9/11 terrorists, submersibles and an untold Fort Lauderdale story

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

A submersible diver propulsion vehicle like those purchased by a 9/11 hijacker.

A submersible diver propulsion vehicle like those purchased by a 9/11 hijacker.

On September 12, 2001, Fort Lauderdale businessman Bill Brown’s morning routine began like most others. After dropping his young daughter off at day care, the widower drove to work at his marine accessories store, The Nautical Niche.

What Brown says happened next was anything but ordinary. The parking lot of his store at 2301 S. Federal Highway was filled with federal agents and police.

“As soon as I arrived, they asked if we could go inside and talk,” said Brown. “They gave me a name and asked me who the person was. I wasn’t familiar with the name and I said, ‘Why do you ask?’ An agent said that he and several other men were the ones who flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon” the day before.

Confused, Brown replied that he knew nothing about the attacks. “Well, your phone number was the most prominent on his call list and it looks like you had a substantial relationship together,” an agent said. “We want to know his association with you.”

Agents from the FBI, CIA, U.S. Customs and Immigration were present that morning, but it was the FBI that took the lead, Brown said. They copied his sales records and later had Brown take a lie detector test in which he was asked only a couple of questions about his patriotism.

“I gave them complete access to our computer and anything I had,” Brown said. “We come to find out…they were customers of mine.”

Bill Brown

Bill Brown

Brown said it was determined that one or more hijackers had purchased between four and eight K-10 hydrospeeder submersibles in multiple transactions at a cost of $20,000 apiece. The now-retired Brown, 60, recalled that one or two of those high performance diver propulsion vehicles was shipped to Singapore, while another was sent to a location in the Northeast U.S. He recollects that shell companies were used in some transactions.

“They were sent all over,” said Brown, who told the South Florida Business Journal in 2002 that his store, which catered to the desires of super-rich yacht owners, had gross revenues of more than $6 million in 2000.

Brown, who Florida corporate records show sold his business in 2007, does not recall the shipping addresses, or the names of the recipients for those pre-9/11 transactions. Nor does he remember the name of the hijacker(s) who purchased them, either in person or via the internet.

A ‘significant cell’ broken

Brown does remember, however, that an FBI agent later told him the Singapore sale was traced back to its recipient and that “a significant cell” of terrorists was broken up as a result.

The FBI in Miami declined a detailed request for comment. Instead, a spokesman suggested that a reporter file a Freedom of Information request, a process that can take years.

The matter remained out of public view for 15 years until Brown came forward after seeing an advance newspaper article about Thursday’s 9/11 panel discussion at Nova Southeastern University hosted by the Florida Bulldog. He said investigators from the 9/11 Commission, or its predecessor, Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11, never contacted him.

The Joint Inquiry’s co-chairman, former Florida U.S. Senator Bob Graham, said in an interview that he was unaware of the FBI’s 15-year-old investigation of the submersibles purchase by a 9/11 hijacker.

“This is potentially significant. Why were we not made aware of this? You’ll need to ask the FBI why they didn’t feel, as they apparently felt with information about what happened in Sarasota, that this wasn’t worthy of sending up the line.”

Graham referred to an FBI investigation of a Saudi family in Sarasota who moved abruptly out of their upscale home about two weeks before the terrorist attacks, leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture and other personal items.

Florida Bulldog, working with author Anthony Summers, disclosed the existence of that investigation in September 2011, and reported that agents found evidence – including gatehouse entry logs and photos of license plates – that Mohamed Atta and other hijackers had visited the residence of Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji. Reports later released by the FBI said the family had “many connections” to persons associated with the terrorist attacks.

The FBI quickly identified the hijackers using flight manifests, information in recovered baggage and documents found where the hijacked jets crashed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Some names, like that of ringleader Mohamed Atta, appeared in news stories the next day.

What plans the al Qaeda hijackers or their leaders had for the submersibles is not known. However, in 2003 the Christian Science Monitor reported that “one of the biggest concerns” of U.S. officials at the time was that terrorists were targeting ports and ships. The newspaper cited a Department of Defense exercise “Impending Storm” that simulated several types of ship-borne attacks on U.S. cities.

al Qaeda and mini-subs

In 2013, CNN reported about a 17-page letter found at Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound that laid out a detailed al Qaeda strategy for attacking targets in the U.S. and Europe. The letter was written to bin Laden in March 2010 by senior al Qaeda planner Younis al-Mauretani, and among other things discussed using “mini-submarines” to plant explosives on undersea pipelines, CNN said.

Brown kept no business records after he sold The Nautical Niche, and his story is not documented in local public records. For example, Fort Lauderdale police have no record of a service call to The Nautical Niche on September 12, 2001. A department records official, however, said that back then calls to assist another agency were sometimes not documented.

Brown has talked privately about his experience over the years.

“He told me about the incident that happened to him back then,” said Broward Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly. “His dad worked in the Kennedy Administration.”

Donnelly was the prosecutor who tried and convicted Robert Stapf in September 2001 for the 1998 stabbing murder of Brown’s wife, Caron.

“I was on the witness stand in trial,” said Brown. “Someone came crashing in the courtroom’s back door screaming, ‘We’re under attack! Someone flew into the World Trade Center!”

Donnelly recalled that Judge Dan True Andrews quickly suspended court for the rest of the day. The next morning, the feds were waiting for Brown at The Nautical Niche.

Brown’s former bookkeeper and sales assistant, Adelle Savage of Delray Beach, said he told her what happened shortly after she began working at The Nautical Niche in 2002 or 2003.

‘I can attest to that’

“In the course of conversation…he told me about how when he arrived that morning all the cops and agents were there. They thought he was connected before they realized that he had no idea who he was selling to,” said Savage. “I can attest to that.”

Savage also said that on several occasions Miami FBI agents David Grazer and George Nau came to the store to see Brown. Brown identified the same agents in a separate interview, saying he “maintained a relationship with the FBI handlers who kept on eye on me.”

“Obviously, my life was at risk for cooperating with the feds. We didn’t know if some of these people were still down here or what,” Brown said.

Brown described The Nautical Niche, which displayed a yellow submarine in its front window, as a kind of Sharper Image for yacht owners. The Business Journal’s 2002 story reported The Travel Channel had “included The Nautical Niche on its list of places for a show called, ‘How to Spend a Million.’ ”

Brown said his clientele were often billionaires, like Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and included various Middle Eastern royalty, including members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling House of Saud.

The Nautical Niche’s sale of the submersibles that interested federal agents, however, was different from the company’s other large transactions because the purchasers paid cash. “They would go to my bank and make counter deposits,” said Brown. The amounts deposited were about $5,000, low enough to avoid federal reporting requirements.

At the time of the sales, Brown didn’t question the transactions. “In the yachting business there’s a lot of anonymity. You don’t ask questions. People like their privacy.”

VIDEO: 15 Years Later, Unanswered Questions of 9/11

Presented by Florida Bulldog  and Nova Southeastern University. Dan Christensen, editor and founder of the nonprofit news organization,  moderated a panel on Sept. 8 at Nova Southeastern University featuring former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11; Sharon Premoli, a victim’s advocate who was at work on the 80th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck; Sean Carter, a partner with Philadelphia’s Cozen O’Connor law firm who is helping lead a lawsuit on behalf of the victims’; Thomas Julin, Florida Bulldog’s attorney and a partner with the Gunster law firm in Miami; and Dr. Charles Zelden, an NSU history and political science professor.

Florida Bulldog and Nova Southeastern University present: Sen. Bob Graham and Unanswered Questions of 9/11 on 15th Anniversary

On Sept. 8, join former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for a lively panel discussion at Nova Southeastern University about the continuing search answers and justice 15 years on. A question and answer session will follow.9-11-plan200x200

Purchase tickets and learn more on EventBrite. Proceeds benefit the Florida Bulldog, an independent 501(c) 3 nonprofit providing watchdog reporting in the public interest. To make a tax-deductible contribution to Florida Bulldog click here. (more…)

28 pages and 80,000 pages: The hunt for a Saudi support network for 9-11 hijackers

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org worldtradecenter

Lawyers for the Florida Bulldog have asked a federal judge to award substantial attorney fees for years of efforts to obtain secret reports about the FBI’s post-9/11 investigation of Saudis in Sarasota with apparent ties to the suicide hijackers.

The court papers filed Tuesday seek a court hearing and also show how the Fort Lauderdale Freedom of Information (FOI) case ties into a better-known push to declassify 28 pages that were cut out of a 2002 report by Congress’ Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks. Those censored pages involved “specific sources of foreign support” for the hijackers while they were in the U.S.

In the Fort Lauderdale case, a federal judge is reviewing for possible public release 80,000 classified pages about 9/11 located in the FBI’s Tampa field office. Judge William J. Zloch ordered the Bureau to produce those records for his private inspection two years ago.

“In essence, the 28 pages are expected to reveal what the Joint Inquiry discovered about Saudi government support of terrorism and the Sarasota documents are expected to reveal what the Joint Inquiry failed to discover about Saudi government support for terrorism,” wrote attorney Thomas Julin, of Miami’s Hunton & Williams.

“Together, both sets of documents may reflect whether a Saudi government network throughout the United States was used to support the terrorist attacks on 9/11. They also may help the American public to judge how the defendants [Department of Justice and the FBI] reacted to the terrorist attacks on the United States and whether additional steps should have been taken to prevent the attacks and to prosecute those who may have aided the attacks,” Julin’s motion said.

The Florida Bulldog’s parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI and the Justice Department in September 2012 after the FBI claimed to have no records about its Sarasota investigation. The Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers and his wife, Robbyn Swan, broke the story on Sept. 8, 2011 – nearly 10 years to the day after the terrorist attacks.

A fast exit from Sarasota

The story disclosed the existence of the FBI’s probe of events surrounding Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, a young Saudi couple who abruptly moved out of their upscale home about two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings – and how agents found evidence that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers, who’d trained at nearby flight schools in Venice, had visited the al-Hijjis’ home.

Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a Saudi prince, owned the home.

Likewise, the story reported that former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of the Joint Inquiry, said the FBI had kept Congress in the dark about its Sarasota investigation.

The Bulldog is a tax-exempt public charity with what Julin described as “extremely limited resources.” Its lawsuit, however, is nearly four years old, an unusually long time for a Freedom of Information Act complaint.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin

Miami attorney Thomas Julin

As a result, the news organization’s law firm, Hunton & Williams, has borne the financial burden of the case. Julin and four colleagues told the court they have spent more than 615 hours on the case and are asking for $409,000 in fees.

The fee award being sought is in large part attributable to the FBI’s aggressiveness resistance to disclosing its records about the Sarasota investigation. For example, in addition to repeatedly denying that it had any responsive documents, Bureau representatives have said the Sarasota probe found no connection to the 9/11 plot. Still, a handful of FBI documents made public during the pending litigation said the opposite: that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to persons associated with the terrorist attacks.

In addition to representing the Bulldog in court, attorney Julin has spent numerous hours in an effort to declassify the 28 pages from the Joint Inquiry’s report. The Bulldog, Summers and Swan began the process in June 2013. Today, the case is pending before the Interagency Security Classification Appeals panel is Washington. A decision is expected this month.

The quest to unlock the 28 pages got a huge boost in an April 60 Minutes TV report that focused on current efforts by Sen. Graham and others to obtain their release.

Numerous members of Congress, 9/11 victims and their relatives and current and former government officials as well as leading presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have called for the release of the 28 pages.

Developments in the case continue. On May 17, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Justice Against Supporters of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bill that would allow 9/11 victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia. The House is expected to consider the bill shortly.

“It underscores the public importance of the records that are at the heart of this litigation,” Julin wrote in his fee motion.

Click here and scroll down to FOIA Lawsuit Documents to read the new filings.

Fear of stalling as U.S. intelligence chief says Congress must OK release of 28 pages

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Photo: CNN

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Photo: CNN

In a development that could delay the release of 28 classified pages from Congress’s report about Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11, the head of the nation’s intelligence community has told a delegation seeking their release that the ultimate decision about whether to make those pages public would be made by Congress.

Former Sen. Bob Graham recounted Tuesday evening’s hour-long meeting with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in an interview with FloridaBulldog.org.

“He described himself as being a proponent of transparency and would be forward-leaning on the release of the 28 pages,” said Graham. “The surprise we heard was that after the president makes the decision about whether or not to release them, and if so in what form, they’ll send it back to Congress.”

Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 in 2002, said the idea of adding Congress to the declassification mix is new. “I’ve talked with numerous people in the White House and they’ve never suggested that anyone other than the president would make the decision to release. I don’t know where Clapper got this idea, and I hope it’s not just another stalling tactic.”

Graham said it is unnecessary to involve Congress now. “This was a document the Congress was prepared to make public 14 years ago, but the Executive Branch intervened and said there were unstated reasons as to why these pages could not be released,” he said.

Such a move would just add “another unexpected step to the process with a body which has a reputation of being slow to make decisions. Look what’s happening today about the Zika epidemic. Congress can’t decide whether to appropriate money to prevent it.”

Joining Graham in meeting with the nation’s intelligence chief were Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA), the initial co-sponsors of House Resolution 14, which urges President Obama to declassify the 28-page chapter on foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers. The resolution has 58 co-sponsors. Senate Bill 1471 would require the president to declassify the 28 pages.

A “candid” meeting

Graham described Clapper, a retired Air Force general, as “very thoughtful and very generous to us with his time. I think he was candid in his thoughts.”

Aside from the surprise caveat about Congress, Graham called the meeting “encouraging,” and an indication that the Executive Branch is on track to deliver a decision about the 28 pages by President Obama by mid-June.

“He wasn’t going to tell us things like whether he’s made up his mind and if so what it is, but he outlined the (declassification) process,” said Graham. “He said he is finishing his review which primarily, almost exclusively, relates to the impact of the 28 pages on things like intelligence procedures and potential sources of information. It then goes to an interagency council which includes the State Department, the FBI, the Department of Defense and other agencies.”

That group, which describes itself as a “forum” for possible declassification, is the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). Its other members include the Justice Department, the CIA, Clapper’s Office of National Intelligence, the National Archives and the president’s National Security Advisor.

President Obama asked Clapper to lead a review of the 28 pages last year. The review process, however, has been underway for nearly three years.

In 2013, Broward Bulldog Inc, which operates the Florida Bulldog, invoked President Obama’s Executive Order 13,526. The 2009 order sets the process for classification by executive agencies and the conditions that require declassification. The Bulldog’s appeal is currently before ISCAP.

Thomas Julin, an attorney in the Miami office of Hunton & Williams, represents the news organization and 9/11 authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in the matter.

9-11 widows ask Obama to read secret ’28 pages,’ support bill to allow suit against Saudis

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

The National September 11 Memorial in New York City

The National September 11 Memorial in New York City

Five 9-11 widows said Tuesday they were “horrified” to watch President Obama say in a Monday television interview that he hasn’t read the secret 28 pages of a congressional investigation into 9-11 said to implicate Saudi Arabia in support for the hijackers.

“It is deeply disturbing for President Obama to state that he merely has a ‘sense’ of what’s in the 28 pages,” said Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Vaun Auken in a statement released Tuesday.

“How is it possible that the Commander In Chief of the United States of America has not yet bothered to read these critically important national security documents that directly speak about the murder of 3,000 people?”

The statement on behalf of group of 9/11 families called September 11 Advocates was issued on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia, where he will meet with King Salman, who was crowned last year.

Lawyers for 9/11 victims and their families who want to sue Saudi Arabia have said in court papers that before he was king, Salman “actively directed” a Saudi charity whose funding was “especially important to al Qaeda acquiring the strike capabilities used to launch attacks in the U.S.” The charity was Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC), which closed in 2011.

Obama made his remarks after CBS’s Charlie Rose asked him if he’d read the now-notorious 28 pages of the report by Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“I have a sense of what’s in there. But this has been a process which we generally deal with through the intelligence community, and Jim Clapper, our director of national intelligence, has been going through to make sure that whatever it is that is released is not gonna compromise some major national security interest of the United States. And my understanding is that he’s about to complete that process,” the President said.

Left to right are Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken and Patty Casazza at a 2002 press conference.

Left to right are Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken and Patty Casazza at a 2002 press conference.

In fact, the review process for the 28 pages has been underway for nearly three years. In June 2013, Broward Bulldog Inc., which operates as Florida Bulldog, invoked Executive Order 13,526. President Obama’s 2009 order sets the process for classification by executive agencies and the conditions that require declassification.

Thomas Julin, an attorney in the Miami office of Hunton & Williams, represents the news organization and 9/11 authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in the matter.

The FBI, which originally classified the 28 pages, and the Justice Department separately ignored the Bulldog’s requests for what’s called a Mandatory Declassification Review. The Bulldog appealed that inaction to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) in July 2014.

An appeal to declassify 28 pages

The appeal asserted that declassification would help the American people understand how the September 11 attacks were financed and how similar attacks might be avoided. It also noted that others who have read the 28 pages, including former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry, have said that declassification would advance, not harm, national interests.

ISCAP, whose members include the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is required by Obama’s executive order to hear and determine the appeal.

The FBI did not provide the 28 pages to ISCAP for review for more than a year, and ISCAP has not acted on the appeal since.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CAL) is among a number of current and former lawmakers who want the 28 pages declassified.

The widows’ statement also castigated the President for not supporting the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), a bipartisan bill that would allow the victims of terrorism on U.S. soil to sue foreign governments responsible for those attacks. To date, attempts to sue the very-deep pocketed Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been rebuffed by the courts due to sovereign immunity protections.

“This is not just about a bilateral U.S.-Saudi issue,” President Obama said. “This is a matter of how generally the United States approaches our interactions with other countries. If we open up the possibility that individuals and the United States can routinely start suing other governments, then we are also opening up the United States to being continually sued by individuals in other countries.”

“Contrary to the President’s characterization of JASTA, JASTA will not open the door for American citizens to ‘routinely’ start suing other governments,” the widows wrote. “There was nothing routine about the 9/11 attacks.”

Their statement said enactment of JASTA would send a “strong message” that governments which “bankroll terrorists who kill Americans on our soil will be held accountable regardless of their wealth, importance or power.”

“Mass murder through terrorism should never be qualified, excused or acceptable under any circumstances. President Obama ought to know that,” said the statement.

“JASTA is not a verdict of guilt against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. JASTA merely allows us to bring (it) into a court of law where, if warranted by the evidence, they can and should be held accountable.”

Saudi Arabia’s king ran state charity that 9/11 victims say funded and armed al Qaeda

Editor’s Note: Saturday’s lead story in The New York Times is headlined “Saudis Tell U.S. to Back Off Bill on 9/11 Lawsuits.” It reports that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir warned the Obama Administration that his country will sell off as much as $750 billion in American assets if Congress passes a bill that would allow the kingdom to be held liable in U.S. Courts if found responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Saudi threat follows last Sunday’s 60 Minutes report calling fresh attention to 28 censored pages from Congress’s 9/11 report that former Florida Sen. Bob Graham says points a finger at Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, President Obama will travel to Saudi Arabia for meetings with King Salman and other Saudi officials. The FloridaBulldog story that follows was first published Feb. 6, 2015. It has not been reported elsewhere. It seems appropriate to republish now.

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org  

Saudi King Salman with President Obama at Erga Palace during a January 27, 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Pete Souza, official White House photo

Saudi King Salman with President Obama at Erga Palace during a January 27, 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia. Photo: Pete Souza, official White House photo

Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman, “actively directed” a Saudi charity whose funding was “especially important to al Qaeda acquiring the strike capabilities used to launch attacks in the U.S.,” say court papers filed this week by lawyers representing 9/11 victims and their families.

The Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC), which Salman led from its founding in 1993 until it closed in 2011, helped fund “the very al Qaeda camps where the 9/11 hijackers received their training for the attacks, and the safe haven and facilities in Afghanistan where senior officials of al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, planned and coordinated the attacks,” the court papers say.

King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud assumed the throne on Jan. 23 after the death of King Abdullah, 90, who had ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005.

The lawyers filed approximately 4,000 pages of motions and supporting documents in federal court in Manhattan opposing Saudi Arabia’s renewed efforts to be dismissed as a defendant in the long-running civil lawsuit that arose from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001.

The Saudis and the Saudi High Commission had been dropped from the case years ago over claims of sovereign immunity, but they were reinstated as defendants in December 2013 after an appellate court reversed its earlier decision.

President George W. Bush with then-Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz in 2008.

President George W. Bush with then-Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz in 2008.

BOB GRAHAM WANTS NEW 9/11 INQUIRY

Among the new filings is a six-page affidavit by former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11. Graham said he’s convinced there was a “direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia” and that “the American public deserves a more robust inquiry.”

One matter he said “deserves further attention and investigation is the relationship between three of the future hijackers and a Saudi family living in Sarasota” prior to 9/11.

FloridaBulldog.org, working with Irish journalist and author Anthony Summers, first reported in 2011 that the family of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, abruptly moved out of their home about two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, clothes, clothing, furniture and food in the kitchen. The departure triggered an FBI investigation that lasted for at least two years, but was never disclosed to either Graham’s committee or the 9/11 Commission.

While FBI officials said publicly that the investigation found no connection to 9/11, FBI documents released later in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by Broward Bulldog Inc., the corporate name of the Florida Bulldog, stated there were “many connections” between the family “and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing 80,000 pages of records about 9/11 from the FBI’s Tampa office for possible release.

This week’s filings, and related news coverage by The New York Times and other national media, is turning up the heat on the Obama Administration to make public 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry’s report concerning “specific sources of foreign support” for the 9/11 hijackers.

Those pages were censored on orders from then-President George W. Bush. Graham has said they are about “the role of Saudi Arabia in funding 9/11.”

Imprisoned 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui

Imprisoned 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui

The new filings in New York present an information mosaic of the kingdom’s actions leading up to the attacks. They cite primary documentation including FBI reports, diplomatic cables and even a once-classified “threat matrix,” used to assess enemy combatants at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Also included are statements from witnesses, including Zacarias Moussaoui who is serving a life sentence in a federal “supermax” prison in Colorado after pleading guilty in 2005 to charges that he helped plan the 9/11 attacks.

The Guantanamo threat matrix lists the Saudi High Commission among a number of “terrorist and terrorist support entities…identified in intelligence reports and U.S. government terrorism lists.”

A key figure in the plaintiff’s emerging mosaic is the new King of Saudi Arabia.

King Salman was a prince when he founded the SHC in 1993 with the support of then-King Fahd to aid Muslims in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. A 2004 affidavit by Saudi Minister of State Dr. Mutlib bin Abudllah al-Nafissa describes the commission “as an arm of the Saudi Arabian government” and says “decisions regarding causes to support” were within Salman’s discretion.

An affidavit the same year by the commission’s former executive director, Saud bin Mohammad al-Roshood, said the commission spent $448 million on aid between 1993 and 2000.

A RADICAL STRAIN OF ISLAM

The 9/11 victims contend the commission was not only a charity, but an Islamic da’awa organization “created by the government of the kingdom to propagate a radical strain of Islam throughout the world, commonly referred to as Wahhabism.”

The SHC “served as a primary conduit for the Kingdom’s massive sponsorship of al Qaeda’s jihad in the Balkans,” plaintiff’s court papers say.

To back it up, the pleadings cited both detailed investigative reports from the mid-1990s and interviews with witnesses like Ali Hamad who helped coordinate al Qaeda’s military operations in Bosnia and was later convicted and jailed for a 1997 car bombing in Herzegovina.

Among other things, Hamad testified that the SHC provided him and other al Qaeda members with false employment papers so they could travel freely in the Balkans, allowed them to use the SHC’s offices and rented houses to plan terrorist attacks and provided “extensive” financial support and food for mujahideen forces.

“Ali Hamad’s sworn testimony is independently corroborated by numerous U.S., U.N. and NATO investigations,” wrote attorneys Stephen A. Cozen, Sean P. Carter, Jodi W. Flowers and others in a pleading that describes the evidence.

A United Nations-sponsored investigation also determined Salman, the new king, “transferred in excess of $120 million from his personal accounts and SHC accounts under his control to the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA)” from July 1992 to July 1995, the pleading says.

A PIPELINE FOR ARMS

The 9/11 Commission identified Third World Relief as an al Qaeda front and pipeline for illegal arms shipments to al Qaeda fighters in the Balkans.

“The U.N. sponsored audit of the TWRA’s records suggested that the SHC’s lavish funding of TWRA commenced shortly after a personal meeting between Prince Salman and the head of the TWRA. As the SHC had a robust operational presence of its own in Bosnia, there was no legitimate ‘humanitarian’ reason for it to send any funds to the TWRA,” the pleading says.

Rescue crews work to clear debris from the site of the World Trade Center. Photo Michael Rieger/ FEMA News

Rescue crews work to clear debris from the site of the World Trade Center. Photo Michael Rieger/ FEMA News

In October 2001, the U.S. and NATO raided SHC’s office in Sarajevo. On computer hard drives, the pleading says, investigators discovered files on deploying chemical agents with crop dusters, information on how to make fake State Department badges, and photographs and maps of Washington, marking prominent government buildings.

Also found: before and after photographs of the World Trade Center and photographs of other terrorist targets, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the U.S.S. Cole.

Bosnian police soon arrested six al Qaeda members for plotting to conduct terrorist strikes on U.S. targets. Each was on SHC’s payroll and all six were later incarcerated at Guantanamo, the pleading says.

Government investigations also found evidence that the SHC played “a direct role” in arms trafficking for al Qaeda, the pleading says.

“Of particular note, a Defense Intelligence Agency report indicates that General Mohammad Farah Hassan Aideed, the al Qaeda-affiliated Somali warlord responsible for the Black Hawk Down massacre, received ‘weapons’ shipments” from the SHC.

King Salman’s ascension has begun to focus attention on his disturbing prior connections.

Last week, for example, Foreign Policy ran a story headlined, “King Salman’s Shady History: President Obama wants to work with the leader of the House of Saud, but the new king of Saudi Arabia has troubling ties to radical Islamists.”

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not comment to requests for comment via phone and email regarding the allegations regarding King Salman’s involvement with the SHC.

An embassy spokesman, did, however, reissue a statement made on Tuesday that denounced Moussaoui as “a deranged criminal” without credibility and quoted the 9/11 Commission as saying there is “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

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.

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.

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