2003 Transcript

SAIO Director Nail Al-Jubeir interviewed by CNN's Paula Zahn on 9-11 report

MS. PAULA ZAHN: Tonight we are spending the entire hour looking at how safe America is from terrorists and whether the worldwide war on terror is being won. Much depends on how good U.S. intelligence is and whether U.S. knows who its friends are. The White House has classified 28 pages of a congressional report on the 9/11 terror attacks. The pages allegedly deal with Saudi ties to the terrorist hijackers, ties the Saudi government denies. In Congress, there is mounting bipartisan pressure on President Bush to release the material. Here is what the president had to say about that push.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My point of view, however, since I'm in charge of fighting the war on terror is that we won't reveal sources and methods that will compromise our efforts to succeed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Nail Al-Jubeir is director of information at the Saudi embassy to the United States. He joins us from our Washington bureau tonight. Welcome. Glad to have you with us.


ZAHN: Do you think in releasing these 28 pages the United States would be compromising its intelligence-gathering techniques?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, we wouldn't really know since we have not seen the 28 pages. I have to admit that I'm probably one of the few people who will admit publicly not having seen the 28 pages, does not know anybody who has seen it, nor has been in contact with anybody who has seen it. So it makes it difficult for us to sort of assess what's in it. We have to take the president at his word when he says it does.

ZAHN: You are telling me tonight you have absolutely no idea what's in these 28 pages?

AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely none. What I hear is what we hear the pundits talk about, and every pundit who appears on television or in the press, somehow has a contact who has seen it. We haven't.

ZAHN: All right. Let's talk about what some of those reports suggest. 'Newsweek' reporting that the classified part of the report draws, quote, "apparent connections between high level Saudi princes and associates of the hijackers".

AL-JUBEIR: Well, that again, we're back to reports that nobody has seen. It's unfortunate that these experts tend to sort of leak the news out. We can't defend ourselves. That is why we went to the White House, have spoken with President Bush about releasing the information so we can see it, so we can come up and defend ourselves. And if there is any link to any terrorism in Saudi Arabia, we want to go after those.

ZAHN: So why is it, do you think, the president won't release this? Do you take him at his word?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, we have to. He was kind enough to provide us with 40 minutes of his precious time. We pleaded our case about releasing the information. He presented his case for not releasing the information. Unfortunately, we had to disagree with that decision, but it is his decision at the end. And he's the president, and we have to go along with that.

ZAHN: What do you say, sir, to the folks in the audience tonight who think you want to have it both ways here? On one hand, you say you take the president at his word, even after one of your contacts tried putting on pressure on the president to release it, and the president saying that it will compromise national security in some way?

AL-JUBEIR: Well, we want the information to be released. We want know what the information is out there so we can, one, defend ourselves. Because right now, we have a 900-page document with 28 pages that are blank. And those who are trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia can fill in whatever they want. We can't defend blank pages. If we have the information, we can face them, we can challenge them, we can respond to them, and if there's any incriminating evidence in there, we can go after those people who are behind it.

ZAHN: But let me make sure I'm understanding this tonight, sir. You're suggesting you want this made public even if it will in some way compromise the United States' information gathering, which is exactly what the president had to say?

AL-JUBEIR: No. What we want to do is we want to be able to defend ourselves against the accusations. Right now we have all the accusations out there accusing us of the most heinous crime of the century. Yet we can't defend ourselves. We can't defend against blank pages. Which means everybody has a field day with throwing out accusations, sources that we can't challenge. Anybody can say whatever they want based on information they have received on these pages, yet we haven't been able to see that. That's what the unfortunate aspect is. We do not want to compromise U.S. intelligence gathering, because we both are in the war on terrorism, but we want to be able to defend ourselves.

ZAHN: Finally tonight, Mr. Al-Jubeir, I want to read to you part of a letter which is being circulated among U.S. senators who are being asked to sign it, which in part says the information to classify this information makes it appear as if elements of the Bush administration desire to keep the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11 private. This impression damages the credibility of the government in the minds of the American people. Your response?

AL-JUBEIR: I find it unfortunate that any person, any person would believe that this president, who's been fighting the war on terrorism, would cover up for anyone involved in 9/11. If there's a link to 9/11, if there's a Saudi official involvement, if there's Saudi citizens' involvement, we want to know. We want to bring them to justice ourselves. But that's unfortunate that we can't defend ourselves if we don't know what's in there.

ZAHN: Nail Al-Jubeir, we appreciate your spending some time with us this evening. Thanks so much.

AL-JUBEIR: Thanks for having me.