PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Miami Lakes, Florida. And welcome to Reality Asserts Itself.
You’re wondering why I’m in Miami Lakes, Florida. Well, you’re going to find out in just a few seconds.
But we’re going to deal with a rather serious subject in this interview. We’re going to deal with the role of Saudi Arabia and its effect or influence on U.S. foreign policy and a little bit of background, recent background about U.S.-Saudi relations.
Saudi Arabia, as everyone that follows this story, has been certainly one of the driving force—if not the driving force—in what’s unfolding in Syria. The armed opposition in Syria has been armed by Saudi Arabia. Money has been fueling there, and the Saudis have been putting enormous pressure on the American government to directly militarily intervene.
United States is now involved in negotiations with Iran to make some kind of a pact that would have the Iranians back off on any nuclear program they have. The Iranians say it’s not a weaponized program, and so does American intelligence, but there’s a lot of fear or concern on the part of many that in fact it could become a weaponized program. So negotiations are finally taking place, this time it looks like with some earnest.
But it’s fairly well known that the Saudis are not very happy about these negotiations, along with Israel, at least behind the scenes. The Saudis have been saying these negotiations should not even take place. Prince Bandar, head of the Saudi National Security Council, recently told European diplomats that the United States was losing its credibility in the Middle East because it wouldn’t militarily intervene in Syria and because of what they see as backing down to Iran.
I attended a dinner recently, where I was rubbing elbows with Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council country and military leadership, and all the talk at that dinner was about the Saudis wanting the United States not only to intervene in Syria but to actually directly attack Iran.
So if Saudi Arabia’s having so much influence on U.S. foreign policy, shouldn’t we pay attention to the words of Senator Bob Graham, who wrote a book, Intelligence Matters: The CIA, the FBI, Saudi Arabia, and the Failure of America’s War on Terror? In that book he said fairly strong things about Saudi Arabia. Here’s what Senator Bob Graham wrote towards the end of his book. I believe—and I’m adding a word here to give it context—there is a state-sponsored terrorist support network that still exists, largely undamaged, within the United States.
The whole book is about the role of Saudi Arabia and its connection to 9/11. And according to Bob Graham, members of the Saudi government and royal family were directly connected to inspiring, funding, and helping support the organization of certain 9/11 conspirators. That came about as a result of his work as chair of the congressional joint committee on 9/11. So if we’re going to look at today’s effect and role of Saudi Arabia on current policy and the important role it’s playing, we should also pay attention to the recent history of Saudi Arabia.
And now joining us to talk about all of this is Senator Bob Graham.
Thanks very much for joining us.
BOB GRAHAM, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Thank you very much. And I appreciate your interest in this very important and underreported subject.
JAY: And strangely underreported, given that this isn’t just some piece of history that should be in a museum and isn’t interesting to discuss it. But we’re talking about the active role of Saudi Arabia today, not just in terms of affecting U.S. foreign-policy, but on other issues that you mention in terms of ongoing—potentially ongoing terrorist networks.
GRAHAM: Their active role, and how our perspective role on that active role would be different if there was an acceptance of the fact that Saudi Arabia was essentially a co-conspirator in 9/11, how much that would change the way in which, particularly in the current milieu of events in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is being viewed.
JAY: It would change everything, given so much of our policy is based on Saudi Arabia as being, you know, at least one of, if not the primary ally in the Middle East.
GRAHAM: And that perception that Saudi Arabia since World War II has been the object of a special relationship with United States I think has contributed—not the total reason, but a factor, in that we have gone so unexamined in this current relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
JAY: Okay. Before we go further, let me introduce Bob Graham properly, because Senator Graham is not just a senator, in the sense that there’s a lot of senators but not all senators have played as prominent a role as Senator Graham has in the American intelligence community. And here’s a little bit of an introduction, ’cause I know he’s done a lot more than what I’m about to say.
So Bob Graham was born in 1936, was the 38th Governor of Florida from 1979 to 1987 and a United States senator from that state from 1987 to 2005.
Graham tried unsuccessfully—and I have to say, personally I was a little disappointed myself in this—unsuccessfully for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. He dropped out of the race on October 6, 2003. He announced his retirement from the Senate on November 3 of that year.
Graham is now concentrating his efforts on the newly established Bob Graham Center for Public Service at his graduate alma mater, at the University of Florida.
After he left office, he served as chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. Graham also served as cochair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. And he’s a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and the CIA External Advisory Board.
So Senator Graham is not just a senator. Senator Graham has been at the center of a lot of very important issues that face American intelligence.
So, Senator Graham, in this show, Reality Asserts Itself—and you’re going to—this is a bit of a tease, all this, because we’re going to go back a little bit. We usually start with little bit of a back story of our subjects and a little bit of why they think what they think. And then we kind of get into the issues.
So tell us a little bit about growing up. Your father was a state senator. He was a dairy farmer, and became a fairly prominent family in Florida.
GRAHAM: I grew up on a farm which was an island in the middle of the Everglades. When I was a boy, I grew up with alligators and frogs and all the critters in the Everglades, and that had a significant effect on me, particularly my concerns about the environment and the protection of our water and land resources.
My father was a very strong influence on me. He had been a mining engineer in the West back in the beginning of the 20th century. He was born in 1885 of Canadian parents and was a very strong, forceful person, but had a special way of relating to people. People wanted to work with him because they admired his honesty and forthrightness and that he treated people with dignity and respect. Those are qualities which I learned from him and I hope I’ve been able to apply.
JAY: Now, he became a state senator. Did you grow up in a house filled with politics?
GRAHAM: Yes. He became a state senator because in the mid-1930s there was a great deal of corruption in South Florida. Al Capone had moved much of his operation from Chicago to Miami. My father was offended by that. And although he never had been in politics before, he thought one way that he might make a contribution would be to be elected to the Florida State Senate at a time when the state exercised almost total control over cities and counties in Florida.
He was elected. In fact, one of the first things he did was abolish the city of Hialeah, which was somewhat at the center of the corruption in Dade County, and then reestablished the city of Hialeah, naming the mayor and all the members of the City Council. Those new members in turn fired the police chief, brought in some honest people. Then Hialeah for a period of time was a very clean city. And I think that influence has continued to today.
JAY: Now, when you grew up, in terms of your conception of America and the American narrative, you know, there’s an official narrative, and then there’s kind of a real history. You become, when you are a senator, a very vocal opponent of the war in Iraq. And in your book you’re pretty clear that you think that the Bush-Cheney administration essentially lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When you were growing up, could you imagine such a thing? You’re seeing corruption, but can you believe the president would lie America into war?
GRAHAM: No. I grew up with the idea that the president was almost a divine figure, that he was the literally the father of the country and always acted in a way that was beneficial to the mass of people in America. I had very high reverence that you may have disagreements with the current occupant of the office, but the presidency itself was a benighted position deserving of your respect and worthy of your confidence.
So when I got involved particularly at the national level in the U.S. Senate and saw some of the things that were happening—which were not theoretical; they were things that I was dealing with on a very day-to-day hands-on basis that were contrary to that view of what was the presidency—it was a very disillusioning experience. And maybe some of the comments that I make in the book Intelligence Matters reflect that path to disillusionment.
JAY: Prior to the Iraq War, are there moments on that path?
GRAHAM: That was the dramatic moment. There were some other things that I observed while I was in public office that caused me to adopt a more pragmatic and a less I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt approach [crosstalk]
JAY: What year are you in the Senate?
GRAHAM: I’m in the Senate from 1987.
JAY: And when do you get onto the Intelligence Committee?
GRAHAM: In 1993.
JAY: So from ’93 forward—and I suppose a lot of this stuff is classified—but are there things that you know from being on the Intelligence Committee that we’re on this path to disillusionment?
GRAHAM: Again, the circumstances that surrounded 9/11 and the run-up to the Iraq War were the epiphany events in my full appreciation of this. But there had been other things that had occurred which began to harden me for this epiphany which I was to experience in the near future.
JAY: Are there examples of that? And let me say, because—I mean, you pursue stuff with your committee on 9/11 that it would’ve been a lot easier for you not to pursue, and especially would’ve been a lot easier for you to shut up afterwards. But you didn’t. I mean, you wrote a book about it. You wrote a novel, because some of the stuff was classified, and the only way to get a sense of it was through fiction. And you write a nonfiction book, where you really come out with some bold statements. It would have been a lot easier for you to keep quiet. So what makes you that person?
GRAHAM: I think it’s my growing up experience, the influence of my father, the unvarnished patriotism which, as a 50-year-old, became a little less unvarnished as I saw some of the realities of activities that fell short of my expectations of how people in the highest office should perform.
JAY: Now, the thing that brought this to my attention and I think that made this so much news was that when your committee reported, it became a story for those that followed this that there were—was it 27 or 28 pages?
GRAHAM: There were 28 pages in the final report, out of over 800 total, which were totally censored from—that were one to the end of that chapter. That was the chapter that largely dealt with the financing of 9/11, who paid for these very complex and in many instances expensive activities that were the predicate for 9/11. I was stunned that the intelligence community would feel that it was a threat to national security for the American people to know who had made 9/11 financially possible. And I am sad to report that today, some 12 years after we submitted our report, that those 28 pages continue to be withheld from the public.
JAY: Now, it’s fairly clear from your book what’s in the 28 pages, I mean, in general terms. The L.A. Times did a report on those 28 pages. A journalist for The L.A. Times spoke with someone who’d actually seen the 28 pages—didn’t reveal the name. But apparently it’s the actual names of the people in the Saudi government and Saudi royal family that are in on financing 9/11 conspirators. And your book makes it pretty clear that that’s what it’s about.
First of all, who ordered the redaction, that you weren’t allowed to say this?
GRAHAM: First, I’m going to have to withhold my comment on what you have just said. I am under the strictures of classification. I have—although it was written in 2002, I still have a reasonably good remembrance of what was in those 28 pages, but I’m frustrated because I can’t talk about it.
JAY: I know. And that’s why I quoted The L.A. Times and didn’t ask you.
GRAHAM: I appreciate—.
JAY: ‘Cause I know you can’t say it. But The L.A. Times said they had talked to someone. And I’m not even asking you to confirm it, ’cause that might get you in hot water, too. But the report from The L.A. Times was that this is actual names, and you actually said—you pointed and said who’s who, and that all got redacted.
JAY: So in the next segment of our interview with Senator Bob Graham, we’re going to dig into the evidence uncovered by his inquiry and why he thinks the Saudi government and members of the royal family were directly involved in the events of 9/11.
Please join again on The Real News Network for Reality Asserts Itself with Senator Bob Graham.