9/11, Saudi Arabia and the search for answers amid government secrecy

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

President Obama with Saudi King Abdullah at the White House in 2010; President George W. Bush with Crown Prince Abdullah shortly before he became king in 2005

President Obama with Saudi King Abdullah at the White House in 2010; President George W. Bush with Crown Prince Abdullah shortly before he became king in 2005

It’s been 13 years since al Qaeda hijackers commandeered four U.S. passenger jets and slammed them into America’s heart, yet a basic question persists: Did they act alone or with the help of a support network?

The answer is shrouded by government secrecy. Many believe that secrecy exists to protect oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

From the start, questions have simmered about the kingdom’s role in the September 11, 2001 attacks because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden. Congressional investigators and the 9/11 Commission stoked suspicion when they found evidence that at least some of the hijackers received direct financial support traceable back to the Saudi government.

The Saudis have consistently and strongly denied involvement in 9/11. Those denials, however, have been undercut by U.S. government documents – leaked or made public under the Freedom of Information Act – detailing the kingdom’s financial support for various Muslim extremist groups, including al Qaeda.

Here’s a candid assessment of Saudi Arabia’s dealings with external terrorists by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton contained in a secret December 2009 cable to U.S. diplomats that was made public by Wikileaks in 2010:

“Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide…Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba] and other terrorist groups, including Hamas.”

Such assertions, like others found in Treasury Department documents linking members of the Saudi royal family to charities supporting terrorist groups, take on new urgency with recent news about the kingdom’s financial support for the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS.

Today, the heat is on in Congress and the courts to expose more information about the backdrop to 9/11. That includes obtaining facts about Saudi Arabia’s suspected involvement in funding the hijackers kept hidden by the administrations of two presidents – Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush.

THE NOOSE TIGHTENS

“The noose is starting to tighten,” said former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. “All of this points to the role of Saudi Arabia, over a long period of time, in some of the most horrific actions against the U.S., the people of the Middle East today and possibly the world tomorrow.”

In New York, a rejuvenated federal civil lawsuit brought by thousands of 9/11 victims and relatives promises to uncover a trove of primary U.S. and Saudi records.

9-11-01The Saudis had been dismissed as a defendant in 2005 after claiming sovereign immunity. But last December, in an unusual and complex ruling citing legal error, a federal appeals court in Manhattan reversed itself and restored both the kingdom and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, its charity, as defendants.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Saudi Arabia’s appeal on June 30.

To date, proceedings in the case have involved a number of Saudi funded charities, including the Muslim World League and its financial arm, the Rabita Trust, which was designated as a terrorist entity by President Bush a month after 9/11.

While some material produced by the charities has made it into the public domain via court pleadings, many other documents that were turned over are stamped confidential pursuant to a protective order entered early in the case by U.S. District Judge Richard Casey, according to Philadelphia plaintiff’s attorney Sean Carter.

“I can say with confidence that the discovery we’ve received from certain of the charities documents significant financial irregularities,” said Carter. “The documents confirm that certain money ostensibly distributed to branch offices for humanitarian projects was not applied to humanitarian projects.”

At the same time, the 9/11 families have a number of Freedom of Information Act requests pending – “some for many years,” said Carter.

SUSPECTED SAUDI AGENT

One request to the FBI concerns Dallah Avco, a corporate contractor with the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation identified as a possible employer of Omar al Bayoumi. a suspected Saudi agent who befriended 9/11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in San Diego.

Bayoumi met the pair – who later died aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon – shortly after their arrival in the U.S. after attending an al Qaeda summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The FBI reply to that FOIA request was that it had no responsive records about Dallah Avco, yet Carter said an online search later found responsive documents posted in the FBI’s electronic reading room.

“To say the least, we are experiencing frustration,” said Carter. “The potential for litigation between the 9/11 plaintiffs and agencies of the U.S. government looms.”

Such a lawsuit would be a spectacle – thousands of 9/11 victims suing the United States to force the release of information about those suspected of responsibility for their injuries and the deaths of their loved ones.

But such lawsuits can achieve results.

BrowardBulldog.org is currently suing the FBI seeking records about its investigation of a Saudi family with ties to the royal family that moved out of their home in a gated community near Sarasota about two weeks before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – abandoning cars, furniture and other personal items. Agents later determined that hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta and other terrorists had visited the home, according to sources.

The FBI, however, did not disclose the existence of that investigation to either Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks or the subsequent 9/11 Commission, according to former Sen. Graham, who co-chaired the Joint Inquiry. And when BrowardBulldog.org first reported the matter in September 2011, FBI officials said the probe had found no links to the 9/11 plot.

A subsequent Freedom of Information request was similarly met: The FBI said it had no responsive documents. Yet in March 2013, six months after the suit was filed, the Bureau unexpectedly released 35 pages. The heavily redacted records said the Sarasota Saudis in fact “had many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

80,000 PAGES UNDER REVIEW

Further small releases of documents have restated that finding and provided additional insights. Today, Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch is reviewing 80,000 pages of records turned over by the FBI this summer for his private inspection to determine whether they should be made public.

“He could issue a ruling at any time,” said the Bulldog’s Miami attorney Thomas Julin.

Julin also represents the news organization in a separate administrative appeal requesting the declassification of 28 pages redacted from the Joint Inquiry’s 858-page final report to the nation. The pages concern “specific sources of foreign support” for the hijackers while they were in the U.S.

The appeal parallels a push by members of Congress to pass House Resolution 428, which calls on President Obama to declassify the 28 pages. The resolution says that declassification is “necessary to provide the American public with the full truth.

“These efforts to force the release of 28 pages of a 13-year-old investigative report by the House and Senate intelligence committees will disclose particularly the role of Saudi Arabia in funding 9/11,” said Graham, who helped write those pages.

9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, an ex-Congressman from Indiana, offered their support for declassification when asked about it by Naples resident Matthew Sellitto during a public appearance on July 22 to mark the 10th anniversary of the commission’s report. Sellitto’s son, Matt, was on the 105th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center.

9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER ‘EMBARRASSED’ BY SECRECY

“I’m embarrassed that they’re not declassified,” said Hamilton. “We emphasized throughout transparency. I assumed incorrectly that our records would be public, all of them, everything.

Still, the 28 pages remain secret despite efforts by numerous political leaders to have them made public. In 2003, for example, 46 senators signed a bipartisan letter to President Bush asking him to declassify the pages.

“If we are to protect our national security, we must convince the Saudi regime to get tough on terror. Keeping private its involvement – or that of any nation – in the September 11th attacks is not the way to accomplish that goal,” the letter says. The signers included Joe Biden, Sam Brownback, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Kerry, Bill Nelson and Harry Reid.

For a CNN report Monday about the 28 pages, the Saudi government re-released a statement in support of their disclosure made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in 2003 shortly after the Joint Inquiry published its censored report.

“We have nothing to hide. And we do not seek nor do we need to be shielded,” al-Faisal said. “We believe that releasing the missing 28 pages will allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner; and remove any doubts about the kingdom’s true rule in the war against terrorism and its commitment to fight it.”

Following CNN’s Monday report, in which 9/11 relative Bill Doyle accused President Obama of breaking a promise to make public the 28 pages, the National Security Council issued a statement saying the White House had taken previously unannounced steps toward releasing the 28 pages.

“Earlier this summer, the White House requested that ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) review the 28 pages from the joint inquiry for declassification. ODNI is currently coordinating the required interagency review and it is ongoing,” said NSC spokesman Edward “Ned” Price.

Meanwhile, BrowardBulldog.org’s administrative appeal seeking release of the 28 pages is pending before the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, which makes recommendations to the president after conducting what’s known as a mandatory declassification review.

The panel is not a rubber stamp. Last year, in its annual report to the president, it said it had reviewed 151 classified documents and approved declassifying 131 in whole or in part.

The panel’s six members are from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Council, the National Archives, and the Departments of Defense, Justice and State.

U.S. Supreme Court green lights 9/11 victims lawsuit against Saudi Arabia

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org 

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a bilateral meeting at Rawdat Khuraim in Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during a bilateral meeting at Rawdat Khuraim in Saudi Arabia, March 28, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

In a decision largely unreported by the national media, the U.S. Supreme Court last week denied Saudi Arabia’s appeal that it be dropped as a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging it bankrolled al Qaeda in the years before 9/11.

The justices ruled without comment. The long-running case, brought by thousands of 9/11 victims, relatives and others, now proceeds toward trial against Saudi Arabia and other defendants.

Plaintiffs attorneys were heartened by the high court’s decision that keeps the Saudis on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in civil damages.

“We are excited about the opportunity to pursue the first meaningful public inquiry into the evidence of possible direct involvement of agents of the Saudi government in the September 11th attacks, and concerning the involvement of Saudi government charities in channeling financial and logistical support to al Qaeda throughout the world,” said Philadelphia attorney Sean Carter.

“Based on what we have seen thus far, we expect that both inquiries will ultimately point back to the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, an arm of the government largely under the control of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi religious clerics.” Carter said.

Michael K. Kellogg, a Washington, D.C. attorney who led Saudi Arabia’s appeal effort, did not respond to requests for comment. The Kingdom, however, has called the lawsuit’s allegations “categorically false.”

Multiple lawsuits asserting a variety of claims were originally filed against hundreds of defendants – including Saudi Arabia, members of the royal family, banks and charities. The lawsuits were consolidated in federal court in New York City and a number of defendants, including the Kingdom, were dismissed in 2005 under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

But last December, in what amounted to a reversal of its own prior opinion, a Manhattan appeals court restored Saudi Arabia as a defendant, citing legal error. The ruling also restored as a defendant the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a government agency the plaintiffs contend funneled tens of millions of dollars to terrorist fighters across the globe.

With the U.S. government as a courtroom ally, the Kingdom appealed. The Justice Department filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief arguing that both the Kingdom and its officials were immune from suit for their governmental acts.

Sharon Premoli, who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North Towner, is co-chair of the activist group 9/11 Families United to  Bankrupt Terrorism.

“The US Government unfortunately chose not to stand by the families and survivors of 9/11.  All we can say is that we were very, very disappointed,” she said.

The same day the Supreme Court allowed 9/11 victims to proceed with their case against Saudi Arabia, it also refused to hear a related plaintiffs’ appeal that had sought the reinstatement of their claims against dozens of banks and individuals.

The ruling was in the case of O’Neill v. Al Rajhi Bank. The plaintiffs include the family of former FBI agent John P. O’Neill Jr., a counterterrorism expert who died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Ironically, O’Neill was among the first to focus attention on threats issued by Osama bin Laden.

New FBI records: A chilling find in a dumpster; 9/11 “person of interest” re-enters U.S.

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org 

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Freshly released, but heavily-censored FBI documents include tantalizing new information about events connected to the Sarasota Saudis who moved suddenly out of their home, leaving behind clothing, jewelry and cars, about two weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The documents were released to BrowardBulldog.org Monday amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation. The news organization sued in 2012 after being denied access to the Bureau’s file on a once secret investigation focusing on Abdulaziz al-Hijji, his wife, Anoud and her father  Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a Saudi prince.

An FBI letter accompanying the documents, the fourth batch to be released since the suit was filed, cites national security and other reasons to justify why certain information was withheld. The letter does not explain why the documents were not previously acknowledged to exist.

One FBI report, dated April 3, 2002 recounts a chilling discovery made by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on Halloween 2001.

Deputies were called after a man with a Tunisian passport was observed disposing of items in a dumpster behind a storage facility he’d rented in Bradenton.

The man’s name is blanked out, but the report says authorities who searched the dumpster found “a self-printed manual on terrorism and Jihad, a map of the inside of an unnamed airport, a rudimentary last will and testament, a weight to fuel ratio calculation for a Cessna 172 aircraft, flight training information from the Flight Training Center in Venice and printed maps of Publix shopping centers in Tampa Bay.”

The Flight Training Center is where 9/11 hijack pilot Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of United Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pa, took flying lessons.

The three paragraphs that follow are completely blanked out. The reasons cited include information “specifically authorized under criteria established by [presidential] executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”

The documents were located via court-ordered text searches using the names of the al-Hijjis and Ghazzawi. U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing more than 80,000 pages of 9/11 records.

Miami First Amendment attorney Thomas Julin represents BrowardBulldog.org.

“This release suggests that the FBI has covered up information that is vitally important to public safety,” said Julin. “It’s startling that after initially denying they had any documents they continue to find new documents as the weeks and months roll by. Each new batch suggests there are many, many more documents.”

“There needs to be a full scale explanation of what’s going on here,” said Julin.

The report of the Bradenton incident includes information about the al-Hijjis. The excisions, however, keep secret how what happened there ties back to the al-Hijjis.

The same is true about another FBI document dated Feb. 2, 2012.

On that day, FBI offices in Tampa and Charlotte received information from Washington stamped “secret” stating that a “person of interest” in the FBI’s massive 9/11 investigation had returned to the United States.

The person, whose name is redacted, was reported to be “traveling to Texas and LA for business/tourism.” The person apparently told authorities upon entering the country that he could be reached in Charlotte. He provided a phone number “associated with furniture manufacturers in North Carolina,” the report says.

Details about that were blanked out. But the report also says, “Tampa is notified that a person of interest to Tampa regarding the PENTTBOMB investigation has a valid visa for re-entry into the U.S.” PENTTBOMB is the FBI’s code name for its 9/11 investigation.

In all, the FBI released 11 pages Monday. They contain statements reiterating that the al-Hijjis had departed the U.S. in haste shortly before 9/11 and that “further investigation” had “revealed many connections” between them and persons associated with “attacks on 9/11/2001.”

Those statements flatly contradict the FBI’s public statements that agents found no connection between the al-Hijjis and the 9/11 plot.

Yet they dovetail with the account of a counterintelligence source who has said investigators in 2001 found evidence – phone records and photographs of license plates snapped at the entrance to the al-Hijji’s Sarasota area neighborhood – that showed Mohamed Atta, other hijackers and former Broward resident and current al Qaeda fugitive Adnan Shukrijumah had visited the al-Hijji’s home.

None of that information, or even the fact that an investigation in Sarasota took place was disclosed by the FBI to Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks or the 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham. Graham co-chaired the joint inquiry.

The documents, while stamped secret, are marked as having been formally classified earlier this month in accordance with the National Security Information Security Classification. The parts of the documents that were not released are to be kept secret until 2039.

Among other things, the government asserted that classification is necessary because the censored information pertains to foreign relations or foreign activities, including confidential sources.

“This could be about information considered embarrassing to Saudi Arabia,” said Julin. Fifteen of the 19 suicide hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The April 2002 FBI report contains additional new information, though the deletions make its full meaning difficult to discern.

It says the Tampa FBI office “has determined that (blank) is an antagonist of the United States of America. (Blank) resides in Jerusalem. (Blank) allegedly has held regular and recurring meetings at his residence to denounce and criticize the United States of America and its policies. (Blank) is allegedly an international businessman with great wealth.”

In November 2001, (blank) visited the United States for the first time. He traveled to Sarasota, Florida, opened a bank account and made initial queries into the purchase of property in south central Florida. (Blank) intends to establish a Muslim compound in Central Florida. (Blank) revealed that (blank) is fearful of (blank) and fears that (blank) intends to begin offensive operations against the United States if he is able to purchase property and establish a Muslim compound in Central Florida.”

Three follow-up lines are blanked out.

Down the rabbit hole with the FBI: Saying 9/11 documents don’t exist when they do

 By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org 9-11

In its only public statements about the Sarasota Saudis who suspiciously quit their home in a gated community in haste two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind numerous personal belongings — the FBI has said it investigated, but found no connection to the 9/11 plot.

Nearly three years later, however, the FBI has yet to back up its assertions by producing investigative reports written by agents who conducted the probe.

In fact, the few FBI records that have been released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in 2012 by BrowardBulldog.org flatly contradict the Bureau’s public statements. They say the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to 9/11 terrorist figures – a determination in line with the recollections of a counterterrorism officer with knowledge of the investigation.

The officer, who has asked not to be named, said authorities found gatehouse vehicle and telephone records indicating that Mohamed Atta and other terrorist figures visited the luxury home of Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji.

KEY RECORDS HAVEN’T SURFACED

The gatehouse and phone records haven’t surfaced – despite the completion this month of a court-ordered search of more than 80,000 pages of FBI 9/11 records. Neither have specific FBI documents mentioned in the handful of FBI records that have trickled out to date, or others that former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, says he was shown by the FBI after the story broke in 2011.

What’s going on?

The answer appears to lie in an obscure provision of federal law enacted decades ago that allows the FBI to say that certain sensitive records don’t exist when they actually do exist.

“That sounds like the most likely thing because you know beyond any question that records were created and they’re not showing up where they should show up,” said Washington, D.C. attorney James Lesar, a veteran FOIA litigator. “They’ve simply kept them secret.”

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law in 1966. It provides access to federal agency records, but there are nine exemptions, including personal privacy, which agencies can invoke to withhold records from public inspection. There are also three less common “exclusions” used to suppress information about sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

A 1986 amendment to the act incorporated an exclusion that allows the FBI to treat classified records about foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism as “not subject to the requirements” of the act.

Justice Department guidelines established by Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese say that means that those who request excluded records can be told, “there exist no records responsive to your FOIA request.”

NO LYING?

“The approach has never involved ‘lying,’ as some have suggested,” Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich told Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Iowa Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee in a Nov. 2011 letter. “The logic is simple: When a citizen makes a request pursuant to the FOIA, either implicit or explicit in the request is that it seeks records that are subject to the FOIA; where…records that exist are not subject to the FOIA, the statement “there exist no records responsive to your FOIA request” is wholly accurate.”

Still, such answers can “mislead,” as California U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney observed in a 2011 ruling in another FOIA case.

When the law is invoked “the government will routinely submit an in camera declaration addressing that claim, one way or the other,” the guidelines say. “In camera” is legal terminology for privately in the judge’s chambers.

That appears to be what happened in federal court in Fort Lauderdale this month when the FBI filed Records Section Chief David Hardy’s fourth declaration in BrowardBulldog.org’s FOIA case. A footnote in the declaration says the FBI simultaneously filed Hardy’s fifth declaration in camera and ex parte (without providing a copy to the news organization).

Miami attorney Thomas Julin represents BrowardBulldog.org.

“We intend to challenge the FBI’s claim that it has no records or that they can be treated as not subject to the Freedom of Information Act,” said Julin. “The judge can make a determination that these records should be open to the American public and I would expect him to do that if he finds that disclosure of these records would not endanger national security.

“We have every reason to believe that this is the case since Sen. Graham has been espousing the view that the existence of a Saudi network in the United States is something that should be disclosed to the American people and would not endanger the United States,” Julin said. Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fl., chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch continues his review of Hardy’s latest declarations and more than 80,000 pages of un-redacted 9/11 documents the FBI has produced for his private inspection.

QUESTIONS ABOUT AN FBI AGENT’S TRANSFER

FBI records released to date and the observations of the counterterrorism officer appear to fit the FOIA exemption scenario.

The FBI agent in charge of the Sarasota Saudi investigation was Gregory Sheffield. According to the counterterrorism officer, Sheffield wrote two released 2002 reports, including one citing connections between al-Hijji and others tied to the attacks.

On July 22, 2002, Sheffield interviewed al-Hijji’s wife, Anoud, and mother-in-law Deborah Ghazzawi “regarding possible terrorist activity.” The women, who had returned briefly to the home, denied fleeing before 9/11 or knowing certain unnamed individuals, according to the reports.

Soon after, according to the counterterrorism officer, Sheffield was transferred to the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence (FCI) division and left the area. The officer said the transfer suggested Sheffield may have recruited an al-Hijji family member as a source of information.

“I believe that the transfer of Sheffield to the FCI side of the Bureau speaks volumes as to the lack of information available. If he was able to recruit a family member then all information up to that point will be off limits under the National Security Act,” the counterintelligence officer said in an interview last year.

FBI search can’t find any more info on Sarasota Saudis, even its own investigative reports

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org twintowers2

The FBI told a federal judge Friday that its page-by-page review of more than 80,000 pages of records from its 9/11 investigation turned up “no additional substantive information” about connections it has said existed between Saudis in Sarasota and 9/11 terrorist figures.

At the same time, the Bureau made public 31 pages of documents not previously released about the Sarasota Saudis, Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud. The pages contain little new information.

More notably, the FBI’s extensive search failed to identify any reports generated by its own agents documenting the nature and extent of the Sarasota investigation, or its findings and conclusions. A law enforcement source has said agents found vehicle and phone records indicating the al-Hijji’s home in the upscale gated community of Prestancia was visited by 9/11 hijack leader Mohamed Atta, Broward resident-turned-most wanted al Qaeda terrorist Adnan Shukrijumah, and other terror figures.

WHERE ARE THE RECORDS?

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks, said the lack of such investigative reports is at odds with previous public statements by Bureau officials that downplayed the significance of its Sarasota investigation. The investigation started after neighbors reported the al-Hijjis, who had ties to Saudi Arabia’s royal family, abruptly quit their home two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind furniture, cars and other personal belongings.

“How can they make public statements that they conducted a thorough investigation, but have no documents to substantiate that?” said Graham.

The dearth of FBI reports, including so-called FD 302 reports used by agents to report the results of interviews they conduct, may also be of special interest to Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch.  His April order requiring both manual and database text searches cited the FBI’s failure to acknowledge the existence of such records as one reason for his decision.

“An investigation took place during this time period that apparently resulted in certain findings, yet seemingly, the search yielded no documentation. This alone moves the court to believe that a further search is necessary,” Zloch wrote.

FOIA LAWSUIT

Zloch is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought against the FBI and the Department of Justice by BrowardBulldog.org. The suit, filed in 2012 by Miami attorney Thomas Julin, followed the FBI’s denials of the news organization’s requests for access to agency records about its Sarasota investigation.

Friday’s release of records marks the third time the FBI has publicly disclosed records from files that it once asserted contained no records responsive to the FOIA request.

In March 2013, the FBI unexpectedly released 35 pages. Those records flatly stated the Sarasota Saudis who “fled” their home had “many connections to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

One partially declassified document, marked “secret,” listed three of those individuals and tied them to the Venice flight school where Atta and his fellow suicide pilot/hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi trained. The names of the individuals were blanked-out, citing national security, but one was described as a relative of the Sarasota Saudis.

The FBI released four additional pages last month confirming the “many connections” between the Saudi family and the 9/11 terrorists. For the first time, they also identified by name international businessman Esam Ghazzawi as being involved in the investigation. Ghazzawi, an adviser to a senior Saudi prince, is the father of Anoud al-Hijji. He and his wife, Deborah, owned the al-Hijji’s home at 4224 Escondito Circle, near Sarasota.

AN ‘INADVERTENT’ RELEASE

In Friday’s filing, FBI records section chief David M. Hardy said the FBI had “inadvertently” released Ghazzawi’s name. He said the release did not mean the FBI had waived the privacy of individuals, like the al-Hijjis and Mr. Ghazzawi, where their “individual right of privacy outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

The FBI’s latest search encompassed all 9/11 records held in its Tampa field office, and led to the release of another 31 pages. The pages are mostly hand-written “Information Control Forms” documenting phone tips received after the attacks from U.S. Postal Service workers and neighbors. The information was previously reported.

The filing says four additional documents, now under review, are to be made public on June 27.

Judge Zloch also required the FBI and the Justice Department to disclose any “documented communications” about the Sarasota investigation between them and any other government agencies.

The government replied that its search had identified no such communications.

The FBI told Zloch that 127 FBI employees logged nearly 600 hours of review time to comb through the files seeking responsive records.

FBI publicly releases a few more pages about Sarasota Saudis; 80,000 pages given to judge

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org 9-11 pentagon

The Justice Department late Friday made public four new, heavily censored documents confirming that by 2002 the FBI had found “many connections” between 9/11 terrorist figures and the Florida family of “an allegedly wealthy international businessman” with ties to the Saudi Royal family.

“On or about 8/27/01 his family fled their house in Sarasota leaving behind valuable items in a manner indicating they left quickly without prior preparation,” says an FBI “case narrative” written on April 16, 2002.

The name of the international businessman, Esam Ghazzawi, is blanked out in the narrative. Ghazzawi’s name, however, is included on another page – an FBI form that accompanied a letter acquired by FBI agents in Tampa as “evidence” in July 2002. Details about the letter were not released.

The release of Ghazzawi’s name is the first time the government has confirmed Ghazzawi’s involvement in the FBI investigation that lasted until at least 2004, yet was never disclosed to the 9/11 Commission or congressional investigators.

Ghazzawi, adviser to a senior Saudi prince, owned the upscale south Sarasota home where his daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulaziz al-Hijji lived prior to 9/11. Law enforcement sources have said that after 9/11 investigators found evidence – telephone records and photographs of license tags and security gate log books – showing that hijack pilot Mohamed Atta, former Broward resident and fugitive al Qaeda leader Adnan Shukrijumah and other terror suspects had visited the home. The home is about 10 miles from the Venice airport, where Atta and the two other hijack pilots trained.

The four pages were released amid ongoing Freedom of Information litigation brought by BrowardBulldog.org after the FBI declined to release any records about the matter.

In April, Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a thorough search of its records to identify documents about the once secret probe. The judge said the Justice Department had failed to convince him that the FBI’s prior searches had been adequate.

With Friday’s release, a total of 39 pages have been released since the lawsuit was filed in September 2012. That includes four pages that were completely censored.

The FBI withheld certain information from the just-released documents, saying disclosure would constitute “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” or reveal techniques and procedures of law enforcement

The four pages released Friday were all declassified shortly before their release.

FBI records chief David M. Hardy said in a declaration under oath that the Bureau has processed the Tampa field office’s complete “sub file” on 9/11 and is in the process of turning it over to the judge as ordered. Hardy said the files consists of 80,266 pages which was divided into 411 “individual documents section” that were burned onto three CDs in a searchable format.

The documents, and parallel hard copies, were provided for Judge Zloch’s private inspection. He will then decide whether any of those documents are releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.

Dan Christensen is the editor of Broward Bulldog. Anthony Summers is co-author with Robbyn Swan of “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden,” published by Ballantine Books, which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012.

More secret 9/11 documents identified, but FBI has yet to turn them over to judge

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org crumble

Contradicting an earlier assertion made under oath by a senior FBI official, an attorney for the Justice Department said Wednesday that the FBI has identified four more boxes of “classified” 9/11 documents held by its Tampa field office.

The government, however, has yet to comply with a federal judge’s orders that it turn over, by last Friday, copies of that massive 9/11 file – now said to total 27 boxes – for his personal inspection.

U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch issued those orders this month in a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by BrowardBulldog.org seeking records about the FBI’s investigation into apparent pre-9/11 terrorist activity in Sarasota.

In an email to the news organization’s attorney, Thomas Julin, Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee said the government was prepared to file the documents with the court last Friday “as ordered.” The Justice Department, however, determined that Zloch’s chambers do not have a safe with “storage capability for classified documents.”

“The plan at present is to deliver the safe (which holds four boxes) on Thursday, May 1, 2014, along with the first four boxes of classified materials,” Lee said. “When the court has completed its review of the four boxes, chambers will be contacted and I will deliver four more boxes, as well as retrieving the material already reviewed.”

Lee said, too, that he will deliver to the court on Friday as ordered CD ROMs containing scanned versions of the classified documents.

RECORDS DELAYS?

The government’s piecemeal document delivery plan deviates substantially from Zloch’s orders, which require the production of photocopies of the FBI’s entire 9/11Tampa file all at once. If approved, it would delay the production of records to the judge for inspection by weeks or months.

The existence of four additional boxes of 9/11 records could add to any delay.

Lee’s disclosure about the additional four boxes calls into question the accuracy of the sworn declaration submitted to the court two weeks ago by FBI Records section chief David M. Hardy.

Hardy told the court that the entire Tampa 9/11 “sub file” was “comprised of 23 boxes of records” including “a substantial, but undetermined amount of material classified at the ‘secret’ level.”  Prosecutor Lee did not explain why the file is now said to be 27 boxes.

The FBI probe that is the focus of the Freedom of Information lawsuit investigated a Saudi family with ties to the Royal Family and apparent connections to some of the 9/11 hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, and former Broward resident and currently suspected al Qaeda leader Adnan Shukrijumah.

The investigation began after neighbors in the upscale south Sarasota gated community of Prestancia called authorities to report that Abulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, had suddenly moved out of their home two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind cars, furniture, clothing and food in the kitchen.

Sources have said agents later found gatehouse logs and photographs of license tags and phone records, showing that Atta, Shukrijumah and others had visited the al-Hijji’s home.

Al-Hijji, who later worked for the European subsidiary of the state oil company Saudi Aramco, told London’s Daily Telegraph last year that he condemned the terror attacks and had no involvement in them. The FBI has said publicly that its Sarasota investigation found no evidence connecting the family either the hijackers or the 9/11 plot.

The FBI, however, kept the investigation secret until BrowardBulldog.org first disclosed it in September 2011.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, has said that the FBI did not disclose the existence of the Sarasota investigation to either the Joint Inquiry or the subsequent 9/11 Commission.

The FOIA lawsuit was filed in September 2012 after the FBI denied administrative requests for the release of its records about the matter. In March 2013, the government unexpectedly released more than two-dozen heavily censored records that nevertheless undercut the Bureau’s previous public denials.

The documents state that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” One document lists three individuals, with names blacked out, and ties them to the Venice, Florida flight school where suicide hijackers Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi trained.

Last week, the government provided 27 pages of classified documents to Judge Zloch that bear the blanked out case number affixed to the April 16, 2002 FBI report disclosing the family’s “many connections” to terrorists.

The judge’s order directs the government to immediately produce any documents responsive to the news organization’s Freedom of Information request. Attorney Julin has asked the government to say whether any of those 27 pages are responsive and nonexempt, and if so to make them public.

Prosecutor Lee said he’s working with the FBI to respond to Julin’s inquiry.

Dan Christensen is the editor of Broward Bulldog. Anthony Summers is co-author with Robbyn Swan of “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden,” published by Ballantine Books, which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012.

FBI’s attempt to water down judicial order denied; 9/11 documents begin to flow to judge

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers fbitower.jpg

A Fort Lauderdale federal judge Friday gave the FBI another week to produce tens of thousands of pages from its massive 9/11 investigation for his inspection, but forcefully denied government requests that he water down his own previous order requiring disclosure.

Hours after the order was filed, a government lawyer filed court papers saying the Justice Department had delivered “27 pages of classified material” to the court for the judge’s private, or “in camera,” inspection.

The legal developments are among a flurry of recent activity in the Freedom of Information case that was filed by BrowardBulldog.org in 2012. The suit seeks records from a once secret FBI investigation into apparent pre-9/11 terrorist activity in Sarasota.

“What’s important here is that the Justice Department was seeking wholesale reconsideration of the prior order and the judge instead issued a stern rejection of the idea that he undo what he had previously ordered,” said the Bulldog’s Miami attorney, Thomas Julin.

The investigation focused on a Saudi family with ties to the Royal family and apparent connections to some of the 9/11 hijackers and another terrorist figure who once lived in Broward. The investigation began after Abdulaziz al Hijji and his wife, Anoud, abruptly moved out of their upscale home in a gated community about two weeks before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, leaving behind cars, furniture, clothing and food in the kitchen.

NEIGHBORS CALL THE AUTHORITIES

Suspicious neighbors summoned authorities starting the day of the attacks. Sources have said agents later found evidence that 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, several other hijackers and former Miramar resident Adnan Shukrijumah had visited the al Hijji’s home. Shukrijumah is now believed to be an al Qaeda leader and is wanted by the FBI.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records obtained by BrowardBulldog.org show the FBI continued to investigate al-Hijji until at least 2004. Yet the Bureau never disclosed the existence of the Sarasota probe to either Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11, or the subsequent 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham who co-chaired the Joint Inquiry.

On April 4, U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a thorough search of its records for documents responsive to the news organization’s Freedom of Information request and produce photocopies to him by April 18. The order informed the FBI that it had failed to convince him that its prior records searches were adequate under the law.

The order included specific instructions to the FBI as to how it is to conduct the latest search, from requiring it to search using its new $440 million Sentinel case management system down to the names and words that are to be used in text searches.

Sen. Graham applauded Zloch’s order, saying it gave “a strong, clear directive to the FBI. He called it “the closest in 12 years that we’ve been to achieving” the release of government information that might shed new light on who was behind the terrorist attacks.

But the government pushed back.

GOVERNMENT SEEKS MORE TIME, LESS REQUIREMENTS

On Thursday, Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee filed a motion seeking a two-week delay – until May 2 – to turn over what he estimates is 92,000 pages of 9/11 records from the FBI’s Tampa field office.

Lee also told Zloch the FBI was scanning each of those pages, which fill 23 boxes and include some records labeled secret, and asked for permission “to deliver the Tampa (9/11) sub file to the court in a searchable CD format, in lieu of photocopies.”

The judge, however, signaled that he won’t tolerate much delay. He granted just a one-week extension of his deadline and told the government it must produce both the photocopies and the digitized version of the records in searchable format.  He gave the FBI until May 2 to turn over the digitized records.

Zloch denied outright the government’s request that it not be required to conduct a manual search of its records. Lee had proposed instead that the government be allowed to use an optical character reader to search the newly digitized records.

“Defendants may employ the OCR search capability, but not as a substitute for the manual review ordered by the court,” the judge’s order said.

Finally, Judge Zloch dismissed the government’s request that he reconsider his prior order directing the FBI to conduct additional text searches using the names of specific individuals, including Abdulaziz al Hijj and his father-in-law Esam Ghazzawi, once an adviser to a Saudi prince and the owner of the home apparently visited by the hijackers.

The government has contended the privacy interests of al Hijji, Ghazzawi and others outweigh the public’s interest in disclosure of records the FBI may have on them.

Dan Christensen is the editor of Broward Bulldog. Anthony Summers is co-author with Robbyn Swan of “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden,” published by Ballantine Books, which was a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2012.

Judge awaits FBI’s Sarasota Saudi documents; Justice Department wants more time

By Michael Pollick, Sarasota Herald-Tribune september11

Relatives of 9/11 victims are eagerly watching the legal struggle over information held by the FBI concerning a Saudi Arabian family in Sarasota with possible ties to terrorists, even as calls in Congress ramp up for more disclosure about how the attackers were funded.

On Friday, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale was expected to receive FBI documents pertaining to the agency’s investigation of the Saudi family that abruptly left Sarasota just before the September 2001 attacks.

Late Thursday, however, the government asked for more time to submit the records, saying the materials that need to be searched comprise 23 boxes totaling 92,000 pages in the agency’s Tampa field office – some of the documents carrying a “secret” classification.

Government lawyers proposed a May 2 deadline, but the judge did not immediately grant the government’s request.

On April 4, the judge ordered the FBI to turn over the materials in response to a lawsuit brought by BrowardBulldog.org that was joined by both the Herald-Tribune and The Miami Herald.

“Defendants’ eagerness to assert exemptions and wooden method of interpreting Plaintiffs’ (Freedom of Information Act) requests essentially deprives the Court of its role in examining any relevant documents and independently determining whether any exemptions may apply,” U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch wrote of the FBI, a defendant in the case.

Zloch ordered a more exhaustive new search, with the resulting documents to be delivered — uncensored — to him for review Friday. Additional documentation is due in June.

Family members have strongly denied any ties to the 9/11 terrorists.

If the judge eventually makes those documents public, the 16-month-old lawsuit could dovetail with a larger effort to shed more light on who financed the jet attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

One effort is centered in New York federal court, where a 12-year-old case seeks $1 trillion in damages for the relatives of nearly 10,000 9/11 victims.

In that case, families are attempting to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and charities that it established.

In Congress, meanwhile, there is a growing drumbeat to make public a censored 28-page chapter about the terrorists’ financing, pulled by unnamed government censors from the report of the “Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001.” The joint Congressional report, minus the censored chapter, runs about 800 pages and was published in late 2002.

The classified section is believed by activists to be based on FBI and CIA documents, and to point fingers at Saudi Arabia, a longtime ally of the United States and a key oil supplier.

“It all ties together about financing power, leading back to the Saudis,” said Bill Doyle, a retired stockbroker who lives in the Central Florida community of The Villages, and whose youngest son, Joseph, died after being trapped in the World Trade Center.

Doyle is among the lead plaintiffs in one of three lawsuits against Saudi Arabia that have been combined into a single federal court action entitled “In Re: Terrorist Attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (Saudi Arabia et al.)”

He said he also believes the Sarasota connection — in which a Saudi family abruptly departed the U.S. two weeks before the attacks, leaving behind many possessions — could answer questions about larger issues.

“You take off a week or so before 9/11 and go back to Saudi Arabia and leave dirty diapers, food, two brand- new cars and a house. And there is also evidence that some of the people who were training over at Huffman Aviation in Venice were visiting their house,” Doyle said.

“It all ties together.”

Saudi Arabia arguments

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will likely soon decide if it will hear arguments from the kingdom’s attorneys, who want their client removed as a defendant.

If successful, it would mark the second time that those lawyers have convinced a court to drop Saudi Arabia as a defendant.

In the first case, they argued that U.S. law does not allow suits against sovereign nations for damages. But a federal appeals court reversed that decision in December.

“We anticipate hearing from the Supreme Court in late June,” said Robert Haefele, an attorney who represents more than half of the 10,000 plaintiffs in the combined suits.

Sharon Premoli, co-chairwoman of activist group 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, is also pushing for all FBI documents to be made public.

“The 28 pages are part and parcel of the FBI documents,” said Premoli, who survived the terror attacks and narrowly escaped from the Trade Center’s north tower. “It is all one big cover-up.”

Doyle and Premoli’s efforts are in sync with those of retired U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional inquiry that published the 800-page report. The former Florida governor has battled for years to have the censored chapter about possible terror financing declassified.

Recently, a pair of congressmen have also called on President Barack Obama to declassify the censored pages, and written a form letter to other members of Congress urging them to review the missing chapter.

“The information contained in the redacted pages is critical to U.S. foreign policy moving forward and should thus be available to the American people,” said Rep. Walter Jones Jr., R-North Carolina.

Jones and Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, have also introduced a House resolution to declassify the 28 pages, which has drawn some bipartisan support.

Both had to go through a lengthy process to read the 28 pages, which are kept under tight security, and each was monitored by a federal agent making sure that notes were not taken and the pages were not copied or removed.

President Obama has publicly promised to make the chapter public, but thus far has not done so.

“We have a burning question,” Premoli said. “We would like to know if President Obama has read the 28 pages.”

Local connections to 9/11

What already is clear — and has been since shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — is that three of the 9/11 terrorists paid for flight training at Venice Airport.

Unclear is how they paid for that training and other activities.

The terror cell living in Sarasota County was one of a number scattered around the nation. Others are known to have existed in Los Angeles and San Diego, and in Falls Church, Va.

In the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by BrowardBulldog.org — joined as “friends of the court” by the Herald-Tribune and The Miami Herald — the Justice Department acknowledged that it has tens of thousands of documents related to the Southwest Florida portion of its overall 9/11 investigation.

To date, the Bulldog has received 35 heavily redacted pages. The pages that were released, however, said the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

In a 10th anniversary story by BrowardBulldog.org and published in the Herald-Tribune and The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale news organization claimed that the same terrorists who trained in Venice visited a home in the gated Prestancia community owned by Saudi businessman, Esam Ghazzawi, who had close ties to the Saudi royal family.

For six years prior to 9/11, the home was occupied by Ghazzawi’s daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulazziz al Hijji. “Phone records and the Prestancia gate records linked the house on Escondito Circle to the hijackers,” the Bulldog reported.

The FBI initially refused a Bulldog request to search for the family’s names in its archives, claiming that would amount to an invasion of privacy.

In his recent order, Judge Zloch described the FBI’s initial search as “preemptively narrowed in scope based on agency decisions that categories of documents are exempt, and thus, will not even be sought.”

Zloch then ordered the agency to use its most advanced document search system, and provided specific search terms — including the family’s names — that the FBI was required to use.

The Reagan appointee and former Notre Dame quarterback also ordered the original uncensored documents to be delivered to him for private review.

That is known in legal terms as “in camera.”

A conservative judge rebukes FBI as he orders it to find and turn over 9/11 documents

 

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org 

U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch

U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch

Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch has a reputation as a no-nonsense, conservative judge who can be short on patience, but is long on courtroom preparation and does not recoil from speaking his mind.

On Friday, after months of legal wrangling, Zloch spoke his mind for the first time on the FBI’s handling of a Freedom of Information lawsuit by BrowardBulldog.org that seeks records from the Bureau’s investigation into apparent pre-9/11 terrorist activity in Sarasota.

In a stinging, 23-page order, Zloch told the Department of Justice that it had failed to convince him that the FBI’s prior records searches had been “reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant documents,” as courts have said the law requires.

Zloch ordered the FBI to do something it had not done: use its sophisticated, $440 million Sentinel case management system to lead the search for relevant documents while adhering to various court-ordered conditions, including specific automated text searches. The judge gave the Bureau until April 18 – two weeks – to produce photocopies for his private inspection of all documents it identifies.

Zloch’s ruling is a “strong, clear directive to the FBI,” said former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who in 2002 chaired Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks and has pushed Washington to release the FBI’s files about what happened in Sarasota.

“Since 2002 many sources, including the U.S. Senate, have been attempting to get information such as that which is likely to be disclosed under Judge Zloch’s order made available. This is the closest in 12 years that we’ve been to achieving that objective,” said Graham.

A MANUAL REVIEW OF HUGE PENTTBOM FILE

Further, Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a manual review of all documents in its Tampa field office regarding the Bureau’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks, code-named PENTTBOM. He gave the FBI until June 6 to complete that more time consuming task.

The Department of Justice has opposed any additional search. In court papers filed last August, it argued that a manual review would require “extraordinary effort, time and resources to conduct.”

“The manual review which plaintiffs are requesting is not reasonable; nor is it warranted,” the department argued in court papers filed in August. “The FBI’s Tampa office alone has more than 15,352 documents (serials), which together contain, potentially, hundreds of thousands of pages of records related to the 9/11 investigation.”

Zloch disagreed. He decided a more thorough search is necessary due to “inconsistencies and concerns” about the government’s searches to date, as well as his need to assure himself that “the documents in dispute exist.”

Zloch noted, too, that early FBI assertions that its initial searches had yielded no responsive documents were followed months later, after the lawsuit was filed, by the release of 35 heavily redacted pages. Those pages, some partially blacked out on grounds of national security, contained no investigative reports yet did include some summary information that contradicted prior FBI public statements about the findings of its Sarasota investigation.

AN INVESTIGATION WITH NO DOCUMENTS?

“An investigation took place during this time period that apparently resulted in certain findings, yet seemingly, the search yielded no documentation. This alone moves the court to believe that a further search is necessary,” the order says.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Miami attorney Thomas Julin, who represents the non-profit news organization, said it appears Judge Zloch “definitely wants to get to the bottom of this and doesn’t like the fact that the FBI put out public statements trying to discredit the Bulldog’s reporting…His order makes it sound like he believes the government may be deliberately covering up.”

Zloch’s order goes beyond instructing the FBI to search and produce its own investigative reports. It also requires both the Justice Department and the FBI to “advise the court of any documented communications between defendants and other government agencies concerning the investigation” of the Sarasota Saudis. Again, Zloch wants that information by June 6.

“He’s showing real sensitivity to the likelihood that the FBI is acting under the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency,” said Julin. “If the FBI is simply following orders then he is telling the FBI he wants to know what those orders are and from who they are coming, whether it’s the CIA, the NSA or the President.”

The lawsuit was filed in September 2012, after the FBI denied requests under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of the agency’s reports about its Sarasota investigation.

A year earlier, BrowardBulldog.org had first disclosed the existence of the investigation in a story that reported how Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, a young Saudi couple, had abruptly moved out of their home in Sarasota’s Prestancia development and returned to Saudi Arabia two weeks before September 11, 20001.  Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, a longtime advisor to a senior Saudi prince, owned the home.

Law enforcement focused on the al-Hijjis after suspicious neighbors called following the attacks to report that the couple had appeared to depart in haste, leaving behind their cars, furniture, clothing and even food in the kitchen.

HIJACKERS AT THE GATE

The story reported that agents who later searched Prestancia’s gatehouse found evidence in logbooks and snapshots of license plates that vehicles used by the hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, had visited the al-Hijji’s home. A law enforcement source said an analysis of phone calls to and from the home also found links to Atta and former Broward resident Adnan Shukrijumah, a fugitive and alleged al-Qaeda leader with a $5 million bounty on his head.

Documents obtained by BrowardBulldog.org from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement stated that a now imprisoned terrorist figure, Wissam Hammoud, told the FBI in 2004 that al-Hijji was an acolyte of Osama bin Laden who prior to 9/11 had introduced him to Shukrijumah at a soccer game at a Sarasota mosque.

Al-Hijj was interviewed last year by the London Telegraph. He acknowledged knowing Hammoud, but denied any wrongdoing.

The FBI never disclosed the existence of its Sarasota investigation to either Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the terror attacks or the subsequent 9/11 Commission, ex-Sen. Graham has said.

In his order, Judge Zloch explained that his doubts about the quality of the FBI’s prior records searches was rooted in part in the “gaps and inconsistencies” he observed in the handful of documents the FBI has produced to date.

He noted, for example, that one FBI document written after the Sarasota story broke in 2011 states that the investigation found no evidence connecting the Sarasota Saudis to the 9/11 hijackers while another, dated April 2002, says authorities found “many connections” between the family and  “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks.”

“These statements seem to be in conflict, and there is nothing in defendant’s 35 produced pages that reconciles this stark contradiction,” the order says.

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