In the summer of 2002, congressional investigators probing the September 11 terror attacks made a startling discovery. A college professor and longtime FBI informant in San Diego had dealt extensively with two of the 9/11 hijackers. The informant became close to the future terrorists after he'd rented them rooms in his house. The connection raised plenty of questions: What did the informant know about the activities of his housemates? And why hadn't the FBI said anything about the connection?
The discovery led to a closed-door confrontation between the FBI and Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of the joint House-Senate panel investigating 9/11. Convinced that the bureau was stonewalling, Graham tried to slap the FBI's chief counsel with a subpoena to produce the informant. "With the subpoena still in hand, I approached him, holding it inches from his chest," Graham writes in his new book, "Intelligence Matters," which deals with his efforts to get to the bottom of the 9/11 attacks. "He leaned back from the subpoena as it if were radioactive." The FBI counsel asked for extra time to see if something could be worked out. In the end, the FBI refused to allow Graham and his colleagues to question a crucial witness.
The congressional inquiry--which was underway long before the 9/11 Commission began its work--was a contentious investigation that led to repeated clashes with the FBI and the Bush White House. Graham and others charged that the administration was engaged in a "cover-up" to protect a key ally, Saudi Arabia.
In his new book, Graham claims the president coddled the Saudis and pursued a war against Saddam Hussein that only diverted resources from the more important fight against Al Qaeda. Graham was furious when the White House blacked out 28 pages of the inquiry's final report that dealt with purported Saudi links to the 9/11 plot. Graham says much of the deleted evidence centered around the activities of a mysterious Saudi then living in San Diego named Omar al-Bayoumi, whom Graham calls a Saudi government "spy." Al-Bayoumi befriended two of the key 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, when they first arrived in the country.
Graham notes that al-Bayoumi was essentially a "ghost employee" of a Saudi contracting firm called Ercan, whose owner was an alleged early supporter of Osama bin Laden. He also had repeated contacts with a Saudi diplomat in Los Angeles who was later thrown out of the United States on suspicion of terrorist ties. But Graham's conclusions about al-Bayoumi conflict with the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission report. Philip Zelikow, the staff director of the commission, noted that his panel had access to more material than Graham did and ultimately got the chance to question al-Bayoumi. They concluded that he had no connection to 9/11. "We've spent hours and hours with Bob on this," says Zelikow, who believes Graham doesn't seem open to new evidence. "He's got all these details. But it's like they're frozen in amber."
Yet even Zelikow acknowledges that Graham may be right when he says the FBI never fully unraveled a Qaeda support network that helped the hijackers--and that still may be out there. One ominous new sign was the recent arrest in Britain of an Indian-born jihadi, Dhiren Barot, who was suspected of conducting the surveillance of financial buildings in New York and Washington, D.C.--prompting last month's Orange alert. According to the recent report by the 9/11 Commission, Barot--identified there as Issa al-Britani--had been dispatched more than three years ago by terror mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and ordered to case financial and "Jewish" targets inside the United States. He had also flown to Malaysia just before a crucial Qaeda planning meeting in January 2000, where he passed along the names of potential contacts living in America. Who were the contacts? To this day, the FBI admits it doesn't know for sure--ample evidence, in Graham's mind, that his fears and criticisms remain as valid as ever.
PHOTO (COLOR): Full story: Graham eyes the Saudi connection
By Michael Isikoff