Exclusive: Judge orders FBI to hand over 9/11 documents on Saudi spy
Omar al-Bayoumi was the subject of FBI investigations that stretched over more than 20 years
A military judge has ordered the FBI to hand over 3,000 pages of documents involving a Saudi intelligence asset who assisted the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States, information that the U.S. government has fought to keep secret for more than two decades.
The order issued Thursday by a judge overseeing the case of 9/11 defendants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba covers FBI documents referencing Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi living in San Diego who played a critical role in helping two newly arrived hijackers settle in the United States.
“The accused [9/11 defendants] are charged with a conspiracy, so existing evidence from the criminal investigations into that conspiracy is relevant to this case,” wrote Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, the military judge presiding over the prosecution of Khalid Shaikh Mohamad and others in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “It is notable that the prosecution has not argued that additional materials do not exist, nor has it asserted a privilege over the information.”
Prosecutor Ed Ryan told the court last month that the remaining files on Bayoumi contain both classified and foreign government information. Judge McCall gave prosecutors until January 2 to hand over the documents.
“People sometimes ask why the military commissions take so long. The fact that the government withheld 3000 pages of important information about the 9/11 conspiracy until now is a perfect example," said James Connell, a civilian attorney who represents Guantanamo detainee Ammar al Baluchi.
Bayoumi was a subject of FBI investigations for more than 20 years. He became the focus of intense scrutiny after 9/11. FBI agents learned that Bayoumi encouraged two Saudi hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, to come to San Diego. Once there, he helped them open bank accounts, found them an apartment, paid their security deposit, co-signed their lease, and threw a welcoming party for them.
SpyTalk reported earlier this year about a previously unknown, five-year investigation into Bayoumi by the defense team at Guantanamo. Four unnamed former FBI agents involved in the 9/11 investigation told a defense investigator they believed that Bayoumi was at the center of an operation on U.S. soil by the CIA, working in conjunction with Saudi intelligence, to penetrate Al Qaeda. One former FBI agent indicated that the CIA has “operational” files on Bayoumi that predated 9/11 and were still being suppressed. (The CIA denied withholding information but stopped short of claiming that such files do not exist.)
Bayoumi was long suspected to have been a Saudi intelligence agent, allegations that he long denied. FBI files declassified on President Biden’s orders revealed that Bayoumi was paid a monthly stipend as a “cooptee” of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency. (A cooptee is a citizen of a country, but not an officer or employee of that country’s intelligence service, who assists that service on a temporary or opportunity basis.) According to the declassified FBI memo, Bayoumi was paid by, and reported to, Prince Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, the longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States and close friend of the Bush family.
Family members who lost loved ones on 9/11 have been thwarted in their attempts to learn more about Bayoumi and his connections to the Saudi government. “The defense counsel for those accused of mass murder on 9/11 is getting more access to documents than the terror victims themselves,” said Brett Eagleson, who lost his father after al-Qaida operatives commandeered commercial airlines and crashed them into the World Trade Center.
Bayoumi was a principal focus of the “28 Pages,” the long-withheld final section of the joint congressional committee’s report on 9/11 that was finally released in 2016.
Eagleson tells SpyTalk that then-President Trump promised he would declassify information relating to Bayoumi and other matters at a White House meeting with 9/11 families in 2019. The following day, Eagleson said, Trump’s Justice Department invoked the state secrets privilege to block the information from becoming public.
Judge McCall also denied the defense request for information on Bayoumi’s associates, including Fahad al-Thumairy, an employee of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and the imam of the King Fahd mosque in Culver City, where his extremist sermons appealed to hardcore attendees.
In 2007, the FBI opened Operation Encore to examine the network that supported Hazmi and Mihdhar when they arrived in the United States, barely able to speak English. The FBI closed Operation Encore in 2021 after finding insufficient evidence to charge any Saudi government official with conspiring to help the hijackers carry out the 9/11 attack.
“You have to ask yourself why 22 years later, our government is still fighting tooth and nail to protect documents that implicate Saudi Arabia and Omar al-Bayoumi,” Eagleson said. “The US and Saudi governments were working together. That is the only explanation that anybody has given me that has made any sense.”
This story has been updated to add comment from a defense attorney for one of the Guantanamo detainees. Also, Judge McCall’s first name was initially incorrectly rendered. It has been corrected.
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