August 1, 2003

WHAT DOES BUSH HAVE TO HIDE?
Censoring the 9/11 report: neocons project their fantasies onto blank pages

by Justin Raimondo

The long-awaited congressional report on 9/11 came with a kicker: 28 redacted pages, deemed too sensitive for the unwashed masses, which have generated more discussion than all the other 800-plus pages put together. The censored section deals with "specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States," as the non-redacted portion puts it. The blankness of these pages, however, hasn't stopped everyone from talking as if they can read the invisible ink detailing all sorts of accusations aimed squarely at the Saudi government.

The Saudis responded, in the state-run Arab News, by calling for the release of the 28 pages:

"It would be far better if the section were published. What has been produced is nothing less than a charter for Saudi-bashing, all the more so because of the 28 pages supposedly dealing with Saudi links to the hijackers, blocked on White House orders."

"Anyone who thinks that President Bush is doing us a favor can forget it. Whatever the intention, this is an invitation to the U.S. and other media to speculate. ... This way, it will be open season on Saudi Arabia."

And indeed it is open season on Saudi Arabia, with all the usual conspiracy theorists projecting their lurid fantasies on the emptiness of those 28 pages.

If Saudi sponsorship of the 9/11 hijackers is somehow proved by the redacted portions of the report, then why did the Saudi foreign minister travel all the way to Washington to ask for their release? He was pointedly rejected by the President, and was met, instead, with a request from Condoleeza Rice to turn over Omar al-Bayoumi, an employee of the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, as a material witness to the ongoing terrorism investigation. The Saudis readily agreed. But this is more of a political ploy, meant to placate congressional critics, than a real attempt to garner information. Shortly after 9/11, Mr. al-Bayoumi was interrogated by British authorities for 7 days, and released to Saudi Arabia, where he was also questioned. In his own defense, al-Bayoumi says:

"I stopped being a suspect for over a year now. Do you imagine that if any of what has been rumored in the media about me is true, would the FBI or Scotland Yard have set me free?"

The idea that the Saudi government, or some vaguely-defined faction, is the real author of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. is a conspiracy theory shared by the far-left "Bush knew" tinfoil hat brigade and the neoconservative phalanx of American Likudniks, who posit Riyadh as the center of a worldwide Wahabist web of evil.

In addition, the Bush family ties to the Saudi royals are too promising a theme for Democratic presidential hopefuls clamoring for attention. Yet one such hopeful, Florida's Senator Bob Graham, a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has a somewhat different take on the matter: In contrast to those who have not read the 28 pages, and don't know the background deliberations that went into the writing of it, Graham doesn't speak of only one potential accomplice of the hijackers, but says there is "compelling evidence" that "one or more foreign governments" facilitated the terrorists in some way.

Graham has been talking about the foreign state sponsors of the 9/11 plotters in plural terms since last December, when he told PBS's Gwen Ifill that he was "surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the terrorists in the United States." The brief notes appended to the blank 28 pages also speak in the plural, describing "sources of foreign support."

Both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been bruited about as the most likely sources. The accusers have got 28 blank pages of "evidence" what more do they need?

There is plenty of evidence pointing to some measure of foreign involvement in the events leading up to the 9/11 terror attacks, but none of it points to Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan. In December of 2001, Fox News reporter Carl Cameron, who did a four-part series exposing the enormity of Israel's spy apparatus in the U.S., flatly stated:

"There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that the Israelis may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance, and not shared it. A highly placed investigator said there are 'tie-ins.' But when asked for details, he flatly refused to describe them, saying, 'evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information.'"

Der Spiegel and the BBC reported on this, but the American media abruptly dropped the story, echoing the official government line that the whole thing was an "urban myth."

This story was pursued by Christopher Ketcham, in Salon, John Sugg, in Creative Loafing, and reported on extensively in Europe. A multi-agency task force report was leaked to the media, detailing and confirming Cameron's account. The idea that the Israelis had some knowledge of the attacks, or at least were familiar with the plotters, was elaborated on in a recent news story in Die Zeit. Based on French intelligence sources, the respected German weekly reports that the Mossad, Israel's spy agency, was tracking the hijackers 24/7. In "Next Door to Mohammed Atta," reporter Oliver Schrom avers:

"Everything indicates that the terrorists were constantly observed by the Israelis."

A report detailing various bits of information garnered from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies on the subject of foreign involvement in 9/11 is not unlikely to contain these allegations. The suspicion that such is the case is boosted by the curiously agnostic tone taken by the authors of the congressional report, who note that the information contained in the classifed section has "yet to be independently verified." The joint inquiry is also careful to take no position on whether foreign support for the hijackers was "knowing or inadvertent in nature." However, a CIA memorandum is rather tantalizingly cited, claiming "incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists [redacted]."

On the other hand, we're told, these could be "legitimate and innocent associations." But what associations, and with whom?

Everyone who knows anything about these mysterious redactions has kept remarkably tight-lipped about their content. Remarkable, that is, for Washington, D.C., where politically explosive secrets are hard to keep. It is impossible to believe that the Democrats, if they know something about Saudi state sponsorship of the 9/11 terrorists, couldn't find someone to "leak" the evidence if only to get the President for engaging in a cover-up. They're already talking about impeaching him because of a relatively obscure crime, rightly claiming he lied to the American people about Iraqi attempts to procure uranium in Niger. If, however, they could somehow prove Bush covered up foreign sponsorship of 9/11 now that would be real grounds for impeachment. This would turn Ann Coulter's charge that the Democrats are the Party of Treason back on the GOP, to deadly effect.

But none of that is happening. Instead, we are confronted with uncharacteristically discreet members of Congress who talk around specifics and almost universally agree that they see no reason why most of the redacted pages can't be un-redacted. The President, however, insists that national security is at stake, and that U.S. intelligence "sources and methods" would be compromised. In other words, he's telling us just what Carl Cameron's sources told him:

"Evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It's classified information."

The Saudis maintain that the controversy is designed to drive a wedge between the Kingdom and the U.S., but that may be just a secondary effect. If George W. Bush is the captive of Saudi interests, and is determined to shield them at all costs, his present course is accomplishing nothing of the sort.

Who benefits from this brouhaha? In America, it's the Saudi-phobic neocons, who want to take their war of "liberation" to the Arabian peninsula and dream of overthrowing the House of Saud, installing "democracy" a la Iraq. In the Middle East, however, the chief beneficiary is Osama bin Laden, who can now argue quite persuasively that Washington is embarked on a crusade against Islam.

Keeping the classified section of the report under wraps, yet constructing a myth around the alleged contents, would provide the perfect camouflage but for whom?

The American people are not usually prone to conspiracy theories, but those 28 blank pages seem to have transformed us into a mirror image of the Arab world, where conspiracism is the woof and warp of everyday discourse. In the absence of real knowledge, various competing conspiracy theories – usually reflecting the subjective hopes, wishes, and fears of the theorists – are certain to gain adherents, So let's look at our options:

On the one hand, we have 28 blank pages proffered as proof of a Saudi or Pakistani conspiracy against America. On the other hand, we have a large body of evidence not from wackos, but from mainstream news sources: that is, if you consider Fox News non-wacko – pointing to Israel's notoriously efficient spy agency trailing the hijackers around the country.

Of these dueling narratives, which deserves more credence: that the Saudis funneled money and other assistance directly to the hijackers, in a series of easily traceable transactions, leaving a clear trail from the hijackers' bank accounts to the House of Saud? Or that the Israelis kept the hijackers under constant surveillance, and knew more about the plot than they'll ever let us know?

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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