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 →
Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Endorses Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act
In an appearance this morning at the National Press Club, former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham said the July release of 28 pages from a 2002 congressional inquiry was just the first step toward gaining full transparency on the U.S. government’s investigation of Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks.
“This is removing the cork from the bottle,” said Graham. “There is a significant amount of information which, like the 28 pages, has been withheld and it was necessary to get this first block of material to the public in order to build the support that will be necessary for the balance of the material to flow.”
Pattern of “Aggressive Deception”
Among the countless documents still hidden from public view are those relating to the FBI’s investigation of a wealthy, well-connected Saudi family in Sarasota that reportedly had many contacts with future 9/11 attackers before suddenly vacating its home days before the attacks.
The FBI initially denied that it had any documentation of that investigation. When pressed with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the bureau surrendered 80,000 pages of documents to a federal judge who is currently reviewing them for potential release.
Graham characterized the FBI as moving beyond a cover-up, which he defined as a passive withholding of information, to “aggressive deception” in which “they rewrote the narrative,” making public declarations that are at odds with what’s contained in the bureau’s still-secret documents.
Noting that there were several al Qaeda cells around the country, Graham called for the release of still-classified files from the investigations of hijackers based in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as additional material from the 9/11 Commission.
Those commission documents are vital to helping the American public understand the apparent disconnect between the commission’s conclusions that it found no evidence of Saudi government support of the 9/11 plotters and disturbing declarations in the newly-released 28 pages—including revelations that an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan had an unlisted phone number associated with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan’s Aspen, Colorado mansion, as well as the phone number of a bodyguard at the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
Pending Legislation Would Help Cause of Transparency
Graham also endorsed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would modify the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in a way that would clear the path for 9/11 families to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged links to the attacks.
Graham positioned the lawsuit as a critical avenue of transparency. Noting that he was familiar with much of the research that plaintiffs’ attorneys had already conducted, Graham said “of all the channels of information about the Saudi role, what’s going to come out in that litigation—if it is allowed to occur because the sovereign immunity defense has been modified—will be astounding.”
JASTA passed the Senate unanimously in May, and activist 9/11 family members and victims are pressing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to schedule a vote immediately upon Congress’s return from summer recess next week. The activists’ latest efforts include emotionally impactful videos recorded by those directly and indirectly affected by the attacks, as well as a letter from the children of many who were slain in the attacks.
Graham said his daughter, Florida Congresswoman Gwen Graham, has observed an increase in constituent support for JASTA following the release of the 28 pages, adding, “I hope that (the House) will act during this session, ideally before the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11.”
The Saudi government promptly responded to Graham’s remarks, declaring in a press release its “strong disappointment at Senator Graham’s continued advocacy of the idea that the government of Saudi Arabia bore responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001.”
Call Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at 202-225-0600 and ask him to schedule a vote on JASTA before 9/11
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.
While much of the speculation about the contents of the 28 classified pages from a 9/11 intelligence inquiry center on the secret activities of foreign governments, there is growing scrutiny on the secret activities of our own government—specifically, its investigation of the terrorists both before and after the attacks.
Television station WTSP, which serves Sarasota and Tampa Bay, aired a very insightful report last week in which investigative reporter Mike Deeson talked to former Senator Bob Graham and dug deep into the FBI’s concealment of its investigation of the Sarasota 9/11 terror cell. You can watch it here.
Meanwhile at Counterpunch, James Ridgeway traces the FBI’s stonewalling of the joint House/Senate intelligence inquiry all the way to the White House and makes the case that the failure to cooperate with the inquiry may well amount to obstruction of justice by George Bush, Dick Cheney and FBI Director Robert Mueller:
Finally in his book, Graham describes a letter from a member of the FBI’s congressional staff explaining the Bureau had been uncooperative on orders of the administration. “We were seeing in writing what we had suspected for some time. The White House was directing the coverup.
“Later, when the 911 Commission conducted its own investigation, both Bush and Cheney met with them in a private, off-the-record conversation.”
This story and the new piece by Wright strongly suggest the President, Vice President and head of the FBI were engaged in obstruction of justice. If so, that would call for the convening of a federal grand jury. Would the Justice Department, which runs the FBI, do that? Probably not.