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. Continue reading →
Last month, 9/11 parents Loreen and Matt Sellitto hosted an informative event focused on one of the most important yet least-understood aspects of September 11: the extent to which the terrorists received support from foreign governments—and the extent of the government’s knowledge of that support, both before and after the attacks.
Held in Naples, Florida, the November 11 event was called “The Untold Story of 9/11: A Conversation with Bob Graham.” Following opening remarks from host Loreen Sellitto and from Terry Strada of 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism, the event featured three speakers:
Former SenatorBob Graham, the most prominent voice outside government fighting for declassification of the 28 pages.
Broward Bulldog editor Dan Christensen, who broke the story of the FBI’s discovery of a 9/11 cell in Sarasota, and who continues working to bring FBI investigation documents into the daylight.
AttorneyTom Julin, who is helping the Broward Bulldog in its effort to overcome the government’s stonewalling.
Here, we cover many of the highlights; a full video of the event can be found at the bottom of the page.
Bob Graham on the San Diego Cell
Graham’s remarks centered on the story of Omar al-Bayoumi, a man who, before 9/11, held what Graham called a “ghost job” with a Saudi company in San Diego. Bayoumi, whom the FBI had previously identified as a Saudi agent, helped two 9/11 hijackers establish themselves in the United States.
Bayoumi later claimed that—on the same day he made a two-hour drive to Los Angeles to attend a meeting with the director of religious affairs at the Saudi consulate —he just happened to become acquainted with future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdar in a Middle Eastern restaurant after he overheard them talking Arabic in Saudi accents.
This encounter occurred soon after the pair’s arrival in Los Angeles, which in turn happened just days after they attended a terrorist summit in Malaysia. On the spot, Bayoumi invited the two to move to San Diego, where he furnished them with generous assistance, including the initial payment on an apartment and spending money. Adding to the cluster of coincidences, Bayoumi’s salary soared upon Hazmi and Mihdar’s arrival, while his wife began receiving payments from the Saudi embassy in Washington.
Broward Bulldog Battles Feds Over Sarasota Investigation
Christensen’s quest for answers about foreign sources of support of the 9/11 hijackers began in 2011 with a tip passed to him by Anthony Summers, who, with his wife Robbyn Swan, had just completed their book, “The Eleventh Day.” Summers and Swan had learned about an FBI investigation of a Saudi family with close ties to the Saudi government that suddenly abandoned its upscale home just outside Sarasota about two weeks before 9/11.
Pursuing the lead, Christensen contacted Senator Graham for his insights into the Sarasota cell. Braced for the possibility that Graham would decline comment because of classification restraints, Christensen was stunned to learn that Graham—who had been chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-chaired the joint Congressional inquiry into 9/11—was unable to comment for an altogether different reason: Graham said the FBI had never told him about its Sarasota investigation.
Christensen then inquired with the FBI, which confirmed there had been an investigation, but said it found no connection to 9/11. Next, seeking to learn how they reached that conclusion, he requested the FBI’s investigation documents using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the FBI said there were no documents matching the request. Finding that completely implausible, in September 2012, Christensen and the Broward Bulldog filed a FOIA lawsuit.
About six months later, the FBI sent Christensen 35 partially redacted pages that contained a bombshell conclusion directly contradicting the government’s earlier denials: The investigation had in fact “revealed many connections” between the Saudi family that fled their home and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” (Indeed, investigations showed the home had been called and even visited by future 9/11 hijackers.)
In April 2014, as the Bulldog’s lawsuit progressed, Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a more thorough search of its files, chiding the government for advancing “nonsensical” legal arguments in its effort to maintain secrecy. Later, he ordered the FBI to turn over more than 80,000 pages from its Tampa office so he could personally review them and reach his own conclusions about the need for secrecy. The judge’s review of that enormous cache is still underway.
In July of 2014, the FBI released a new and intriguing document. This one revealed that, on Halloween in 2001, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was called by a citizen who observed a man discarding items in a dumpster behind a rented storage unit in Bradenton, Florida. After interviewing the man, who held a visa from Tunisia, police searched the dumpster and 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.”
Attorney Tom Julin’s Pursuit of the 28 Pages
Julin, in addition to providing an interesting elaboration on the legal battle to liberate the FBI’s Sarasota files, explained the Broward Bulldog’s attempts to secure the release of the 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers found in the 2002 report of the joint Congressional inquiry.
Julin is helping Christensen, Summers and Swan push for the declassification of the 28 pages through a little-known process called Mandatory Declassification Review. Under that process, an agency’s refusal to declassify material can ultimately be appealed to a multi-agency panel that reviews the material and presents a recommendation to the president. The panel is now reviewing the 28 pages. While there’s no deadline, Julin has been told to expect the panel’s recommendation to President Obama sometime this winter.
The first amendment attorney said he was hopeful the panel would take the request seriously, pointing to the fact that “so many Congressmen have said declassification will not harm the national security interest, it will help the national security for the public to know what was Saudi Arabia’s role.”
Many More Questions Remain
Before opening up the discussion to questions from the audience, Graham discussed some of the remaining mysteries around the 9/11 plot. First, noting that 9/11 hijackers had spent significant amounts of time in Paterson, NJ, Falls Church, VA and Palm Beach County, Graham said, “We have been trying to find out, were there investigations similar to what we know took place in Sarasota in those three areas and if so, what result? We have run into exactly the same stone wall.”
Graham also explored the questions of:
Why would the Saudis support Islamic terrorists operating in the United States?
Why did the Bush administration shield Saudi Arabia by preventing the release of damning material?
Why would the Obama administration continue the Bush administration’s “soft treatment” of Saudi Arabia?
This post shares just some of the many interesting points covered during the event. To learn more, watch the full video below—then send a pre-written letter to Congress urging the release of the 28 pages.