, which the FBI described as “the umbrella corporation that manages the Colorado residence of Prince Bandar.”

But agents assigned to investigate ASPCOL, whose unlisted number was found in the phone book of “high-value” Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaydah, quickly suspended the probe.

“The Denver office did not attempt to make any local inquiries about ASPCOL, as they believed that any inquiries regarding ASPCOL would be quickly known by Prince Bandar’s employees,” the 28 pages said. “Due to the sensitivity of this matter, they decided to hold the investigation of ASPCOL in abeyance until they received additional guidance from FBI headquarters.”

The guidance Washington gave its Denver agents is not known, and FBI spokesmen won’t discuss it. It now appears, however, that the FBI never restarted its suspended investigation. Two witnesses told Florida Bulldog the FBI never contacted them to inquire about ASPCOL.

Witnesses not interviewed

One witness owned a company identified in the 28 pages of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 as having provided security at Bandar’s magnificent 15- bedroom, 16 bath residence in Aspen known as the Hala Ranch. The other is a well-known Washington attorney who helped incorporate ASPCOL and served on its board of directors.

Prince Bandar’s Hala Ranch in Aspen, Colorado

The FBI’s Denver office identified the company as Scimitar Security, but provided no other details about it. Colorado corporate records identify Scimitar’s president as Hans Marschler. In an interview, Marschler, who now resides near Houston, confirmed that he owned the now-closed Scimitar Security and that the company had worked at Hala Ranch.

“It was a very small operation, one person during the day and one at night. We spent time watching the house. People came to work, we kept an eye on them,” Marschler said. “The FBI never contacted me.”

Marschler added that when Bandar was present he was accompanied by additional heavy security. “They brought in their whole teams,” he said. “Whoever was head of security, I don’t know.

Another Scimitar Security, this one a still active company based in San Diego, CA., has a connection to allegations of terrorism, but owner Abdul Halim Mostafa said his firm never worked for ASPCOL, Bandar or anywhere outside California.

Mostafa’s son is Jehad Serwan Mostafa, who is wanted by the FBI “for his alleged terrorist activities and acting as an operating member of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist organization” with ties to al Qaeda. An indictment charging Mostafa, a U.S. citizen who was licensed as a security guard from 2000 to 2006, with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization was unsealed in 2010. The U.S. has a $5 million bounty on Mostafa’s head.

The Duttons of Arabia

The second person with information about ASPCOL the FBI never contacted is Washington attorney Nancy Dutton. Dutton represented the Saudi embassy for several decades until last year. Similarly, she represented the Saudi foreign ministry from 1975 until about two years ago.

Dutton and her late husband Fred Dutton, an attorney and key strategist to many big-name Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s who later became a counselor to Prince Bandar and a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia, incorporated ASPCOL in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles in December 1988 and later served on its board of directors.

Photo: CSPAN

“No, the FBI never called me and I doubt whether they called Fred or I would have known it,” said Dutton, a White House aide under President Kennedy. She declined further comment.

Another person involved with ASPCOL is Aspen attorney William “Willy” Jordan III, who would not be interviewed. Jordan represented Bandar’s interests in the area and served as APSCOL’s managing director for many years before it was liquidated and closed in January 2014.

The island of Curacao is a financial center in the Caribbean known for strict bank secrecy that has facilitated drug related crime. The U.S. currently lists the tiny country that’s part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands as a “jurisdiction of primary concern” where “money laundering occurs through real estate purchases and international tax shelters.”

Records show that a month after ASPCOL N.V. was incorporated it paid $3.5 million for 90 acres in Aspen. The mansion was constructed in 1991. Pitkin County property records show that ASPCOL sold the property for $49 million in May 2012.

Bandar, 68, was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. from 1983 to 2005.

He was close to President George W. Bush, earning him the nickname Bandar-Bush. A White House photo taken two days after 9/11 shows Bandar on the White House’s Truman Balcony with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice.

Bandar interview secret

The 9/11 Commission interviewed Bandar on Oct. 7, 2003. The government continues to keep secret the interview citing national security.

Zacarias Moussaoui

In October 2014, imprisoned 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui gave a deposition to attorneys representing victims of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington. He talked about how his superiors in al Qaeda had tasked him with creating a digital database of the group’s donors. “Shaykh Osama wanted to keep a record [of] who give money…to the jihad,” Moussaoui said, according to a transcript.

He went on to name numerous contributors he said were on the list. They included Bandar and other members of the Saudi royal family such as Prince Turki al-Faisal, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal and Prince Mohammed al Faisal.

Questions have long been raised about Bandar’s possible ties to 9/11. More than a decade ago it was reported that his wife, Princess Haifa, had for some time sent a monthly check of $2,000 to the wife of Osama Bassnan, a suspected Saudi agent and alleged al Qaeda sympathizer who FBI records identify as a “close associate” of Omar al-Bayoumi, another apparent Saudi agent who provided financial and other support to two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego in 2000.

The 28 pages included new information about that matter, saying that FBI agents who searched Bassnan’s home found copies of 31 cashier’s checks payable to Bassnan’s wife totaling $74,000 that were “drawn on the Riggs Bank account of Prince Bandar’s wife.” The checks, from February 1999 to May 30, 2002, were supposed to be for nursing services, but “there is no evidence that Bassnan’s wife provided nursing services.”

The pages also said that Prince Bandar himself sent checks directly to Bassnan and his wife. Those checks, cashed in 1998, were for $15,000 and $10,000. FBI Executive Assistant Director Pasquale D’Amuro told Congress on Oct. 9, 2002, “What the money was for is what we don’t know.”

28 pages connect Saudi prince to al Qaeda leader, supporters of 9/11 hijackers

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

From left to right: Dick Cheney, Prince Bandar, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush, on the Truman Balcony of the White House on September 13, 2001. [Source: White House via HistoryCommons.org]

From left to right: Dick Cheney, Prince Bandar, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush, on the Truman Balcony of the White House on September 13, 2001. [Source: White House via HistoryCommons.org]

The Saudi ambassador who met with President George W. Bush at the White House two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 had connections to a major al-Qaeda figure and other Saudis suspected of helping two of the suicide hijackers while they were in the United States.

Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s contacts are contained in FBI and CIA reports cited in the 28 pages from Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that were ordered declassified by President Obama after 13 years and made public Friday.

The “28 pages,” which are actually 29 pages, assert that 9/11 hijackers were helped by individuals “who may be connected with the Saudi government.’’ They do not, however, address the apparent ties of Mohamed Atta and other hijackers to Saudis living in Sarasota prior to 9/11.

FBI reports say agents found “many connections” between the September 11 plotters and the Sarasota Saudis, but neither Congress nor the subsequent 9/11 Commission were informed. The matter did not become public until 2011 when the Florida Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers, first reported it.

The 28 pages, however, do contain a new Florida angle.

“FBI documents also indicate that several Saudi Naval officers were in contact with the September 11 hijackers,” the 28 pages say. One of those officers, Saleh Ahmed Bedaiwi, was posted to the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola.

The FBI’s Jacksonville Field Office investigated Bedaiwi at the time, but what else the 28 pages had to say about the matter was blacked out by the government before their public release.

Government officials, including House Intelligence Committee members Devin Nunes, R-CA, and Adam Schiff, D-CA, said the 9/11 Commission and the nation’s intelligence community investigated, but could not substantiate the 28 pages’ leads about possible Saudi involvement. However, there is little information in the public record to back up those assertions.

For example, while the names of Bedaiwi and fellow Saudi Naval officers Osama Nooh and Lafi al-Harbi are included in a declassified June 2003 9/11 Commission work plan as “interview candidates,” none is identified on a list of 1,200 persons interviewed by commission investigators.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who coordinated the declassification review of the 28 pages, said in a statement Friday that the final chapter of the Joint Inquiry’s 2002 report was kept secret so long because it “contained still-sensitive national security and law enforcement information.”

Secrecy ‘outweighed by the public interest’ in transparency

The declassification review, however, “determined that the harm to national security” by releasing the 28 pages “is outweighed by the public interest in additional transparency… Some information has been redacted because the document includes discussion of properly classified matters the disclosure of which would still cause significant harm to national security.”

Clapper’s statement was accompanied by the less-noticed release of a one-page “executive summary” of a September 2005 “joint FBI-CIA intelligence report assessing the nature and extent of Saudi government support of terrorism.”

Congress required the previously unknown joint assessment in a classified annex of the Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2004. Several sentences of the report’s transmittal letter to Congress by FBI Director Robert Mueller and CIA Director Porter Goss were blanked out, as were several sentences in the summary. The full report remains classified.

The assessment’s key finding marked the latest government statements in defense of the Saudis: “There is no evidence that either the Saudi government or members of the Saudi royal family knowingly provided support for the attacks of 11 September 2001 or that they had foreknowledge of terrorist operations in the Kingdom or elsewhere.”

President George W. Bush meets with Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas in 2002. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

President George W. Bush meets with Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan at the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas in 2002. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The assessment, however, also noted, “There is evidence that official Saudi entities, [redacted] and associated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), provide financial and logistical support to individuals in the United States and around the world, some of whom are associated with terrorism-related activity.” Further, the assessment said, “The Saudi government and many of its agencies have been infiltrated and exploited by individuals associated with or sympathetic to Al-Qa’ida.”

While the 28 pages reference the sometimes bitter testimony of FBI agents and CIA officers who complained “about a lack of Saudi cooperation on terrorism investigations both before and after the September 11 attacks,’’ the 2005 joint FBI-CIA report observed that the Saudis began cooperating with the U.S. following several bombings inside Saudi Arabia starting in May 2003.

Imprisoned al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah

Imprisoned al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah

The 28 pages include a variety of new information about figures in the 9/11 drama. Among the most intriguing is a previously unreported connection between Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s longtime ambassador to the U.S. whose nickname was Bandar-Bush because of his close ties to President George W. Bush, and Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value” Guantanamo detainee who before his March 2002 capture in Pakistan was among al Qaeda’s highest ranking members and a confidant of Osama bin Laden.

U.S. and coalition forces recovered Zubaydah’s phone book. “According to an FBI document, ‘a review of toll records has linked several of the numbers found in Zubaida’s [sic] phonebook with U.S. phone numbers.’ One of the numbers is unlisted and subscribed to by ASPCOL Corporation in Aspen, Colorado,” the 28 pages say.

An FBI investigation stayed pending ‘guidance’ from headquarters

In July 2002, FBI headquarters asked its Denver office to investigate “this connection.”

Two months later, the 28 pages say, agents in Denver reported that ASPCOL “is the umbrella corporation that manages the affairs of the Colorado residence of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The facility is protected by Scimitar Security. Agents of the Denver Field Office noted that neither ASPCOL nor Scimitar Security is listed in the phone book or is easily locatable. In addition, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office has no record of ASPCOL.”

The 28 pages say the FBI reported that “CIA traces have revealed no direct (emphasis added) links between numbers found in Zubayadah’s phone book and numbers in the U.S.”

Hala Ranch, the former Aspen, Co. home of Saudi Prince Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa. The home was sold in 2012 for $49 million to hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, according to The Aspen Times.

Hala Ranch, the former Aspen, Co. home of Saudi Prince Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa. The home was sold in 2012 for $49 million to hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, according to The Aspen Times.

“The Denver office did not attempt to make any local inquiries about ASPCOL as they believed that any inquiries regarding ASPCOL would be quickly known by Prince Bandar’s employees,” the 28 pages say. “Due to the sensitivity of this matter, they decided to hold their investigation of ASPCOL in abeyance until they received additional guidance from FBI headquarters.”

Asked about the matter via email, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Matthew Bertron said Tuesday, “The FBI has no comment on your specific questions.”

The 28 pages contain additional new information involving other individuals who worked at Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy. One was an embassy bodyguard whose phone number was also in Zubaydah’s possession. The paragraph about the matter includes a number of redactions, including the name of the bodyguard, that make it difficult to understand what’s being said.

Bin Laden’s half-brother, Abdullah Bin Laden, also surfaces in the 28 pages under a section titled, “Connections between Saudi government officials in the U.S., and other possible terrorist operatives.”

“For example, according to FBI documents there is evidence that hijackers Marwan al-Shehhi and Mohammed Atta [who piloted the jets that struck the Twin Towers] were in contact with Mohammed Rafique Quadir Harunani, the subject of an FBI counterterrorism investigation since 1999 and a close associate of Abdullah Bin Laden… He claims to work for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C. as an administrative officer. Abdullah Bin Laden has financed Quadir’s company and is listed by Quadir as the emergency contact for Quadir’s children. They are in frequent email and phone contact as well.”

Osama Bin Laden half-brother’s terrorist connections

The chapter goes on to discuss Abdullah Bin Laden’s connections to “terrorist organizations.”

“He is the president and director of the World Arab Muslim Youth Association (WAMY) and the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America. Both organizations are local branches of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to the FBI, there is reason to believe that WAMY is ‘closely associated with the funding and financing of international terrorist activities and in the past has provide logistical support to individuals wishing to fight in the Afghan war.’”

The 28 pages also provide new information about a known episode that raised questions about Prince Bandar’s possible ties to some of the hijackers more than a decade ago.

Back then, it was reported that Bandar’s wife, Princess Haifa, had for some time sent a monthly stipend to $2,000 the wife of Osama Bassnan, a suspected Saudi agent, alleged al Qaeda sympathizer and “close associate” of Omar al-Bayoumi, another apparent Saudi agent who provided financial and other support to two 9/11 hijackers in San Diego in 2000.

The 28 pages say “in a recent search of Bassnan’s residence the FBI located copies of 31 cashiers checks totaling $74,000 during the period February 22, 1999 to May 30, 2002. These checks were payable to Bassnan’s wife and were drawn on the Riggs Bank account of Prince Bandar’s wife.” The money was supposed to be for “ ‘nursing’ services, but according to the [blank] document, there is no evidence that Bassnan’s wife provided nursing services.”

The pages say Prince Bandar himself also sent checks directly to Bassnan and his wife. Those checks, cashed in 1998, were for $15,000 and $10,000.

On Oct. 9, 2002, FBI Executive Assistant Director Pasquale D’Amuro told the Joint Inquiry, “What the money was for is what we don’t know.”

One year later, on Oct. 7, 2003, investigators with the 9/11 Commission interviewed Bandar. What he was asked and his replies are not known. A “memorandum for the record” about his interview, and the interview itself, are classified. The reason, according to the National Archives, is national security.

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