Surge and Decline, Part 3: American Vision

Date: 2022-08-05T04:01:26+00:00


Josh Messite, Editor at Negation Magazine, lays out the evidence that Al-Qaeda wasn’t the only organization involved in 9/11 and uses the indications of state complicity in the deadliest terrorist attack in history to formulate theoretical conclusions about the imperial-capitalist world order.

“It’s always around me, all this noise

But not nearly as loud as the voice 

Saying: ‘Let it happen, let it happen’

‘Just let it happen, let it happen’

All this running around

Trying to cover my shadow

Something’s trying to get out

And it’s never been closer

I can hear an alarm, must be morning”

— Tame Impala, “Let It Happen,” 2015

Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan told the Washington Post that he had taken the day off on September 11th, 2001 to celebrate his successful execution of a difficult mission impulsively assigned to him by feisty Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud. The week before 9/11, Abdullah and (a reluctant) Bandar forced President George W. Bush to publicly criticize Israel and endorse a two-state solution, a major Saudi triumph over Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Likud party’s neoconservative allies in the Bush Administration. But Prince Bandar’s relaxing Tuesday got off to a hectic start and only went downhill from there. In a questionable choice of words given the events of that morning, Bandar recalled that the news report which revealed that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia “fell on me like the whole house collapsed over my head.” Poor guy. In January 2003, Bandar’s wife, Princess Haifa bint Faisal, used a similar expression to describe her reaction to the highly-publicized FBI leaks of her donations to 9/11 facilitator Osama Basnan, venting to Elsa Walsh that she “felt like the whole world fell on my head” when the FBI’s evidence of her supposedly-inadvertent terrorist funding provoked US media scrutiny in late-2002. Former President George H. W. Bush told Walsh that he “felt horribly about the attacks” on Princess Haifa, a strange characterization of the newspaper articles covering Haifa’s financing of the 9/11 coordination network. Haifa told Walsh that H. W. and his wife Barbara became “like my mother and father” after King Faisal and unofficial-Queen Iffat died. Her husband was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.” First Lady Laura Bush called Haifa to express her solidarity with the fishy Saudi princess. In July 2003, the White House redacted the “incontrovertible evidence” uncovered by the FBI that Bandar and Haifa funded the hijackers’ support system in America, a cover-up that can’t be written off as a purely diplomatic maneuver in light of the fact that Cheney and W. continued meeting privately with Prince Bandar even after his July 2005 resignation from his position as Ambassador to the US amid tensions with Abdullah over the Saudis’ relationship with America. 

Like every modern ruling class, the House of Saud was split between different factions with different relationships of foreign & domestic patronage and different visions for their country’s future. When King Fahd bin Abdulaziz — Bandar’s primary patron — decided to reject Osama bin Laden’s offer to lead the defense of Saudi Arabia against Saddam Hussein in 1990, instead allowing American troops to enter Saudi Arabia and protect the monarchy from the Iraqis, Crown Prince Abdullah had argued against provoking their Wahhabist domestic partners by welcoming non-Muslim soldiers into the Holy Land that the Saudi royals were tasked with guarding. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Fahd and his inner circle tried to make Ambassador Bandar’s father Sultan the next Crown Prince instead of old-school Saudi National Guard Commander Abdullah.1 Osama bin Laden rejected Bandar’s father as a “homosexual” and a “trickster,” although it probably didn’t help that Defense Minister Sultan bore the bad news that the House of Saud would not accept Osama’s offer to use his Islamic Brigades to defend the Kingdom against Iraq in 1990. When Sultan and King Fahd shut down Osama’s plan to foment a Salafi rebellion in the newly-unified Republic of Yemen, the person Osama complained to was Crown Prince Abdullah. Osama harbored hope in the mid-‘90s that the Saudi Wahhabists would replace Fahd with Abdullah, who was regarded by Al-Qaeda as “the lesser evil.” Osama told his friend Jamal Khashoggi (yes, the journalist who got chopped up in 2018) about his willingness to reconcile with the House of Saud in 1995 if Abdullah became king or if Fahd granted Osama a full pardon and expelled the Americans from Saudi Arabia. Abdullah’s power increased after Fahd’s stroke in November 1995, but he didn’t assume full control of the Saudi government until Fahd’s death made him king in August 2005. Osama published an attack on the “Saudi regime” from Sudan in April 1996, and his “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans” from Afghanistan in August 1996 held the “Saudi regime” directly responsible for the deaths of Muslim children, but condemnations of the House of Saud are conspicuously absent from his February 1998 fatwa calling for the killing of “Jews and Crusaders.” Did the Saudi royal family make a secret financial deal with Osama bin Laden in late-1996/early-1997? In 1998, the US State Department’s Counterterrorism Director of Operations said: “We’ve got information about who’s backing bin Laden, and, in a lot of cases, it goes back to the [Saudi] royal family.” Is that why Crown Prince Abdullah and future-Crown Prince Nayef “steadfastly refused” to allow American investigators to interview Osama’s one-legged Chief of Finance (Al-Ghazi Madani Al-Tayyib) in Saudi Arabia in 1997?

Four years later, on September 10th-11th of 2001, George Bush Sr. and his former Chief of Staff James A. Baker III were hosting guests of honor at the DC Ritz-Carlton in their roles as directors of the Carlyle Group. Carlyle was an up-and-coming financial corporation that bore a certain compositional resemblance to BCCI (which collapsed right before Carlyle took off) and maintained large investments in defense contractors. Republican Party bureaucrat Fred Malek — whose relationship with Bush Sr. began in the Nixon Administration — was an early Carlyle recruit who secured a position on a Carlyle-owned company’s board for George W. Bush in 1990 because the president’s son was “down on his luck” after a decade-plus of failed business deals. The CEO who turned the Carlyle Group into a juggernaut in the 1990s was Frank Carlucci, a Reagan-era Pentagon chief and former CIA official who may or may not have been complicit in the brutal 1961 Belgian murder of anti-colonial Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Carlucci was a Princeton roommate, lifelong friend, and “Project for the New American Century” collaborator of the individual whom Henry Kissinger described as “the most ruthless man I ever met”: Donald Rumsfeld, Bush Junior’s Pentagon chief (who did not get along with Bush Senior). Rumsfeld got his fellow Princeton Tiger Carlucci a job in the Nixon Administration in 1969. Soon after, Carlucci advised Rumsfeld to hire a Congressional intern from Wyoming named Richard “Dick” Cheney as his personal assistant. Carlucci and Jim Baker were both in the 1952 graduating class at Princeton, but the future Carlyle Group executives didn’t get back in touch until 1975, when Baker left Texas to join Carlucci, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush Sr. in the Ford Administration. In 1989, Secretary of State Baker got Congressman Cheney a job as President Bush Senior’s Secretary of Defense, filling the post vacated by Carlucci when Reagan’s second term expired.

A September 11th Carlyle special guest whose name stands out is Shafiq bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s brother. Shafiq was attending the Carlucci-Bush-Baker reception on that special day as a representative of the bin Laden family’s multimillion dollar investment in Carlyle, an investment arranged by Baker in 1995 (must have sucked for Shafiq to get upstaged by his sibling like that). Contrary to reports that H. W. was literally hosting Osama’s brother in a Ritz-Carlton during the 9/11 attacks, the former CIA Director actually left the Carlyle reception in DC to deliver a speech in Minnesota shortly before the hijackings started, just as he had left an oil industry convention in Dallas to deliver a speech in Tyler, Texas shortly before JFK’s motorcade was ambushed by a right-wing kill squad. Khalid bin Mahfouz’s family outdid Osama’s family by pumping $30 million into the Carlyle Group; the firm rewarded them by giving a board seat to a bin Mahfouz cousin. Thanks to Bush Senior’s solicitations, the House of Saud had (at least) $80 million invested in Carlyle, which, it’s worth reiterating, accumulated large stakes in the defense companies that made a killing off government contracts during the “War on Terror” that was about to begin. Companies owned by Carlyle received $9.3 billion in Pentagon contracts between 1998 and 2003. A corporation called United Defense Industries (which collaborated with the Saudi government) accounted for $5.8 billion of that Pentagon income. Carlyle bought the Northern-Virginia-based weapons manufacturer for $880 million in 1997, cashed in on 9/11 by filing to take slightly less than 50% of the company public in October 2001, then made an enormous profit for its international and domestic investors in 2004 by selling off its remaining shares in United Defense (which “did not seem all that lucrative before September 11” but became “one of Carlyle’s best investments” after the 9/11 attacks).  

In 2002, the families of the 9/11 victims filed a lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, accusing the Saudi government of “providing material support and assistance to Al-Qaeda that enabled it to develop the network and capabilities to carry out the September 11th attacks.” To defend themselves against the terror victims’ family members, the House of Saud hired Jim Baker’s law firm, the powerful Houston-based multinational Baker Botts LLP (Botts was the “neither honored or loved” Confederate Army colonel who gave the firm its name, along with Baker’s Confederate great-grandfather and original namesake). Maybe the Saudis were impressed by Baker’s legal work as the mastermind of Bush Junior’s theft of the 2000 presidential election from its actual winner, Bill Clinton’s estranged Vice President Al Gore. Maybe they fondly remembered the night before W.’s inauguration, when Baker Botts threw a star-studded “Black Tie and Boots” party with Tex-Mex catering for Bush Sr. and Prince Bandar in the “Grand Atrium” of the “Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center” in DC’s former red-light district. In February 2001, Baker Botts opened a new office in Riyadh. In July 2001, President Bush selected a man from Oklahoma who “didn’t speak Arabic and had no experience in diplomacy” as his Ambassador to Saudi Arabia: Dallas lawyer Robert W. Jordan, a long-time partner at Baker Botts. Robert Jordan defended George Bush Jr. against an early-‘90s Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into W.’s insider trading as a director of the Harken Energy oil company. The money Bush Jr. made by selling his Harken shares shortly before his company reported a $23 million loss allowed the future president to finance his extremely-profitable investment in the Texas Rangers baseball team — a publicity stunt Karl Rove suggested as a scheme to get W. into the Texas Governor’s Mansion (it worked). After Ambassador Jordan stepped down from his diplomatic post, he returned to Jim Baker’s firm to run its offices in Riyadh and Dubai.

Was the Bush-Cheney Administration’s handling of Islamist terrorism warped by their desire to preserve their warm and lucrative friendships with their Saudi business partners? That logic could also explain the otherwise-bizarre decisions regarding two Saudi Al-Qaeda operatives that were made by CIA officials in the lead up to 9/11, specifically the CIA’s director, George Tenet; its Counterterrorist Center director, Cofer Black; its Bin Laden Unit chief, Richard Blee (son of legendary CIA Soviet Division director David H. Blee, brother of a Reagan staffer with ties to the Bush family); its Bin Laden Unit deputy chiefs, Tom Wilshire and Alfreda Frances Bikowsky; and a Bin Laden Unit officer named Michael Anne Casey. George H. W. Bush convinced his son to keep George Tenet on as his CIA Director after an embarrassing infidelity scandal torpedoed W.’s first choice, neoconservative Cheney ally Paul Wolfowitz. Tenet was a Clinton appointee and tensions between the Democrats and Republicans were running high following the 1998 Clinton impeachment and the stolen 2000 election, but Tenet’s former colleagues told journalist Steve Coll that he “had no fixed political ideology other than wanting to ensure that the United States maintained its advantage over the rest of the world.” 

A highly skilled sycophant, Tenet “honored” George Bush Sr. by naming the CIA’s Langley headquarters after him in an “emotional” April 1999 ceremony, right as George Bush Jr. was emerging as the frontrunner for the Republican Party presidential nomination. Good timing. Director Tenet “quietly” kept Bush Sr. in the Langley loop, scheduling “classified intelligence briefings for the former president, including some in Houston, Bush’s hometown,” leading “some CIA insiders” to complain to State of War author James Risen that Tenet’s meetings with the retired politician “went beyond the normal practice.” Back when Tenet was the Chief of Staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he helped President Bush Sr. get Robert Gates confirmed as CIA Director despite the controversy surrounding Gates’ connection to the Iran-Contra conspiracy. H. W. was also a “long and very close friend” of Tenet’s mentor and former Senate Intelligence Committee boss — David L. Boren, a fellow Yale Skull and Bones alum who knew H. W.’s Nazi-collaborating father, Sen. Prescott Bush. Robert Gates described David Boren as his “most important ally and friend” in the early-‘90s. In 1987, Boren had a meeting scheduled with retired CIA spymaster/Yale alum James Jesus Angleton on the day Angleton succumbed to lung cancer. Boren’s daughter, Carrie Boren Headington, is a Christian evangelist and missionary based in Dallas who worked for Texas Governor George W. Bush after she graduated from Yale in 1993; Carrie was one of the first women ever inducted into Skull and Bones. 

David Boren was the Democratic energy-industry puppet, governor, senator, and closeted sexual predator whom George Tenet had breakfast with at the luxurious DC St. Regis on the morning of 9/11. In 2002, Bob Woodward called the friendship between the Oklahoma Senator and his former staffer from Queens “unusually close.” Boren played a hands-on role in Tenet’s meteoric rise to the top between 1992 and 1997, securing impressive jobs for his younger and inexperienced but charming, funny, and confident protégé in the Clinton Administration and the CIA. Tenet said that Boren “plucked him from obscurity.” Boren retired from the Senate at the age of 53, without even waiting for his third term to end. It seems safe to speculate that rumors of his sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill — reported on by gay activists Michael Petrelis and Michelangelo Signorile in 1993 — had something to do with it. Petrelis recently called Boren “the queer version of Harvey Weinstein.” The Oklahoma University Board of Regents invited Boren to become the school’s president in 1994 and Barack Obama selected Boren to be the co-chair of his White House Intelligence Advisory Board in 2009. Tenet’s sponsor resigned in disgrace from the University of Oklahoma in 2019 after a former student went on the record to allege that OU President Boren had sexually assaulted him and “preyed on young men at OU for decades.” Boren’s Vice President of Development, Jim “Tripp” Hall, was forced out of the university in 2018 amid sexual assault allegations by three male Oklahoma students — Boren hired Hall as a Senate staffer in DC, brought him back to Norman, Oklahoma to be his “special assistant” in 1994 (Hall and his former colleague Tenet socialized at Sooner games), and promoted Hall up the OU administrative ranks until the inglorious fall of both men. Another one of President Boren’s hires remains, however: David N. Edger, the former CIA Chief of Station in Germany. Edger left Europe and retired from the CIA to teach at Oklahoma in June 2001. Three of the Al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 9/11 plot also spent time in Norman, Oklahoma in 2000-2001; two of them were members of the “Hamburg Cell” that David Edger had been in charge of monitoring in Germany. The Islamic extremists stayed at the OU-owned Sooner Hotel near Gaylord Stadium and tried out the Airman Flight School which operated on University of Oklahoma property. One of the Al-Qaeda pilots-in-training liked working out in OU’s fitness center. The Sooners won the national college football championship in the 2000-2001 season; maybe the puzzling Oklahoma convergence of the CIA Director’s Bush-affiliated mentor, the CIA Berlin Station Chief, and several 9/11 participants can be explained by an unreported passion for Big 12 football in the Afghan terrorist camps? 

The two Saudis who call the CIA leadership clique’s decision-making into question — Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar — were childhood friends from wealthy families in Mecca who went off together as teenagers to fight in Bosnia and Afghanistan. In April 1999, they obtained American visas in Saudi Arabia in preparation for the “Planes Operation,” which Osama bin Laden first green-lit at a Kandahar meeting with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef a month or so earlier. None of the 9/11 hijackers were Afghans — the three pilots from the Hamburg Cell were Egyptian, Emirati, and Lebanese, one of the Flight 175 hijackers was Emirati, and the remaining 15 hijackers were Saudis — but all 19 hijackers spent time in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. In January 2000, the CIA started tracking al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar as potential terrorists based on information the Company received from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Saudi intelligence service. The CIA knew that al-Mihdhar had a multi-entry American visa, and the Americans kept tabs on the young Saudi men as they attended a high-level Al-Qaeda planning summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia a few weeks after the failure of the “Millennium Plot” and the arrival of the Hamburg Cell pilots in Afghanistan. Yet al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were allowed to enter the United States, open bank accounts, participate in flight schools, pay for hotel rooms using debit cards, purchase airline tickets, and board Flight 77 at [John Foster] Dulles Airport on September 11th unimpeded. 

George Tenet put Cofer Black and Richard Blee in charge of executing the CIA’s new Al-Qaeda plan in June 1999, giving them six months to learn the ropes of their new roles before al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar (officially) showed up on the CIA’s radar. As James Bamford wrote in his 2004 book A Pretext for War, “the sole purpose of setting up [Blee’s unit] was to keep track of bin Laden and members of Al-Qaeda — and, most important, to keep them out of the United States.” So why didn’t Cofer Black and Richard Blee follow standard CIA procedure and tell the State Department to place the Saudi men on its “TIPOFF” terrorist watch list, a routine action which would have obstructed the Al-Qaeda operatives’ joint entry into Los Angeles in January 2000, al-Mihdhar’s solo trip to Yemen in June 2000, and al-Mihdhar’s re-entry into New York on July 4th, 2001? James Bamford concluded that Blee “completely dropped the ball.” Fine. But why — as reported by Lawrence Wright in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book The Looming Tower — did Richard Blee, Tom Wilshire, Alfreda Bikowsky, and Michael Anne Casey repeatedly prohibit Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, FBI liaisons in the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, from notifying other FBI agents about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in the early months of 2000? The CIA even threatened to press federal charges against Rossini if he warned anyone in the FBI about the Al-Qaeda operatives in California. Between May and December of 2000, Nawaf al-Hazmi’s landlord in San Diego was an active FBI asset named Abdussattar Shaikh; while they were in Southern California, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar attended the Islamic Center of San Diego mega-mosque that Shaikh co-founded. But FBI agents weren’t notified by the CIA that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the US until August 23rd, 2001 — shortly after Al-Qaeda selected September 11th as their attack date — so the San Diego Field Office didn’t have any reason in 2000 to ask Shaikh to monitor the activity of his new Saudi boarders or to report on their guests, such as Omar al-Bayoumi, who was a Saudi intelligence agent, or Hani Hanjour, who was the tenants’ fellow Mecca resident, Afghan jihad veteran, and Flight 77 hijacker. 

Why didn’t Cofer Black warn his counterparts in the FBI Counterterrorism division — ambitious, hard-charging, feather-ruffling John O’Neill and his young, competent, highly-coveted protege Ali Soufan — about the presence of suspected terrorist plotters in California? Allow me to jump forward in time to the end of John O’Neill’s story. In the summer of 2001, the flashy-but-effective counterterrorism expert from New Jersey was pushed out of the FBI, much to the CIA’s relief. O’Neill had been struggling to sustain his lifestyle as a high-rolling philanderer on a government salary, so it must have been a weight off his shoulders when he found a cushy private sector position through Doctor Jerome “Jerry” Hauer. Jerry Hauer was a former Mayor Giuliani aide and anthrax expert who was the Managing Director of the secretive “risk mitigation” company Kroll, which has been characterized as “a private CIA” and “the CIA’s stalking horse.” The FBI Counterterrorism Chief’s new job with Kroll was “Chief of Security for the World Trade Center” (WTC). The CIA finally alerted the FBI and State Department about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar the day after O’Neill retired from the FBI, which was his first day working for Kroll at the WTC. On September 10th, O’Neill invited Jerry Hauer for a wild night out on the town. When the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11th, John O’Neill was crushed to death. Dr. Hauer — New York City’s 1996-2000 building collapse response coordinator who made the decision to place the city’s emergency crisis complex in the WTC’s star-crossed Building 7 — was called in to identify O’Neill’s corpse when it was pulled from the rubble on September 21st. A Newsday reporter named Laurie Garrett who was friendly with Dr. Hauer met with him later that day to discuss the (non-existent) links Hauer perceived between Al-Qaeda and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; Garrett described Hauer, who had spent the morning at Ground Zero viewing John O’Neill’s reportedly-gruesome remains, as “haggard, jittery, and distraught.” Now I’ll return to early-2000 and mention a mundane theory that has been put forward to explain Richard Blee and Cofer Black’s silence — they might have hated the cocky and controlling FBI official so much that they preferred to break the law and risk national security rather than allow him and the FBI to take over the case; retired CIA bureaucrat Michael Scheuer publicly described O’Neill’s death as “the only good thing that happened on September 11th.” 

But that still doesn’t explain why Director Tenet would “order people not to share information” on al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with White House Counterterrorism Chief Richard A. “Dick” Clarke, Tenet’s fellow National Security Council member (until National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice demoted Clarke to the second-string “Deputies’ Committee”). Like John O’Neill, Dick Clarke was a short-tempered self-promoter who was “widely loathed in the CIA,” but unlike O’Neill, Clarke had a good working relationship with George Tenet. Since the moment Bush, Cheney, and Rice inherited the grizzled bureaucrat from Bill Clinton in January 2001, Clarke had been aggressively and unsuccessfully pressuring his new bosses to prevent Al-Qaeda from executing any more terror attacks by identifying its wealthy international funders, dismantling its logistical and financial support networks, arresting its operatives in the US, and attacking its bases in Afghanistan. Clarke says he would have ordered an immediate manhunt if the CIA had informed him of the domestic presence of the hijackers-to-be, in which case he believes the Al-Qaeda members hiding in plain sight under their real names “would have been arrested within 24 hours,” “even as late as September 4th.” Clarke actually gave a presentation in the White House on September 4th, 2001 to Tenet, Rice, and Wolfowitz about the urgency of the fight against Al-Qaeda, but Tenet failed to couple his verbal support for Clarke’s proposals with the information Clarke probably could have used to prevent 9/11. Clarke’s best guess is that Tenet refused to share intelligence on al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar with him because the CIA might have been trying and failing to “flip” the duo, recruiting the Al-Qaeda operatives as potential “double agents” in response to post-Millennium criticism from the Clinton Administration about the CIA’s “failure to penetrate Al-Qaeda.” Mark Rossini, the FBI agent whose attempt to warn the Bureau was obstructed by the Bin Laden Unit, agrees that the CIA “wanted to recruit” al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar as double agents and “didn’t want the FBI in the form of John O’Neill messing up their operation.” 

A report out of Sana’a from early-2021 involving enigmatic Al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki could be interpreted as new evidence supporting Clarke and Rossini’s theory. In addition to the mainstream Islamic Center of San Diego, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar also attended a smaller mosque in Southern California run by al-Awlaki, who was an associate of their Bandar-funded handlers, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. That lasted until the end of the summer of 2000, when the charismatic 29-year-old Yemeni-American imam (who endorsed George W. Bush in that year’s election) went overseas on a vague “sabbatical” through “various countries.” al-Awlaki had traveled to training camps in Afghanistan while he was a sophomore at Colorado State University and recruited young Muslims living in Denver to fight in Bosnia and Chechnya before the promising preacher moved to San Diego in 1996, where he connected with al-Bayoumi and Basnan. al-Awlaki’s college roommate told journalist Scott Shane that Anwar renounced his secular upbringing and embraced Islamic fundamentalism after coming into contact with missionaries from the Deobandi Tablighi Jamaat movement during his second semester at Colorado State. He left Sana’a for Colorado in 1990, while Prince Bandar’s contractors were hard at work building the Saudi Ambassador’s 15-bedroom, 16-bathroom, 56,000 square-foot house in Colorado

As Bandar and Anwar were settling into Colorado, H. W.’s third son, Neil Mallon Bush, was beginning to give up on his dreams of becoming the Colorado Governor. Neil’s sketchy Silverado Savings and Loan company in Colorado got investigated by federal regulators and ultimately ruined his reputation in “oil-rich Denver,” where he moved in the early-‘80s to “replicate the success his father had had in oil-rich ‘50s Midland,” Texas. The most charming and articulate Bush brother abandoned his grand political ambitions and retreated to Houston with his tail between his legs to work for “one of his father’s rich friends.” But life went on in Neil’s absence. Prince Bandar gave an award named after himself to a Colorado State University engineering student in 1994, the same year al-Awlaki — the president of the Colorado State Muslim Student Association who spent his Fridays giving sermons at the Islamic Center of Fort Collins — received his engineering degree and moved to Denver. Was al-Awlaki on Bandar’s radar in Colorado? We know that he was already on Al-Qaeda’s radar; al-Awlaki was in contact with the Vice President of the Denver Islamic Society, Ziyad Khaleel, an Al-Qaeda operative who helped procure technical equipment for Osama bin Laden. Ziyad Khaleel’s roommate in 2000 was a Saudi diplomat/cleric named Mutaeb al-Sudairi — a suspected religious extremist and a cousin of Ambassador Bandar. Bandar also purchased four other homes in Colorado; when Saudi Al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan (the city named after Prince Turki’s father) in March 2002, the FBI found a non-public number in Zubaydah’s phonebook that was attached to one of Bandar’s properties in Aspen. Zubaydah also had the unlisted phone number of a McLean-based bodyguard at Ambassador Bandar’s embassy.

After Colorado and California, al-Awlaki went to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. al-Awlaki was a member of the powerful Awalek tribe based in south-central Yemen and his father was a prominent technocrat in President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s dominant “General People’s Congress” party. Audio leaked by the Yemeni Houthi/Ansar-Allah2 government in March 2021 purports to indicate that George Tenet personally intervened with President Saleh to get al-Awlaki released from a prison in Yemen after the American citizen was allegedly arrested in connection with the deadly October 2000 Al-Qaeda attack on an American warship in the Aden harbor. In the leaked phone call between Tenet and Saleh, Tenet practically begs the Yemeni president to release a suspected terrorist whom the CIA Director describes as “my person, my problem, my issue.” Tenet assures Saleh that his notorious domestic intelligence chief Ghalib al-Qamish already “knows all about this.” Tenet explains that he doesn’t “want to use names on the phone” and that Yemeni domestic intelligence (which was responsible for capturing and detaining Al-Qaeda operatives) “knows very specifically who we’re talking about.” When Saleh asks for the identity of the CIA asset in question to be shared with his government through the American Embassy or through John O’Neill and Ali Soufan’s team, pointing out that al-Qamish detained “50-60 people” in the aftermath of the USS Cole bombing, Tenet refuses to involve the US State Department or FBI but agrees to have a CIA officer stationed in Yemen meet with Saleh in-person to share the details. This trusted and high-ranking officer may have been Henry A. “Hank” Crumpton, who was the leader of the team Tenet sent into Yemen immediately after the successful attack on the billion-dollar US Navy destroyer in south-western Yemen. The Yemeni arrests of suspected Al-Qaeda operatives primarily occurred in mid-to-late October 2000, and Tenet says that his asset had been detained for “50 days,” which means the call and release most likely took place in early-December 2000.

The Ansar-Allah official who identified Anwar al-Awlaki as the CIA asset freed by George Tenet was Abdul Qader al-Shami. Major General al-Shami took over as Yemen’s domestic intelligence chief in 2015, a year after al-Qamish was fired. Should we believe al-Shami, who had access to classified Yemeni audio recordings and intelligence documents from 2000-2001 but who also has strong incentives to slander the American intelligence agency currently supporting the vicious Saudi-Emirati military campaign against his Hezbollah-aligned government? Or should we believe al-Awlaki’s American biographer, New York Times reporter Scott Shane, who interprets the Tenet-Saleh call as an attempt to exfiltrate some unknown “Yemeni CIA asset caught up in the Yemeni security raids after the USS Cole bombing”? al-Shami claims that the CIA “used to train [Al-Qaeda affiliates] in Yemen and send them abroad to carry out operations for them, and then affix the accusation to Yemen as an excuse to come under the cover of fighting those individuals.” Ansar-Allah, a predominantly-Shia Yemeni-nationalist movement, certainly has ulterior motives for portraying their transnational Sunni-fundamentalist enemies as American puppets, but that doesn’t mean al-Shami is lying. 

Even if the CIA asset in question wasn’t al-Awlaki, the leaked phone call proves that the CIA successfully penetrated Al-Qaeda after getting called out by Dick Clarke’s “Millennium Alert After Action Review” in January 2000. In late-2003, shortly before he was scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission, Clinton-era National Security Advisor Sandy Berger made sure National Archives staffers were out of sight, then Berger stuffed Clarke’s classified “After Action Review” and other documents related to Al-Qaeda into his jacket and pants, took the stolen papers back to his office, and destroyed an unknown number of them. The US Committee on Oversight and Government Reform noted that “Berger could have prevented the 9/11 Commission from having access to” Clarke’s report if he hadn’t been caught, remarking that “the full extent of Berger’s document removal can never be known” and “there is no way to ever know if the 9/11 Commission received all required materials.” Rather than explaining Berger’s career-killing cover-up as a foolish partisan attempt to prevent the Republican Party from learning that “several of Clarke’s recommendations hadn’t been acted on before Clinton left office,” giving the Bush Administration an opportunity to turn the Clinton Administration into a “Democratic scapegoat for 9/11” (although Bush and Rice also ignored Clarke), did Sandy Berger have very good reasons to prevent the 9/11 Commission from discovering that he and his national security team had pressured the CIA to cultivate Al-Qaeda operatives as American intelligence assets?

Scott Shane denies that “there was any chance that al-Awlaki was part of Al-Qaeda” before 2006 and explains the Salafist imam’s pre-9/11 relationships with Al-Qaeda operatives as a mere reflection of “the small world of American Islam.” That seems implausible to me, and I don’t see why al-Shami would decide to completely fabricate a connection to al-Awlaki in order to make Tenet’s frantic top-secret request more suspicious than it already seems, but I was unable to find any evidence corroborating al-Shami’s assertion that al-Awlaki was detained by Yemen’s “Political Security Organization” after the Cole bombing. That said, I was able to confirm, contra Shane, that al-Awlaki was in Yemen at a period of time compatible with al-Shami’s story — Shane was given the impression that Tenet’s phone call with Saleh took place in early-2001 (after al-Awlaki’s so-called sabbatical) rather than late-2000 (during the “sabbatical”), leading Shane to conclude with undue confidence that Tenet was talking about someone else. American newspapers, magazines, and news channels simply ignored the Yemeni allegation against George Tenet.3 I know the Ansar-Allah government has a lot on its plate right now, but I would be very grateful if they were able to release any other information they might have on Tenet’s cryptic deals with Saleh and al-Qamish.

al-Awlaki returned to the US in January 2001 — around the time of George Bush Junior’s presidential inauguration — to become the imam of a “deeply conservative” mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. The Saudi embassy authorized him to be a hajj guide despite his relative youth and lack of formal religious training, and he led a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in February-March 2001. When the FBI interrogated him a week after 9/11, al-Awlaki told the agents that he had also been in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan in 2000 (Ramadan began on November 27th and ended on December 27th that year). Khalid al-Mihdhar left California in June 2000, spent a few months in Sana’a, then returned to Mecca in November or December of 2000. Is it just a coincidence that the Saudi hijacker and his Yemeni-American imam traveled to and from the same places at the same times in the second-half of 2000? al-Mihdhar’s father-in-law was Yemeni Al-Qaeda official Ahmad al-Hada, a personal friend of Osama bin Laden who ran Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a and helped coordinate the USS Cole bombing. Did al-Hada’s name come up in al-Awlaki’s “numerous closed-door meetings” with al-Mihdhar in San Diego?

A member of al-Awlaki’s Spring 2001 group trip named Hale Smith/Abdul Haleem told right-wing Islamophobe Paul Sperry that “to get recognized as a hajj tour guide by the Saudis, you have to have connections over there. You don’t just get permission to lead tours. You have to be in with the Saudis.” al-Awlaki’s new Northern Virginia mosque and on-site apartment had been built with funding from Ambassador Bandar’s embassy in 1991. In addition to the salary and lodging he earned as an imam, al-Awlaki told FBI agents that he was also receiving a stipend from the Yemeni government to cover the costs associated with his “educational leadership” studies at George Washington University in DC. In April 2001, al-Awlaki re-established contact with Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour as soon as the terrorist plotters arrived in Virginia. FBI investigators discovered that al-Awlaki may have also purchased the airline tickets for reconnaissance flights taken by Mohammed Atta and two other Flight 11 hijackers in July and August of 2001. He spent the rest of August in Sana’a, attended early-September conferences in Chicago and San Diego, then flew back into DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport right as his mosque congregants were hijacking their flight out of Dulles Airport.

If George Tenet really did free Anwar al-Awlaki from a Political Security Organization detention center in early-December 2000 and allow him to travel to Northern Virginia in late-January 2001, was it because the CIA incorrectly believed it could use his hypocritical sex life to blackmail him? Did Sandy Berger decide that he’d rather be perceived as a partisan thief than as an inadvertent terrorist sponsor? Were al-Awlaki, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Ali Mohamed all triple-agents, pretending to snitch on Al-Qaeda in order to trick the arrogant Americans into thinking that they had the situation under control while the operatives secretly remained loyal to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri? I can’t rule it out, but I’m not convinced.

I don’t buy the “mindboggling incompetence” or “petty inter-agency feuding” explanations for the systematic withholding of information which the chairman of the 9/11 Commission described in 2008 as “purposeful.” Does that mean the CIA had orders to cover for their Saudi friends, protecting the first Planes Operation participants to enter the US because there was truth to the persistent intelligence community rumors (first reported by Joseph and Susan Trento) that the terrorist plotters from Mecca were “assets” recruited by Prince Turki’s intelligence organization in the ‘90s? After all, Osama bin Laden had been one of Prince Turki’s top assets in the ‘80s. Did American intelligence officers fail to “follow the money” not because they were negligent or factional, but because the CIA brass was aware that the Saudi hijackers were receiving support from several Saudi government officials, including a diplomat at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles named Fahad al-Thumairy? al-Thumairy was an imam at a lavish mosque in Culver City — built for the House of Saud in 1998 and named after King Fahd — that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar reportedly attended when they first arrived in America. al-Thumairy received a phone call from Malaysia shortly after al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar left Kuala Lumpur for Los Angeles. The US State Department revoked al-Thumairy’s diplomatic visa and deported the Saudi official back to Riyadh in 2003 because of his extremist beliefs and suspected involvement in both 9/11 and the thwarted Millennium Plot involving Ahmed Ressam. Did the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit know that Omar al-Bayoumi “had very high status” in the Saudi Los Angeles consulate, or that al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi were given their orders to assist the Flight 77 hijackers by Musaed Ahmed al-Jarrah, a Saudi diplomat in DC who reported to Ambassador Bandar? al-Jarrah was responsible for the “the distribution of Saudi funding to favored US mosques,” and he was also suspected by the FBI of “bringing extremists into the US using his embassy position” and serving as a “controlling, guiding, and directing influence on all aspects of Sunni extremist activity in Southern California.” Is it too much of a stretch to speculate that al-Jarrah and Anwar al-Awlaki might have overlapped in Southern California and Northern Virginia? In August 2001, al-Jarrah traveled up from DC to New Jersey to give a $1 million “gift” from an unnamed Saudi prince to an Egyptian imam named Alaa al-Sadawi who was suspected of funneling money to Al-Qaeda. It’s definitely interesting that Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Mohammed Atta all were in New Jersey at the same time as al-Jarrah, but there’s currently no evidence that the soon-to-be-dead terrorists met with the Saudi official while he was in Jersey City visiting/paying an Al-Qaeda-linked imam. There is also no publicly-available evidence that Prince Bandar came into contact with Anwar al-Awlaki when they were both in Colorado between 1991 and 1996, but it would be worth looking into.

In 2014, an incarcerated French-Moroccan Al-Qaeda member named Zacarias Moussaoui told lawyers representing the families of 9/11 victims that he served as a bookkeeper and courier for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. After “swearing by Allah that everything I say until the end of this testimony will be true” and adding “May Allah curse the liar,” Moussaoui accused the following Saudis of donating money to Al-Qaeda between 1996 and 1999: a high-level staffer at future-King Salman’s “Saudi High Commission” charity working out of the Saudi embassy in Pakistan, Osama’s Harvard-educated brother Abdullah bin Laden, Khalid bin Mahfouz and his Muwafaq Foundation partner Yassin Kadi, international investor Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Ambassador Bandar Bush and his Defense Minister father Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Prince Turki bin Faisal and his banker brother Prince Mohammed bin Faisal, and Prince Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, the right-hand man of future-King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Nawwaf later took over from his nephew Turki as director of Saudi intelligence. 

In his testimony, Moussaoui recalled a Kandahar meeting with a Saudi official who seemed to be “in charge of the Islamic Affairs Department” at the Saudi embassy in DC to discuss the feasibility of using a Stinger missile launcher smuggled into America from Afghanistan through the Saudi embassy to shoot down Air Force One and kill President Clinton. Stingers were the weapons the Americans built and shipped to Afghanistan in the ‘80s, where they were credited with “decisively tipping the balance in favor of the mujahideen.”4 Moussaoui knew the Saudi diplomat as “Abu Omar Muawiya,” but the use of aliases was commonplace, and it would be nice if someone could show Moussaoui a photograph of Musaed al-Jarrah and ask him if the Deputy Chief of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi embassy in DC was the official he allegedly discussed a presidential assassination with in Kandahar. Moussaoui also claimed that Prince Turki visited him in Norman, Oklahoma in early-2001, that Osama bin Laden told him in 1999 that Turki would personally facilitate the entry of the 15 Saudi hijackers into the United States, and that Turki’s sister/Bandar’s wife Princess Haifa personally handed him money (a credible allegation in light of the donations Haifa made to Osama Basnan). 

In 2020 court filings which have not been reported on until now, Moussaoui went even further, accusing Princess Haifa bint Faisal of meeting with him, Omar al-Bayoumi, and Saudi agent-turned-dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Dallas, Texas (the home of her husband’s beloved Cowboys) to make a direct donation to the 9/11 plotters and to give her input on the targets the Planes Operation should hit in Washington, DC. The notion that an honorary member of the Bush family would explicitly encourage an Al-Qaeda operative to “attack the White House and Pentagon” (in the presence of Jamal Khashoggi) might sound too outlandish to believe, even if the president himself was safe and sound in Sarasota, Florida on 9/11. But there is enough circumstantial evidence supporting Moussaoui’s story to resist any impulse to simply write the erratic terrorist off as a lunatic or a liar

According to the FBI, some of the money Haifa sent to Osama Basnan ended up in Omar al-Bayoumi’s bank account — the Saudi princess and the Saudi intelligence agent were already linked by a paper trail. The FBI discovered that Omar al-Bayoumi called Prince Bandar’s Al-Qaeda-linked cousin/employee Mutaeb al-Sudairi “five times” during al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s first week in the US — phone calls which “coincide with significant logistic support of the hijackers.” Mutaeb al-Sudairi lived in the same San Diego home (owned by an FBI asset) that the hijackers stayed in, and he moved to Falls Church, Virginia shortly before the hijackers moved there. al-Sudairi’s fellow students in an English-language course “believed he was a Saudi Arabian intelligence agency officer.” He was forced to return to Saudi Arabia in October 2001 under threat of deportation, but he applied for a new visa to study English at David Boren’s University of Oklahoma in 2010. The FBI authorized an operation to place Mutaeb al-Sudairi under 24/7 surveillance in Norman, Oklahoma, but the CIA “objected strongly” to the FBI’s plan and warned the Saudi government that al-Sudairi was walking into a trap, so the well-connected Islamist canceled his plans to become a Sooner. The FBI also found that Omar al-Bayoumi received a “monthly stipend” from Ambassador Bandar and “regularly passed intelligence findings” to Haifa’s husband. Someone who knew him told the FBI that “al-Bayoumi was always talking about how the Islamic community needs to take action” and said on “several occasions that they were ‘at jihad.’” The Bureau estimated there was a “50/50 chance” that al-Bayoumi knew exactly what the SoCal hijackers were planning. 

Saudi intellectual Jamal Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who “traveled with King Abdullah and grew close to Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.” Jamal’s primary patron was Prince Turki, Haifa’s brother. Jamal’s uncle was Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, who leveraged his privileges as the son of King Abdulaziz’s royal doctor as well as his friendship with Haifa’s father-in-law Sultan bin Abdulaziz to become an international arms dealer, real estate investor, money launderer, BCCI associate, Safari Club meeting host, CIA asset, Iran-Contra middleman, and prolific sex trafficker. Adnan Khashoggi’s first business deal was a contract he negotiated between a California truck dealer and Osama’s construction magnate father Mohammed bin Laden; Adnan’s father/Jamal’s grandfather was also Mohammed bin Laden’s family doctor. 

In December 2002, Newsweek journalist Michael Isikoff reported that al-Bayoumi’s partner Osama Basnan traveled to Houston, Texas in April 2002 — the same week Crown Prince Abdullah was in Houston visiting President Bush — where the Saudi Osama bin Laden supporter met with “a high Saudi prince who has responsibilities for intelligence matters and is known to bring suitcases full of cash into the United States.” Basnan was deported back to Saudi Arabia in November 2002. 

Earlier in 2002, the House of Saud put a Saudi Interior Ministry official named Saleh al-Hussayen in charge of managing the Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina. Saleh al-Hussayen stayed in the same Northern Virginia hotel as al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar on the last night of their lives — September 10th, 2001. When FBI agents questioned al-Hussayen soon after the attacks, they “believed he was being deceptive” when he denied knowing the Flight 77 hijackers, and he then faked a seizure, terminated the interview, and fled back to Saudi Arabia before the FBI could re-interview him. 

As of 2014, Moussaoui explained all of this alleged elite Saudi support for Al-Qaeda as a form of appeasement, a way for secular Saudi royals and businessmen to avoid the “wrath” of the Saudi Wahhabists and to persuade Osama bin Laden not to conduct any attacks on Saudi soil. But by 2020, Moussaoui had come to perceive Osama as “a useful idiot of the CIA/Saudis,” an unwitting pawn in the hands of Prince Turki and his co-conspirators.

In July 2001, John O’Neill reportedly told French intelligence analysts Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquié that “the main obstacles to investigating Islamic terrorism” were “US oil/corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in [terrorism].” According to Brisard and Dasquié, O’Neill said that “all the clues that could enable us to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization are in Saudi Arabia,” but those clues were inaccessible to O’Neill and his team because the Saudis’ control over oil prices and ability to threaten the continued hegemony of the US dollar gave them “much more leverage on us than we have on the Kingdom.” An FBI arrest and exposure of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar also might have made George Tenet’s post-9/11 late-night scotch and cigar sessions at Bandar’s palace in Riyadh too awkward, just as the post-9/11 release of the evidence exposing Bandar’s connections to Zubaydah and indirect donation of $130,000 to al-Hazmi would have complicated Dick Cheney’s unofficial 2006 meetings in Riyadh with the retired prince. In addition to his recruitment-gone-wrong theory, Mark Rossini thinks the CIA “didn’t want the FBI to cause embarrassment to the Saudi regime” by “arresting [al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar] with big splashy headlines.” 

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by law student Thad Anderson in 2005 revealed that Tenet told Rumsfeld’s Pentagon team on 9/11 that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar “have been followed since [the] Millennium” plot. If the CIA had been secretly “following” these Al-Qaeda operatives in America since the beginning of 2000, they would have observed al-Hazmi meeting with his supervisor Mohammed Atta multiple times while living in Northern Virginia with Flight 175 hijacker Ahmed al-Ghamdi, Flight 11 hijacker Abdulaziz al-Omari, and the other three Flight 77 hijackers (Majed Moqed, al-Hazmi’s younger brother Salem, and pilot Hani Hanjour). If the spies followed Mohammed Atta down to South Florida, they would have seen that he and his fellow Hamburg Cell members, Flight 175 pilot Marwan al-Shehhi and Flight 93 pilot Ziad Jarrah, had “many connections” to 27-year-old Saudi millionaire Abdulaziz al-Hijji, who urgently abandoned his home in Sarasota two weeks before 9/11. Before he and his family “left behind valuable items, clothing, jewelry, and food in a manner that indicated they fled unexpectedly without prior preparation or knowledge,” al-Hijji socialized with Muneer Kazem Arafat, another former roommate of Al-Qaeda operative Ziyad Khaleel. Just as Mutaeb al-Sudairi and Anwar al-Awlaki moved to Falls Church shortly before the Flight 77 hijackers arrived in Northern Virginia, Muneer Arafat moved to Sarasota and became the imam of a local mosque shortly before Mohammed Atta and the other Hamburg Cell pilots-in-training arrived in South Florida. In 2003, the suspected-extremist imam became a paid informant for the US federal government. al-Hijji’s Lebanese-American friend and workout partner told the FBI that “Osama bin Laden was a hero of al-Hijji,” who talked about “going to Afghanistan to become a freedom fighter” and expressed interest in attending the same Florida Gulf Coast flight program5 as Mohammed Atta. The Atta clique was also connected to al-Hijji’s powerful father-in-law, Esam Abbas Ghazzawi, an adviser for the Saudi royal family with business ties to BCCI and George H. W. Bush. Ghazzawi was an associate of John Major, the conservative British politician who succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1990 and then became the Carlyle Group’s European division director after Tony Blair unseated him in the 1997 UK election. Esam Ghazzawi and his brother Mamdouh were directors of a corporate network owned by the House of Saud called the “EIRAD Group” that continued serving as a contractor for the American government after Mohammed Atta’s visits to Esam’s house in Florida. Mamdouh Ghazzawi was the president of a Saudi division of American defense contractor Northrop Grumman. 

So was Tenet simply mistaken or unclear when he suggested to Rumsfeld’s deputy that al-Hazmi’s activity in America had been monitored by the CIA for 18+ months (Tenet would officially claim that the CIA lost track of him and al-Mihdhar after they left the Malaysian summit, learned two months later that they had entered the US, but did not resume surveillance and did not tell anyone)? Or did Tenet, Black, and Blee glimpse the 9/11 plot developing in real-time and tacitly allow it to proceed because they knew not to stick their noses in explosive Saudi affairs? 

I think we should seriously consider the even more controversial possibility that Tenet and Bandar were discussing something other than untinted Maybach rentals during their off-the-record monthly meetings at Bandar’s estate in McLean, Virginia. Those “quiet talks” between America’s commander of covert operations and Saudi Arabia’s self-styled Machiavellian prince “drove” lower-level CIA officers “crazy” because they didn’t “know the nature of any deals their boss was arranging with the Saudis.”6 Did those secret “deals” with Bandar include Pakistan, the other core member of America’s 1979-1988 Afghan jihad coalition? In May 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told The Guardian that “every Pakistani wanted Bush to win, every Pakistani would have voted Republican.” W. considered Musharraf (who was in power from 1999 to 2008) to be a man of “courage and vision,” referring to him as a personal friend and a “friend of the United States.” Musharraf’s domestic opponents considered him to be a subcontractor of the American Empire and referred to him as “Busharraf.” On September 9th, 2001, George Tenet had a meeting with Pakistani intelligence director Mahmud Ahmed, who was appointed to his spymaster position after helping General Musharraf — a 1965 Kashmir War hero and 1971 Indo-Pakistani War special forces commander — stage a successful military coup in Islamabad. It might be relevant that the beginning of American-Pakistani collaboration on covert Afghan operations in 1979 was directly preceded by General Zia’s military coup. Before General Musharraf’s October 1999 coup, Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed commanded the Pakistani “X Corps” that invaded Indian-controlled Kashmir in May 1999 and killed hundreds of Indian soldiers. Tenet invited Lieutenant General Mahmud to DC in early-September 2001 as a follow-up to discussions the intelligence directors had in Islamabad in May 2001. On September 10th, 2001, Pakistani journalist Amir Mateen reported that “Lt.-Gen. Mahmud’s week-long presence in Washington has triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council… US sources would not furnish any details beyond saying that they discussed ‘matters of mutual interest.’” 

When the attacks started on September 11th, Director Mahmud was in a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill with George Tenet’s buddy Porter Goss, a Florida Congressman and CIA officer who benefited from Bush Senior’s mentorship and enjoyed a close friendship with Dick Cheney. In 2019, Goss reported that Mahmud Ahmed “turned absolutely ashen” in the House Intelligence Committee Room’s inner sanctum when staffers first informed the men of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Born into a family of wealthy industrialists, Goss grew up in post-war Connecticut, got recruited by the CIA while attending Yale University (where he was fraternity brothers with H. W.’s younger brother Bucky Bush), married an heiress whose Pittsburgh manufacturing family was even richer than his, spent the early-‘60s working with the anti-Castro Cubans in Miami, moved to the Florida Gulf Coast and became a bigshot in its local politics in the 1970s, won his first Congressional election in 1988, went on CNN in 1996 to deny that the CIA helped Nicaraguan Contras smuggle cocaine into the US (especially not through Barry Seal’s airstrips in South Florida), complained that the CIA had become too “gun-shy” in 1998, served as a co-chair of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry in 2002, and ended up replacing George Tenet as Bush Junior’s CIA Director in 2004. The former Mayor of Sanibel Island also met with Director Mahmud during a visit to Pakistan less than a month prior to their poorly-timed breakfast in DC. 

In late-September 2001, Indian intelligence agents tipped off FBI investigators that Director Mahmud Ahmed had arranged for young Pakistani-British terrorist Omar Sheikh to send $100,000 to Mohammed Atta and his Florida Al-Qaeda network shortly before 9/11. Sheikh was a conservative rich kid who dropped out of the London School of Economics in the early-‘90s to support the Islamist struggles in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya (as an MI6 asset, allegedly). Sheikh was arrested in November 1994 for kidnapping Western tourists in New Delhi but was freed from prison in December 1999 alongside fellow Pakistani intelligence asset Masood Azhar in exchange for the hostages of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 hijacking orchestrated by Pakistani Islamists. Indian journalists reported that phone records and bank transactions analyzed by the FBI affirmed the existence of a financial connection between Ahmed, Sheikh, and Atta centered on a SunTrust bank account opened by the Hamburg Cell in Sarasota County, Florida. The Wall Street Journal was the only major American paper that even mentioned the story — a right-wing WSJ opinion editor named James Taranto received confirmation from “senior [American] government sources” that FBI agents had been able to “trace and establish” the link between the head of Pakistani intelligence and the 9/11 attacks. I’d love to know why American news outlets universally decided that the Ahmed-Atta story was not worth reporting on.

A few months later, Mahmud Ahmed’s alleged 9/11 middleman Omar Sheikh was involved in the beheading of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Karachi named Daniel Pearl. Pearl had previously undermined the official story put forward by the Clinton Administration to justify their August 1998 bombing of a medicine factory in Sudan on the basis of evidence produced by the CIA; a WSJ colleague remembered that “the government was furious at Pearl’s story.” Pearl flew to Pakistan shortly after the 9/11 attacks, determined to uncover “how Al-Qaeda was financed” — the Wall Street Journal had taught him to “always follow the money.” Pearl was abducted by Omar Sheikh’s local team and murdered by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (a Pakistani citizen) while the American journalist was investigating the links between Pakistani intelligence officials, a Pakistani quasi-Sufi “spiritual leader” named Mubarak Ali Gilani who spent years in Saudi Arabia and the United States, and British Al-Qaeda operative Richard Reid/Abdel Rahim, who received his “shoe-bomber” training and orders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A disgruntled CIA officer named Robert Baer claimed in September 2002 that he had “urged Pearl to go to Pakistan to look into Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.” Pearl’s wife was pregnant with their first child, and he went with her to get a sonogram in Islamabad only a few days before his abduction — their son was born four months after Pearl was murdered. 

In May 2011, US Navy Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in a compound less than 15 minutes away from the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency’s Tarbela Ghazi covert operations airbase. The CIA and US military had personnel stationed at Tarbela Ghazi in 2006-2007 (evidence of continued ISI collaboration with the Taliban led the US government to withdraw American soldiers from Tarbela Ghazi in 2007, but CIA “personnel who were part of the drone program remained in Tarbela for years to come”). Osama bin Laden entered Pakistan in mid-2002 to escape American military operations in Afghanistan. First he returned to his old stomping grounds in Peshawar, and he then stayed in a series of safehouses in Pakistan, trying to evade detection. An internal investigation conducted by the Pakistani government determined that the ISI “closed the book” on its efforts to locate and capture Osama in 2005, the same year he moved to Abbottabad. The Pakistani government explained the termination of the three-year manhunt as “routine incompetence,” but perhaps the real reason why Pakistani intelligence officers stopped looking for Osama was that they found him (and did not want to hand him over to the US military). In 2008, a CIA official told CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour that Osama bin Laden was living in a “comfortable villa in Pakistan… not a cave.” After bin Laden was executed by “SEAL Team 6,” Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Osama “had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound” since 2005 or 2006, with “ISI guards posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children.” Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed was long gone by then — he decided that he was tired of the [alleged] terrorist paymaster rat-race and needed to spend more time playing tennis and gardening with his wife, and so he resigned from the ISI on the day America invaded Afghanistan. Mahmud was following in the footsteps of Prince Turki, who surprised American observers by ending his illustrious 23-year career as the chief of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate on August 31st, 2001. Turki told Lawrence Wright that he left because he “thought new blood might be needed.” Perhaps that was Turki’s idea of a wry joke — his replacement was his 69-year-old uncle Nawwaf, who was also accused by an Al-Qaeda accountant of making financial contributions to the terrorist organization in the years leading up to 9/11.

In Tenet’s 2007 memoir, he claimed that he met with Mahmud Ahmed — a man who was reportedly co-funding an imminent Al-Qaeda attack on America — in order to “press him” to force the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to the Americans. Was the CIA Director an honest idiot or a shameless liar? For those of you who appreciate appeals to authority, Thomas Kean — the Princeton-educated Republican governor and National Endowment for Democracy board-member appointed by President Bush to be the 9/11 Commission Chairman after first-choice Henry Kissinger was forced to resign — has publicly called George Tenet a liar who intentionally misled 9/11 investigators and “got away with some stuff because people liked him.” Why didn’t Tenet mention the undeniably-noteworthy and publicly-reported reason for Director Mahmud’s abrupt resignation in his memoir, instead vaguely speculating that President Musharraf “must have concluded that his intel chief was just too close to the enemy”? Hard to get much closer than funding their most spectacular terrorist attack. 

It is technically possible, of course, that Lieutenant General Mahmud, Prince Turki, and Prince Bandar have been wrongfully accused of co-financing 9/11, but only in the same sense that it’s technically possible Tupac Shakur faked his own death and currently lives in Cuba. How much more likely is it that Mahmud and Bandar’s American associates — Tenet, Bush Sr., Goss, Cheney, et al. — had no knowledge of their allies’ six-figure donations to Al-Qaeda operatives in the United States? Surely they weren’t convinced by Bandar’s father Sultan when he said that “it is enough to see a number of Congressmen wearing Jewish yarmulkes to explain the allegations against us,” and I doubt they were compelled by the self-deprecating logic of Sultan’s brother Salman, who said: “no Saudi could have been involved, it must have been Israel… no Saudi is competent enough to have done something like that,” or the cui bono question posed by their brother Nayef, who said: “We still ask ourselves, ‘who has benefited from the September 11th attacks?’ I think that the Jews were the protagonists of such attacks.” But did the Americans really believe that the allegation against Mahmud Ahmed was just a baseless smear fabricated by his Indian enemies, or that Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa’s donations were just well-intentioned acts of charity that fell into the wrong hands? Why did Prince Turki inform the CIA about al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar in December 1999 if the Saudis were trying to help Al-Qaeda avoid CIA detection? Why should we believe that the heads of the American intelligence and executive apparatuses were merely the ignorant, negligent dupes of the deceitful Saudis and Pakistanis? (The notable exception is W. himself — I am willing to entertain the possibility that the president was too stupid to grasp what was going on around him, just as Reagan was too senile/insulated to know the details of his administration’s schemes.) 

Even the argument that presents figures like Tenet and Cheney as the conscious, treasonous puppets of the Saudis requires a logic-defying suspension of disbelief. The displacement of the American elite’s direct capacity for terrorist action onto rich, scheming, foreign scapegoats — Cubans, Sicilian-Americans, Italians, Chileans, Nicaraguans, Israelis, Egyptians, Saudis, Pakistanis, and so on — serves only to obscure the nature of post-1945 imperialism. The root of the evil perpetrated on September 11th lies not in “the tail wagging the dog” or “the Saudis bribing a handful of unpatriotic Americans to look the other way.” The American Empire and its regional allies are parts of a whole, different components of the same transnational value-extraction system. The US exercises its global imperial power through a messy coalition of vassal-states, proxy groups, and “friendly” regional powers. The (internally-fragmented) American ruling class is the leader of this (unstable) Axis of Imperial Evil on the basis of its control over massive wealth and resources, advanced technology, and a colossal military, but its relationships with the foreign ruling classes in its spheres of influence are necessarily reciprocal and complex rather than fixed or unidirectional. These intra-imperial relations are contingent, morphing in response to changes in objective conditions (profit rates, commodity prices, soil salinity, water scarcity, etc.) and subjective conditions (election results, military coups, personal friendships/rivalries, revolutionary uprisings, etc.)

I claim that the tight, dense network of American elites surrounding the unelected Bush regime was not acting as the bumbling cowardly servant of foreign interests but was actively pursuing its own ambitious objectives. Those objectives overlapped with the interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan at the turn of the 21st century in a way that required covert actions, shameless deception, and strident denials regarding the extent of their direct involvement in these violent and inflammatory joint efforts. I suspect that the American elites who were intimately bound to the Saudi rulers through shady business deals, glitzy socializing, and geopolitical considerations were still operating under the ideological influence of a grand long-term vision of the American future in 2001, acting in accordance with a ruthless calculation that saw Islamist terrorist attacks on the American public as the doorway to a vast array of new economic and political opportunities — for themselves and for their particular segments of the ruling class, but also for the American Empire as such.

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  1. Prince Abdullah’s mother was a member of the defeated Ottoman-backed enemy House of Rashid, and she died when Abdullah, her only son with King Abdulaziz, was still a child. King Fahd, future-Crown Prince Sultan, future-Crown Prince Nayef, and current-King Salman all had the same mother, King Abdulaziz’s favorite wife, forceful and intelligent Hussa bint Ahmed of the pro-Saudi House of Sudairi. King Abdulaziz married Hussa Al-Sudairi when he was 38 and she was 13. Bandar described his grandmother Hussa as “the most influential figure in my life”; Hussa was also the grandmother of Saudi Arabia’s current de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, although she died long before he was born (Hussa had Salman when she was 35 and Salman had Mohammed when he was 49). Mohammed bin Salman’s Interior Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud, is another member of the Hussa-descended Sudairi faction, as was his predecessor, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
  2. The Western media refers to them as the “Houthi movement” because they are led by a family from the Houthi tribe of northwestern Yemen, but the group refers to itself as “Ansar-Allah,” also rendered as “Ansarallah” or “Ansarullah,” Arabic for “Supporters of God.”
  3. The only English-language news outlets that covered the story published by Ansar-Allah’s Al-Masirah network were Hezbollah’s Al-Manar network, the Iranian Shia-revolutionary Mehr News Agency, the progressive London-based Al-Araby, and the anti-Zionist London-based Middle East Monitor.
  4. Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, 2006 (New York: Alfred A. Knopft), p. 127.
  5. That Venice flight school was co-owned by Florida businessman Wallace J. “Wally” Hilliard and a spooky Dutchman named Rudi Dekkers. In 2000, the DEA seized a charter jet owned by Hilliard with a large shipment of heroin on board, and in 2012 Dekkers was arrested for smuggling heroin and cocaine.
  6. James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, 2006 (New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster), p. 186-7.