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2003-07-25

9/11 Report: "Incontrovertible Evidence" that Saudi Gov’t Supported Hijackers; CIA and FBI Face Scathing Critique

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Report findings include: FBI informant housed two of the hijackers; no link existed between Iraq and Al Qaeda; possible Saudi agent directly helped two hijackes; U.S. knew Al Qaeda was considering flying planes into buildings. We speak to former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, reporter Robert Fisk and Stephen Push whose wife died on Sept. 11.

After the Bush administration delayed its publication for months, Congress yesterday released its nearly 900-page investigation on the Sept. 11 attacks.

The report’s findings provide an even more damning indictment of the intelligence community than many had predicted. Sen. Bob Graham, former head of the Senate intelligence committee, says the report proves the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped.

The investigation was based on the interviews of hundreds of U.S. and foreign officials and a review of hundreds of thousands of FBI and CIA files.

The scathing critique of the CIA and the FBI finds the agencies did not talk to each other at critical junctures, most notably on intelligence related to two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

The FBI missed evidence of its own informant who was actually living with two of the hijackers in San Diego.

The agency failed to keep tabs on warnings that Omar al-Bayoumi, a key associate of two of the hijackers and suspected Saudi government secret agent, met with Saudi government officials and the hijackers.

The FBI missed the opportunity in large part because the CIA had failed to share information about the hijackers it had two years prior to the attacks.

The report concluded that the informant’s contacts with the two hijackers would have offered, "the best chance to unravel the Sept. 11 plot."

The report also raises more questions about a foreign government’s complicity in the attacks: longtime U.S. ally, Saudi Arabia.

The report finds that the Saudi Arabian government thwarted efforts to prevent the rise of Al-Qaeda and stop attacks as well as provided financial and logistical support to the Saudi-born 9/11 hijackers. 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi Arabian.

Large sections of the report explaining how the Saudis did not cooperate remains classified. The Washington Post reports an entire 28-page section detailing whether Saudi Arabia was somehow implicated in 9/11 is missing. This despite a seven-month campaign by congressional investigators and others to have them made public.

The CIA argued that disclosure of the details could upset relations with a key US ally.

The report goes on to say that Bush was warned in a more specific way than previously known about intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda terrorists were seeking to attack the U.S.

Meanwhile, the White House resisted efforts to pin down Bush’s knowledge of the threats and to catalogue his pre-Sept. 11 counter-terrorism strategy.

Finally the report reveals that U.S. intelligence had no evidence that Iraq or Saddam Hussein had any involvement in the attacks or connection to Al Qaida.

Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland who served on the congressional committee charged the Bush administration purposely delayed the release of the 9/11 report until after the Iraq invasion.

  • Melvin Goodman, former CIA and State Department analyst. He is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and director of the Center’s National Security Project. He is the author of the forthcoming book Bush League Diplomacy: Putting the Nation At Risk (Prometheus). He is a professor of international security studies and chairman of the international relations department at the National War College.
  • Stephen Push, spokesperson for Families of September 11. His wife of 21 years, Lisa Raines, was on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
  • Robert Fisk, foreign correspondent for the London Independent. He is speaking to us from Baghdad. He has covered the Middle East for over 20 years and has interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZALEZ: This is the 105th anniversary today of the United States invasion of Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898, 105 years of Puerto Rico being held by the United States, the most lucrative colony in the history of the United States. And we’ve also gotten word that finally Congress has released the long awaited report of its intelligence committees on the September 11 attacks. The nearly 900-page report was based on the interviews of hundreds of U.S. and foreign officials and a review of hundreds of thousands of F.B.I. and C.I.A. files. The report’s findings provide an even more damning indictment of the intelligence community, than many had predicted. The scathing critique of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. finds that the agencies did not talk to each other at critical junctures, most notably on intelligence related to two of the hijackers. The F.B.I. missed evidence of its own informant, who was actually living with two of the hijackers in San Diego. The agency failed to keep tabs on warnings that Omar al-Bayoumi, a key associate of two of the hijackers and a suspected Saudi government secret agent met with Saudi government officials and the hijackers.

AMY GOODMAN: The F.B.I. missed the opportunity in large part because the C.I.A. had failed to share information about the hijackers it had two years prior to the attack, the reports says. It concludes, the informants’ contacts with the two hijackers would have offered, quote, the best chance to unravel the September 11 plot. The report may also implicate a foreign government in the attacks, long time U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. The report finds Saudi Arabian government thwarted efforts to prevent the rise of al Qaeda and stop attacks as well as provided financial and logistical support to the Saudi-born 9/11 hijackers. 15 of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia. Large sections of the report explaining how the Saudis did not cooperate, remains classified. The Washington Post reports an entire 28-page section, detailing whether Saudi Arabia was somehow implicated in 9/11, is blacked out. This, despite a seven-month campaign by congressional investigators and others, to have them made public.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The C.I.A. argued that full disclosure of the details could upset relations with a key U.S. ally. Meanwhile, the White House resisted efforts to pin down Bush’s knowledge of Al Qaeda threats and to catalog the executive’s pre-September 11 counterterrorism strategy. Finally the report reveals that U.S. intelligence had no evidence that Iraq or Saddam Hussein had any involvement in the attack or connection to Al Qaeda. Former Democratic Georgia senator Max Cleland who served on the committees charged the Bush administration purposely delayed the release of the 9/11 report after the Iraqi invasion.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by Melvin Goodman. He’s a former C.I.A. and State Department analyst, a senior fellow for the Center of International Policy, Director of its National Security Project, author of the forth-coming book, Bush League Diplomacy: Putting the Nation at Risk and also a professor at the National War College. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Thank you, Amy. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well why don’t you start off with what you think, based on going through the report, — what are its most startling conclusions?

MELVIN GOODMAN: The most important conclusions deal first of all with George Tenet himself as the Director of C.I.A. Clearly what the report establishes, was that he couldn’t coordinate intelligence within his own agency, that he wasn’t an arbitrator of intelligence within the intelligence community, and therefore failed in his job as director of central intelligence. One very telling point that’s in the report, is that in 1999 he issued a declaration of a war on terror. But he followed this up with nothing. There was no additional personnel given to the task, no additional sense of mission or sense of purpose, no additional dollars were thrown at this problem. And half of the intelligence community had no idea he had issued such a declaration, or that it was designed for them.

The second startling fact that comes through within the report, and some of it is buried within the report itself, is the incredible analytical failure of the C.I.A. The fact that they never examined a scenario involving an attack on the United States, the fact that in 1995, they did their last major study of the problem of terrorism, that was the National Intelligence Estimate that was done in 1995. So for six years, nothing was done in a way that really addressed the problem of strategic intelligence, and they quote a former director of the counterterrorism center saying strategic intelligence never saved a life. This is a terribly dismissive remark and it points to the third problem within the report, that is the failure of the counterterrorism center that was created in 1986. This wasn’t a new body. The report keeps talking about the inexperience and the junior nature of the analysts at the counterterrorism center. This group had been around for 15 years prior to 9/11 and missed so many analytical clues and did so little analysis. And when you talk about sharing, it’s not that the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. didn’t share intelligence. There was very little sharing going on between the C.I.A. itself or within the F.B.I. itself. And on the level of intelligence communities sharing with agencies who are on the front line of defense — like the Federal Aviation Agency or I.N.S. or State Department visa officers, they weren’t getting any information whatsoever. Let me say one thing, though, about the failure of the report, because the report is not as strong a document as I would like to see. Particularly in the one area of accountability and responsibility. Here, the report just punted the major problem that it should have examined — who’s responsible for all of this? The report doesn’t deal with any of that. And they return to the agencies themselves to do independent studies of an assessment of accountability and responsibility. And also the report, even though it was done by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, they don’t assess their own blame, their own responsibility.

For 10 years you had Senator Shelby from Alabama and Senator Graham from Florida not getting intelligence on terrorism. As I said, the last estimate was done in 1995. Why didn’t someone on the staff of one of these committees go to the intelligence community and tell them, look, you’re showing us raw data about terrorism, but you’re not analyzing this problem. There’s no attempt to do strategic intelligence. And this was the failure, of course, from the inability to watch the weakness, decline and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. The final thing that’s missing from the failure of the report, that you had, say, in the Pearl Harbor studies 60 years ago, was that the absence of any central mechanism or central repository for collecting all of this data, any compliance mechanism. If Tenet was going to issue a fiat on a war on terrorism, how did he know it was being carried out? The fact is it wasn’t. He had no way of knowing this. He had no feedback mechanism. And the final tragedy in all of this, is that indeed it is 60 years after Pearl Harbor. We had the same kind of intelligence failure we had 60 years ago, in which the assumptions of the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. were entirely wrong, and they were never re-examined as the data kept pouring in. So it’s not an issue of where is the smoking gun? You never get a smoking gun in the intelligence business. You get various pieces of a mosaic, and you have to put that mosaic together to make a picture. The intelligence community and the C.I.A. had so much information in terms of the Phoenix memo, the Minneapolis memo, the tracking of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. The inability to link Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with al Qaeda for so many years, this tragedy could have been prevented. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

AMY GOODMAN: You just went through that list very quickly. But for people who continually hear these names but forget what they reference, can you quickly go through what you’ve just referenced — the Phoenix memo, the Minneapolis memo, even the names of the people you mentioned.

MELVIN GOODMAN: Certainly. The Phoenix memo is very important, because you have someone in the field office in Phoenix who sees the pattern of a flight training pattern in Arizona, in which Arabs are being sent for flight training, who have very little knowledge of aircraft, who have no credit cards but cash, who are paying for these courses with cash, and who don’t seem to have any need to fly the large kinds of planes they’re taking lessons on. All he asked F.B.I. central headquarters to do, was to task other field offices, to look at flight training centers in their states — Florida and California certainly come to mind. And the F.B.I. did not even task its sources to look into this, or to ask a field office to look into this. They were entirely dismissive. And, of course, the Minneapolis memo deals with that very brave soul, Colleen Raleigh who had all of the evidence that was needed against Moussaoui, but the F.B.I. didn’t even understand their own foreign intelligence surveillance act and didn’t realize they could have put a tap on his phone and could have gotten in the hard drive of his computer but, again, Raleigh’s memo was ignored.

Now on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — he’s the number two man behind Osama Bin Laden. He was the brains behind 9/11. He was indicted for his role in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. It took years for the C.I.A. counterterrorism center to link Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to Al Qaeda. So this is a terrible oversight. But let me say one thing, because the F.B.I. is getting off the hook in a terrible way here. The F.B.I. keeps saying that if they had the names of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, if they had been on a watchlist they could have watched these people and picked them up. Well, those names were well known to the counterterrorism center. The counterterrorism center even though it’s housed at the C.I.A., is a multi-agency vetting center for all intelligence. You had F.B.I. agents who are on duty at the counterterrorism center. You cannot tell me that these F.B.I. agents did not see the raw traffic that dealt with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar. Why didn’t they tell their own agency, hey, we have people with al Qaeda links, who apparently are in the first place, trying to get to the United States and ultimately got to the United States, were living openly in San Diego, their names were in the phone book, for crying out loud and the F.B.I. couldn’t track these down. The performance of the F.B.I. was abysmal. The C.I.A. was terribly bad. The F.B.I. was even worse.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former C.I.A. and State Department analyst Melvin Goodman. He’s a professor of International Relations, Security studies of National War College. We’ll be back with him as well as Stephen Push, a spokesperson for the Families of 9/11. He lost his wife, Lisa Raines, on American airlines flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. And we’ll explore —- well, for Nixon, it was the 18-minute gap—-The 28-page gap, those pages that have been classified within the report that we don’t get to see about U.S. and particularly Bush ally Saudi Arabia. Stay with us. MUSIC BREAK 22:22

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. Our guests are Melvin Goodman. Melvin Goodman is a former C.I.A. and Defense and State Department analyst. He’s a professor of the National War College. We’ll be joined by Stephen Push, lost his wife on the American Airlines flight that is went into the Pentagon. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Melvin Goodman, I would like to ask you—the report specified no connection between Saddam Hussein and Iraq and the events of September 11. How damning is that in terms of the Bush administration’s continually trying to link Saddam Hussein and so many Americans believing that he is linked to the attacks?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, it’s terribly damning. And it’s part of the overall picture of the misuse of intelligence by the Bush administration that got us into war. There was no evidence of link. And George Tenet is culpable here because he sent a letter to the Congress in October of 2002 saying there were signs of links between Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Iraq and Al Qaeda. But I — I have never talked to an intelligence analyst at any of the major agencies who said he saw any evidence whatsoever that linked these two groups. And frankly, it’s quite counter-intuitive to think that a religious zealot like Bin Laden would form ties with a secularist such as Saddam Hussein. So it undercuts a key part of the Bush strategy for going to war and, remember, Colin Powell made a big deal of this at his U.N. speech on February 5 of this year. So it undercuts everyone at the administration who talked about this, and it does make questions about were we falsely led into this war? Were we misled? Were we deceived? Were lies told?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the 28-page gap? The — all the references to Saudi Arabia’s involvement or possible links of Saudi Arabia to the attackers?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, this is particularly appalling on several levels — one, I don’t have to remind people that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. And I said after 9/11 that you should not forget that this was something that can be traced back to the brains that came out of Egypt, because a lot of the best minds on Bin Laden’s staff were from Egypt. And also the money that came out of Saudi Arabia. And also on this point, something we rarely hear about — the inability or unwillingness, actually, of the Treasury Department to really track the financial network of the terrorists’ organization. Their incredible reluctance. But to get Saudi Arabia off the hook, given the terrible price that so many Americans paid, I think is particularly pernicious.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Stephen Push into this conversation — lost his wife Lisa Raines in the American Airlines flight that flew into the Pentagon. Your response to the congressional report released on Thursday?

STEPHEN PUSH: I’m sorry — could you repeat the question? I don’t hear you too well.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to the congressional report that was released on Thursday.

STEPHEN PUSH: I — I think that the work that the — that they did on the report was excellent. Unfortunately it was not complete because they were denied access to critical documents that they needed, for example, the Presidential daily briefing of August 6, 2001. And the minutes of the National Security Council meeting. And so the — the — the adjoining crew was not able to complete their work. I’m also concerned about the 28-page gap in the section on foreign involvement in 9/11. I think the American people have a right to know what role Saudi Arabia had in 9/11.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what importance do you attach to this August 6 Presidential briefing?

STEPHEN PUSH: Well, what we know about the August 6 briefing is that the President was told that — that Al Qaeda may attack within the United States and that airplanes — and it’s possible airplane hijackings may be part of the plot. We don’t know more than that because the President won’t release that briefing, but it seems very suspicious. What we know is very suspicious and it concerns me that we don’t have the whole story.

AMY GOODMAN: What as a family member who lost someone on September 11, how have you gotten information over the last two years?- And what has brought you to the conclusion that Saudi Arabia is an absolutely key factor here?

STEPHEN PUSH: Well, I went out and hired a private investigator with my own funds to try to get some information on the Saudi connection with 9/11. What I was able to determine is that if the royal family was not itself involved, there are wealthy Saudis who are well connected with the royal family, who have been funding Al Qaeda from its inception right up to 9/11 and even after 9/11. These people — as far as I know, they’re still living inside Saudi Arabia. They still have all of their wealth. And no attempt has been made by the Saudis to crack down on them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Melvin Goodman, what could be, in your —-—

MELVIN GOODMAN: It’s very regrettable. The financial aspect is very important, but just as important is the unwillingness of the Saudis to cooperate with us on, in terms of our intelligence needs—Bin Laden and the Bin Laden family. The Saudis just have not been cooperating in terms of intelligence exchange and really when you think about the — the destruction against Khobar towers, in 1996, that was five years before 9/11. So you have an entire pattern of Saudi Arabian heel dragging on very important intelligence issues which have — should never have been acceptable to the Clinton administration or the Bush administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But in your opinion, what’s behind this reluctance to really go after the Saudis?

MELVIN GOODMAN: Well, I think the key to this is the oil aspect of the bilateral relationship. If the Saudis didn’t have the largest reserves of oil in the world, we would have no interest in Saudi Arabia. Just as if Iraq didn’t have the second largest reserves of oil, I don’t think we would have 150,000 American troops in Iraq. Once again, we’re tethered to our oil needs. We’re being held hostage by our own energy use, our inability to develop an energy policy. And it’s paid with lives in this particular case.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the special relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi regime? For example, just the small fact that President Bush senior’s library, the Saudi regime gave him $1 million to endow that.

MELVIN GOODMAN: I don’t think the personal relationship is as important as the institutional relationship. If you look at the main driving force behind the war on Iraq which was clearly Vice President Cheney. I mean it was Cheney who was pushing the worst kinds of intelligence to make the case for war. It was Cheney knocking heads together at the C.I.A. to get them to say things that would support the war, and it’s Cheney who has deep institutional ties to the energy industry and won’t release documents dealing with his conversations at — were part of this special relationship with energy and oil needs. So I think it was this institutional tie and the dependence on oil that had a lot more to do with it than the family tie. And also I think it’s regrettable that we’ve allowed basically Prince Bandar to remain in this country for so many years as ambassador, and not be up front in terms of how he’s supported U.S.-Saudi relations. And he does such a good publicist job in terms of public relations and outright propaganda for Saudi Arabia, that we don’t get the kind of information we need from the ambassador. And I’m not sure if he’s a reliable conduit for the kinds of things we need to get back to the capital in Saudi Arabia.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone by Robert Fisk, of the Independent newspaper in Britain. He’s in Baghdad right now. Welcome to Democracy Now!. Robert?

ROBERT FISK: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. We’re discussing the congressional report that was released yesterday and specifically the role of Saudi Arabia. In this report, the 28-page gap that was redacted in the report. The Bush administration did not want the public to see the relationship between Saudi Arabia and 9/11. What about your research into this?

ROBERT FISK: Well, I’m a long way away from Washington, of course, and New York. And, well my first reaction was I don’t think the Americans care very much about protecting the Saudis, but I think they care very much about protecting anything that’s embarrassing to the administration, with the Saudis. And I didn’t hear the previous conversation but I do ask myself what it might mention about Bush’s relationship with the Bin Laden family and also about the C.I.A.'s relationship with Saudi intelligence at the time when both the C.I.A. and the Saudis were supporting Bin Laden and his associates in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. I always think — it implies very much in British documents where you have the blank page episodes but it's much more to avoid embarrassment to the authorities and to protect friendly powers abroad.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Stephen Push, I’d like to ask you, you lost your wife, Lisa Raines, in the attacks of September 11. Where do you go from here—the families—in terms of being able to get the full story of what the government failed to do, did or didn’t do to prevent the attacks.

STEPHEN PUSH: Well, we’re putting a lot of hope in the independent commission that’s headed by former New Jersey Governor Tom Caine which is to do a comprehensive report on 9/11 next year. They’re going to look not just at intelligence but at other areas as well, such as immigration policy, aviation security, etc.,. Unfortunately, however, so far they have been running up against the same kind of stone walling that the administration gave to the joint inquiry. They have not — so far they have not been able to get the Presidential daily briefings. They have not been able to get the National Security Council minutes. And it’s not clear that the Bush administration is going to give them anymore cooperation than they gave the joint inquiry.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Push, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Back to Robert Fisk in Baghdad. You have written about the Saudi family, the connections to Bush, and also see the Carlisle group as cementing those connections. [dial tone] Robert Fisk? Whom we may just have lost. Well, as we get Robert Fisk back on the line, let’s take a listen to just after the release of the congressional report. Vice President Dick Cheney gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. This is an excerpt.


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