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Summers and Swan Pt.2: Sen. Bob Graham wanted to publish results of Saudi investigation, Bush ordered it redacted

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us again are Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. They’re the authors of the book Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11. Thank you both for joining us again.


JAY: So let’s pick up the story with Senator Bob Graham, who cochaired the congressional joint committee into 9/11. In their final report there’s 28 pages that are mostly blacked out, but it did come to light, more or less, what was in those pages. So why don’t we pick up the tale there?

ROBBYN SWAN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: At the time the joint inquiry filed its report, it was kept secret for about six months and then reviewed for release. And when it was reviewed for release, there was a section of about 28 pages dealing with the possibility of foreign governmental support for al-Qaeda and for the hijackers that was almost entirely redacted. That means where it should be, there are just many, many pages with lines on them. The people who have seen those pages tell reporters that what they contain are very strong and credible evidence of Saudi government and individual ties to the hijackers, the kind of thing that we’ve been talking about already today in this interview. The senator is very keen to see those pages released, and in fact so keen that he made a special point, when the 9/11 Commission came into being, of alerting his–the colleagues coming in on that commission to the issue and urging them to look more closely at the Saudi area. Well, the 9/11 Commission went down the road and sent a team of investigators to look at the issue of possible state support for the hijackers. And in the end, the material that those very dedicated investigators came in with was relegated to the footnotes at the back of The 9/11 Commission Report. Until we did our work, really, no one had had the chance to see the underlying documentation and investigation that those staff workers for the 9/11 Commission had done, and some of it is very, very revealing indeed. They spoke in Saudi Arabia (under the supervisory eye of Saudi secret intelligence) to a couple of the principal characters involved and came away very unconvinced about their veracity. So the lingering questions remain. And one of the things that Senator Graham certainly thinks is necessary and which various family members we’ve spoken to and which we ourselves think is essential is for those 28 pages of the joint inquiry report to be released.

JAY: Graham has himself thought they should have been released. Why were they not?

SUMMERS: The initial version was that they had been redacted–suppressed, in short–at the insistence of the CIA, which indeed was the agency that processed the report for publication, as is reasonable. But Senator Graham made personal enquiries to find out why that particular 27 pages had been redacted. It was important. It was the end of their report, the conclusion, effectively their findings at the end of their investigation. And he said the report came back from the CIA that the 27 pages had been redacted at the insistence of President Bush himself.

JAY: I mean, one can draw conclusions. One knows how close President Bush’s relationship was with the Saudi royal family.

SUMMERS: I think it’s not so much that, but, yes, the Bush family, particularly George W.’s father, did have longstanding business involvements with Saudi oil. But that’s–I think that wasn’t–that’s not a simple explanation of why the president wanted that stuff retained. I asked former Senator Graham about this the other day, and he said he concluded that the pages were withheld (as he nicely put it) to avoid embarrassment to the administration in terms of its–the administration’s relationship with the Saudis, and to avoid embarrassment for the Saudis themselves. Not good enough.

SWAN: But there’s an interesting little sidelight to this, Paul, in that one of the pictures we publish in our book The Eleventh Day is a photograph taken on September 13, two days after the 9/11 attacks. At that point it was known that 15 of the 19 hijackers had been Saudis. The photograph in our book shows a very, very relaxed Prince Bandar, then the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States, on the balcony, the Truman Balcony of the White House, in a chair, with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush. And the ambassador is sitting back at his ease. They’ve been smoking cigars. And it’s a grainy shot, not the kind of shot of a man who looks at all ill at ease or as if he’s been called on the carpet to answer for his citizens’ action.

JAY: Well, that’s–Bandar was often called an honorary member of the Bush family–dubbed so in the press, at least. But during those days, that’s right around the time when many members of the bin Laden family and many other Saudis are being flown out of the country at a time when there’s not supposed to be any flights, right?

SUMMERS: This is a story that’s always run, and it’s almost one of those non-facts that’s become a fact. It has been much reported that the Saudi groups of royals and others, including members of the bin Laden family, were flown out of the country before the airways were opened up again. We checked extremely carefully into that and looked to the Federal Aviation Administration records and so on. And, in fact, they were free to fly out of the country on the day that they flew, the first group flew out of the country. What is more significant and extremely disquieting is that they weren’t questioned properly, and in some cases not questioned at all by the FBI before leaving.

JAY: My memory of the 9/11 Commission is it became–during the public hearings it became quite a contentious issue who actually authorized that flight. I thought it was because the flights were supposed to be flying then.

SWAN: No, it was a contentious issue. It was a contentious issue because it had been written so–for so many–on so many occasions that it had been sort of mythologized and people were very convinced of it. However, if they looked in the record, they would have found that there is a–what is called a notice to airmen that made it perfectly legal for charter flights, which all of the Saudi-related flights were, to resume flying as of–several hours before the flights took off. But as Tony has said, the real issue is the fact that they weren’t–those people aboard those flights were not properly vetted by the FBI before they left. And the FBI themselves were forced to admit later that it’s–was certainly possible that there were people who had some kind of guilty knowledge aboard those flights. But they hadn’t done all that interviewing. They’d done, at the most, rather cursory checks.

JAY: After years of poring through this material–and I know you’ve explored many aspects of 9/11, not only the Saudi connection, but you’ve spent a lot of time on the Saudi connection, and I know your role as journalists is to try to establish facts, but what conclusions, if any, do you reach about why the Saudis would have been involved in all of this, in terms of their intent?

SWAN: The trail is difficult to follow and there are various twists and turns along the way. And we can’t call it either the Saudis or the Saudi government; we have to think about different individuals and different factions within the Saudi royal family, people who would have supported the very radical brand of Islam that Osama bin Laden preached. But what the evidence suggests is that from very early on, the Saudi government may have been involved in paying protection money to bin Laden and al-Qaeda to keep them from perpetrating attacks against the kingdom, and that support for al-Qaeda began there. And it was only in 2003, when Riyadh was bombed and when attacks started to occur within Saudi Arabia, that official policy veered very strongly away from that. But while all that was happening, there were individual Saudi princes who may well have continued to be supportive of bin Laden, and that is one possibility. The other possibility, which we have not discussed today, is the notion that has been mooted by two of the princes very high in the Saudi government, one of them the former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki, who indicated after 9/11 that part of the fault lay in the fact that the US government had failed to heed warnings that the Saudis had given them, very specific warnings about these terrorists, who they claimed they had been closely monitoring themselves. Now, what does that mean, and where does that trail go? Did American intelligence think the Saudis were monitoring al-Qaeda clearly and thus able to intervene? Did the Americans want the Saudis to monitor these al-Qaeda operatives on their behalf? Did the CIA or another intelligence agency simply drop the ball when the Saudis did tell them something? These are questions we don’t yet have the answer to.

SUMMERS: But the bottom line, I believe, is in fact that it’s really hard to know what goes on inside Saudi Arabia, for very basic reasons: because it’s a closed society, a completely closed society. It’s hard enough to get inside it at all in the first place. After 9/11, the American investigations weren’t given any help by the Saudi authorities. In short, it’s not only a closed society, a closed culture, but it’s also a two-faced culture, and certainly was a closed and two-faced culture at the time of 9/11. You had on the one hand the factions who played along with the United States, the source of the money for the oil (that little short word that we haven’t mentioned in this interview, which is at the heart of the story, oil), and other factions who were guided by the extreme version of Islam that is really and long has been supreme in Saudi Arabia. This is a country, remember, where the children, including a (once upon a time) child called Osama bin Laden, were brought up from the beginning to hate Jewry and to absolutely believe in the importance of fighting for the recovery of one of the three holy places, Jerusalem, which was lost in 1967, and for the recovery of Palestine. And we found–and this is an interesting postscript to it all, a thing that I think–an element that the US public certainly has not understood, which is that the driving force for the young, educated, everything-to-live-for guys who perpetrated 9/11 was the cause of Palestine.

JAY: Just finally, when you look at all the various different threads of what could have been known or was known prior to 9/11, you know, some people suggest and, you know, they refer back to the document the project for a new American century, where it actually says, you know, this quote now that’s become quite famous: you know, none of this strategy of ours of asserting US military dominance around the world is really going to be possible without a new Pearl Harbor. I mean, do you see a pattern of some kind, at the very least, of not wanting to know? In other–you know, if you start from the demotion of Richard Clarke, where you’re–you know, under the Clinton administration you have–the antiterrorism czar is in the principals meeting, practically a cabinet-level position, and in spite of–according to George Tenet, in his first national security briefing to George Bush, President Bush says that al-Qaeda’s the number one security threat to the United States. Given–if that’s all true, then why do you demote your antiterrorism guy, who then tells the 9/11 Commission, our hair was on fire and I couldn’t even get in front of the principals meeting? Like, take all these different threads. Does it suggest anything to you?

SWAN: I’m afraid, Paul, that we’re going to disappoint you in that. We don’t think it suggests anything like that. We think that there are many problems here, there are many questions. There were huge mistakes made. We do not see any great conspiracy to advance an agenda, a neoconservative agenda. What we portray in our book is certainly that the Bush administration took terrible advantage of these attacks to further their agenda, which included regime change in Iraq, and they did that from the very earliest days after the attack. But what let it happen on purpose or made it happen in order to further such an agenda, I don’t think so. There’s no evidence of that.

SUMMERS: Neat idea. No evidence at all.

JAY: I don’t know there’s evidence of that either, so you’re not disappointing me. What I’m saying is that there’s a pattern which seems at the very least to raise the question. I don’t know myself of any evidence that one could prove it. But are you left with the idea that there needs to be an independent inquiry or not?

SWAN: No. There have been two investigations. I don’t think there needs to be another. I don’t know what Anthony thinks.

SUMMERS: Whether or not we think there needs to be another inquiry, the information I’ve gathered and the people I’ve talked to indicate to me that there is absolutely no likelihood whatsoever of a new official inquiry now, whether or not there should be. It’s the same–there came a point, you know, with that other great ball of mystery, the facts surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination, it becomes rather like the people who called for a new investigation of that. They’re done with that. I don’t think we’re going to get–.

JAY: But you don’t think there should at least be some further inquiry into the role of Saudi Arabia in all of this? That certainly has not been very well explored.

SWAN: I think there should certainly be more releases. There’s a lot of information available that has not yet been released. That would certainly be an important first step. And when that is done, then this is time to assess whether or not any further investigatory steps should be taken.

JAY: Thank you very much, both of you, for joining us.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan are the authors of "The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden"