The 9/11 anniversary is tomorrow, and as it approaches I can't help but think about what we still DON'T know about this horrible day in our history. I covered 9/11 and its aftermath for Newsweek for many years. But so many of my questions about all the players in the complex 9/11 scheme have to this day gone unanswered.
No one has ever put all the pieces of the 9/11 puzzle together, and I fear no one ever will.
For example, we know the hijackers had help from numerous people living in the United States, but we still don't know who or how many. In my opinion, the 9/11 Commission did not dig deep enough to find out, and law enforcement let too many suspicious characters go, or never spoke to them at all.
Was it laziness? Or was it something more sinister? Remember, almost all of the men who hijacked those three planes were from Saudi Arabia (they weren't from Iraq or Iran). And we all know how friendly the Saudis were with many politicians in Washington. There were in fact several mysterious, wealthy Saudis living in San Diego who had connections to the Saudi government and also supported Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the two 9/11 hijackers who lived here. Shockingly, none of these men was ever detained by U.S. law enforcement.
The two hijackers, who were already known to have ties to Al Qaeda by CIA, which neglected to put their names on a watch list, flew into Los Angeles without a problem from Bangkok, where they had gone after attending an Al Qaeda gathering in Malaysia. At a restaurant in L.A., they met up with a moneyed San Diego Saudi named Omar al-Bayoumi, who brought them to San Diego, where put them up in an apartment in Clairemont just two blocks from the Islamic Center of San Diego and paid their first month's rent and security deposit.
Bayoumi, who everyone knew had ties to the Saudi government, also threw al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar a welcoming party, and introduced them to several figures who would also prove helpful during their stay in California.
Incidentally, several of the figures Bayoumi introduced the future hijackers to in San Diego were at one time or another the subject of their own FBI counter-terrorism investigations. Those include Bayoumi, Abdouatar Sheik, who was an FBI informant who housed the two hijackers for a while, and most importantly, Anwar Awlaki, the imam of a smaller La Mesa mosque, who became the hijackers' spiritual leader while in California.
Awlaki, who had suspicious dealings with other terrorists dating back as far as the late 1990's but was never detained, portrayed himself as a moderate but is now considered to be even more dangerous than Osama bin Laden. He has advised several would-be terrorists, including Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the 39-year-old U.S. Army psychiatrist allegedly responsible for the Fort Hood massacre, and is now hiding out in Yemen making videos for YouTube in which he encourages the killing of Americans.
Unbelievably, the two San Diego hijackers in March 2000 rented a room from Shaikh, who was an FBI informant at the time. The FBI and the Bush administration inexplicably refused to make Shaikh available to the 9/11 Congressional Joint Inquiry, and the Inquiry's interviews with his FBI handler and other officials didn't make clear if Shaikh knew more about the hijackers' intentions than he told his FBI handler. For instance, he never told his handler the last names of his Saudi guests, or the fact that they were taking flying lessons here.
Two months before 9/11, Bayoumi suddenly left the U.S. He was never detained by US law enforcement. And as I reported at the time, Princess Haifa, wife of the long-time Saudi Ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar, had over the course of a couple years sent $130,000 in charitable donations to the wives of Bayoumi and another San Diego-based Saudi friend of the San Diego hijackers, Osama Basnan.
I also reported that in April 2002, Basnan went to Houston to meet with a Saudi involved with intelligence matters who was part of the entourage of visiting Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Basnan accepted a suitcase of money from the Saudi royals.
Prior to 9/11, the FBI had several chances to investigate Basnan and Awlaki, but failed to do so. In 1992 they received information suggesting a connection between Basnan and a terror group later associated with bin Laden. In 1993, they received reports that Basnan hosted a party for terrorist leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman the year before, but again they failed to investigate. According to one US official I talked to, at a party shortly after 9/11, Basnan 'celebrated the heroes of September 11' and talked about 'what a wonderful, glorious day it had been.'
Former CIA operative Robert Baer told me at the time that there was only one conclusion to draw: 'Bayoumi should be in jail,' Baer told me. 'He was a Saudi government employee. He worked in civil aviation. That falls under the [Saudi] defense minister [Sultan]. And so here is this guy, he's got Al Qaeda connections, according to the FBI. He goes to meet two of the hijackers. He hooks them up with this cleric (Awlaki) and the terrorists then follow the cleric to Falls Church, Virginia.
'If this was a Soviet espionage case in the 70s or 80s," Baer continued, "our conclusion would be that this was a clear-cut case of Soviet-state backed espionage. All these pieces, connecting all these dots is at some level pointing to Saudi Arabia and the fact that Bayoumi and Basnan were likely some sort of government agents. There were so many people living in the United States who were involved on one level or another with 9/11 that were never detained, some of them were never even interviewed by law enforcement. It's outrageous."
The 9/11 attack was the most atrocious act ever committed against our country, yet to this day we still don't know the full story of who was behind it, who helped the hijackers, how closely the Saudi government was to this plot, etc. Will we ever know the full story? Sadly, as the years pass that becomes increasingly unlikely.