(CNSNews.com) – A newly-emerged, declassified document written by a pair of investigators involved in two official inquiries into 9/11 sheds new light on some of the questions relating to alleged high-level Saudi involvement in the terror plot.
It also asks whether “political, economic or other considerations” may have affected U.S. government investigations into possible Saudi-9/11 links.
The document, declassified last July, lists more than 20 individuals of interest to the investigation, including associates of the 9/11 hijackers and accredited Saudi diplomats.
It also reveals that the flight certificate of an al-Qaeda operative who reportedly took flight lessons in the Phoenix, Ariz. area before 9/11 – although he was not one of the 19 hijackers – was found after his capture in Pakistan, stashed in an envelope from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
The operative, Saudi national Ghassan al-Sharbi, was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan in 2002 and remains among the detainees still held at Guantanamo Bay.
“After Al-Sharbi was captured, the FBI discovered that he had buried a cache of documents nearby, including an envelope from the Saudi Embassy in Washington that contained al-Sharbi’s flight certificate,” the document states.
Furthermore, according to a related document unclassified at the same time, the name of “an individual” was written on the Saudi Embassy envelope.
The second document does not identify the individual but says that the FBI was asked during a July 2003 meeting with 9/11 Commission members “to provide the individual’s name written on the Saudi embassy envelope that was found with the effects of Ghassan al-Sharbi in Pakistan, and any information available about that individual.”
Allegations of links between senior Saudis and the al-Qaeda plot are believed to be the subject of 28 pages of a 2002 joint House and Senate inquiry report which were redacted upon its release and which the administration is now under growing pressure to declassify.
In contrast, the document in question was quietly declassified last year under an interagency security classification review process but only brought to public attention this week by Brian McGlinchey, a campaigner for the release of the 28 pages.
It was written by Dana Lesemann and Michael Jacobson, two of the two dozen staff members who worked on the 2002 congressional inquiry. The two then went on to work for the independent 9/11 Commission.
The formerly secret document is part of a 2003 “work plan” for part of the 9/11 Commission investigation dealing specifically with Saudi links to the attacks. It is entitled: “Possible Saudi Government and Royal Family connections to the September 11 Hijackers and Other Terrorists and Terrorist Groups.”
Key questions identified by the pair of investigators in their work plan were:
-- “Did any individuals, companies, religious institutions, or charitable organizations connected to the Saudi Government and/or Royal Family provide logistical, operational, financial, or theological support for the September 11, 2001, attacks?”
-- “Were any individuals connected to the Saudi Government and/or Royal Family aware of the September 11th plot prior to the attacks?”
-- “How aggressively has the U.S. Government investigated possible ties between the Saudi Government and/or Royal Family, and the September 11th attacks?”
-- “To what extent have the U.S. Government's efforts to investigate possible ties between the Saudi Government and/or Royal Family, and the September 11th attacks been affected by political, economic; or other considerations?”
The suspect and the ambassador
Among matters arising in the document is the case of Osama Bassnan, a Saudi who according to the FBI was at one time an employee of the Saudi Arabian Educational Mission in Washington.
Bassnan features prominently in the declassified portions of the 2002 inquiry report, which describes him as a known Osama bin Laden supporter who lived in an apartment complex in San Diego, “across the street from” two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.
Although the 2002 report said the FBI did not have definitive evidence that Bassnan had ties to the two hijackers, the congressional investigator obtained information suggesting there was a connection. These included the fact Bassnan “had close ties to a number of other persons [whose names are redacted] connected to the hijackers” and was also “a close associate of” Omar al-Bayoumi, another Saudi and San Diego resident who befriended the two hijackers at the time.
The newly-emerged work plan written by 9/11 Commission staffers Lesemann and Jacobson examined another issue of interest relating to Bassnan – claims he received “considerable” amounts of money from the then-Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and the ambassador’s wife, known as Princess Haifa.
Lesemann and Jacobson wrote that the money was purportedly given to Bassnan for medical treatment for his wife, but raised questions about the veracity of that claim.
“Bassnan received considerable funding from Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa. Have you been able to confirm whether the funding was provided for Bassnan’s wife’s medical treatments?” the authors asked in a list of questions relating to Bassnan.
“If Prince Bandar and Princess Haifa were providing funds that were not funding medical treatments, have you been able to establish whether the ambassador knew how the funds were used?” they asked. The next section is redacted.
In August 2003, the New York Times reported that questions about Bassnan and al-Bayoumi and connections between them, the hijackers and Saudi officials arise in the redacted 28 pages of the 2002 congressional report. It cited “people familiar with the report and who spoke on condition of not being named.”
In response to the Times news story, Bandar issued a statement saying, “Reports that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Bassnan are agents of the Saudi government are baseless and not true.”
“It is unfortunate that since the tragic events of 9/11 some have tried to malign our country, our people by levelling charges based on rumor, innuendo and untruths,” the ambassador said.
“American officials, including the president, have repeatedly and publicly attested to Saudi Arabian commitment to fighting terrorism.”
Bassnan and his wife were arrested for visa fraud and deported in late 2002. Al-Bayoumi traveled to Britain shortly before 9/11. He was charged in the U.S. with visa fraud, briefly detained in Britain at the request of the U.S., but could not be extradited on that charge. He was released and reportedly returned to Saudi Arabia.