02:40 - Source: CNN
Former 9/11 commissioner: Saudis helped al Qaeda

Story highlights

Saudi Arabia's role in the 9/11 attacks has garnered enhanced scrutiny in Washington

The 9//11 report found there was "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution" funded al Qaeda

Washington CNN —  

John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 commission, told CNN Thursday that the classified 28 pages of a congressional investigatory report into the attacks contains evidence that as many as six Saudi officials supported al Qaeda in the run-up to the attacks.

Those individuals, he said, worked for the Saudi Embassy in the U.S., Saudi charities and the Saudi government-funded King Fahd Mosque in California.

Lehman stressed that the 28 pages, which consists mostly of summary reports produced by the FBI, contain “no smoking gun,” and he supports the final report’s finding that there was “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

But Lehman charged that evidence of Saudi involvement was never sufficiently investigated by U.S. authorities and that a new investigation should now be “vigorously pursued.”

Lehman said the individuals had hard ties to the government – and hard ties to the hijackers, with one driving the hijackers from San Diego to Phoenix when they failed out of their first flight school.

Other commission members, including former federal prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, are echoing Lehman’s call, telling CNN, “We would not be so arrogant as to think that we, with our limited time and resources, have investigated every single aspect that there is to look at in the 9/11 disaster.”

Lehman urged the declassification of the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, part of a congressional panel investigating intelligence failures related to the 9/11 attacks.

That panel completed its report before the commission began its work. The commission was created, in part, to finish the work the panel had begun.

His statements that as many as six officials were implicated appear to contrast with comments made by other members of the commission.

The commission’s chair and vice chairs, former Republican New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, released a statement in April saying that “only one employee of the Saudi government was implicated in the plot investigation.”

But Lehman, a Republican and former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, told the Guardian newspaper Wednesday that, “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”

He told “60 Minutes” in April “it was no accident that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. They all went to Saudi schools. They learned from the time they were first able to go to school of this intolerant brand of Islam.”

Lehman claimed in a conversation with CNN that the commission was terminated before it could figure out the exact roles of those involved.

He also said that it bothered him that no one right now has any idea where these individuals are located or how many more of them there actually are.

But despite this apparent disagreement with the commission’s leadership, Lehman released a statement Thursday morning saying, “There is no split between the members of the 9/11 Commission on issues relating to the involvement of Saudi citizens.”

He also wrote that he agreed with the recent statement made by the commission’s chairs. That statement said that only the one official, former Los Angeles-based Saudi diplomat Fahad al Thumairy, had been implicated, an apparent departure from Lehman’s earlier comments that as many as six were implicated.

According to its final report, the commission found “no evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two operatives.”

Lehman concluded his statement by saying, “I do not believe that the Saudi Government or any of its senior officials supported or were aware of the 9/11 plot.”

Saudi Arabia’s role in the 9/11 attacks has garnered enhanced scrutiny as a debate in Washington has raged over whether or not to declassify the 28 pages of the report issued by a separate congressional panel investigating intelligence failures related to September 11. The pages are said to focus on the role of foreign governments in the plot.

The director of the CIA, John Brennan, has said that the pages should remain classified, while Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters last week in Geneva, “Our position, since 2002 when the report first came out, was ‘release the pages.’ “

He added, “We know from other senior U.S. officials that the charges made in the 28 pages do not stand up to scrutiny. And so yes, release the 28 pages.”

In April, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes declined to discuss the classified pages but told CNN contributor David Axelrod, a former senior White House official, in a podcast that, “without getting into that specifically because that’s still classified, I think that it’s complicated in the sense that, it’s not that it was Saudi government policy to support Al Qaeda, but there were a number of very wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia who would contribute, sometimes directly, to extremist groups.”

The stakes of possible involvement by Saudi officials in the attacks were raised when Congress took up a bipartisan bill that would allow victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks to sue foreign governments that are linked to terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Saudi Arabia has threatened to retaliate by selling off billions in American assets.