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FTR #679 Freeh at Last: Analysis of the Khobar Towers Bombing (Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Saudi, Part 2)

MP3 Side 1 [1] | Side 2 [2]

Intro­duc­tion: Among the Al Qae­da attacks that pre­ced­ed the 9/11 oper­a­tion was the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing of June, [3]1996. That attack killed 19 U.S. air­men and wound­ed 372. Despite firm indi­ca­tions of Al Qae­da author­ship of [4]the attacks, the Sau­di author­i­ties began a delib­er­ate, years-long coverup of the bomb­ing, deflect­ing blame in the direc­tion of Iran. Cen­tral to the effec­tive coverup of the assault was the active col­lab­o­ra­tion of then FBI direc­tor Louis Freeh [5], whose com­plic­i­ty with Sau­di ele­ments asso­ci­at­ed with both Al Qae­da and the Bush fam­i­ly milieu con­tin­ues up to the present. The title of the broad­cast refers to Free­h’s actions.

Access­ing the mag­nif­i­cent inves­tiga­tive work of Gareth Porter, the broad­cast sets forth his bril­liant five-part series on the Kho­bar bomb­ing and the Freeh/Saudi coverup.

The first part [6] of the series describes Sau­di obstruc­tion of the inves­ti­ga­tion, begin­ning with the imme­di­ate after­math of the event. Right after the blast, the Saud­is began to bull­doze the site of the attack, obscur­ing [7]key evi­dence need­ed for a prop­er inves­ti­ga­tion of the attack. Telling­ly, U.S. intel­li­gence inter­cept­ed the Saud­is instruct­ing their oper­a­tives to appear to go along with the U.S. inves­ti­ga­tion, while work­ing to coverup Al Qaeda/Saudi involve­ment in the attack. The Saud­is refused a U.S. request to begin inter­view­ing key wit­ness­es in the king­dom (Sau­di Ara­bia).

[8]Of para­mount impor­tance to the coverup of the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing is the pro­found col­lab­o­ra­tion between Freeh and Prince Ban­dar [9]–the point [10]man for the Sau­di co-con­spir­a­tors among the Sau­di elite and nation­al secu­ri­ty estab­lish­ment. Ban­dar is so close to the Bush fam­i­ly, that he has earned the nick­name “Ban­dar Bush.”

Deter­mined to pro­tect mem­bers of their elite who sup­port­ed Al Qae­da, the Saud­is delib­er­ate­ly mis­lead U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors in the direc­tion of Iran­ian cul­pa­bil­i­ty. [ Part 2 of the series.] [11] Pro­duc­ing “con­fes­sions” of Shi’a Saud­is, alleged­ly mem­bers of a “Sau­di Hezbol­lah,” direct­ed by Iran. Almost cer­tain­ly pro­duced under tor­ture, the con­fes­sions were dis­count­ed by then Attor­ney Gen­er­al Janet Reno [12]. The con­fes­sions were replete with con­tra­dic­tions.

Pre­vi­ous­ly link­ing a March 29th arrest to a Novem­ber (1995) attack on a Sau­di Nation­al Guard facil­i­ty, the [13]Sau­di author­i­ties now claimed that the March explo­sives bust was con­nect­ed to the Kho­bar attack. In fact, the Saud­is had secret­ly detained and tor­tured a num­ber of Al Qae­da-relat­ed sus­pects after the April attack. One of those was the actu­al head of Al Qae­da in Sau­di Ara­bia, Yusuf al-Uyari.

The Shi’a sus­pect pub­licly pro­duced by the Saud­is as a “con­fessed” mem­ber of the alleged Kho­bar con­spir­a­cy was not con­vinc­ing. [Part 3 of the series.] [14] Afflict­ed with asth­ma so severe that the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard had reject­ed him as a recruit, Hani al-Sayegh denied any involve­ment with the Kho­bar attack after his trans­fer to Cana­di­an cus­tody.

Con­tin­u­ing to frus­trate the inves­ti­ga­tion, Freeh attrib­uted lack of progress on Bill Clin­ton. When Sau­di author­i­ties began to drop their cur­tain of obfus­ca­tion over Kho­bar, it appears that they were fear­ful of U.S. hos­til­i­ty over the 1998 Al Qae­da attacks in Africa. Then Vice-Pres­i­dent Gore met with the Saud­is to pres­sure them to give the U.S. access to an impor­tant Al Qae­da financier.

Freeh attrib­uted belat­ed Sau­di coop­er­a­tion to the inter­ces­sion of for­mer Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush. Col­lab­o­ra­tion between Freeh, the Saud­is and the Bush fam­i­ly is a pat­tern we will observe lat­er in the series as well. Through­out the 1990’s, the Saud­is active­ly dis­sem­bled with regard to com­plic­i­ty of ele­ments of their elite and Bin Laden’s forces.

Free­h’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Sau­di coverup con­tin­ued despite the fact that Bin Laden took cred­it for the Kho­bar bomb­ing, as well as the Riyadh bomb­ing com­mit­ted the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber (1995). [Part 4 of the series.] [15] Inves­ti­ga­tors not­ed that Bin Laden did not take cred­it for attacks that he had not planned. Despite the fact that U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors request­ed access to the per­pe­tra­tors of the Riyadh attack, access was not grant­ed.

The fifth and final install­ment of the series [16] chron­i­cles the coverup going on into the tenure of George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion. Despite rejec­tion of the Sau­di tor­ture-induced con­fes­sions by the Shi’a sus­pects by the Clin­ton Jus­tice Depart­ment, Freeh con­tin­ued his con­spir­a­to­r­i­al alliance with the Saud­is and, when George W. Bush retained him as FBI direc­tor, Freeh con­tin­ued trum­pet­ing the suc­cess of the Sau­di inves­ti­ga­tion, deter­min­ing Iran­ian respon­si­bil­i­ty for the bomb­ing.

Cement­ing his rela­tion­ship with the Saud­is, Freeh appeared as the defense lawyer for Prince Ban­dar (“Ban­dar Bush”) at an April 2009 hear­ing on the Al Yamamah [17] slush fund inves­ti­ga­tion.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Sau­di intel­li­gence’s hid­ing of an Al Qae­da attempt at smug­gling anti-tank mis­siles into the king­dom just before a vis­it by Vice-Pres­i­dent Al Gore; Gore’s unsuc­cess­ful attempts at pres­sur­ing the Saud­is to give him access to a key Al Qae­da financier; Sau­di intel­li­gence’s dis­clo­sure of NSA cell phone inter­cepts of Al Qae­da con­ver­sa­tions to oper­a­tives of that orga­ni­za­tion, result­ing in dis­con­tin­ued use of the cell phones; the CIA’s list­ing of the Sau­di intel­li­gence ser­vice as a “hos­tile” orga­ni­za­tion; review of the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion’s coverup of Al Qae­da and Hamas fund­ing appa­ra­tus in the Unit­ed States–an appa­ra­tus to which key ele­ments of that admin­is­tra­tion and the GOP were con­nect­ed.  (For more about this, see FTR #‘s 454 [18], 462 [19], 464 [20], 513 [21], 515 [22], 538 [23].)

1. The first part of the series describes Sau­di obstruc­tion of the inves­ti­ga­tion, begin­ning with the imme­di­ate after­math of the event. Right after the blast, the Saud­is began to bull­doze the site of the attack, obscur­ing key evi­dence need­ed for a prop­er inves­ti­ga­tion of the attack. Telling­ly, U.S. intel­li­gence inter­cept­ed the Saud­is instruct­ing their oper­a­tives to appear to go along with the U.S. inves­ti­ga­tion, while work­ing to coverup Al Qaeda/Saudi involve­ment in the attack. The Saud­is refused a U.S. request to begin inter­view­ing key wit­ness­es in the king­dom (Sau­di Ara­bia).

In this first install­ment, author Gareth Porter intro­duces the fun­da­men­tal dynam­ic of the coverup–FBI Direc­tor Louis Free­h’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Saud­is and Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan in par­tic­u­lar. The lat­ter was so close to the Bush fam­i­ly that he earned the nick­name “Ban­dar Bush.” Con­sumed with hatred for Bill Clin­ton, Freeh aligned him­self with the Saud­is from the begin­ning, frus­trat­ing the admin­is­tra­tion’s attempts at pen­e­trat­ing the bomb­ing con­spir­a­cy.

In par­tic­u­lar, note that the CIA’s unit charged with fol­low­ing Bin Laden was exclud­ed from the Kho­bar inves­ti­ga­tion.

On Jun. 25, 1996, a mas­sive truck bomb explod­ed at a build­ing in the Kho­bar Tow­ers com­plex in Kho­bar, Sau­di Ara­bia, which housed U.S. Air Force per­son­nel, killing 19 U.S. air­men and wound­ing 372. Imme­di­ate­ly after the blast, more than 125 agents from the U.S. Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion (FBI) were ordered to the site to sift for clues and begin the inves­ti­ga­tion of who was respon­si­ble. But when two U.S. embassy offi­cers arrived at the scene of the dev­as­ta­tion ear­ly the next morn­ing, they found a bull­doz­er begin­ning to dig up the entire crime scene.

The Sau­di bull­doz­ing stopped only after Scott Ersk­ine, the super­vi­so­ry FBI spe­cial agent for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism inves­ti­ga­tions, threat­ened that Sec­re­tary of State War­ren Christo­pher, who hap­pened to be in Sau­di Ara­bia when the bomb explod­ed, would inter­vene per­son­al­ly on the mat­ter.

U.S. intel­li­gence then inter­cept­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the high­est lev­els of the Sau­di gov­ern­ment, includ­ing inte­ri­or min­is­ter Prince Nayef, to the gov­er­nor and oth­er offi­cials of East­ern Province instruct­ing them to go through the motions of coop­er­at­ing with U.S. offi­cials on their inves­ti­ga­tion but to obstruct it at every turn.

That was the begin­ning of what inter­views with more than a dozen sources famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion and oth­er infor­ma­tion now avail­able reveal was a sys­tem­at­ic effort by the Saud­is to obstruct any U.S. inves­ti­ga­tion of the bomb­ing and to deceive the Unit­ed States about who was respon­si­ble for the bomb­ing.

The Sau­di regime steered the FBI inves­ti­ga­tion toward Iran and its Sau­di Shi’a allies with the appar­ent inten­tion of keep­ing U.S. offi­cials away from a trail of evi­dence that would have led to Osama bin Laden and a com­plex set of ties between the regime and the Sau­di ter­ror­ist organ­is­er.

The key to the suc­cess of the Sau­di decep­tion was FBI direc­tor Louis Freeh, who took per­son­al charge of the FBI inves­ti­ga­tion, let­ting it be known with­in the Bureau that he was the “case offi­cer” for the probe, accord­ing to for­mer FBI offi­cials.

Freeh allowed Sau­di Ambas­sador Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan to con­vince him that Iran was involved in the bomb­ing, and that Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, for whom he had formed a vis­cer­al dis­like, “had no inter­est in con­fronting the fact that Iran had blown up the tow­ers,” as Freeh wrote in his mem­oirs.

The Kho­bar Tow­ers inves­ti­ga­tion soon became Freeh’s vendet­ta against Clin­ton. “Freeh was pur­su­ing this for his own per­son­al agen­da,” says for­mer FBI agent Jack Cloo­nan.

A for­mer high-rank­ing FBI offi­cial recalls that Freeh “was always meet­ing with Ban­dar”. And many of the meet­ings were not in Freeh’s office but at Bandar’s 38-room home in McLean, Vir­ginia.

Mean­while, the Saud­is were refus­ing the most basic FBI requests for coop­er­a­tion. When Ray Mis­lock, who head­ed the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Divi­sion of the FBI’s Wash­ing­ton Field Office, request­ed per­mis­sion to go door to door to inter­view wit­ness­es in the neigh­bour­hood, the Saud­is refused.

“It’s our respon­si­bil­i­ty,” Mis­lock recalls being told. “We’ll do the inter­views.”

But the Saud­is nev­er con­duct­ed such inter­views. The same thing hap­pened when Mis­lock request­ed access to phone records for the imme­di­ate area sur­round­ing Kho­bar Tow­ers.

Soon after the bomb­ing, offi­cials of the Sau­di secret police, the Mabahith, began telling their FBI and CIA con­tacts that they had begun arrest­ing mem­bers of a lit­tle known Shi’a group called “Sau­di Hezbol­lah”, which Sau­di and U.S. intel­li­gence had long believed was close to Iran. They claimed that they had exten­sive intel­li­gence infor­ma­tion link­ing the group to the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing.

But a now declas­si­fied July 1996 report by CIA ana­lysts on the bomb­ing reveals that the Mabahith claims were con­sid­ered sus­pect. The report said the Mabahith “have not shown U.S. offi­cials their evi­dence... nor pro­vid­ed many details on their inves­ti­ga­tion.”
Nev­er­the­less, Freeh quick­ly made Iran­ian and Sau­di Shi’a respon­si­bil­i­ty for the bomb­ing the offi­cial premise of the inves­ti­ga­tion, exclud­ing from the inquiry the hypoth­e­sis that Osama bin Laden’s al Qae­da organ­i­sa­tion had car­ried out the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing.

“There was nev­er, ever a doubt in my mind about who did this,” says a for­mer FBI offi­cial involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion who refused to be iden­ti­fied.

FBI and CIA experts on Osama bin Laden tried unsuc­cess­ful­ly to play a role in the Kho­bar Tow­ers inves­ti­ga­tion. Jack Cloo­nan, a mem­ber of the FBI’s I‑49 unit, which was build­ing a legal case against bin Laden over pre­vi­ous ter­ror­ist actions, recalls ask­ing the Wash­ing­ton Field Office (WFO), which had direct respon­si­bil­i­ty for the inves­ti­ga­tion, to allow such I‑49 par­tic­i­pa­tion, only to be rebuffed.

“The WFO was hyper­sen­si­tive and told us to f*ck off,” says Cloo­nan.

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, which had only been estab­lished in ear­ly 1996, was also exclud­ed by CIA lead­er­ship from that Agency’s work on the bomb­ing.

Two or three days after the Kho­bar bomb­ing, recalls Dan Cole­man, an FBI agent assigned to the unit, the agency “locked down” its own inves­ti­ga­tion, cre­at­ing an encrypt­ed “passline” that lim­it­ed access to infor­ma­tion relat­ed to Kho­bar inves­ti­ga­tion to the hand­ful of peo­ple at the CIA who were giv­en that code.

The head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA’s Counter-Ter­ror­ism Cen­tre, Michael Scheuer, was not includ­ed among that small group.

Nev­er­the­less, Scheuer instruct­ed his staff to put togeth­er all the infor­ma­tion the sta­tion had col­lect­ed from all sources — human assets, elec­tron­ic inter­cepts and open sources – indi­cat­ing that there would be an al Qae­da oper­a­tion in Sau­di Ara­bia after the bomb­ing in Riyadh the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber.

The result was a four-page memo which ticked off the evi­dence that bin Laden’s al Qae­da organ­i­sa­tion had been plan­ning a mil­i­tary oper­a­tion involv­ing explo­sives in Sau­di in 1996.

“One of the places men­tioned in the memo was Kho­bar,” says Scheuer. “They were mov­ing explo­sives from Port Said through Suez Canal to the Red Sea and to Yemen, then infil­trat­ing them across the bor­der with Sau­di Ara­bia.”

A few days after receiv­ing the bin Laden unit’s four-page memo, the head of the CIA’s Counter-Ter­ror­ism Cen­tre, Win­ston Wiley, one of the few CIA offi­cials who was privy to infor­ma­tion on the inves­ti­ga­tion, came to Scheuer’s office and closed the door. Wiley opened up a fold­er which had only one doc­u­ment in it — a trans­lat­ed inter­cept of an inter­nal Iran­ian com­mu­ni­ca­tion in which there was a ref­er­ence to Kho­bar Tow­ers. “Are you sat­is­fied?” Wiley asked.

Scheuer replied that it was only one piece of infor­ma­tion in a much big­ger uni­verse of infor­ma­tion that point­ed in anoth­er direc­tion. “If that’s all there is,” he told Wiley, “I would say it was very inter­est­ing and ought to be fol­lowed up, but it isn’t defin­i­tive.”

But the sig­nal from the CIA lead­er­ship was clear: Iran had already been iden­ti­fied as respon­si­ble for the Kho­bar bomb­ing plot, and there was no inter­est in pur­su­ing the bin Laden angle.

In Sep­tem­ber 1996, bin Laden’s for­mer busi­ness agent Jamal Al-Fadl, who had left al Qae­da over per­son­al griev­ances, walked into the U.S. embassy in Eritrea and imme­di­ate­ly began pro­vid­ing the best intel­li­gence the Unit­ed States had ever got­ten on bin Laden and al Qae­da.

But the CIA and FBI made no effort take advan­tage of his knowl­edge to get infor­ma­tion on pos­si­ble al Qae­da involve­ment in the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing, accord­ing to Dan Cole­man, one of al-Fadl’s FBI han­dlers.

“We were nev­er giv­en any ques­tions to ask him about Kho­bar Tow­ers,” says Cole­man.

“Al Qae­da Exclud­ed from the Sus­pects List” By Gareth Porter; ipsnews.net; 6/22/2009. [6]

2. Deter­mined to pro­tect mem­bers of their elite who sup­port­ed Al Qae­da, the Saud­is delib­er­ate­ly mis­lead U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors in the direc­tion of Iran­ian cul­pa­bil­i­ty. Pro­duc­ing “con­fes­sions” of Shi’a Saud­is, alleged­ly mem­bers of a “Sau­di Hezbol­lah,” direct­ed by Iran. Almost cer­tain­ly pro­duced under tor­ture, the con­fes­sions were dis­count­ed by then Attor­ney Gen­er­al Janet Reno. The con­fes­sions were replete with con­tra­dic­tions.

Pre­vi­ous­ly link­ing a March 29th arrest to a Novem­ber (1995) attack on a Sau­di Nation­al Guard facil­i­ty, the Sau­di author­i­ties now claimed that the March explo­sives bust was con­nect­ed to the Kho­bar attack. In fact, the Saud­is had secret­ly detained and tor­tured a num­ber of Al Qae­da-relat­ed sus­pects after the April attack. One of those was the actu­al head of Al Qae­da in Sau­di Ara­bia, Yusuf al-Uyari.

In the last week of Octo­ber 1996, the Sau­di secret police, the Mabahith, gave David Williams, the FBI’s assis­tant spe­cial agent in charge of counter-ter­ror­ism issues, what they said were sum­maries of the con­fes­sions obtained from some 40 Shi’a detainees.

The alleged con­fes­sions por­trayed the bomb­ing as the work of a cell of Sau­di Hezbol­lah that had had car­ried out sur­veil­lance of U.S. tar­gets under the direc­tion of an Iran­ian Islam­ic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps offi­cer before hatch­ing a plot to blow up the Kho­bar Tow­ers facil­i­ty.

But the doc­u­ments were curi­ous­ly short of the kind of details that would have allowed U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors to ver­i­fy key ele­ments of the accounts. In fact, Sau­di offi­cials refused even to reveal the names of the detainees who were alleged to have made the con­fes­sions, iden­ti­fy­ing the sus­pects only by num­bers one through six or sev­en, accord­ing to a for­mer FBI offi­cial involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion.

Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers argued that the con­fes­sions were com­plete­ly unre­li­able, and unus­able in court, because they had prob­a­bly been extract­ed by tor­ture. At Attor­ney Gen­er­al Janet Reno’s insis­tence, both Reno and FBI Direc­tor Louis Freeh said pub­licly in ear­ly 1997 that the Saud­is had pro­vid­ed lit­tle more than “hearsay” evi­dence on the bomb­ing.

There were also major anom­alies in the alleged con­fes­sions of Shi’a plot­ters that should have aroused the sus­pi­cions of FBI inves­ti­ga­tors.

The Saud­is claimed that on Mar. 28, 1996, Sau­di guards at the Al-Haditha bor­der cross­ing with Jor­dan had dis­cov­ered 38 kilo­grammes of plas­tic explo­sives hid­den in a car dri­ven by a Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­ber. That mem­ber not only admit­ted to his Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­ber­ship, accord­ing to the Sau­di account, but led the secret police to three more Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­bers, who were alleged­ly arrest­ed on Apr. 6, 7 and 8. .

What was pecu­liar about that account is that on Apr. 17, 1996, Sau­di offi­cials had announced that they had found explo­sives in a car at the bor­der with Jor­dan on Mar. 29, and said that “a num­ber of peo­ple” had been arrest­ed. And four days lat­er, Sau­di Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Prince Nayef had announced the arrest of four men in the bomb­ing of the Office of the Pro­gramme Man­ag­er of the Sau­di Nation­al Guard in Riyadh on Nov. 13, 1995. Their con­fes­sions were broad­cast on Sau­di tele­vi­sion that same day.

In the announce­ment of the arrests, report­ed by the New York Times, Nayef referred to the arms smug­gling attempt of Mar. 29, say­ing it was still not clear if the Novem­ber blast in Riyadh and the smug­gling attempt were relat­ed.

That state­ment had clear­ly implied that Sau­di offi­cials had rea­son to believe that there was a link between the jihadist net­work believed to have car­ried out the Riyadh bomb­ing and those who had been caught after the Mar. 29 explo­sive smug­gling attempt.

After the Kho­bar bomb­ing, how­ev­er, the Saud­is began to link the inter­cep­tion of explo­sives in late March to the Shi’a they were say­ing had car­ried out the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing.

One day in July, accord­ing to a for­mer Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial, Freeh came into the White House sit­u­a­tion room livid with anger, telling offi­cials there he had just learned that the Saud­is had arrest­ed a Sau­di Hezbol­lah activist in March with con­cealed explo­sives and had dis­cov­ered the Shi’a plot to bomb Kho­bar Tow­ers.

Nayef’s state­ment sug­gest­ing a pos­si­ble tie to the Riyadh bomb­ing of the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber was a delib­er­ate decep­tion of the Unit­ed States, which the Saud­is nev­er explained to U.S. offi­cials. “We asked why they didn’t tell us about this ear­li­er and didn’t get an answer,” says Williams.

If the Saud­is had actu­al­ly arrest­ed the four Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­bers who had been ordered to car­ry out the bomb­ing, as they lat­er claimed, it would have been known imme­di­ate­ly to the rest of the Sau­di Hezbol­lah organ­i­sa­tion, which would obvi­ous­ly have called off the bomb plot and fled the coun­try.

Fur­ther under­min­ing the Shi’a explo­sives smug­gling and bomb plot sto­ry is the fact that the Saud­is had secret­ly detained and tor­tured a num­ber of vet­er­an Sun­ni jihadists with ties to Osama bin Laden after the bomb­ing.

The Sun­ni detainees over Kho­bar includ­ed Yusuf al-Uyayri, who was lat­er revealed to have been the actu­al head of al Qae­da in Sau­di Ara­bia. In 2003, al-Uyayri con­firmed in al Qaeda’s reg­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion that he had been arrest­ed and tor­tured after the Kho­bar bomb­ing.

A report pub­lished in mid-August 1996 by the Lon­don-based Pales­tin­ian news­pa­per Al Qods al-Ara­bi, based on sources with ties to the jiha­di move­ment in Sau­di Ara­bia, said that six Sun­ni vet­er­ans of the Afghan war had con­fessed to the Kho­bar bomb­ing under tor­ture. That was fol­lowed two days lat­er by a report in the New York Times that the Sau­di offi­cials now believed that Afghan war vet­er­ans had car­ried out the Kho­bar bomb­ing.

A few weeks lat­er, how­ev­er, the Sau­di regime appar­ent­ly made a firm deci­sion to blame the bomb­ing on the Sau­di Shi’a.

Accord­ing to a Nor­we­gian spe­cial­ist on the Sau­di jiha­di move­ment, Thomas Heg­gham­mer, in 2003 — short­ly before al-Uyayri was killed in a shoot-out in Riyadh in late May 2003 – an arti­cle by the al Qae­da leader in the al Qae­da peri­od­i­cal blamed Shi’a for the Kho­bar bomb­ing.

In a paper for the Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism Cen­ter at West Point, Heg­gham­mer cites that state­ment as evi­dence that al Qae­da wasn’t involved in Kho­bar. But one of al-Uyayri’s main objec­tives at that point would have been to stay out of prison, so his endorse­ment of the Sau­di regime’s posi­tion is hard­ly sur­pris­ing.

Al-Uyayri had been released from prison in mid-1998, by his own account. But he was arrest­ed again in late 2002 or ear­ly 2003, by which time the CIA had come to believe that he was a very impor­tant fig­ure in al Qae­da, even though it didn’t know he was the leader of al Qae­da in the penin­su­la, accord­ing to Ron Suskind’s book “The One Per­cent Doc­trine”.

In mid-March 2003, Suskind writes, U.S. offi­cials pressed the Saud­is not to let him go. But the Saud­is claimed they had noth­ing on al-Uyayri, and a few weeks lat­er he was released again. The head of al Qae­da in Sau­di Ara­bia and the Sau­di secret police were play­ing a com­plex game.

The ques­tion of how the alleged plot­ters got their hands on rough­ly 5,000 pounds of explo­sives – the esti­mat­ed amount in the truck bomb — was one of the cen­tral ques­tions in the inves­ti­ga­tion of the bomb­ing. But inter­views with six for­mer FBI offi­cials who worked on the Kho­bar Tow­ers inves­ti­ga­tion revealed that the inves­ti­ga­tion had not turned up any evi­dence of how well over two tonnes of explo­sives had entered the coun­try.

Not one of the six could recall any spe­cif­ic evi­dence about how the alleged plot­ters got their hands on that much explo­sives. And one for­mer FBI offi­cial who con­tin­ues to defend the con­clu­sions of the inves­ti­ga­tion flat­ly refused to tell this writer whether the inves­ti­ga­tion had turned up infor­ma­tion bear­ing on that ques­tion.

If the Sau­di Hezbol­lah group had actu­al­ly been plot­ting to bring the explo­sives into the coun­try by hid­ing them in cars, they would have had to get more than 50 explo­sives-laden cars past Sau­di bor­der guards who were already on alert. There is no indi­ca­tion, how­ev­er, that any addi­tion­al cars with explo­sives came across the bor­der in the weeks pri­or to the bomb­ing.

“Sau­di Account of Kho­bar Bore Tell­tale Signs of Fraud” by Gareth Porter; ipsnews.net; 6/23/2009. [11]

3. The Shi’a sus­pect pub­licly pro­duced by the Saud­is as a “con­fessed” mem­ber of the alleged Kho­bar con­spir­a­cy was not con­vinc­ing. Afflict­ed with asth­ma so severe that the Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard had reject­ed him as a recruit, Hani al-Sayegh denied any involve­ment with the Kho­bar attack after his trans­fer to Cana­di­an cus­tody. Hayegh admit­ted that he had per­formed sur­veil­lance of U.S. facil­i­ties and per­son­nel in Sau­di Ara­bia on behalf of the Ira­ni­ans, an act that Amer­i­can inves­ti­ga­tors attrib­uted to the fact that Iran was fear­ful of an attack by the U.S., and con­duct­ed sur­veil­lance of poten­tial tar­gets for retal­i­a­tion as a defen­sive tac­tic.

Freeh con­tin­ued to frus­trate the inves­ti­ga­tion, blam­ing lack of progress on Bill Clin­ton. When Sau­di author­i­ties began to drop their cur­tain of obfus­ca­tion over Kho­bar, it appears that they were fear­ful of U.S. hos­til­i­ty over the 1998 Al Qae­da attacks in Africa. Then Vice-Pres­i­dent Gore met with the Saud­is to pres­sure them to give the U.S. access to an impor­tant Al Qae­da financier. Just before Gore’s vis­it, Sau­di intel­li­gence broke up an Al Qae­da plot to use Sag­ger anti-tank mis­siles in an attack. U.S. intel­li­gence was not informed of the inci­dent.

Lat­er, under the younger George Bush, the FBI under Robert Mueller, the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty active­ly frus­trat­ed inves­ti­ga­tion of the Al Qaeda/Muslim Broth­er­hood finan­cial appa­ra­tus in the U.S. Bush admin­is­tra­tion and GOP lumi­nar­ies were impli­cat­ed in the inves­ti­ga­tion.

Freeh attrib­uted belat­ed Sau­di coop­er­a­tion to the inter­ces­sion of for­mer Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush. Col­lab­o­ra­tion between Freeh, the Saud­is and the Bush fam­i­ly is a pat­tern we will observe lat­er in the series as well. Through­out the 1990’s, the Saud­is active­ly dis­sem­bled with regard to com­plic­i­ty of ele­ments of their elite and Bin Laden’s forces.

Note that after the NSA shared inter­cepts from Al Qae­da cell phones with the Saud­is, Bin Laden’s per­son­nel stopped using their cell phones. Note, also that the CIA under George Tenet list­ed the Sau­di intel­li­gence ser­vice as a “hos­tile” agency.

In March 1997, FBI Direc­tor Louis Freeh got what he calls in his mem­oirs “the first tru­ly big break in the case”: the arrest in Cana­da of one of the Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­bers the Saud­is accused of being the dri­ver of the get­away car at Kho­bar Tow­ers.

Hani al-Sayegh, then 28 years old, had arrived in Cana­da in August 1996 after hav­ing left Sau­di Ara­bia, by his own account, in August 1995, for Iran and Syr­ia. The Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment charged him with being a ter­ror­ist, based on claims by the Sau­di regime.

In order to be trans­ferred to the Unit­ed States with­out fac­ing depor­ta­tion to Sau­di Ara­bia, where he was believed to face the death penal­ty, al-Sayegh had to agreed to a plea bar­gain under which he would admit to hav­ing pro­posed an attack on U.S. per­son­nel, for which he would have to serve up to 10 years in prison.

In fact, the only thing al-Sayegh had actu­al­ly admit­ted to, accord­ing to FBI sources, was hav­ing pro­posed an attack on one AWACS plane that had been turned over to the Sau­di Air Force – a pro­pos­al he said had been reject­ed. Both before and after being brought to Wash­ing­ton, more­over, Al-Sayegh stead­fast­ly denied any knowl­edge of the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing.

Despite that con­sis­tent denial by al-Sayegh, a Wash­ing­ton Post sto­ry on Apr. 14, 1997 quot­ed U.S. and Sau­di offi­cials as say­ing that al-Sayegh had met two years ear­li­er with senior Iran­ian intel­li­gence offi­cer Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sher­i­fi and that Iran was the “organ­is­ing force” behind the Kho­bar bomb­ing. That sto­ry, leaked by offi­cials sup­port­ing the Sau­di ver­sion of the Kho­bar sto­ry, cit­ed Cana­di­an inter­cepts of al-Sayegh’s phone con­ver­sa­tions in Ottawa before his arrest as alleged­ly incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence.

The sto­ry leant fur­ther cre­dence to the gen­er­al belief in Wash­ing­ton that Iran had mas­ter­mind­ed the bomb­ing, main­ly because U.S. intel­li­gence had observed the sur­veil­lance of U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian sites in Sau­di Ara­bia by Ira­ni­ans and their Sau­di allies in 1994 and 1995.

What al-Sayegh actu­al­ly told FBI agents in a series of inter­views in Ottawa and Wash­ing­ton, how­ev­er, con­tra­dict­ed the leaked sto­ry, accord­ing to sources famil­iar with those inter­views.

Al-Sayegh admit­ted hav­ing car­ried out the sur­veil­lance of one mil­i­tary site oth­er than Kho­bar for the Ira­ni­ans, but insist­ed that it was not to pre­pare for a pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist bomb­ing but to iden­ti­fy poten­tial tar­gets for Iran­ian retal­i­a­tion in the event of a U.S. attack on Iran.

His tes­ti­mo­ny was con­sis­tent with what Ambas­sador Ron Neu­mann, who was direc­tor of the Office for Iran and Iraq in the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs from 1991 through 1994, had been say­ing about the Iran­ian recon­nais­sance of U.S. tar­gets.

While most offi­cial ana­lysts were ready to believe that Iran was plot­ting a ter­ror­ist attack against the Unit­ed States, Neu­mann recalls that he had dis­cerned a pat­tern in Iran­ian behav­iour: every time U.S.-Iran ten­sions rose, there was an increase in Iran­ian recon­nais­sance of U.S. diplo­mat­ic and mil­i­tary fac­ul­ties.

“The pat­tern could be tak­en as hos­tile but it could equal­ly have been defen­sive,” says Neu­mann, mean­ing that the Ira­ni­ans viewed such recon­nais­sance of pos­si­ble U.S. tar­gets as part of their deter­rent to a U.S. attack.

Hani al-Sayegh would have been a strange choice for dri­ver of the get­away car at Kho­bar Tow­ers. A frail man whose fre­quent asth­ma attacks repeat­ed­ly inter­rupt­ed his inter­views with the FBI, al-Sayegh recount­ed to inves­ti­ga­tors he had entered mil­i­tary train­ing with the Iran­ian IRGC, but had been told by his IRGC han­dler after one par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­as­trous exer­cise that his asth­ma made him unfit for mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.

FBI vet­er­an Jack Cloo­nan, who was talk­ing with the agents inter­view­ing al-Sayegh that spring and sum­mer, told al-Sayegh’s immi­gra­tion lawyer, Michael Wildes, that he was con­vinced al-Sayegh had not par­tic­i­pat­ed in the oper­a­tion, accord­ing to notes in the diary Wildes kept on the case.

Hani al-Sayegh con­tin­ued to deny either that he was involved or the Ira­ni­ans had any­thing to do with Kho­bar, and as a result was deport­ed to Sau­di Ara­bia in 1999 – despite the wide­spread assump­tion with­in the FBI that he would be behead­ed on his return.

Freeh had no case against the Ira­ni­ans and their Sau­di allies unless he could get access to the Sau­di Shi’a detainees. In the mem­oir “My FBI”, Freeh charged that Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton refused to press Sau­di Crown Prince Abdul­lah for access to those pris­on­ers and then asked him for a con­tri­bu­tion to the future Clin­ton pres­i­den­tial library at a meet­ing at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Sep­tem­ber 1998.

That account is dis­put­ed, how­ev­er, by numer­ous Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. Freeh, who was not present, cites only “my sources”, strong­ly sug­gest­ing that he got it from the self-inter­est­ed Prince Ban­dar.

Freeh claimed that for­mer Pres­i­dent George Bush had then inter­ced­ed with Abdul­lah at Freeh’s request, result­ing in a meet­ing between Freeh and Abdul­lah at Bandar’s Vir­ginia estate Sep. 29, 1998. At that meet­ing, Abdul­lah offered to allow the FBI to sub­mit ques­tions to the detainees and observe the ques­tions and answers from behind one-way glass.

But what Freeh left out of the sto­ry is that Abdullah’s new offer came at a time when the Saud­is felt a greater need to appease Wash­ing­ton on the Kho­bar Tow­ers inves­ti­ga­tion than they had pre­vi­ous­ly.

In May 1998, the CIA had learned that Sau­di intel­li­gence had bro­ken up an al Qae­da plot to smug­gle Sag­ger anti-tank mis­siles from Yemen into Sau­di Ara­bia about a week before a sched­uled vis­it to Sau­di by Vice-Pres­i­dent Al Gore and had not informed U.S. intel­li­gence about the inci­dent.

Then, on Aug. 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairo­bi, Kenya and Dar Es Salaam, Tan­za­nia had been bombed 10 min­utes apart. The CIA had quick­ly ascer­tained that al Qae­da was respon­si­ble for the bomb­ings, with the result that U.S. intel­li­gence began to focus more on bin Laden’s oper­a­tions in Sau­di Ara­bia.

Gore had met with Abdul­lah on Sep. 24, and had pressed hard for access to an impor­tant al Qae­da finance offi­cial, Madani al Tayy­ib, who had been detained by the Sau­di gov­ern­ment the pre­vi­ous year, but kept away from U.S. intel­li­gence.

The Sau­di regime had long act­ed to keep the Unit­ed States away from the bin Laden trail in Sau­di. Dur­ing the Afghan War, high-rank­ing Sau­di offi­cials, includ­ing inte­ri­or min­is­ter Prince Nayef him­self, had worked close­ly with bin Laden. And those ties had appar­ent­ly con­tin­ued even after the Sau­di gov­ern­ment revoked bin Laden’s cit­i­zen­ship, froze his assets, and began crack­ing down on some anti-gov­ern­ment Islam­ic extrem­ists in 1994.

Evi­dence soon appeared that the regime had allowed Sau­di sup­port­ers of bin Laden to finance his oper­a­tions through Sau­di char­i­ties, while encour­ag­ing bin Laden to focus on the U.S. mil­i­tary rather than the regime.

9/11 Com­mis­sion inves­ti­ga­tors lat­er learned that, after bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan in May 1996, a del­e­ga­tion of Sau­di offi­cials had asked top Tal­iban lead­ers to tell bin Laden that if he didn’t attack the regime, “recog­ni­tion will fol­low”.

Mean­while, Nayef was resist­ing CIA requests for bin Laden’s birth cer­tifi­cate, pass­port and bank records.

The CIA had been shar­ing its own intel­li­gence on bin Laden with the Mabahith, the Sau­di secret police, includ­ing copies of Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency inter­cep­tions of the cell phone con­ver­sa­tions of sus­pect­ed al Qae­da offi­cials. Then the mil­i­tants sud­den­ly stopped using their cell phones, indi­cat­ing they had been tipped off by the Mabahith.

In ear­ly 1997, the CIA’s bin Laden sta­tion even issued a mem­o­ran­dum for CIA Direc­tor George Tenet, who was about to trav­el to Sau­di Ara­bia, iden­ti­fy­ing Sau­di intel­li­gence as a “hos­tile ser­vice”.

By late Sep­tem­ber 1998, the Sau­di regime was feel­ing the heat from the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion for its fail­ure to coop­er­ate on bin Laden’s oper­a­tions in Sau­di Ara­bia. Abdullah’s pro­pos­al was a way to demon­strate coop­er­a­tion on ter­ror­ism while help­ing Freeh pro­mote the Sau­di line on Kho­bar Tow­ers.

” U.S. Offi­cials Leaked a False Sto­ry Blam­ing Iran” by Gareth Porter; ipsnews.net; 6/24/2009. [14]

4. Part 4 of the series notes that the FBI fol­lowed direc­tor Free­h’s lead and direct­ed their inves­ti­ga­tion in the direc­tion of Iran. This, despite the fact that Bin Laden took cred­it for the Kho­bar bomb­ing, as well as the Riyadh bomb­ing com­mit­ted the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber (1995). Inves­ti­ga­tors not­ed that Bin Laden did not take cred­it for attacks that he had not planned. Despite the fact that U.S. inves­ti­ga­tors request­ed access to the per­pe­tra­tors of the Riyadh attack, access was not grant­ed.

Mean­while, the CIA had devel­oped infor­ma­tion link­ing Bin Laden to the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing. As we will see, this was to no avail.

Osama Bin Laden had made no secret of his inten­tion to attack the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in Sau­di Ara­bia. He had been call­ing for such attacks to dri­ve it from the coun­try since his first fat­wa call­ing for jihad against West­ern “occu­pa­tion” of Islam­ic lands in ear­ly 1992.
On Jul. 11, 1995, he had writ­ten an “Open Let­ter” to King Fahd advo­cat­ing a cam­paign of gueril­la attacks to dri­ve U.S. mil­i­tary forces out of the King­dom.

Bin Laden’s al Qae­da organ­i­sa­tion began car­ry­ing out that cam­paign lat­er that same year. On Nov. 13, 1995 a car bomb destroyed the Office of the Pro­gramme Man­ag­er of the Sau­di Nation­al Guard (OPM SANG) in Riyadh, killing five U.S. air­men and wound­ing 34.

The con­fes­sions of the four jihadists from the Afghan War to the bomb­ing, which were broad­cast on Sau­di tele­vi­sion, said they had been inspired by Osama bin Laden, and one of them referred to a camp in Afghanistan which was asso­ci­at­ed with bin Laden.

“It was a back­hand­ed ref­er­ence to bin Laden,” says vet­er­an FBI agent Dan Cole­man.

The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh imme­di­ate­ly request­ed that the FBI be allowed to inter­ro­gate the sus­pects as soon as their arrests were announced in April. But the Saud­is nev­er respond­ed to the request, and on May 31, the embassy was informed only an hour and half before that the four sus­pects would be behead­ed.

When the bomb explod­ed at Kho­bar Tow­ers on Jun. 25, 1996, Scott Ersk­ine, the agent in charge of the Riyadh bomb­ing inves­ti­ga­tion, was about to return to the Unit­ed States after anoth­er frus­trat­ing meet­ing in which Sau­di offi­cials were not forth­com­ing about whom they were going to pros­e­cute. When FBI Direc­tor Louis Freeh vis­it­ed Kho­bar a few days after the bomb­ing, he was told not to expect any more infor­ma­tion on the Riyadh bomb­ing.

Instead of insist­ing that the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion put more pres­sure on the Saud­is to coop­er­ate on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of links between the two bomb­ings, Freeh qui­et­ly decid­ed to drop the inves­ti­ga­tion of the Riyadh bomb­ing entire­ly. The case was put on “inac­tive” sta­tus, accord­ing to two for­mer FBI offi­cials, mean­ing that no more actions were to be tak­en, even though it had not been for­mal­ly closed.

Bin Laden made it more dif­fi­cult to ignore his role, how­ev­er, by pub­licly claim­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for both the Riyadh and Kho­bar bomb­ings. In Octo­ber 1996, after hav­ing issued yet anoth­er fat­wa call­ing on Mus­lims to dri­ve U.S. sol­diers out of the King­dom, bin Laden was quot­ed in al Quds al Ara­bi, the Pales­tin­ian dai­ly pub­lished in Lon­don, as say­ing, “The cru­sad­er army was shat­tered when we bombed Kho­bar.”

And in an inter­view pub­lished in the same news­pa­per Nov. 29, 1996, he was asked why there had been no fur­ther oper­a­tions along the lines of the Kho­bar oper­a­tion. “The mil­i­tary are aware that prepa­ra­tions for major oper­a­tions require time, in con­trast with small oper­a­tions,” said bin Laden.

He then linked the two bomb­ings in Sau­di Ara­bia explic­it­ly as sig­nals to the Unit­ed States from his organ­i­sa­tion: “We had thought that the Riyadh and Kho­bar blasts were a suf­fi­cient sig­nal to sen­si­ble U.S. deci­sion-mak­ers to avert a real bat­tle between the Islam­ic nation and U.S. forces,” said bin Laden, “but it seems that they did not under­stand the sig­nal.”

Accord­ing to Cole­man, one of the FBI’s top inves­ti­ga­tors on al Qae­da, bin Laden always took cred­it for ter­ror­ist actions he had planned but not for those he had not planned. For exam­ple, bin Laden issued no claim about the World Trade Cen­tre bomb­ing and told his for­mer busi­ness agent turned FBI informer, Jamal al-Fadl, that he had noth­ing to do with it, Cole­man says.

The Riyadh and Kho­bar bomb­ings even had a com­mon oper­a­tional fea­ture. As not­ed by the head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA, Michael Scheuer, in both cas­es, the vehi­cle was not parked so as to bring the entire build­ing down. If the team exe­cut­ing the Kho­bar bomb­ing had parked par­al­lel to the secu­ri­ty fence rather than back­ing up to it, says Scheuer, it would have destroyed the entire build­ing. The same thing had hap­pened in the OPM SANG bomb­ing.

The bin Laden unit of the CIA had col­lect­ed con­crete intel­li­gence on bin Laden’s role in plan­ning the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing. In mid-Jan­u­ary, 1996, accord­ing to the intel­li­gence com­piled by the unit, bin Laden trav­eled to Doha, Qatar, where plans were dis­cussed for attacks in east­ern Sau­di Ara­bia. Bin Laden arranged for 20 tonnes of high explo­sive C‑4 to be shipped from Poland to Qatar, two tonnes of which were to be sent to Sau­di Ara­bia, the report said.

Bin Laden specif­i­cal­ly referred to oper­a­tions tar­get­ing U.S. inter­ests in the tri­an­gle of cities of Dammam, Dhahran and Kho­bar in East­ern Province, using clan­des­tine al Qae­da cells in Sau­di Ara­bia, accord­ing to the intel­li­gence report­ing.

FBI agents work­ing on the Kho­bar case sim­ply reject­ed any evi­dence of bin Laden’s involve­ment in Kho­bar, how­ev­er, because the deci­sion had already been made that the Shi’as were respon­si­ble.
David Williams, then the FBI agent in charge of counter-ter­ror­ism for the Bureau, recalls that he had read intel­li­gence reports sug­gest­ing bin Laden’s involve­ment in the bomb­ing, but says he had done so “with a sus­pi­cious eye”.

The FBI inves­ti­ga­tors dis­missed the rel­e­vance of the evi­dence link­ing bin Laden to the Riyadh bomb­ing. As one for­mer FBI offi­cial explained the log­ic of that posi­tion to IPS, the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing was com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from the Riyadh bomb­ing sev­en months ear­li­er: it was in an area of East­ern Province where Shi’a oppo­si­tion­ists were pre­dom­i­nant and where al Qae­da had no known cell.

The facts, how­ev­er, told a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. The city of Kho­bar itself was pre­dom­i­nant­ly Sun­ni, not Shi’a, and the tri­an­gu­lar area of the three cities had a large pop­u­la­tion of vet­er­ans of the Afghan War who were fol­low­ers of bin Laden. As the Lon­don-based Pales­tin­ian pub­li­ca­tion report­ed in August 1996, the six jihadis who con­fessed to the bomb­ing were all from an area called Al Tho­q­ba near Kho­bar.

One of the vet­er­an jihadis detained after the bomb­ing, Yusuf al-Ayayri, who was then the actu­al head of al Qae­da in the Ara­bi­an penin­su­la, was from Dammam and knew the jiha­di com­mu­ni­ty in that region very well, accord­ing to Nor­we­gian spe­cial­ist on al Qae­da Thomas Heg­gham­mer.

The FBI and CIA knew noth­ing about bin Laden’s move­ment in that part of Sau­di Ara­bia, how­ev­er, because they were com­plete­ly depen­dent on Sau­di intel­li­gence for such infor­ma­tion. A CIA mem­o­ran­dum dat­ed Jul. 1, 1996 said the Agency had “lit­tle infor­ma­tion” about the “loca­tion, size, com­po­si­tion or activ­i­ties” of oppo­si­tion cells in Sau­di Ara­bia.

Inter­views with FBI offi­cials involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion make it clear that they were not inter­est­ed in evi­dence link­ing bin Laden to the bomb­ing, because they under­stood their task to be lim­it­ed to get­ting what­ev­er infor­ma­tion they could from Sau­di offi­cials.

Williams says he didn’t ques­tion the Sau­di account of the Kho­bar plot, because, “You start to believe the peo­ple who are your inter­locu­tors.”

Asked about the evi­dence that bin Laden was behind the plot, anoth­er FBI offi­cial with sub­stan­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for the inves­ti­ga­tion told IPS, “I didn’t get involved in that aspect. That wasn’t my job.”

“FBI Ignored Com­pelling Evi­dence of bin Laden Role” by Gareth Porter; ipsnews.net; 6/25/2009. [15]

5. Part 5 of the series chron­i­cles the coverup going on into the tenure of George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion. Despite rejec­tion of the Sau­di tor­ture-induced con­fes­sions by the Shi’a sus­pects by the Clin­ton Jus­tice Depart­ment, Freeh con­tin­ued his con­spir­a­to­r­i­al alliance with the Saud­is and, when George W. Bush retained him as FBI direc­tor, Freeh con­tin­ued trum­pet­ing the suc­cess of the Sau­di inves­ti­ga­tion, deter­min­ing Iran­ian respon­si­bil­i­ty for the bomb­ing.

Freeh par­rot­ed the Sau­di line on Kho­bar in a 2002 hear­ing before a joint hear­ing of the Sen­ate and House Select Intel­li­gence com­mit­tees. He also con­tin­ued to white­wash Sau­di com­plic­i­ty with Al Qae­da oper­a­tions.

Cement­ing his rela­tion­ship with the Saud­is, Freeh appeared as the defense lawyer for Prince Ban­dar (“Ban­dar Bush”) at an April 2009 hear­ing on the Al Yamamah slush fund inves­ti­ga­tion. The series clos­es with the obser­va­tion that, had Freeh not exe­cut­ed his years’ long coverup of Al Qae­da involve­ment in, and Sau­di com­plic­i­ty with, the Kho­bar bomb­ing, it is at least the­o­ret­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble that the dis­in­ter­est on the part of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion with regard to Al Qae­da might have been inter­dict­ed.

In ear­ly Novem­ber 1998, Louis Freeh sent an FBI team off to observe Sau­di secret police offi­cials inter­view­ing eight Shi’a detainees from behind a one-way mir­ror at the Riyadh deten­tion cen­tre. He planned to use the Shi’a tes­ti­mo­ny to show that Iran was behind the bomb­ing.
As expect­ed, the sto­ries told by the detainees reca­pit­u­lat­ed the out­lines of the Shi’a plot that had already been described by the Saud­is two years ear­li­er. Now there were even more tan­ta­lis­ing details of direct Iran­ian involve­ment.

One of the detainees said Iran­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps Gen­er­al Ahmad Sher­i­fi had per­son­al­ly select­ed the Kho­bar bar­racks as a tar­get. Anoth­er said the Sau­di Hezbol­lah mem­bers had been not only trained but paid by the Ira­ni­ans.

“We came away with sol­id evi­dence that Iran was behind it,” says a for­mer FBI agent.

There was one prob­lem with the evi­dence the FBI team col­lect­ed: the Sau­di secret police had already had two and half years to coach the Sau­di Hezbol­lah detainees on what to say about the case, with the ever-present threat of more tor­ture to pro­vide the incen­tive.

But Freeh was not about to let the tor­ture issue inter­fere with his mis­sion. “For Louis, if they would let us in the room, that was the impor­tant thing,” one for­mer high-rank­ing FBI offi­cial told IPS. “We would have gone over there and got­ten the answers even if they had been propped up.”

When Freeh took the accounts from the Shi’a detainees in inter­ro­ga­tions wit­nessed by the FBI team, how­ev­er, the Jus­tice Depart­ment didn’t buy them as valid tes­ti­mo­ny. The depart­ment refused to go ahead with an indict­ment as Freeh had desired, evi­dent­ly based on the same objec­tion that had been raised two years ear­li­er: the Shi’a had been sub­ject to tor­ture.

But in Jan­u­ary 2001, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush kept Freeh on as FBI direc­tor. Freeh told the new pres­i­dent that Iran had mas­ter­mind­ed the Kho­bar bomb­ing, accord­ing to his tes­ti­mo­ny before the 9/11 Com­mis­sion, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment then began col­lab­o­rat­ing with Freeh on an indict­ment of the Sau­di Hezbol­lah which impli­cat­ed Iran in the Kho­bar bomb­ing.

The indict­ment was announced on Jun. 21, 2001 – Freeh’s last day as FBI direc­tor.

High­ly cred­i­ble evi­dence soon showed, how­ev­er, that the Mabahith, the Sau­di secret police, did indeed use tor­ture and coer­cion to get detainees to tell the sto­ries demand­ed by the Sau­di regime — even in front of for­eign observers — and that they did so to pro­tect al Qae­da from inves­ti­ga­tion by the Unit­ed States.

Three car bomb­ings in Riyadh in Novem­ber 2000 that had result­ed in the death of a British cit­i­zen were gen­er­al­ly believed to have been the work of al Qae­da. But four British cit­i­zens, one Cana­di­an and one Bel­gian had con­fessed to the bomb­ings, and their con­fes­sions had been broad­cast on Sau­di tele­vi­sion.

After being released in 2003, how­ev­er, the Cana­di­an cit­i­zen, William Samp­son, made pub­lic his dra­mat­ic account of beat­ings admin­is­tered by the Mabahith while being hung upside down, includ­ing blows which made his tes­ti­cles swell to the size of oranges. Samp­son said the Saud­is told him from the begin­ning what they want­ed him to con­fess to, repeat­ing it over and over while the beat­ings con­tin­ued, and refined the sto­ry over time, con­stant­ly adding new details.

Six weeks into the inter­ro­ga­tion, after Samp­son began to tell them what they want­ed, they start­ed video­tap­ing his con­fes­sion, using a wall chart to help him remem­ber in detail the move­ments he was sup­posed to have made.

The Saud­is even coached Samp­son on what to say when he was vis­it­ed by Cana­di­an embassy per­son­nel, threat­en­ing him with fur­ther tor­ture if he told the embassy offi­cials the truth. When the embassy per­son­nel came to talk with him, Sampson’s two tor­tur­ers were present for the entire inter­view, just as they were pre­sum­ably present at the ques­tion­ing of the Shi’a detainees observed by the FBI team.

The oth­er for­eign­ers told sim­i­lar sto­ries of coerced con­fes­sions under tor­ture. Samp­son and the five for­eign­ers were released only after a May 2003 sui­cide bomb­ing by al Qae­da on a Riyadh com­pound hous­ing 900 expa­tri­ates forced Sau­di Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Prince Nayef to acknowl­edge al Qae­da as a ter­ror­ist threat in Sau­di Ara­bia.

Mean­while, once out of office, Freeh became vir­tu­al­ly a defence lawyer for the Sau­di regime on the Kho­bar Tow­ers bomb­ing.

Tes­ti­fy­ing before a joint hear­ing of the House and Sen­ate Select Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tees on Oct. 9, 2002, he white­washed the Sau­di pol­i­cy toward the FBI inves­ti­ga­tion. Omit­ting any men­tion of the Sau­di decep­tion over the explo­sives smug­gling inci­dent and refusal to allow the FBI to pur­sue essen­tial inves­ti­ga­to­ry tasks, Freeh sug­gest­ed that the Saud­is had done every­thing that could be expect­ed of them.

“For­tu­nate­ly, the FBI was able to forge an effec­tive work­ing rela­tion­ship with the Sau­di police and inte­ri­or min­istry,” he said. Any “road­block or legal obsta­cle” that “would occur”, Freeh assert­ed, was because of the “marked dif­fer­ence between our legal and pro­ce­dur­al sys­tems”.

Freeh paid trib­ute to Prince Ban­dar bin Sul­tan, the Sau­di ambas­sador, as “crit­i­cal in achiev­ing the FBI’s inves­tiga­tive objec­tives in the Kho­bar case” and sug­gest­ed that any such tem­po­rary prob­lems “were always solved” by Bandar’s “per­son­al inter­ven­tion”.

Freeh mis­rep­re­sent­ed the arrange­ment under which the FBI team had observed the inter­ro­ga­tion as “mak­ing these wit­ness­es direct­ly avail­able”.

In an inter­view for a fawn­ing biog­ra­phy of Prince Ban­dar, Freeh even went so far as to call the Sau­di behead­ing of four jihadists who con­fessed to the OPM SANG bomb­ing after refus­ing to allow the FBI to ques­tion them as “swift jus­tice” on a “Sau­di domes­tic mat­ter”.

The final chap­ter of Freeh’s con­nec­tion with Ban­dar and the Saud­is, how­ev­er, was still to come. In April 2009, Freeh appeared as Bandar’s defence lawyer in a British court case in which Ban­dar is accused of ille­gal­ly tak­ing two bil­lion dol­lars in graft on a Sau­di-British arms deal.

In the con­text of Freeh’s strait­ened finan­cial sit­u­a­tion and his very close rela­tion­ship with Prince Ban­dar, this sequence of devel­op­ments in Freeh’s rela­tion­ship with the Saud­is, cul­mi­nat­ing in being put on Bandar’s pay­roll, should have raised eye­brows in Wash­ing­ton.

With a wife and six chil­dren to sup­port, Freeh had been far more vul­ner­a­ble to Sau­di blan­d­ish­ments than most senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. And Ban­dar had made no secret that he was will­ing to use the promise of finan­cial ben­e­fits to influ­ence U.S. offi­cials while they were still in office.

He once told an asso­ciate, accord­ing to a Feb­ru­ary 2002 arti­cle by Robert G. Kaiser and David Ott­away of the Wash­ing­ton Post, “If the reputation...builds that the Saud­is take care of friends when they leave office, you’d be sur­prised how much bet­ter friends you have who are just com­ing into office.”

Freeh declined to be inter­view for this series.

In light of the his­to­ry of Freeh’s rela­tions with Ban­dar, his con­duct of the inves­ti­ga­tion of Kho­bar Tow­ers deserves new scruti­ny. Freeh effec­tive­ly shut down a probe of a ter­ror bomb­ing in which bin Laden was clear­ly impli­cat­ed when the Saud­is had refused to coop­er­ate; he refused to pur­sue any inves­ti­ga­tion of a bin Laden role in the bomb­ing; and he pushed a seri­ous­ly flawed Sau­di account of the bomb­ing despite the fact that it was taint­ed by the like­li­hood of tor­ture.

The result of Freeh’s bla­tant pro-Sau­di bias was that Osama bin Laden was allowed more years of unhin­dered free­dom in which to plan ter­ror­ist actins against the Unit­ed States. Had Freeh not become an advo­cate of the inter­ests of the regime whose rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Wash­ing­ton even­tu­al­ly put him on his pay­roll, U.S. pol­i­cy would pre­sum­ably have been focused like a laser on Osama bin Laden and al Qae­da two years ear­li­er.

And per­haps the dis­in­ter­est of the George W. Bush administration’s nation­al secu­ri­ty team toward al Qae­da before 9/11 would have been impos­si­ble.

“Freeh Became ‘Defence Lawyer’ for Saud­is on Kho­bar”; by Gareth Porter; ipsnews.net; 6/26/2009. [16]