Louis Freeh Praises Saudi Cooperation on Khobar Investigation
(WASHINGTON, DC) - Former FBI Director Louis Freeh testified Tuesday before a joint hearing of the House/Senate Select Intelligence Committees on counter-terrorism efforts and the events surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Mr. Freeh spoke about the support the FBI received from Saudi authorities in the Khobar Towers investigation, and reiterated the same points that have been made by many other law enforcement and government officials in regard to the ongoing close cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia in the war on terrorism.
According to Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan: "The level of cooperation we currently have with the United States is unprecedented. Our law enforcement and intelligence authorities are working closely together and achieving important results in the fight against terrorism."
The following are excerpts from Freeh's testimony:
"Fortunately, the FBI was able to forge an effective working relationship with the Saudi police and interior ministry. After several trips and meetings with the Saudi leadership, and particularly Prince Nayef, the interior minister, the FBI was granted permission to expand its presence and joint operational capability within the Kingdom.
"I was particularly fortunate to gain the trust and cooperation of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, who was critical in achieving the FBI's investigative objectives in the Khobar case. Due to Prince Bandar's forthcoming support and personal efforts, the FBI was able to establish an FBI office in Riyadh.
"Our Arabic-speaking special agent, who became the first FBI agent to be assigned to Saudi Arabia, quickly made critical liaison, and relationships of trust were established between the FBI and the Mabahith. Evidence and access to important witnesses were obtained, and excellent investigative support was furnished to various teams of FBI agents who worked with Saudi Arabia to pursue the case.
"In one instance, Canadian authorities, acting on Saudi information, arrested a Khobar subject who was brought to the United States and thereafter sent by the Attorney-General to Saudi Arabia for prosecution. The cooperation the FBI received as a result of Prince Bandar and Prince Nayef's personal intervention and support was unprecedented and invaluable.
"From time to time, a road block or legal obstacle would occur, which was expected, given the marked differences between our legal and procedural systems. Despite these challenges, the problems were always solved by the personal intervention of Prince Bandar and his consistent support for the FBI.
"The case almost faltered on the issue of the FBI's critical request for direct access to six Saudi nationals who were being detained in the Kingdom and who had admitted participation in the Khobar bombing. One of these subjects, who had been returned to Saudi Arabia from another country, had key information which would later implicate senior Iranian government officials as responsible for the planning, funding and execution of this attack.
"We needed direct access to these subjects, because their admissions and testimony were critical to support our prosecution. Yet no FBI agent had ever been given such unprecedented access to a detained Saudi national, which access could potentially taint their prosecution under Islamic law. For the same reasons, the FBI would have been very reluctant to allow Saudi police officers to come to the United States and interview a subject under like conditions.
"Moreover, by making these witnesses directly available to the FBI, the Saudis understood that they would be helping to provide evidence that senior officials of the government of Iran were responsible for the Khobar attack. Despite these extremely sensitive and complex issues, the Saudis put their own interests aside to aid the FBI in the United States.
"Supported by Prince Bandar, Prince Nayef, the police and Crown Prince Abdullah, they decided to grant the FBI request to interview the detainees. Ambassador Wyche Fowler closely worked with me in this endeavor, and we finally succeeded. Teams of FBI agents were then able to have access to these critical detainees, and full debriefings were conducted in Saudi Arabia.
"As a direct result of these and later direct interviews, the Department of Justice was able to return a criminal indictment in June 2001, charging 13 defendants with the murders of our 19 servicemen. The indictment was returned just days before the statute of limitations would have run on some of the criminal charges.
"The case could not have been made without the critical support and active assistance of Saudi Arabia and the State Department through Ambassador Fowler."