| FBI's 9/11 Saudi Flight Documents Released|
Editor's Comment: Yesterday, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asserted the FBI documents released to Judicial Watch were generating conspiracy theories; an FBI spokesman appearing on the show agreed. Our editors have reviewed the documents carefully and feel that they are newsworthy. It's also worth noting that while the FBI now maintains that there is "nothing new and nothing significant in these documents," the FBI fought a protracted legal battle with Judicial Watch to keep them from bringing the documents to public view. TO/ma
Also see below:
FBI Documents •
FBI's 9/11 Saudi Flight Documents Released
By Matt Renner
t r u t h o u t | Report
Friday 22 June 2007
Newly released documents reveal the FBI suspected that a plane hired to transport members of the bin Laden family from the United States back to Saudi Arabia might have been chartered by Osama bin Laden himself. The documents raise new questions about the FBI investigation into the 9/11 attacks.
Truthout reviewed the 224 pages of newly released documents over the past two days.
A heavily redacted FBI report on the incident begins by describing a private jet that was hired to pick up members of the bin Laden family that were in the US eight days after the 9/11 attacks. "The plane was chartered either by the Saudi Arabian Royal Family or Osama bin Laden," according to the declassified pages of the FBI investigation titled PENTTBOMB (page 3).
Subsequent references to the chartered flight in the released documents state that it was "chartered by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, DC" (page 106). The possibility that the flight was arranged or paid for by Osama bin Laden was not addressed again in the subsequent 221 pages released by the FBI.
The FBI report was prepared in response to an October 2003 Vanity Fair magazine article by Craig Unger which raised questions about the FBI procedures after 9/11 that allowed six planes of Middle Eastern nationals to fly out of the United States. Most of the people on these planes were members of the Saudi Royal family, the wealthy rulers of Saudi Arabia, who have high-level contacts with the Bush administration. One plane, Ryan International Flight 441, made four stops around the country on September 19, 2001 to pick up members of the bin Laden family. According to the FBI, these individuals were half-siblings or the children of half-siblings of Osama bin Laden with no connections to the international terrorist. Critics accuse the FBI and possibly the White House of being complicit in allowing individuals with direct connections to Osama bin Laden to flee the country after the attacks. The FBI maintains that their interviews, conducted primarily at airports right before the nationals were to board planes, were sufficient and did not garner any actionable intelligence or warrant the detention of any of the nationals.
A set of documents compiled by the FBI in 2003 sheds some light on the procedures the FBI followed prior to allowing the bin Laden family members and other Saudi nationals to leave the country in the weeks following 9/11. The documents also raise new questions.
An internal FBI email described the effort to collect and compile all of the information about the Saudi nationals. "The point of this mess is a sort of damage assessment of those people leaving the US" (page 136).
The documents were obtained by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act. These documents had previously been released but all mention of Osama bin Laden and the bin Laden family were blacked-out by the FBI. After a protracted legal fight, these FBI redactions and their accompanying explanations were ruled unacceptable by a Washington, DC District Court judge, who ordered the FBI to reassess the redactions and re-release the report.
Judicial Watch made the re-released report public on Wednesday, with many of the blacked-out sections restored. All mention of Osama bin Laden or the bin Laden family were made readable, revealing the sentence stating that Osama bin Laden may have chartered the flight that collected members of the bin Laden family in the days following the attacks.
FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko responded to the renewed questions regarding the bin Laden family flight by saying, "There is no new information here. Osama bin Laden did not charter a flight out of the US." Kolko continued, "This is just an inflammatory headline by Judicial Watch to catch people's attention. This was thoroughly investigated by the FBI."
In a statement, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton was highly critical of the FBI handling of the Saudi nationals after 9/11: "Eight days after the worst terrorist attack in US history, Osama bin Laden possibly charters a flight to whisk his family out of the country, and it's not worth more than a luggage search and a few brief interviews?" Fitton was referring to the screening procedures and short interviews of members of the bin Laden family conducted by the FBI prior to their flight back to Saudi Arabia.
According to the executive summary of the FBI report, the FBI "conducted interviews, database checks and security sweeps prior to allowing any of the flights to depart the US. Before departure, all passengers' identities were confirmed and compared against watch lists. Investigators verified that there were no unauthorized passengers aboard any flights, and swept the aircraft and luggage for prohibited items. Further investigation was conducted following departure where it was determined to be necessary. No information of investigative value was learned from the interviews or following the departure of these individuals" (page 28).
Fitton claims that an examination of the report calls these conclusions into question. According to Fitton, "These documents prove the FBI conducted a slapdash investigation of these Saudi flights. We'll never know how many investigative leads were lost due to the FBI's lack of diligence."
An examination of the previously blacked-out names and sentences revealed new information. According to FBI agents who interviewed a member of the bin Laden family, when the family "disowned" Osama in 1994, they did not take away his share of the massive construction company owned and controlled by the bin Laden family. A female member of the bin Laden family indicated to investigators that "when [Osama bin Laden] was disowned by the family, he was given a percentage of the family business" (page 110). Previously blacked-out, this sentence is not further addressed in the FBI report.
The report points out that the FBI did not have records for at least one Saudi national who was listed on the flight manifests. A passenger, whose name was redacted in the report, was listed on the official flight documentation but she was never interviewed by the FBI. "If [redacted] was interviewed, it is unknown as to why no record of that interview can be found ... It is possible that [redacted] did not board the aircraft at all" (page 170).
Another reference to a missing passenger raised questions for an FBI agent who was tasked with reviewing the draft of the report. On page 171, the draft report states: "We assess that [redacted] did not travel on 09/19/2001 despite being listed on the passenger manifest. Her name does not appear in any FBI records regarding this flight." This sentence appeared inaccurate to a reviewer who identified this as a typo. On page 174 the reviewer questioned the assertion that this missing passenger was a woman. The reviewer wrote "Page 16 2nd paragraph, '... passenger manifest. Her[??] name does not appear ..." (emphasis original).
The FBI admitted that individuals who might have been useful for their investigation could easily have left the US in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. The report concluded that "although the FBI took all possible steps to prevent any individuals who were involved in or had knowledge of the 09/11/2001 attacks from leaving the US before they could be interviewed, it is not possible to state conclusively that no such individuals left the US without FBI knowledge. Upon lifting of flight restrictions on 9/14/2001, any individual with a valid passport and sufficient funds to purchase flight tickets or charter an aircraft could leave the US" (page 156).