A Piece Of History — Part 1
Prince and the ’28 pages’: Indirect 9/11 link to Saudi royal revealed
When the United States caught its first big al Qaeda operative, six months after the 9/11 terror attacks, it found a disturbing clue: phone numbers linked to the United States.
In an overnight raid, Pakistani forces captured Abu Zubaydah, allegedly a recruiter for the terror group and a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle.
Now, 14 years after Zubaydah was apprehended, newly declassified information from a 2002 congressional report on the 9/11 attacks, dubbed the “28 pages,” reveals an indirect link previously hidden from the American public between the alleged al Qaeda operative and a company associated with a key member of the Saudi royal family, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Ever since 19 men — 15 of them Saudi nationals — hijacked four airplanes and changed the course of American history, the possibility of official Saudi involvement has hung over the relationship between the two countries. While the alleged association with Bandar revealed in the newly declassified pages does not provide direct evidence the prince was complicit in the 9/11 attacks, it raises new questions about Saudi Arabia’s involvement.
The connection to Bandar was made through Zubaydah’s phone book, retrieved during the Pakistani raid in which he was taken. In it, the FBI found numbers linked to the United States, including an unlisted number for a company that managed Bandar’s estate in Aspen, Colorado. An unlisted number was also found for a bodyguard who worked at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
“Both of those numbers were unpublished, so they had to have gotten into Zubaydah’s phone book through a personal contact who knew what those numbers were and what they represented,” said former Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of the congressional commission that compiled the 28 pages.
The revelation about Bandar’s indirect ties to the al Qaeda operative was one of the few pieces of new information contained in the declassified documents.
The CIA and FBI concluded that there was no evidence anyone from the Saudi royal family knowingly provided support for the 9/11 attacks.
But Graham said the indirect connection to the respected former Saudi ambassador was “one of the most stunning parts of the investigation” and worthy of pursuing further.
Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005, during the Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He later served as secretary general of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council and head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency, the equivalent of the CIA, until last year.
Bandar “is probably the most effective ambassador in Washington ever. Full stop,” said former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel. “He was highly regarded by every president.”
The key Saudi royal figure was known to have the closest relationship with George H. W. Bush, because of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the 1990 Gulf War. Saudi Arabia viewed the Iraqi aggression as a threat and supported the subsequent US military action.
“Bandar was in the Bush White House I would say every other day and in some periods every day. It was a very, very close relationship,” said Riedel. “And I think the President and Bandar genuinely liked each other.”