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CIA recruited at least two 9/11 hijackers: Court filing


A recent court filing reveals that contact between two 9/11 hijackers and a CIA unit allegedly created to track Osama bin Laden and his associates was covered up at the highest levels of the FBI.

  • Firefighters work around the World Trade Center after both towers collapsed in New York on September 11, 2001. (Reuters)
    Firefighters work around the World Trade Center after both towers collapsed in New York on September 11, 2001. (Reuters)

A new court filing dropped a bombshell unmasking one of the CIA’s most atrocious scandals in decades: At least two 9/11 hijackers had been recruited into a highly covert CIA-Saudi intelligence operation.

The filing which has recently been publicized revealed that the contact between two 9/11 hijackers and Alec Station, a CIA unit allegedly created to track Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his associates, was covered up at the highest levels of the FBI.

The paper, which was obtained by SpyTalk, is a 21-page declaration written by Don Canestraro, the Chief Investigator for the Office of Military Commissions, the court that is in charge of handling cases involving 9/11 suspects. It includes summaries of unnamed, senior CIA and FBI officers’ private interviews and disclosures of classified government information. Canestraro spoke with numerous agents who worked on Operation Encore, the Bureau’s aborted investigation into possible links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 attacks.

Operation Encore was abruptly discontinued in 2016 despite the numerous extensive interviews conducted with a variety of witnesses that produced hundreds of pages of evidence, formally questioning several Saudi officials, and starting a grand jury investigation into a Riyadh-run US-based support network for the hijackers. This was allegedly caused by “a byzantine intra-FBI bust-up over investigative methods.”

Every element of the document was redacted when it was first published in 2021 on the Office’s public court docket, with the exception of an “unclassified” marking.

Today, it is not difficult to understand why given its shocking content: as Canestraro’s inquiry found, at least two 9/11 hijackers had been enlisted, intentionally or unknowingly, into a combined CIA-Saudi intelligence operation. 

“I would be gone”: Alec Station threatened agents to hide information

Unit Alec Station was established in 1996 under CIA supervision. The original plan was to conduct a joint investigation with the FBI.

The FBI agents assigned to the unit quickly learned, however, that they were strictly forbidden from providing any material to the Bureau’s headquarters without the CIA’s consent and that doing so would result in severe consequences. In further detail, the I-49 squad, based in New York, was regularly barred from receiving intelligence.  

The CIA and NSA were intensively observing an “operational cadre” within an Al-Qaeda cell that included the Saudi nationals Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Mihdhar in late 1999 in light of “the system blinking red” about an impending large-scale Al-Qaeda terrorist attack inside the US.

The two Saudi nationals allegedly went on to hijack American Airlines Flight 77, which plunged into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar had attended an Al-Qaeda meeting that took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from January 5 to 8, 2000. Unit Alec Station requested that the meeting be discreetly photographed and videotaped, though it appears that no audio was recorded. En route, Al-Mihdhar transited through Dubai, where CIA operatives broke into his hotel room and photocopied his passport. It demonstrated that he had a multiple-entry visa for the US.

At  the time, a contemporaneous internal CIA communication claimed that the FBI was informed right away “for further investigation.” In truth, unit Alec Station specifically prohibited two FBI agents from informing the Bureau about Al-Mihdhar’s US visa.

“[I said] ‘we’ve got to tell the Bureau about this. These guys clearly are bad…we’ve got to tell the FBI.’ And then [the CIA] said to me, ‘no, it’s not the FBI’s case, not the FBI’s jurisdiction’,” Mark Rossini, one of the FBI agents investigated, confessed.

“If we had picked up the phone and called the Bureau, I would’ve been violating the law. I…would’ve been removed from the building that day. I would’ve had my clearances suspended, and I would be gone,” he added.

Only a few weeks after the plot was thwarted, Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar arrived in the US on January 15 through Los Angeles International Airport. They were welcomed by Omar Al-Bayoumi, a “ghost employee” of the Saudi government, right away at the eatery in the airport. After a brief discussion, Al-Bayoumi assisted them in finding an apartment in San Diego that was close to his home, co-signed their lease, set up bank accounts for them, and gave them a gift of $1,500 toward their rent. Moving forward, there would be several contacts between the three.

Years later, Al-Bayoumi claimed, during interviews with Operation Encore investigators, that his encounter with the two would-be hijackers was a mere coincidence. He insisted that his unusual aid came from pure altruism and pity for the two men, who had no experience with Western culture and hardly speak the English language. 

The Bureau disagreed, coming to the conclusion that Al-Bayoumi was a Saudi spy who worked with several Al-Qaeda members in the US. Additionally, they believed there was a “50/50 chance” that he, and hence Riyadh, had extensive prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

Twenty years on, the FBI released the first document related to its investigation into the 9/11 attacks, following an executive order issued by US President Joe Biden.

Alec station constantly violated CIA procedures: Agent

A Bureau special agent, dubbed “CS-3” in the document, confessed that Al-Bayoumi’s contact with the hijackers and support thereafter “was done at the behest of the CIA through the Saudi intelligence service.” Unit Alec Station’s goal was to “recruit Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar via a liaison relationship,” with the help of Riyadh’s General Intelligence Directorate.

A CIA case officer at Alec Station named “CS-10” agreed that Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar had contact with the agency through Al-Bayoumi and was perplexed that the unit had been given an alleged assignment to infiltrate Al-Qaeda.

They felt it “would be nearly impossible…to develop informants inside” the group, given the “virtual” station was based in a Langley basement, “several thousand miles from the countries where Al-Qaeda was suspected of operating.”

“CS-10” further confessed that they “observed other unusual activities” at Alec Station. Analysts within the unit “would direct operations to case officers in the field by sending the officers cables instructing them to do a specific tasking,” which was “a violation of CIA procedures.” Analysts “normally lacked the authority to direct a case officer to do anything.”

“Sometime prior to the 9/11 attacks”, agents “observed activity that appeared to be outside normal CIA procedures.” Analysts within the unit “mostly stuck to themselves and did not interact frequently” with others.

Some of the most suspicious operations were reportedly made during this time. A joint FBI-CIA informant named Aukai Collins received a startling offer in the early part of 1998: bin Laden personally wanted him to travel to Afghanistan so they could meet. 

The June 2001 encounter [CIA and FBI analysts from Alec Station met with senior Bureau officials, including representatives of its own Al-Qaeda unit] might have been a tease given that Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar both appeared to be employed by Alec Station.

Kept under wraps: Another FBI’s Failure

After 9/11, FBI headquarters and its San Diego field office rapidly figured out “Bayoumi’s affiliation with Saudi intelligence and, subsequently, the existence of the CIA’s operation to recruit” Al-Hazmi and Al-Mihdhar, according to another of Canestraro’s informants, a former FBI agent who went by “CS-23”, while testifying in court.

However, “senior FBI officials suppressed investigations” into these matters. “CS-23” stated, furthermore, that Bureau agents admitted before the joint Inquiry into 9/11 that they “were instructed not to reveal the full extent of Saudi involvement with Al-Qaeda.”

Shockingly, no one at Alec Station has received any sort of punishment for the alleged “intelligence failures” that led to 9/11. In fact, they have received compensation. The unit’s commander at the time of the attacks, Richard Blee, and his replacement, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, joined the CIA’s operations branch and rose to prominence in the so-called “war on terror”. Corsi, on the other hand, advanced inside the FBI, ultimately to the position of Deputy Assistant Director for Intelligence.  

Testimonies given by those who were subjected to the worst abhorrent rendition and torture program by the CIA during interrogation are a significant part of how the general public understands the 9/11 attacks. Bikowsky, a former employee of the Alec Station where at least two would-be 9/11 hijackers provided cover, was in charge of questioning the alleged hijackers.

Aukai Collins, an FBI deep cover agent, ended his memoir with a terrifying insight, which Don Canestraro’s shocking admission only served to solidify:

“I was very mistrustful about the fact that bin Laden’s name was mentioned literally hours after the attack… I became very skeptical about anything anybody said about what happened, or who did it. I thought back to when I was still working for them and we had the opportunity to enter Bin Laden’s camp. Something just hadn’t smelled right…To this day I’m unsure who was behind September 11, nor can I even guess… Someday the truth will reveal itself, and I have a feeling that people won’t like what they hear.”

A question rises: Is the truth out? Did the US intelligence community alongside its affiliated media downplay it?

One thing is crystal clear: They have all the motifs to cover up Saudi Arabia‘s role in the 9/11 attacks, in light of the filing which revealed that the CIA simply recruited the hijackers, threatened their own agents, and tried to cover up their fishy scandals.