Thursday, July 28, 2016

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan: America's Worst 'Allies' - Benny Huang

by Benny Huang

Declassified pages from the congressional 9/11 report reveal a stinging betrayal.

With friends like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? Last week we learned that the Saudi government almost certainly played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attack and that our government kept that secret from the public for about fourteen years. 

A brief history of the coverup is in order here. In 2002, a joint congressional committee investigated the intelligence failures that led to the attack. That committee found suspicious clues that pointed toward Saudi Arabia—an official “ally” of the United States known for exporting radical Wahhabi Islam across the world. In a 28-page summary, the committee detailed the connections between the 9/11 terrorists and agents of the Saudi government, including Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a friend of the Bush family. When the 9/11 Commission report was released in July 2004, the 28 pages were still classified and thus not included. Robert Mueller, then-FBI director, pushed hard for the findings to remain under wraps. For the next twelve years they sat in a secret vault in the basement of the US Capitol—until last week when they were finally released with some redactions.

The real hero in this sordid tale is former US Senator Bob Graham (D-Florida). Graham, who chaired the Senate side of the investigation, spent years advocating for the documents’ public release. Graham noted that as late as January 2016 the White House was dragging its heels.  

Until the documents were declassified Graham was not able to speak about their contents, though he did promise a “real smoking gun.” He was right. In one FBI memorandum dated July 2, 2002, agents claimed to have found “incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.”

An employee of the Saudi Interior Ministry, Saleh al-Hussayen, happened to stay at the very same hotel as the American Airlines Flight 77 hijackers the night before the attack. When FBI agents interviewed al-Hussayen, he "feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” When they attempted to re-interview him, they found that he and his family had left the country. 

Another suspicious character found lurking in the documents is Omar al-Bayoumi. According to the recently released 28 pages, the FBI received numerous tips from the Muslim community that al-Bayoumi is or was a Saudi intelligence officer. He is known to have called Saudi government institutions in the United States one hundred times in 2000, including three calls to the Saudi Embassy. 

He appears to have had a “no-show” job with a Saudi contracting company associated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense. Though he rarely ever showed his face, he still collected a monthly salary.

In February 2000, when two of the 9/11 hijackers arrived on the West Coast to prepare for their missions, al-Bayoumi was living in California. Al-Bayoumi apparently met with the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, in a public place shortly after a meeting at the Saudi consulate. He reportedly threw a party for their arrival. The two men stayed at al-Bayoumi’s apartment for several days until they could find their own housing. Al-Bayoumi co-signed their lease. Not surprisingly, he left the country sometime in the summer of 2001. 

In intelligence circles, there’s a word for al-Bayoumi: handler. The obvious conclusion is that al-Bayoumi was a Saudi agent whose job it was to coach at least two of the nineteen terrorists.   

Another suspicious link connects al-Bayoumi indirectly to the Saudi royal family through his wife, Manal Bajad. Princess Haifa al-Faisal, wife of Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US and friend of George W. Bush, sent a series of checks totaling $75,000 to Osama Basnan, a Saudi national living in San Diego. As a member of the fantastically wealthy Saudi royal family, she could have easily sent the money in one lump sum—but that would have raised red flags. The princess claimed that the money was intended to pay for Basnan’s wife’s thyroid treatment. Some of those checks were signed over and cashed by Manal Bajad, wife of Omar al-Bayoumi. The money went from the princess to Basnan to al-Bayoumi’s wife—and let’s not kid ourselves, was likely used to fund the 9/11 attacks. The route is a little circuitous but terror-financing usually is. 

Saudi Arabia is clearly the worst ally we have.

But if Saudi Arabia is the worst, Pakistan must be a close second. After Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s hideout in May 2011, it became startlingly obvious that the Pakistanis had been his willing hosts for about nine years. For six of those years he was living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about a thousand yards from Pakistan’s prestigious military academy. His home was essentially “drone proof” because it fell under the air defense umbrella surrounding the academy. 

Further proof of Pakistani government complicity can be found in the fact that government census takers apparently skipped the bin Laden residence. Could census takers have been warned to leave that house alone? 

The Pakistani regime’s actions after the raid are also incriminating. Just days after bin Laden’s death, Pakistan claimed that it had had the compound “under sharp focus” since its supposed construction in 2003. How sharp could their focus have been if bin Laden had continued to live there for years? It also claimed to have once searched the compound in hopes of finding an al Qaeda fugitive but came up empty-handed. It didn’t take long for that story to fall apart. According to satellite imagery the compound did not exist until 2005. It seems that someone in the government spun a hasty lie without realizing that the details could be verified. 

Pakistan’s treatment of Dr. Shakil Afridi, a physician who assisted the CIA in confirming bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, has been unconscionable. Rather than giving him a medal, as he deserves, they gave him a trial at which he was deprived of legal counsel. After the cursory guilty verdict they tossed him in prison for what will probably be the remainder of his life. Top Pakistani officials called it “payback” for the bin Laden raid. Dr. Afridi was originally sentenced to 33 years in prison though that sentence was later overturned. He remains in prison on an unrelated murder charge that certainly seems contrived. 

Osama bin Laden’s sojourn in Abbottabad was likely not the first time that he benefitted from Pakistani protection. After the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched seventy cruise missiles, at a cost of about $1 million each, against al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. The strike amounted to a costly failure because most of the bad guys, including Osama bin Laden, split the scene. A cloud of suspicion has hung over Pakistan’s intelligence service—the ISI—ever since. A very plausible theory is that the US gave the Pakistanis a heads up to expect cruise missiles passing over en route to Afghanistan and then someone within the ISI tipped off bin Laden. 

New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall, who spent twelve years covering Afghanistan and Pakistan, claims to have inside sources that confirm the plot to save bin Laden’s neck. “In 2009, Bin Laden reportedly traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to meet with the militant leader Qari Saifullah Akhtar,” wrote Gall in 2014. “Informally referred to as the ‘father of jihad,’ Akhtar is considered one of the ISI’s most valuable assets. According to a Pakistani intelligence source …he is credited with…moving Bin Laden out of harm’s way just minutes before American missile strikes on his camp in 1998. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was detained several times in Pakistan. Yet he was never prosecuted and was quietly released each time by the ISI.” 

Those are our “friends”—the Pakistanis. They’re as crooked as a corkscrew, though perhaps not as crooked as the Saudis. We really have to learn how to choose better company. Our alliances with these two countries have done us great harm. Have we learned anything?  

Benny Huang is a conservative writer and activist from the very liberal Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. He is a veteran.


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