Politics & Policy

Show Me The Money

The 9/11 Commission and Saudi Arabia.

The final report of the 9/11 Commission contains many useful recommendations, but on at least one score it is critically deficient. In its study, the Commission fails to identify the major sources of financing for the al Qaeda organization.

Instead, the report claims that “there is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11.” In doing so, it ignores volumes of information provided by U.S. government officials to Congress, as well as numerous published reports and investigations by foreign nations, regarding Muslim and Arab regimes that have supported al Qaeda either financially or in kind.

Moreover, the commission’s statement actually removes responsibility from countries such as Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen–to name just a few.

Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen are not democratic countries in which al Qaeda’s activities, such as fundraising, recruitment, and training, could have gone unnoticed or unrestricted. All are totalitarian police states that–as documented evidence has shown–have actively been supporting al Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission says that, in Saudi Arabia, “charitable giving…until recently [was] subject to very limited oversight.”

Not necessarily. Back in 1994, a royal decree banned “the collection of money in Saudi Arabia for charitable causes without official permission.” At that time, King Fahd set up a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, headed by his brother Prince Sultan, to control the charity financing and look into ways of distributing donations to eligible Muslim groups.

Clearly, however, that royal decree was not implemented: A new Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad was established in June 2004 to belatedly oversee all Saudi contributions supporting charitable donations abroad. It remains to be seen how effective this new commission will be.

Another disturbing conclusion of the 9/11 Commission is that although “Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al-Qaeda funding…we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al-Qaeda.”

This statement not only exonerates the totalitarian regime in Riyadh–which continues to control all charities and donations in the kingdom–but worse, contradicts volumes of documents accumulated by several U.S. government agencies–apparently not the intelligence services’–attesting to the Saudi government’s sponsorship and control of charitable organizations that funded al Qaeda and other Islamist militants.

Examples abound, including: Prince Turki al Faisal–the former longtime head of Saudi intelligence, and current ambassador to London–who reportedly gave Osama bin Laden $200 million in 1998 to move to Afghanistan and negotiated on his behalf with the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar Mohammad; and Interior Minister Prince Naif, who oversaw and sponsored “most of the major [Saudi] charities,” according to David Aufhauser, a former general counsel of the Treasury Department.

The 9/11 Commission’s findings also make a mockery of the testimonies of government officials like Aufhauser, who have testified under oath before Congress that “Saudi Arabia has been an ‘epicenter’ of terrorist financing.” It also calls into question the very terrorist lists of the Treasury and State Departments, which have catalogued the Saudi government’s decades of support for bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and other militant Wahhabi organizations.

The 9/11 Commission report could also have hazardous consequences: Many Saudis could bring lawsuits against the United States government for “falsely” putting them on its terrorist list and demand billions in compensation. Moreover, this would make all the 9/11 lawsuits, in which the Saudis are major defendants, irrelevant.

The commission, again relying on the information provided to them by U.S. intelligence services, further finds “no persuasive evidence…that al-Qaeda relied on the drug trade as an important source of revenue.” It may have not “relied” on the drug trade, but it certainly used it as a major source of revenue.

Just a few examples: In October 2001, then-DEA administrator Asa Hutchison, testifying before Congress, said: “The relationship between the Taliban and bin Laden is believed to have flourished in large part due to the Taliban’s substantial reliance on the opium trade as a source of organizational revenue.”

In November 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in Hong Kong the arrest of three al Qaeda operatives who offered 600 kilograms of heroin valued at least $240 million on the street, and an additional five metric tons of hashish, in exchange for four Stinger shoulder anti-aircraft missiles.

In May 2003, Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security, stated, “al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan raised and distributed opium to support their operations.” He further emphasized, “The war on drugs is a critical component of an effective counterterrorism strategy.”

Saudi oil is certainly important for the U.S. economy, and the stability of the regime in Saudi Arabia can ensure that the oil continues to flow. But whitewashing Saudi Arabia’s culpability in breeding and sustaining the Islamist monster, including al Qaeda, threatens the national security of the United States and the lives of millions around the world. It might even mean losing the war.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It, is director of the American Center for Democracy, and a member of the Committee On The Present Danger.

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