By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The 9/11 Commission, whose job was to provide the American public with “a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks,” went out of business nearly two decades ago, on Aug. 21, 2004.
Since then, the public has learned much more about what happened. Basic dots have been connected. To the point that our new knowledge has profound geopolitical implications for the United States. The essential question: Is Saudi Arabia our ally, or as former Sen. Bob Graham, D-FL, has repeatedly said, our “perfidious ally?”
Accompanying that new knowledge have come fresh calls for a new, public investigation to build on what the 9/11 Commission began, and doubts and despair about the will of our leaders to get to the truth and the major news media to pay attention – and an acknowledgement from one former 9/11 Commission member that there is much more to discover.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the complete account of individual and some Saudi Wahhabi organizations’ involvement in 9/11 has not been adequately investigated. The 9/11 Commission tried very hard, but was unable to get full cooperation from some Administration departments,” said former commissioner John Lehman, who served as Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan.
(Wahhabism is Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith, a fundamentalist sect of Sunni Islam akin to puritanical Salafism.)
A FATHER AND A HUSBAND LOST
Kristen Breitweiser is a 9/11 widow. She lost her husband, Ron, who worked in the World Trade Center’s South Tower, and she was one of the four so-called Jersey Girls who were instrumental in getting a reluctant President George W. Bush to establish the 9/11 Commission.
“Of course we need an investigation, because the first two ‘official’ ones were cover-up stories, rather than full and complete fact-finding accounts,’’Breitweiser said. “The commission based its entire understanding of the 9/11 plot through unreliable ‘evidence’ gathered through the ‘enhanced interrogation’ of individuals like KSM [Khalid Sheik Mohammed]. And you know that the NSA [National Security Agency] never provided any records or files, particularly the transcripts related to its al Qaeda targets.”
“So yes, I’d say it’s about time for a follow-up investigation that answers the many questions that the 9/11 families have surrounding the cold-blooded murder of our 3,000 loves ones. And I’d be happy to work as a staff member of that investigation – for free.”
Brett Eagleson’s father, John, also died in the collapse of the South Tower. “We need to correct the mistakes of the 9/11 Commission, which never had the luxury of incorporating the findings of Operation Encore,’’ Brett Eagleson said. “The U.S. government, the Saudi government and the mainstream media default back to the findings of the 9/11 Commission. But what we’ve been saying for a long time now is that the 9/11 Commission has been nullified given what we know now, There should absolutely be either congressional hearings, a Select Committee maybe, or a new 9/11 investigation to correct the shortcomings of the 9/11 Commission. I know that others feel the same way. I’d love to see the FBI agents that worked Encore be called before a congressional body to testify.”
Their calls for more information were met Sunday night by a bipartisan demand for 9/11 records issued by U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chair Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-WI).
The two senators asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI DIrector Christopher Wray to turn over the “complete, unredacted records of Saudi Arabia’s role in the attacks and requested a full explanation of any ongoing need for classification of any portions of these records.” They noted that since an earlier request to see those 9/11 investigation materials in July, “we have not received a single document or obtained an explanation for any of the hundreds of redactions that remain, despite the government’s recent declassification review” of Operation Encore records ordered by President BIden.
CERTAINTY AND SKEPTICISM
Sharon Premoli is a survivor of the attacks. She escaped the North Tower before it fell, but was seriously injured when she was caught in the blast that accompanied the collapse of the South Tower. “Absolutely, we need a new 9/11 investigation,” she said. “We need a public airing of everything that’s occurred since the 9/11 Commission. It should be televised. It would actually negate a lot of what the commission said.”
Terry Strada, who lost her husband, Tom, in the North Tower, said, “I’m not pushing for new hearings. I am pushing for our lawsuit [in federal court in New York against Saudia Arabia] to remain intact because it’s under attack right now.” Strada is currently lobbying lawmakers in Congress to pass the bipartisan Ensuring Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (S2082/H.R,4951) intended to make “technical corrections” to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) that will allow the 9/11 victims’ lawsuit against Saudi Arabia to proceed.
Patricia Casazza is another of the Jersey Girls who lost her husband, John, who died in the North tower. She moved from Colts Neck in central New Jersey to upstate New York because it got to be too painful to remain.
Should there be a new 9/11 investigation? “I would love for nothing more I would love for it, for the nation. But for Congress and the president to have the will and fortitude to see it through, and give the investigation the teeth that it should have had 22 years ago? Do I think that there is going to be that will going forward? Not really,” Casazza said.
Katheen Owens is the widow of Peter Owens Jr., who died in the North Tower. “It’s not that it hasn’t been investigated, it has been investigated and they just have hidden the results of that investigation from us. So to say we want a new 9/11 investigation; what would make me think I should trust a new investigation anymore than what we’ve already got?” she said.
“There was stuff they said that needed further investigating. But look at the big picture. No one in our government has ever answered the question who paid for 9/11? There’s no official answer. How is that possible after 20 years? Is it that they don’t know. The best investigative agencies in the world, the FBI and the CIA, don’t know who paid for 9/11? They know. And why has the media, the mainstream media, let the government get away with not having answered that question for 20 years? Why aren’t they still asking for the answer?” Owens said.
Perhaps the most important development in the 9/11 saga was the discovery of the existence of the FBI’s Operation Encore. Begun on Oct. 26, 2007 and lasting nearly a decade, Encore was the follow-up to the FBI’s original 9/11 investigation, code-named PENTTBOM. It focused on the Saudi role in 9/11. The FBI released the first public document about Encore to Florida Bulldog during Freedom of Information litigation in 2016.
That initial document, a summary report as of October 2012, was heavily redacted for national security, privacy and other reasons. But its declassified portions revealed that agents and prosecutors in New York had targeted an apparent U.S. support network for two of the 9/11 suicide hijackers – Saudis Hawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar – who with three other terrorists crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.
The report listed three “main subjects” of the probe: Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat and the imam at Los Angeles’ King Fahd Mosque; Saudi spy suspect Omar al Bayoumi, and another whose blanked-out name later became public, Musaed al Jarrah. In 2001, al Jarrah was the Saudi Embassy’s director of Islamic Affairs and was said in the document to have “tasked” Thumairy and Bayoumi with aiding Hazmi and Mihdhar following their arrival in Los Angeles in January 2000.
The FBI’s files about Encore were otherwise off limits for years after Trump administration Attorney General William Barr and National Intelligence Acting Director Richard Grenell swore under, “penalty of perjury,” that they contained “state secrets” whose public release was likely to cause “significant harm to the national security.”
But the government’s stance changed dramatically on Sept. 3, 2021 when President Joe Biden ordered the FBI and other agencies to review and declassify their 9/11 investigation records, starting with Operation Encore.
“The American people deserve to have a fuller picture of what their Government knows about those attacks,” says Biden’s executive order. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary. Thus, information collected and generated in the United States Government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.”
FBI DECLASSIFIES 9/11 RECORDS, NEWSPAPERS YAWN
Over the following months, the FBI released more than 900 documents totaling over 4,000 pages that were once state secrets, yet are not known to have caused “significant harm to the national security.” The Department of Justice has apparently chosen not to investigate Barr or Grenell for perjury.
Those FBI documents were little noticed, nor reported on, by the nation’s two biggest table setters for news coverage, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Nevertheless, they contained numerous significant, even explosive disclosures.
Saudi Arabia is vigorously defending in federal court in New York a long-running civil suit brought by 9/11 survivors, family members and other victims who have accused the kingdom of complicity in the al Qaeda terrorist attacks.
On Sept. 8, 2021, following Biden’s executive order, but before any documents had been declassified and made public, the Saudi embassy in Washington put out a statement.
“The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States welcomes the release of classified documents relating to the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001,” it said. “Previous declassification of materials relating to the September 11 attacks…only have confirmed the 9/11 Commission’s finding that Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with this terrible crime. It is lamentable that such false and malicious claims persist.”
For decades, Saudi Arabia has cited 9/11 Commission statements to bolster its contention that it had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The commission’s final report concluded that it had found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.
A DEVASTATING DOCUMENT
Saudi assertions, however, are seriously undermined by the declassified FBI records.
For the kingdom, the single most devastating FBI document to emerge is a 130-page report dated July 23, 2021 that lays out numerous connections of U.S.-based ‘‘personnel and entities controlled by the Saudi Arabian government’’ to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It marks the first time since the disclosure of Operation Encore that declassified records previously declared to be “state secrets” explicitly state that Saudi government officials knowingly provided a support network for the first two al Qaeda hijackers to enter the U.S.
The report also lays out what it calls the FBI’s “investigations and supporting documentation” regarding the religious “militant network that was created, funded, directed and supported by the KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] and its affiliated organizations and diplomatic personnel within the U.S.” That network, as described in the report, was intertwined with the hijackers.
“As Saudi government officials and intelligence officers were directly operating and supporting the entities involved with this network, their involvement with the activities of these organizations/individuals would logically be supposed to have the knowledge or concurrence of the KSA government. This knowledge and/or concurrence by the SAG [Saudi Arabian Government] is related to the 9/11 investigation not only [by] the direct involvement of some personnel but also via the creation of a larger network for such activities,” the report says.
The FBI refers repeatedly in the report to the existence of U.S.-based Saudi “support networks” for the 9/11 hijackers. Previously, the FBI had not acknowledged that such networks were found.
The report goes on to provide an updated “analysis” about “the ties of some of these entities to Saudi Arabian intelligence services,” noting that much information has come to light since the 9/11 Commission published its report in 2004.
SAUDI EMBASSY, AMBASSADOR TIED TO MILITANTS
Much of the report zeros in on the apparently nefarious roles of a pair of religious offices operating within the Washington, D.C. Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – the Islamic Affairs Department and the Office of Da’wa (or Propagation).
“Investigation of the 9/11 hijackers and their support networks identified significant connections to these offices either directly or via the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Los Angeles,” the report says.
The report also names Prince Bandar, then Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. and close friend of both presidents Bush, and the Saudi Embassy as being involved with the funding “of a multitude of Islamic organizations, imams and other religious figures within the U.S. – many of which were involved with militant ideology.’’
The 2021 FBI report affirmatively identifies diplomat al Jarrah for the first time as also working as a spy for Saudi Arabia’s primary intelligence agency, the General Intelligence Presidency (GIP). A heavily redacted section of the report states that as early as 2001 the embassy’s Islamic Affairs section was one of the largest spy operations in the world with approximately 50 officers.
The 2021 FBI report also lists detailed information about numerous other Saudi individuals, educational institutions, and charities, most notably the Muslim World League (MWL).
“The primary NGO [non-government organization] of Saudi Arabia was MWL which operated the International Islamic Relief Organization [IIRO], Sana Bell [Sanabel Alkeheer Seeds of Charity, an investment arm], Alharamain and World Assembly of Muslim Youth [WAMY],” the report says. They were collectively operated out of offices in Herndon, VA.
The 2021 report about those other offices “associated” with the Saudi Embassy “documents the extensive ties to the Saudi Arabian government as well as extensive ties to terrorism – specifically AQ [al Qaeda]. AQ members were employed within these organizations and utilized funding for terrorism support and used the offices for cover for movement of personnel.”
MORE FBI DISCLOSURES
Other declassified FBI documents, or documents that have now been released in less censored versions, have put much new evidence on the 9/11 record.
A less redacted version of the October 2012 FBI summary report revealed the name of the person authorities were seeking to indict in New York for providing material support to the hijackers, Mohdar Abdullah.
Abdullah, who now lives in Sweden, worked with Hazmi at a Southern California gas station and accompanied Hazmi and Mihdhar to Los Angeles International Airport in June 2000 before Mihdhar’s return trip to Yemen to visit family. Abdullah was also a “family friend and associate of Anwar Aulaqui [also spelled Awlaki],” a local religious leader who also knew the two hijackers. Awlaki was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011 ordered by President Barack Obama – the first U.S. citizen to be targeted and killed that way.
A September 2009 report says the FBI obtained surveillance footage from a security camera at Los Angeles airport showing Hazmi, Mihdhar, Abdullah and a fourth, unknown person who “appears to be holding a camera and may have been conducting reconnaissance of LAX security measures.” FBI higher-ups declined agents’ pleas to go public with the footage in hopes of identifying the person with the camera.
The report also revealed that agents also asked permission to interview two Saudi princes they believed could help identify the man with the camera: Nawaf bin Saud bin Mohammed bin Al Saud and his brother, Meteb bin Saud bin Mohammed bin al Saud. The report does not say why agents believed the two princes might know the man. There is no indication in the records that permission was granted to interview them.
OMAR BAYOUMI: SAUDI SPY, PAL OF HIJACKERS
Omar Bayoumi has long been described publicly as a “suspected” Saudi spy. But two declassified FBI reports, one dated June 14, 2017 and the 2021 FBI report, say flatly that from the late 1990s through 9/11 Bayoumi was a “cooptee of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) and “paid a monthly stipend” via then Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud.
“Information al Bayoumi obtained on persons of interest in the Saudi community in Los Angeles and San Diego and other issues, which met certain GIP intelligence requirements, would be forwarded to Bandar. Bandar would then inform the GIP of items of interest to the GIP for further investigation/vetting or follow up.”
“Allegations about al Bayoumi’s involvement with Saudi intelligence were not confirmed at the time of the 9/11 Commission report. The above information confirms these allegations,” the 2017 report says.
In contrast, the 9/11 Commission concluded, “We have seen no credible evidence that he [Bayoumi] believed in violent extremism or knowingly aided extremists groups.”
CBS News took things further about Bayoumi in an April 2022 report. It said British law enforcement authorities had released records and home videos seized from Bayoumi’s home in Birmingham, England, shortly after 9/11. The videos were of a party at the San Diego apartment of hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar hosted by Bayoumi.
That new information about Bayoumi’s interests puts a fresh light on his statements to 9/11 investigators made years ago about his contacts with Hazmi and Mihdhar and his efforts helping them to open a bank account and lease an apartment in the complex where he lived by co-signing a lease and vouching for them.
DISCLOSURES FROM GUANTANAMO
There’s more from those declassified records,. But the they aren’t the only sources of new information to emerge since the 9/11 Commission closed its doors in 2004.
This July, the FBI disclosed to Florida Bulldog that it is actively investigating an apparent attempt to hijack a fifth plane on 9/11. The wide-bodied Boeing 767 was operated by United Airlines and at 9 o’clock that morning, as Flight 23, it was ready to make a nonstop transcontinental trip from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Los Angeles. It never took off because the airport was shut down.
The crew was interviewed later by the FBI after reporting suspicious behavior by several Arab men in first class. The disclosure decades later that the FBI was investigating Flight 23 was made when the bureau denied the Bulldog’s FOIA request for records, acknowledging it has records about the matter, but that they were exempt from public disclosure because there is a “pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding” that could be impacted.
In April, a sworn 22-page declaration by Donald Canestraro, an investigator for the Office of Military Commissions assigned to the defense team for Guantanamo detainee Ammar al Balulchi, surfaced. It recounted statements given to him by ex-FBI and CIA agents that included the anger of FBI counterterrorism agents at CIA officials who claimed they were blocked from obtaining intelligence about Hazmi and Mihdhar prior to 9/11.
Canestraro obtained information supporting the veracity of long public, yet highly disturbing allegations that top CIA officials, including Director George Tenet, intentionally withheld vital intelligence from the FBI that might have prevented 9/11. Specifically, that Hazmi and Mihdhar had entered the U.S. after attending an al Qaeda summit meeting in Malaysia in early January 2000. The alleged reason: because the CIA was secretly working with Saudi intelligence to recruit the two hardened al Qaeda members as informants.
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF DISCLOSURES
Other information of significance has been released recently by other agencies. Last November, for example, a 31-page “summary” of the 9/11 Commission’s private interview with then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The summary revealed that neither Bush nor Cheney was placed under oath during a three-hour meeting in the Oval Office on April 29, 2004. It also described a generally relaxed, non-adversarial and largely superficial get-together during which no significant information was gleaned, and Bush declared his nonpublic opinion that he “didn’t see much point in assigning personal blame for 9/11.”
The summary, classified as “secret/sensitive,” was released to Washington, D.C. area 9/11 researcher Erik Larson by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), an obscure body comprised of various government entities that – like the Freedom of Information process – can be used by the public to obtain a review of national security-classified records.
Larson requested the document a decade earlier, in 2012.
Then there are Florida Bulldog’s disclosures in 2011 of a secret FBI 9/11 investigation that found direct ties between Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers and Saudis living in the Sarasota area. Working with Irish author Anthony Summers, the Bulldog spoke with law enforcement and other sources who said how two weeks before the 2001 terrorist attacks a Saudi family had abruptly left the Sarasota-area home, leaving a new car in the driveway, a refrigerator full of food, fruit on the counter and an open, empty safe in the master bedroom.
In the weeks that followed, law enforcement agents not only discovered the home was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers, but phone calls were linked between the home and the hijackers, including Atta. Atta and fellow al Qaeda member Marwan al-Shehhi, who flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center’s South Tower, were learning to fly small airplanes at Huffman Aviation, a flight school at Venice Municipal Airport about 10 miles south.
The FBI kept its probe secret from Congress, which was then conducting a bipartisan 9/11 investigation, according to former Sen. Graham, who co-chaired that Joint Inquiry. Nor is it mentioned in the final report of the subsequent 9/11 Commission.