Former Senator Bob Graham, co-chair of the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, believes that the Saudi government “had a high and what has thus far turned out to be credible expectation that their role” in 9/11 “would not be exposed” by the U.S. government. – a REPLAY of a 2013 interview by Paul Jay
Former Senator Bob Graham, co-chair of the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, believes that the Saudi government “had a high and what has thus far turned out to be credible expectation that their role” in 9/11 “would not be exposed” by the U.S. government.
“Everything that the federal government has done since 9/11 has had as one of its outcomes, if not its objectives—and I believe it was both outcome and objective—that the Saudis’ role has been covered,” says Graham.
Senator Graham had talked to the other co-chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the two chairs of the citizen’s 9/11 commission about the possibility of the 19 hijackers acting independently.
“All three of them used almost the same word—implausible—that it is implausible that that could have been the case. Yet that has now become the conventional wisdom to the aggressive exclusion of other alternatives,” says Graham.
Graham says it is also possible that the Saudis gave financial support for Osama bin Laden’s operations in order to stop him from launching a campaign of civil unrest within Saudi Arabia as retaliation for allowing U.S. troops to occupy a part of the country during the first Gulf War.
The Saudis’ “confidence in the fact the United States would not react, or that the United States would not go to the extremes that in fact it has to cover up their involvement, were sufficient to outweigh the reality that bin Laden had the capability and the will to topple the monarchy,” says Senator Graham.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself with Senator Bob Graham.
Senator Graham was the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was also the chair of the congressional joint committee into 9/11. And he held many other important positions on intelligence, and from 2010 to 2012 was on the CIA External Advisory Board.
Thanks for joining us again, Senator.
So we were talking off-camera. And I think we’re going to just pick up where we were, and then we’ll kind of get back to where I was headed in the interview.
But we were talking about the role of the media and how little and practically no discourse there is, debate, followup on issues raised by your commission and other books that have come out on the whole issue of the Saudi 9/11 commission. What do you make of that?
BOB GRAHAM, FMR U.S. SENATOR: It’s an enigma to me as to why something that is so important, not just to be sure we have a historical record right, but that justice is done–. One of the side consequences of this coverup of the Saudis is the 3,000 families and survivors of the victims of 9/11 have been trying to get justice in a federal court for their losses. And in each instance, they have been turned away under the shield of sovereign immunity. You cannot sue Saudi Arabia. And the United States government has gone into the courthouse on the side of the Saudis, not on the side of the U.S. citizens who have lost so grievously.
So this is an issue that is contemporary and has real impact and significance today. And why major U.S. media has not seen this as an issue worthy of in-depth investigation and dogged followthrough is an enigma to me.
JAY: Now, when the Saudis are asked about this issue, former head of Saudi intelligence Turki says that the Saudi intelligence actually tried to warn the Bush administration that an attack was coming. He said that they had been monitoring people in the United States and that they told the Bush administration that they had specific information that something was coming and they were ignored, that there seemed to be no interest on the part of the Bush administration in what they had to say.
GRAHAM: I’ve heard rumors of that. I have not personally confirmed that that is an accurate statement. But I wouldn’t be surprised. There was just sort of a general disbelief–I think the 9/11 Commission called it a lack of imagination–that something of this scale could occur in the United States, and therefore when people sounded alarms that it might in fact be on the verge of happening, they were largely ignored.
JAY: So when you say the Saudi state is involved in this, it’s somewhat contradictory if the head of intelligence is trying to warn the United States that it’s coming. I mean, do you see this as something that’s, you know, government policy, or individuals in the government were involved?
GRAHAM: It wouldn’t be government policy in the sense that someone would stand up in the State of the Union address and announce that we are going to have a policy of not following leads that suggest the United States may be in some immediate peril.
JAY: No. Back up. I’m talking about the Saudi policy. When you look at the Saudi role–and we’re certainly going to get to, actually, where you’re headed there, in terms of what we think was the U.S. government consciousness at the highest level on all of this, but right now I just wanted to ask, when you say this is the Saudi government involved, so is this Saudi government at the highest levels making Saudi government policy? Or these are individuals involved in the government and royal family that are doing something sort of on their own?
GRAHAM: The reality is that the line between what is private and what is public in a monarchy of the length and pervasive influence of the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia is ephemeral. And, in fact, in these cases where Americans have tried to sue entities, some of which are governmental, some of which are what we would call private sector–some are even charitable–because of their alleged involvement in 9/11, the same shield of sovereign immunity has been raised by the Saudi government to protect everything that is of a Saudi origin. So they by their actions have accepted the fact that this is a fully integrated country, and it is legally possible to say that everything that happens is an action of the government.
JAY: Now, we’re going to get into more detail later. And there’s much, much more detail in Senator Graham’s book Intelligence Matters about–you know, where his committee really traced the data points that connected Saudi government officials to the conspiracy. And we’ll get into it a little bit later. But I still want to talk a little bit more big picture.
Why would they? Assuming you’re right about the Saudis, what’s in it for them?
GRAHAM: Well, I wrote a novel called Keys to the Kingdom out of frustration that much of what I knew had occurred had not been made available to the American people, because every time it was suggested, it was immediately classified and rendered out-of-bounds. It was mentioned to me by another former high-ranking government official that he, facing the same frustration, had overcome it by writing exactly what he would have written in a nonfiction book, but put the word “novel” on it, and it got by the censors.
So in the novel I suggest some answers to that, and I don’t think they are farfetched or extreme. One of those is that we know that at the end of the first Gulf War, bin Laden was very angry at the royal family for having allowed U.S. troops, foreign troops of any nationality, to essentially occupy a portion of Saudi Arabia. He would–his anger was deepened by the fact that he had offered to become–come to the defense of the kingdom using several tens of thousands of war-hardened troops that had fought with him in Afghanistan against the Russians. That anger upset the royal family.
And so I project: what if bin Laden had said to the royal family, if you won’t deal forcefully with the Americans, we will do it, but we need your help in terms of being able to assist, support, maintain our operatives who are going to be in the United States, and if you refuse to give us that support, then I’m going to launch civil unrest inside the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and your monarchy will be under the same threat that the former Shah of Iran was when he was toppled from power?
JAY: Well, we know the Saudis took this threat pretty seriously, ’cause they actually made the American base move to Qatar.
GRAHAM: Yeah. And so I’m suggesting that something like that may have been the motivation, the excuse, the rationale that the Saudis look to to say, alright, we will in fact provide assistance to the 19 hijackers, or at least significant numbers of them, in order to avoid this credible threat of civil unrest.
JAY: But the Saudis are no fools. They have to know, whatever bin Laden might be able to throw at them, it’s nothing compared to what the United States could throw at Saudi Arabia if it came out that the Saudi were involved at a governmental level. It’s almost like they have to have known going in that this wasn’t going to happen.
GRAHAM: Well, would a country whose ambassador was so brazen as to go into the private quarters of the White House within hours after an attack in which 15 of his fellow countrymen had been in lead positions and almost demand that the president of the United States facilitate 144 additional Saudis being able to get out of the country, would a country that had that kind of attitude towards the willingness of the United States to stand up for its own interest and not be cowered into submission, would not they be likely to have had that attitude towards the United States and therefore felt it was a risk that they were prepared to take to–.
JAY: But doesn’t it lead you to think that they have good reason to think that they’re not going to be targeted? I mean, you know, instead of regime–being in Afghanistan, if this had come out, regime change would have been in Saudi Arabia.
GRAHAM: Their level of confidence in the fact the United States would not react or that the United States would not go to the extremes that in fact it has to cover up their involvement were sufficient to outweigh the reality that bin Laden had the capability and the will to topple the monarchy.
JAY: ‘Cause bin Laden has been quoted, assuming all this really is from bin Laden, that the plan was to suck the United States into a war in Afghanistan and, kind of Russian style, wear the United States out. And I think bin Laden apparently was a little disappointed that in fact the emphasis got moved to Iraq, ’cause they were hoping to tie American troops down in much bigger numbers. And it kind of worked out in the long run, in a sense, what they wanted, but not at the scale they wanted. They wanted a major presentation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and to be there for decades and decades and bleed the American economy. The Saudis have to understand that’s his logic.
GRAHAM: Well, you know, we talk a lot about the intelligence capabilities of al-Qaeda. That’s one of the reasons that the NSA is engaged in a lot of its data mining and other high-tech intelligence gathering operations.
The fact is, I think that if bin Laden was operating from the premise that he could suck the United States into Afghanistan and, once there, they would be treated as the Russians had been treated, a war of attrition and finally submission, the fact is, if he thought that way, his intelligence wasn’t very good. The United States almost immediately instituted the single most effective aerial bombardment in the history of mankind in Afghanistan against troops and military installations. We were using–this was pre-drone–we were using traditional military aircraft with laser bombs, smart bombs, bombs that were able to get into places that previously had thought to be impregnable, and just devastated the Taliban’s military ability.
JAY: But let’s assume his intelligence was wrong–and I think it was, if that’s what he said afterwards. But if that’s what the plan was and the Saudis are in on this, then they have to do their own kind of math about where does all this lead. If this leads to–I mean, Saudis have to know the United States isn’t going to just sit there and do nothing. It’s going to come after–somebody’s going to pay for this. And if it isn’t going to be them, and they have confidence that their role in this is going to be hidden and covered up (and the evidence is, whether they were confident because they were told to be confident or not, their role was hidden; that much is a fact), then they start doing the math. And what I mean by math is they have to work out what the next steps and the consequences of this are. And either they share the belief that it’s going to be a tie-down in Afghanistan, or for some reason they’re also understanding that the real target’s going to be Iraq and they don’t mind.
GRAHAM: And therefore that they are immune, that the United States is going to take its vengeance out someplace else.
JAY: More or less on Saddam Hussein, yeah.
GRAHAM: Yeah. Well, I think, first, they had a high and what has thus far turned out to be credible expectation that their role would not be exposed. Everything that the federal government has done since 9/11 has had as one of its outcomes, if not its objectives–and I believe it was both outcome and objective–that the Saudis’ role has been covered. So they could be prepared to assess it was a greater risk that bin Laden would attack them than that the United States would attack them, and therefore they, the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, took actions that would avoid bin Laden with some sense of immunity from the possibility of the United States attacking them.
JAY: Is there a possibility they shared the objective of drawing the United States into a war, that it isn’t just out of fear of bin Laden that they share the agenda?
GRAHAM: Well, I don’t know what they would want to accomplish by encouraging the United States to go into a war other than a war against the place where the attack against the United States had been organized and emanating.
JAY: We know within days of the attack, even though there’s talk of what to do to Afghanistan, President Bush is already issuing instructions to get ready for a war with Iraq. If Prince Bandar is so close to President Bush that he sits in the living room–and I think it’s smoking cigars; I don’t know if he drank scotch or not. I don’t suppose he’s supposed to. But would he be unaware of that’s where this would all lead?
GRAHAM: You know, we are now–.
JAY: It’s speculation.
GRAHAM: We’re now into the outer ranges of speculation.
I believe what we do know or are capable of knowing is what was the full extent of the Saudi role. We know they were involved in San Diego, where, under people who were employees of the Saudi government, protection was given to two of the 19 hijackers.
There was a very suspicious case in Sarasota Florida where three of the pilots of the planes were doing their flight training and at the same time were closely connected to a family of Saudis, which in turn was close to the royal family. That has been another area that has been closely held and with–except the American people had been blocked from understanding what happened in that instance.
What we don’t know is what was going on in other places, like Falls Church, Virginia, places in New Jersey, other places in Florida, where there were substantial numbers of hijackers. Was a full investigation done to determine if they were receiving external support? And if so, why has this not been made available?
JAY: And your main point is that these 19 guys can’t do this without a support network, and you have evidence the support network was at least in part linked to the Saudi government.
GRAHAM: Yeah. And I might say, I have personally talked to the other cochair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry, a man who was a very distinguished congressman and, later, director of the CIA, I have talked to the two chairs of the citizens’ 9/11 Commission, asking them, what do you think were the prospects of these 19 people being able to plan, practice, and execute the complicated plot that was 9/11 without any external support? All three of them used almost the same word, implausible, that it is implausible that that could have been the case. Yet that has now become the conventional wisdom to the aggressive exclusion of other alternatives.
JAY: Well, in the next segment of our interview with Senator Graham, we’re going to look at the role of the Bush administration after 9/11 and before. In his book, Senator Graham calls the Bush administration’s hindrance of 9/11 investigation disgraceful. He goes on to write: orchestrated by the White House to protect not only the agencies that had failed, but also America’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Senator Bob Graham.
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