Contracts awarded to Rudy Giuliani's private security firm in the Gulf state of Qatar were overseen by a government minister suspected of harboring the al Qaeda terrorist who planned the 9/ll attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, according to security consultants in the region.
New revelations about the extent of the contracts could pose a problem for a presidential contender who says he is the most qualified candidate to combat Islamic terrorism.
Since 2005, Giuliani Partners and its Giuliani Security & Safety (GS&S) unit has provided security consulting and advice in Qatar through contracts overseen by the country's Interior Ministry, which is currently run by a member of the royal family who has long been accused of supporting al Qaeda, according to security consultants familiar with the area.
The current interior minister, Sheik Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani, was suspected of sheltering Mohammed at his farm and tipping him off to the arrival of CIA and FBI teams coming to arrest the al Qaeda strategist back in 1996, according to the National Security Council's former chief counterterrorism adviser and ABC News consultant Richard A. Clarke, former CIA agent Robert Baer and a 2004 Congressional Research Service report.
"According to several counterterrorism experts who formerly worked for the U.S. government, Qatar's current Interior Minister and royal family member, Shaikh Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Thani briefly harbored Al Qaeda terrorists in 1996, including the suspected mastermind of the September 11th hijacking plot, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed," wrote Middle East policy analyst Jeremy M. Sharp in the CRS report.
THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS
Khalid al-Thani is also believed to have welcomed Osama bin Laden on two visits to the farm, according to an Oct. 10, 2007 CRS study.
In late 2001, Mohammed again reportedly sought shelter in Qatar with the assistance of prominent patrons and another royal family member, Abdul Karim al-Thani, who was accused of operating a safe house for Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the terrorist who later became al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Giuliani's firm has provided security consulting in terms of protecting the Queen (known as the Emir's consort) and the perimeter of the royal court, according to security consultants familiar with the area. The firm also provided advice to the royal-family-owned Qatar Foundation about securing several education facilities and consulted on security at the 2006 Asian Games held in Qatar's capital, Doha, according to two recent U.S. ambassadors.
The firm has also provided security consulting to a giant natural gas processing facility named Ras Laffan and to Qatar's state-run oil company, Qatar Petroleum, according to the Wall Street Journal and the Village Voice.
The firm's liaison with the royal family is Ali Soufan, an Arabic-speaking former FBI agent who investigated the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole and is currently the international director of GS&S, security consultants with knowledge of the contracts told ABC News.
Qatar is a strong U.S. ally in the region, and the government has cooperated with anti-terrorist initiatives, allowing a major American military base to be built there in the wake of 9/11.
But the Giuliani firm's contracts put them in contact with the interior ministry, which oversees all security contracts in the country.
"Any company that does security work in Qatar, they have to get permission from the interior ministry," ministry spokesman Hassan Sidibe told the Blotter on ABCNews.com. He referred calls about GS&S contracts to the ministry's Brig. Abdul al-Ansari, who did not return repeated calls and e-mails.
"Nothing goes on without their blessings," said a British security consultant who has worked in Qatar.
The firm's work in Qatar was too close for comfort to former law enforcement agents familiar with the country.
"We have a guy who could be president who's taking money from the same accounts that harbored terrorists," said Baer, the former CIA agent. "The general consensus is that [Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalid al-Thani] protected Khalid Sheik Mohammed and that they tipped him off and he's still the interior minister."
Baer recounted being introduced to al-Thani in a hotel lobby in Dubai several years ago while he was filming the George Clooney movie, "Syriana."
"Al-Thani was told, 'Here's Bob Baer.' I shook his hand, and I might as well have plugged his finger into a light socket -- he just jumped up and ran away," he said.
Jack Cloonan, an ABC News consultant and former FBI investigator who was part of the team aiming to arrest Mohammed in 1996, felt that the issue might hurt Giuliani's security bonafides.
"He's a single-issue candidate -- national security -- and this definitely makes for a strange bedfellow," he said.
Asked about whether it was appropriate for Giuliani to pursue business in a country where his firm's contracts are overseen by interior minister Khalid al-Thani, Clarke, the former national security council counterterror adviser, responded via e-mail, "Only if he had done due diligence to clear the suspicions."
The country's former ambassador, Chase Untermeyer, defended Giuliani's role in Qatar.
"The notion that it's some kind of rogue state is just wrong," he said. "This is me pretending to be a political reporter, but I don't see how any association should be a blight unless somebody wants to demagogue and assume that any Arab country is a nest of terrorist sympathizers."
Untermeyer says that as part of a recent reshuffling in the Qatari government, the interior minister kept his title but lost some clout to Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani, the minister of state for interior affairs.
"The man who has the title is a man who has a questionable past and is frequently suspected of sympathy and overt support for jihadis," he said. "But it's not unusual that the minister of state is the one who really runs the ministry and not the minister."
Yet Giuliani's contracts apparently began in 2005, when the interior minister was still in charge. When Giuliani visited Qatar in July 2005, he met with Untermeyer who says that Giuliani's firm already had contracts in place. The former ambassador, who recalls Giuliani asking many questions about the country's security situation and political and economic ties, was impressed with Giuliani.
"It's terrific that one candidate for the presidency has some familiarity with that part of the world," he says.
Patrick N. Theros, the previous U.S. ambassador to Qatar who currently runs the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, says that Giuliani's firm helped provide security for different installations -- "rent-a-cops, guys with a glove and a whistle and a radio." He says that they were hired by Qatar Foundation at one point to provide physical security around new education facilities and crowd control at the Asian Games.
Giuliani, who has consistently declined to reveal the identity of his firm's clients, hasn't always been discreet about his work in Qatar. He told South Africa's Business Times in June 2006 that he'd "recently helped Qatar" to transform Doha in preparation for the Asian Games.
When contacted for comment, Giuliani Partners spokeswoman Sunny Mindel said that the list of security consulting jobs in Qatar performed by GS&S was "not accurate" but declined to clarify.
Asked whether Giuliani or GS&S employees have met with members of the Interior Ministry, Mindel responded in an e-mail, "GP & GSS personnel participate in many meetings with organizations and individuals around the world. We do not as a rule discuss with whom our personnel are meeting nor do we confirm whether such meetings take place."
This post has been updated.