Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-U. S. Connection


In its final report, the 9/11 Commission famously called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism.” To Gerald Posner, the bestselling author of Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, this is a gross understatement. In his new book, Secrets of the Kingdom, Posner exposes the undeniable truth about U.S.-Saudi relations–and how the Saudis’ influence on American business and politics poses a grave threat to our security.

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In its final report, the 9/11 Commission famously called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism.” To Gerald Posner, the bestselling author of Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11, this is a gross understatement. In his new book, Secrets of the Kingdom, Posner exposes the undeniable truth about U.S.-Saudi relations–and how the Saudis’ influence on American business and politics poses a grave threat to our security.

The result of an intensive two-year investigation, Secrets of the Kingdom penetrates the innermost layers of the shielded House of Saud and presents indisputable evidence of complicity and deceit at the highest levels–evidence that the 9/11 Commission, either deliberately or negligently, failed to consider. Using bank records and other previously undisclosed information, Posner unearths many disturbing truths and shattering revelations about the ties that bind the Saudi and U.S. governments, including

• how countless failures in U.S. intelligence and law enforcement gave extraordinary preferential treatment to prominent Saudis living in the United States, including members of the bin Laden family, in the days after 9/11

• a likely close connection between a powerful member of the House of Saud and Abu Zubeydah, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda operative captured so far by the United States

• how the Saudi government has turned a blind eye to the role Saudi charities–including many controlled or supported by Kingdom officials– have played in bankrolling al-Qaeda and Islamic terror groups

• the never-before-revealed Saudi and U.S. emergency plans in the event of a national crisis in the Kingdom, plans that could affect the security of the United States and the entire Middle East

Secrets of the Kingdom is an explosive study that will have a profound impact on both U.S. policy and Americans’ perception of their government and its extensive ties to a foreign power. Posner uncovers a disturbing picture of how two nations, despite their differing agendas, have become inextricably entwined.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812973105
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/17/2006
  • Edition description: Reprinted Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

GERALD POSNER is the award-winning author of nine books, including Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 and Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK. A frequent commentator on television talk and news shows, Posner has also written for many publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and U.S. News & World Report. He lives in Miami Beach and New York City with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Secrets of the Kingdom

The Inside Story of the Saudi-U.S. Connection
By Gerald L. Posner

Random House Trade Paperbacks

Copyright © 2006 Gerald L. Posner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0812973100

Chapter 1

A Free Pass for the Saudis

On August 31, 2003, Time published the first review of my book Why America Slept, and focused on the final chapter about the capture and interrogation of an al Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah. It revealed an American intelligence scheme to dupe Zubaydah into disclosing whatever he knew about imminent terrorist attacks. Using a room in a CIA-linked Afghan facility that was hastily converted to resemble a Saudi Arabian prison, U.S. officials concocted an elaborate ruse. Two Arab-American Special Forces soldiers pretended to be Saudi interrogators. The Saudis wanted Zubaydah--Osama bin Laden's number three man--for terrorist crimes, and they had a well-deserved reputation for using torture in interrogations. The thinking behind the Mission Impossible-type deception was that Zubaydah would be so frightened he would either divulge critical information to avoid torture or prefer to be handed over to, and cooperate with, American questioners to avoid the tougher fate with the Saudis.

It took almost three years before news leaked out confirming that the government had approved so-called "false flag" operations for terrorists. On January 29, 2005, The New YorkTimes, in its coverage of Michael Chertoff's nomination to be the next homeland security chief, reported that in his former job at the Justice Department, Chertoff had advised the CIA on the legality of coercive interrogation methods for terror suspects under the federal antitorture statute. CIA officials evidently wanted legal protection so its officers minimized the risk of prosecution. "Other practices that would not present legal problems were those that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country," reported the Times.1

The subterfuge backfired. Zubaydah seemed relieved rather than frightened when confronted by the fake Saudi interrogators. From memory, he rattled off two telephone numbers and told the startled U.S. Special Forces agents, "He will tell you what to do." The numbers were private home and cell phone lines of Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the nephew of Saudi king Fahd. The Western-educated Ahmed was one of the wealthiest members of the royal family and chairman of the Research and Marketing Group, the Kingdom's largest publishing company. Although his media firm was responsible for virulent anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda, he was considered by most observers simply a Westernized businessman with little apparent political interest. Ahmed was best known as a premier collector of Thoroughbred horses, including the 2002 Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem. Since 1996, he had spent $126 million buying racehorses.2

The CIA officials running Zubaydah's interrogation directed the two American Special Forces agents to falsely tell the terrorist that the telephone numbers he had provided were wrong. By that time, Zubaydah had been deprived of sleep for days, maintained on minimum pain medication for gunshot wounds sustained in his capture, and had been secretly administered a "truth serum" by intravenous drip. Yet, when told his telephone numbers had not panned out, he did not panic. Instead, he gave the "Saudi" interrogators several more numbers, these belonging to two other Saudi princes as well as the chief of Pakistan's air force, the equivalent of being a member of America's Joint Chiefs of Staff. These were his key contacts inside Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Zubaydah claimed. And in a rambling monologue that one investigator later dubbed "the Rosetta stone" of 9/11, Zubaydah told his American interrogators that two of those named, the king's nephew and the chief of Pakistan's air force, knew before 9/11 there would be an al Qaeda attack in America around that date. No one had warned the United States.

Zubaydah's astonishing information put American intelligence in a quandary. At the time, April 2002, the U.S. was working hard to convince the Saudi and Pakistani governments to cooperate with George Bush's declared war on terror. Pakistan had already allowed the U.S. to use its military bases to conduct the war in Afghanistan, and the Kingdom was slowly providing some minor intelligence on al Qaeda, as well as tacitly supporting the Americans in Afghanistan. There was no willingness in the Bush administration to confront either ally based only on the unproven word of an avowed terrorist, especially since Zubaydah recanted his entire confession once he learned he had been duped by the Americans.

Intelligence analysts speculated that Zubaydah's inclusion of Prince Ahmed raised the possibility that the supposedly apolitical prince might merely be a conduit of information for someone higher ranking. Ahmed's father, Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is the governor of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, a post he has held since 1962. One of seven sons of the country's founder, he is one of the Kingdom's most influential ministers and a trusted advisor to King Fahd. Since Fahd's 1995 stroke, Salman rarely leaves his brother's side in Jeddah. According to diplomatic reports, Salman, along with his older brother Sultan, the defense minister, and his half brother Abdullah, the crown prince, are the de facto rulers of Saudi Arabia.

Besides his official position, Salman, whose Riyadh office overlooks Sahat al-Adl--"Justice Square"--where public beheadings take place on Fridays after noon prayers, is influential both with Saudi intelligence and in censoring the media. But there were several other roles that interested American investigators more. One was Salman's multiyear courtship of religious fundamentalists as his power base, especially after his born-again conversion to strict Islam in the 1990s. He has strong ties to the religious conservatives, particularly those in the regional strongholds of Buraydah and Darriya, places Salman frequently visits. The CIA was also intrigued that during the 1980s Afghan war against the Soviets, Salman was responsible for organizing transportation to Afghanistan for the militant armies (mujahideen) from various Arab countries. And finally, he controlled the Kingdom's charities that raised tens of millions for the mujahideen, and brought in billions for Muslim causes worldwide. And many of those chari-ties were on the U.S. government's list of terror sponsors.3

But U.S. intelligence agencies were soon stymied in determining whether there was an al Qaeda link between the senior Salman and his son. So the Bush administration gambled. It authorized the CIA to pass along Zubaydah's charges to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. By covertly monitoring the reactions inside those two countries, the administration thought it might determine the accuracy of Zubaydah's remarkable revelations. Both countries quickly answered, however, with remarkably similar denials, feigning outrage at the very suggestion there could be any truth in the disclosures.

If that had been the end of it, Zubaydah's confession might just be a footnote to the 9/11 story. However, what happened next ensured that the questions raised by Zubaydah might forever remain unanswered. Only three months after the Saudis and Pakistanis learned of what he had told the Americans, the people he named started dying. Within a few days, all three Saudi princes were dead. Forty-three-year-old Prince Ahmed, the king's nephew, died after he voluntarily entered the best hospital in Riyadh for non-life-threatening surgery for a digestive problem, diverticulitis (one acquaintance says the prince actually went for liposuction, but that procedure is normally done on an outpatient basis). He was dead two days later, with Saudi officials and doctors flip-flopping over the cause of death from a heart attack to a blood clot. One of the doctors suggested that the portly Ahmed was himself responsible for a deadly clot because he was not active enough after his surgery. The doctors, he claimed, felt they could not advise Ahmed to move about since he was a prince, and as such could not be given orders, even by medical professionals.

The day after Ahmed's untimely death, the second prince named by Zubaydah--Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud--a forty-one-year-old former military officer, was killed in a car accident. He was Ahmed's cousin, and was on his way to Ahmed's funeral. No other car was involved. He must have been driving too fast, concluded the Saudi police, when his car spun out of control and off the road. A week later, the third prince named by Zubaydah--Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir--a twenty-five-year-old, was found dead near his car, only fifty-five miles outside Riyadh. According to the Saudi Royal Court, which took the unusual step of announcing the death, this prince had "died of thirst," a victim of dehydration in the brutal Saudi summer.

Zubaydah's Pakistani link, Air Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, died on February 20, 2003, together with his wife and fifteen of his top aides, when his military aircraft crashed in Pakistan's rugged Northwest Frontier province. That plane had recently sailed through a thorough maintenance inspection. The weather was clear at the time. There are reports--which Pakistani authorities refuse to acknowledge--that another military officer replaced the air marshal's trusted private pilot at the last moment. Also, ear witnesses told investigators they had heard a loud explosion immediately before the crash.

If foul play was involved in the cluster of deaths, what could the victims have known that was so significant that someone wanted them dead? It might not be possible to answer that. Saudi Arabia, for instance, never even made a pretense of investigating the deaths of the princes. In Pakistan, a full investigation was announced into whether sabotage brought down the plane and killed the air marshal. Nearly two years later, no Pakistani official even acknowledges whether such an investigation took place.

Some U.S. officials felt the Saudis and Pakistanis were hiding something. But the overriding consensus was not to confront, at least publicly, two critical allies over such a strange confluence of deaths. There is no indication that Bush administration officials even privately raised either the deaths or Zubaydah's revelations.

When the news of Zubaydah's claims, and the strange fate of those he named, was made public, however, the reactions of the Saudis and Pakistanis were telling. Instead of acknowledging the seriousness of the charges, and conducting at least perfunctory probes to bolster their public proclamations that they were solid allies in the war on terror, both relied on various officials and surrogates to denigrate Zubaydah's information.

Pakistan's air force issued an official statement that did not mention the investigation into the likelihood of sabotage in the death of its former air marshal. Instead, it said, in part, "Pakistan Air Force is deeply pained by these baseless allegations" and that "while [the] PAF reserves its comments to identify the institutions who must be behind the plot to discredit the professional fighting force of Pakistan, we request the Pakistani nation not to pay any heed to these news which are being circulated to maintain the hysteria related to terrorists and terrorism. Individuals like Gerald Posner knit any number of scenarios to sell books and magazines by scaring American and Western public. Any sane person knows that non-state actors carried out the attacks on 9/11 and states or governments had nothing to do with the planning or execution of these attacks." That statement evidently was the sum and public substance of any Pakistani investigation into Zubaydah's charges.

As for the House of Saud, they summoned an assortment of friendly Arab journalists, together with relatives of Prince Ahmed, to attack Zubaydah's charges and the questions raised by the string of dead princes. Writing in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, editor in chief Khaled al-Maeena dubbed the news of Zubaydah's accusations, and the untimely deaths, "Posner's Fairy Tales." While not disclosing that the Arab News was part of the late Prince Ahmed's media empire, al-Maeena charged that the news was merely "cheap shots used to advance careers, make a quick buck and to get invitations to advertise themselves on early morning TV talk shows across the US."

In defending Prince Ahmed, al-Maeena said he had personally known him for fifteen years, and that "to believe that he had any connection with Al-Qaeda would be as absurd as believing that my mother was the 'planner' of Sept. 11." Then he discussed the other princes. "Not only is Posner outrageously slanderous, but he goes off the deep end by naming two other individuals who are also dead. So none of these people are here to defend themselves. And even if they were, it should hardly be necessary to defend oneself against such absurd allegations."

The argument set forth in the Arab News was picked up widely in the Middle Eastern and Muslim press. Some went further. Typical was Bangladesh's The New Nation, in which Mamoun Fandy said the work had an extremist Israeli link. And typical of the family's response was that of Prince Ahmed's wife. In an official statement released by the Saudi government, she called the disclosures "deplorable," "preposterous," and "outlandish lies." It was, she charged, a "fabricated and outrageous conspiracy theory" that "shamelessly maligns the memory of a beloved member of our family without any substance or reason."

In June 2004, on the two-year anniversary of Prince Ahmed's Kentucky Derby victory, his younger brother, and director of Saudi education, Prince Faisal bin Salman, did what is commonly done by wealthy Saudis when confronted with difficult issues--he hired a public relations firm.* Keating Public Relations of New Jersey sent out thousands of press releases for its new client, again denigrating Zubaydah's charges as "ludicrous." The Keating firm offered Prince Faisal for media interviews, an unusual move for the normally private Saudi royal family. It also recruited American friends and employees of Prince Ahmed, most from his multimillion-dollar Thoroughbred operation, to speak in his defense.

*Ahmed's older brother Prince Fahd bin Salman had died in July 2001, at the age of forty-six, from heart failure. Although the Salman family claims that all the brothers were apolitical, in July 2001, Fahd had met with the revisionist British historian David Irving. The prince discussed financing the controversial writer after Irving had lost a libel action in a London court against an American Jewish professor, Deborah Lipstadt, who had labeled him a "Holocaust denier." The judge eventually branded Irving an anti-Semite, racist, and a pro-Nazi right-wing polemicist. Fahd evidently had no problem with the court's characterizations of Irving, and agreed to provide the money so Irving could continue his work. But Fahd died only a few days after they reached an agreement and before any money passed to Irving.4

While the Keating firm, and those defending the prince, did their best to minimize the charges from Zubaydah, journalist Craig Unger published his own investigation, House of Bush, House of Saud, in which he showed that members of the bin Laden family, and other high-ranking Saudi officials--including Prince Ahmed--were allowed to leave the United States in the week after the 9/11 attacks, most without even being interviewed by the FBI.5

The first flight, on September 13, was a private jet that ferried three young Saudis from Tampa, Florida, to Lexington, Kentucky. In Lexington, they joined Saudi royals attending the thrice-yearly Kneeland auction for racehorses. That is where Prince Ahmed was staying. He had been in Kentucky on September 11, and heard the news of the terror attacks while at breakfast in his hotel, the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort. Two acquaintances were with him. One, Richard Mulhall, the racing manager for Ahmed's Thoroughbred Corporation, told a friend that the prince was "terribly upset, more surprised than anyone." Ahmed seemed distraught and immediately dialed out on his cell phone, but did not say whom he called. According to Mulhall, Ahmed kept asking, "Who in the world would be crazy enough to do something like this?" Breakfast was cut short and Ahmed hurriedly returned to his suite. The next day he attended the Kneeland auction and spent $1.2 million on two more Thoroughbreds.

Lexington, Ahmed's base of operations on September 11, had now become the unofficial gathering spot for other ranking Saudis like the three who flew in from Tampa. According to some in Ahmed's entourage, the FBI visited the prince on September 13. They interviewed him for nearly an hour in his hotel suite. The FBI refuses still to acknowledge that interview. What is undeniable is that three days later, Ahmed flew out of the U.S. on an opulently fitted 727, returning to Saudi Arabia. Most private planes in U.S. airspace had been grounded, and his was the first personal jet to be allowed an international departure.*

The rationale later given by Bush administration officials for allowing

*At the post-9/11 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (which War Emblem also won), reporters asked Ahmed what he thought about the terrorist attacks on America. "I leave those questions to the politicians," he said. "I am a businessman, not a politician." John Jeremiah Sullivan, in his 2004 book, Blood Horses: Notes of a Sportswriter's Son, reported on those two races held after 9/11, noting that they "were patrolled by shadowy men in dark vests and sunglasses, carrying sniper rifles." Ahmed refused to go to New York for the Belmont in 2002, even though War Emblem was competing for racing's rare Triple Crown.

flights like Ahmed's to leave so quickly after 9/11 was fear of reprisals against bin Laden family members and Saudi royals, since fifteen of the nineteen suicide hijackers had been Saudi. But that does not explain why non-Arab British citizens Jack Rusbridge and Anthony John Stafford were also allowed to board the Lexington-to-London flight. They were two of Ahmed's employees, serving as everything from chauffeurs to personal security. Rusbridge later told an acquaintance that in light of the terror attacks only days earlier, he was surprised the FBI's only function prior to departure was to ensure that everyone who boarded the plane had a passport that matched a name on the passenger manifest. The FBI did not, incredibly, cross-check the manifests against all government terror watch lists. In addition, 142 Saudis left on six chartered flights within a week of the attacks, and another 150 ranking officials or royal family members left on commercial jets.6

The most comprehensive official investigation so far into what happened before 9/11 is the one by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, known popularly as the 9/11 Commission. Its final report received bipartisan political praise, became a national bestseller with over a million copies in print, and was given the unusual ac- colade for a government report of being nominated for the prestigious National Book Award. And what did the 9/11 Commission conclude about Zubaydah's charges against three Saudi royals and the Pakistani air marshal? It failed to address--much less resolve--whether he was telling the truth. The final report, incredibly, did not even mention the dead Saudis or the air marshal. It cites Zubaydah only briefly, and then primarily to bolster the interrogations of an even higher-ranking al Qaeda prisoner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. While the 9/11 Commission does reference some of Zubaydah's interrogations, not one is from March, the month of his capture, when he made his accusations about high-ranking Saudis. Zubaydah, who was mentioned by name in the now infamous presidential daily briefing that was presented to President Bush while he was on vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch less than a month before the terror attacks, received little attention from the Commission.7 The 9/11 panel was given restricted personal access to two of the highest-ranking al Qaeda suspects, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, but either never asked, or was not allowed, to talk to Zubaydah.8

The 9/11 Commission acknowledged that the Kingdom was "a problematic ally in combating Islamic extremism," but concluded, "[W]e have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization [al Qaeda]."

While the Commission acknowledged that unnamed wealthy Saudi sympathizers and leading charities had for years funneled money to al Qaeda, it did not pursue widely available research establishing the extent to which many suspect charities were controlled directly by the Kingdom or its ministers.9 The Commission ignored, for instance, an October 2002 study by the Council on Foreign Relations that drew directly opposite conclusions about Saudi government complicity: "Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem."10

The Commission also missed an opportunity to examine fully an intelligence coup in 2002 in which American agents retrieved computer files in Bosnia of a so-called "Golden Chain," twenty of Osama bin Laden's early financial supporters. On that list were a former Saudi government minister, three billionaire banking tycoons, and several leading industrialists. The 9/11 Commission did not confirm or deny the list's accuracy, nor did it address what the Saudis did with the information.

These are errors of omission. The same is true with the way the Commission dealt with the matter of the early Saudi flights after 9/11. The final report concluded, "We found no evidence that any flights of Saudi nationals, domestic or international, took place before the reopening of national airspace on the morning of September 13, 2001. To the contrary, every flight we have identified occurred after national airspace reopened."11

Such a conclusion is disingenuous at best. For nearly three years, the White House, and aviation and law enforcement officials, had insisted that the private flight of three Saudis from Tampa to Lexington on September 13 never took place.12 "It's not in our logs," a spokesman for the FAA said when first asked about that flight. "It didn't occur."13 Officials were adamant that no private flights took place until, at the very earliest, the following day, September 14. "General aviation was still down," insisted a senior FAA representative, "and if it was a corporate jet, it would not have been allowed to fly."14

Journalist John Jeremiah Sullivan was working on a related story when Craig Unger's article about the flights was first published in Vanity Fair. "Every official I talked to was baffled and at pains to deny that the flight on the thirteenth ever took place," he recounts. "For months they tried hard to deny it happened at all."15 A Lexington, Kentucky, FBI spokesman, David Beyer, assured Sullivan that his own notes confirmed the Tampa flight did not get to Lexington until the sixteenth, three days after it actually happened. When Sullivan spoke to Ed Cogswell, an FBI spokesman at headquarters in Washington, he was told, "This stuff is either case sensitive or the information is classified because I really can't provide it to you. Whatever the rules were on those particular days, those rules were followed. They've got the date or mode of transportation wrong. We don't have any indication of a flight at that point." When Sullivan said he had gathered some evidence that the flight had happened, Cogswell promised to check further. A few days later they again spoke. "I can tell you there was not a flight at that time, the thirteenth."16

It was not until June 2004--thirty-three months after the flight with the three Saudis happened--that officials at Tampa International Airport finally acknowledged it.17

The 9/11 Commission dismissed years of repeated denials by federal officials of an early flight as the result of merely a "misunderstanding" between federal and local officials. And it concluded that the matter was insignificant since, it said, national airspace had been technically reopened on the thirteenth. However, it failed to mention that the reopening was for commercial--not private--planes, and there is ample evidence that aviation officials actually considered the flight on the thirteenth extraordinary.

Sullivan had located an airport official at Lexington who was at first unwavering in his contention that airspace there was not open until the fourteenth. That person thought such a flight was impossible and dismissed it out of hand until he personally checked fuel records at Lexington and saw the plane had in fact landed and been refueled on the thirteenth.

A former FBI agent and a private investigator accompanied the three Saudis to Lexington on the thirteenth from Tampa. They had been asked by the Tampa police, who had been prodded by the Saudi embassy, to ensure that the three left safely. When the two men, Dan Grossi and Manuel Perez, were told about the pending flight, they didn't believe it would happen. "Forget about it," Perez told Grossi. "No one is flying today."18

When they arrived at Tampa's airport, an airport employee laughed at them for even thinking they would be flying that day. At 10:57 a.m. on September 13, the FAA had issued another notice reminding the nation's airports that while commercial traffic was slowly resuming that afternoon, private aviation was still banned. Three private planes that violated the ban on the thirteenth--in Texas, Maryland, and West Virginia--were forced down in each instance by jet fighters.19 Thousands of business executives and wealthy travelers had been grounded since 9/11, their private jets and smaller planes forced to land at the nearest airport after the FAA had taken the extraordinary step of shutting down all the nation's air traffic. They were all anxious to get to their final destinations, and many were bombarding the FAA and local airports with requests to get airborne. Not even private flights transporting organs for medical transplants were cleared for takeoff on the thirteenth. But the 9/11 Commission finessed the issue of the flight of the three Saudis from Tampa by concluding that since the plane was chartered from defense contractor Raytheon--and had a pilot with a CIA security clearance--it really was more akin to a commercial flight and therefore was allowed in the air.

The Commission's simple conclusion that the flight on the thirteenth was not out of the ordinary since some planes were back in the air raises questions as to whether they knew about the surprise that people in Lexington had when a private jet landed there that day. Sullivan interviewed a woman who works at Lexington's Bluegrass Airport. She had called her mother to tell her how weird it was that a plane landed since nothing was flying in or out. Some people saw the plane arriving and called friends. "Can you believe there is a fucking plane landing at the airport?" one said. A few came to look at it. Nearby on the tarmac was the 727, with Arabic lettering on the tail, that would transport Prince Ahmed out of the country in three days.20

On September 13, at New York's three major area airports, Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark, only incoming flights were allowed, and only after 11:00 a.m. Later in the afternoon, those airports were closed entirely after a security scare at JFK when a man was detained with phony pilot identification papers.21

Either the 9/11 Commission was aware that it fudged its conclusion that the private Saudi flight on September 13 was normal or it did not know how unusual that flight really was, and either scenario is not reassuring regarding the Commission's investigation into matters Saudi.

The flight that departed Tampa did so only hours after the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, had gone to the White House for a private meeting--no aides permitted--with President Bush. Neither Bandar nor Bush has disclosed the details of what they discussed that morning. Bandar has, however, denied directly asking the president to authorize the rapid exit of his high-ranking colleagues, saying instead that he asked the FBI for permission. The Bureau, says spokesman John Iannarelli, had no "role in facilitating these flights one way or another."22 The FBI actually gave personal escort to two prominent Saudi families who fled the U.S. from Los Angeles and Orlando. Several other Saudis were allowed to leave the country without even being interviewed by the FBI.

Did the 9/11 Commission ask the president about his meeting with Bandar? Did it pursue full disclosure from Raytheon, which provided the plane and pilot, about how the flight was arranged? If so, there is again no indication in the final report.

The 9/11 Commission wrote, "Our own independent review of the Saudi nationals involved confirms that no one with known links to terrorism departed on these flights."23 Of course, Prince Ahmed is never mentioned. From conversations with investigators familiar with the 9/11 panel's probe, the portions of Zubaydah's interrogation in which he named the Saudi princes and the Pakistani air marshal were not provided to the Commission. The CIA has even withheld the March interrogations from the FBI, which is supposed to have access to all terror suspects' questioning.

Shortly after the 9/11 Commission's report was released, co-chairman Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana, testified before the House Committee on Financial Affairs. When Representative Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) expressed strong doubts about the accuracy of the Commission's conclusions regarding the Saudis, Hamilton went further in defending the Kingdom than the Commission's own report. He said that during the Commission's twenty-month investigation, it had not found any evidence that either the Saudi government or senior officials gave money to bin Laden or al Qaeda.24

"We sent investigators to Saudi Arabia," he said, "we researched all kinds of information and documents, we talked to many, many people, we followed every lead we could."25

Those in the Kingdom, who would prefer that no bright light of scrutiny be shined on Saudi ties to terrorism and al Qaeda, heralded the 9/11 report as the definitive account. The week following the report's release, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal issued a statement from Jeddah. In part, it said, "The 9-11 Commission has put to rest the false accusations that have cast fear and doubt over Saudi Arabia. For too long, Saudi Arabia stood morbidly accused of funding and supporting terrorism. . . . The 9-11 Commission has confirmed that there is no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia supported or funded Al-Qaeda. . . . [And] the falsehoods that were disseminated about the flights that carried some Saudis after 9-11 when American airports and airspace were closed were shown by the report for what they were: at best a figment of the imagination, and at worst an intent to incriminate. . . . We are pleased with the report and we feel vindicated."

In a New York Times opinion piece on July 27, 2004, "Scrutinizing the Saudi Connection," I wrote that while the 9/11 panel had done excellent work in establishing how the government failed to prevent the terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon, it had done a less than reassuring job when it came to important issues about Saudi Arabia. By not probing possible Saudi complicity in 9/11 and honestly addressing troubling questions about the September 13 flight, the panel risked damaging its otherwise fine work. The 9/11 Commission gave the Saudis a free pass. This book shows why.26

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from Secrets of the Kingdom by Gerald L. Posner Copyright © 2006 by Gerald L. Posner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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