FBI Mistakenly Names Saudi Consulate Employee Eyed in 9/11 Investigation
And a second oversight names a man allegedly "tasked" by a Saudi official with helping two 9/11 hijackers in California
Over the past several months, the FBI released thousands of pages of material relating to its investigation of Saudi government links to the 9/11 attacks.
This wave of declassifications was pursuant to Executive Order 14040, which President Biden issued on Sept. 3 under pressure from more than 1,800 survivors, family members and first responders who threatened to protest his presence at memorial events if he didn’t make good on a 2020 campaign promise to boost 9/11 transparency.
The published documents are riddled with redactions, but a Stark Realities review of the trove has uncovered two instances in which the FBI neglected to redact names of interest to FBI investigators—and to attorneys representing 9/11 victims and insurers in their civil suit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The first inadvertently-published name is “Mana.” A sworn declaration from a former FBI agent suggests the full name of this individual is Ismail “Smail” Mana, who worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles at the time the first two 9/11 hijackers arrived in the city.
The FBI concluded that, on February 1, 2000, Mana met at the consulate with a Saudi man, Omar al-Bayoumi, who would—later that same day—meet Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States, take them under his wing and facilitate their transition into American residency in San Diego.
The second mistakenly-published name is “Johar,” who’s described as having been “tasked” by Saudi consulate official Fahad al-Thumairy to pick up the same two hijackers at the airport and “take care of them during their time in Los Angeles.” The same former FBI agent’s declaration suggests the full name of this person is Mohammed Johar.
Each name is concealed on the first reference in a paragraph about them, but then left unredacted on a single subsequent reference.
According to the redaction key that accompanies the released documents, both names were to be withheld as “information restricted from public release under the Privacy Act of 1974.” The names were, however, to be produced in the 9/11 civil suit, with attorneys bound to maintain their secrecy. The Department of Justice did not acknowledge a request for comment.
Note: FBI documents are not evidence; assertions in FBI documents may prove false; behavior that appears suspicious may have a benign explanation; and association with the hijackers doesn’t equate to foreknowledge of their intentions.
Saudi Consulate Employee Smail Mana Said to Have “Extremist Views”
Mana’s name appears in a March 20, 2014 document summarizing the status of Operation Encore, a once-secret investigation into Saudi government links to the 9/11 attacks launched in 2007.
Mana is described as “an individual who was known to have extremist views” and who “has never provided adequate explanation…of his role aiding Bayoumi in facilitating the hijacker’s arrival and settlement in California.”
The paragraph where his name is revealed appears elsewhere in the trove of documents—but the same reference is redacted.
Former FBI Special Agent Catherine Hunt referenced this paragraph—which had already been released with Mana’s name redacted—in a 2018 sworn declaration on behalf of the 9/11 plaintiffs.
“I believe Smail Mana is the individual referenced in the paragraph and that the FBI has evidence that he met with al-Bayoumi at Saudi Arabia’s Los Angeles Consulate on February 1, 2000, just prior to the meeting of al-Bayoumi with the hijackers at the Mediterranean restaurant,” she wrote.
As first reported by the Florida Bulldog last year, Hunt interviewed Johar as part of her post-FBI work as a consultant for Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, one of the law firms representing 9/11 victims against Saudi Arabia. “Mr. Johar told me that he had been subpoenaed by a New York Grand Jury….the Grand Jury subpoena involved the 9/11-related investigation of an employee of Saudi Arabia working at its Los Angeles Consulate named Smail Mana aka Ismail Mana,” she wrote.
In the trove of more than 900 documents spanning over 4,000 pages released under Executive Order 14040, there are undoubtedly other passages about Mana, but with his name properly redacted.
A passage in a 2021 document describes an individual in a way that’s similar to the paragraph where Mana’s name is revealed. The redacted individual is said to be a local hire to the consulate “who may have met with al Bayoumi before his supposed chance encounter with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar.”
The memorandum quotes a source who seems to describe that same individual as enthusiastically reacting to the 9/11 attacks by saying, “Isn’t it great that our brothers are fighting?” The same passage says “a phone associated with [redacted] later had contact with the support network of the hijackers in Virginia.”
According to another document with a similarly-described, redacted investigation subject (a consulate employee questioned about meeting Bayoumi on or about February 1, 2000), a witness said the redacted individual was “very vocal against Christians, Jews and the enemies of Islam.”
Another source referenced in that same 2016 document “stated the Saudi Consul General in LA wanted to fire [redacted] for storage and distribution of extremist Muslim literature at the consulate but Thumairy and [Mohammed] Muhanna used their influence with the Saudi government to keep [redacted] in place.”
Thumairy “was part of a Saudi-based network operating out of the Embassy and Consulates that distributed funds and support to extremists, and, it appears in some case[s], terrorist organizations,” a 2009 document says.
Muhanna, who was a diplomat at the Los Angeles consulate, is described in various other records as an “Islamic extremist associated with a radical form of Salafi ideology” who is “heavily connected/linked to Saudi Sunni extremists operating inside the U.S.”
Thumairy and Muhanna were later removed “at the behest of the Saudi Ministry of the Interior,” according to another memorandum.
Beyond Mana’s single named appearance in the recently-released FBI files, there are very few references to him anywhere else.
In an article last August, Dan Christensen, founder and editor of the Florida Bulldog, wrote about Mana and Johar, citing FBI agent Hunt’s declarations. Christensen has covered the 9/11-Saudi investigations intensely and continuously, to include the use of FOIA lawsuits and other legal maneuvers to pry important documents out of the government’s hands.*
Mana surfaces ever so briefly in a 9/11 Commission memorandum summarizing a 2003 interview of Bayoumi in Saudi Arabia. It says only that Bayoumi denied recognizing the name “Ismael Mana.” The memorandum does not explain who Mana is or why the question was asked.
Another reference is found in a 2020 discovery ruling in the 9/11 suit against Saudi Arabia. Judge Sarah Netburn said the kingdom’s searches for documents relating to Mana’s duties and responsibilities at the consulate “were likely insufficient.”
Bayoumi: A Linchpin in the Saudi-9/11 Investigation
The alleged meeting between Bayoumi and Mana is of intense interest because it came within a few hours of a central event in the 9/11 plaintiffs’ case against Saudi Arabia: Bayoumi’s Feb. 1, 2000 encounter with hijackers Mihdhar and Hazmi at the Mediterranean Gourmet restaurant near the King Fahad Mosque in Los Angeles, about two weeks after their Jan. 15, 2000 arrival in the United States.
On that day, Bayoumi traveled to Los Angeles from his home in San Diego, ostensibly to renew his visa at the Saudi consulate. FBI files say he met privately with a consulate employee—Mana, apparently—before visiting the King Fahad mosque and then the Mediterranean restaurant where he met the two men who would serve as “muscle” hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the Pentagon.
Soon after meeting Bayoumi, the hijackers moved to the same San Diego apartment complex where Bayoumi lived. Bayoumi co-signed the lease and secured a cashier’s check for their security deposit, for which they immediately reimbursed him in cash.
Two individuals, Mohdar Abdullah and another whose name is redacted, say Bayoumi instructed them to assist Hazmi and Mihdhar during their time in San Diego. One of them told the FBI that Bayoumi said he—Bayoumi—was “responsible” for Hazmi and Mihdhar.
Bayoumi maintains that his initial encounter with the hijackers was coincidental, and that he struck up conversation because he heard them speaking in Gulf region accents. However, key details in his version of events conflict with witness accounts; his own statements have also been inconsistent.
At the time, Bayoumi was a “ghost employee” of a Saudi aviation company—salaried without reporting to work. A 2017 document decisively confirms a long-running suspicion about Bayoumi: “Recent source information confirmed that al Bayoumi was, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, employed as a paid cooptee of Saudi Arabian intelligence services.”
Some, including 9/11 Commission executive director Phillip Zelikow, speculate that Bayoumi wasn’t in league with the hijackers so much as he was monitoring them on behalf of Saudi intelligence.
“The information that Bayoumi might have been a paid informant...if it is true, actually tends to cut the other way," Zelikow told Business Insider in an article published last week.
Informed speculation about Bayoumi’s potential motivations requires an examination of his ideology. Regarding his propensity to promote extremism, the 9/11 Commission Report stated, “We have seen no credible evidence that [Bayoumi] believed in violent extremism or knowingly aided extremist groups.”
However, a recently-released 2006 document contains a jolting characterization that’s first being reported here: The document calls Bayoumi a “9/11 financier” who provided “substantial financial support” to Sheikh Abdel Rahman Barzanjee, “the new leader of Ansar Al-Islam in Europe,” as well as to Ansar al-Islam itself.
Ansar al-Islam was a Kurdish, Salafist group formed in northern Iraq by former al Qaeda and Taliban members who’d fought in Afghanistan. The group was designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government in 2004, and merged into ISIS in 2014.
During his time in southern California, Bayoumi was in frequent contact with Osama Bassnan, a Saudi who was reported to have hosted a party for Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman—aka “The Blind Sheikh”—prior to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing which led to conviction on various conspiracy charges.
According to an April 2016 document, “Multiple sources report Bassnan expressed enthusiastic support for bin Laden, describing him as a great authority figure who would change the world for the benefit of Islam. Bassnan endorsed human suicide bombings” and “often expressed excitement and happiness when hearing of human suicide bombings.”
Another FBI report says Bassnan asked someone pointed questions about how anthrax and small pox are transmitted. In 2001, Bassnan asked someone if it was “true that, just prior to dying, a small pox victim suffers extreme abdominal pain.” Also in 2001, Bassnan’s wife had a book titled, “Chemical and Biological Weapons: Anthrax and Sarin.” She had tabbed a section “that showed skin coming off the body.”
While living in southern California, Bassnan and his wife received checks totaling some $74,000 from Princess Haifa, the wife of Prince Bandar, a close confidant of President George W. Bush who was at the time the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Bayoumi’s wife was reported to have received money from Bandar’s wife too.
Bassnan also received more than $10,000 from a member of the Saudi royal family who was in Houston along with a Saudi delegation for a summit meeting with Bush. Some speculate that Bassnan was in line to succeed Bayoumi in a Saudi intelligence role in California.
In late September 2001, Bayoumi was arrested in London by New Scotland Yard and held for a few days of questioning about his assistance to Hazmi and Mihdhar. He was released without charge.
A search of Bayoumi’s papers, however, yielded a page of handwritten mathematical calculations and a diagram of an airplane in flight. According to last week’s reporting by Mattathias Schwartz at Business Insider, “its existence wasn't noted until 2007—three years after the 9/11 commission issued its final report.”
A 2012 FBI analysis of the diagram—by two special agents with engineering degrees who tapped the expertise of an experienced commercial airline pilot—comes to an ominous conclusion.
“Given a distance from a target, the altitude at that location, and the current airspeed, one could calculate the rate of descent and plug it into the computer on a plane to initiate a descent to that target,” the report says.
The pilot couldn’t conceive another use for the equation.
Entertaining a possible benign explanation, the 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow told Schwartz, "It is possible that someone working in civil aviation might have worked on such equations, for various reasons."
However, according to FBI files, Bayoumi’s roles in the aviation industry—outside of his no-show job in southern California—were financial in nature, with job titles like aviation fees checker, budget clerk, accounts checker and accountant. His educational background was likewise focused on finance.
[I’m compelled to note that, outside of major media, Zelikow has been the subject of sharp criticism of his leadership of the 9/11 Commission, including from me. Zelikow’s detractors cite conflicts of interest from his close association with the exceedingly Saudi-friendly Bush administration, and a host of indications that he steered the commission away from an earnest investigation of Saudi government links to the attacks.]
FBI Source: Johar “Tasked” with Helping Two Hijackers
According to the FBI document in which it’s revealed, Johar “never admitted to directly being tasked by al-Thumairy” with helping the hijackers “but he did admit to spending time with and assisting al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi with various things during their time in Los Angeles.”
In her sworn declaration, former FBI Special Agent Hunt shared some of what she learned in her interview with Johar.
“Johar assisted the hijackers with regard to their lodging during the first two weeks they were in Los Angeles,” she wrote. “Johar admitted that he took the hijackers to the Mediterranean restaurant…where the hijackers had their ‘chance meeting’ with al-Bayoumi.”
Separately, an FBI document describes a person who “was tasked by Thumairy to assist Hazmi and Mihdhar while they were in Los Angeles.” The same paragraph quotes a redacted person as having called the hijackers “two very significant people.” It’s not clear whether the speaker was the person tasked to assist them or someone else.
Continuing in that document, that same person tasked to help the hijackers— presumably Johar—reportedly told someone he was going to be taking Hazmi and Mihdhar to the Mediterranean restaurant.
When someone asked why he’d take them there—given the poor food and service—the person “stated he just needed to take them there.” Another source noted that “people would go to that restaurant to have private meetings.”
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These two unintended public disclosures aren’t the first in the case. In May 2020, Yahoo's Michael Isikoff was first to report the FBI accidentally revealed the name of Mussaed al-Jarrah, a mid-level official at the Saudi embassy in Washington suspected of directing support to the same two hijackers.
Mana’s and Johar’s ultimate significance remains to be seen as the mammoth 9/11 civil suit grinds along its glacial path toward trial. However, the FBI’s inadvertent publishing of their names brings one more measure of clarity to a case shielded from public scrutiny by the U.S. government since the attacks that killed 2,977 people and changed much of the world for the worse.
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*Writer’s note: I added this paragraph and an earlier reference the day after I published. Though I’d linked readers to another of Dan Christensen’s articles and his posting of Hunt’s declaration, I realized I didn’t spotlight his important August 2021 story.