Transcript of BBC Expose on Bush, bin Laden and the Carlyle Group
Transcribed by Mario
Date: November 28, 2001
The following transcript has been taken from a BBC Newsnight story that we mentioned November 7th. In this expose, Newsnight reported that the FBI was told to "back off" of Saudis before the September 11th attacks. The RealMedia video was transcribed by VHJ reader Mario.
BBC's Jeremy Vine reporting from London:
Suddenly it emerges, before Sept 11th the Americans were using kid gloves in certain terror investigations. Has someone been sitting on the FBI?
Good evening, tonight we reveal the way important American terror investigations were hampered in the run up to Sept 11th. Because so many fanatics had contacts with Saudi Arabia, a US ally, the Americans themselves trod carefully, we'll ask whether they can change that policy now.
A document marked secret tells some of the story of Americas' failures before Sept 11th, it's an FBI paper obtained by Newsnight which refers to the questionable links of a member of Osama Bin Laden's extended family. We've learned that US agents were told to "back off" from investigating the Bin Laden family and the Saudi Royals, all of which lends credence to suspicions that before the suicide hijackings last month, the US allowed its strategic interests in relationship with Saudi Arabia to blunt its inquiries in to groups with suspected terrorist connections.
Greg Palast reporting from Washington:
The CIA and Saudi Arabia, the Bush's and the Bin Ladens, did their connections cause the
America to turn a blind eye to terrorism?
Michael Wilde, former US Federal Attorney:
There is a hidden agenda at the very highest levels of our government.
Joe Trento, National Security Expert:
The sad thing here is that thousands of Americans had to die needlessly.
Peter Elsner, Center for Public Integrity:
How can it be that the former President of the US and the current President of the US have business dealings with characters that need to be investigated?
In the eight weeks since the attack, over a thousand suspects and potential witnesses have been detained, yet days after the hijackers took off from Boston, aiming for the twin towers, a special charter flight out of the same airport whisked eleven members of Osama Bin Laden's family off to Saudi Arabia. That did not concern the White House, their official line is that the Bin Ladens are above suspicion apart from Osama the black sheep who they say hijacked the family name. That's fortunate for the Bush family and the Saudi Royal Household, whose links with the Bin Ladens could otherwise prove embarrassing.
Newsnight has obtained evidence that the FBI was on the trail of other members of the Bin Laden family for links to terrorist organizations before and after Sept 11th. This document is marked secret. Case ID 199I-WF-213589. 199 is FBI code for case type, 9 would be murder, 65 would be espionage, 199 means national security. WF indicates Washington Field Office Special Agents where investigating ABL because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) a suspected terrorist organization. ABL is Abdullah Bin Ladin, President and Treasurer of WAMY.
This is the sleepy Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, for almost every home displays a stars and stripes. On this unremarkable street at 3411 Silver Maple Place, we located the former home of Abdullah and another brother Omar, also an FBI suspect. It's conveniently close to WAMY. The World Assembly of Muslim Youth is in this building in a little room in the basement at 5613 Leasberg Pike, and here just a couple of blocks down the road at 5913 Leasberg is where 4 of the highjackers that attacked New York and Washington are listed as having lived. The US Treasury had not frozen WAMYs' assets and when we talked to them they insisted that they are a charity. Yet just weeks ago Pakistan expelled WAMY operatives, and India claimed that WAMY was funding an organization linked to bombings in Kashmir. In the Philippines the military has accused WAMY of funding Muslim insurgency. The FBI did look in to WAMY but for some reason agents were pulled off the trail.
The FBI wanted to investigate these guys, this is not something that they didn't want to do, they wanted to, they weren't permitted to.
The secret file fell into the hands of national security expert Joe Trento, the Washington spook tracker has been looking into the FBI allegations about WAMY.
They've had connections to Osama Bin Laden's people, they had connections to Muslim cultural and financial aid groups, they had terrorist connections and they took the pattern of groups that the Saudi Royal Family and Saudi community of Princes, with 20,000 Princes, had funded to be engaged in terrorist activity. Now do I know that WAMY has done anything that's illegal? No, I don't know that. Do I know that as far back as 1996 the FBI was very concerned about this organization? I do.
Newsnight has uncovered a long history of shadowy connections between the State Department, the CIA, and the Saudis. Former head of American Visa Bureau in Jeddah is Michael Springman.
Michael Springman, former head of American Visa Bureau in Jeddah:
In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high level State Department officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants. Theses were essentially people with no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their home country. I complained bitterly at the time there, I returned to the US, I complained to the State Department here, to the General Accounting Office, to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and to the Inspector Generals Office. I was met with silence.
By now Bush senior, once CIA Director, was in the White House. Springman was shocked to find that this was indeed a fraud, rather stated, CIA were playing the great game.
What I was protesting was in reality an effort to bring recruits rounded up by Osama Bin Laden to the US for terrorist training by the CIA, they would then be returned to Afghanistan to fight against the then Soviet Union.
The attack on the World Trade Center 1993 did not shake the States Department faith in the Saudis, nor did the attack on the American barracks at Khubar Towers in Saudi Arabia three years later in which 19 Americans died. FBI agents began to feel that their investigation was being obstructed. [Speaking to Michael Wilde.] Would you be surprised to find out that FBI agents are a bit frustrated that they can't be looking into some Saudi connections.
I would never be surprised with that. There're cut off at the hip sometime by supervisors for a given shot that's been called from Washington at the highest level.
I showed lawyer Michael Wilde our FBI documents. One of the Khubar Tower bombers was represented by Wilde, he thought he had useful intelligence for the US. He also represented the Saudi diplomat who defected to the USA with 14,000 documents which Wilde claims implicates Saudi citizens in financing terrorism and more. While he met with FBI men he was told they were not permitted to read all the documents, nevertheless he tried to give them to the agents.
Take these with you, we're not going to charge you for the copies, keep them, do something with them, get some bad guys with them; they refused.
In the hall of mirrors that is the US intelligence community, Wilde, a former US Federal Attorney, said the FBI field agents wanted the documents but they were told to see no evil.
You see a difference between the rank and file counter intelligence agents who are regarded by some as the motor pool of the FBI who drive following diplomats, and the people who are getting the shots called at the highest levels of our government who have a different agenda if you would, it's unconscionable.
The State wanted to keep the pro American Saudi Royal Family in control of the world's biggest oil spigot, even at the price of turning a blind eye to any terrorist connection so long as America was safe. In recent years CIA operatives had other reasons for not exposing Saudi backed suspects.
If you recruited somebody who is a member of a terrorist organization, who happens to make his way here to the US, and even though you are not in touch with that person any more but you've used him in the past, it would be very unseemly if he were to be arrested by the FBI, and word got back that he once had been on the payroll of the CIA. What we're talking about is blowback, what we're talking about is embarrassing career destroying blowback for intelligence officials.
Does the Bush family also have to worry about political blowback? Younger Bush made his first million twenty years ago with an oil company partly funded by Saleem Bin Laden, chief US representative. Young George also received fees as director of a subsidiary of Carlyle Corporation, a little known private company which has in just a few years of its founding become one of Americas biggest defense contractors. His father Bush senior is also a paid advisor, and what became embarrassing was the revelation the Bin Ladens held a stake in Carlyle, sold just after Sept 11th.
You have a key relationship between the Saudis and the former President of the US who happens to be the father of the current President of the US, and you have all sorts of questions about as to where does policy begin and where does good business and good profits for the company Carlyle end.
I received a telephone call from a high placed member of a US intelligence agency, he tells me that while there has always been constraints on investigating Saudis, under George Bush it's gotten much worse. After the election the agencies were told to "back off" investigating Bin Ladins and Saudi Royals, and that angered agents. I'm told that since Sept 11th the policy has been reversed. FBI headquarters told us that they could not comment on our findings; a spokesman said there are lots of things that only the intelligence community knows and that no one else ought to know.
BBC's Jeremy Vine reporting from London:
We're joined now by Abdel Barl Atwan who is the Editor of the Arab daily Al Quds, also by Dr Anthony Cordesman, the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and also in the US by Martin Indylc who is former US Assistant Secretary of State.
Dr Cordesman first of all, how big an obstacle do you think the US Saudi relationship is when it comes to investigating these suspect organizations.
Dr Anthony Cordesman, Center of Strategic and International Studies:
I don't think it is, I thought frankly most of that report bordered on rubbish. It isn't the FBI that does the investigation here it's the CIA and groups like the National Security Agency; what you have is a group of low level FBI people who have one impression of how an investigation precedes and how it is managed, which has nothing to do with how the overall investigation is taken place since a period long before the bombing of the World Trade Center. So people with an ax to grind have one bureaucratic perspective and people who actually run intelligence operations have another.
But FBI agents would be responsible for investigating actions that affected American citizens, particularly on American soil.
Dr Anthony Cordesman:
As low level FBI agents almost certainly are going to see this in one dimension, somebody who is trying to manage an overall intelligence investigation and a very very sensitive effort to look at what happens within the Saudi Royal Family and senior families inside Saudi Arabia is going to have a completely different perspective and they're going to be in charge and the FBI has a history of nearly a decade of feuding with Saudi Intelligence and feuding with the CIA.
That's the point isn't it, that first this relationship is so sensitive and secondly that perhaps the FBI has got into these feuds which have become very counter productive.
Dr Anthony Cordesman:
I think it certainly was in the investigation of Al Cobra, (?) it got better with time but one of the problems was we sent in a lot of people with very poor language skills who weren't well managed who came up against a long established intelligence relationship. Now there are many problems in the way that Saudi Arabia handles its internal security, just as there has been in the US, but this kind of bureaucratic bickering is no indictment of the Saudis or any indication that somehow the US government ignored Bin Laden.
What do you make of this Mr. Atwan, at the state of this extraordinary relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia at the moment?
Abdel Barl Atwan, Editor of Al Quds:
I believe you know that Saudi Arabia is extremely helpful to the American interests in the region, I believe that there are three pillars of American foreign policy in the region, the first one is to keep Israel as the regional super power, the second is to keep the price of oil as low as they can, the third is to keep Iraq and Sadam Hussein in the cage. Saudi Arabia played a major role in keeping the price of oil down, also at the same time they offered help to attack Sadam Hussein and south Iraq and help keep the no fly zone in the south, and Saudi Arabia actually financed all the American wars, they financed the Afghani war, they financed Nicaragua, they financed recently the Gulf war; so the Americans are fully dependent on the Saudi Arabia for foreign policy there.
Since Sept 11th Saudi Arabia has not been playing ball has it.
Yes because there are you know sensitivities, they have a very very delicate situation, an internal situation, they have a religious establishment, an Islamic establishment with extremists among there and they feel if the FBI or CIA interfere they may open the cover and many secrets the Saudis don't want anybody else to look at for example the banking system, the investment there, the families, the royal family itself; some of it indulge in business maybe money laundering; you don't know what's happening there so if they let the Americans to be involved to put there nose there many secrets will appear.
So Mr. Indylc how does the US handle this relationship from now on?
Martin Indylc, former US Assistant Secretary of State:
Well, I think when it comes to dealing with the problem of Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network, we do have to have a talk with the Saudis about the funding issues there has been it seems over time; money flowing from Saudi Arabia to the Taleban and to the Al-Qaeda network through basically foundations, through rich Saudi connections, and the Saudi Government has to do a much better job of overhauling the whole system of Sacut (?) and how that money has been going abroad. Secondly, we have to talk to them about the export of their fundamentalist puritanical Lahavi (?) take on Islam which is in its export form promoting intolerance rather then a tolerant view of Islam which I think the Saudis have to be far more active in trying to promote here.
But how does the US here get the balance taking into account all of that and it's strategic interests in the region?
Well, we have to reenter the bizarre and renegotiate the bargain I think. Five thousand dead Americans later we're going to have to take a look again at some of these issues. There is no question that Saudi Arabia is a very important ally of ours in a very sensitive region. They sit on a great deal of oil and we are dependent on it, not to keep the price of oil low, but to keep it at a reasonable level and so they are important strategically to us. But there are some things that have gone on over the last decade which have helped unfortunately to create the swamp that Osama Bin Laden has been swimming in, we do have to talk to them about drying that up.
Dr Cordesman, do you think then that the US has somehow mismanaged its relationship in the last decade and needs to take account of that in planning how it's going to deal with Saudi Arabia in the future.
Dr Anthony Cordesman:
Well, I certainly agree with Martin Indylc that we need to work out a better relationship, it's not just with Saudi Arabia, it's virtually with every moderate Arab state we have relations with and that includes many in North Africa. We did I think mismanage this relationship and we did not put enough emphasis early enough on the rest (?) that we're developing in Afghanistan, we did make the mistake early on of encouraging Islamic fundamentalists movements at least indirectly although much of the problem occurred through Pakistan and not through Saudi Arabia.
So Mr. Atwan, what can the US do right now, there are 50 suspects in the suicide hijackings who were Saudi, how can they get Saudi Arabia to actually help give them some intelligence on them?
Well actually you know Saudi Arabia, you can't bribe Saudi Arabia with money because they have a lot of money, you can't bribe them politically, I mean the Saudis now say look at all this terrorism coming from Israel, so solve the Arab Israeli conflict and encourage an independent Palestinian State, implement UN Security Council resolutions, and in this case the Saudi Royal Family would be in a prouder position, they can say to the Americans OK let us cooperate, let us resolve terrorism, let us have a resolution of terrorism which includes the Israeli terrorism; so if you do so there is a political route for that if you address the Saudi in this way, I think they'll be more cooperative but if you are going to support the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian, and not to give the Palestinian anything, in this case the Saudi will be shy to cooperate in such dangerous cooperation.
Mr. Martin Indylc, with the US faced with all these demands how does the it react?
Well I think first of all it's important to remind people that after the Gulf war after we liberated Kuwait, we were told by the Saudis and our other Arab friends that we had to solve the Arab Israeli problems just like Mr. Atwan is suggesting now and we went off instead of focussing on political reform in the Arab world we went off…….
Ah, I think we just lost the satellite link, so I'll just thank you all very much, Dr Cordesman, Mr. Atwan, Mr. Indylc. Thank you.
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