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By Bill Gallagher

"There seems to be a systematic strategy of coddling and cover-up when it comes to the Saudis." -- Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

DETROIT -- The coddler-in-chief, the supreme protector of the Saudi regime and the man responsible for covering up the deeds of those mangy desert dogs who breed, finance and foster terrorism is President George W. Bush.

He insisted that a 28-page section of the congressional report on the Sept. 11 attacks, showing senior officials in Saudi Arabia funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to charities that helped fund al-Qaeda and may have actually financed the hijacking, be deleted from the public document.

The White House insists the CIA refused to permit the publication of the information implicating Saudi officials in funding terrorism on national security grounds. The argument was that the revelation would shake relations with an important ally and strain U.S.-Saudi cooperation in fighting terrorism. Total nonsense. It's a whitewash to cover up for Saudi treachery.

The president is doing this to protect the ruling Saudi family and prevent the American people from learning crucial facts about the terrorist attacks. For George W. Bush, this is a matter of vital family interests -- those of the Saudi royal and Bush families.

People who have seen the portion of the report the president wants to keep secret say it cites a CIA memo that concluded there was "incontrovertible evidence" that Saudis provided financial help to al-Qaeda operatives in the United States.

In the report, several government officials complain that "it was clear from about 1996 that the Saudi government would not cooperate with the United States on matters relating to Osama bin Laden."

Sen. Bob Graham, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and presidential hopeful, blasted the White House for providing cover for their Saudi pals. Graham played diplomatic and national security nice-nice, refusing to identify the suspected country, but otherwise he hit the target.

"It is my conclusion that officials of a foreign government aided and abetted the terrorists' attacks on our country. I would like to be able to identify for you the specific sources of that foreign support. But as you can see from these blank pages, the administration has determined to censor this information from the American people. ... Some of what the administration has withheld from the report borders on the absurd."

Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, "The most important question is, who financed the terrorists?" He adds that "at least 95 percent" of the information should be available to the public, and the reason for its suppression is to prevent "embarrassment."

The Bush administration did allow some hard criticism to see the light of day, but that must be viewed in the context of the policy to protect the Saudis and keep a lid on what was known and not acted upon in the White House.

The report faults the CIA and FBI for failing to heed warnings that al-Qaeda planned to attack the United States, concluding they did not consider the seriousness of the threat. Blaming the incompetence of the FBI and CIA leadership is just fine for the Bush administration. That takes the heat off the attorney general, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser and, of course, the president himself.

Examining the roles of those important players and what they did and did not do prior to Sept. 11 is instructive.

From the day he took office, Attorney General John "The Puritan" Ashcroft was on a mission that consumed his attention, resulting in little vigilance against terrorism in the first nine months of 2001. The mission: a new religious war on drugs. With his eyes bulging and his voice shrill, a 21st-century Jonathan Edwards, he preached that the most important cause we had was another war on drugs. Funding for other purposes was affected.

As the congressional report states, "An FBI budget official told the Joint Inquiry that counterterrorism was not a priority for Attorney General John Ashcroft and the FBI faced pressure to make cuts in counterterrorism to satisfy his other priorities."

With Ashcroft at the helm, the INS lost track of most of the Sept. 11 terrorists, many of whom had visa violations. But the Saudi national origin of 15 of the 19 hijackers didn't seem to concern our government. Most of the terrorists got their visas through Saudi travel agencies; since the desert kingdom was so "friendly" toward the United States, it was that easy to gain entry here.

Field Marshall Donald Rumsfeld had his own obsession -- building a missile defense shield, a project of dubious technology that would guarantee billions of dollars for military contractors. Rumsfeld's vast intelligence resources, larger and more far-reaching than the CIA and FBI's combined, never had a serious hold on bin Laden's plans.

At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was busy redecorating her office and ignoring warnings about al-Qaeda that were sitting right on her desk. It was a report National Security Council staffer Richard Clarke prepared during the transition from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.

Clarke, a career government employee who joined the NSC staff under Bush the Elder, had an ominous warning for Dr. Rice -- watch out for Osama bin Laden. The warning was specific: Al-Qaeda was planning an assault on the United States.

"Concealeezza" Rice says she doesn't recall receiving the report. Important aside: We know Rice's deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, got two written and one verbal warning from the CIA to stop using the bogus claim that Saddam Hussein was uranium shopping in Niger.

In spite of that, the infamous 16 words turned up in the president's State of the Union address. Hadley claims he never mentioned the CIA warning to Rice.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., says that's a stunning admission. "If the national security adviser didn't understand the repeated State Department and CIA warning about the uranium, that's a frightening level of incompetence." Or the other possibility is that Dr. Rice is simply lying.

No answers are being provided about warnings the president himself received before Sept. 11. The White House is refusing to release texts of the president's daily briefing (PDB), especially one from about a month before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush was warned intelligence reports suggested al-Qaeda terrorists were up to something big and bad. The congressional report has a fragmentary reference to an Aug. 6, 2001 PDB that mentioned a "closely held intelligence report" including information that "a group of bin Laden supporters was planning attacks in the United States with explosives."

Since October 2001, I've written numerous columns about the political coziness between the Bush family and many members of the Saudi royal family, especially Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States and a Bush family friend.

Former President George H.W. Bush is a consultant to the Carlyle Group, an international investment banking firm with huge stakes in Saudi Arabia. Carlyle is involved in the oil, construction and defense industries, and keeping their Saudi customers and investors happy is part of what George the Elder does, along with his former secretary of state, James Baker.

The president's brother, Neil, is also involved in drumming up Saudi investments. Offending the Saudi royal family is not in the Bush family's interest.

Prince Bandar complains about any criticism of the Saudi regime. "It is unfortunate that false accusations against Saudi Arabia continue to be made for some political purposes despite the fact that the kingdom has been one of the most active partners in the war on terrorism."

OK, Prince, deliver the goods. Your government is protecting Omar al Bayoumi, a Saudi student who befriended two of the hijackers, helped pay their expenses, and "had access to seemingly unlimited funding from Saudi Arabia," according to the congressional report.

Omar al Bayoumi fled to Saudi Arabia days before Sept. 11. Prince, turn him over to U.S. authority for questioning, and maybe you can help explain where he got all that money.

The families of the 3,000 people murdered in the Sept. 11 attacks only want the whole truth, and they deserve it. But they won't get it from George W. Bush. He's too busy burying the truth to protect other families.


Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 29 2003