A newly declassified CIA watchdog report that probed the agency's intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks reveals that investigators on the CIA's 9/11 review team "encountered no evidence" that the government of Saudi Arabia "knowingly and willingly supported" al Qaeda terrorists.
Moreover, the June 2005 CIA Inspector General report's, released Friday, said the Senate Intelligence Committee's Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 "'had made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency' regarding Saudi issues raised by its inquiry." (A separate report released in 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission, found no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia or Saudi officials individually provided funding to al-Qaeda.)
CIA inspector general John Helgerson launched the internal review in response to a request from the Joint Inquiry and "focused exclusively on the issues identified" by panel. The CIA's 9/11 review team reached the "same overall conclusions on most of the important issues" identified by the Joint Inquiry, the watchdog's report says.
The conclusions related to Saudi Arabia in the unredacted portion of the report, and the reference to the Joint Inquiry's own finding, appears to contrast with longstanding claims of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Suspicions about Saudi Arabia's role have centered on a 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry, which was ordered classified by President George W. Bush prior to its public release in 2002. For years, victims' families, members of Congress, and former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of the inquiry, have called for the release of the pages, which are said to refer to FBI investigations into the attacks. Those investigations, according to individuals who have seen the pages, highlight elements of the financing that went into the orchestration of the attacks.
On June 1, Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill in the Senate that would require President Obama to declassify the 28 pages.
The 30-page section on Saudi Arabia in the CIA inspector general's report, which includes discussions about "implications," and "accountability," is completely redacted with the exception of three paragraphs. Still, the information left intact appears to be the first new details to surface in more than a decade about Saudi Arabia's support for al Qaeda and connection to the 9/11 attacks. The release of the report comes on the heels of a renewed pressure from US lawmakers to get the Obama administration to declassify the infamous the 28 pages from the Joint Inquiry that many believe will resolve lingering questions about the Saudi connection to al Qaeda. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia.
Helgerson, in a subhead of the 466 page report titled "Assessment of the finding," which is an analysis of the Joint Inquiry's finding on "issues related to Saudi Arabia," noted that much of the investigative material related to the Joint Inquiry's finding as to whether the government of Saudi Arabia funded al Qaeda before 9/11 is in possession of the FBI, and the inspector general's staff could not gain access to it.
"Many of the points of this finding relate to the FBI's investigative efforts on the Saudi intelligence presence in the United States and of Saudi officials' contacts with terrorists in the country, and, as such, the [CIA's] Office of Inspector General (OIG) 9/11 Review Team defers consideration of these to the Department of Justice and FBI," the declassified inspector general's report says. "The Team lacks access to the fill range of investigative materials in FBI possession and is therefor unable to either concur or dissent on those points."
Graham has publicly said he believes the FBI is covering up Saudi links to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In a 2012 affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought by victims' families against the Saudi government, Graham said, "I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11 attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia."
"Follow the money," Graham told VICE News last year, when he repeated his call for the 28 pages to be declassified. "That will illuminate the other significant aspects of 9/11."
VICE News reached out to Graham for comment on Friday, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment about whether the redacted portions of the inspector general report relates to the 28 pages.
"The redacted portions of the 2005 OIG report remain properly classified," Boyd told VICE News. "As a general matter, we do not comment on redacted portions of reports."
In the years before the 9/11 attacks, the CIA had received sporadic reports of possible Saudi support for al Qaeda, but the agency had not been able to corroborate the intelligence.
A 1999 CIA intelligence report on Osama bin Laden's finances cited in the inspector general's report said "limited" reporting suggested that "a few Saudi Government officials may support" Bin Laden," but added that the intelligence reporting was "too sparse to determine with any accuracy" if such support occurred.
Years later, "individuals in both [the CIA's] Near East Division and Counterterrorist Center [redacted] told the [CIA's 9/11 review team] they had not seen any reliable reporting confirming Saudi Government involvement with and financial support for terrorism prior to 9/11, athough a few also speculated that dissident sympathizers within the government may have aided al-Qai'da," the report said.
The Joint Inquiry's report into intelligence failures leading up to the attacks said "it was clear from about 1996," according to a US government official, "that the Saudi Government would not cooperate with the United States on matters relating to Usama Bin Ladin."
The inspector general's report said the CIA's counterterrorism center established "a virtual station" that year — "UBL Station — to "target Islamic terrorist financier Usama Bin Ladin."
Last October, French-born al Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, made an explosive claim. He told lawyers for families of 9/11 victims suing the Saudi government that he had met with high-ranking members of the royal family who financed al Qaeda in the 1990s, including Saudi Arabia's then intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, as well as longtime ambassador to the US Prince Bandar Bin Sulan, and Prince Salman, who became king earlier this year. Speaking to the families' lawyers at the Federal Supermax Prison in Colorado, Moussaoui said that while in Afghanistan, he met with an official from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC. The two, said Moussaoui, discussed, among other things, "the feasibility of shooting down Air Force One."
While experts said some parts of Moussaoui's account sounded farfetched, Saudi — and American — support for the mujahideen that fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and morphed into al Qaeda is well known. It is widely believed that the Saudi government for years paid off Saudi-born bin Laden and al Qaeda to prevent attacks on its own soil.
The Saudi government, in a statement released through its embassy in Washington, DC last February, said Moussaoui is a "deranged criminal" whose goal is to "undermine Saudi-U.S. relations."
"There is no evidence to support Zacarias Moussaoui's claim. The September 11 attack has been the most intensely investigated crime in history and the findings show no involvement by the Saudi government or Saudi officials. As confirmed by the 9/11 Commission, there is 'no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization [al Qaeda].'"
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