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Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America's War on Terror - by Senator Bob Graham & Jeff Nussbaum, Random House, 2004
On September 13, as we were working out the draft language of the joint resolution authorizing the President to use force against those responsible for September 11, the President was holding a meeting with Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, more commonly called Prince Bandar. Bandar had been informed the night before by a high-ranking CIA official that fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis, and that it looked increasingly as if Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi, might have been its mastermind. Presumably, this information created a difficult situation for both Prince Bandar and President Bush. Prince Bandar, a scion of the Saudi royal family, had to maintain a relationship with America-a country that purchased hundreds of billions of dollars in Saudi oil and supplied Saudi Arabia with hundreds of billions of dollars of weaponry—although many of the people his family ruled saw America as a mortal enemy. President Bush owed a debt to a family that had been an ally in the 1991 Gulf War, funneled millions of dollars to his own family through an investment group, and, stunningly, would reportedly propose, more than a year later, to lower the price of oil to "prime the U.S. economy for 2004."
Neither the President nor Prince Bandar has disclosed what was discussed in that meeting. But later that day, something strange began to happen. Although the FAA had ordered all private flights grounded, a number of planes began flying to collect Saudi nationals from various parts of the United States. For example, a ten-passenger Learjet picked up three young Saudi men in Tampa and flew them to Lexington, Kentucky, where a Boeing 747 was waiting for some Saudi horse-racing enthusiasts. (For nearly three years, the White House and other agencies insisted that these flights never took place, confirming their existence only under investigation by the independent 9/11 Commission.)
By September 19, more than 140 Saudis—including several members of the bin Laden family—had been flown out of the United States. Certainly, the majority of the travelers were innocent of any crime. However, at least one is thought to have had terrorist ties, and even the innocent members of bin Laden's family could probably have provided some insight into his funding and operations. The FBI interviewed none of them.
The FBI claims that it did not grant permission for those planes and their passengers to leave. Prince Bandar claims otherwise. Richard Clarke, then the White House's counterterrorism czar, told me that he was approached by someone in the White House seeking approval for the departures. He did not remember who made the request, and he allowed that he was understanding of it, having had to evacuate Americans from other countries in times of crisis. But first, he wanted the FBI to review a list of passengers and make sure that none of them were people of interest. Though the FBI claims it did not authorize the flight, it also claims that none of the passengers were needed for interviews, so the flights were allowed to leave. The remaining question is where in the White House the request originated, and how. The only people who know what was discussed in their meeting on that day are George W. Bush and Prince Bandar.
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