2003 Transcript

Saudi Ambassador to U.K. Prince Turki Al-Faisal interviewed by Katie Couric, NBC 'Today'

KATIE COURIC, NBC ANCHOR: Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11 were from Saudi Arabia, and now a new book alleges that many high-ranking officials in Saudi Arabia may have helped fund Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. One of those officials is Prince Turki Al-Faisal. He spent more than 20 years as head of Saudi intelligence and is currently Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Great Britain. Your Royal Highness, good morning.


COURIC:   Well, nice to have you. As I mentioned, this new book by Gerald Posner specifically names you as being the person who donated as much as $2 billion to Osama bin Laden in hopes of keeping him in Afghanistan and out of Saudi Arabia.     You've acknowledged meeting him a number of times, so is there any truth to these recent allegations?

AL-FAISAL: Absolutely no truth whatsoever. When I met bin Laden, it was before the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the '80s. And the last time was 1990. So the assertion that I met with him in 1991 is totally false. And this fellow, Posner, he bases all these allegations on unnamed sources and it makes you wonder why they're unnamed.

COURIC: Prince Turki, could you have possibly been an unknowing go-between for someone higher up in the Saudi government?

AL-FAISAL: How can I be unknowing and a go-between at the same time, Ms. Couric? This is totally fabricated story and without any basis of fact at all. And, as I understand it, even some officials in the United States have denied the allegations made by this fellow Posner.

COURIC: In his book, he also describes the interrogation of a terrorist known as Abu Zubaydah, the number three man in Al Qaeda. Apparently U.S. officials rigged up a room to make it seem as if he was being interrogated in Saudi Arabia. They gave him sodium pentathol or truth serum. And according to the book, at that point Zubaydah relaxed, gave interrogators Saudi numbers to call and named three members of the royal family who would be able to help him out of his situation. And then, in a very strange twist, all of those people are now dead. They all died, some mysteriously, within months of each other. What do you make of this account?

AL-FAISAL: Well, this is what makes it so sad and so really reviling about the book. It takes three people like Prince Faisal bin Salman, well-known to the United States because he was the owner of one of the Kentucky Derby winners a couple of years ago, and two other princes, and all three had absolutely nothing to do either with politics or with bin Laden or with terrorism. And he maligns them by these aspersions in his book. And what he bases his information on is leaks from sources in the administration: one from the White House as he claims, and the other one from the CIA. Why doesn't he name his sources so that people can question them?

And this is what is so disgusting about the whole book is that it is based on unnamed sources and really a rehashing of stories that came about since September 11.

COURIC: Why, in your view, Prince Turki, do so many questions still persist about Saudi Arabia and its role in September 11 and its role in the fight against terrorism?

AL-FAISAL: Well, I have absolutely no idea, because what we have been doing before and since September 11 is to work very closely with the United States in combating terrorism, and more particularly in combating Osama bin Laden. When I was director of intelligence in the Kingdom in 1997, our defense minister proposed to your director of central intelligence - George Tenet, at the time - the setting up of a joint committee to pursue and follow all of the actions and information particularly about bin Laden. And that committee has been meeting since 1997 on almost a bimonthly basis, one time in the States, one time in the Kingdom. And ... 

COURIC: If that's the case, Prince Turki, and you were head of Saudi Arabia's intelligence service for 24 years, did you have indication that these attacks were imminent? And if so, did you warn the United States in any way?

AL-FAISAL: If we had any indications that they were imminent, we would have shared them with the United States immediately because that committee was standing and working at that time. But both of us, the United States and Saudi Arabia, did not have that information.

COURIC: What do you make of the 28 pages that were redacted from the official report by Congress on September 11 having to with Saudi Arabia? Do you know what those pages contained? And how do you feel about the fact that they were redacted? 

AL-FAISAL: Well, our foreign minister went to meet with President Bush on this specific issue and asked him to release those papers, because we knew that by not releasing them it would leave room for people to speculate and to make accusations and to make innuendoes about Saudi Arabia and so on.

We have nothing to fear. If there are any facts that can be proved in those 28 or 29 pages about Saudi Arabia, let's thrash them out, bring them out into the open, and we can follow them up and investigate them and jointly take action against them. But to leave them sequestered like that, without anybody being able to see them, at least from our side, is leaving the situation in a very terrible state because we're accused without knowing what we're accused of.

COURIC: Prince Turki, thanks so much for talking with us today.