Sheiks on a Plane: FBI Docs Expose Anatomy of a Cover-Up

The MadCowMorningNews has obtained the first photo ever published (at right) of the never-before-seen Learjet that flew the so-called Saudi “phantom flight” from Tampa Florida… a flight FBI and Bush Administration officials for more than three years denied ever took place.

Last week’s newly-released FBI documents on flights out of the U.S. after the 9/11 attack by Saudi Princes and bin Laden family members generated headlines about the FBI’s admission that Osama bin Laden may himself have chartered one of the planes.

But the documents contain an even-more startling revelation: the Bush Administration, the FBI, the FAA, and even defense contractor Raytheon knowingly lied in repeated denials of newspaper and magazine accounts of the “phantom flight."

The documents show that FBI agents and analysts, to buttress what was then the official government position, misstated, misrepresented, and even  intimidated witnesses (an FBI specialty) into silence.

They illustrate the inside anatomy of an FBI cover-up, using the same tactics which eyewitnesses in Florida reported the FBI used after the 9/11 attack.

"No Such Flight. Nope. No Sir."

SaudiFlig2The flight was "not in our logs," the FAA told the Tampa Tribune, the newspaper which first broke the story. "It didn't occur."

"There was no such flight," said an FBI spokesman. "Apparently they (the Saudis in Tampa) had driven, not flown."

At the time the newly-released FBI documents (obtained through a Judicial Watch lawsuit)were being written, FBI, FAA, and Bush Administration officials all denied that the “phantom flight” ever took place.

And the FBI documents completely support this account.

And that’s where the matter would, normally, have rested.

Case closed.

Rendered inoperative

sheikhs3_on_a_planeBut then came a surprise. The July 2004 release of the 9/11 Commission Report presented overwhelming evidence (from a dozen easily-available sources) that conclusively proved the flight, in the Commission’s words,“definitely took place.”

What had gone wrong? How had the FBI's conclusions on such a controversial post-9/11 subject been so easily “rendered inoperative?”

The story broke in the Tampa Tribune. Here's what the controversy was about:

On Sept 13, 2001, a private Lear jet flew three young Saudi men—a Saudi Arabian prince, the son of the Saudi Arabian defense minister, and the some of a top Saudi army commander—from the Raytheon Terminal at Tampa International Airport to Lexington, Kentucky.   

Critics cried foul, and accused the federal government of giving the Saudis preferential treatment just two days after 15 Saudi men had helped murder 3000 people in New York and Washington, D.C.

And they charged that on a day when every other private plane in the nation was grounded due to concern about possible follow-up terrorist attacks on America, letting the Saudis fly had been a slap in the face to Americans mourning their dead.

Snarky asides from "VANITYBOM victims"

a solid front1The documents, compiled by the FBI’S PENTBOM TEAM, consist of interview summaries, notes from intelligence analysts, and a detailed rebuttal to an Oct 2003 article in Vanity Fair (agents joked that they were VANITYBOM victims) which detailed the controversy over the "phantom" Saudi flights. Reading them, you can watch a cover-up being born.

Excerpts from the newly-released FBI documents:

    “The article alleges a group of Saudi royals traveled by air from Tampa Florida to Lexington Kentucky on September 13, 2001, prior to FAA authorization for these types of flights. It also alleges that a chartered flight left the U.S. with several members of the bin Laden family without investigation by the FBI. Both of these allegations are false. There are many other inaccuracies with the article.”

(You can almost hear the FBI agent, or intelligence analyst, sniffing the air with contempt for the scandal-mongering press.)   

    “A chartered flight departed from Lexington KY on Sept 16, 2001 with fourteen passengers. Four members of the party arrived in Lexington by car.”

(By car?)

"OK. Here's the shot. Keep a straight face."

“These four individuals had disobeyed the Prince by traveling by car instead of by jet, as the Prince had instructed them. Hired security personnel, who have been quoted in the (Vanity Fair) article and in interviews with the FBI, have perpetuated the cover story that the four had flown from Tampa by consistently stating that there was a charter flight into Lexington. No flights arrived or departed from Lexington KY on September 13,2001.”

fbipanel(Wait a minute. Hired security personnel perpetuated the cover story, even in interviews with the FBI? Wouldn’t that have been a little risky in an investigation into the murder of 3000 people?)

As if anticipating the objection, the analyst closes his memo by writing:

“One of the members of the private protection detail has confidentially told FBI agents in Lexington the truth about how the four arrived in Lexington.”  

(Confidentially? Is that why the documents have no quotes from the interview?   They can only hint at the truth about a matter of vital concern to the 9/11 investigation because the FBI doesn't want to get the Saudi boys in trouble with their Dad?

"Bottom line, the jet never left."

grimaldiA second agent confirms the account told by the first:

“The Saudi Prince tried to arrange for his son and his son’s friends to fly up from Boca Raton FL where they were attending school on a chartered jet.”

(We presume the writer doesn't mean the Saudi boys were attending school on a chartered jet, but in Boca Raton. But hey. Who knows.)

    “They filed a flight plan but were told if they took off they would be shot down. Bottom line, the jet never left, at least not on 9/12 and not with the college students. The prince had ordered them to travel only by air.”

(But wait! This what they call rank sophistry. No one suggested the Saudi phantom flight left on Sept 12.
Is this just a slip? Or something more akin to the Clinton-like equivocation: “It depends on your definition of ‘is’?”)

Remote viewers in the FBI

Let's hear from Analyst No. 3:

    “According to FBI personnel in Lexington KY, (name redacted) was ordered by Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to fly from Florida to Kentucky, perhaps because he was concerned for his safety if he drove. However (name redacted) was not able to fly, due to restrictions. As a result he drove, but told Prince Ahmed bin Salman and his security personnel (including several off-duty Lexington police officers) that he flew. End comment.”

remoteviewingAnd not a moment too soon. There's also a diagram, detailing where all the Saudis were,  which ends with the following notation:

“FBI Lexington clearly recall that these individuals attempted to board flights in Florida but were refused permission to fly.”

(Lexington must be where those slippery guv’mint folks keep the remote viewers these days.)

"A favor from former President Bush."

story.911.commissionThe newly-released FBI documents do the impossible: they make the 9/11 Commission Report  look good.

Today we only know about the phantom flight from Tampa because a former Tampa police officer, Dan Grossi, and a retired FBI Agent, Manuel Perez, provided security on the flight from Tampa to Lexington KY.

And then, when asked about it, they told the truth.

In October of 2001, Grossi confirmed to the Tampa Tribune that he had been on the flight, and added that he “was told clearance came from the White House after the Saudi royal family asked a favor from former President Bush.”  

Perez agreed with Grossi’s assessment.

"They got the approval somewhere," Perez is quoted in the Vanity Fair article telling reporter Craig Unger. "It must have come from the highest levels of government."

'Inconvenient knowledge' takes its toll

3b48725rThen somebody got to Perez and Grossi, and they clammed up. Even three years later, after the 9/11 Commission Report confirmed the flight had taken place, Dan Grossi wouldn't talk.

"The White House, the FAA and the FBI all said the flight didn't happen," Grossi told the Tampa Trib. "Those are three agencies that are way over my head, and that's why I'm done talking about it."

According to the paper's story, the plane had taken off from a private hanger at Raytheon, which is a major defense-intelligence industry player.

Four years ago, in an attempt to confirm the Tribune's story in the face of persistent government denials, we contacted Raytheon to ask, naively, we admit, who owned the Lear jet in question.

We were told we would have to ask the owner of the plane to ask Raytheon to tell us who owned the plane. A Raytheon spokesman said, "I checked our policy on disclosing owner/customer information and we decline to do so unless that owner requests that we release the information."  

Raytheon knows which side the butter is on

aRAYTHEONWe didn’t know who the owner was, we explained. That’s why we called you. Our logic may have been impeccable, but it cut no ice with the Raytheon spokesman.

As it happens, Raytheon had already lied about the phantom flight, giving an identification number for the Learjet to the Tampa Tribune that didn’t exist, after the paper ascertained that airport records showed Raytheon collected landing fees from only two aircraft on Sept. 13.

One of them was a Lear 35. But according to Raytheon, the registration on the Lear was 505RP,  which, according to federal records, is a tail number assigned to a Cessna Citation based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Adding insult to injury, when the Tampa Tribune called Hop-a-Jet in 2004, an official there who wouldn't identify himself said the company doesn't own an aircraft with the registration number 505RP.

Furthermore, he said, if that tail number is assigned to a Cessna Citation, the company doesn't own any Citations, either.

"You can't find it unless you  wanna find it."

raytheonFinding the Lear jet that had flown the Saudis out of Tampa turned out to be easy. Just read Appendix B to the 9/11 Commission Report.

Here’s how they found it:

9/11 Commission investigators called officials at Tampa International Airport, and were told that Tampa has a system that captures the noise made by planes taking off and landing at the airport and then attaches that information to the aircraft type and flight identification number.

At the request of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, officials at Tampa International Airport confirmed that the flight did take place, and supplied details.  

Wow. That sure was simple. How come the FBI hadn’t done it right after the 9/11 attack?

00688400Airport officials found the records for the Learjet, labeled HP (for Hop-A-Jet)32. The airport had recorded the plane’s departure at 4:37 PM.

Then 9/11 Commission investigators went to Hop-A-Jet, and talked to the pilot, Chris Steele. He said he’d followed standard procedures and filed his flight plan with the FAA prior to the flight, noting, “I was never questioned about it.”

Another (criminal) boo-boo at the FAA

jakelou2Remember the FAA’s denial that the phantom flight ever took place? The FAA spokesman saying, "It's not in our logs. It didn't occur?"

But when they checked this time, the FAA found records which showed that pilot Steele filed his flight plan at 3:30 P.M. on September 13, 2001, indicating the plane was flying from Tampa to Lexington, and then back to Tampa.

A Tampa police officer and a retired FBI agent were quoted in Vanity Fair and the Tampa Tribune saying they’d flown security on the flight. So the 9/11 Commission investigators interviewed them.

Strangely, neither man mentioned a "cover story" for the Prince to the 9/11 Commission researchers.  They said they’d driven the three young Saudi men to the Raytheon Terminal at Tampa International Airport.  

Tampa Detective Mike Fendle also told Commission investigators he’d seen a plane that looked like a “cream-colored Learjet” on the tarmac outside the Raytheon facility.

So the search had narrowed. We were looking for a   cream-colored Learjet owned by Hop-A-Jet.

And, guess what? They only own one. It's crème-colored. (see picture.)

The 9/11 Commission Report cover story

But before getting too excited about the truthiness of the 9/11 Report rawdeal1(it wasn't), we must ruefully admit that the "powers that be" somehow always manage to have the last word after all.

They change the "terms of engagement" at will.

When the FBI was insisting the Saudi boys in Tampa never flew to Lexington, KY, on Sept 13, the FBI documents state that if there was a phantom flight:

 "Such a flight would have been in violation of the FAA's flight ban."

Also, that:

"FAA reports that full flight restrictions were in effect on 9/13/2001."

But when the 9/11 Commission Report admits the flight actually did happen, there's a catch:

"The flight definitely took place, and there is nothing improper about it" because "both the national airspace and Tampa Airport were open."


"At the time this charter flight took off, both the national airspace and Tampa Airport were open."

annzzSo. There you are. You see? You can't win. So stop trying.  Wrong is right. Up is down. War is peace.

Ann Coulter is really a woman.

And there's nothing to see here.

So move along.

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.