On October 5, 2001, the Tampa Tribune published a short article regarding a flight that “the federal government says…never took place.” The flight left Tampa at 4:37 p.m. on September 13, 2001, two days after the 9/11 attacks. On board were three young Saudis (some FBI documents say four) that probably included the son of Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, now Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. In a chartered eight-passenger Learjet the youths left for Lexington, Kentucky, where they were met by security and escorted to a hotel to join relatives awaiting departure. The entire group of fifteen Saudis chartered a luxury Boeing 727 and left the United States on September 16.

The Tampa flight was one of several that consolidated and then transported Saudis out of the country between September 13 and 24. The numbers generally reported are 142 Saudis on six international charter flights; the 9/11 Commission reported 160 passengers—“mostly Saudi nationals”— on nine flights. An additional Saudi government flight left from Newark on September 14 with the deputy defense minister and other Saudi officials. The exodus was organized by Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, who expedited the departure of two extended families: the royal family of Saudi Arabia and the bin Ladens. The latter are close to the royal family and owners of a multi-billion-dollar construction conglomerate known as the Saudi Binladin Group. A total of about twenty-four members of the bin Laden family departed on the flights. The specific charter referred to as the “bin Laden flight,” because many of the passengers were Osama bin Laden’s relatives, left the United States on September 19 with twenty-eight passengers. The flight originated in St. Louis and then picked up Saudis in Los Angeles, Orlando, Washington, DC, and Boston before leaving the country.

According to US Customs and Border Protection records acquired by Judicial Watch, a conservative foundation that “promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government,” an additional 160 Saudi nationals left the United States after the 9/11 attacks on some fifty commercial flights from twenty cities. This apparently occurred without FBI checks of the passenger manifests against terrorist watch lists.

On September 13, the same day as the Tampa flight, the ambassador Prince Bandar visited the White House and had a conversation with President Bush. They met on the Truman Balcony; Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Bandar’s aide Rihab Massoud were also present. The timing of the meeting suggests that the evacuation of Saudis may have been discussed, but this is unverifiable and has been denied by the White House. The Saudi embassy comments only that the flights were approved by “the highest level of the US government.” The meeting between Bandar and Bush had been arranged prior to 9/11 to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but that agenda was preempted by the attacks. Bandar is an old and close friend of the Bush family, and his relations with the President on September 13—an embrace as greeting, cigars on the balcony—suggest a mood of conciliation and solidarity. For the two days following the attacks, Bandar was also in close contact with the FBI, Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Exposing the Flights

The White House’s authorization of the Saudi evacuation was revealed in 2003 by a major article in Vanity Fair and one anticipating it in the New York Times. Richard Clarke, who in 2001 was head of the Counterterrorism Security Group of the National Security Council and also leader of the White House crisis team responding to the 9/11 attacks, acknowledged that he had authorized the departure of the Saudi flights. (In the Vanity Fair article, where he is quoted, he actually uses the singular, “an airplane filled with Saudis.”). The 9/11 Commission staff concurs: the original contact remains unidentified, but “the request came to the attention of Richard Clarke.” The Commission further noted that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card was aware of the Saudi request, and Colin Powell publicly acknowledged government involvement during a Meet the Press interview. The President and Vice President, for their parts, were not under oath when they explained to the Commission that they had learned of the Saudi flights through the media.

The Saudi flights became an ongoing concern for the White House and the FBI following the publication of Craig Unger’s “Saving the Saudis” in the October, 2003 Vanity Fair. The article prompted inquiries from Senators (notably Dianne Feinstein), and Representative Henry Waxman requested an explanation from Attorney General John Ashcroft. The FBI compiled a rebuttal to the Vanity Fair article, and its final version was made available after presentation (as stated in an FBI email) “to the White House for possible review by the President.” A heavily redacted copy and related documents were reluctantly released to the public after Judicial Watch litigation, in 2005.





Another detail that emerged years after the flights, in July, 2004, suggests that the White House may have been directly involved in the evacuation of the Saudis. The bin Laden flight left the United States on a chartered aircraft that is also frequently chartered (and perhaps leased) by the White House. This particular Boeing 727, with the tail number N521DB, is operated by Ryan International and used by the White House to transport the press corps that accompanies the President and Vice President.

The flight manifest that identified the bin Ladens’ aircraft was acquired from Logan Airport authorities by Senators Frank Lautenberg and Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer had previously requested the flight manifest from the FBI; the request was denied. The use of the same aircraft by the White House and the bin Ladens suggests that the White House facilitated arrangements that were made by or through the Saudi embassy. One of the declassified FBI documents states that “the plane was chartered either by the Saudi Arabian royalty [sic] family or Osama Bin Laden” or, in another document, “by the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, DC.”

FBI Involvement

The White House’s role in the evacuation remains unverifiable, but the FBI’s direct involvement is well documented. After the 9/11 attacks many Saudis, concerned about their safety, sought protection and expeditious departure. In October, 2001, Bandar explained to CNN that his government feared reprisals against innocent Saudis, so in “coordination with the FBI, we got them all out.” The FBI denied any preferential treatment of Saudis or participation in the exodus—“I can say unequivocally that the FBI had no role in facilitating these flights one way or another,” a spokesman said—but all indications are to the contrary. A New York Times article published shortly after the attacks, on September 30, gave early indication that the FBI supervised the transport of Saudis, and the 9/11 Commission later concurred. Ron Ryan of Ryan International, from whom the bin Laden flight was chartered, said “the FBI and Secret Service were heavily involved.” And internal FBI documents repeatedly mention FBI escort of passengers to their flights: “[Redacted] was escorted by FBI LA to a charter terminal at LAX”; “[Redacted] was escorted by FBI TP to the airport in Orlando, FL.”

The FBI was active in facilitating the evacuation, but it did not properly interview the Saudis before departure. This is significant because inadequate interviewing violates the most basic practices of criminal investigation; because the White House is implicated in the impropriety; and because other Muslims, lacking the political connections of the passengers on the flights, were treated quite differently.

On the day after the 9/11 attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller told ABC News that “investigators are trying to identify and find relatives or anyone associated with the hijackers” who might have knowledge of terrorism. Human Rights Watch was concerned because federal agents began to question “thousands of people” and “the decision of whom to question often appeared to be haphazard,” sometimes prompted by “random encounters with foreign male Muslims.” An internal Department of Justice study in 2003 similarly found that “given the wide-ranging nature of the terrorism probe, the FBI interpreted and applied the term ‘of interest to the September 11 investigation’ quite broadly.” More than a thousand Muslims were detained indiscriminately by the FBI, but the Saudis on the flights were permitted, and assisted with, an expeditious departure.

It is true, as the FBI and 9/11 Commission argue, that the great majority of the evacuated Saudis are unlikely to have any involvement with terrorism. They were largely comprised of prep school, college, and English-language students; young professionals; and a wealthy elite enjoying such activities as Las Vegas casinos and a race-horse auction in Kentucky. The FBI’s relative disinterest in these Saudis and the apologetic tone of the 9/11 Commission report are based on the idea that Osama bin Laden is the renegade of an otherwise prominent and pro-American family, and that the Saudi royal family, an essential ally of the United States in a volatile region, is entitled to diplomatic concessions.

Pursuant to such premises, the passengers on the charter flights were identified through passport/face checks and their names were run through watch-list databases, but, as the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism Dale Watson said, “they were not subject to serious interviews or interrogations.” Another FBI spokesman said that most of the interviews were conducted “at the airport, as they were about to leave.” And less than a quarter of the passengers were interviewed: “Thirty of the 142 people on these flights were interviewed by the FBI,” the 9/11 Commission staff reported. Two of the passengers on the bin Laden flight had once been “subjects of preliminary investigations by the FBI,” the Commission acknowledged, but it nevertheless concluded that “no one with known links to terrorism departed on these flights.” In one of the FBI documents, similarly, “None of the individuals aboard were suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations.”

There were, nevertheless, some individuals among the evacuated Saudis who warranted greater scrutiny. According to the manifest of the bin Laden flight, one of the passengers was Omar bin Laden, a nephew of Osama bin Laden. Omar was on the board of directors and his brother (and, in 2001, roommate) Abdullah bin Laden was president of the US office of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), located in Falls Church, Virginia. WAMY, which has long been of interest to federal agents in terrorism investigations, is an international charity managed by the Saudi government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Omar and Abdullah had been investigated by the FBI in 1996, and their case was reopened on September 19, 2001, precisely on the same day that the bin Laden flight left the United States. In 2004, federal agents raided the Virginia WAMY office during an investigation related to terrorist financing. It would seem, therefore, that Omar (and Abdullah, if he departed after the 9/11 attacks) should have been questioned in depth by the FBI.

Another passenger of interest was Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, who, following his return to Saudi Arabia, received a government appointment as minister of the affairs of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina (the two most sacred sites of the Islamic world). Hussayen arrived in the United States on August 20, 2001 for meetings with several Saudi-funded charities suspected of links to terrorism. These included WAMY and the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), in Illinois, which according to the Treasury Department has “provided support for and assistance to, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other known terrorist groups.” The GRF office was raided and closed by federal authorities shortly after the attacks, in December, 2001.

The most curious detail about Hussayen’s travels around the United States was his lodging on September 10, 2001—the night before the attacks—in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers. FBI agents subsequently interviewed the hotel guests, including Hussayen and his wife, but Hussayen’s interview was interrupted when he “feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” An agent recommended that Hussayen not be permitted to leave the United States until a follow-up interview could be conducted, but “for whatever reason” the recommendation “was not complied with.” This testimony, reported in the Washington Post, was offered by an FBI agent during the terrorism-related trial of Hussayen’s nephew. The nephew was acquitted in 2004.

Funding al Qaeda

The connection of elite Saudis to terrorism is more generally entangled in the convolutions of charitable donations (an obligation of Islam) that by design or default wind up supporting al Qaeda. The bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family are huge clans—the latter estimated at around 5,000 people—that encompass a range of political perspectives. Even those who are disinclined to support Islamic fundamentalism are affected by the situation in which they find themselves: on one hand extraordinarily wealthy and interconnected economically and politically with the West, and on the other sympathetic to Muslim causes and precariously attached to a discontent Wahhabi population. This duality of allegiances is conducive to contradictory loyalties. The Saudi elite survives by exploiting ambiguities. Some donors are fully aware that their charitable contributions fund terrorism (the so-called “Golden Chain” list, discovered by FBI agents during a 2002 raid on a Saudi charity in Bosnia, names twenty leading bankers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs who are alleged al Qaeda financiers); others donate to humanitarian charities that divert funds to al Qaeda.

A 2002 report by the Council on Foreign Relations noted that “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” Even the Saudi-friendly 9/11 Commission acknowledged that “a failure to conduct oversight over institutions created an environment in which such activity [funding of al Qaeda] flourished.” The United States, consequently, had to “develop a strategy to counter Saudi terrorist financing.” In 2003, the FBI made the unprecedented move of issuing subpoenas for the records of several Saudi embassy bank accounts, and a year later the New York Times reported that federal regulators had fined Riggs Bank US$25 million for “suspect transactions involving the withdrawal of tens of millions of dollars in cash and international drafts from accounts controlled by the Saudi Arabian Embassy and by Saudi Arabian officials,” including Prince Bandar (Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, also gained unwanted notoriety in 2002 when it was revealed that funds from the princess’s Riggs Bank account indirectly supported two of the September 11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar.). In 2005, the Treasury undersecretary-designate testified before the Senate that “even today, we believe that private S

There were, nevertheless, some individuals among the evacuated Saudis who warranted greater scrutiny. According to the manifest of the bin Laden flight, one of the passengers was Omar bin Laden, a nephew of Osama bin Laden. Omar was on the board of directors and his brother (and, in 2001, roommate) Abdullah bin Laden was president of the US office of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), located in Falls Church, Virginia. WAMY, which has long been of interest to federal agents in terrorism investigations, is an international charity managed by the Saudi government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Omar and Abdullah had been investigated by the FBI in 1996, and their case was reopened on September 19, 2001, precisely on the same day that the bin Laden flight left the United States. In 2004, federal agents raided the Virginia WAMY office during an investigation related to terrorist financing. It would seem, therefore, that Omar (and Abdullah, if he departed after the 9/11 attacks) should have been questioned in depth by the FBI.

Another passenger of interest was Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, who, following his return to Saudi Arabia, received a government appointment as minister of the affairs of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina (the two most sacred sites of the Islamic world). Hussayen arrived in the United States on August 20, 2001 for meetings with several Saudi-funded charities suspected of links to terrorism. These included WAMY and the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), in Illinois, which according to the Treasury Department has “provided support for and assistance to, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other known terrorist groups.” The GRF office was raided and closed by federal authorities shortly after the attacks, in December, 2001.

The most curious detail about Hussayen’s travels around the United States was his lodging on September 10, 2001—the night before the attacks—in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers. FBI agents subsequently interviewed the hotel guests, including Hussayen and his wife, but Hussayen’s interview was interrupted when he “feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” An agent recommended that Hussayen not be permitted to leave the United States until a follow-up interview could be conducted, but “for whatever reason” the recommendation “was not complied with.” This testimony, reported in the Washington Post, was offered by an FBI agent during the terrorism-related trial of Hussayen’s nephew. The nephew was acquitted in 2004.

Funding al Qaeda

The connection of elite Saudis to terrorism is more generally entangled in the convolutions of charitable donations (an obligation of Islam) that by design or default wind up supporting al Qaeda. The bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family are huge clans—the latter estimated at around 5,000 people—that encompass a range of political perspectives. Even those who are disinclined to support Islamic fundamentalism are affected by the situation in which they find themselves: on one hand extraordinarily wealthy and interconnected economically and politically with the West, and on the other sympathetic to Muslim causes and precariously attached to a discontent Wahhabi population. This duality of allegiances is conducive to contradictory loyalties. The Saudi elite survives by exploiting ambiguities. Some donors are fully aware that their charitable contributions fund terrorism (the so-called “Golden Chain” list, discovered by FBI agents during a 2002 raid on a Saudi charity in Bosnia, names twenty leading bankers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs who are alleged al Qaeda financiers); others donate to humanitarian charities that divert funds to al Qaeda.

A 2002 report by the Council on Foreign Relations noted that “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” Even the Saudi-friendly 9/11 Commission acknowledged that “a failure to conduct oversight over institutions created an environment in which such activity [funding of al Qaeda] flourished.” The United States, consequently, had to “develop a strategy to counter Saudi terrorist financing.” In 2003, the FBI made the unprecedented move of issuing subpoenas for the records of several Saudi embassy bank accounts, and a year later the New York Times reported that federal regulators had fined Riggs Bank US$25 million for “suspect transactions involving the withdrawal of tens of millions of dollars in cash and international drafts from accounts controlled by the Saudi Arabian Embassy and by Saudi Arabian officials,” including Prince Bandar (Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, also gained unwanted notoriety in 2002 when it was revealed that funds from the princess’s Riggs Bank account indirectly supported two of the September 11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar.). In 2005, the Treasury undersecretary-designate testified before the Senate that “even today, we believe that private S

There were, nevertheless, some individuals among the evacuated Saudis who warranted greater scrutiny. According to the manifest of the bin Laden flight, one of the passengers was Omar bin Laden, a nephew of Osama bin Laden. Omar was on the board of directors and his brother (and, in 2001, roommate) Abdullah bin Laden was president of the US office of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), located in Falls Church, Virginia. WAMY, which has long been of interest to federal agents in terrorism investigations, is an international charity managed by the Saudi government’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Omar and Abdullah had been investigated by the FBI in 1996, and their case was reopened on September 19, 2001, precisely on the same day that the bin Laden flight left the United States. In 2004, federal agents raided the Virginia WAMY office during an investigation related to terrorist financing. It would seem, therefore, that Omar (and Abdullah, if he departed after the 9/11 attacks) should have been questioned in depth by the FBI.

Another passenger of interest was Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, who, following his return to Saudi Arabia, received a government appointment as minister of the affairs of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina (the two most sacred sites of the Islamic world). Hussayen arrived in the United States on August 20, 2001 for meetings with several Saudi-funded charities suspected of links to terrorism. These included WAMY and the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), in Illinois, which according to the Treasury Department has “provided support for and assistance to, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other known terrorist groups.” The GRF office was raided and closed by federal authorities shortly after the attacks, in December, 2001.

The most curious detail about Hussayen’s travels around the United States was his lodging on September 10, 2001—the night before the attacks—in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers. FBI agents subsequently interviewed the hotel guests, including Hussayen and his wife, but Hussayen’s interview was interrupted when he “feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” An agent recommended that Hussayen not be permitted to leave the United States until a follow-up interview could be conducted, but “for whatever reason” the recommendation “was not complied with.” This testimony, reported in the Washington Post, was offered by an FBI agent during the terrorism-related trial of Hussayen’s nephew. The nephew was acquitted in 2004.

Funding al Qaeda

The connection of elite Saudis to terrorism is more generally entangled in the convolutions of charitable donations (an obligation of Islam) that by design or default wind up supporting al Qaeda. The bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family are huge clans—the latter estimated at around 5,000 people—that encompass a range of political perspectives. Even those who are disinclined to support Islamic fundamentalism are affected by the situation in which they find themselves: on one hand extraordinarily wealthy and interconnected economically and politically with the West, and on the other sympathetic to Muslim causes and precariously attached to a discontent Wahhabi population. This duality of allegiances is conducive to contradictory loyalties. The Saudi elite survives by exploiting ambiguities. Some donors are fully aware that their charitable contributions fund terrorism (the so-called “Golden Chain” list, discovered by FBI agents during a 2002 raid on a Saudi charity in Bosnia, names twenty leading bankers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs who are alleged al Qaeda financiers); others donate to humanitarian charities that divert funds to al Qaeda.

A 2002 report by the Council on Foreign Relations noted that “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” Even the Saudi-friendly 9/11 Commission acknowledged that “a failure to conduct oversight over institutions created an environment in which such activity [funding of al Qaeda] flourished.” The United States, consequently, had to “develop a strategy to counter Saudi terrorist financing.” In 2003, the FBI made the unprecedented move of issuing subpoenas for the records of several Saudi embassy bank accounts, and a year later the New York Times reported that federal regulators had fined Riggs Bank US$25 million for “suspect transactions involving the withdrawal of tens of millions of dollars in cash and international drafts from accounts controlled by the Saudi Arabian Embassy and by Saudi Arabian officials,” including Prince Bandar (Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, also gained unwanted notoriety in 2002 when it was revealed that funds from the princess’s Riggs Bank account indirectly supported two of the September 11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar.). In 2005, the Treasury undersecretary-designate testified before the Senate that “even today, we believe that private Saudi donors may be a significant source of terrorist funding, including for the insurgency in Iraq.”

While it is unlikely that active terrorists escaped on the Saudi flights, some passengers had knowledge of complex financier networks that FBI questioning should have explored.

The Tampa Flight

The existence of the Tampa “phantom flight” was long denied by federal authorities, and anyone maintaining otherwise was readily dismissed as a conspiracy kook. Even worse were the fringe weirdoes who insisted that the flight occurred while national airspace was closed. White House officials were “absolutely confident” that the Tampa flight never happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed: “It’s not in our logs…It didn’t occur.” The FBI’s response to Vanity Fair states categorically that “No flights arrived or departed from Lexington on September 13, 2001.” The same document offered what seemed to be a reasonable explanation—the young Saudis drove to Lexington—that was disproved by the 9/11 Commission. It was also contradicted by another FBI document: the youths “were flown up from Florida” to join Saudis in Lexington and “be transported…to Saudi Arabia.”

Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of wh

Another passenger of interest was Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen, who, following his return to Saudi Arabia, received a government appointment as minister of the affairs of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina (the two most sacred sites of the Islamic world). Hussayen arrived in the United States on August 20, 2001 for meetings with several Saudi-funded charities suspected of links to terrorism. These included WAMY and the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), in Illinois, which according to the Treasury Department has “provided support for and assistance to, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other known terrorist groups.” The GRF office was raided and closed by federal authorities shortly after the attacks, in December, 2001.

The most curious detail about Hussayen’s travels around the United States was his lodging on September 10, 2001—the night before the attacks—in the same Virginia hotel as three of the hijackers. FBI agents subsequently interviewed the hotel guests, including Hussayen and his wife, but Hussayen’s interview was interrupted when he “feigned a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians found nothing wrong with him.” An agent recommended that Hussayen not be permitted to leave the United States until a follow-up interview could be conducted, but “for whatever reason” the recommendation “was not complied with.” This testimony, reported in the Washington Post, was offered by an FBI agent during the terrorism-related trial of Hussayen’s nephew. The nephew was acquitted in 2004.

Funding al Qaeda

The connection of elite Saudis to terrorism is more generally entangled in the convolutions of charitable donations (an obligation of Islam) that by design or default wind up supporting al Qaeda. The bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family are huge clans—the latter estimated at around 5,000 people—that encompass a range of political perspectives. Even those who are disinclined to support Islamic fundamentalism are affected by the situation in which they find themselves: on one hand extraordinarily wealthy and interconnected economically and politically with the West, and on the other sympathetic to Muslim causes and precariously attached to a discontent Wahhabi population. This duality of allegiances is conducive to contradictory loyalties. The Saudi elite survives by exploiting ambiguities. Some donors are fully aware that their charitable contributions fund terrorism (the so-called “Golden Chain” list, discovered by FBI agents during a 2002 raid on a Saudi charity in Bosnia, names twenty leading bankers, industrialists, and entrepreneurs who are alleged al Qaeda financiers); others donate to humanitarian charities that divert funds to al Qaeda.

A 2002 report by the Council on Foreign Relations noted that “For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.” Even the Saudi-friendly 9/11 Commission acknowledged that “a failure to conduct oversight over institutions created an environment in which such activity [funding of al Qaeda] flourished.” The United States, consequently, had to “develop a strategy to counter Saudi terrorist financing.” In 2003, the FBI made the unprecedented move of issuing subpoenas for the records of several Saudi embassy bank accounts, and a year later the New York Times reported that federal regulators had fined Riggs Bank US$25 million for “suspect transactions involving the withdrawal of tens of millions of dollars in cash and international drafts from accounts controlled by the Saudi Arabian Embassy and by Saudi Arabian officials,” including Prince Bandar (Bandar and his wife, Princess Haifa al-Faisal, also gained unwanted notoriety in 2002 when it was revealed that funds from the princess’s Riggs Bank account indirectly supported two of the September 11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar.). In 2005, the Treasury undersecretary-designate testified before the Senate that “even today, we believe that private Saudi donors may be a significant source of terrorist funding, including for the insurgency in Iraq.”

While it is unlikely that active terrorists escaped on the Saudi flights, some passengers had knowledge of complex financier networks that FBI questioning should have explored.

The Tampa Flight

The existence of the Tampa “phantom flight” was long denied by federal authorities, and anyone maintaining otherwise was readily dismissed as a conspiracy kook. Even worse were the fringe weirdoes who insisted that the flight occurred while national airspace was closed. White House officials were “absolutely confident” that the Tampa flight never happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed: “It’s not in our logs…It didn’t occur.” The FBI’s response to Vanity Fair states categorically that “No flights arrived or departed from Lexington on September 13, 2001.” The same document offered what seemed to be a reasonable explanation—the young Saudis drove to Lexington—that was disproved by the 9/11 Commission. It was also contradicted by another FBI document: the youths “were flown up from Florida” to join Saudis in Lexington and “be transported…to Saudi Arabia.”

Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



While it is unlikely that active terrorists escaped on the Saudi flights, some passengers had knowledge of complex financier networks that FBI questioning should have explored.

The Tampa Flight

The existence of the Tampa “phantom flight” was long denied by federal authorities, and anyone maintaining otherwise was readily dismissed as a conspiracy kook. Even worse were the fringe weirdoes who insisted that the flight occurred while national airspace was closed. White House officials were “absolutely confident” that the Tampa flight never happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed: “It’s not in our logs…It didn’t occur.” The FBI’s response to Vanity Fair states categorically that “No flights arrived or departed from Lexington on September 13, 2001.” The same document offered what seemed to be a reasonable explanation—the young Saudis drove to Lexington—that was disproved by the 9/11 Commission. It was also contradicted by another FBI document: the youths “were flown up from Florida” to join Saudis in Lexington and “be transported…to Saudi Arabia.”

Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.





Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



While it is unlikely that active terrorists escaped on the Saudi flights, some passengers had knowledge of complex financier networks that FBI questioning should have explored.

The Tampa Flight

The existence of the Tampa “phantom flight” was long denied by federal authorities, and anyone maintaining otherwise was readily dismissed as a conspiracy kook. Even worse were the fringe weirdoes who insisted that the flight occurred while national airspace was closed. White House officials were “absolutely confident” that the Tampa flight never happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed: “It’s not in our logs…It didn’t occur.” The FBI’s response to Vanity Fair states categorically that “No flights arrived or departed from Lexington on September 13, 2001.” The same document offered what seemed to be a reasonable explanation—the young Saudis drove to Lexington—that was disproved by the 9/11 Commission. It was also contradicted by another FBI document: the youths “were flown up from Florida” to join Saudis in Lexington and “be transported…to Saudi Arabia.”

Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.







While it is unlikely that active terrorists escaped on the Saudi flights, some passengers had knowledge of complex financier networks that FBI questioning should have explored.

The Tampa Flight

The existence of the Tampa “phantom flight” was long denied by federal authorities, and anyone maintaining otherwise was readily dismissed as a conspiracy kook. Even worse were the fringe weirdoes who insisted that the flight occurred while national airspace was closed. White House officials were “absolutely confident” that the Tampa flight never happened, and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed: “It’s not in our logs…It didn’t occur.” The FBI’s response to Vanity Fair states categorically that “No flights arrived or departed from Lexington on September 13, 2001.” The same document offered what seemed to be a reasonable explanation—the young Saudis drove to Lexington—that was disproved by the 9/11 Commission. It was also contradicted by another FBI document: the youths “were flown up from Florida” to join Saudis in Lexington and “be transported…to Saudi Arabia.”

Official denial of the flight persevered until 2004, when the 9/11 Commission requested clarification from Tampa International Airport authorities. As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, aircraft-tracking equipment tasked for a noise-abatement program revealed that on September 13 the Learjet arrived from the south at 3:34 p.m.; departed at 4:37 p.m. (with the Saudis), heading north; returned at 8:23 p.m. (presumably to drop off the two escorts from Tampa); and departed again at 8:48 p.m., heading south.

Based on this and other information, the 9/11 Commission report corrected the record regarding the Tampa flight, but only partially and in an endnote. Americans who read the mass-market edition published without endnotes were left with the impression that there was nothing unusual or inappropriate about any of the Saudi flights. Regarding the Tampa flight specifically, one of the endnotes explains that although the FBI “alleged to have had no record of the flight and denied that it occurred,” this was a “misunderstanding” because “the FBI was initially misinformed.” The erroneous FBI report is thus dismissed rather than regarded as significant, even if only for incompetence. The Commission neglected to mention that the flight’s occurrence is recorded in other FBI documents and that the Senators who requested clarification were intentionally misinformed. If journalists could acquire accurate information about the flight, and if the Commission could determine the flight’s existence with a single letter to Tampa airport authorities, then certainly FBI investigators also had access to the facts.

Equally disturbing is the manner in which the Commission denies that the Tampa flight occurred before national airspace was reopened to general aviation. An endnote in the Commission report explains that the Learjet hired to take the Saudi youths to Lexington left “more than five hours after the Tampa airport reopened and after other flights had arrived at and departed from that airport.” While this information is presumably accurate, it omits the critical distinction between scheduled commercial flights and the chartered jet that transported the Saudis. On September 13 at 11:00 a.m. national airspace was reopened to US carriers for flights using airports conforming to the new FAA security regulations, but airspace was still closed to private and nonscheduled aviation. Several FAA restrictions known as notices to airmen (NOTAMs) were issued after the attacks and are included in the FBI documents. The NOTAM in effect at the time of the Tampa flight states that all “general aviation flights are prohibited within the national airspace system until further notice.” The term “general aviation” refers to flights other than scheduled airline and military flights. As explained by the Air Charter Guide glossary, these include “commercial unscheduled operations, corporate flight operations, and private aviation.”

The quoted NOTAM, which was preceded and followed by several others, was issued on September 13, 2001 at 14:57 (2:57 p.m.) and canceled on the same day at 18:42 (6:42 p.m.). The Tampa flight departed at 4:37 p.m. Later on September 13, beginning at 18:30 (6:30 p.m.), exceptions were made for certain general aviation flights, including those involved in medical emergencies, rescue and recovery, and law enforcement.

Thus it would appear that the Tampa flight did indeed fly before national airspace was open to general aviation. According to an FBI document, the Saudi youths in Tampa attempted to depart a day earlier, on September 12, but were advised that “if they took off, they would be shot down.” The security escorts accompanying the youths feared that fate even on September 13. Both escorts were amazed that the flight was allowed to depart, and, as the Tampa Tribune reported, one “was told that the clearance came from the White House.”

The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.





The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.



The Tampa Tribune article that broke the story and the Vanity Fair piece that expanded it are essentially correct in their representation of the facts, but afterwards a preponderance of official discourse—from the White House, the FBI, the FAA, and the 9/11 Commission—overwhelmed their account and fostered a dismissal of unflattering findings. The Saudi flights are thus another instance in which official discourse modifies the record from correct to incorrect, sometimes permanently. In the present case, once one has sorted through the labyrinthine disinformation, redactions, and denials, the available evidence indicates that the Saudi flights occurred as reported; that the Tampa flight had special dispensation to fly before national airspace was reopened to general aviation; that the White House, and probably the President, approved the evacuation; that the FBI assisted with the logistics of the flights; that the FBI interviewed less than a quarter of the passengers, and these interviews were cursory; and that Saudis who had information of interest to the 9/11 investigation, if only information about funding networks, were inappropriately allowed to leave the country. Scholarship is doomed to the laborious proof of what everyone suspected in advance.