Saudi Arabia is often called the world’s largest exporter of Salafist jihadism, or the ideological basis for groups like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and others. When it comes to terrorism and exporting terrorism, Saudi Arabia can’t be beat — it’s a surcharge-free ATM for radical Islamist movements.
Truly, successfully, waging a “war on terror,” where “terror” means “Islamic extremism,” would require cutting all support for the theocrats in the Saudi government. After all, 15 of the 19 hijackers on the morning of September 11, 2001 were Saudi.
And yet, those facts were conveniently overlooked in the wake of 9/11, when the Bush Administration, declaring its war on terror, displaced the kingdom’s culpability. So how exactly did the Bush administration manage to divert attention from Saudi Arabia to Iraq?
The Findings of the 9/11 Commission
Saudi Arabia was identified early on for its financial ties to Al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission noted that Al Qaeda “relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers, primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia.”
Most of the money came from corrupt charities, relying on sympathizers in large international charities “with lax external oversight and ineffective internal controls,” one of which was the Saudi-based al Haramain Islamic Foundation. They used these larger charities to siphon money off smaller ones, which was then funneled to them directly through the sympathizers.
The 9/11 commission notes that, “Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding” even though “we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.” The commission explicitly states, however, that “This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.”
Even without direct evidence implicating the Saudi government, however, “al Qaeda found fertile fund-raising ground in Saudi Arabia, where extreme religious views are common and charitable giving was both essential to the culture and subject to very limited oversight.”
It’s clearly visible that Saudi Arabia should at least have been on the short-list of states to bomb were Bush serious about his “war on terror.” There were even ties between Osama Bin Ladin and the rest of the Saudi Royal family, even though Bin Ladin was a black sheep at the time.
It’s all about the oil
Everything in the Middle East, all the politics, all the problems, and none of the solutions, all boil down to one thing: oil.
According to a Vanity Fair article from 2011, retired counterterrorism expert John P. O’Neill would tell French intelligence official Jean-Charles Brisard just that during two long conversations:
Several years later, in two long conversations with Jean-Charles Brisard, author of a study on terrorist financing for a French intelligence agency, O’Neill was still venting his frustration. “All the answers, all the clues that could enable us to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization,” he said, “are in Saudi Arabia.” The answers and the clues, however, remained out of reach, in part, O’Neill told Brisard, because U.S. dependence on Saudi oil meant that Saudi Arabia had “much more leverage on us than we have on the kingdom.” And, he added, because “high-ranking personalities and families in the Saudi kingdom” had close ties to bin Laden.
The conversations happened in early July or late June of 2001; O’Neill would die later that year during the September 11 attacks.
The Congressional Joint Inquiry report implicates Saudi Arabia
In 2002, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence launched the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, headed by Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Representative Porter Ross (R-FL).
The final report was released in December of that year, clocking in at a hefty 832 pages — but according to the Vanity Fair article, there was an incriminating 28-page hole in the Congress’s Joint Inquiry report:
At page 396 of the Joint Inquiry’s report, in the final section of the body of the report, a yawning gap appears. All 28 pages of Part Four, entitled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” have been redacted. The pages are there, but—with the rare exception of an occasional surviving word or fragmentary, meaningless clause—they are entirely blank. The decision to censor that entire section caused a furor in 2003.
Inquiries established that, while the withholdings were technically the responsibility of the C.I.A., the agency would not have obstructed release of most of the pages. The order that they must remain secret had come from President Bush.
While the director of the Joint Inquiry, Eleanor Hall, refused to elaborate on what was in the missing pages, she did say, “I can tell you that the chapter deals with information that our committee found in the F.B.I. and C.I.A. files that was very disturbing. It had to do with sources of foreign support for the hijackers.”
And the source of that support? “The focus of the material, leaks to the press soon established, had been Saudi Arabia.”
An official who read the censored part told the “L.A. Times” that it described “very direct, very specific links” with Saudi officials, links that “cannot be passed off as rogue, isolated or coincidental.” Other media leaks provided similar information:
The New York Times journalist Philip Shenon has written that Senator Graham and his investigators became“convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack. Graham believed the Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.”
Most serious of all, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reported that the information uncovered by the investigation had drawn “apparent connections between high-level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers.” Absent release of the censored pages, one can only surmise what the connections may have been.
It is worth noting that the Saudi Government disputed these claims and asked that the uncensored pages be released to the public — something the Bush administration refused to do.
While Congress was inquiring, Bush was inviting; the “Vanity Fair” article notes that rather than push Saudi Arabia away, the administration sought to strength ties, with Bush even inviting the crown prince, Abdullah, to his personal ranch that same year.
Passing the bomb to Iraq
The Vanity Fair article continues, noting the process the Bush Administration used to “seed the notion” that there was a connection with Iraq; it was a very successful memetic campaign and, in the lead up to the invasion, a “Washington Post” poll found that 69% of Americans believed it was possible that Saddam Hussien was involved personally in 9/11:
In the 18 months before the invasion, however, the Bush administration had persistently seeded the notion that there was an Iraqi connection to 9/11. While never alleging a direct Iraqi role, President Bush had linked Saddam Hussein’s name to that of Osama bin Laden. Vice President Cheney had gone further, suggesting repeatedly that there had been Iraqi involvement in the attacks.
. . .
None of the speculative leads suggesting an Iraqi link to the attacks proved out. “We went back 10 years,” said Michael Scheuer, who looked into the matter at the request of director Tenet. “We examined about 20,000 documents, probably something along the lines of 75,000 pages of information, and there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam.”
It was a slick social disruption campaign run by the Bush administration that left us with a world in tatters and the most powerful and most dangerous ally of Islamic extremism, Saudi Arabia, still in a position where it could finance various extremist groups.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons