Co-chair of congressional inquiry into 9/11 aids investigative journalist’s FOIA case against FBI
At a federal court hearing in Miami on Tuesday, former U.S. senator and Florida governor Bob Graham was seated at the plaintiff’s table in a case pitting a journalist against the FBI in a fight for transparency about the bureau’s investigation of a Saudi family that suddenly left its upscale Sarasota home shortly before the 9/11 attacks.
At the heart of the case is a redacted April 16, 2002 FBI report in which an agent said his investigation of the prominent Saudi family living in an upscale Sarasota neighborhood “revealed many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
Graham chaired the Senate intelligence committee and co-chaired a joint congressional inquiry into 9/11 that produced a report that includes the now-famous “28 pages.” Representing the final chapter of the report, the 28 pages were partially declassified in July 2016, and document a web of interconnections linking 9/11 hijackers, their associates in the United States, and Saudi government officials.
The FBI didn’t share the Sarasota report with Graham’s inquiry or the 9/11 Commission that followed it.
Last year, Graham told The Daily Beast’s Eleanor Clift that the government’s secrecy about its investigation of Saudi links to 9/11 constitutes a pattern of “aggressive deception.”
He differentiated it from a cover-up: “Cover-up is a fairly passive action. You put something away and keep it out of the vision of other people who might wish to see it. Aggressive deception is where you try to change the narrative in an untruthful way, and then you keep the material that would provide the truth away from the people. So the only thing they see and are exposed to is the false narrative.”
The case is one of two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits filed by the parent company of Florida Bulldog, a site run by veteran investigative reporter Dan Christensen. (Read Christensen’s detailed, first-hand reporting on the latest courtroom developments.)
Nothing to See Here
The controversy began in 2011, when Irish journalist Anthony Summers told Christensen that, while writing The Eleventh Day with his wife Robbyn Swann, he was given a tip about the Saudi family in Sarasota.
Christensen inquired with the FBI, which confirmed it had conducted an investigation, but found no links to 9/11. Asked for the documents supporting that conclusion, the FBI said it didn’t have any—a dubious claim that prompted the first FOIA suit.
Months later, Christensen received the April 2002 report, which seemingly contradicted the FBI’s contentions about its conclusions.
The FBI declared it had no additional documents associated with the case. U.S. District Judge William Zloch ordered the bureau to execute a more thorough search of its files, an effort that produced more than 80,000 classified pages that Zloch is now reviewing for possible release to the public.
9/11 Review Commission Repudiates Agent’s Report
This week’s hearing was associated with a second Florida Bulldog suit, which presses for documents from the “9/11 Review Commission,” not be confused with the 9/11 Commission.
That trial is set to begin in early March; attorneys for the FBI have asked the court to dismiss many of the claims and are expected to move shortly for complete dismissal of the case.
Requested by Congress, the 9/11 Review Commission was charged with evaluating the extent to which the FBI had acted on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
The commission’s 2015 report (in a section that begins on page 105), declared that the April 2002 Sarasota investigation report was “poorly written and inaccurate” and that Christensen’s reporting was based on “inaccurate information.”
Christensen and Florida Bulldog want to see documents and other information that led the commission to reach that conclusion. For example, they’ve sought any indication that the FBI agent in Sarasota was disciplined or counseled for his allegedly shoddy performance regarding the Saudi family.
Meant to be an “external review,” the 9/11 Review Commission was anything but that. Nor was it transparent.
As Christensen noted in his coverage of this week’s developments, “FBI Director James Comey picked the Meese Commission’s members, who operated in virtual secrecy, holding no public hearings and releasing no records about its work beyond its March 2015 final report.”
And, thanks to the Florida Bulldog suit, we now know the FBI paid the commissioners $80,000 each plus expenses.