Hiding Intelligence that Matters

Bob Graham's new book contains two explosive charges: one, Omar al-Bayoumi, a man who helped settle two of the 9/11 hijackers in San Diego was really a Saudi spy; two, the White House has directed what amounts to a cover up of the intelligence failures connected to the 9/11 attacks.

If the charges sound familiar, it's because they are based on facts uncovered by the Congressional Joint Inquiry that the Florida senator co-chaired, and whose findings were released in a report in the summer of 2003. At the time, the White House refused to declassify 27 pages of that report, which allegedly dealt with financial and logistical support that some of the hijackers may have received from Saudi sources.

But Graham goes further in connecting the dots than the report in the book, which is titled "Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America's War on Terror." He claims that Omar al-Bayoumi – who offered assistance to two of the 9/11 hijackers – was likely a full fledged Saudi spy:


Al-Bayoumi … was a Saudi national, serving his nation as a spy. [His] responsibility was to keep an eye on Saudis in San Diego … Once the future terrorists arrive in San Diego, the spy holds a dinner in their honor, introduces them to like-minded individuals, helps them procure official identification, and made the initial payments for their apartment.

That spy, Omar al-Bayoumi, describes their meeting as coincidental … Except that we had now discovered that al-Bayoumi wasn't just acting out of the goodness of his heart – in the five months that Khalid al-Mihdhar spent in San Diego and the ten months that Nawaf al-Hazmi spent there, al-Bayoumi's income rose in conjunction with his support for them, and that increase comes from two sources, a Saudi government contractor and a member of the Saudi royal family … On September 11, America was not attacked by a nation-state, but we had just discovered that the attackers were actively supported by one, and that state was our supposed friend and ally Saudi Arabia.
But for all the material included in Graham's book, he fails to prove decisively that Bayoumi had any advanced knowledge of the hijacking plot itself. Indeed, the independent 9/11 Commission, which interviewed Bayoumi in Saudi Arabia, suggests that the two 9/11 hijackers in question also suspected him of spying for the Saudis and therefore tried to keep their distance.

As such, "Intelligence Matters" raises questions about intelligence on some of the fifteen Saudi hijackers that elements of the Saudi government may have possessed prior to the 9/11 attacks, but fails to deliver any firm conclusions that could incriminate the Saudi government.

More significant is the book's suggestion that a shadowy and coordinated support network within the United States helped the terrorists carry out the attacks. Graham reveals how neither the FBI nor the CIA has yet to provide satisfactory information on this network of sleeper "helpers," who were embedded in communities across the country in order to provide logistical support for the hijackers. They included among others the San Diego imam, Answar Aulaqi, who followed three of the 9/11 hijackers to northern Virginia in the summer of 2001 and Yemeni student Mohdar Abdullah.

Graham is worried that the U.S. intelligence community does not have a full handle on the degree to which the country may have already been infiltrated by agents of future attacks and their support networks. In an interview this week with the newspaper The Forward, Graham went further in his allegations claiming that there are more agents of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group active in Lebanon, than those of al Qaeda within the country today.

Graham clearly has cause to be concerned about the state of U.S. intelligence. For example, the Congressional Joint Inquiry faced fierce resistance from the FBI, and ultimately the White House, when it tried to gain access to an Indian-born Muslim retired San Diego State University English professor who had rented a room in his San Diego suburban home to one of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi. The reason: the professor, Abdussattar Shaikh, was a paid FBI informant at the very time that al-Hazmi was living in his home.

Not only did the FBI fail to turn over its files on Shaikh to the Congressional Joint Inquiry, it refused to let its members interview Shaikh:
The other person we wanted to talk to was the informant himself. The problem was that the FBI was extremely resistant to our request to interview him, arguing that they had already investigated him and that he was an innocent, with no knowledge of the plans of the men he had befriended. The FBI could not, however, explain a number of inconsistencies in the informant's statements, inconsistencies that our staff – not the FBI – had uncovered in reading the files. Of course, the FBI's investigation of the informant was a self-investigation, so we were skeptical of their conclusion: it might have been colored by self-interest. We kept pressing them to produce the informant. … Because only the FBI knew where to find him, it was able to control our access to him.
When Graham tries to give the FBI a subpoeana to deliver to the informant, the FBI refuses to pass it on. When the Congressional investigators are finally able to reach the informant's lawyer weeks later, the lawyer says that Shaikh is willing to talk only if he is granted immunity – a request that the Inquiry turns down on the grounds that they did not know what information he had to offer.

The stonewalling fuels both Graham's and the reader's suspicions that the FBI is stalling for a very good reason. Graham summarizes the episode in the following terms:
At the end of the whole FBI experience, one thing was clear: we would not be hearing what the informant had to say … This whole episode invited the question why the FBI was so unwilling to have us talk to their informant, or speak publicly of him … We wouldn't learn … until November 18, 2002 why the FBI had been so uncooperative … In discussing the case of the informant, the letter [from the FBI] said, "the Administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source. Nor did the Administration agree to allow the FBI to serve a subpoena … on the source." We were seeing in writing what we had suspected for some time: the White House was directing the cover-up.
And here is the real target of the book's outrage: not Saudi Arabia, not the FBI, but the Bush White House itself. The administration has steadily resisted any investigation of the 9/11 attacks, what the U.S. government could have done to prevent them, and a possible Saudi relationship to some of the 9/11 hijackers, at every step along the way.

And why is that?

While some readers may be tempted to see a conspiracy, Graham's book points instead to the innate secretiveness of the Bush administration and, more likely, calculations of political expediency. The White House quite simply did not want the investigation to make it look bad. The irony is, of course, is that its obstruction of Graham's congressional inquiry, the more recent independent 9/11 commission, and the intelligence reforms proposed by both investigations, makes it look all the worse: stubborn, reactive, and self-serving.

Graham's book will appeal to readers who have an interest in the 9/11 investigation and intelligence reform issues, as well as in the career of one of the Senate's bolder and more candid Democratic leaders. But for a definitive history of what advance knowledge the U.S. government had of the 9/11 plot and terrorists, readers should turn to the independent 9/11 Commission Report itself. Graham's book best serves as a complement to that more comprehensive, and definitive, account.

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