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Unfinished Business

Bill Doyle is on a mission to prove that Saudi Arabia bankrolled the 9/11 attacks

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Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the 9/11 Joint Inquiry, thinks those pages should be declassified – a compelling viewpoint, given that he helped write them. Though Graham is forbidden to disclose the exact content of the pages, he asserts – with confidence – that the government of Saudi Arabia was complicit in the attacks. It’s a frequent theme in his writing: both his nonfiction book Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror, and his recently released historical fiction, Keys to the Kingdom, focus heavily on the subject. The latter opens with the text of an op-ed in The New York Times that warns that the Saudi kingdom may be concealing a nuclear weapons program. The fictional column is written by a statesman eerily resembling Graham: a retired, Democratic U.S. Senator from Florida in his 70s who had co-chaired a joint Congressional inquiry into the causes of 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the Senator is mysteriously murdered and the protagonist, an ex-Special Forces operative, launches an investigation that eventually takes him deep into the Saudi kingdom. Graham maintains that 40 percent of his book is based on fact.

Graham points out that two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhamzi, received substantial support from the Saudi government through a series of intermediaries. Originally stationed in Los Angeles, the two men relocated to San Diego at the behest of Omar al-Bayoumi, who was employed by a subsidiary of a contractor for the Saudi civil aviation authority. Al-Bayoumi did no actual work, yet received a monthly allowance from the company, which was forbidden by the Saudi authority to fire him. After helping the future hijackers find an apartment and a mosque in San Diego, his monthly allowances increased eightfold. The two hijackers were also assisted financially by Fahad al-Thumairy, an imam with diplomatic accreditation from the religious arm of the Saudi government and a suspected Saudi spy, Osama Basnan, who was arrested for visa fraud in August 2002 and deported three months later.

Those links, however, didn’t appear to be of much interest to the 9/11 Commission. “In our final report, we recommended that [the Commission] start where we ended in pursuing the Saudi involvement,” Graham says. “That never happened, and I’ve never been able to get an explanation of why they didn’t follow up on what seemed to be some pretty blazing red lights.”

These warning signs are elaborated upon in the The Eleventh Day, a recently published history of 9/11 written by former BBC journalist Anthony Summers in conjunction with his wife, Robbyn Swan. In June, Vanity Fair published “The Kingdom and the Towers,” an excerpt from the book that details the Saudi connections to 9/11.

Why would the Saudi government, which has reaped billions of dollars from American oil dependency and had revoked Osama bin Laden’s citizenship in 1994, support the likes of al-Qaida? Summers and Swan find some clues in a June 1996 meeting in Paris between a handful of Saudi businessmen and a Saudi prince. That month, al-Qaida had bombed another American compound in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It was the second such bombing in less than a year; since the beginnings of the Gulf War in 1990, al-Qaida and its future devotees had virulently opposed the presence of U.S. military forces on Saudi soil. Six years and two domestic terrorist acts later, the authors argue, “The fear was that the Saudi elite itself would soon be targeted.” Thus, the group of prominent Saudis decided that “bin Laden was to be kept at bay with huge sums of protection money.”

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