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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With Robert Baer

Aired August 4, 2003 - 08:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Robert Baer is a former CIA case officer and he is also the author of "Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold our Soul for Saudi Crude." He joins us this morning from Washington.
Thank you for taking time to talk with us today. First off, let me ask you about the story here that's around al-Bayoumi here. He has been saying that he is not an agent. There are those who have intimated that perhaps he is an agent of the Saudi government.

Let me read you real quickly, if I can, here a quote from a Saudi Prince Bandar who issued a statement denying that he was an agent here saying, "reports that Omar al-Bayoumi and" another man, "Osama Bassnan, are agents of the Saudi government are baseless and not true. We have publicly and repeatedly said so. It is unfortunate that reports keep circulating in the media describing them as agents of the Saudi government with attribution only to anonymous officials. This is blatantly false." However, I must say there are plenty of voices out there who believe that there is some kind of connection here. What do you believe?

ROBERT BAER, AUTHOR, "SLEEPING WITH THE DEVIL": I think there's a connection. You know Bayoumi's story is totally inconsistent. He said he drove up from San Diego to Los Angeles, met these two hijackers by accident, took a liking to them, took him to his apartment back in San Diego, let them stay there a couple nights, put them in an apartment, paid for them. You know the Arab world is just like us. You just don't meet strangers, take them in like this without knowing something about them. He has to provide more information.

And what I'm afraid is under a controlled questioning like this in Saudi hands, we're not going to get anything. You know he has to deny that he's a Saudi agent. He has to deny he had any connection. And the FBI and the CIA are going to be at a disadvantage questioning him in Saudi Arabia.

HARRIS: Well doesn't it therefore mean that the Saudi government, if they want to back up their statements that this man definitely has no ties to the Saudi government, they are going to have to insist themselves that he actually talked to the FBI without Saudi officials present?

BAER: Well they should. I mean he should be in custody right now. He provided material support for a criminal act. You know if he had been an Iraqi, he'd be in jail now in Guantanamo Bay. But we have this deference to Saudi Arabia, which I think is undermining the war on terrorism.

HARRIS: Well yes, there's another here -- another element here that has got to be somewhat troubling as well, the fact that this man was actually detained and questioned at one time by U.S. officials and then released.

BAER: Apparently, and I've heard under pressure from the Saudi embassy in London. He was arrested in Britain. The Saudi embassy intervened, said let the guy go and the British caved in. It's all very troubling. It's, you know, we don't have enough evidence to say it's a Saudi conspiracy, but they're not forthcoming as an ally should be.

HARRIS: What does this tell you about the intelligence community? Some are saying this is proof of another massive failure here.

BAER: I'm not sure it's a political failure that we're not -- we're not making Saudi Arabia accountable like we are other countries. You can't blame the CIA and the FBI if they're not, you know, given normal access to a witness or possibly a plotter in 9/11.

HARRIS: Interesting. On that 9/11 report that we talked about a little while ago, do you think that in the end that all of those blocked out pages are going to have to be made public?

BAER: Well they have mostly leaked out and of course they're all about Saudi Arabia. The question is, is there enough information in those 28 pages to get an indictment of a Saudi, a Bayoumi, for instance, or maybe another one? But the problem is the Saudis said we're not going to turn these guys over, whatever the evidence is. And remember the interior minister still says that 9/11 was a Zionist plot. I mean...

HARRIS: In the final analysis, will the final -- will this end up with a finger pointed squarely at the Saudi government?

BAER: I think so. That suspicion will always remain with Americans and the people that look at this objectively.

HARRIS: Robert Baer, author of "Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold our Soul for Saudi Crude," very interesting thoughts. Thank you.

BAER: Thank you.

HARRIS: We'll talk with you some other time.

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