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.
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.