THE FBI has accidentally disclosed the name of a Saudi diplomat suspected of directing support to al-Qaeda hijackers during the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The slip-up that led to the identity of the Saudi embassy official being revealed was made in a declaration by an FBI official in response to a lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims who have banded together and launched a court case accusing Saudi Arabia’s government of direct involvement in the attacks.
Officially, the identity of what had been dubbed the ‘third man’ in the conspiracy was being kept under strict censorship.
Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Journalist at Yahoo News was the first to notice the apparent mistake.
“When I noticed that the declaration included this information, I contacted the FBI for comment. Because I knew that the justice department and the Trump administration had been going to extraordinary length to keep all of this under wraps,” he told Aljazeera.
“In fact, both Attorney General William Barr and the Acting Director of the National Intelligence Richard Grennell had filed motions with the court saying that any information relating to the Saudi embassy official and all internal FBI documents about this matter was so sensitive; they were state secrets, that means if revealed they could cause damage to the national security.”
Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah was accidentally named in the declaration.
Al-Jarrah was a Saudi foreign ministry official assigned to the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC in 1999 and 2000 – potentially meaning that Saudi Arabia had officials working as a fifth column right at the heart of American politics.
Al-Jarrah was in charge of supervising the activities of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs employees at Saudi-funded mosques and Islamic centres in the US, according to a report.
A redacted copy of a three-and-a-half page October 2012 FBI “update” about the investigation said that FBI agents had uncovered “evidence” that al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi had been “tasked” to assist two hijackers by another person whose name was blacked out. This prompted the lawyers for the families of the 9/11 victims to refer to this individual as “the third man”.
Describing the request by the lawyers to depose that person under oath, Sanborn’s declaration said in one instance that it involved “any and all records referring to or relating to Jarrah”.
The mistake represented the first public confirmation that one of three men accused of involvement in the terrorist attack was an accredited Saudi diplomat.
All FBI evidence gathered about al-Jarrah and his communications about two of the hijackers remain under seal – with the White House understood to be ‘embarrassed’ by the release of al-Jarrah’s name.
While it is unclear how strong the evidence is against al-Jarrah, whose whereabouts remain unknown, the accidental disclosure is set to revive questions about Saudi Arabia’s alleged links to the 9/11 plot.
The case continues.