Wednesday, March 24, 2004


Here are the most interesting paragraphs from the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the 911 panel:

"Aerial surveillance spotted an official United Arab Emirates jet at the camp, and it became clear that senior UAE officials were there hunting and apparently meeting with Bin Laden. "Policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike might kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials," the commission's report said.

"A commission official said the panel was still investigating why senior officials from the UAE, considered an American ally, were meeting with Bin Laden.

"In one passage, the commission's report says the United States uncovered evidence that the Taliban "was trying to extort cash from Saudi Arabia and the UAE with various threats and that these blackmail efforts may have paid off." Commission officials declined to elaborate on the nature of those threats."

Blackmail? Well. How very intriguing.

This brings us to the thorny question of Saudi relations with Bin Laden, the subject of much speculation and investigation over the past few years, and a sub-theme of Craig Unger's new book. On one hand, we do have abundant evidence that the Bush administration has covered up links between various Saudi figures and Al Qaeda. On the other hand, certain neocon forces have sought to publicize a Saudis-fund-Bin Laden conspiracy theory in order to foment conflict between that nation and the United States.

Why, one may ask, would anyone connected with the Saudi family throw money at a man and a movement dedicated to dynasty change in the Arab holy land?

We've heard a few suggestions over the years. Many say the Saudis have doled out "go away" money in order to keep Al Qaeda busy elsewhere. Others say (correctly) that Saudi Arabia is no monolith; as is always the case with monarchies, there are factions and intriguers. A few voices have darkly suggested that Bin Laden's rift with the Saudi rulers amounts to nothing more than an elaborate ruse -- a suggestion that makes about as much sense as James Jesus Angleton's fancies about the Sino-Soviet split.

The time has come to contemplate another possibility: Blackmail.

Blackmail usually involves sex. The men of the Saudi royal family are known for their prodigious libidos, even though they rule a land considered holy. And this is not the first time their activities have given rise to whispers of extortion.

Anthony Summer's book about Nixon relates a fascinating, little-known and maddeningly incomplete tale of a sexual blackmail operation set up in New York around the time of the Watergate break-in. The targets were prominent figures in the Arab world. And the honeytrap was baited with ladies provided by none other than the Happy Hooker herself, Xaviera Hollander.

More to come...

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