1996 (C): The Saudi Arabian government starts paying huge amounts of money to al-Qaeda, becoming its largest financial backer. They also give money to other extremist groups throughout Asia. This money vastly increases the capability of al-Qaeda. Says one US official, "'96 is the key year... Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys- it's like the Grand Alliance- and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations." The Saudi regime, he says, had "gone to the dark side." Electronic intercepts by the NSA "depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country's religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it." US officials later privately complain "that the Bush Administration, like the Clinton Administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks." [New Yorker, 10/16/01]
July 1998: According to documents exposed in a later lawsuit, a meeting takes place in Kandahar, Afghanistan, that leads to a secret deal between Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. Those present include Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabian intelligence (see also Early 1980 and Spring 1998), Taliban leaders, senior officers from the ISI and bin Laden. Saudi Arabia agrees to give the Taliban and Pakistan "several hundred millions" of dollars, and in return bin Laden promises no attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also agree to ensure that requests for the extradition of al-Qaeda members and promises to block demands by other countries that bin Laden's Afghan training camps be closed down. Saudi Arabia had previously given money to the Taliban and bribe money to bin Laden, but this ups the ante. [Sunday Times, 8/25/02] Note that reports of this meeting seemingly contradict reports of a meeting the month before between Turki and the Taliban, in which the Taliban agreed to get rid of bin Laden (see June 1998).