Six months, starting from today, is the t-ime the United States has given itself to publicize the documents that set out the results of the FBI investigation known as Operation Encore. The secret information so far will shed light on what was learned about the preparation of the Septe-mber 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The main intrigue: according to former intelligence agents Danny Gonzalez and Ken Williams, the al-Qaeda group behind the crime (banned in Russia) was assisted by Saudi Arabian civil servants living in the United States at the time. “It is impossible to believe that 19 terrorists could have killed three thousand innocent people on their own without outside help,” Gonzalez argues compelling, in his opinion. Riyadh strongly disagrees with them. The US authorities, which completed their own investigation in 2004, did not find any links between the crime and their Arabian ally, but failed to convince the relatives of the victims of this. They insist on the publication of secret files – and have almost managed to get their way.
The road leads to the dunes
It was the categorical rejection of the official version by the families of those killed that turned the “Saudi trail” into something more than just a conspiracy theory. After the US allowed its courts to accept claims against foreign countries in 2016, the relatives of about 2,500 (out of 2,977) victims rushed to take advantage of this opportunity. They were joined by more than 20 thousand more victims of the terrorist attacks. The process, which began in 2017, continues to this day.
Many of the plaintiffs are convinced that the establishment of the truth is deliberately hindered. The testimony of Saudi officials in court was closed. And the FBI, which has been conducting its own investigation for more than ten years, refused to share the information found. The aforementioned Danny Gonzalez and Ken Williams add fuel to the fire: they claim to have seen documents incriminating the Saudis, but they have no right to divulge classified information. Despite this, both former agents were hired by the families of the victims by private detectives – went over to their side.
In the summer of 2021, 3,500 people – family members of the victims and survivors who were injured – signed a collective appeal to the Ministry of Justice urging them to investigate the actions of the FBI: is the intelligence service destroying evidence of links between terrorists and Saudi officials. And in August 2021, they announced themselves even more sharply: they announced to US President Joe Biden that they would consider him an unwelcome guest at the mourning ceremony in honor of the anniversary of the terrorist attack if the White House refuses to release secret documents. According to the lawyer of the relatives, Brett Igelson (who himself lost his father on September 11, 2001), the Democratic administration is simply obliged to do this, since Joe Biden himself made a promise to meet the families halfway during the election campaign. And it was time for him to keep his word.
Washington responded. On September 3, Biden announced that the 9/11 documents (or at least the bulk of them) would be published. The disclosure will take place in several stages over the next six months, with the first classified files being released on September 11th. The relatives of the victims greeted the news with restrained optimism. Many of them still doubt that the White House will share everything it knows with the world, and do not agree to take documents into account if their content does not turn out to be sensational. Igelson uncompromisingly expresses the point of view of these people: “Our government either lies about the evidence it has, or destroys it,” he is sure in advance.
Shadows rise at noon
While the new documents are only being prepared for publication, the relatives of the victims base their reasoning on open information, which was also once secret. In 2016, the final chapter of the 2004 state report on September 11 was presented to the public. Among the persons mentioned in it are the participants in the terrorist attacks Nawaf al-Khazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who arrived in America in 2000. It has been reliably established about them that expat compatriots helped them to settle in a country whose language they did not know, one of whom, Omar al-Bayumi, was at that time a government employee of Saudi Arabia. Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, he and his close acquaintance diplomat Fahad al-Tumayri, whose convictions teetered on the brink of religious extremism, left the United States.
The testimony given by al-Bayumi to the American justice system was met with distrust by the relatives of the victims. The Saudi claimed that he met the future terrorists by chance in a Los Angeles restaurant and, being a sociable person, soon made friends with them. A government official suggested that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar move to San Diego, Arizona, and they heeded his advice. At the new location, al-Qaeda militants continued to secretly prepare for a terrorist attack and… even enrolled in a flight school: they needed these skills later, when the criminals went to hijack airplanes to carry out terrorist attacks.
The state report says that al-Bayumi is difficult to classify as a suspicious person: he is not noticed in the interest in religious extremism. However, al-Tumayri, who was remembered for provocative speeches in one of the American mos-ques, is a completely different matter. Nevertheless, a direct connection between the diplomat and the terrorists has not been established: they did not communicate. And if so… the investigation came to the conclusion that it is not possible to stretch the chain from Riyadh to Al-Qaeda.
A game of special services?
The incomplete data available to the American public very soon led to the emergence of two conflicting views on the background of the 9/11 attacks. According to one, sending two al-Qaeda terrorists to the United States on the eve of the terrorist attack would not make sense if the leader of the group, Osama bin Laden, did not count on the help of secret supporters – Islamists, who settled in the United States ahead of time. The participation of these people must have been necessary in order to adapt the suicide bombers in a new place: to help them open bank accounts, rent an apartment and begin preparations for a terrorist attack away from prying eyes. Al-Bayumi is well suited for the role of such a person, literally pointing out to the criminals the city where they went unnoticed.
Another version also calls into question the motives of the friendly Saudi, but interprets them in a completely different way. According to Stephen Hewitt of the University of Birmingham, the Saudi Arabian secret services, which had their agents, including those in the United States, should have watched the radical Muslims, potential oppositionists. According to this assumption, al-Bayumi was only trying to get into the trust of the Islamists, he did not know about their plans and did not sympathize with their ideas. But the publication of information even about the game with the radicals in the dark is still undesirable for the Saudi government, since it makes the secret work of the special services known to the public and at the same time makes them appear as random companions of terrorists.
In 2004, when the United States completed its investigation, and until 2016, while the data was still being collected by the FBI, the Americans had reason to take the wishes of their Middle Eastern allies into account.
However, in recent years, the situation has changed – and it is likely that this is precisely the reason for the White House’s intention to submit the secret files to the general public.
In the event that the content of the documents affects the international prestige of Saudi Arabia, this will not be the first, but the second Washington’s strike against Riyadh in a short time. In February of this year, the Biden administration released a secret CIA report on the October 2018 Istanbul assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Hashkadzhi…. The world press accused the authorities of his own country of the crime, not excluding the heir to the throne – Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The authors of the report took the same point of view, backing it up with their considerable authority. Earlier, in 2018, the main provisions of this document were already announced to the press, and then – for the first time in history – Washington imposed sanctions against the Saudis: 17 officials close to the ruling dynasty were included in the list of unwanted persons. Contrary to the spirit of the Saudi-American alliance, sealed by President Roosevelt and King Abdel Aziz aboard the cruiser Quincy back in 1945 and remained unchanged for a long time, the United States and the Islamic monarchy found themselves on opposite sides of the barricades.
The explanation for this sharp turnaround lies in the field of economics. In 2009, when Joe Biden took office as vice president, the United States imported an average of about 1 million barrels of Saudi crude per day. Some of it went for processing in American refineries, and the other went to the needs of the American economy emerging from the crisis. After 12 years, the situation has changed dramatically. In January 2021, for the first time in history, during one (albeit peak) week, the United States decided not to import Saudi oil at all – they did not need it.
The reason for this refusal does not lie in the field of politics, but is associated with the dramatic progress of its own American oil industry. By 2018 (the year of the murder of Khashkadzhi), the United States had become the world’s largest oil producer due to the rapid growth of shale production. In 2005, the United States imported 60% of the oil it needs; by 2015, this share dropped to 25% and has continued to decline since then. By itself, this does not nullify Saudi imports (additional oil is needed by American refineries), but completely deprives it of its strategic dimension. Throughout the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, Washington depended on Riyadh, but today this two-way communication has suddenly become thinner and almost cut off.
No money – no love, so from now on nothing prevents the publication of compromising documents about the Saudi state, not excluding the sensitive topic of terrorism. What exactly is contained in these testimonies – now only time will tell.