Worth the Day Pass: Saudis and the 9/11 Great Escape

Salon.com Books

In the days following the 9/11 attacks various members of the Saudi royal family and Osama bin Laden's birth family were flown out of the United States, while all other air traffic was suspended. This excerpt from the new book House of Bush, House of Saud explains how it all went down.

How did the Saudis go about getting approval? According to the Federal Aviation Administration, they didn't and the Tampa flight never took place. "It's not in our logs," Chris White, a spokesman for the FAA, told the Tampa Tribune. "It didn't occur." The White House also said that the flights to evacuate the Saudis did not take place.

According to [the pilot who picked up three Saudi students in Tampa], about one hour and 45 minutes after takeoff they landed at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, a frequent destination for Saudi horse-racing enthusiasts such as Prince Ahmed bin Salman. When they arrived, the Saudis were greeted by an American who took custody of them and helped them with their baggage. On the tarmac was a 747 with Arabic writing on the fuselage, apparently ready to take them back to Saudi Arabia. "My understanding is that there were other Saudis in Kentucky buying racehorses at that time, and they were going to fly back together," said Grossi.

In addition to the Tampa-Lexington flight, at least seven other planes were made available for the operation. According to itineraries, passenger lists and interviews with sources who had firsthand knowledge of the flights, members of the extended bin Laden family, the House of Saud and their associates also assembled in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, Orlando, Washington, D.C, Boston, Newark, N.J., and New York.

Arrangements for the flights were made with lightning speed. One flight, a Boeing 727 that left Los Angeles late on the night of Sept. 14 or early in the morning of Sept. 15, required FAA approval, which came through in less than half an hour. "By bureaucratic standards, that's a nanosecond," said a source close to the flight.

Payments for the charter flights were made in advance through wire transfer from the Saudi embassy. A source close to the evacuation said such procedures were an indication that the entire operation had high-level approval from the U.S. government. "That's a totally traceable transaction," he said. "So I inferred that what they were doing had U.S. government approval. Otherwise, they would have done it in cash."
Lots more in the excerpt, including a rundown on Prince Bandar's contacts in Washington - did you know that he and Colin Powell were tennis buddies back in the seventies? I didn't...