An explosive court filing from the Guantanamo Military Commission – a court considering the cases of defendants accused of carrying out the “9/11” terrorist attacks on New York – has seemingly confirmed the unthinkable.
The document was originally published via a Guantanamo Bay court docket, but while public, it was completely redacted. Independent researchers obtained an unexpurgated copy. It is an account by the Commission’s lead investigator, DEA veteran Don Canestraro, of his personal probe of potential Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, conducted at the request of the defendants’ lawyers.
Two of the hijackers were being closely monitored by the CIA and may, wittingly or not, have been recruited by Langley long before they flew planes into the World Trade Center buildings.
Of the great many enduring mysteries of the 9/11 attacks still unresolved over two decades later, perhaps the biggest and gravest relate to the activities of Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar in the 18 months leading up to that fateful day. The pair traveled to the US on multi-entry visas in January 2000, despite having repeatedly been flagged by the CIA and NSA previously as likely Al Qaeda terrorists.
Mere days before their arrival, they attended an Al Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, during which key details of the 9/11 attacks are likely to have been discussed and agreed. The meeting was secretly photographed and videotaped by Malaysian authorities at the direct request of the CIA’s Alec Station, a special unit set up to track Osama bin Laden, although oddly, no audio was captured.
Still, this background should’ve been sufficient to prevent Hazmi and Midhar from entering the US – or at least enough for the FBI to be informed of their presence in the country. As it was, they were admitted for a six-month period at Los Angeles International airport without incident, and Bureau representatives within Alec Station were blocked from sharing this information with their superiors by the CIA.
“We’ve got to tell the Bureau about this. These guys clearly are bad. One of them, at least, has a multiple-entry visa to the US. We’ve got to tell the FBI,” Mark Rossini, a member of Alec Station, has recalled discussing with his colleagues. “[But the CIA] said to me, ‘No, it’s not the FBI’s case, not the FBI’s jurisdiction.’”
Immediately upon arrival, Hazmi and Midhar encountered a Saudi national residing in California named Omar al-Bayoumi in an airport restaurant. Over the next two weeks, he helped them find an apartment in San Diego, co-signed their lease, gave them $1,500 towards their rent, and introduced them to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam at a local mosque. Al-Awlaki was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
In the wake of 9/11, Bayoumi unsurprisingly became a subject of interest in an FBI probe of potential Saudi involvement in the attacks, known as Operation Encore. In a 2003 interview with investigators in Riyadh, he claimed his meeting with Hazmi and Midhar was a coincidence – he heard them speaking Arabic, realized they couldn’t speak English, and decided to assist them out of charity.