September 09, 2004

Sen. Graham: Bush Covered Up Saudi Involvement in 9/11

"Out, out damn spot!"

Mary Jacoby, Salon, interviews Sen. Bob Graham
(D-Fraudida): Did the White House specifically request
classification of the section on the Saudis?
Technically, it was done by the CIA, but it was at
the direction of the White House. I cannot tell you
with 100 percent certainty, but I am 90 percent sure
that was the case. The White House played a heavy role
throughout not only our investigation but the
investigation of the 9/11 commission.
You obviously don't believe the Bush
administration was justified in classifying the 27
pages.
No. Sen. Shelby, who was the vice chairman of the
[Senate intelligence] committee and who is a
Republican, reread those pages shortly after they were
classified. And I also reread them. Independently, we
both came to the same assessment that 95 percent of
the material that had been classified could have been
released to the public. It did not represent
concealment of national secrets or of sources and
methods by which information is obtained.
Why do you think the White House is so intent on
keeping that information from the public?
I think there are several possible reasons. One is
that it did not want the public to be aware of the
degree of Saudi involvement in supporting the 9/11
terrorists. Second, it was embarrassing that that
support took place literally under the nose of the
FBI, to the point where one of the terrorists in San
Diego was living at the house of a paid FBI informant.
Third, there has been a long-term special relationship
between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and that
relationship has probably reached a new high under the
George W. Bush administration, in part because of the
long and close family relationship that the Bushes
have had with the Saudi royal family.
In the book, you describe being furious with the
FBI for blocking your committee's attempts to
interview that paid FBI informant. You write that the
panel needed the bureau to deliver a congressional
subpoena to the informant because he was in the FBI's
protective custody and could not be located without
the bureau's cooperation. But the FBI refused to help.
What happened? And what do you think the bureau was
trying to hide?
We had just finished a hearing and had asked
various representatives of the FBI to come into a
conference room and discuss our strong interest in
being able to interview the San Diego informant. It
was clear that the FBI representatives were not going
to voluntarily allow that to happen, and we had
already prepared a subpoena, which I had in my coat
pocket. I walked over to the principal representative
for the FBI, Ken Wainstein, and I was approaching him
with this subpoena, he clasped his hands tightly
behind his back. I tried to hand him the subpoena, but
he acted as if it were radioactive. Finally he said he
didn't want to take the subpoena, but he would get
back to us on the following Monday. Well, nobody ever
got back to us. It was the only time in my senatorial
experience that the FBI has refused to deliver a
legally issued congressional subpoena.
Later, the FBI congressional affairs officer sent
a letter to [co-chairman] Porter Goss and me, saying,
"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." What that tells me is the FBI wasn't acting
on its own but had been directed by the White House
not to cooperate.

Repudiate the 9/11 Cover-Up and the Iraq War Lies,
Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/090904A.shtml

Sen. Graham: Bush Covered Up Saudi Involvement in 9/11

By Mary Jacoby
Salon.com

Wednesday 08 September 2004

The former chairman of the Senate Intelligence
Committee tells Salon that the White House has
suppressed convincing evidence that the Saudi royal
family supported at least two of the hijackers.
As the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman
during the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the
run-up to the Iraq war, Sen. Bob Graham tried to
expose what he came to believe were national security
coverups and manipulations by the Bush administration.
But he discovered that it was hard to reveal a coverup
playing by the rules. Much of the evidence the Florida
Democrat needed to buttress his arguments was being
locked away, he found, under the veil of politically
motivated classification.

Now, as he prepares to retire after 18 years in
the Senate, the normally cautious former governor of
Florida is unleashing himself in a new book,
"Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia
and the Failure of America's War on Terror."

In his book, Graham asserts that the White House
blocked investigations into Saudi Arabian government
support for the 9/11 plot, in part because of the Bush
family's close ties to the Saudi royal family and
wealthy Saudis like the bin Ladens. Behind the White
House's insistence on classifying 27 pages detailing
the Saudi links in a report issued by a joint
House-Senate intelligence panel co-chaired by Graham
in 2002 lay the desire to hide the administration's
deficiencies and protect its Saudi allies, according
to Graham.

Graham's allegations - supported by the Republican
vice chairman of the House-Senate 9/11 investigation,
Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, but not his
co-chairman, Rep. Porter Goss, Bush's nominee to
become director of the CIA - are not new. But his book
states them more forcefully than before, even as
Graham adds new insight into Bush's decision to invade
Iraq, made apparently well before the president
asserted he had exhausted all options.

In February 2002, Graham writes, Gen. Tommy
Franks, then conducting the war against the Taliban in
Afghanistan (and later to speak in prime time on
behalf of Bush's candidacy at the Republican National
Convention in New York), pulled the senator aside to
explain that important resources in the hunt for Osama
bin Laden, such as Predator drones, were being quietly
redeployed to Iraq. "He told me that the decision to
go to war in Iraq had been made at least 14 months
before we actually went into Iraq, long before there
was authorization from Congress and long before the
United Nations was sought out for a resolution of
support," Graham tells Salon.

Graham voted against the congressional war
resolution authorizing force to topple Saddam Hussein.
In 2003 he briefly ran for the Democratic presidential
nomination, arguing that Bush had diverted resources
from the hunt for America's real enemies with his joy
ride in Iraq. (Graham dropped out before the
primaries.)

Graham's book is being embraced by the John Kerry
campaign, which arranged for him to discuss his
conclusions with reporters in a conference call
Tuesday. Dozens of journalists called in. This past
Sunday, Graham appeared on "Meet the Press," and
afterward Kerry issued a statement: "These are serious
allegations being made by a well-respected and
informed leader. If the White House and the FBI did in
fact block an investigation into the ties between the
Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers, then this
would be a massive abuse of power."

Salon spoke with the senator by telephone on
Tuesday, his voice already growing hoarse on the first
day of a heavy book promotion tour.

You write about the Bush administration's
suppression of the joint House-Senate intelligence
panel's findings on Saudi Arabian links to 9/11. What
exactly was suppressed, and why? Or at least tell us
what you can, given that the information is still
classified.

In general terms it included the details of why we
[on the committee] had raised suspicion that the Saudi
government and various representatives of Saudi
interests had supported some of the hijackers - and
might have supported all of them. My own personal
conclusion was that the evidence of official Saudi
support for at least two of the terrorists in San
Diego was, as one CIA agent said, incontrovertible.
That led us to another question: Why would the Saudis
have provided that level of assistance to two of the
19 [hijackers] and not the other 17? There wasn't an
adequate attempt to answer that question. My feeling
was there wasn't anything to justify that discrepancy,
and so there was a strong possibility that such
assistance had been provided to others of the
terrorists, but we didn't know about it. Then there's
another question: If there was this infrastructure in
place that was accessed by the terrorists, did it
disappear as soon as 9/11 was completed? There's no
reason to believe that it did.

Your investigation in Congress focused on a Saudi
national named Omar al-Bayoumi, who had provided
extensive assistance to two of the 9/11 hijackers,
Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, when they lived in
San Diego. You say al-Bayoumi was apparently a covert
agent of the Saudi government, and from that you
conclude there was official Saudi support for the
plot. Yet the independent 9/11 commission came to a
different conclusion. Its executive director, Philip
Zelikow, has said his investigation had more access to
information than yours - including the opportunity to
interview al-Bayoumi. And the commission concluded he
had nothing to do with the attacks, that his contacts
with the hijackers were coincidental.

Let me say that what we know about this comes
primarily from FBI and CIA reports that were in the
file in San Diego. And in those files, FBI agents
referred to Bayoumi as being a Saudi Arabian agent or
Saudi Arabian spy. In the summer of 2002, a CIA agent
filed a report that said it was "incontrovertible"
that terrorists were receiving assistance, financial
and otherwise, from Saudis in San Diego. No. 2:
Bayoumi was supposed to be working for a firm that was
a subcontractor for the Saudi civil aviation
authority. Yet he never showed up for work. His boss
tried to fire him, and he received a letter from the
Saudi civil aviation authority demanding that he be
retained on their payroll despite the fact he wasn't
performing any services. And the subcontracting
company that employed Bayoumi was owned by a Saudi
national who, according to documents seized in Bosnia,
was an early financial backer of al-Qaida. Now, that's
rather suspicious.

Also suspicious is the number of telephone
conversations between Bayoumi and Saudi government
representatives. It was a very substantial number that
remains classified. Then, the event that really raised
our suspicions was that shortly after Alhazmi and
Almihdhar flew from Bangkok [Thailand] to Los Angeles
[after attending an al-Qaida conference in Malaysia
that resulted in their being added to a CIA watch
list], Bayoumi tells various persons that he was going
to Los Angeles to "pick up some visitors." He drives
from San Diego to Los Angeles with a friend. His first
stop in Los Angeles was at the consulate of the Saudi
government, where he stays for an hour and meets with
a diplomat named Fahad al-Thumairy, who subsequently
was deported for terrorist-related activities.

After that one-hour meeting, he and that companion
go to a Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles to
have lunch. They overhear Arabic being spoken at a
nearby table. They invite the two young men who are at
that table to come and join them. It turns out those
two young men are Alhazmi and Almihdhar, two of the
9/11 terrorists. When I asked the staff director of
the 9/11 commission about this, he thought it was just
a coincidence that they met at this restaurant. I did
some independent research. There are at least 134
Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles. So the
statistical odds of these two groups meeting at the
same Middle Eastern restaurant at the same time are
staggering.

You don't believe the meeting was a coincidence?

I'm almost certain this was a prearranged meeting.
Later, Bayoumi takes the two terrorists to San Diego,
where he introduces them to people who arrange for
them to obtain [phony] Social Security cards and
flying lessons.

Did the White House specifically request
classification of the section on the Saudis?

Technically, it was done by the CIA, but it was at
the direction of the White House. I cannot tell you
with 100 percent certainty, but I am 90 percent sure
that was the case. The White House played a heavy role
throughout not only our investigation but the
investigation of the 9/11 commission.

You obviously don't believe the Bush
administration was justified in classifying the 27
pages.

No. Sen. Shelby, who was the vice chairman of the
[Senate intelligence] committee and who is a
Republican, reread those pages shortly after they were
classified. And I also reread them. Independently, we
both came to the same assessment that 95 percent of
the material that had been classified could have been
released to the public. It did not represent
concealment of national secrets or of sources and
methods by which information is obtained.

Why do you think the White House is so intent on
keeping that information from the public?

I think there are several possible reasons. One is
that it did not want the public to be aware of the
degree of Saudi involvement in supporting the 9/11
terrorists. Second, it was embarrassing that that
support took place literally under the nose of the
FBI, to the point where one of the terrorists in San
Diego was living at the house of a paid FBI informant.
Third, there has been a long-term special relationship
between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and that
relationship has probably reached a new high under the
George W. Bush administration, in part because of the
long and close family relationship that the Bushes
have had with the Saudi royal family.

In the book, you describe being furious with the
FBI for blocking your committee's attempts to
interview that paid FBI informant. You write that the
panel needed the bureau to deliver a congressional
subpoena to the informant because he was in the FBI's
protective custody and could not be located without
the bureau's cooperation. But the FBI refused to help.
What happened? And what do you think the bureau was
trying to hide?

We had just finished a hearing and had asked
various representatives of the FBI to come into a
conference room and discuss our strong interest in
being able to interview the San Diego informant. It
was clear that the FBI representatives were not going
to voluntarily allow that to happen, and we had
already prepared a subpoena, which I had in my coat
pocket. I walked over to the principal representative
for the FBI, Ken Wainstein, and I was approaching him
with this subpoena, he clasped his hands tightly
behind his back. I tried to hand him the subpoena, but
he acted as if it were radioactive. Finally he said he
didn't want to take the subpoena, but he would get
back to us on the following Monday. Well, nobody ever
got back to us. It was the only time in my senatorial
experience that the FBI has refused to deliver a
legally issued congressional subpoena.

Later, the FBI congressional affairs officer sent
a letter to [co-chairman] Porter Goss and me, saying,
"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." What that tells me is the FBI wasn't acting
on its own but had been directed by the White House
not to cooperate.

Did the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United
States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, play any role in
what you describe as the support network for these two
hijackers? As you know, Bandar is a great friend of
the Bush family.

Most of the things that he did are, frankly, still
classified. But he has clearly demonstrated that he
has a close relationship with President Bush. You have
no doubt seen that famous picture of the two of them
together at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
And then there's the fact that within a few hours
after 9/11, Prince Bandar was able to gain access to
the president to make the case for why 140 or so
Saudis should be given permission to leave the United
States immediately.

Did the Saudi Embassy play a role?

I'm going to have to defer answering that
question. Those things that still have not been made
available to the public, such as this issue of what
Prince Bandar's participation was, I did not include
in the book.

It sounds then as if the role of Bandar and the
Saudi Embassy is addressed in those 27 classified
pages of the panel's report?

Most of it would be addressed there, yes.

Most of it? That implies you know other relevant
information that's not in the classified report.

Yes. Some information came to our attention too
late to be included in the report, or it was not
directly related to the events of 9/11.

Let's move from 9/11 and the Saudis to the
invasion of Iraq. Do you believe the president misled
the American public about the justification for the
invasion and the urgency of the security threat?

If he believed the evidence that was being
presented to him - that there were 550 sites in Iraq
where weapons of mass destruction were being either
produced or stored - then he was very noncurious about
finding out what the basis of that information was. He
should have pursued the credibility of the
intelligence before he committed us to taking one of
the most serious actions any country can take. The
user of intelligence has the responsibility to
challenge the credibility of the intelligence. When
[then CIA director] George Tenet said it was a
slam-dunk that there were weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, the president supinely accepted that.

But a lot of people who were opposed to the war on
the grounds that Saddam was already contained did
believe there were probably weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq. What did you believe?

I was suspicious [about the intelligence], but I
was prepared to accept the word of the president of
the United States. But my reason for voting against
the war was really a more strategic one: that al-Qaida
was a greater threat to Americans than was Saddam
Hussein, and that we should stay on the task of
al-Qaida until we had finished it. I didn't think we
should get into a situation where our prestige and
reputation would suffer in the entire Middle East and
into what now appears to be a quagmire which has no
end in sight.

Along those lines, you said that in a meeting at
the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., in February
2002, Gen. Tommy Franks, who was then conducting the
war in Afghanistan, told you that resources were
already being shifted quietly to Iraq. Additionally,
you write that Franks told you that Somalia and Yemen,
not Iraq, were the next logical targets in any action
to combat terrorism.

Yes. I had just received a briefing on Afghanistan
when Gen. Franks invited me to come into his office,
just the two of us. He told me that military and
intelligence resources were being redeployed from
Afghanistan to Iraq. What that suggested to me was
[first] that the decision to go to war in Iraq had
been made at least 14 months before we actually went
to Iraq, and long before there was authorization from
Congress and long before the United Nations was sought
out for a resolution of support. Secondly, it
suggested we couldn't fight the two wars concurrently
to victory, but that it would take redeployment of
personnel from Afghanistan to Iraq to make that a
successful invasion. Third, it suggested that somebody
- I assume the president - had decided that Iraq was a
higher priority for the United States than was
completing the war in Afghanistan.

Why do you think Franks told you this?

I don't know what his motivation was, but we had
just heard a report on the status of the war in
Afghanistan, which was very upbeat, [saying] we were
making a lot of progress. So one motivation may have
been to caution me that things in reality weren't
necessarily what they appeared to be.

Do you believe the White House manipulated the
intelligence to persuade the public to back the
invasion? "Manipulate" may be too strong a word for
you. But it took a request from you and Sen. Dick
Durbin, D-Ill., to get the intelligence community to
produce a National Intelligence Estimate on the danger
posed by Iraq, a step that would seem an obvious one
to take, considering the stakes to the nation.

I am comfortable with the word "manipulate." There
was a chapter that did not become known until three or
four months ago that occurred in May 2002. Various
leaders of the CIA were called down to the White House
and told that the White House wanted to have a public
document that could be released under the CIA's label
but which would make the case for going to war with
Iraq. I think one of the reasons they didn't want to
do a formal National Intelligence Estimate was because
it would be done not by the CIA alone but by all of
the members of the intelligence community, and it was
likely to reach a different conclusion. At least it
would contain dissenting opinions and caveats that
wouldn't be in a CIA public document.

This description of the CIA is one that is under
the complete control of the White House, an agency
that is not independent but highly politicized.

That's right. It is the expression of the
leadership of the intelligence agencies, trying to
placate their masters in the administration.

A later inquiry conducted by the Senate
intelligence committee under your successor as
chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., looked at the
quality of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq and concluded that it was execrable. Yet the
Republicans on the panel blocked any probe of whether
the administration pressured the intelligence agencies
to manufacture the conclusions it sought to justify a
war that it had already decided to wage. If you had
still been the top Democrat on the committee, would
you have insisted that the White House and the
agencies be included in that probe?

I think Sen. Jay Rockefeller [D-W.Va.], who is the
vice chairman of the committee, did insist, and the
effect of that was to make clear to him that there
would be no investigation of anything if he persisted.
I think he decided the better course was to agree to
just do the first component if there was a commitment
to do the rest at a reasonably close later date.

You retire at the end of this year. What's next
for you?

First, I'll be working on letting the American
people know about the opportunity they have to better
understand the intelligence matters of the United
States by buying this book. (Laughs.) Then, I'll teach
at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard for a
year and after that come back to Florida to establish
a policy center at one or more universities in
Florida.

-------

Jump to TO Features for Thursday September 9, 2004

Today's TO Features -------------- Senator Graham:
Bush Covered Up Saudi Involvement in 9/11 New Evidence
Shows Bush Avoided National Guard Letter from
President Carter to Zell Miller Iraqis Mount Attacks
Across Baghdad Bush to Allow Assault Weapons Ban to
Expire California to Sue Diebold over False Claims
Pollution Triggers Bizarre Behaviour in Animals Andre
Fontaine | The Wrong War in the Wrong Place A
Deepening Debate on Soldiers and Their Insurers Final
Tally Awaits the Police and Protesters Gay Activists
in the G.O.P. Withhold Endorsement Now with Bill
Moyers | 9/11: For the Record BREAKING: Edwards Calls
Cheney Remark 'Un-American' Nicholas D. Kristof |
Missing in Action Deep Shade of Red Seen in Deficit
New Military Records Confirm Bush was Absent U.S.
Concedes 'Rebels' Control Large Regions in Iraq t r u
t h o u t Home

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: t r u t h o u t 2004

Posted by richard at September 9, 2004 12:38 PM