By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
During his 22 years as Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat in Washington, His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan was a powerful influencer in the U.S., dealing with five presidents, 10 secretaries of state, 11 national security advisors and 16 sessions of Congress. He was close enough to both Presidents Bush that he earned the nickname Bandar Bush.
Bandar was ambassador on Sept. 11, 2001 when 15 of his countrymen and four other al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four California-bound commercial airliners from airports in Boston, Newark and suburban Washington, D.C. and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, after passengers intervened, a field near Shanksville, PA. Two days later, Bandar was photographed relaxing on the Truman Balcony at the White House with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Today, Bandar’s American-bred daughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, is the kingdom’s ambassador to the U.S.
Bandar is media savvy. Both before and after the attacks, he appeared frequently on U.S. television to deflect criticism of Saudi Arabia. Here’s what Bandar told CNN’s Larry King Live just three weeks after the attacks:
“Well, it broke my heart when I found that there are some Saudis with them. I must say that we now are sure that at least half of what we thought, who we thought were Saudis are actually not. Stolen passports, it is stolen identities,” Bandar said.
“Our position on this issue was we are with you to get to the perpetrators of this cowardly attack, find and [sic] who supports them, and who shelters them. That is — and we have no reservation on that.”
But Bandar isn’t with us anymore. He has refused a court-approved opportunity to speak to lawyers representing thousands of 9/11 survivors and family members of the dead who are suing Saudi Arabia in federal court in New York City.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan won’t talk
The period of discovery when depositions of Saudi fact witnesses could occur has ended. So Bandar won’t be testifying about what he knows. And what the witnesses who did answer questions had to say is secret because of a gag order imposed at the request of the FBI.
U.S. Magistrate Sarah Netburn specifically authorized the plaintiffs to depose Bandar. “But when we tried, he said no and KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] said he is no longer employed by the KSA government and that they cannot compel him,” said attorney Andrew Maloney, a partner in the New York law firm that’s helping to spearhead the litigation, Kreindler & Kreindler.
According to Maloney, approximately 20 current or former Saudi officials were deposed, though none from the Royal family. Ten more third-party witnesses, believed to have relevant information, were also deposed, and a half-dozen more gave sworn declarations.
Also deposed were a trio of Saudis who worked for Dallah Avco, a Saudi aviation company where suspected Saudi intelligence agent and befriender of two 9/11 hijackers Omar al-Bayoumi claimed to have worked, but did not, yet was paid for several years with Saudi government funds.
Why do the lawyers want to question Bandar under oath? Lots of reasons.
Perhaps the most intriguing one stems from the 2017 public release of 28 classified pages from Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 and co-written by the inquiry’s co-chairman, Sen. Bob Graham, D-FL. Graham had long called for their release, saying the FBI’s claim that national security might be compromised was bogus. Their release proved Graham correct.
Zubaydah and Prince Bandar bin Sultan
Among other things, what was disclosed was the fact that when Abu Zubaydah, a longtime Guantanamo detainee identified by the U.S. as “an associate and longtime terrorist ally of Osama bin Laden,’’ was captured in Pakistan in 2002 he had in his phone book the unlisted number for the offshore company, ASPCOL, which managed Bandar’s mansion and 90-acre estate in Aspen, CO. He also had a phone number for Bandar’s bodyguard in Washington, according to Maloney.
ASPCOL was incorporated offshore in 1988 by the late Fred Dutton, a prominent Washington lawyer and Democratic strategist who also served as a counselor to Prince Bandar and as a lobbyist. ASPCOL sold the property for $49 million in May 2012.
The 28 pages revealed that the FBI was informed about the Zubaydah-Bandar connection, but apparently never inquired as to why Zubaydah had Bandar’s phone numbers.
Then there are questions about the pre-9/11 money transfers, tens of thousands of dollars, from both Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa, to Osama Basnan, an apparent Saudi agent suspected of being part of the hijacker’s support system, and his wife, ostensibly for her medical treatments.
According to documents prepared by the 9/11 Commission in June 2003, Basnan was a “vocal supporter of Usama bin Laden” and was a “very close associate of [Omar] al-Bayoumi,” another suspected Saudi agent known to have befriended 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi when they arrived in the U.S. in early 2000.
Bayoumi and Fahad al-Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat and religious leader at the King Fahd Mosque in Los Angeles, are currently the focus of plaintiffs’ inquiries. The court has limited discovery in the case to questions about whether the two men knowingly assisted al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi in Southern California.
Operation Encore and more questions
An October 2012 FBI summary report, obtained by Florida Bulldog in 2016 during Freedom of Information litigation, disclosed the existence of an active investigation into Saudi involvement eight years after the 9/11 Commission ended. Among other things, the report said the bureau had designated three Saudi agents as “principal subjects” of the FBI’s investigation, dubbed Operation Encore. The trio was identified as Bayoumi, Thumairy and Musaed al Jarrah, deputy head of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Jarrah was said to have “tasked” Bayoumi and Thumairy with helping the hijackers.
Bayoumi, Thumairy and Jarrah have been deposed, but Basnan could not be located for deposition. Maloney said, however, that it has been learned that Basnan “met with and helped out Hazmi/Mihdhar” and that the “story about his sick wife is BS.” Thus, questions for Bandar: Why did you give Basnan money? Who else did you give money to?
Bandar, who headed the GID – Saudi Arabia’s top intelligence agency – during part of his ambassadorship, could have been asked what Saudi intelligence knew about the hijackers. The prince himself has hinted that it knew more about the hijackers in advance than has been publicly admitted. “Saudi security,” Bandar said in 2007, had been “actively following the movements of most of the terrorists with precision…If U.S. security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.” What did Bandar mean by that?
Further, what does Bandar know about the exodus of the bin Laden family and other well-to-do Saudis from the U.S. when airspace reopened two days after the attacks? On Sept. 13, 2001, the night of Bandar’s White House visit with President Bush, his deputy called the FBI to seek assistance in getting bin Laden “family members” and other Saudis out of the country.
Maloney has additional questions he would have liked to ask Bandar: “Why did your embassy provide diplomatic cover to Thumairy and say he worked as an administrative officer at the embassy when he did not? Why assign him to the King Fahd mosque and keep him there?”
What did the embassy’s post-9/11 investigation of Thumairy show? Did they call the embassy from California before and during the time the hijackers arrived? Who did they speak with and what was said?
Did Musaed al Jarrah report to you? Did you have control and/or supervision of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in the U.S. or did it operate independently of you?
With Bandar clammed up, his answers, if any, will apparently never be known.