For all the talk of a “deep state,” the Trump Administration’s response to the Saudi terror attack at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola was remarkably similar to that of an Administration many thought of as the “Deep State on Steroids” of President George W. Bush.
It’s a puzzlement.
Silver spoon Deep Stater Bush, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, decreed that the Saudis got a pass.
Yesterday the deep state fighters in the Trump Administration did the same thing.
“The gunman in last year’s deadly shooting at a military base in Florida was regularly in touch with Al Qaeda, including the night before the attack,” Trump Administration Attorney General William Barr told the New York Times.
To anyone paying close attention, it was a real “No shit, Sherlock” moment.
Excited to be standing guard
Cameron Walters proudly told his father in Georgia that he’d passed the exam qualifying him to stand watch, and to secure building entrances at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Walters had just arrived in Pensacola after graduating from boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, the sailor’s father said. When news broke of shots being fired on the base, Shane Walters called his son’s cellphone repeatedly throughout the day. There was no answer.
The 21-year-old airmen apprentice had been killed along with two other sailors by a gunman who authorities identified as a military aviation student from Saudi Arabia.
When the shooter opened fire, Shane Walters told The Associated Press, his son died while proudly standing watch. The attack also killed a recent graduate from Enterprise, Alabama, of the U.S. Naval Academy, 23-year-old Joshua Watson, and 19-year-old Airman Mohammed Sameh Haitham from St. Petersburg. Eight others were wounded.
A Glock, a Manifesto, and “Porn Stash”
The man with the gun, Second Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, was a member of the Saudi Air Force. Just before beginning his shooting rampage, he tweeted an anti-American ‘manifesto.’
The New York Times reported he felt he had been humiliated by one of his instructors on the base, and the 21-year-old Saudi Air Force trainee filed a formal complaint, saying he was “infuriated” by a nickname an instructor called him in front of other students: “Porn Stash.”
In response, the FBI announced the deadly mass shooting would be treated as an act of terrorism, staking a claim to be the premier Federal Agency to regularly evince a firm grasp on the obvious.
The Bureau also announced that no arrests had been made so far. Nor would there be any. That’s because the guilty were almost immediately shipped back to Saudi Arabia for a series of made-up violations. “While some of them possessed jihadist or anti-U.S. material,” said the FBI, “there was no evidence they participated in the attack.”
Dinner, then some beheading videos
On the night before the Saudi shooter murdered three and wounded eight, he threw a dinner party for three Saudi friends billeted with him at Pensacola Naval Air Station, a US official told the Associated Press.
The evening’s entertainment, according to the official, were mass shooting videos. The next morning, while one filmed the attack, the other two watched from a car, as the Saudi shooter pointed his shiny black Glock and began squeezing off rounds.
So, at least three of the Saudi shooter’s fellow military trainees were clearly complicit. The FBI ignored this fact and let complicit Saudis leave the U.S. without being punished or charged.
Given these facts, the Wall Street Journal’s opening sentence succeeds through misdirection.
“A Saudi aviation student who killed three people last year at a Florida Navy base had extensive ties to al Qaeda, top U.S. law-enforcement oﬃcials said, accusing Apple Inc. of stalling the probe by refusing to help unlock the shooter’s phones.”
Saudis get yet another pass
No mainstream newspaper appeared eager to ask questions, like ‘Why had obviously-complicit Saudi’s been released? Even before the FBI’s investigation was complete?’
None of the papers’ bothered to state the obvious–that since the FBI had already released the shooter’s Saudi accomplices, who promptly and wisely fled the country—Apple helping authorities crack the Saudi shooter’s phone wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.
Besides, if anyone was creating havens for criminals, wouldn’t the chief suspect be the FBI? Which let guilty Saudis escape scot-free? Alas, such questions go well beyond The Pale.
The New York Times did however make an almost-admirable attempt to see how many lies could be stuffed— while simultaneously maintaining a straight face—into one skinny paragraph.
“Even though Mr. Alshamrani was thought to have operated alone, the government expelled 21 other Saudi students who were training with the American military, some of whom had links to extremist movements. After announcing the expulsions, Mr. Barr said that the Saudi government had cooperated with the investigation.”
Saudis get “double secret probation” again
Some might consider being kicked out of a U.S. military training program in-sufficiently harsh punishment for a case involving the cold-blooded execution of young American servicemen.
Especially when two of your buddy’s are looking on from a parked car, while a third films the carnage. It’s a punishment better suited to the “double double probation” meted out to the fraternity in Animal House, than “murder most foul.”
The FBI must have sensed potential trouble, because in their press conference, they came out swinging…not at the Saudis, but at Apple in Silicon Valley.
Despite getting no help from Apple in decrypting the dead shooter’s phone, FBI Director Christopher ‘Fay’ Wray said, the Bureau was able to ascertain that “the Pensacola attack was “the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation.”
When Apple refused a Justice Department request to help open the iPhones, they were creating a haven for criminals, Wray said. Apple’s deﬁance allowed possible co-conspirators to fabricate, compare stories, destroy evidence, and disappear.
Attorney General William Barr was happy to pile on.
“It was clear that the phones were likely to contain very important information.” He added that President Trump had also asked Apple for help.
Deep State Loony Toons from Q-Anon: Same old same old…
Covering-up the criminal activity of Saudis in Florida long ago became routine for the FBI.
The difference is that previous cover-ups were orchestrated—not by the deep state-fighting Trump Administration, but by the deep-state-ready George W. Bush Administration, with remarkably similar results.
After 20 years of investigating government cover-ups, primarily in the drug trade, there is one maxim I know to be true:
“The only real news you get when something big happens is during the first few days.”
So I was paying attention when—just three days after the 9/11 attack— The Washington Post, Newsweek and the Miami Herald, three of the U.S.’s most respected news publications— reported U.S. military sources gave information to the FBI suggesting that six of the 19 hijackers had received training at secure U.S. military installations in the 1990s,
The New York Times followed the next day with essentially the same information.
The Miami Herald’s account said three Saudi hijackers lived onbase of the Pensacola Naval Air Station; that Mohamed Atta had attended International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama; hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari attended Aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force base in Texas; and hijacker Saeed Alghamdi studied at the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey.
Also, three of the terrorists had listed their address as the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, known as the “Cradle of U.S. Navy Aviation,” in a military exchange program for foreign officers there, NEWSWEEK reported.
A former Navy pilot explained “We always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The Shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.”
Denial is not just a river in Egypt
Official denial was swift. But strangely worded.
Said the Air Force in a statement, “Some of the FBI suspects had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of U.S. military courses.”
“However, discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people.”
The next day, the Miami Herald reported, “Officials would not release ages, country of origin or any other specific details of the three individuals.”
In a case involving almost three thousand deaths, “probably not talking about the same people” does not quite strike the right note of exactitude.
Yet despite the combined power of some of the most influential Western news media—NEWSWEEK, Washington Post, and the Miami Herald—the story had an extremely short life. It was never retracted. But it nonetheless died an immediate death.
Air Force spokesmen must have been persuasive…. Because NEWSWEEK, the Washington Post and Knight Ridder all dropped the story, and nothing has been reported about it since. Nada. Niente.
Was the information that “leaked out” in early press reports true, only to be suppressed later?
A Senator pointedly raises a point of order
One of Florida’s two Senators, Democrat Bill Nelson—who had an Air Force background—faxed an indignant note to Attorney General Ashcroft demanding to know if the stories were true.
I called Nelson’s office after several weeks of silence from Washington, to ask what the response had been.
The Senator had received no reply to his request, a spokesman told me.
“In the wake of those reports we asked about the Pensacola Naval Air Station, but we never got a definitive answer from the Justice Department,” said the spokesman
“So, we asked the FBI for an answer ‘if and when’ they could provide us one. Their response to date has been that they are trying to sort through something complicated and difficult.”
“Speaking for Senator Nelson,” the spokesman concluded, “we still do not know if three of the terrorists trained at one time in Pensacola or not.”
The 9/11 attack was easily the most widely-reported event in the history of mankind on the planet. I couldn’t believe the story had such huge holes.
I finally reached a Major in the Pentagon in the Air Force’s Public Affairs Office who said she was familiar with the question, because she had written the press release with the Air Force’s denial.
“Biographically, they’re not the same people,” she explained patiently. “Some of the ages are twenty year off.”
I’m sure I must have sounded cynical. ‘Some’ of the ages are off?’
Still, I didn’t want the Air Force Major spokesperson to know I was only interested in Mohamed Atta, or to be more specific, the Mohamed Atta who attended International Officer’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base.
Was that guy the same age as the terrorist ringleader?
Um…, no, the Major admitted. She said, “Mohamed is a very common name.”
A burst of inspiration
I suddenly had an idea. Why not try to be helpful? So I offered to help take some of the burden of investigation off the Air Force’s shoulders. If the Registrar of the International Officer’s School could provide the name and address of any suspected second Atta, I promised to follow up and confirm whether there were two different Mohamed Atta’s pursuing flight training in the U.S. at the same time… except with different ages and bios.
I think I heard the Major swallow hard before she replied. But I could just be flattering myself. What she said, when she replied, was spoken slowly, as if to give each word added emphasis. She said, “I don’t think you’re going to get that information.”
She was right about that.
A Saudi Embassy without chain saws
A Saudi embassy statement released after the Bill Barr-FBI press conference stated that approximately 28,000 Saudis have undergone military training in the U.S. over the past few decades.
The Saudi shooter was one of close to 900 Airmen from the Royal Saudi Air Force currently undergoing Air Force-sponsored military training in the U.S.
300 are stationed as pilots or technical officers in San Antonio alone, according to Joint Base San Antonio.
U.S.-Saudi cooperation on intelligence and counter-terrorism has saved lives, the Saudi Embassy emphasized.
Even so, the Justice Department suspended training programs for nearly three months for the approximately 850 Saudi military students training in the U.S.
The shootings in Pensacola revived memories of the turbulent period following the Sept. 11 attacks, when the kingdom’s close military relationship with the U.S. came in for close scrutiny.
However, the situation quickly reverted to business as usual.