Column: Did 9/11 terrorists get outside help?

Published April 17 2015
Updated April 17 2015

This is the essential unanswered question remaining from 9/11: While the hijackers were inside the United States, did they act alone or did others facilitate them?

The official position of the United States government is that the 19 hijackers acted without assistance.

Virtually all of those who have led inquiries into the events surrounding 9/11 agree that it is implausible that the 19 hijackers — most of whom spoke no English and had never before been in the United States — could have planned and practiced their murderous acts in anonymity for more than 21 months without assistance from persons knowledgeable of American culture and mores.

When I raised the prospects of external support for the hijackers, a high-level U.S. law enforcement official told me to forget it. The government completed a full investigation years ago, there was nothing left to discover, and it was time to move on, he said.

I disagree.

The relatively little information released so far to the American people about the 9/11 hijackers' life in the United States suggests there was a yearlong relationship among a Saudi, described by the FBI as an agent of the kingdom; a consular official, who was deported from the United States in 2003 based on ties to terrorists; two of the hijackers who lived in San Diego at the invitation of the Saudi agent; and the hijackers' landlord, who was also a paid informant of the FBI.

Closer to home, sources involved in the investigation of a prominent Saudi family who lived in Sarasota for six years before the attacks determined that there were many connections between the Saudi family and hijackers who were in flight training in Venice. The family left their home under urgent conditions less than two weeks before 9/11, raising the suspicion they were tipped off to what was about to happen.

Details of these two instances and the totality of other post-9/11 probes in communities where the hijackers lived, such as Palm Beach County, have been withheld. In July 2003, a censored version of the congressional inquiry that I co-chaired was released. Withheld in its entirety was a 28-page chapter primarily focused on who financed the hijackers.

As important as history is, there are reasons beyond setting the record right that demand a more inclusive, transparent release of information.

One is justice for the families who suffered a grievous loss of loved ones on 9/11. With the support of the United States government, Saudi Arabia is seeking to dismiss the families' claims for justice by citing sovereign immunity. Information in the still-secret 28 pages could substantially buttress the plaintiffs' case that Saudi Arabia was a co-conspirator and not deserving of the defense that "the king can do no wrong."

Our national security has been and continues to be undermined. The Saudis know what they did. The Saudis also know the United States, at least at the highest levels, knows what the kingdom did. How has this been deciphered in Riyadh?

Protection from culpability in the most heinous attack on the homeland of the United States since Pearl Harbor makes it reasonable for the kingdom to assume it can act with impunity. Free of sanctions, the Saudis continue to promote Wahhabism, the extreme sect of Islam that promotes violence, denigrates non-Muslims as infidels and oppresses women. Saudi Arabia was the home of al-Qaida and was instrumental in the creation of ISIS.

These are the poisonous fruits that have grown from our refusal to sanction the kingdom for what it did.

What can you do?

In the U.S. House of Representatives a resolution has been introduced asking the president to release the 28 pages. Call, write or email your representative to take advantage of the congressional privilege to read the 28 pages and if convinced there is no basis for withholding this evidence from the American people to become a co-sponsor of the resolution.

The FBI has continued to fight every effort to get to the truth in Sarasota. Call, write or email U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and demand that he instruct the FBI to let the people know the truth.

Most important, the president has the ultimate authority to declassify 9/11 information. Call, write or email the White House urging that he do so.

This is not a responsibility for someone else to shoulder. We are all entitled to know what our government has done in our name. As citizens we all have a right to petition our government to secure truth, justice and security. Please act now.

Bob Graham, a Democrat, was governor from 1979 to 1987 and represented the state as a U.S. senator from 1987 to 2005. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001 to 2003. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

 
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