Months of pressure on the Obama administration demanding the release of the redacted “28 pages” of the 9/11 report, regarding possible Saudi Arabian involvement, finally bore fruit on July 15. To be sure, there were deletions from the text to protect names and sources, but the document produced by the White House was largely complete. CIA Director John Brennan provided some damage control prior to the release by arguing that much of the information contained in the redacted section consisted of “raw” and untested information, suggesting that it might not be completely reliable, while some who had seen the full document revealed through leaks that there would be no “smoking gun” exposing direct Saudi involvement in 9/11.
The release of the document produced a brief flurry in the media but, perhaps intentionally, the story disappeared amidst the avalanche of political convention reporting. There was a great deal of new information, though most of it served to corroborate or expand on what was already known. One snippet that I found particularly interesting recounted how in 1999 two Saudi men on a flight from Phoenix to Washington, DC, for an alleged visit to the Saudi Embassy to attend a party asked numerous questions about the plane’s security and tried several times to enter the cockpit. They claimed their tickets were paid for by the Saudi Embassy.
There is a direct link between some of the 9/11 hijackers and presumed agents of the Saudi government, but the 28 pages do not provide any information to suggest that the Saudis at any level actually knew that anyone was involved in a terrorist plot. In fact, as a former intelligence officer myself, the snippets made public rather suggest that the Saudis were more likely keeping tabs on some citizens whom they quite rightly might have suspected of extremism. There are several hints in the text that the Saudis were aggressively running operations against their diaspora citizens. The report noted several times that the Saudis failed to fully cooperate with U.S. counter-terror investigators prior to 9/11, which would not be surprising if they were simultaneously acting independently.
The key player in the story who directly assisted some hijackers, one Omar al-Bayoumi, has been described as a “non-official cover” intelligence officer, but the way his funding from the Saudi Embassy and other official sources fluctuated, paying him irregularly, suggests that he might have been a source or informer, not an actual government case officer. (Several other Saudis identified in the 28 pages fit the same profile.) Bayoumi was in regular contact with Fahad al-Thumairy, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, who may have been an actual intelligence officer and his controller.
The document does not demonstrate any intent by the government in Riyadh to enable its citizens to carry out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, nor knowledge that anything like that might be developing. It should also be noted, for what it’s worth, that the Bush administration clearly regarded Saudi Arabia as a special friend and directed the FBI and CIA to “back off” from aggressively investigating its intelligence operations in the U.S. and globally. Whether that made any difference in terms of what subsequently happened cannot be determined.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.