From the award-winning and bestselling author of Ghost Wars and Directorate S In The Bin Ladens, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Coll continues. From the award-winning and bestselling author of Ghost Wars and Directorate S In The Bin Ladens, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Coll continues where. Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. The bin Ladens are famous for spawning the Steve Coll (Author) .. Other bin Ladens crowd Coll's narrative with the eye-glazing details of their murky business deals, messy divorces and.
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circumstances that Bin Laden grew out of, tracing the roots of his illustrious father Steve Coll, President of the New America Foundation and staff writer for The His book The Bin Ladens was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle. Steve Coll's new book is a better-than-fiction multigenerational epic set against Saudi history. In Private Empire Steve Coll investigates the largest and most powerful private corporation in the The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century.
He and some of his brothers began almost immediately to download up American real estate—Salem had an estate near Disney World, an apartment in Manhattan, and other properties.
He bought up adjoining lots near Orlando so many of his brothers and sisters could live side by side near Disney World in case political turmoil ever forced them to leave Saudi Arabia.
They also dabbled in filmmaking. Salem was continually looking at scripts—Westerns and adventure movies, and he once claimed that he was talking to Brooke Shields about a movie deal. One of his brothers ultimately produced avant garde films in Europe.
What were their political ties to America and Britain? They counted George H. They hosted congressmen and other American officials in Saudi Arabia and provided them access to private family aircraft. They made donations to major American and British universities.
Salem, in particular, involved himself in the Afghan war that Osama was fighting and sought to cultivate ties to the Pentagon in order to help Osama. But many of their relationships with American and British elites were business-related, involving investments and the like. Also, after Osama announced himself as an enemy of America, the Bin Ladens seemed to use some of their connections to American elites as a way to hedge or offset the difficulties that Osama caused the family.
What role did aviation play in the lives of the Bin Ladens? A central one.
Mohamed Bin Laden died in a private air crash in Saudi Arabia caused by an error by his American pilot. Salem, his charismatic successor, died in an ultralight flying accident at an air park outside of San Antonio just a few months before Osama formed Al Qaeda. Salem was close to Osama and arranged arms sales for him. Osama respected and deferred to him. Salem was an enormously charismatic and forceful personality who seemed to make the world his own.
When he died in the spring of the family lost a very strong and determined leader who was unequivocally devoted to the United States, had many American friends, and spent a great deal of time in America.
The sense among those who knew Salem well is that if he had been alive when Osama started to make noises about declaring war on America, he would have put a stop to it, whatever was required—he would have bundled Osama up in a sack and taken him back to Saudi Arabia if that was what was required.
Without Salem at the family helm, this line of speculation goes, the family lacked a risk taking, forceful personality who could bring Osama under control. Is it true that Osama is tied by property to Jerusalem and Palestine? Mohamed died in September and the family never reclaimed the property. You also discovered some unexpected similarities between Osama and his father.
First, Mohamed Bin Laden was a masterful leader of diverse followers. He thrived as a construction magnate in pre-modern Saudi Arabia by recruiting thousands of multi-ethnic and even multi-linguistic Arab laborers and organizing them in construction camps in the desert.
He never had an attitude about where his laborers came from—he worked with his hands, sang with them on the job. Many other Arab radicals had exclusionary nationalist or even racist outlooks about other Arabs. He liked her friend, he said, and he felt bad about her divorce. He peeled off about a thousand dollars in cash. You're young. You're unattached You know, he'll show you places and take you places, and if I were you, I'd just go for it.
The previous Christmas, he had turned up at the store unexpectedly on a Friday evening and downloadd much of its inventory — planes and accessories — and asked that it all be delivered to the airport and loaded onto his private BAC twin-engine jet. A few weeks later he returned to download more ultralights, including a camouflaged former military prototype that had once been equipped to shoot missiles.
Its armor had been removed, but "he thought that was pretty cool," recalled George Harrington, one of the store's sales associates. Ultralights are small open-air hobby planes that are usually flown a few hundred feet high at speeds of about forty miles per hour, powered by a single engine roughly the size of that on a motorcycle.
Salem loved them; like gliders, another of his passions, they offered the sensation of flying like a hawk, free and buffeted by wind. They were banned from Saudi Arabia on security grounds, so Salem stored the planes at his various refuges outside the kingdom.
During the last months of , he collected the latest models, called Quicksilvers, because he was outfitting, for early in the New Year, an elaborate Saudi royal hunting expedition to Pakistan that Salem seemed to envision as a blend of Arabian Nights and Dr. Salem explained to the AlamoArrow managers that he and his Saudi guests, who were princes in the royal family, would camp in the desert and hunt by falconry in the traditional way, but they would also equip themselves with flying toys.
He asked George Harrington and his colleagues to download and prepare a twenty-foot Wells Cargo trailer so it could haul the ultralights across Pakistan's rough roads and desert tracks.
Salem had also ordered a hot air balloon from a champion balloonist in Florida; it came with a plaque that read "Custom Built for Salem Bin Laden. He installed a high-frequency radio in the truck so he could call out to the nearest Pakistani city if he were lost or stuck in the sand.
In Germany he bought a four-wheel-drive air-conditioned Volkswagen camper with a shower and a kitchenette and stuffed it with "every gizmo he could get," as Harrington remembered.
They towed the American-made equipment to South Carolina, where the Bin Laden family worked with a freight-forwarding company that could ship the goods to the United Arab Emirates, a small kingdom on the Persian Gulf, and from there to the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
Salem liked to have musicians in his entourage; Harrington played the guitar, so Salem arranged to hire him to travel to Pakistan, where he could help oversee the ultralight flying by the royal guests.
A few days before Christmas, Harrington, a genial, big-boned Texan who had never traveled abroad previously, found himself jetting to London in the company of an American pilot, Don Kessler, who worked for Salem and who also played the drums.
They all stopped initially at Salem's estate outside London, and then, on Christmas Eve, they flew to the south of France, and after that, to Salzburg, Austria.
Of course, they had no ski equipment with them, as the decision to fly to Austria had been made only hours earlier, so Salem led the group into a shop and bought everyone skis, boots, parkas, and pants.
They hit the slopes and then accepted an invitation to a party at the local villa of Adnan Khashoggi, the well-known Saudi arms dealer. Khashoggi's home had a discotheque with a stage. The room that night was loud, dark, and teeming with Saudis and Europeans. Salem took the microphone and announced that he intended to perform. He and George Harrington took steel-string acoustic guitars onto the stage and struck up the folk and bar band classic "House of the Rising Sun.
It's been the ruin of many a poor boy, And God I know I'm one. They stopped for a while in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and then traveled to Dubai. They became instant friends, two Americans caught up in an unexpected adventure, hopping from one country to the next, unfamiliar with their surroundings.
Lynn had flown in from New York to join the upcoming expedition to Pakistan. Salem put her in a hotel suite with a grand piano. They listened to her play Chopin. An elderly Bedouin aide carried aboard a hooded hunting falcon. Also along was Bengt Johansson, a shaggy-haired, chain-smoking Swedish flight mechanic who was one of the longest-serving European members of Salem's entourage.
They roared down the runway, bound for Karachi. His entourage checked into the Sheraton, a concrete-and-glass fortress that passed as the city's finest hotel. At the Karachi seaport, Salem discovered that the Pakistan Army would not permit either ultralights or hot air balloons into their country.
On its eastern frontier, the Pakistan Army faced Indian military forces in a continuous state of alert; to the west, it was embroiled in a secret guerrilla war in Afghanistan against Soviet forces, who occasionally conducted raids inside Pakistan. Saudi princes flying around in uncontrolled small planes and balloons seemed to the army's officers a prescription for disaster.
Salem argued, and fumed, and tried to pull strings, but the Pakistani authorities stood firm; they told him to send his airborne toys back to Dubai. In the midst of these frustrations Salem summoned George Harrington and Bengt Johansson one morning and announced that they would all fly in the Mitsubishi up to Peshawar, the Pakistani city that served as a staging area for the Afghan war.
Initially, Salem explained only that he had an errand to run. As it turned out, it involved his half-brother Osama. Eventually, "he explained that Peshawar was apparently the base for rebels.
I had never heard of Peshawar. World politics were not on my radar screen. He said that Osama was up there and he was the liaison between the U. The Saudi government was funneling stuff to Osama; Salem said he needed to go up and check with his brother to make sure.
Osama and some of his aides came out to greet them. In addition to his height, his bushy dark beard made a striking impression; it poured down his cheeks and gathered below his chin, elongating his thin face. His brown eyes were bright and communicative, but his manner was reserved.
Osama visited Pakistan regularly from his home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but he had not settled down on the war front; he was a philanthropic commuter, encouraged by his religious teachers to fund charities and Arab volunteers who had just begun to arrive to join the fighting.
Salem made formal introductions to his American and Swedish companions. Osama wore robes and a flat Afghan cap; he was reticent around the foreigners, but he shook Johansson's hand respectfully. Bengt had learned over the years that all of Salem's younger siblings treated their eldest brother with unquestioning respect, and that this respect extended by rights to Salem's friends, no matter how indecorous they might appear in Saudi eyes.
They drove to Osama's office and sat in a circle. The two half-brothers spoke together in Arabic for about two hours. A modest lunch appeared. It was typical of Salem to bring his Western friends into settings where they might not otherwise be welcomed, but no one openly questioned their presence, and in any event, neither Harrington nor Johansson could understand much of what was being said.
After lunch Osama led them on a tour of the charitable and humanitarian work that he was supporting in the Peshawar region to help the Afghans. They visited refugee camps where Afghan civilians and fighters displaced by Soviet bombing lived in primitive tents or shelters. They visited a hospital "with people with amputated limbs," and Harrington was amazed to hear tales of terrible atrocities carried out by the Soviets, and how, nonetheless, the wounded rebels "wanted to go back and fight for Afghanistan.
Salem recorded these scenes with a personal video camera, a large and awkward handheld device that he had brought with him. He appeared to be making a home movie to publicize Osama's work and to raise funds. It was "a fact-finding mission," Harrington remembered. Nothing militaristic. It was more about money. The American balloon champion who was a part of the entourage took George and Lynn on a soaring flight above the emirate's sand dunes.
Gulf breezes and desert winds blew them accidentally over a local emir's palace. The emir's guards pointed their automatic weapons angrily at the billowing red and yellow dirigible. He would end his life as "just a bloodstain on the ruler's lawn.
King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was preparing that early winter of for a summit meeting and state dinner with President Ronald Reagan. Salem flew off immediately.
This was hardly an unusual diversion. As Salem's friend Mohamed Ashmawi, a wealthy Saudi oil executive, put it: "He used to go and visit the king wherever he is.
That winter of , apart from Great Britain, there was perhaps no government with which the Reagan administration shared more sensitive secrets than it did with Saudi Arabia. Unbeknownst to the American public, for example, Reagan had authorized an attempt to free American hostages held in Lebanon by selling weapons to the kidnappers' sponsors in Iran; Adnan Khashoggi, who worked closely with the Saudi royal family, was centrally involved in those secret transactions. Saudi Arabia had no particular interest in the Nicaraguan cause, according to the kingdom's longtime ambassador in Washington, Bandar Bin Sultan "I didn't give a damn about the Contras-I didn't even know where Nicaragua was," he said later.
However, according to Bandar, McFarlane claimed the aid would help ensure Reagan's reelection in November by preventing trouble in Central America. The Saudis contributed the money and, as it happened, Reagan won in a landslide. Early in , King Fahd notified the Americans that he would now double his off-the-books contributions to the Cayman Islands account. Favor begat favor between these two governments during the late Cold War, and secret begat secret, a pattern of conduct that required an unusual measure of personal trust and understanding at the highest levels.
Fahd's visit to Washington was therefore of timely significance.
Reagan was a master of the theatrical and ceremonial aspects of his office, and he prepared to put on a show. It's Americana.