Newly Released FBI Documents Reveal Additional Information regarding Saudi Flights from U.S. following 9/11 Attacks
MARCH 28, 2005
FBI Report Responds to Allegations in October 2003 Vanity Fair Magazine Article
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, today released documents from the FBI obtained under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and through ongoing litigation (Judicial Watch v. Department of Homeland Security & Federal Bureau of Investigation, No. 04-1643 (RWR)) that contain a declassified “Secret” FBI report, dated September 24, 2003, entitled: “Response to October 2003 Vanity Fair Article (Re: [Redacted] Family Departures After 9/11/2001).” Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request on October 7, 2003. The full text of the report is available on the Internet at: www.JudicialWatch.org.
The report contains many redactions that the Justice Department claims were made in the privacy interests of the Saudi subjects identified in the report. It is not clear how the Justice Department concluded that the alleged privacy privileges of non-US persons trump the public’s interest in obtaining full information about the government’s investigative response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Additional redactions are claimed for law enforcement investigative purposes even though the report claims that “no information of investigative value” was learned from interviews of bin Laden family members and Saudi royals.
New information detailing flights of Saudis out of the U.S. from Las Vegas, and Providence, RI are in the report. FBI procedures in processing the Saudi flights are also revealed. It is apparent from the report that Bin Laden family members and Saudi royals were subject to only cursory, pro forma questioning by the FBI. Experienced investigators suggest detailed counterterrorism interviews would have taken a minimum of two hours per passenger. There is no evidence offered that any such efforts were made by the FBI.
The report is silent as to whether National Security Council staff member Richard Clarke or other White House officials approved any of the flights. In June 2004 Judicial Watch provided the 9/11 Commission with previously unreported documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection showing that 160 Saudis were allowed to leave on 55 commercial flights from airports around the country between Sept. 11 and Sept. 15, 2001.
Correspondence between FBI personnel concerning the report indicates agents and analysts referred to it as “VANITYBOM.” E-mails show the FBI employees referred to themselves as “fellow VANITYBOM victims.” One e-mail from an unnamed FBI intelligence analyst coordinating a draft of the report notes “. . . snide remarks encouraged.”
“The FBI’s heavily redacted Saudi flight report is self-serving and raises more questions than it answers. The report shows a lackadaisical investigation. It looks like the FBI dropped the ball,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.