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paranoid theory of the week :: was the saudi royal family behind the 9/11 attacks?

the ghosts of 9/11
i had thought about doing a compendium of 9/11 conspiracies in honour of friday's anniversary, but then i got under way and realised the enormity of the task i had assigned myself. as you may have guessed, that's why we're a little late with this post. [which may in turn, push mental health mondays to tuesday, but we shall see...]

given that this is [i believe] the longest paranoid theory of the week yet, i think you'll agree that sticking to one theory was the way to go. i haven't come close to investigating everything related to this story and even then, i've had to narrow my focus to a few key areas, because there could be [and have been] books written on the subject of saudi involvement with the terrorists of september 11.

if proven true, it's hard to overestimate the effect it could have on international relations for the foreseeable future.

if proven false, the theory smacks of xenophobia and racism: that we are inherently suspicious of powerful strangers with dark skin.

with that in mind, let's delve into the story...

the theory :: 
the government of saudi arabia were in contact with and gave support, financial and otherwise, to the twenty hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and were aware enough of their motives and plans to be considered conspirators.

the origin :: 
possibly with the neighbours of a wealthy advisor to a prominent member of the saudi royal family. his daughter and son-in-law were staying in his home inside a gated community, but in late august, the family bolted as if they'd been fleeing a natural disaster. they left almost everything except the clothes on their back, including, allegedly, a refrigerator full of food. while they certainly had the money to replace anything they needed, this does seem like strange behaviour if their voyage [back to saudi arabia] was planned. others who lived in the community found the timing suspicious and told the fbi so.

there are others who were suspicious about saudi involvement, but this is about the earliest example of someone connecting a concrete action to that theory.

sen. bob graham
the believers ::
me? in the interests of full disclosure, i was discussing the events with a couple of friends a few days after the attacks and we were all trying to make sense of the tremendous amount of information, as well as the already-growing conspiracy theories that had arisen. at the time, i said that i wasn't inclined to believe those theories [primarily that it had been an "inside job", which is a subject for a whole other post], but that it wouldn't surprise me if middle eastern governments like that of saudi arabia had had some involvement. i wasn't basing that on evidence, because at the time, there was extremely little evidence that had been processed. all i meant was that, if there had been a conspiracy outside of al qaeda, that i would look to the saudis rather than the americans. the saudi government needs american money, but the relationship between the countries is best described as civil and occasionally cordial on those odd occasions when their foreign policy aims align [as they did when iraq invaded kuwait in 1990.] america is not well-loved in that area of the world. but america was still far less of a problem than al qaeda, whose chief targets had been the oil oligarchs and their political muscle up to that point. countries of the arabian peninsula had had a much more directly combative relationship with the terrorist group in the years leading up to the world trade centre attacks. furthermore, those governments stood to benefit greatly from anything that increased the price of oil. looking at that, i thought that it was just possible that the saudis, or other governments and royal houses in the region, would have seem some benefit in having their disliked ally take on their hated enemy, while generating greater wealth for themselves and their nations. i won't go so far as to say i firmly believed or promoted this point of view, all i thought was that i could see the line of logic behind it [and that that line was straighter than the others i was hearing]. i thought it was important to bring this up because, while i always try to be balanced in my presentation, there is the possibility that i'm a little biased toward this particular conspiracy and that that bias has affected this post without me meaning it to.

but there are way more important people than me who believe there's something to this story. for starters. the families of 9/11 victims fought [successfully] to have the saudi government named as a plaintiff in their civil suit to collect damages from responsible parties. former senator bob graham, who chaired the congressional inquiry into 9/11, maintains that the fbi has "covered" for the saudis by hiding evidence of a support cell for the terrorists operating out of florida. graham, a democrat, has joined forces with a group of current and former members of congress to push for the declassification of 28 pages of the investigation into intelligence activities before and after 9/11. that group includes republican senator and current presidential candidate rand paul. paul went so far as to introduce a bill [co-sponsored by democrats ron wyden and kirsten gillibrand] that would compel the administration to release the infamously redacted pages in june of this year. president bush's [43] former deputy director of homeland security, richard falkenrath felt that the original 9/11 commission report glossed over financial support for al-qaeda from saudi arabia and intelligence support from pakistan.

there is a more interesting name i could add to that list, but whether he's an actual believer, or a man looking for attention is something that we'll address in the "evidence" section.

the bad guys ::
the saudi royal family and, at least after the fact, the fbi.

the evidence ::
two things first caused official and amateur investigators to start sniffing around the saudis for links to the 9/11 attacks:

first, 19 of the 20 hijackers were from saudi arabia. two were already on terrorist watchlists. and yet, none of these men seemed to have any trouble coming to and moving around the united states. some supposedly received some assistance from the saudi embassy after they arrived in america. [assistance from an embassy, of course, is not at all suspicious, but if the people in question were already suspected of having terrorist ties, it makes that offer of assistance extremely suspicious.]

second, there is osama bin laden. he was saudi himself, born and raised in riyadh, a son of an extremely wealthy and well-connected family. he inherited a personal fortune of between $25 and $30 million from his father's multi-billion dollar construction industry and while the family claimed to have cut ties with him after he turned to terrorism, there has always been suspicion that the ties weren't cut quite as neatly as the family alleged. [one popular example was a photo of osama at a family wedding some time after his supposed ostracization.] there is ample evidence that, pre-ostracization, bin laden received plenty of financial support from the saudi government for his mujahadeen activities in afghanistan. but the americans were passing money to his group as well, and even asked the saudis to help them do it.

neither of those things constitutes evidence, not even circumstantial evidence, but they certainly provide grounds for asking some questions about potential involvement from someone in saudi arabia.

and that brings us to the gated community in florida and the sudden departure of the couple in one of its homes.

the fbi considered the news interesting enough that they opened an investigation into the couple, abdulaziz and anoud al-hajiji, their extended family and friends, on september 19, 2001. it remained open for several years, coordinated from the fbi field office in tampa, but in concert with other offices around the country. there are rumours that abdulaziz al-hajiji and his father-in-law esam ghazzawi were on a watch list even prior to the september 11 attacks, claims which the family vociferously denies. the fbi says that their investigation unearthed nothing untoward about the movements of the al-hajiji family and, more importantly, no ties to any terrorist groups or to the individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks.

what's peculiar, however, is that they appear never to have advised either congress or the 9/11 commission [who issued their final report in 2004] that they had looked into the al-hajijis. in the interests of thoroughness, it seems that a multi-year investigation warranted at least a heads up, so that it could be noted in the report and show that due diligence was done.

flash forward to 2014 and the government mandated the 9/11 review commission, tasked specifically with evaluating evidence unavailable to the original commission and documenting any progress made in the investigation since that time. their report, issued in march of this year, does mention the fbi's work on the al-hajijis, but does absolutely nothing to disspel the rumours about their findings. instead, the review panel notes that there was a field report by a special agent alleging that there were numerous connections between the al-hajijis, the ghazzawis and the 9/11 hijackers. the fbi told the review panel that that the report was poorly written and that, when questioned, the agent who wrote it was unable to provide credible substantiation for what it said. there's just one problem: no one on the review panel ever saw the report in question and they never interviewed the agent who wrote it.

this is the sort of thing that drives conspiracy-boosters into fits. it's perfectly possible that the report was nothing more than a cobbling together of gossip from neighbours and the internet written by an agent hoping to make a name for himself by discovering something salacious. perhaps he was trying to boost a theory of his own. but when the review panel doesn't even bother to look at what happened, or to question the fbi's official version... well, that's where people start to get suspicious.

plus, of course, there's the 28 pages of the investigation into intelligence community activity. in their current classified state, they are evidence of nothing. the reason given for redacting them is that they contain crucial information about how intelligence was acquired that could put ongoing and future intelligence work in jeopardy. that's not an unreasonable explanation. if you've been passing money to a certain family for years and been getting good information from a variety of them, on a number of security issues, that's not something you want made public. your sources are potentially endangered and you lose them all for good, plus you've tipped everyone off to your methods. [that's an entirely theoretical comment, by the way, and i'm in no way claiming that that's what's hidden in those pages.]

zacarias moussaoui
but given that the pages relate specifically to the financing of the terror attacks [per joint committee staff director eleanor hill, to foreign sources of financing, specifically], it is tempting to think that these pages are kept classified in order to protect extremely powerful interests.

the highest profile claims that the saudi government was involved in the attacks, however, comes from someone with no connection whatsoever to the fbi: zacarias moussaoui. this was that possible believer i mentioned a couple of sections back. earlier this year, the so-called 20th hijacker made news when he testified at the civil suit that, in his capacity as osama bin laden's donor base data entry clerk, he had recorded financial gifts from many prominent saudis, including members of the royal family.

now that, my friends is some serious insider confirmation. except that it isn't, exactly.

for starters, moussaoui is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. that doesn't mean that he's incapable of telling the truth, but it does mean that his memory of what's true [and this is work he did in the 1990s] and what isn't is more vulnerable than most to mistakes. indeed, the saudi embassy dismissed him as a "deranged criminal" and noted that the conditions of his deposition meant that he never faced cross-examination.

but even leaving aside the question of his mental disorder [or the idea that he might just be lying because he doesn't like america and thinks it would be funny to set them and the saudis at each other's throats], there are reasons why his statements need to be treated with caution. first of all, the man has lied in the past, and concocted a story about how he was supposed to fly a plane into the white house on 9/11, which experts agree was a load of hooey. in criminal trials, the testimony of co-conspirators is considered so tainted that you aren't even allowed to use it if every salient detail can't be substantiated by another person not involved in the crime. this isn't a smoking gun, or maybe a gun at all. but it is something that warrants a closer look.

more interesting as  a witness, albeit only for providing more circumstantial evidence, is a man called mohammed al-khilewi, a former employee of the saudi government at the united nations who defected to the united states with a large number of documents he claimed linked the saudi government to all sorts corruption, bribery, human rights abuses and, yes, terrorism. khilwei's flight was apparently in response to having his life threatened after he wrote to crown prince abdullah on the importance of welcoming democratic reforms that included some pretty harsh criticism of the prince's father king faud. he said that he had personally witnessed a man with a saudi diplomatic passport [possibly osama bin laden's brother-in-law] give money to the ramzi youssef, the man behind the first world trade centre bombing in 1993. the american government agreed to protect him [he still lives under an assumed name in the new york area], but declined to look at the 14,000 diplomatic papers he'd brought.

pres. george w. bush and saudi crown prince abdullah
more recently, the aforementioned bob graham and former senator and presidential candidate bob kerrey have given sworn testimony [related to the families' civil suit] that their access to classified information has convinced them that there is a direct link between at least some of the 9/11 terrorists and the government of saudi arabia. neither graham nor kerrey have much to gain from such actions. neither is involved in politics any more and neither is likely to return to it, which makes their testimony seem pretty unassailable. it is, of course, totally unassailable, because even if they were allowed to be cross-examined, they couldn't be questioned on the contents of top secret documents.

to place all of this in context, the original 9/11 commission report exonerated saudi arabia and said there was no credible evidence that there was any link between any prominent saudi and the 9/11 attacks. [the report also exonerated iraq, for all it matters now.] the fbi investigated the al-hajijis and cleared them. outside of its 28 redacted pages, the review panel's report states that it found no ties between the saudis and the terror attacks. that's not going to convince any believers in the saudi conspiracy, but it's still a lot of people saying "no". the most you can say is that the recently published cia report on intelligence community activities used somewhat squirrely language to say that there was no evidence of saudi involvement. but it's a cia document. the whole damn thing sounds squirrely.

one of the most interesting pieces in the saudi-9/11 puzzle is a three-word statement from adel al-jubeir, a spokesman for crown prince abdullah, discussing the saudis' own internal investigation into possible arabian links to 9/11. he said that the inquiry had produced evidence of "wrongdoing by some". that's all we know, because no one ever asked for clarification on the comment.

the 9/11 memorial, new york city
the likelihood :: 7/10
it's far from proven, but damn there's a lot of smoke around if there's no fire. i'd originally been going to rank this as a little less likely, because i couldn't find any piece of evidence that compelled me to believe that there was a connection. every individual story i found is questionable. but then it occurred to me that the most important issue wasn't that there was one damning piece of evidence, but that there were just so many curious pieces just lying around. for instance, the claims of zacarias moussaoui on their own might be dubious, but they're backed in principle by those of mohammed al-khilewi, as well as by the testimony of former senators graham and kerry. the dismissal of the field report about the al-hajijis may have been well-founded, but it ties into a narrative of turning a blind eye to saudi activity, which is one of the criticisms leveled by richard falkenrath.

while it might not settle anything beyond question, it seems clear that the administration needs to acquiesce to the demands and release the infamous redacted pages from its intelligence report. politicians- republican and democrat- who've seen the pages say that the vast majority of the text could be published without threatening any intelligence operations. [although some of them have cautioned that this doesn't mean they won't be inflammatory.] and in their fight to finally have access to the complete report, they have an unlikely ally: the saudi government.

that's right. the nation deemed most likely to be damned by the missing info is also calling for its release, because they believe it will exonerate them. but if that's the case, and if it's also the case that there is some pretty harsh truth to be found in those missing pages... well that's a mystery we'll have to deal with at a later time. 


Martin Rouge said…
I would add an interesting, and possibly important piece of info, that would more tightly link the Saudis and Al Qaeda: they are all followers of the Wahhabist sect of Islam. They are essentially the Islamic equivalent of those ultra-orthodox Jews who are violently pushing Israel into committing terrible things, in the name of purity and the glory of the chosen people. If you want to push an ideology throughout the world, but keep access to the advantages provided by those infidels (like those warplanes and other military toys that the Saudis manage to get when other US allies can't get them) then doing it through a deniable source is a cheap and easy way to do it.

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