long-awaited declassification of the 28 pages of a 2002 congressional
describing the potential ties between the government of Saudi Arabia and the
9/11 hijackers has left much to be desired. While Washington and Riyadh have
celebrated the release of the 28 pages and fully dismissed the idea of Saudi
involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the report, albeit limited in its scope,
raises questions over Saudi counterterrorism cooperation, U.S. internal intelligence
sharing, and the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks. While independent
analyses of the released report have largely sided with the shared U.S. and
Saudi Arabian stance in denying Saudi involvement in the attacks, many details
of the hijackers’ preparations and support remain unclear 15 years later.
by the Bush Administration in 2002, the 28 page report was deemed to contain
sensitive information that may harm the important U.S.-Saudi Arabia
relationship during the early stages of the War on Terror. However, refusal to
release the report despite over a decade of legal pressure and anticipation led
many to believe that the 28 pages contained the ‘smoking gun’ for Saudi
Arabia’s role in the attacks. For those that anticipated conclusiveness or 28
pages of damning evidence against Saudi Arabia, the report will be largely
disappointing. Not only is a direct tie of guilt to Saudi Arabia’s government
missing from the pages, but the report is also limited in its implications.
Completed before the 9/11 Commission started its investigation in late 2002,
many of the report’s lingering questions about Saudi involvement in 9/11 were
later investigated by the Commission and addressed in its 2004 report.
the report may not live up to the conspiratorial buzz preceding its release, it
does contain alarming information that should not be overlooked. The report
suggests there were potential ties between several of the 9/11 hijackers and
people with connections to the Saudi government. Among these people, the 28
pages highlight two Saudi nationals living in San Diego in the early 2000s,
Osama Bassnan and Omar al-Bayoumi. The report indicates that Bassnan was a
neighbor of hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and provided them
with financial assistance. Bassnan, a former employee of the Saudi Arabian
Education Mission, had close ties to longtime Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.
Bandar bin Sultan and may have even received a fake passport from Saudi
Government officials. Bassnan reportedly received regular checks from Bandar
and his wife, Haifa al-Faisal.
al-Bayoumi, an associate of Bassnan’s in San Diego, was repeatedly described to
the FBI as a possible Saudi intelligence “from individuals in the Muslim
community.” Seemingly in support of these claims, the report points out that
al-Bayoumi was on the payroll of an aviation company linked to the Saudi
Ministry of Defense although he did not work there. Al-Bayoumi was reportedly
in close contact with al-Hazmi and al-Midhar, provided them with financial
assistance and even helped the hijackers find an apartment in San Diego. A man
with “extensive contact with Saudi Government establishments in the United
States”, al-Bayoumi was on the receiving end of financial assistance from a
Saudi-linked company and met with the hijackers shortly after meeting with a
Saudi consulate employee, a sequence of events that “may not have been
the anticipation surrounding the release of the report, the controversial
details mentioned above and the information in the rest of the report do not provide
evidence of a direct relationship between the Saudi Arabian government and the
al-Qaeda terrorists. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report describes al-Bayoumi
as having met the hijackers after overhearing them speak Arabic with familiar
Gulf accents. According to the 9/11 Commission story, al-Bayoumi, a close
friend of Bassnan and an “unlikely candidate for clandestine involvement with
Islamic extremists”, befriended the hijackers unaware of their intentions.
Thus, not only have many of the questions of the 28 pages been covered in
previously released documents on the 9/11 investigation, such as the 9/11 Commission report and the 2005 joint FBI-CIA study, but the contents do not
indicate a direct relationship between Riyadh and the 9/11 attackers.
the information in the 28 pages does not prove Saudi guilt in perpetrating the
attacks, the kingdom’s shaky response to the attacks as revealed in the report represents
the most damaging information to the government of Saudi Arabia. According to
the report, a number of FBI agents and CIA officers complained of Saudi
noncompliance in investigating terrorism both before and after the 9/11
attacks. Considering the emergence of the newly released information on
suspicious potential Saudi ties and the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on
9/11 were Saudi nationals, a lack of counterterrorism cooperation from Riyadh
does not help Saudi Arabia’s claim to be a vital partner in U.S.
counterterrorism intelligence efforts.
the government of Saudi Arabia will likely face heat for its lack of
counterterrorism cooperation and its role in the information contained in the
28 pages, the report also backs the claim that the pre-9/11 U.S. government
system for intelligence sharing was inadequate. According to the report, the
U.S. Government did not investigate Saudi nationals in the United States prior
to 9/11 and had not received reporting “from any member of the Intelligence
Community” that there was a (redacted words) presence in the United States.
However, an investigation by the CIA Inspector General revealed that 50 to 60 CIA personnel were aware of the presence of
the 9/11 hijackers in the U.S. but did not alert the FBI or White House. This
failure of communication has led some, including former National Security Council
coordinator for counterterrorism Richard Clarke, to believe alternate motives
were at play that prevented the CIA from communicating the whereabouts of the
suspicious Saudi nationals.
of the substance of the 28 pages and the level of Saudi involvement will
invariably differ according to the reader. Despite growing pressure, the
contents of the lightly redacted report, which had adopted a somewhat
conspiratorial nature following over a decade of speculation of its contents,
is unlikely to trigger major changes in the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship. While
most independent analysts, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. have declared the
controversial debate over Saudi involvement in 9/11 to be officially over, the
report also introduces new questions regarding a lack of Saudi counterterrorism
cooperation, U.S. intelligence sharing, and the presence of Saudi nationals in
communication with the 9/11 hijackers in the U.S.