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Is Saudi scoping out the Capitol before 9/11 enough evidence yet?

Is Saudi scoping out the Capitol before 9/11 enough evidence yet?

Newly released video is part of a trove of documents that victims' families say the government is still holding back

Analysis | Washington Politics

A video has been released that purportedly shows Omar al-Bayoumi, a man with ties to Saudi Arabia’s intelligence apparatus who has been alleged to have assisted 9/11 hijackers in California, engaging in what appears to be a reconnaissance mission a year before the attacks.

Families of 9/11 victims are now in civil litigation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and have been alleging there are reams of documents including this video that prove Saudi Arabia’s official backing of the 2001 terror attacks. A federal judge in New York City is now deliberating a Saudi motion to dismiss the case.

This video, recently unsealed in court, shows Bayoumi taking shots of Washington monuments and buildings and talking about “a plan” back home, while zeroing in on entrances and exits to the U.S. Capitol, the Washington monument, and other places.

At one point he says to his intended audience that he will go to the monument and "report to you in detail what is there."

The video was shown on “60 Minutes” last weekend. The plaintiffs in the civil case say the U.S. government has been in possession of the video, along with tons of other evidence, collected at Bayoumi’s apartment in England, since days after the 9/11 attacks, but all of it is still classified.

On Monday, RS spoke with Brett Eagleson, president of 9/11 Justice, a grassroots organization of 9/11 families that have been pushing for the declassification of evidence they say proves the Saudi connection to the 2001 terror attack. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


RS: So tell me first, what is 9/11 Justice?

Brett Eagleson: 9/11 Justice is a grassroots campaign of family members that lost loved ones or that were hurt or injured the day of the attack, and goal of the organization is to bring about public education and awareness about not only what the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did in their capacity to facilitate and assist the hijackers, but also this fight that we've had to have with our very own government on transparency regarding documents surrounding 9/11. Everything has been kept under lock and key for over 20 years now. (We) are passionate about pushing for transparency and pushing for the truth to hopefully one day, finally bring peace and closure to our 9/11 community.

RS: So tell me about this video that's been recently released. Why is it so important?

Brett Eagleson: This video should make everybody upset. That should make not only the family members enraged, but it should make America enraged. The public at large should be up in arms about this. This is a video that our government has had for over 23 years. In the days after 9/11 the FBI asked (London’s) Metropolitan Police, which is known as Scotland Yard, to raid the individual Al Bayoumi’s apartment in Birmingham, England. So we know that our FBI knew about the existence of this video. It was our FBI that instructed the British authorities to raid his apartment. They came upon a trove of documents, hours and hours of videotape, handwritten notes, notebooks containing the names and phone numbers of Saudi government officials as well as senior al-Qaida operatives.

But some of the most damning stuff is this video that we now are made aware of 23 years later. How can it be that the former deputy director of the CIA claims that he was not made aware of this video?

So the importance here is everything we know about 9/11, everything that we've been told about the Saudi role in 9/11 needs to be re-examined. History needs to be rewritten, because in 2004 the 9/11 Commission came to its conclusion, saying that the Saudi government, as an institution, probably wasn't involved in the funding of Al Qaida and probably wasn't involved with supporting the 9/11 hijackers. But the 2004 commission, nobody, had the benefit of this latest trove of documents. Nobody saw this video that was partaking in that commission, senators, Congress people, the commissioners themselves, didn't get a chance to see this video.

RS: So the U.S. government would have known all of this from the beginning, is your contention?

Brett Eagleson: Of course. And now what they're saying is the DOJ has been writing letters to our judge in our civil litigation against Saudi Arabia, and they're saying that they need more time to vet these materials and to vet these videos, and they've had over 23 years, and they've denied the existence of any of these documents. First they said that they didn't have them, and then they said that these documents don't exist. Well now that the truth is out there, and we actually have them, because it was the British authorities that gave us these documents, now they're saying, well, they need time to vet them. Yeah, and they've had over 20 years.

RS: So let's go to the court case. How long have the 9/11 families been battling the Saudi government in court? And can you tell us where that legal battle is today?

Brett Eagleson: Sure. So originally, the 9/11 families filed suit against Saudi Arabia, and this was prior to the inaction of the law called JASTA, which stands for the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. That lawsuit was dismissed because of what's called Foreign Sovereign immunity, so American citizens can't sue a foreign country, because countries have immunity, and the judge threw the lawsuit out on that technicality. So in 2014 there was a massive effort by the families to create a law in Congress called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Law, and it's referred to as JASTA. (It) created a loophole in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, and it said that if you're a foreign sovereign or foreign entity, there is credible evidence that the actions of your government harmed or killed Americans on American soil.

President Obama, at the time, vetoed it, and we couldn't understand why, like, why would he veto this kind of no nonsense, no brainer legislation? We spent a lot of time and pain and effort overriding that veto, and we delivered to President Obama his one and only veto override of his entire eight years of his presidency. We finally got our law, and that is what allowed us to reintroduce Saudi Arabia as a defendant in our litigation, which we did in 2017. So from 2017 until today, we've been in active litigation against the kingdom.

In 2018 the kingdom moved to dismiss our lawsuit, and their arguments were that we still didn't have jurisdiction, despite JASTA, so nothing on the merit, but more so on a technicality. They said that we didn't have enough evidence at that time. The judge said, no, actually, there is enough credible evidence here, and I'm going to deny your motion to dismiss, and I'm going to grant limited discovery on Southern California itself. So, all information related to Omar Al Bayoumi and (9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar) and any individuals associated with those two working in and around Southern California.That was the cell, the terror cell, that we were really focused on. He allowed discovery on that, and that is when things started to get really interesting. Because every attempt at gaining information from our own government about what they knew and what they investigated in Southern California, was met with resistance to the extent that we actually had to subpoena the FBI. The FBI did not cooperate with the subpoenas. Everything that the FBI would produce to us was completely redacted.

You would think that the FBI would be salivating, chopping up the bit to finish an investigation that they never were allowed to finish. You would think that they would be overwhelmed that we were stepping in to try to finally close the gap here and close the loop. But it was the opposite.

We were personally invited to the White House to meet with President Trump in 2019 because the ongoing battle of obtaining documents and obtaining evidence was persisting, and we begged President Trump at the time for help. The Constitution says that the president can declassify whatever he deems necessary. And the president looked us in the eye, shook all of our hands, and promised to help us. And he said he was going to declassify the documents, and was going to help us. So we left that meeting elated. Less than 24 hours with Trump's approval (AG) Bill Barr invoked what's known as the State Secrets Doctrine, an executive privilege which basically labeled all the information we were seeking in the courts from the FBI and DOJ a state secret. And it was like a gut punch to us.

So that set us back a while. It wasn't until campaign season, when Trump was up against Biden, that we reached out to then candidate, Biden, asking if he was elected president, would he help us? At that point, he wrote up the letter saying that if he was, in fact, elected president, he would declassify the documents.

So when Biden got into office, we kind of gave him the space and allowed him to get settled in a little bit. And you know, his first year in office was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Up until that point his administration had been unresponsive to our requests. So we actually organized a protest because we knew that President Biden wanted to mark the 20th anniversary at Ground Zero, and we wrote him a letter signed by 5,000 family members, saying that if you come to Ground Zero, and if you talk about how important our loved ones are to you and how important this day is, and you still haven't honored your campaign promise to us, we will protest your appearance at Ground Zero. So I think that really moved the needle. Biden enacted a Presidential Executive Order which called upon the declassification of all 9/11 documents. So we've had this executive order for two years now, and his current administration is, one, not even honoring it fully, but two, they're fighting it in court.

So they're now, as we talk about this video and all these documents, Biden DOJ officials are writing letters to the court saying this information is too sensitive. It's not appropriate. They've been fighting against us to try to continue to keep this information under lock and key. Thankfully, we have the video out.

RS: What is the message that you would like the American people to get out of this case and the evidence coming out about it?

Brett Eagleson: Saudi Arabia, if they, in any way, want to try to enjoy normal relations with this country, if they want to do business with our country on a state to state level, they need to fess up. They need to take accountability, and they need to come clean about what their own government did 23 years ago. And until that happens, it should not be that we're able to do engage in security agreements with them, that we're able to sell them the devastating weapons, that they're able to buy into our PGA Tour and have LIV Golf here — like none of those things should be happening until there's an acknowledgement and a reckoning of their wrongdoing.

CBS '60 Minutes' Screenshot

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