October 17, 2022
IntelBrief: Families of 9/11 Victims Frustrated by Saudi-Sponsored LIV Golf Events Held in New York City
Families of victims of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are frustrated that a Saudi-sponsored golf tournament was held in New York City this weekend. The Aramco Team Series women’s golf tournament kicked off at Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, NY, this past weekend at one of former President Donald Trump’s golf courses. Saudi Arabia, which is named in a long-standing civil lawsuit on behalf of 9/11 families for Riyadh’s alleged support to individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks, is the sponsor of LIV Golf, a multi-billion venture which receives money from a Saudi-backed sovereign wealth fund and positions itself as a rival to the PGA Tour. In addition to being named in the lawsuit, many are upset over Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record and role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations have spoken out against the Saudi-funded event being held in New York City and many attempted to lobby New York City Mayor Eric Adams to prevent the tournament from occurring in New York City. Protests and demonstrations were held at both men’s and women’s LIV tournaments in the United States this past summer. Trump will profit from LIV events being hosted and promoted at his courses, for which he is eager to heap praise on LIV executives, whom he called “very fine people.” LIV Gold is clearly aware of the controversy surrounding its events, preparing to deal with public backlash. As reported by Politico, “The firm [McKenna & Associates] helped LIV with monitoring and tracking the advocacy of families of 9/11 victims who were protesting the tour because of its ties to the Saudi government.”
Recently the families' allegations received a major boost with the release of long-buried FBI documents, although there are still more documents that have yet to be released. Last year President Biden issued an Executive Order mandating a declassification review of broad swaths of FBI and CIA archives, resulting in new insights into the relationship between Saudi Arabia and some of the 9/11 hijackers. The 9/11 families have long highlighted what they believe is a lack of support from subsequent U.S. presidential administrations, spanning the Bush, Obama, and Trump presidencies. The families have continued to push the U.S. to release more information about the investigation of the attacks. One declassified document, a 130-page report of the FBI's investigation into Saudi government support to al-Qaeda and other religious extremists summarized the findings as, "There was located within the EKSA (Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) the offices of the Islamic Affairs Department and the office of Dawa (or Propagation). Investigation of the 9/11 hijackers and their support networks identified significant connections to these offices either directly or via the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Los Angeles." A second document describing the FBI's investigation as “Operation ENCORE main subjects include Fahad al-Thumairy, Omar Ahmed al-Bayoumi, and Musaed al-Jarrah. These subjects provided (or directed others to provide) the hijackers with assistance in daily activities, including procuring living quarters, financial assistance, and assistance in obtaining flight lessons and driver's licenses." The three people named are all Saudi government officials.
This is all occurring against a backdrop where Washington’s relationship with Riyadh is increasingly being scrutinized and indeed will now undergo a formal review within the Biden administration. Despite President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia in July in an effort to repair the relationship, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) seems to relish publicly disrupting known U.S. policy objectives. On October 5, OPEC+, an alliance between the longstanding Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel and ten other oil exporters led by Russia, announced a production cut of 2 million barrels per day (bpd), as of November. The Biden administration called the move “short-sighted” and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a freeze of arms sales to the Kingdom. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) called for the U.S. to remove its advanced missile defense systems from Saudi Arabia and send them to Ukraine, Poland, or Romania. Some analysts believe MBS’ move was a deliberate attempt to impact the 2022 mid-term elections in a way that would negatively impact the Biden administration.
The controversy over the LIV Golf event is yet another example of the moral and ethical dilemmas of doing business with Saudi Arabia. The most recent U.S. National Security Strategy, released last week, discussed the United States’ “unrivaled network of allies and partners” and the need to work closely with countries “who share our interests and values.” Put simply, Saudi Arabia is not one of those countries. The U.S. would be naïve to depend on Saudi Arabia—Riyadh has proven time and again that it will do anything to protect its own national interest without much regard for its partners, allies, and neighbors in the region.