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CHAPTER ELEVEN:  A House Divided

Lucrative as the House of Bush's relationship was with the Saudis through Carlyle, it did not come without a price. After all, the ruling Saudis were still the custodians of Wahhabi Islam, and now its most militant adherents, led by Osama bin Laden, were on the warpath. At precisely 11:30 a.m. on November 13, 1995, just before the midday call to prayers in Riyadh, a car bomb exploded outside the offices housing the Military Cooperation Program, a nondescript structure just off Thirty Street, which has been described as Riyadh's answer to Rodeo Drive. [1] The explosion killed seven people -- five of them Americans -- and wounded sixty others, among them several American advisers with Vinnell, the mysterious military consulting firm that trained the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG). The rather anonymous-looking building was staffed in part by nonuniformed Americans and its offices were shared by SANG and Vinnell.

As the Bush secretary of defense during Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-91), Cheney also directed special operations involving Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. The Kurds' primary source of income for more than 50 years has been heroin smuggling from Afghanistan and Pakistan through Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Having had some personal experience with Brown and Root, I took note when the Los Angeles Times observed that on March 22, 1991, a group of gunmen burst into the Ankara, Turkey, offices of the joint venture, Vinnell, Brown and Root and assassinated retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant John Gandy.

-- "Connecting Drugs and Oil," from "Crossing the Rubicon," by Michael C. Ruppert

The bombing could not definitively be pinned on bin Laden, but his fingerprints were everywhere. The techniques behind it -- a powerful car bomb with smaller antipersonnel devices, the types of fuses and explosives -- were identical to those used in his terrorist training camps in Sudan and in Pakistan. [2] Bin Laden himself described the attack as "praiseworthy terrorism." [3] Several militant Islamic fundamentalist groups -- apparently using bogus names -- claimed credit for it and cited him as their major influence.

In striking their most serious blow against the House of Saud since the Mecca Affair in 1979, militant Islamists had hit a target of extraordinary symbolic value -- an American-staffed, private military facility at the heart of the supposedly impregnable al- Saud family, a building that represented the ties between the House of Saud and its mighty American defenders. And in addition, knowingly or not, the bombers had attacked a company linked to George H. W. Bush and James Baker, who had sent the infidel Americans to Saudi Arabia in the first place.

In response to a terrorist attack so pregnant with meaning, both the House of Saud and the House of Bush took the same course of action:  they acted as if it had no significance whatsoever. Prince Bandar categorically declared that Saudi "dissidents did not cause the car bombing." [4] Later, he explained, "Islamic radicals are very, very small and looked upon in this country as outcasts. ... Islamic extremists are not a threat to the stability of the country." [5] Likewise al-Hayah, a Saudi publication owned by another son of Prince Sultan, Khalid bin Sultan, and something of a mouthpiece for the defense minister, asserted,  "No one believes that the blast has internal connotations." [6]

The House of Bush took the same tack. In an appearance on CBS's This Morning, James Baker blandly told newscaster Paula Zahn, "You see a lot of terrorism in that part of the world, but very little of it in Saudi Arabia. ... We'll just have to wait and see who's responsible." [7]  Baker was interviewed because of his weighty experience in the Middle East. But strikingly, in his CBS appearance, he was not identified as a partner in Carlyle, which owned Vinnell's parent company, BDM.  Nor did he acknowledge that he had any relationship whatsoever to the company that had been bombed. Likewise, Carlyle itself refrained from issuing a statement or an expression of condolences to the families of the victims, even though several of Vinnell's employees had been wounded in the attack. [8] Carlyle's companies had billions of dollars in business with the Saudis. Its interests were best served by keeping a low profile. Discretion was the order of the day.


The Clinton administration, however, did not have the luxury of ignoring the Riyadh bombing. For nearly two decades, America had quietly served as the military guardian of Wahhabi Islam. But how could that protection continue now that the more militant neo Wahhabis had declared war on America?

In fact, the Clinton administration's fight against terrorism had actually begun even before the Riyadh bombing. In June 1995, Clinton signed a presidential directive reorganizing the management of federal agencies in the event of a terrorist attack. [9] In October, he ordered the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and State, the CIA, and the National Security Council to integrate their efforts against money laundering for terrorists. [10] And immediately after the attack in Riyadh, President Clinton sent a dozen FBI agents to Saudi Arabia and insisted on being informed of the investigation into "this hideous act." [11]

Initially, Clinton counterterrorism officials naively saw bin Laden as merely a financier of terror. [12] "At first we thought that by watching him we would find out who the real bad guys were, because they would be coming to him for money," says Steven Simon, the senior director for transnational threats on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. [13]

But the attacks escalated. Just six days after the Riyadh bombing, on November 19, 1995, the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan was bombed, killing sixteen people and wounding sixty. [14] The bombing was said to have been the handiwork of bin Laden's Egyptian colleague Ayman al-Zawahiri. A year earlier, Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto had extradited Ramzi Yousef, a conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and more than a dozen Egyptian militants, to the United States and Egypt respectively. [15] Authorities believe that Bhutto's campaign against terrorism was the motive behind the bombing.

On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb with five thousand pounds of explosives rocked the Khobar Towers military housing complex in Dharhan, Saudi Arabia, killing dozens of people, including nineteen American soldiers, and wounding more than five hundred others.  The blast left a crater thirty-five feet deep and eighty-five feet across.  Again, bin Laden was suspected. [16] [i]

Soon the Clinton administration realized that bin Laden had radically redefined the way terrorism worked. He was not just underwriting bombings, he was also running huge training camps for terrorists and had set up a network to finance them. With his Al Qaeda operatives, he could ship massive quantities of arms across international borders and use suicide bombers to engage in sophisticated feats of asymmetrical warfare. He was even trying to obtain materials for nuclear weapons and to develop chemical arms. [17] Moreover, he and his network embodied a new, transnational entity, an Islamic fundamentalist army that was state-free. With bin Laden in the saddle, no longer were terrorists dependent on state sponsors. In Sudan, and later in Afghanistan, it was he who helped out the government financially not the other way around.

As a result, the administration's approach to fighting terrorism changed dramatically. "Clinton immediately understood the transnational nature of terrorism," says Will Wechsler, who served as director for transnational threats on Clinton's National Security Council. [18]  The CIA, which heretofore had focused solely on a country-by-country approach to terrorism, created its first "virtual" station, the UBL [ii] station, targeting Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. [19] Richard Clarke, a career civil servant with a rare facility for navigating difficult bureaucracies, was appointed chairman of the Coordinating Sub-group (CSG) to centralize control of various interagency groups -- in effect becoming the nation's first counterterrorism czar. National Security Council "threat" meetings were held three times a week.  Clinton put billions into stockpiling antidotes and vaccines against a possible bioterrorism attack.

In early 1996, the Clinton administration pulled the U.S. embassy staff out of Sudan and urged all other Americans to leave the country.  It demanded that the Sudanese turn over information on bin Laden's finances, give it access to terrorist training camps, and that the Sudanese expel bin Laden. Conservative critics often attack the Clinton administration for missing an opportunity to capture bin Laden when the Sudanese allegedly offered to turn the terrorist over to the United States in March 1996. But in fact, the Sudanese had offered to send him back to Saudi Arabia, not to the United States. However, as Daniel  Benjamin and Steven Simon, both of whom served on Clinton's National Security Council, report in The Age of Sacred Terror, there was absolutely no likelihood that the Saudis would take him. "Riyadh had stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 for a reason. It would do everything it could to keep him out of the kingdom, where he would have become a magnet for opponents of the monarch. As the scion of one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest clans, bin Laden was untouchable. U.S. officials approached the Saudis, but were turned down cold. ... The issue came up again several times over the next few years, but the kingdom's aversion to taking custody of bin Laden remained a stumbling block." [20] Bin Laden ended up leaving Sudan in 1996 for Afghanistan, where the Taliban served as his host.


But Clinton was up against more than just Osama bin Laden. At times, partisan resistance from Republicans and Saudi Arabia's lack of cooperation thwarted crucial counterterrorism measures. An early example was the administration's bill to bar foreign countries and banks from U.S. financial markets unless they cooperated with investigations into money laundering. The legislation was bitterly opposed by the banking industry, which objected to the new constraints it would impose on financial institutions, and as a result it was killed by the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas, who called the counterterrorism efforts "totalitarian." [21] The right-wing Gramm added that he killed the bill because he was a "civil libertarian," a label that was wildly incongruous with his political history.

Worse, Clinton never had the warm relationship with the Saudis that Bush enjoyed, especially once he began pressuring them to clamp down on terrorism. [22] [iii] Wary of having a visible American presence on the streets of Riyadh after the November 1995 bombing, the Saudis conducted their investigation behind closed doors. Five months later, they announced that four suspects had been arrested. But before American authorities could interrogate them, the Saudis beheaded the four men. [23]

After the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, repeatedly met with Prince Bandar to press for better Saudi cooperation with the FBI. [24] But the Saudis still refused to allow the FBI access to the suspects or relevant materials and tried to blame Iran for the bombing. Berger got nowhere. According to Benjamin and Simon, Bandar's unending evasions were so frustrating that Berger described them as "Groundhog Day" rituals, a reference to  the Bill Murray movie in which one day repeats itself endlessly.

At the same time Prince Bandar was stalling Berger, however, he had secretly established a back channel to FBI director Louis Freeh. A 1993 Clinton appointee, Freeh had never enjoyed a good relationship with the White House, partly because of the bureau's disastrous failure in counterterrorism. [25] According to Benjamin and Simon, Bandar eagerly exploited Freeh's well-known antipathy toward Clinton to "undercut U.S. efforts to pursue the investigation. " [26]

Notwithstanding Berger's repeated efforts to get Saudi help, Bandar told Freeh again and again that the White House had absolutely no interest in the investigation whatsoever. But President Clinton kept after the Saudis. When he met with Saudi crown prince Abdullah in 1998, [iv] Clinton warned Abdullah that Saudi American relations would suffer if the Saudis did not cooperate on the Khobar Towers investigation. [27] Nevertheless, Bandar continued to tell Freeh that he was the only one in Washington who cared about the Americans who had died in Khobar Towers.

In response, Freeh did something highly irregular. He reached out to former president Bush, knowing full well how Bush was revered by  the Saudis, and asked Bush to be his secret emissary to get the Saudis to cooperate with the investigation. [28] Later, Bandar invited Freeh to his estate in northern Virginia and told him the FBI would be allowed to watch through a one- way mirror while Saudis interrogated the suspects. According to Elsa Walsh of the New Yorker, Freeh credited this sudden breakthrough not to the Clinton administration's efforts, but to former president George H. W. Bush. [29]

Whether it was Bush's phone call or pressure from Clinton that actually triggered the Saudi cooperation is not entirely clear. But one thing was certain: the House of Saud preferred Bush, not Clinton, in part because the Democratic administration was violating the unwritten rule about Saudi-American relations; Don't ask any questions about what really goes on in Saudi Arabia. [30]


As subsequent events and revelations have made clear, the Saudis had reason to fear the inquiries of the Clinton administration. There was a lot to hide. In the eighties, the House of Saud had encouraged donations to charities that funneled tens of millions of dollars to bin Laden's Afghan Arabs during the Afghanistan War. But over the years, as Al Qaeda evolved from Afghan Arab freedom fighters into sophisticated anti-American terrorists, Osama bin Laden had effectively hijacked countless millions to fund terrorism. As a report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations later put it, "These widely  unregulated, seldom audited, and generally undocumented practices have allowed unscrupulous actors such as al-Qaeda to access huge sums of money over the years." [31]

The funds regularly flowed through Saudi Arabia's biggest bank, Khalid bin Mahfouz's National Commercial Bank. According to court documents filed in a $1-trillion lawsuit by more than four thousand relatives of the victims of 9/11 against hundreds of wealthy Saudis and others who had allegedly aided bin Laden, "A bank audit of NCB in 1998 showed that over a ten year period, $74 million was funneled by its Zakat Committee to the International Islamic Relief Organization, a Muslim charity headed by Osama bin Laden's brother in law." [32] Congressional testimony by Vincent Cannistraro, former chief of operations for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, which was also cited in the court case, adds that much of "the money is paid as 'protection' to avoid having the enterprises run by these men attacked" by Al Qaeda terrorists. [33] Money transfers through NCB were allegedly used to finance a number of bin Laden's terrorist acts, including the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 1995. [34] Mubarak was constantly at war with Islamic militants in his own country and in Sudan.

The National Commercial Bank was not the only institution tied to the bin Mahfouz family alleged to have aided terrorist funding. In 1991, Khalid bin Mahfouz had created the Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, hoping, according to a spokesman, "to establish an endowment like the Rockefeller Foundation to give grants for disaster relief, education, and health." [35] His son, Abdulrahman bin Mahfouz, had become a director of it. However, the U.S. Treasury Department later concluded that Muwafaq transferred "millions of dollars from wealthy Saudi businessmen to bin Laden." [36] [v]

Even though the bin Laden family claimed to have cut off ties with their errant terrorist sibling, that was not clearly the case for the entire extended family. According to Carmen bin Laden, an estranged sister-in-law of Osama's, several members of the family may have continued to give money to Osama. [37] At least one member of the family, Osama's brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, was a central figure in Al Qaeda and was widely reported to be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and was alleged to have funded a Philippine terrorist group.

Two other relatives were key figures in a charitable foundation linked to Osama. The American branch of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) was directed by Abdullah bin Laden, who lived in Falls Church, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. His brother Omar bin Laden was also on WAMY's board. WAMY members have denied that the organization has been involved in terrorist activities.  But the charity, which published writings by Islamic scholar Sayyid  Qutb, one of bin Laden's intellectual influences, was cited by Indian officials and the Philippine military for funding terrorism in Kashmir and the Philippines. "WAMY was involved in terrorist support activity," says a security official who served under George W. Bush.  "There's no doubt about it." [38] FBI documents marked "Secret" and coded "199," indicating a national security case, show that Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden were under investigation by the FBI for nine months in 1996 and that the file was reopened on September 19, 2001, eight days after the 9/11 attacks. [39] 

Then there was the Saudi royal family itself. According to court documents in the 9/11 families' lawsuit, after the Gulf War in 1991, Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan, the father of Prince Bandar, supported and funded several Islamic charities, including the International Islamic Relief Organization, that allegedly provided funds to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda totaling at least $6 million. [40] Sultan's attorneys acknowledge that for sixteen consecutive years he approved annual payments of about $266,000 to the International Islamic Relief Organization, a Saudi charity whose U.S. offices were raided by federal agents. [41] [vi]

Finally, there was Prince Bandar. Saudi royalty, including Bandar and his wife, frequently came to the aid of Saudis who had financial trouble when they were abroad. As first reported by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, in 1998 when Osama Basnan, a Saudi living in California, pleaded for financial assistance from the Saudi embassy in Washington because his wife was suffering from a thyroid condition, Prince Bandar wrote a check for $15,000. In addition, his wife, Princess Haifa bint Faisal, began sending the couple a stipend of roughly $2,000 a month. [42]  According to the Baltimore Sun, over a four-year period the sum given by Bandar and his wife came to roughly $130,000. [43] As it turned out, Basnan was said to be an Al Qaeda sympathizer and signed the money over to another Saudi who had moved to the United States, Omar al-Bayoumi. Al- Bayoumi also had Al Qaeda connections -- and he had other things in mind for Bandar's funds. In turn, al-Bayoumi  subsidized two other newly arrived Saudis, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almidhar, two of the men who helped hijack American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon in the September 11 plot.  What had happened was undeniable: Funds from Prince Bandar's wife had indirectly ended up in the hands of the hijackers.

In all these instances, the Saudi royals and the Saudi merchant elite argue, sometimes persuasively, that they did not knowingly aid terrorists or their sympathizers. Given Osama bin Laden's hatred of the royal family and their wealthy merchant allies, it would be counterintuitive to think they would do so. "Who do you think Osama bin Laden really wants to destroy most?" argues Saudi oil analyst Nawaf  Obaid. "It's the royal family and billionaires like bin Mahfouz. It's laughable to think that they would intentionally aid bin Laden." [44]

"People say we pay [Al Qaeda] off, but that's simply not the case," adds Nail al-Jubeir, a spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C. "Why would we support people who want to overthrow our own government?" [45] The problem, al- Jubeir explains, was in not having tough regulatory measures to govern the flow of money through these charities, a task that was especially difficult as money circulated through international channels. It was, he adds, essentially a case of innocent contributions gone wrong.

It should certainly be said that the allegations against the Saudi merchant elite and various members of the House of Saud are precisely that -- allegations. Charges that many of them knowingly facilitated the transfer of funds to terrorists have been brought in court and have not been proven.

In fact, in November 2003, the suits against Prince Turki and Prince Sultan were thrown out when U.S. District Court judge James Robertson ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to suggest that the Saudi princes had intentionally funded 9/11. "Plaintiff's allegations that Prince Turki or Prince Sultan funded those who carried out the September 11th attacks would stretch the causation requirement ... not only to the farthest reaches of the common law but perhaps beyond, to terra incognita," Robertson wrote. [46]

"My own view is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," says Will Wechsler. But, he adds, "The search for the sin of commission makes people overlook the vast sin of omission, which is definitely true. These guys did not pay any serious attention to this issue. They did not give us all the cooperation we needed. There was no real political will to stop this. That's clear." [47]

In fact, whenever the United States tried to investigate these charitable donations or looked at financial institutions such as the  National Commercial Bank, the House of Saud performed a well-rehearsed rendition of Captain Renault in Casablanca proclaiming himself "Shocked! Shocked!" that funds were flowing to terrorists.  According to counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, when U.S. counterterrorism officials tried to trace terrorist funding through Islamic charities, the Saudis inevitably came back with one of two answers.  "They said we need more information from you, or that they had looked and hadn't found anything. " [48]

Clarke suggests that the lack of cooperation from the Saudis occurs because they have responded to Al Qaeda in different ways.  Some actively support the terrorists while some cooperate with Al Qaeda in the hope that the group will leave them alone. Others merely resent American interference in what they see as their own domestic issues. "Some of them were clearly sympathetic to Al Qaeda," Clarke says. [49]

But the larger point is that the complex, impenetrable, and unregulated system of Islamic charities actually enabled the House of Saud to have it both ways. Through their generous charitable donations, they could both establish their bona fides as good Muslims and even buy "protection" from militants. And thanks to the unregulated nature of the charities, they could do so in a way that gave them plausible deniability to the West.

In addition, many things suggest that the House of Saud was not nearly so naive as it professed to be. Despite its pronouncement that the 1995 Riyadh attack was not the work of dissidents, the Saudis clearly knew better. Privately, Minister of Intelligence Prince Turki had even told Egyptian authorities that bin Laden's Afghan Arabs were behind the attack, probably with the help of accomplices who had infiltrated the Saudi National Guard. [50]

In fact, a few days after the bombing, threatening letters had been faxed to the private fax numbers of several high-level Saudi officials, including Prince Turki and Interior Minister Prince Nayef. [51] The implications were staggering. The fax numbers were for the exclusive use of the highest-ranking members of the royal family. The National Guard's sole mission was to protect the House of Saud. Terrorists had penetrated the House of Saud's last line of defense -- and the royal family clearly knew it. Moreover, there were thousands of princes in the family, and many of them were said to be privately delighted by the bombings: "A lot of the royal princes remained sympathetic to bin Laden, even after his citizenship was stripped," says Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer in the Middle East and the author of Sleeping with The Devil. "Quite a few of the junior princes hate the U.S." [52]

Some of the senior royalty may have felt the same way. According to Yossef Bodansky's Bin Laden; The Man Who Declared War on America, it was widely speculated that no less a figure than Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the powerful governor of Riyadh, had advance knowledge of the 1995 bombing and allowed it to take place to solidify his political position. A brother of King Fahd and Prince Sultan's, and a member of the Sudairi Seven, Prince Salman may have hoped to use the growing Islamist violence and his putative ability to control it to advance his fortunes -- perhaps even all the way to the throne. [53] 

When it came to dealing with the West, of course, the House of Saud revealed none of this internecine complexity, preferring to project the image of a stable monarchy that ruled a patriotic populace that honored its legitimacy and authority. Despite pressure from Clinton, in the end the Saudis simply declined to press any charges whatsoever against bin Laden for the 1995 Riyadh bombing and the Khobar Towers bombing on 1996. On November 5, 1998, Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz said, "It has been reported that the two explosions in Riyadh and Khobar were planned by Osama bin Laden. This is not true."

Nayef went further, asserting, with astonishing logic, that because the kingdom had revoked his citizenship, bin Laden was no longer a Saudi and therefore the Saudis no longer had any interest in the activities masterminded by the world's most wanted terrorist. "He does not constitute any security problem to us and has no activity in the kingdom," said Nayef. "Regarding his external activity, we are not concerned because he is not a Saudi citizen." The House of Saud failed to have bin Laden extradited from Afghanistan, where he was a guest of the Taliban, and declined to prosecute him legally. [54]

And so, the double game continued -- though by now, through his repeated bombings, bin Laden had upped the ante. Through the late nineties, cash flowed virtually unrestricted into bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's coffers as they escalated their jihad against the West. In counterterrorism circles, it was widely said that the Saudis had made deals with militant groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, agreeing to fund them in return for a promise not to wreak havoc on Saudi soil. [55] [vii] It was not unreasonable to ask if they were doing the same with Al Qaeda. This was the Saudi veil that the Clinton administration had to penetrate if it was to get a handle on terrorist funding.

Over time, the Clinton administration slowly began to decipher the web of international Islamic religious foundations funneling money to Al Qaeda. In 1998, according to government officials, at the behest of the Clinton administration, the Saudi government audited bin Mahfouz's National Commercial Bank and found that $3 million in bank funds that had been given to Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) allegedly ended up in bin Laden's hands. [56] [viii]

Richard Clarke pounded the table in National Security Council meetings demanding to know about Islamic charities and foundations that may have been funding Al Qaeda. [57] But the administration was not able to move fast enough.

At 5:30 a.m. on August 7, 1998, Bill Clinton was awakened unexpectedly by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. [58] It was the eighth anniversary of the arrival of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia leading up to the Gulf War -- or, as bin Laden would have it, the occupation of Islam's holiest sites by the Jewish and Christian Crusaders. To mark the occasion, Osama bin Laden had struck his most violent blows yet against the United States, setting off massive car bombs in front of the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at 10:30 a.m. local time, and then at the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, 450 miles away, just five minutes later.

The carnage was unparalleled in the history of terrorism. In Nairobi, the explosion gutted half the U.S. embassy, leveled a nearby secretarial school, incinerated dozens of people in buses passing by, and left more than a dozen pedestrians dismembered. In Dar es Salaam, the entrance to the U.S. embassy was in ruins. Altogether, about 260 people were killed. Roughly five thousand people were wounded in the twin attacks. Many of the victims were African Muslims.

The magnitude of the explosions and the fact that they had taken place simultaneously suggested an operation of enormous complexity and sophistication. Nearly a ton of military-type explosives was used in each bombing. This huge quantity had been shipped from Pakistan to Tanzania and Kenya, where it was stored in safe houses. Scores of people were involved in a highly compartmentalized operation. [59]  Counterterrorism analysts knew immediately who was behind it.  For the first time, the eyes of the world turned on Osama bin Laden as master terrorist and public enemy number one.

The operation was extraordinary not just because of the increased ferocity and sophistication of the bombings. There was now a grandiose scope and extraordinary clarity to bin Laden's hallucinatory vision, a paranoid fantasy straight out of the Crusades that called forth the image of heroic Muslims battling a Judeo-Christian alliance to control the holy places of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. In 1996, bin Laden had issued a declaration of jihad specifying that in response  to "one of the greatest disasters in the history of Islam," [60] his goals were to drive American forces from the Arabian Peninsula, overthrow the House of Saud, liberate Muslim holy sites, and support Islamic revolution all over the world. [61] In 1998, bin Laden had elaborated on his ruling by issuing another fatwa in the spirit of the Crusades. "We -- with God's help -- call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it," he declared. [62]

His philosophy mandated that all Muslims take part in brutal terrorist acts. It rationalized the killing not just of American soldiers, but of civilians as well; the killing of not just Americans, but of devout Muslims as well; and the killing not just of Muslim soldiers, but of civilians, women and children included. As bin Laden explained it, the duty of Muslims was "to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilian and military ... in any country in which it is possible." [63]

If necessary, he added, he would even sacrifice the lives of his own children. "Imagine it was my own children [who] were taken hostage," bin Laden said. "And that shielded by this human shield, Islam's enemies started to massacre Muslims. I would not hesitate, I would kill the assassin even if to do that I had to kill my children with my own  hands. ... Sometimes, alas, the death of innocents is unavoidable. Islam allows that." [64]

Clinton vowed to strike back. "These acts of terrorist violence are abhorrent, they are inhuman," he said. "We will use all the means at our disposal to bring those responsible to justice."

Less than two weeks after the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, on August 20, 1998, Clinton launched a two- pronged strike against Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. The rationale for attacking Afghanistan was incontrovertible. Bin Laden had been encamped there, escaping not long before the U.S. attack. The justification for attacking Sudan was slightly more complicated. Bin Laden still had operations there, including the El-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, which, U.S. intelligence showed, was manufacturing chemical weapons for Al Qaeda. As a result, Clinton ordered a devastating Cruise missile attack against El-Shifa that destroyed the factory.

It may be impossible to corroborate beyond a shadow of a doubt the assertion that the El-Shifa factory was actually producing chemical weapons, but there is strong evidence that the Clinton administration had in fact chosen a legitimate target. The most persuasive case for it was made by Dan Benjamin and Steven Simon in their book, The Age of Sacred Terror. According to the authors, a soil sample obtained by the CIA from El-Shifa showed that the factory was producing EMPTA, which has no commercial use whatsoever, but is an extraordinarily rare chemical used as a precursor for the fabrication of VX. [65]  VX is a lethal chemical weapon, a single drop of which can cause death within fifteen minutes of being placed on the skin. [66]

Moreover, additional evidence justifying the El-Shifa bombing was in the testimony of Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, the first witness for the prosecution in the trial for the bombings of the two embassies in East Africa in 1998. Al Fadl, a Sudanese Islamist who joined Al Qaeda in 1989 and was one of its first members, testified that Al Qaeda did manufacture chemical weapons in Khartoum, which was noted in the New York Review of Books in an article by Benjamin and Simon. [67] [ix]

Unfortunately, Clinton's strike against bin Laden came while the president was enmeshed in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Just three days before he struck El-Shifa, on August 17, the president had appeared before a grand jury investigating his sexual relationship with the young intern. Caught in a political whirlpool, Clinton was weakened further by a cultural event: several months earlier Wag the Dog, a movie starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, had been released, about a foreign war fabricated by the White House to cover up a presidential sex scandal.

Whether or not politics was imitating art, the juxtaposition of the movie and Clinton's dilemma was irresistible. Partisan politicians and the press had a field day. From right-wing talk radio hosts to the toniest magazines in the land, virtually every media outlet in the English-speaking world picked up the Wag the Dog theme. Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh demanded to know how many innocent people were killed in bombing "an aspirin factory." [68] Christopher  Hitchens of Vanity Fair and the Nation alone raised the subject in more than half a dozen columns he wrote. [69] Republican senator Dan  Coats of Indiana accused Clinton of "lies and deceit and manipulations and deceptions." [70] Former CIA officials criticized the legitimacy of El- Shifa as a target. [71] Thousands of articles asserted that the administration had destroyed an innocent target, a factory that made medication  for poor people, not deadly nerve gas, that the factory was struck not for reasons of national security, but to distract the public from the Lewinsky affair.

These were not just partisan attacks; they spanned the political spectrum and included supposedly liberal icons in the media such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, and CBS's Dan Rather. [72] A profile in the Washington Post characterized the owner of the El-Shifa  factory, Saleh Idriss, as a rags-to-riches son of a tailor who "wasn't making nerve gas for terrorists, just ibuprofen for headaches" [73] and did not allow that there might be more to consider. Idriss had worked at both BCCI and the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, and the article described him as a protege of Khalid bin Mahfouz's. [x] But it failed to point out that, as ABC News had in fact already reported, sources said bin Mahfouz had been "accused of using his bank to funnel money to charities and companies that are fronts for bin Laden's organization." [74] Nor did it mention that the plant's general manager lived in bin Laden's Khartoum home or that the area was swarming with Al Qaeda operatives. [75] [xi]

Regardless of the legitimacy of the target, a large measure of the failure of Clinton's battle against terrorism was the fault of the president himself. By getting involved with Monica Lewinsky, he had given his enemies exactly what they were looking for. The ensuing impeachment hearings provided a ready-made, ongoing forum for an epic circus that far, far surpassed any concerns Americans had for national security.  Next to the lascivious spectacle of a search for a semen-stained dress, the terrorist threat of Al Qaeda was nothing more than a weak sideshow starring an unfamiliar and bizarrely dressed Arab with a weird and exotic name. At a time when Wall Street was euphoric over dot-com mania, and the economy was booming as never before, the American zeitgeist had no room for faraway fears.

Worse, now that Clinton's attempt to protect Americans from chemical weapons had been ridiculed, his counterterrorist efforts, however noble their intentions, were crippled. The Lewinsky affair had so depleted Clinton's political capital that there was no support for strong military measures in Afghanistan. At a time when national  security was a genuine issue, the administration was also widely criticized for trying to get bin Laden, because in doing so, they had "mythologized" him and helped build him into a hero among Muslims. Yet Clinton continued to fight bin Laden. He cut off relations with the Taliban government in Afghanistan that harbored bin Laden.  He pressured the Saudis to negotiate with the Taliban to extradite bin Laden, and he pressured the Saudis to audit the National Commercial Bank's funding of terrorism. But as a result of Monicagate, few Americans understood the nature of the terrorist threat.


The House of Saud was clearly none too happy with the Clinton administration's efforts to probe Saudi ties to terrorism, and the Sauds much preferred their longtime American friends the House of Bush.  Their relationship now spanned roughly two decades, in both the private and public sectors, and neither side had any reason to think that their close ties would not continue for years to come.

In the summer of 1998, for example, just before the East African embassy attacks, Bandar visited George H. W. Bush and his family at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, on the peninsula jutting out from the rugged Maine coast. [76] For former first lady Barbara Bush, the visit was an unexpected but delightful surprise, with Bandar cooking up a storm in the kitchen.

By this time, the Bushes could provide Prince Bandar with a ray of hope that his frustrations with the Clinton administration would soon be over. The president's son, Texas governor George W. Bush, was positioning himself as the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2000. Karl Rove, once his father's aide, was putting together one of the most efficient fundraising machines ever. Within a month of getting started, Bush had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, two of the primary big contributors being the massive oil giant Enron and Baker Botts, James Baker's law firm.

Bandar's visit was soon followed by the carnage in Kenya and Tanzania. But for former president Bush and Baker, it was business as usual. In November, Bush flew to Saudi Arabia and met with members of the bin Laden family representing the Saudi Binladin Group.  Likewise, in January 2000, Bush again met with Crown Prince Abdullah and the bin Laden family, not long after the United Nations had passed sanctions against their terrorist sibling Osama. At the time, Carlyle was working with SBC Communications, the Texas-based communications giant, in an unsuccessful attempt to nail down the acquisition of 25 percent of the Saudi phone system. In addition, during his trips to Saudi Arabia, James Baker met with Khalid bin Mahfouz on several occasions. [77]

Officially, Bush was not really doing business with the Saudis -- or so a spokeswoman said. "President Bush has never conducted business with Saudi citizens or government officials on behalf of anyone, including the Carlyle Group," says Jean Becker, chief of staff to former president Bush. "He has delivered some speeches at Carlyle functions in Saudi Arabia and other countries, but has not engaged in private business conversations with anyone in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere." [78] As for whether Bush had concerns about doing business with the Saudis in light of all the terrorist bombings, a spokesman for the Carlyle Group said that Bush had "no responsibilities for investor relations."  But in fact, what that meant was that Carlyle had created an elaborate deniability mechanism for Bush. The relationship was such that in the  end, with Bush and Baker making appearances before potential Saudi investors, the Saudis placed $80 million in the firm. [79] It is unclear how much of that sum was raised following meetings attended by Bush or James Baker.

Meanwhile, as Bill Clinton's second term was coming to an end, the House of Saud was eagerly looking forward to a Bush restoration. If that happened, it could be fairly said that their friends in the House of Bush would be unlikely to probe too deeply into the Saudi role in the terrorist threat.


[i] By this time, the extended bin Laden family clearly had interests on both sides of the terrorist wars. The family profited from the attacks when the House of Saud gave the Saudi Binladin Group a $150-million contract to rebuild the Khobar Towers facility.

[ii] Osama is sometimes spelled Usama, hence the designation UBL.

[iii] The Saudi-Clinton relationship began with, and was typified by, a halfhearted, last-minute attempt by Prince Bandar to win over Clinton even before he entered the White House. In 1989, Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, tried to help the University of Arkansas raise $23 million to launch a Middle East studies program and approached Prince Turki, who had been a classmate of his at Georgetown University.  Turki came up with $3 million. But that still left $20 million, so in 1991 Clinton  approached Prince Bandar.

However, at the time Bandar was preoccupied with the Gulf War and twice canceled appointments with the little-known Arkansas governor. At a third appointment, Bandar saw Clinton, but gave him short shrift, and for two years there was no  response to Clinton's request. Bandar had other things on his mind. Then, suddenly, in the summer of 1992, Clinton emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee. As the economy soured, incumbent George H. W. Bush began plummeting in the polls.  In October, just a few weeks before Clinton won the presidency, Bandar miraculously got word that the $20-million request had been approved.

[iv] King Fahd collapsed in August 1998, and as his health deteriorated, Crown Prince Abdullah, already Fahd's designated heir, gradually became the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

[v] In response to allegations tying the bin Mahfouz family to terrorism, Cherif Sedky, an attorney for the family, emailed the author the following statement: "The entire Bin Mahfouz family categorically and unreservedly condemns terrorism in all of its manifestations. At no time has any member of the family contributed to any terrorist organization, nor has the family ever had reason to believe that funds it has given over the years to a wide variety of charities, including Muwaffaq (Blessed Relief), have been used other than for the charitable purposes intended." 

[vi] In response to charges that Prince Sultan had knowingly funded terrorists, Casey Cooper, an attorney for Prince Sultan at James Baker's law firm, Baker Botts, says, "The allegations have no merit." He adds that Prince Sultan authorized the grants as part of his official governmental duties and did not knowingly fund terrorism.

[vii] The House of Saud was not merely paying lip service to the Palestinian jihad. In fact, the Popular Committee for Assisting the Palestinian Mujahideen, headed by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Riyadh, gave over $4 billion to Palestinian groups fighting Israel.

[viii] Bin Mahfouz's attorney denied that any such audit took place.

[ix] For al-Fadl's testimony, see an excerpt from the transcript of his trial in note 67.

[x] According to bin Mahfouz's attorney, Cherif Sedky, Idriss served as deputy general manager of the National Commercial Bank from 1996 to 1998. Sedky adds, "Mr. Idriss was involved in coordinating the activities of the various lawyers representing KBM (Khalid bin Mahfouz) and the bank during the BCCI litigation." Idriss had other ties to the bin Mahfouz family. He was a shareholder in a company called WorldSpace and introduced it to the bin Mahfouz family. Subsequently, bin Mahfouz's sons, through a company called Stonehouse Capital, held a large amount of debt in WorldSpace. "Saleh Idriss and KBM are business acquaintances and have done business together from time to time, although the El-Shifa plant in Sudan was not a matter in which KBM had any interest," says Sedky.

[xi] Idriss later sued the U.S. government over the bombing of his factory and hired as his attorney George Salem, a prominent Arab American and Republican fundraiser. According to the Washington Post, Salem also represented the Holy Land  Foundation for Relief and Development.



1. Christopher Dickey and Gregory Vistica, "Attack on the House of Saud," Newsweek, November 27, 1995, p. 44.

2. Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 138.

3. Anonymous, Through Our Enemies' Eyes, p. 199.

4. Anthony H. Cordesman, Saudi Arabia: Guarding the Desert Kingdom, p. 42.

5. Bruce W. Nelan et al., "Gulf Shock Waves," Time, July 8, 1996, p. 20.

6. Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 138.

7. CBS This Morning, November 13,1995.

8. Interview with Chris Ullman, vice president, Carlyle Group.

9. Sidney Blumenthal, The Clinton Wars, p. 656.

10. Tim Weiner and David Johnston, "Roadblocks Cited in Efforts to Trace Bin Laden's Money," New York Times, p. A 1.

11. George Gordon, "Clinton Sends In FBI," Daily Mail, November 14, 1995, p.15.

12. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 242.

13. Interview with Steven Simon.

14. Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 245.

15. Kathy Gannon, Associated Press Worldstream, May 31, 1996.

16. Sig Christenson, "Bin Ladens Building U.S. Troops' Housing," San Antonio Express-News, September 14, 1998, p. 7 A.

17. "Osama bin Laden, a Chronology of His Life," PBS Frontline, .

18. Interview with Will Wechsler.

19. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, pp. 242-45.

20. Ibid., p. 246.

21. Weiner and Johnston, "Roadblocks Cited in Efforts to Trace Bin Laden's Money," p. A 1.

22. David B. Ottaway, "Been There, Done That: Prince Bandar, One of the Great Cold Warriors, Faces the Yawn of a New Era," Washington Post, July 21, 1996,  p. F 1.

23. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 242.

24. Ibid., p. 301.

25. A decentralized, risk-averse bureaucracy, the FBI has a culture that does not appreciate taking orders from policy makers. In addition, FBI agents are trained to react after a crime has been committed, not to investigate situations that might foster terrorism. The FBI's horrendous failure to see the assassination of Meir Kahane as part of a larger terrorism problem typified the problems with its approach. Astonishingly, it had not even bothered to translate Arabic documents that pointed out future targets such as the World Trade Center. In addition, under Freeh the FBI had endured fiascos in handling crises at Ruby Ridge, at Waco, and in the investigation of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

26. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 301.

27. Ibid., p. 302.

28. Robert Siegel interview with Elsa Walsh, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, May 7, 2001.

29. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 302.

30. Ottaway, "Been There, Done That," p. F 1.

31. William F. Wechsler and Lee S. Wolosky, Terrorist Financing, report of an Independent Task Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, p. 13;  and Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 304.

32. Litigation for the Victims of 9/11, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 1:02CV01616(JR) Second Amended Complaint, p. 564, .

33. Ibid., p. 563.

34. Jack Kelley, "Saudi Money Aiding bin Laden," USA Today, October 29, 1999.

35. Interview with Cherif Sedky.

36. U.S. Department of Treasury press release, October 12, 2001, part of court papers in the Litigation for the Victims of 9/11, p. 583.

37. "Bin Laden's Sister-in Law Speaks," UPI, October 24, 2001.

38. Craig Unger, "Saving the Saudis," Vanity Fair, October 2003.

39. Documents were given to the author by David Armstrong, an investigator for the Public Education Center, the Washington, D.C., foundation that obtained  the documents.

40. Litigation for the Victims of 9/11, p. 612.

41. Unger, "Saving the Saudis"; and interview with Casey Cooper.

42. Michael Isikoff et al., "The Saudi Money Trail," Newsweek, December 2, 2002, p.28.

43. Mark Matthew, "Saudis Admit Money Trail Leads to Envoy," Baltimore Sun, November 25, 2002.

44. Interview with Nawaf Obaid.

45. Interview with Nail al-Jubeir.

46. Washington Post, November 15, 2003, final ed.

47. Interview with Will Wechsler.

48. Interview with Richard Clarke.

49. Ibid.

50. "Turki Appeals for Egypt's Help," Intelligence Newsletter, November 23, 1995.

51. Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 173.

52. Interview with Robert Baer.

53. Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 139.

54. Ibid., p. 304.

55. Middle East Media Research Institute, .

56. David Jackson et al., "Saudi's Cash Funds Terrorism, U.S. Says: Ex-Chicagoan's Assets Are Frozen," Chicago Tribune, October 28, 2001, p. 1.

57. Interview with Will Wechsler.

58. George Gedda, "Clinton Vows Justice for Terrorists," Associated Press, August 7, 1998.

59. Bodansky, Bin Laden, p. 258.

60. "Riyadh Accused of Detaining Shiite Clerics as Sunnite Dissident Calls for Jihad Against U.S. Troops," Mideast Mirror, vol. 10, no. 172, September 4, 1996. 

61. "Hunting bin Laden," PBS Frontline, .

62. Litigation for the Victims of 9/11, Third Amended Complaint, p. 213, .

63. Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin; Ayman al-Zawahiri, amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt; Abu Yasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group;  Shaykh Mir Hamzah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan; Fazlur Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh, "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," World Islamic Front Statement, February 23, 1998, .

64. Anonymous, Through Our Enemies' Eyes, p. 197

65. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 355.

66. Ibid., p. 353.

67. Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, "A Failure of Intelligence," New York Review of Books, December 20, 2001. Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl's testimony:

Q. Did you ever travel to the section of Khartoum called Hilat Koko [a facility near El-Shifa] with any member of al Qaeda?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Tell us about the time you went to Hilat Koko with Abu Hajer al Iraqi, what you discussed.

A. I learn that in this building they try to make chemical weapons with regular weapons. ...

Q. Returning to your conversation with Abu Hajer al Iraqi, did he discuss with you who it was that was trying to make the chemical weapons in the area there of Hilat Koko?

A. He tell me the al Qaeda group try to help Islamic National Front to do these weapons, to make these weapons [italics added in New York Review].

Q. Okay. So I'm asking you, do you know that chemical weapons are used to kill people?

A. Yes, that's what I hear from them.

Q. You know that, for example, they use gas to kill people, right?

A. Yes.

Q. And whoever is in the area where that gas goes runs the risk of being killed?

A. Yes.

68. Peter Worthington, "An Honourable Man Would Resign," Toronto Sun, December 22, 1998, p. 16.

69. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 361.

70. Ibid., p. 359.

71. Interview with Frank Anderson; and Vernon Loeb, "A Dirty Business; Because of a Cupful of Soil, the U.S. Flattened This Sudanese Factory," Washington Post, July 25, 1999, p. Fl.

72. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 363.

73. Loeb, "A Dirty Business," p. F 1.

74. Benjamin and Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror, p. 363.

75. James Zogby, "The Attack on Sudan," Mideast Mirror, August 16, 1999; and James V. Grimaldi, "An Arab American Charitable Connection That Might Be Too Close for Comfort," Washington Post, December 17, 2001, p. E6.

76. Barbara Bush, Reflections, p. 234.

77. E-mail from Cherif Sedky.

78. E-mail from Jean Becker.

79. Interviews and emails with David Rubenstein and Chris Ullman.

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