By Bronte Price, PoliticKING
John F Lehman, a former Republican member of the 9/11 commission, said on Wednesday that he believes there was solid evidence that Saudi government employees were part of a support network for the 9/11 hijackers. Lehman was an investment banker in New York who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. In opposition with the commission’s leaders, Lehman also said that the Obama administration should move quickly to declassify a secret congressional report on Saudi ties to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
His comments are the first serious public split among the 10 commissioners since they issued a final report in 2004 that was widely perceived as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia. 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 called Saudi Arabia home.
“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” Lehman said in the interview on Wednesday. “Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia.”
The 9/11 commission chairman, former Republican governor Tom Kean and vice-chairman, former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, spoke positively about Saudi Arabia calling it, “an ally of the United States in combating terrorism” and said the commission’s investigation, had only identified one Saudi government official as being “implicated in the 9/11 plot investigation”.
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Lehman said that the commission was aware of at least five Saudi government officials who had been strongly suspected of being involved in the terrorists’ support network. “They may not have been indicted, but they were certainly implicated,” he said. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence.” Lehman also said that he did not believe the Saudi royal family or the country’s senior civilian leadership had any role in supporting al-Qaida or the 9/11 plot.
He said “the 28 pages”, prepared by a special House-Senate committee investigating pre 9/11 intelligence failures, reviewed a lot of the same material and should be made public as soon as possible. He added that there should be the possibly of a few redactions to remove the names of a few Saudi suspects who were later cleared of any involvement in the terrorist attacks.
Some of the other commissioners support Lehman, although none of them have spoken out directly criticizing the Saudis.
Democratic commissioner and former congressman Tim Roemer said he wants the congressional report released to end some of the wild speculation about what is in the 28 pages and to see if parts of the inquiry should be reopened. When it comes to the Saudis, he said, “we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened on 9/11”.
Returning from a state visit to Saudi Arabia last month, which was described as “tense,” President Obama said that the administration was nearing a decision on whether to declassify some or all of the 28 pages.
CIA director John Brennan, however, announced that he opposed the release of the congressional report, saying that it contained inaccurate material that might lead to unfair allegations that Saudi Arabia was tied to 9/11.
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