August 29, 2003
Greg Palast answers the question, "Was the Iraq War a Bush Cartel Effort to Divert Attention from Saudi Arabia, the Home and Chief Financier of bin Laden?"
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Why is Greg Palast the person whom we have most frequently interviewed on BuzzFlash.com?
Well, here’s a quote from today’s conversation:
Greg doesn't pull any punches!
Well, it’s become a topic of increasing speculation: Is the Bush Cartel war on Iraq a diversion from having the American press and people demand answers about the Saudi financial support of al-Qaeda – and the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th were Saudis, as well as bin Laden? Do the 28 Bush administration censored pages from the Congressional 9/11 report reveal a much broader Saudi royal family involvement in financing charities linked to terrorist groups? Why have so many connections between the Saudi family and terrorists – as well as the large number of Saudis in leadership position in terrorist groups been swept under the rug by the Bush administration?
All good questions indeed. They are particularly relevant as we post this interview with Palast, because the Saudi Foreign Minister is on a visit to America today. Who did he meet with first? Papa Bush yesterday. Who is he meeting with second? Dick Cheney today. You see the Saudi royal family knows who is REALLY running the American government. [LINK]
On July 29th, Prince Saud el-Faisal made an "emergency" visit to Bush the Junior to discuss the 28 censored pages allegedly concerning Saudi financing of charitable organizations that give money to terrorists. As Joe Conason commented on that Crawford ranch tete-a-tete [LINK]:
In the next two weeks, we will be posting an interview with Robert Baer, author of "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude." We will further explore the Bush Cartel’s cover-up of the Saudi connection to terrorism at that time –- and the inter-relationship between the Bush Cartel financial empire and the Saudis.
Interestingly enough, as we post this interview, the Pentagon has reported that most U.S. Forces have been withdrawn from Saudi Arabia. "The Pentagon has withdrawn most of its forces from the strategic Mideast nation of Saudi Arabia, ending a decade-long buildup started after the first war against Iraq's Saddam Hussein," according to an Associated Press story. [LINK]
What does this mean? As we discuss in the interview with Palast, it means that Bush has met one of bin Laden's key demands of the U.S. Was Iraq invaded, in part, to comply with bin Laden's demand and take the heat off of Saudi Arabia? After all, the Pentagon has said that the bases are no longer necessary because they will build ones in Iraq. Think about it. Was the invasion of Iraq a back-door cover-up for meeting one of Osama's key demands and seizing additional oil reserves for American and British companies? Think about it.
This is BuzzFlash’s sixth interview with Greg Palast.
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BUZZFLASH: You were the first to break the story about how the Bush administration helped members of the Saudi royal family evade questions from the United States by facilitating their rapid departure from this country after 9/11. And you’ve also followed up on the Saudi relationship with the Bush family, their relationship with terrorists, and how Saudi Arabia has basically managed to stay below the radar screen in terms of any involvement with 9/11 -– either on behalf of members of the family or the government. Given your background, what is your reaction to, and what do you think was in, the 28 pages from the Congressional report that the Bush administration would not allow to be released to the public?
First of all, I haven't been successful in exposing what happened. That is, I’ve only put out the reports of the Saudi connection to al-Qaeda at the top of the BBC Nightly News, going out worldwide. But it’s bounced off the electronic Berlin Wall of America. I first broadcast my investigative report for BBC on Nov. 9, 2001. In fact, I just did a new broadcast, an hour-long special for BBC this past month, which included the topic. You can unlock the women and children because you will not see it in America. You are safe in your homes. So I’ve been unable to overcome the disinformation campaign.
BUZZFLASH: But, you do have this material on your Web site, gregpalast.com.
PALAST: Yes, and more is coming. It’s in "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," the new U.S. edition. We have a document that kind of grew legs and walked out of the FBI’s Washington office, which indicates that FBI agents wanted to investigate two members of the bin Laden family in America for their association with what the FBI called a suspected terrorist organization. They weren't allowed to until Sept. 13, 2001 a kind of unfortunate delay, one might say.
Now, I should say, of course, that the FBI’s idea of a suspected terrorist organization probably includes BuzzFlash. On the other hand, let’s look at these guys that the FBI wanted to investigate -- the group’s called WAMY (World Assembly of Muslim Youth). The BBC has learned that one of their operatives was the conduit from delivering Osama bin Laden’s Valentine tapes to Al Jazerra TV. And this is a group that has recruited jihadists to take on the war against the infidels.
That’s just one of the connections. Now it gets a little bit deeper. It turns out that in 1999 and 2000, Bill Clinton sent two delegations to Saudi Arabia -- this I just reported on BBC -- quietly saying: Here’s a list of royal family members and others around the royals who are giving money to al-Qaeda fronts and people who are trying to kill us. Clinton said, "Knock it off."
Clinton basically got, you know, a fake Lewinsky from the Saudis, but no satisfaction. The Saudi’s response was to hire Vernon Jordan to keep Clinton at bay.
Bush W. comes in -- and the demands on the Saudis come to a dead halt. Further, Bush W. disbands the intelligence unit tracking the Saudi money connection to al-Qaeda. And third, and ugliest, is that Bush –- in particular, his ambassador Barbie Bodine -– pulled the visas of the FBI al-Qaeda investigation team in Yemen, so they’d have to go home. I mean, our own embassy pulled the visas of our own FBI investigators, headed by agent John O’Neill, who was in charge of al-Qaeda prosecutions for the Justice Department.
BUZZFLASH: And he’s become a sort of a revered figure who was trying to get the FBI and the Bush administration to be more aggressive against terrorists, and left the FBI in disgust and became head of Security at the World Trade Center, and ironically was killed in the attack.
PALAST: Yeah, and he had some unprintable words to say about Ambassador Bodine.
One thing I mentioned in the book I’ve learned more about since: In the title chapter of "Best Democracy Money Can Buy," I mention that there’s a meeting in Paris between Saudi billionaires, big-shot international arms dealers, and the al-Qaeda financial arm. This information we have from two very good sources -- one of the intelligence agencies of Europe and from someone who had sent a representative to the meeting.
In this meeting, the Saudis agreed to basically pay off al-Qaeda. It was kind of a shake-down operation of the sheiks. Osama was running his little John Gotti protection racket. "You give me money, I don't blow up your yachts in the Mediterranean; I stay out of Saudi Arabia."
The problem with this is that there was not enough follow up by US intelligence. Clinton started following up, but again, it died. Clinton first let it go. But once the embassies were attacked, he changed his mind and decided he had to go after al-Qaeda. But Bush was not interested. Now why? Why was the FBI agency not permitted to go after the bin Laden family in the U.S.? Why was there no aggressive follow-up in investigating those giving money to al-Qaeda in that meeting? Now again, they weren't giving it willingly, but money is money. You have to follow the money to know what’s happening. In this case, they used the money not only to create some bloody trouble in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, but some of the money was used for flying lessons in America for people who had no intention of landing.
Why weren't they under intense scrutiny? According to those who knew who was at the meeting, and records of the hotel in Paris, some names come up -– names such as Sheik Bahksh, who certainly isn't a household word in America, but is one very rich Saudi who also happens to be the guy whose money miraculously, mysteriously and out of the sky saved a Texas oil company called Harken, which was George W.’s company. We also, of course, know that there are many other connections between wealthy Saudis and the Bush family, and their retainers.
We know that Arbusto Oil was backed, for example, by James Bath, who was the sole financial representative of the bin Laden family in America at the time. In other words, directly or indirectly, the money for Arbusto came from the bin Laden family, in particular, Salim bin Laden who died in an air crash in Texas in 1988.
Much discussed, of course, is the Carlyle-bin Laden connection. Carlyle had both junior and senior Bush on its payroll. Senior Bush is still on its payroll. But there’s actually many more connections through Carlyle and the Saudis: Carlyle was used as an investment bank, even though it’s not an investment bank. It was used as an investment bank to buy a tenth of Citibank’s preferred stock for the Saudi royal family. And one suspects the only reason why someone would designate a company that is not an investment bank as an investment bank has to do with the tens of millions of dollars in fees for such a transaction, which are just kind of automatic.
Maybe the Saudis had the idea that they would like George Bush and James Baker, Frank Carlucci and the rest of that crew to suddenly have a few million showered upon them. The average partner of Carlyle has $25 million in equity. And the amount they put up, in most cases, is about zero. So it’s the ultimate money for nothing.
So we are left with the embarrassing fact that, at that 1996 meeting, the people that the intelligence agency should have been investigating were, of course, the same people who were investing in the Bush family enterprises.
The Bush family advisors expressed great discomfort with Bill Clinton’s intense effort to get Osama bin Laden -– you know, firing cruise missiles at his camp. As I mentioned, first Clinton hesitated, but after the embassy bombings, he decided that this bin Laden guy had to go. Here’s a good quote for you: Robert Oakley, who was the master of counter terrorism in the Reagan State Department, said, and I paraphrase, "The only major criticism I have in regard to Bill Clinton is his obsession with Osama."
So the Republicans and the Bush crew were very uncomfortable with Bill Clinton’s, you know, almost fanatic desire to get Osama bin Laden. And I guess that’s why we consider George Bush such a great heroic fighter of terrorism -– we’re not going after the guys who funded terrorism. Instead, we’re going after everyone named Ahmed in the Midwest. All the guys who are writing the checks are getting their pictures taken with the President, his arm around them, like they’re going to the prom together.
BUZZFLASH: What do you make of Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, who sent a check to one of the roommates of two of the terrorists? The U.S. just dismissed that as, "Oh, she had no knowledge of any potential connection, and wasn't funding terrorism," which she may not have been, but then again, she might have been.
PALAST: There are two different things there. One statement is the truth; one statement’s a lie. Did Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s wife know that the money she was giving to some berzerker in southern California would be used to take down the World Trade Center? I don't think so. That would certainly have knocked her off the cocktail party circuit. Does she know that she gave money to a berzerker who likes to knock down buildings? Yeah, absolutely, because the way that they work is they give money to fronts that they know are basically jihadist fronts, except that they may not realize, or they may prefer not to ask exactly where the next target is.
Another story I have in the book is about how our embassy, then in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, issued visas to characters that a lawyer there at the State Department tells me he knew were fake visas, given to guys who were going to study terrorism –- or what we call "counter-terrorism" in the U.S.A. –- and that they were working for Osama bin Laden.
BUZZFLASH: What years are you talking about?
PALAST: You asked the right question: What years? This is in the late ‘80s when Osama was our boy. One of the problems is that we bring these guys in. They learn the techniques of what we call counter-terrorism, which is terrorism. These guys then went back to Afghanistan. The idea was that they were going to fight the Russians. We forgot that sometimes Frankensteins turn around and devour their creators, as we saw with the Butcher of Baghdad.
One of my favorite lines of the war was Condoleezza Rice saying it was immoral to leave that butcher in Baghdad for the last 12 years. I’m thinking, wait a minute, lady –- he’s been there 24 years. The first 12 years when he was our butcher, where we got our chops. In fact, one of the other stories that I broke in the book, and for BBC, was that I do know that Saddam was trying to build an atomic bomb, because he got $7 billion from the Saudis to build an "Islamic" bomb.
BUZZFLASH: When was this? What time frame?
PALAST: Again, that’s the question. This was in the 1980s, before the "axis of evil," when Saddam was our butcher and he was fighting Iran, which, at that time, was the "epicenter of evil." Now he never completed his bomb program, and the money was moved over to that berzerker maniac killer-dictator, Musharraf of Pakistan. And we’re doing it again. We have cuddled up to Osama to get his help in Afghanistan. We cuddled up to Saddam to get his help against Iran. Now we cuddled up to Musharraf to buy his temporary affections against the Taliban, who, don't forget, he put into power in Afghanistan.
BUZZFLASH: By the way, are you saying "beserker"–B-E-S-E-R-K-E-R?
PALAST: Well, I tend to write B-E-R-Z-E-R-K-E-R–Berzerker.
BUZZFLASH: So it’s a Greg Palast word.
PALAST: No. "Berzerker" was coined by the Firesign Theatre. A term much needed today.
BUZZFLASH: OK. Given all that background, what do you speculate was in those 28 pages of documents censored by the White House that they would not allow Congress to reveal to the public, even though the Republican chair of the committee thought that they should be released?
PALAST: Well, I’m pretty clear, for example, that the organization that I identified, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which is based out of Riyadh, was mentioned. It’s the royal charity operation. Again, see, it’s really complex, which is why we get to the money from the Saudi ambassador’s wife.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think that was in the 28 pages?
PALAST: Her money? It’s not clear. We do know that it’s money to charities that would be at the heart of this discussion, because the charities are at the heart of the funding operation. So here’s the question: At what point did they know that the money for, say, World Assembly of Muslim Youth took jihadists to Bosnia? Their staff people carried tapes for Osama Bin Laden. They have propaganda films supporting suicide bombings and other acts of terror against civilian population. They run a recruiting and training camp for this in Florida. I’m not talking Uzbekistan. I’m talking Florida.
BUZZFLASH: Are they still running it?
PALAST: They’re still here. And they are not, by the way, on the list of prohibited terrorist organizations, despite complaints from many quarters and experts, and their odd history. On the other hand, some of their money really does go for things like supporting, for example, soccer leagues for 13-year-old Muslim kids.
BUZZFLASH: Well, isn't that true of many of the charities that were put on the list –- that they were sort of dual use charities?
PALAST: Yes, they are. In all cases, they are dual use.
BUZZFLASH: Hamas is a dual use organization.
PALAST: Hamas provides the example. Everything from bombs to Band-Aids, they are a full-service operation. That’s one of the issues, and it becomes one of the constant covers. Think about this: Look how quickly our government was able to come up with a list of fronts supporting terrorism. It was within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, which means that they had the list beforehand.
BUZZFLASH: So what’s your thinking behind why the Bush administration wouldn't release the 28 pages?
PALAST: It doesn't have a damn thing to do with protecting "intelligence"
BUZZFLASH: Shortly after the Congressional report was released, minus these 28 censored or formally known as redacted pages, Saudi Foreign Minister Saudal-Faisal came to Washington to meet with Bush and it seemed a bit of a stunt. The Prince came and claimed that the Saudi name was being besmirched and he was going to plead with Bush to release these pages. And after the meeting, Bush said no, we can't , we’re staying strong against the Saudi request, and we’re not going to release these papers because it would compromise national security. To BuzzFlash, this seemed like a total setup. The Saudis had no interest in having the papers released.
PALAST: Well, you know how open the Saudi government is with requisite information. I have a better idea for the Prince: Why doesn't he release their information on royal connections to funding of these terrorist fronts? Why don't we get the World Assembly of Muslim Youth files from them? The head of state in Saudi Arabia told WAMY that, "there is no such thing as terrorism in defense of religion." What is the signal there? So I’d like to know what information they have. We do know, for example, that a defector from the Saudi diplomatic corps came over with literally thousands of pages of documentation which the FBI refuses to even look at because they did not want to disturb our Saudi brothers. So why doesn't Saudi Arabia release its records of who’s connected to such terrorist so-called charity fronts like Muwafaq ("Blessed Relief")? I don't need the Saudis to tell us to open our records. I need the Saudis to open their records.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think it was a serious request, or that the White House basically had the State Department negotiate in advance the Saudis would request this, knowing that Bush was going to say no?
PALAST: I would say that the only people who would buy the scheme that the Saudis want information released about their connections to terrorism just fell off a watermelon truck. As far as I’m concerned, let’s open up the file cabinets at the Saudi embassy and let’s start opening up where the money for WAMY goes, from Muwafaq and for the International Islamic Relief Organization. We also have one of the perpetrators of the Khobar Towers bombing [Saudi Arabia, 1996], rotting in a Saudi prison, who Bill Clinton, at the request of his dear friend Vernon Jordan, extradited to Saudi Arabia. He’s a huge source of information on al-Qaeda operations. Let’s bring him back for questioning. Let’s bring over some of the characters who are sitting in Saudi Arabia that our Congressmen need for questioning.
Now other than the grandstanding bullshit –- and don't forget that the 28 pages that are themselves redacted are sanitized and wink-and-nod stuff -- the guy to look for who is slowly dripping out little tidbits of info is Bob Graham of Florida. His words are almost exactly the same as Cynthia McKinney’s when she was derided as a nut case for accusing George Bush of knowing about Sept. 11 attack in advance. That’s not what she said. She said he had a lot of information about money going to terrorists in advance and ignored it, and he impeded the actions of our security agencies, and she thought it ought to be investigated.
Well, Bob Graham has said almost exactly Cynthia McKinney’s words, but his last name is Graham, which happens to be the same family that owns the Washington Post, so he’s not a lunatic. He’s allowed to say these things. Watch Bob Graham very carefully. Graham is a conservative Democrat, but he is fighting mad about the cover-up.
BUZZFLASH: Well, isn't he limited as to what he can say? Because otherwise the Bush administration would say he violated national security?
PALAST: You got it. That’s a big problem he’s facing, which is why he turns purple when you mention this issue –- because he’s constrained from saying what he really knows. But he gives a number of hints. In addition, some unhappy Republicans are holding hearings. And they’re saying we don't know what’s in those 28 pages, but we’re holding hearings on such organizations as WAMY. Basically a lot of those people know what’s in those pages, and they’re holding hearings on the matters in those pages.
BUZZFLASH: Okay, so we don't know exactly what’s in there, but there are enough hints. And what you have basically said in your body of work, if we could summarize it here in terms of implications, and what Graham seems to be implying at point, is that the Bush administration has made decisions that ultimately are potentially to the detriment of America’s security, for reasons having more to do with the interests of the Bush family than with the safety of America.
PALAST: There’s no question that they made dumb-ass decisions. No question that these decisions benefited and protected the Bush family from political embarrassment, and, of course, helped them maintain their continuing pipeline of cash into their businesses and financial coffers. What we can't say is: Was there a quid pro quo absolute connection? Did money from Sheik Abdullah Bakhsh to Harken Oil block or create a problem for intelligence agencies trying to investigate?
BUZZFLASH: I recently read a commentary that brought up the speculation that you’re making right now –- that the Bush family may be more worried about what the Saudis could reveal about them than what they can reveal about the Saudis, and that, in away, there’s a quid pro quo here. The Bush administration won't make the public really aware of the Saudis’ relationship to terrorism through financing and the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and it was basically an operation by Saudis.
PALAST: --funded by Saudis. That’s very important, because don't forget our President said in his speech in March that when we go into Iraq, we are going there because Saddam Hussein has harbored, trained and funded terrorists, including those connected to al-Qaeda. If we are going to attack a nation and occupy it because of a connection to al-Qaeda, which never appeared, then what are we doing with Saudi Arabia? They are effectively occupying us financially. We have become a financial colony of the petro-fanatics.
BUZZFLASH: In the lead-up to Iraq, the Bush administration, primarily through spokespeople, went out of its way to divert attention from the Saudi relationship and to project it on Iraq by claiming Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda. The majority of Americans thought and perhaps still think that the majority of hijackers were Iraqi. And on top of that, [Paul] Wolfowitz, about a month ago or so, admitted in an interview that one of the reasons practically for declaring the war with Iraq a success was it would allow the U.S. to move its Air Force stations from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, which was one of the two main requests of--
PALAST: --Mr. bin Laden.
BUZZFLASH: Mr. bin Laden. So Wolfowitz basically conceded that we conducted a war in part to make a concession to Osama bin Laden and take the heat off of the Saudi Arabia.
PALAST: One of the most stunning things is that while our President did his little Top-Gun, Tom-Cruise number, landing on the ship and running around in that flight suit with his parachute clips around his crotch so he looked like the first chimp in space, at the same time he’s announcing we’re pulling our troops out of Saudi Arabia. And this is stunning – - America doesn't pull its troops out of anywhere. The people of Okinawa have been asking us to leave there for a half a century. World War II is over. We never, ever leave a nation.
The only time we have done it in American history is at the request of Osama bin Laden. In other words, our President got down on his knees and said: Oh, dear Osama, we will do whatever the hell you want.
There is a problem with bargaining with terrorists in that manner. The President can run around in a chimp space suit all he wants, but when he gave into terrorist demands, their answer was pretty clear. They bombed Riyadh a week later. And the reason they did that is that Bush tried to bargain with them indirectly a little bit. Bush said we’re pulling out all our troops, but we’re leaving 500 U.S. specialized troops in Saudi Arabia. And in effect, these 500 troops becomes a Praetorian Guard to protect the royal family.
BUZZFLASH: And so you’re saying the bombing was basically al-Qaeda saying, no, it’s all out.
PALAST: Yeah, they’re saying "that ain't the deal, George." You start bargaining with terrorists, and their method of negotiation is to blow people to pieces. And this is why you don't do it. This is the problem of having a draft dodger as Commander in Chief. Bill Clinton didn't dodge the draft; he didn't want to go and he didn't sign up. George W. used his daddy to get out of the draft. So the problem with chickenhawks is that they like to pretend at war, but they don't have the guts to carry it out. And Bill Clinton was ready to go -– he basically declared war on Osama Bin Laden. And Bush had failed to do that. That’s a real serious business.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy." Subscribe to his writings for Britain's Observer and Guardian newspapers, and view his investigative reports for BBC Television's Newsnight, at www.GregPalast.com.
otherwise noted, all original