Appeal: How much information about 9/11 must FBI share with public?

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

A federal appeals court has been asked to overturn a Miami district court judge and order a Freedom of Information Act trial to determine whether the FBI made a proper search for records about its secretive 9/11 Review Commission.

“This case presents a case of enormous public interest: How much information concerning its investigation of the 9/11 attacks must the FBI share with the public?” says the appeal brief filed Monday by attorneys representing Florida Bulldog. “The answer, according to the District Court, is very little.”

The 75-page appeal brief argues that a June 29 order by Judge Cecilia Altonaga wrongly backed the government’s “expansive assertion of FOIA exemptions,” allowing the FBI to keep secret thousands of pages of records about an apparent Saudi support network for the 9/11 hijackers in Sarasota and related information regarding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Among the matters the brief says the withheld records might explain:

  • Why the FBI concluded in a heavily censored April 2002 report that a Saudi family living in Sarasota had “many connections” to the hijackers and “why, a decade later, the FBI falsely claimed that it had never concluded the family had any connections to the hijackers.”
  • Why, in a private briefing for the 9/11 Review Commission in 2015, the FBI dismissed its 2002 “many connections” report “as poorly written and unsubstantiated.”
  • Why the FBI failed to tell congressional committees investigating 9/11 about its Sarasota investigation and why the FBI later falsely claimed that it had notified Congress.

To help obtain answers, the appeal asks the court to allow the deposition of the FBI agent who briefed the Meese Commission on the “many connections” report and sought to discredit it, Jacqueline Maguire.

The Bulldog’s attorneys in the Miami office of the Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart law firm, led by Thomas Julin, asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to be allowed to present oral argument in the case “because the records at issue are of paramount importance to the nation’s right to know how the FBI handled the investigation of 9/11 and because the FBI’s broad assertions of FOIA exemptions are fundamentally inconsistent with FOIA’s strong presumption in favor of record disclosure.”

FBI to appeal, too

The FBI has said it plans its own appeal of Judge Altonaga’s ruling. Among other things, it is expected to challenge parts of her order requiring disclosure of the names of FBI agents, including the author of the 2002 “many connections” report, Gregory Sheffield.

Florida Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers, broke the story about the FBI’s Sarasota investigation in September 2011. The story disclosed that shortly after the attacks neighbors in the gated Prestancia development had called to report that Saudis Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji had moved abruptly out of their upscale home about two weeks earlier, leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture, other personal belongings and a refrigerator full of food. The home was owned by Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, a wealthy businessman and son of a former Saudi ambassador with ties to the kingdom’s ruling family.

Esam Ghazzawi shaking hands with George H.W. Bush in an undated photo signed by the former president. The photo was taken during one of Bush’s visits to Saudi Arabia, according to the Arab language magazine “The House.”

The story, citing sources that included a senior counterterrorism officer, also reported how law enforcement agents had discovered that vehicles used by hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, had visited the home. Atta and other hijackers took flying lessons 10 miles away at Venice Municipal Airport.

Likewise, the story reported the counterterrorism officer’s disclosure that the FBI obtained records of incoming and outgoing calls made to the al-Hijji residence that a link analysis – a system of tracking calls based on dates, times and length of conversations – uncovered calls over more than a year “lined up with the known suspects.” The links were not only to Atta and his hijack pilots, but to 11 other terrorists, including Walid al-Shehhri, a so-called “muscle hijacker” who was aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when Atta piloted it into the north tower of New York’s World Trade Center.

The story also quoted former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’ bipartisan Joint Inquiry into the attacks, who said the FBI did not disclose its Sarasota investigation to Congress.

The FBI released the “many connections” memo in March 2013, six months after Florida Bulldog sued, seeking the release of the FBI’s Sarasota investigative file. Another 80,000 classified pages from the FBI’s Tampa field office relating to 9/11 have been under review by Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William Zloch since 2014.

On Oct. 2 Zloch announced that he had completed his review of the 80,000 pages and, on Monday, invited the government to file papers by Nov. 27 seeking dismissal of the case while at the same time addressing a trio of his “concerns.” He listed his concerns as being the “production time line” of the handful of documents the FBI has already produced, the “ambiguities” of the FBI’s filing system and the “substance” of the documents themselves.

Tactics opposed to disclosure

The appeal brief argues that “from the start the FBI’s tactics have been contrary to FOIA’s strong presumption in favor of disclosure” by not producing documents in response to Florida Bulldog’s requests and forcing the small Broward-based news organization to sue.

“Only then did the FBI locate and produce records responsive to the Bulldog’s requests, but in dribs and drabs, spread across a year of litigation. Rather than withhold information judiciously, the FBI redacted every word for which it could make a colorable argument – even if that meant claiming a record could not be released because its disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of the privacy of a senior member of al Qaeda,” the brief says.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after his capture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 1, 2003

The reference was to the FBI’s assertion of privacy rights for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and fellow “high-value” Guantanamo detainee Mustafa al-Hawsawi in withholding PowerPoint slides detailing their credit card information. The slides were part of an April 2014 presentation titled “Overview of the 9/11 Investigation” that was shown to the 9/11 Review Commission, also known as the Meese Commission after its most prominent member, Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese.

Other pages from the overview also were redacted, including slides about the funding of the 9/11 attacks – information of keen interest to the families of 9/11 victims seeking to hold Saudi Arabia responsible in federal civil court in New York.

Likewise, the appeal challenges Judge Altonaga’s affirmation of the FBI’s decision to withhold significant portions of an October 2012 FBI report that shows agents and prosecutors in New York were then actively exploring filing charges against a suspect for providing material support for two of the five 9/11 terrorists – Saudis Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar —  who crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

The FBI redacted the report citing national security, privacy and other reasons.

Trial looms as judge denies FBI request to keep 9/11 records secret for privacy reasons

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

New York World Trade Center’s North Tower ablaze on Sept. 11, 2001

In a ruling that could lead to the release of significant new information about 9/11, including details about who funded the al Qaeda terrorist attacks, a Miami federal judge has rejected FBI assertions that many records should be kept secret due to privacy considerations.

At the same time, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga granted summary judgment in the FBI’s favor regarding more than 1,000 pages of classified records it withheld from public view citing national security and other exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Those records, about which little is known, will remain secret.

A trial could be needed to resolve outstanding issues in the case, the judge said.

Florida Bulldog’s parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI last June seeking records of the 9/11 Review Commission kept by the FBI. The commission, whose most prominent member was Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese, was authorized by Congress to take an “external” look at the FBI’s post-9/11 performance and to evaluate new evidence. Instead, Meese and two other members were chosen, paid and spoon-fed information by the FBI.

Among other things, Judge Altonaga analyzed the legality of FBI redactions in 28 partially declassified documents that were disputed by the Bulldog’s attorneys. Again and again, she declared as “unconvincing” FBI arguments asserting a need to veil the names of agents, suspects and others for privacy reasons – specifically citing FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(c).

“Release of this information could further the public interest in learning about the September 11 attacks and may outweigh any privacy interest individuals mentioned in the document may have,” she wrote. You can read her order here.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin represents Florida Bulldog. “The FBI must stop being so secretive about the events of 9/11,” he said. “Excessive assertion of privacy is harming national security. The next FBI director should put a stop to this.”

Here’s what the judge had to say about numerous privacy deletions made to an Oct. 5, 2012 FBI memo about an active but previously unknown investigation by New York authorities, who were actively looking to indict an unidentified suspect with providing material support for the 9/11 hijackers:

‘Significant public interest’

“Plaintiffs have identified the significant public interest in information about who may have been involved in the September 11 attacks…Given the significant public interest in learning about possible suspects involved in the attacks, the FBI has not met its burden of showing Exemptions 6 and 7(c) apply to the selectively redacted names.”

The October 2012 document was also censored for national security and other reasons. Those redactions were upheld by Altonaga and will not be made public. Also not to be released: draft copies of the 9/11 Review Commission’s final report, which was released in March 2015.

The title page of the 9/11 Review Commission’s 2015 report.

Other partially-declassified FBI documents similarly appear to be chock full of deleted information about September 11th that Judge Altonaga determined is being improperly withheld from the public.

Among the most compelling is a PowerPoint presentation given to the 9/11 Review Commission on April 25, 2014 in a closed meeting. The title of the PowerPoint was “Overview of 9/11 Investigation,” and court papers say it “covers the hijackers, where they attended flight school, how they adapted to Western life and blended in, and known co-conspirators.”

The PowerPoint pages that Judge Altonaga now has identified as being improperly blanked out include these topics:

  • “Funding of the 9/11 Attacks” and “Early to Mid-2001 Additional Funding.” Two pages.
  • “KSM Non-Immigrant Visa Application.” KSM is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Guantanamo detainee identified by the 9/11 Commission as “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.”
  • “Early to Mid-2000: Pilots/Intended Pilots Arrive U.S.’’
  • “Investigative Findings” regarding hijacker “Identification” and “Financial. Ample Financing was provided.”
  • “Early to Mid-2001: Non-Pilots Arrive U.S.”
  • “July – August 2001: Knife purchases”
  • “August 2001: Reserving 9/11 Tickets”
  • “Al-Hawsawi Credit Card Statement Supplemental Card Activity.” Like KSM, Mustafa al-Hawsawi is one of 17 “high-value” Guantanamo detainees. The Department of Defense says he was a “senior” al Qaeda member who helped facilitate “the movement and funding of 9/11 hijackers to the U.S.”
  • “Standard Chartered Bank KSM Supplemental Visa Application.”
  • “Ongoing Investigation.” Four pages.

Questions about who bankrolled the 9/11 attacks are at the heart of massive litigation in New York against principal defendants, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina. The consolidated lawsuits were brought by relatives of the nearly 3,000 people who died in the attacks, survivors and businesses that suffered property damage.

A future king’s involvement

Before he was crowned in 2015, King Salman “actively directed” the Saudi High Commission, an official charity whose funding was “especially important to al Qaeda acquiring the strike capabilities used to launch attacks in the U.S.,” according to court papers filed last year by lawyers for the 9/11victims and their families.

The Freedom of Information Act requires the FBI to conduct an adequate search for records that is “reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant (requested) documents.” Florida Bulldog attorney Julin argued, however, that the FBI’s search of 9/11 Review Commission records was inadequate and had intentionally concealed records that appear to remain missing. But Altonaga decided the government had met its burden of showing the search was “adequate and reasonable.”

Saudi King Salman presenting President Trump the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal on Saturday at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. Photo: Al Arabiya English

Likewise, the judge ruled in the government’s favor regarding a dispute over whether the FBI should be required to produce documents in the case file of “the Sarasota family.” The FBI previously included those records among 80,000 pages of 9/11 records submitted in a parallel FOIA case pending before Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William Zloch, who since 2014 has been evaluating those records for possible public release. The FBI will not be required to produce those records in the Miami FOIA case.

The “Sarasota family” refers to Saudi citizens Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji and her parents, Esam and Deborah Ghazzawi. The al-Hijjis lived in an upscale home owned by the Ghazzawis in a gated community named Prestancia.

Neighbors called the police after 9/11 to report that the al-Hijjis had abruptly moved out of their home about two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind their cars, furniture and other personal belongings. The FBI opened an investigation that fall that an April 2002 FBI report says found “many connections” between the Sarasota Saudis and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

For reasons that remain unclear, however, the FBI never notified Congress or the 9/11 Commission about what happened in Sarasota, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks.

Smoke rising after the crash of United 93 in Shanksville, Pa. on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo: Val McClatchey

Florida Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers, first reported about what happened in Sarasota a decade later in September 2011. A counterterrorism officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said agents found phone and gatehouse records that linked the al-Hijjis’ home on Escondito Circle to Mohamed Atta and Ziad Jarrah, who between June 2000 and January 2001 took flight training just 10 miles away at Venice Municipal Airport’s Huffman Aviation.

Atta was at the controls of the American Airlines passenger jet that crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Jarrah was the pilot who wrested control of United Airlines Flight 93, the jetliner that crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers rebelled against their hijackers.

After the Florida Bulldog story broke, the FBI confirmed that it had investigated, but said it found no ties to the 9/11 plot. It also said Congress had been told about its Sarasota investigation.

FBI tries to discredit own report

In April 2014, the FBI sought to discredit its April 2002 report during a private meeting with the 9/11 Review Commission. The FBI said then that the agent who wrote the report had no basis for doing so, but it did not elaborate or identify the agent. The assertion prompted Florida Bulldog to file a FOIA request for the commission’s files. After a year passed without a response from the bureau, the second FOIA lawsuit was filed.

Documents about that briefing include numerous sections withheld for privacy reasons that the judge said were improper. Several additional documents, including interviews with Florida witnesses who knew Atta and other hijackers, contain similar deletions about what went on in Sarasota prior to 9/11 that could be restored based on the judge’s findings.

One of those documents, titled “Alleged Sarasota Links to 9/11 Hijackers” has been released three times by the FBI, each time looking differently. The first release, in March 2013, was on stationery of the “Counterterrorism Division of the Guantanamo Detainee Prosecution Section, 9/11 Prosecution Unit.” The two-page memo, containing numerous privacy redactions, was written in response to the Bulldog’s initial story in September 2011 and says that “the FBI found no evidence that connected the family members” to the hijackers.

The FBI released the document again on Dec. 30, 2016. This time all mention of the Guantanamo 9/11 Prosecution Unit as the source of the memo was removed and more information that had been previously released was now deleted. In April, after the Bulldog’s attorney’s protested, the FBI released a third copy that restored some of the deleted information, but still removed mention of the Guantanamo 9/11 unit.

In her ruling last week, Judge Altonaga denied the FBI’s request for summary judgment “as to all redactions in this document.” Altonaga wrote “the court cannot fathom why the FBI would redact and claim a statutory exemption for information it has already released and which plaintiffs already possess.”

The FBI must now decide whether to make public the information for which summary judgment was denied or continue to oppose release.

Judge Altonaga’s order gives both sides until Thursday, May 25, to file a joint status report “advising how they wish to proceed to conclude the case, and if a trial is to be held, to propose a trial period.”

On Monday afternoon, the FBI requested an extension until June 2.

“The FBI is currently working to determine how to proceed with the information as to which the Court denied summary judgment, i.e., whether the information will be released to Plaintiffs or whether the agency must persist in defense of its claimed FOIA exemptions,” says the motion filed by Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Raurell. “This process, which is already under way, requires not only the FBI’s own internal analysis, but also consultation with the Justice Department’s Civil Appellate Division and with at least one other government agency.”

Mysterious Saudi businessman in 9/11 puzzle surfaces – online

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

New York City, September 11, 2001

A mysterious figure at the center of the puzzle about an apparent Sarasota-area support network for 9/11 hijackers is a rich Saudi Arabian businessman with ties to the kingdom’s ruling House of Saud and international and American political leaders.

Esam Abbas Ghazzawi, son of a former Saudi ambassador, stepped from the shadows recently when he posted a website publicizing his extravagant design work for Saudi royalty and details about his background. He did not, however, respond to Florida Bulldog emailed requests for comment.

State records show that Ghazzawi, 66, and his American-born wife, Deborah, owned the home at 4224 Escondito Circle in Sarasota that became the focus of an FBI investigation after neighbors reported that its occupants — Ghazzawi’s daughter Anoud and his son-in-law Abdulaziz al-Hijji — had abruptly moved out and returned with Ghazzawi to Saudi Arabia about two weeks before the terrorist attacks – leaving behind their cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings.

Authorities later obtained security records from the gated community and determined that cars driven by 9/11 hijack leader Mohamed Atta and other terrorist figures visited the al-Hijjis’ residence. A heavily-censored April 2002 FBI report released to Florida Bulldog in 2013 amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation says FBI agents found “many connections” to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The FBI, however, kept those findings secret from both Congress and the 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks.

(The FBI disavowed its 2002 report in 2014, telling the 9/11 Review Commission that the agent who wrote it had no basis to do so. The FBI did not identify the agent or further explain the bizarre turn of events. FBI Director James Comey, fired Tuesday by President Trump, publicly mischaracterized the Review Commission as an independent body when in fact he chose its three members and the FBI paid them.)

A decade passed before the FBI’s Sarasota investigation became public when Florida Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers, reported it in September 2011. The FBI soon confirmed the existence of the investigation, but said it found no connection between the Saudi family and the 9/11 plot. Agents also said the Sarasota probe was reported to Congress.

The newly posted information shows that Ghazzawi is a commercial landscape and interior designer whose companies have handled multi-million dollar projects in Saudi Arabia. Until July 2001 he was also an advisor to Prince Fahd Bin Salman Abdul Aziz al-Saud (Prince Fahd), an ex-classmate and eldest son of King Salman, who died that month of heart failure.

Bush, Bhutto and John Major

His website, esamghazzawidesigns.com, features photographs of Ghazzawi’s luxurious designs that have “transformed homes into palaces.” Magazine articles from the early 2000s show him meeting world leaders, including former United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major, the late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and ex-President George H.W. Bush. Bush signed his picture, “To Esam A. Ghazzawi Best Wishes, George Bush.”

Esam Ghazzawi shaking hands with George H.W. Bush in an undated photo signed by the former president. The photo was taken during one of Bush’s visits to Saudi Arabia, according to the Arab language magazine “The House”

An English-language article describes Ghazzawi as a father of five who graduated high school in Saudi Arabia and attended college in the U.S., obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1975 from Chapman College in Orange, CA. “Mr. Ghazzawi maintains residences all over the world – the family’s primary residence (which is a sprawling beach house) is in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Gulf. (He) also has a large city penthouse in Riyadh and other secondary residences” in London, Sarasota and Arlington, VA, says the article in On Design magazine. 

Ghazzawi was described as providing turnkey design services “primarily for grand scale residential interiors within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” His clients were said to be “well educated, well-traveled and very affluent. To date, most have been high-ranking government hierarchy in his home country.”

Ghazzawi, through his Esam Arabia Projects Est. and the Luxury Home Collection Ltd., boasted a “full-time staff” of architects, draftsmen, artists and CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) operators. “It is not unusual for Mr. Ghazzawi to have hundreds of workers on site at one time,” the article in On Design says.

An example is Esam Arabia’s 1998-2001work as the principal contractor on a $28-million landscape and lighting project to create a “paradise-setting” at Yamama Palace in Riyadh, the residence of Prince Abdul Azziz bin Fahd, son of then King Fahd. California-based Lee-Wolfe and Associates provided project management. Company co-owner Paul L. Wolfe said he knew Ghazzawi, but declined to be interviewed.

Former British Prime Minister John Major with Prince Fahd bin Salman, center, and Esam Ghazzawi in an undated photograph.

The FBI closely guards its files on Ghazzawi and has steadfastly refused to release even his name – except once in an apparent oversight while processing documents for release to Florida Bulldog.

The documents were a copy of a letter and a list of phone numbers received by the FBI on July 23, 2002. Details about the letter and the list were blanked out, but the “title” of the file into which they were placed – Esam Ghazzawi – was not.

The FBI’s interest in Ghazzawi, while cryptic, is longstanding. In 2003, according to Sarasota attorney Scott McKay, an FBI agent sought to enlist McKay’s help in convincing Ghazzawi to return to Florida to sign legal documents regarding his Sarasota property. The ploy failed.

Ghazzawi on FBI watch list

In 2011, a counter-terrorism agent told author Summers, who with Robbyn Swan wrote the 9/11 history The Eleventh Day, that Ghazzawi and al-Hijji had been on an FBI watch list and that a U.S. agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.

The government’s pre-9/11 interest in Ghazzawi likely included his ties to the corrupt Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI), or as it came to be known by law enforcement, the “Bank of Crooks and Criminals.”  Ghazzawi had three accounts at BCCI’s London branch worth about $400,000, according to a 1996 appeals court ruling published in The Times of London.

Bank liquidators contended Ghazzawi was a nominee owner of the funds and that the true owner was his employer at the time, Prince Fahd. The liquidators had claimed the funds pursuant to a guarantee the prince had given regarding an overdrawn account.

Esam Ghazzawi posing in an undated advertisement for his Saudi company, Luxury Home Collection, in the Arab language magazine, The House.

Ghazzawi is today a member of the board of directors of the London subsidiary of EIRAD, a Saudi company that sponsors multinational companies in Saudi Arabia, including United Parcel Service (UPS).

The investigative website Who.What.Why. has reported that Ghazzawi’s brother, Mamdouh, is the executive managing director the parent firm, EIRAD Holding Co. Ltd.

According to The House of Saud in Commerce, a detailed study of Saudi royal entrepreneurship published in 2001 prior to 9/11, EIRAD was headed by Prince Fahd until his death later that year.

EIRAD had ties to the U.S. intelligence community. “In June 1995, the U.S. government approved a business venture between Orbital Imaging Corp. of the USA and EIRAD International for the supply of satellite images to the government and commercial customers in the Middle East,” the book says.

Orbital Imaging, later known as GeoEye, had contracts to provide reconnaissance for the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The company is now owned by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe.

Business ties to Bin Laden family

The book says Prince Fahd’s other business interests included Saudi Ceramics Co., whose “prominent Saudi partners” included the Bin Laden family. Today, EIRAD’s chairman is another son of King Salman, Prince Sultan bin Salman Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the former pilot in the Royal Saudi Air Force who in 1985 was an astronaut payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Court papers filed last month by attorneys representing Florida Bulldog in its FOIA litigation argue that it “is now clear that substantial evidence exists that Esam Ghazzawi was not just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Saudi citizen, but rather was (and is) an uber-wealthy Saudi whose father, Abbas Ghazzawi, had been a Saudi ambassador and close associate of at least three Saudi kings.” Photographs of Abbas Ghazzawi in an article posted on his son’s website reportedly depict him with Saudi Kings Saud, Faisal and Fahd.

Abbas Ghazzawi in undated photos with Saudi King Faisal, left and King Fahd.

Abbas Faiq Ghazzawi, 84, is a Saudi diplomat who served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, as recently as a decade ago, was ambassador to Germany, according to Who’s Who in the Arab World. Declassified diplomatic cables posted by the State Department show that in 1979 Ghazzawi, was political counsel for the Ministry for Eastern Affairs, represented Saudi Arabia in sensitive discussions with U.S. diplomats regarding Soviet military units in Afghanistan, the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and terrorist incidents inside Saudi Arabia.

Esam Ghazzawi’s son, Adel Ghazzawi, 46, is also prominent. He is a prior board member at the East-West Institute, the New York think tank whose board members include ex-Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. Adel Ghazzawi is the founder of Conektas, a company based in the United Arab Emirates that helps foreign companies establish businesses in the Middle East.

According to Relationship Science, which bills itself as the world’s “most powerful database of decision makers,” Adel Ghazzawi is on the board of directors of Arabtec Saudi Arabia LLC. Arabtec Construction, one of the world’s largest construction companies, set up its Saudi subsidiary in 2009 as a joint venture with CPC Services (Construction Products Holding Company), a member of the Saudi Bin Laden Group, and Prime International Group Services.

At the time, Emirates Business quoted an Adel Ghazzawi, whom it identified as Prime International’s chief executive officer. Ghazzawi told the news service that he began discussions with Arabtec. “We initiated discussions two months ago and have been working very closely with Arabtec Holdings on moving their business into Saudi along with the Bin Laden Group.”

Adel Ghazzawi could not be located for comment.

Panama Papers

Curiously, Prime International surfaced last year in the Panama Papers case, the trove of 11.5 million leaked documents detailing private financial information about hundreds of thousands of offshore entities. Such entities are legal, but have been used to commit fraud, tax evasion and other crimes.

The website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identifies Prime International Group Services Ltd. as having been established in 2004 in the British Virgin Islands, and as being beneficially owned by Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman, the former astronaut. Its intermediary is listed as the Fahad Al-Nabet law office in Riyadh, and its overseas agent as the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. That firm’s founders, Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonesca, were arrested in February on money-laundering charges.

About two years after the al-Hijjis moved out their Sarasota home, Adel Ghazzawi tried to get a homeowner’s association lien removed so the house could be sold. The discussions proved to be contentious, according to then-property manager Jone Weist.

Abdulazziz al-Hijji in a photo taken when he lived in Sarasota

The Sarasota Herald Tribune has reported that while the al-Hijjis lived in the Prestancia development, Esam and Deborah Ghazzawi were frequent visitors to the home they shared with their small children. Florida Bulldog recently has learned that in the summer of 2001 Anoud al-Hijji’s 18-year-old brother, Salman Ghazzawi, also lived at the home.

In 2013, the newspaper interviewed Carla DiBello, who knew the al-Hijjis and met Esam Ghazzawi several times. “I remember him being very eccentric. He loved going to big dinners and always had a lot of security,” DiBello said.

Florida Bulldog’s court papers contend that evidence of contacts between Ghazzawi’s family and 9/11 hijackers provide “additional evidence…of possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attacks…and should have triggered a full-scale and thorough investigation by the FBI.” Instead, the FBI “deliberately concealed” those contacts from congressional investigators to protect the Ghazzawis or “negligently failed to conduct a proper investigation of the possibility of complicity of Ghazzawi family members in the 9/11 attacks,” the court papers say.

FBI records that have been released indicate that as of 2004, the FBI apparently had not interviewed Ghazzawi about what happened in Sarasota.

Florida Bulldog’s attorneys Thomas Julin, Raymond Miller, Kyle Teal and Anaili Cure of the Gunster law firm argued the FBI is today “improperly” withholding records “not because those records would harm national security” or otherwise cause harm, but “rather because disclosure…would result in valid, important public criticism of the actions that the FBI took in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.”

The lawyers asked Miami U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga to set the case for trial “to determine whether the FBI has conducted an adequate search and whether it has properly withheld and redacted responsive records.”

The government, however, has asked the judge to rule on those issues without a public trial, which would likely include testimony by former Sen. Graham, who has accused the FBI of covering up for the Saudis.

As trial date draws near, FBI releases more about secretive 9/11 Review Commission

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

FBI Director James Comey, center, announces release of 9/11 Review Commission report on March 25, 2015. Flanking Comey from left to right are commissioners Bruce Hoffman, Edwin Meese and Timothy Roemer. At far right is Executive Director John Gannon

In moves aimed at heading off an unusual Freedom of Information Act trial in Miami next month, the FBI has released new information about the secretive work of its 9/11 Review Commission.

In one disclosure, the FBI made public how much it paid Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin Meese and two other men who served on the Review Commission, and staff. In another, the FBI put a human face on its effort to discredit a dramatic April 16, 2002 FBI report that said agents had found “many connections” between Saudis living in Sarasota and the 9/11 hijackers.

The FBI withheld the 2002 report from both Congress and the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, more simply known as the 9/11 Commission.

Late last year, in response to FOIA litigation brought by Florida Bulldog, the FBI made public copies of its personal services contracts with Meese, former ambassador and congressman Timothy Roemer and Georgetown professor Bruce Hoffman, but blacked out their pay.

On Friday, however, after U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga told a trio of government lawyers she wasn’t satisfied with the FBI’s explanations for withholding such information, the bureau relented and restored those contract details in documents re-released to Florida Bulldog.

The contracts show that Meese, Roemer and Hoffman were paid $80,000 apiece plus $4,000 for travel expenses for 11 months of work.

Payments to staff

The FBI also provided new information about payments to more than a half-dozen staffers for the 9/11 Review Commission.

Executive Director John Gannon, a former CIA Deputy Director for Intelligence, was paid $134,000 plus $4,000 for travel. The FBI’s biggest payout, however, went to Barbara A. Grewe, whose contract shows she was detailed to the 9/11 Review Commission by The MITRE Corporation to serve as a senior director for eight months starting in April 2014. Grewe was paid $163,000 and given $20,000 more for travel. She was hired under an agreement involving the Intergovernmental Personnel Act.

MITRE, with principal locations in Bedford, MA and McLean, VA, is a not-for-profit company that operates federally funded research and development centers to address national security and homeland security and other matters. Grewe’s Linked In profile describes her as a “trusted advisor to senior government officials across a variety of MITRE programs.” She is a former federal prosecutor in Washington who also served as senior counsel for special projects on the 9/11 Commission in 2003-2004.

FBI Director James Comey

The 9/11 Review Commission, also known as the Meese Commission, was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s performance in implementing the original 9/11 Commission’s recommendations and to assess new evidence. 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.

Florida Bulldog’s corporate parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., sued the FBI in June for access to Meese Commission records, including those regarding the April 2002 FBI report that says agents found “many connections” between Saudis living in Sarasota and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The 2002 report, released to Florida Bulldog in 2013 amid a separate and ongoing FOIA lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale, corroborated earlier reporting by the Bulldog in collaboration with Irish author Anthony Summers that disclosed the existence of the FBI’s Sarasota investigation. That reporting showed that the FBI began its probe after being summoned by neighbors who told them that Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji had moved abruptly out of their upscale home about two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind cars, clothes, furniture and other personal belongings. The home was owned by Anoud’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to the late Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a nephew of former King Fahd, and eldest son of Saudi Arabia’s current monarch, King Salman. The prince died in July 2001 at age 46.

In September 2011, Bulldog reported that agents had found evidence that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 terrorists had visited the al-Hijjis’ home. The bureau, however, did not alert Congress or the subsequent 9/11 Commission to its probe. After the story broke, the FBI acknowledged its investigation, but said it had found no connection to the 9/11 plot. It declined to explain.

The Sarasota Family

The Commission addressed the matter briefly in a section of its 2015 report titled “The Sarasota Family.” The commission’s inquiry consisted of obtaining copies of the case file and being briefed by an agent who discredited the 2002 report, calling it “wholly unsubstantiated” and “poorly written.” The commission took no other testimony about what happened in Sarasota, and its final report does not explain how the FBI came to its conclusion.

The FBI has not released the name of the agent who wrote the report citing privacy considerations. He is Special Agent Gregory Sheffield, who at the time worked in the FBI’s Fort Myers office.

The FBI recently filed a motion for summary judgment that asks the court to dismiss much of the lawsuit. This week, bureau attorneys are expected to file additional court papers seeking dismissal of the entire case. The matter is set for trial in early March.

Tuesday’s hour-long hearing before Judge Altonaga focused on whether the FBI had made an adequate search for records of any discipline given to the agent who wrote the allegedly bogus 2002 report, and whether it had properly redacted portions of records previously released to the Bulldog.

Representing the government at Tuesday’s hearing were Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Raurell and two FBI lawyers from Washington, Assistant General Counsel Jonathan Fleshner and Paul Marquette of the FBI’s Record/Information Dissemination Section.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin represented the Florida Bulldog. He argued that a trial would be the proper forum to resolve questions about the FBI’s withholding of information. He told the judge that the news organization’s principal concern was that the FBI had found significant evidence of Saudi government support for the 9/11 attacks and then failed to disclose it to Congress or conduct an adequate investigation.

Joining Julin at the plaintiff’s table was former Florida governor and Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. Graham has strongly criticized the FBI for, among other things, failing to notify Congress about its Sarasota investigation.

A heavily redacted Memorandum for the Record

This past November, the FBI released in heavily redacted form a four-page, April 30, 2014 Memorandum for the Record describing the FBI’s briefing about the Sarasota family for the Meese Commission. Among the information the FBI kept secret was the name of the briefer for privacy reasons.

But on Jan. 30, 2017 after Florida Bulldog attorney Julin argued that the Meese report itself had named certain FBI personnel who it said provided “invaluable access to key people and relevant data,” the FBI identified the briefer as Supervisory Special Agent Jacqueline Maguire. Among other things, Maguire told the Meese Commission that the April 2002 report “was a bad statement. It was overly speculative and there was no basis for the statement.”

FBI agent Jacqueline Maguire testifying before the 9/11 Commission June 16, 2004

(The FBI also identified Agent Elizabeth Callahan as the Technical Point of Contact for the Meese Commission members and staff. The FBI has asserted privacy exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act to shield the names of other agents, including the agent who wrote the April 2002 report.)

The memorandum, however, offers no explanation for Maguire’s assertions. On Thursday, attorney Julin asked Miami U.S. Magistrate John O’Sullivan for permission to depose Maguire, but the request was denied.

Maguire previously said in court that she was assigned to the FBI’s New York field office after graduating from the FBI Academy in June 2000. A month after 9/11 she was assigned to a team of agents in Washington working PENTTBOMB, the code-name for its Pentagon, Twin Towers investigation.

“Specifically, I was assigned responsibilities in the investigation into the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon,” she said in a declaration in another FOIA action in 2005.

In November 2011, Maguire accompanied FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce to a Washington, D.C. meeting with former Sen. Graham. The White House arranged the meeting after Graham expressed concern about FBI documents he’d seen that contradicted the bureau’s public assertions that it had found no ties to terrorism during its Sarasota investigation. One of those documents was the April 2002 “many connections” report that the FBI provided the Senate Intelligence Committee in the wake of Bulldog’s reporting.

In a sworn declaration, Graham said Joyce sought to allay his concerns by saying that while the documents he’d reviewed did appear to contradict the FBI’s public statements about Sarasota, other FBI files he could review would provide context to show that the FBI’s public statements were correct.

Maguire was to provide Graham with those documents at a follow-up meeting. Joyce, however, soon changed his mind and declined to let Graham see anything else. Graham said Joyce also told him, in so many words, to “get a life.”

FBI coughs up new 9/11 records about Sarasota; Documents, evidence missing

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

New York's World Trade Center before September 11, 2001

New York’s World Trade Center before September 11, 2001

Newly released FBI documents say agents investigating 9/11 connections did not obtain security records from a Sarasota-area gated community containing alleged evidence that 9/11 hijackers had visited the residence of a Saudi family with ties to the royal family.

The FBI’s surprising assertion that agents chose not to collect basic evidence during its once-secret Sarasota investigation is contained in a previously classified “Memorandum for the Record” about an FBI briefing given to the 9/11 Review Commission on April 30, 2014.

Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-FL, co-chair of Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the 9/11 terrorist attacks, called the FBI’s statement “stunning.”

The memorandum also fails to explain, as the commission’s final report suggested it would, the basis for FBI statements made to the 9/11 Review Commission that sought to discredit an April 2002 FBI report that – contrary to the FBI’s public comments – said agents found “many connections” between the Sarasota Saudis and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

A heavily censored copy of the four-page Memorandum for the Record is among more than 200 pages of declassified 9/11 Review Commission records released to FloridaBulldog.org this month by the FBI amid ongoing Freedom of Information litigation.

The Review Commission was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s post 9/11 performance and to evaluate new evidence, but was largely controlled by the FBI. Its three members, all of whom were paid by the FBI, included former Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese.

New questions about Review Commission

The Review Commission operated in secret for about a year and went out of business when it issued its final report in March 2015. The memo, cited in the report’s footnotes, raises new questions about whether the commission made an actual, thorough review of what happened in Sarasota or simply accepted the FBI’s assertions.

“It’s somewhere between just blind acceptance of whatever the FBI put before them and the failure of the FBI to disclose other information not in this memo,” said Graham.

Florida driver's license photo of Mohamed Atta

Florida driver’s license photo of Mohamed Atta

The FBI’s Sarasota investigation began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks when neighbors in the upscale Prestancia development alerted law enforcement to the abrupt departure of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, who moved out of their home at 4224 Escondito Circle about two weeks before 9/11. The couple left numerous personal belongings, including their cars, clothes, furniture and a refrigerator full of food.

The home was owned by al-Hijji’s father-in-law, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to the late Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a nephew of former King Fahd, and eldest son of Saudi Arabia’s current monarch, King Salman. The prince died in July 2001 at age 46.

Florida Bulldog, working with Irish author Anthony Summers, first reported about the FBI’s Sarasota investigation in September 2011. The story included statements by Prestancia’s security chief and a counterterrorism officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as to how the FBI had used the gatehouse’s sign-in logs and photographs of license plates to discover that cars used by 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and other hijackers had visited al-Hijji’s home. Atta and two other hijack pilots took flight lessons at nearby Venice Municipal Airport.

No disclosure to Congress, 9/11 Commission

The story also noted the FBI had not disclosed its Sarasota investigation to either Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11 or the subsequent 9/11 Commission. The FBI has said it did notify Congress and the 9/11 Commission, but a number of persons affiliated with those probes, including former Sen. Graham, have said they were not told about the Sarasota Saudis.

The newly released Memorandum for the Record does not address the significant question of whether the FBI notified Congress and the 9/11 Commission of its Sarasota probe, and if not, why. It does, however, dispute the accounts of both Prestancia’s then-security chief, Larry Berberich, and the counterterrorism officer who said FBI agents collected and analyzed the gatehouse records that documented who entered Prestancia prior to 9/11 and where they went.

“The FBI did not obtain the gate records from the community because there was not a justified reason to believe there was a connection with the hijackers. There was no investigative belief or reason to obtain the records,” the memo says.

“It’s unbelievable that they would make the statement that they didn’t collect the records because they didn’t have a belief that there was a connection,” Graham said. “It was the records that would have given them that connection.”

Nevertheless, the memo says elsewhere that the FBI concluded there was “no evidence the hijackers visited the family’s residence.” The memo does not explain how, if the gate records were not obtained, the FBI could reach that conclusion.

The FBI has said in public comments, and to the 9/11 Review Commission, that it found “no evidence” connecting the Sarasota Saudis to any of the 9/11 hijackers, “nor was there any connection found between the family and the 9/11 plot.”

A startling statement

The memo, however, includes a startling statement about the FBI’s record-keeping practices that indicates the bureau cannot back up its conclusions. “There is no actual documentation of searches and work done to rule out connections,” the memo says.

The memorandum goes on to dispute the counterterrorism officer’s account of how agents, using a subpoena, obtained phone company records about incoming and outgoing calls to the Escondito house. A link analysis – tracking calls based on dates, times and length of conversation – found that calls dating back more than a year prior to 9/11 “lined up with the known suspects,” the counterterrorism officer said.

The links were not only to Atta and other hijack pilots, but to other terrorist suspects, including Walid al-Shehhri, who flew with Atta on the first plane to strike the World Trade Center, and al Qaeda terrorist Adnan Shukrijumah, the counterterrorism officer said. Shukrijumah, a Broward resident later added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, was reported killed in a military raid in Pakistan in December 2014.

The memorandum, however, says, “The FBI found there is no evidence and no grounds that the family, or 2 & 3 degrees of separation, had any telephonic connection,” with the hijackers.

FBI Director James Comey, second from right, is flanked by 9/11 Review Commissioners Tim Roemer, right, Ed Meese and Bruce Hoffman, far left. Photo: FBI

FBI Director James Comey, second from right, is flanked by 9/11 Review Commissioners Tim Roemer, right, Ed Meese and Bruce Hoffman, far left. Photo: FBI

Neither the memo nor the 9/11 Review Commission’s final report indicate that the commission sought to verify any of the FBI’s assertions. The FBI has declined to make public records about its phone record analysis.

Similarly, the memo discusses statements made to the 9/11 Review Commission by the FBI regarding its own April 2002 “many connections” report linking the Sarasota Saudis and 9/11 figures.

80,000 pages

 The FBI released that redacted report, containing national security information and originally marked “declassify on 03-14-2038,” to Florida Bulldog in 2013 during a separate Freedom of Information lawsuit that sought access to records of the FBI’s Sarasota probe.

 

In that case, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale ordered the FBI in April 2014 to produce for his inspection 80,000 pages of records from its Tampa area field office. The judge’s inspection is ongoing.

Before the 9/11 Review Commission, however, the FBI disavowed its report, saying it was “poorly written and wholly unsubstantiated,” according to the commission’s final report. The FBI went on to tell the commission that the special agent who wrote it, when questioned later, “was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did.”

Still, the Memorandum for the Record cited in the commission’s report says the unnamed special agent wrote the report to request opening a more urgent investigation of the Sarasota Saudis, but that didn’t happen.

“Tampa did the right thing by entering information into Rapid Start,” the memo says, referring to the tracking information management system used by the FBI prior to 9/11. “After 3 calls they opened a case. They interviewed the family members when they returned to the U.S. [several years later.] They obtained their contact information. However, Tampa did not have the derogatory needed to bump the investigation up to a [redacted].”

The memo does not explain why, if the 2002 report was “wholly unsubstantiated,” the agent who wrote it would have sought to draw attention to his own shoddy work by seeking further investigation. Likewise, the memo does not address why the FBI made public such a flawed report or why it redacted information from it due to reasons of national security.

The last section of the memo, “Gaps/Possible Issues/Recommendations” was redacted in full under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act regarding “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.”

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.

Is Broward terrorist figure Adnan Shukrijumah dead? FBI can’t confirm it

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org shukposter

Six months after former Broward resident and suspected al Qaeda leader Adnan El Shukrijumah was reported killed by the Pakistan army, the FBI has not confirmed his death and continues to include him on its list of “Most Wanted Terrorists.”

Pakistani authorities have said the Saudi-born Shukrijumah was killed Dec. 6 during a helicopter gunship assault on a military compound in a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan near Afghanistan. His wife and four children were taken into custody, intelligence officials told Reuters.

“The United States government has not yet confirmed the death of El Shukrijumah. He will remain on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List until the time a confirmation is made,” the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs said in an email statement.

Asked to explain what problems the FBI has encountered in making a positive identification via DNA or other methods, the FBI replied, “The confirmation process is ongoing and, therefore, the FBI will not comment on it.”

Given the right conditions, the U.S. has the capability to make a rapid DNA identification.

A remote border town pinpointed on this map is where the Pakistani Army said it killed Adnan Shukrijumah six months ago.

A remote border town pinpointed on this map is where the Pakistani Army said it killed Adnan Shukrijumah six months ago.

The Washington Post, citing “black budget” documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reported in August 2013 that within eight hours of Osama bin Laden’s death in Afghanistan at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals the Defense Intelligence Agency had analyzed DNA from bin Laden’s corpse and “provided a conclusive match” confirming his identity.

In April, CNN and other news outlets reported the FBI’s announcement that it had used DNA testing to confirm the death of another of its most wanted terrorists, Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian bomb maker known as Marwan. Marwan, believed to be a senior member of the southeast Asian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, was killed Jan. 25 in a disastrous raid and 11-hour shootout with Philippines National Police that left 44 officers dead.

DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, carries a person’s unique genetic information. Since, 1998, the FBI has operated the National DNA Index System, said to be the largest repository of known offender DNA records in the world.

DNA profiles are built from blood samples or skin cells found on items such as drinking glasses, chewing gum, envelopes and guns. The FBI uses its Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) software program to manage its database.

Authorities have described Shukrijumah, a former Miramar resident who grew up in the U.S. and attended Broward College, as al Qaeda’s chief of global operations. At the time of his reported death, he was a fugitive from a 2010 indictment in New York for his alleged role in plots to attack New York’s subway system and London’s Underground. The charges included conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction.

Shukrijumah, 39, had a $5 million bounty on his head at the time of his reported death. On April 19, the Voice of America posted a U.S. government “international public service announcement” reiterating the reward for information leading to Shukrijumah’s arrest.

Screenshot of video offering U.S. reward for information leading to capture of Adnan El Shukrijumah, posted by the Voice of America on April 15.

Screenshot of video offering U.S. reward for information leading to capture of Adnan El Shukrijumah, posted by the Voice of America on April 15.

Shukrijumah was also a key figure in the FBI’s once-secret Sarasota investigation of Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, a Saudi couple who moved abruptly out of their home about two weeks before the 9/11 attacks. Agents later found evidence that Shukrijumah and several 9/11 hijackers, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, had visited the al-Hijji’s upscale home in the gated community of Prestancia.

Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a member of the Saudi royal family, owned the home.

The FBI never disclosed the existence of its Sarasota investigation to Congress or the 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11.

FBI officials acknowledged the investigation in September 2011 after FloridaBulldog.org, working with Irish journalist Anthony Summers, reported it. They also denied finding any connection to 9/11, but declined to explain that assertion.

FBI records later made public amid a Freedom of Information lawsuit by Broward Bulldog, Inc., operator of FloridaBulldog.org, contradicted that denial. For example, an FBI report dated April 16, 2002, said investigators determined that the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

The FBI sought, without explanation, to disavow that report earlier this year, telling the 9/11 Review Commission that the report was “poorly written and wholly unsubstantiated.”

“When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did,” the 9/11 Commission’s report says.

The agent was not identified and the FBI has refused to name him.

Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is presiding over the FOIA lawsuit and is currently reviewing for possible public release more than 80,000 pages of classified 9/11 records from the FBI’s Tampa Field Office that he ordered produced for his inspection last spring.

Miami attorney Thomas Julin, who represents the news organization, has asked Zloch to require the FBI to identify the agent and allow him to be questioned about the document he authored.

 

 

FBI slams own 9/11 document; New report discounts Sarasota Saudis ties to hijackers

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org 

From left to right, Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, FBI Director James D. Comey and former Congressman Tim Roemer at a Wednesday press conference

From left to right, Georgetown University professor Bruce Hoffman, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, FBI Director James D. Comey and former Congressman Tim Roemer at a Wednesday press conference

A report that lauds the FBI for making “great strides” in protecting the nation from terrorists in the past decade also says the Bureau produced and made public bad information linking Saudis in Sarasota to 9/11 terrorists.

The 9/11 Review Commission, a congressionally authorized body that relied heavily on the FBI for support and some staff, produced the 128-page report released Wednesday, “The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century.” Among its conclusions: an April 16, 2002 FBI report that ties the Saudis to 9/11 hijackers was “not substantiated.”

The FBI provided the heavily censored document to Broward Bulldog Inc., parent company of FloridaBulldog.org, in 2013 amid an ongoing Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks access to the FBI’s files on the matter.

The FBI document says flatly that the Saudis, who abruptly moved out of their home in the upscale community of Prestancia in south Sarasota, about two weeks before the 2001 attacks – leaving behind their cars, furniture, clothes and other items – had “many connections to individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

FloridaBulldog.org first reported about the document on April 16, 2013.

FBI DOCUMENT ‘UNSUBSTANTIATED?’

“The FBI told the Review Commission that the (FBI document) on which the news article was based was ‘poorly written’ and wholly unsubstantiated, the commission’s report says. “When questioned later by others in the FBI, the special agent who wrote (it) was unable to provide any basis for the contents of the document or explain why he wrote it as he did.” The agent was not identified and no further explanation was offered.

The document’s information, however, is corroborated by a counterterrorism officer’s detailed account regarding what the FBI found during its investigation of Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, in a story published by FloridaBulldog.org in September 2011.

911debrisIrish journalist and FloridaBulldog.org contributor Anthony Summers first interviewed the counterterrorism officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Summers and Robbyn Swan are co-authors of The Eleventh Day, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2012.

“The report raises more questions about Sarasota than it answers,” said Thomas Julin, the news organization’s Miami attorney. “The report provides no plausible explanation for the contradiction between the FBI’s current claim that it found nothing and its 2002 memo finding ‘many connections’ between the Sarasota family and the 9/11 terrorists.”

The FBI kept its inquiry a secret from both the 9/11 Commission and Congress’s prior Joint Inquiry into the attacks, yet the 9/11 Review Commission’s report did not inquire as to why.

The FBI document not only contradicted the FBI’s prior public statements about the matter, it re-fueled concerns raised by official investigations that the full truth about Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 attacks has yet to be told.

“The report raises new concerns that the FBI is concealing Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks,” said attorney Julin. “The report should have explained why the Sarasota investigation was not disclosed to Congress.”

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham

Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry, said Wednesday that he had been unaware of the existence of the 9/11 Review Commission until its release.

“I was surprised by it, as were most Americans, and therefore I was not able to contribute to its deliberations,” said Graham, adding he wished he’d had that opportunity.

The Review Commission’s findings, as well as its lack of supporting documentation for its conclusions, failed to persuade Graham to alter his public skepticism about the FBI regarding 9/11.

AN FBI COVER UP?

“The FBI has served America through most of its history. There were stumbles by the agency before 9/11 and since the tragedy there has been a consistent effort to cover up the extent of Saudi Arabia’s involvement,” Graham said. “Let’s let the American people know what happened and have…a serious discussion of what happened, why it happened, where it was adverse to U.S. interests and how to avoid its repetition.”

The 9/11 Review Committee was established in January 2014 when Congress directed the FBI to create a commission to conduct a “comprehensive external review” of the implementation of recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission in 2004. Part of the job was to assess “any evidence now known to the FBI that was not considered by the 9/11 Commission,” the report says.

FBI Director James B. Comey appointed three commissioners: former Reagan Administration Attorney General Edwin Meese, former Congressman and Ambassador Tim Roemer and Bruce Hoffman, a professor and terrorism expert at Georgetown University. The commissioners and executive director John Gannon, a former CIA deputy director for intelligence, were apparently paid for their service. The report says each worked under a personal services contract, although how much they were paid and who paid them was not disclosed.

The report says commission staff traveled to eight FBI field offices to interview key personnel including members of counterterrorism squads, but none in Florida. More than 30 officials with the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community were interviewed, including ex-FBI director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA boss John Brennan. Their statements were not made public.

“I am shocked that this commission failed to talk to Bob Graham,” said attorney Julin.

While the report urged the FBI to do more about the threat of terrorism, Director Comey saw it as vindication for the FBI.

“I am pleased the Review Commission recognized the significant progress we have made to build a threat-based, intelligence-driven law enforcement and national security organization,” Comey said.

The report says commissioners obtained a copy of the Sarasota case file, interview reports and copies of a handful of documents previously released to FloridaBulldog.org via the Freedom of Information Act. FBI officials also briefed commission members more than 60 times on a variety of topics. One of those briefings was about Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji, whose father Esam Ghazzawi was an advisor to a member of the Saudi Royal family, the report shows.

Still, the 9/11 Review Commission’s report omits a number of seemingly relevant facts. For example, it neglects to mention that the April 2002 document the FBI discounts also cited national security to withhold other information from the public.

The report, while saying “the FBI found no evidence of contact between the hijackers and the family,” also does not mention other information linking al-Hijji to terrorist figures, including Prestancia gatehouse security logs and license plate photos the counterterrorism officer said showed that Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 figures had gone to al-Hijji’s home. Also, unmentioned are statements made in 2004 to the FBI by now imprisoned terrorist associate Wissam Hammoud that described al-Hijji as an acolyte of Osama bin Laden who had once introduced him to al Qaeda figure Adnan El Shukrijumah.

Likewise, the report omits any reference to the ongoing Freedom of Information case in Fort Lauderdale where U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing 80,000 classified pages of 9/11 records from the FBI’s Tampa field office. The judge will decide what documents should be made public.

New FBI records: A chilling find in a dumpster; 9/11 “person of interest” re-enters U.S.

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org 

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Freshly released, but heavily-censored FBI documents include tantalizing new information about events connected to the Sarasota Saudis who moved suddenly out of their home, leaving behind clothing, jewelry and cars, about two weeks before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The documents were released to BrowardBulldog.org Monday amid ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation. The news organization sued in 2012 after being denied access to the Bureau’s file on a once secret investigation focusing on Abdulaziz al-Hijji, his wife, Anoud and her father  Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a Saudi prince.

An FBI letter accompanying the documents, the fourth batch to be released since the suit was filed, cites national security and other reasons to justify why certain information was withheld. The letter does not explain why the documents were not previously acknowledged to exist.

One FBI report, dated April 3, 2002 recounts a chilling discovery made by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on Halloween 2001.

Deputies were called after a man with a Tunisian passport was observed disposing of items in a dumpster behind a storage facility he’d rented in Bradenton.

The man’s name is blanked out, but the report says authorities who searched the dumpster 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.”

The Flight Training Center is where 9/11 hijack pilot Ziad Jarrah, who was at the controls of United Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pa, took flying lessons.

The three paragraphs that follow are completely blanked out. The reasons cited include information “specifically authorized under criteria established by [presidential] executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.”

The documents were located via court-ordered text searches using the names of the al-Hijjis and Ghazzawi. U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch is currently reviewing more than 80,000 pages of 9/11 records.

Miami First Amendment attorney Thomas Julin represents BrowardBulldog.org.

“This release suggests that the FBI has covered up information that is vitally important to public safety,” said Julin. “It’s startling that after initially denying they had any documents they continue to find new documents as the weeks and months roll by. Each new batch suggests there are many, many more documents.”

“There needs to be a full scale explanation of what’s going on here,” said Julin.

The report of the Bradenton incident includes information about the al-Hijjis. The excisions, however, keep secret how what happened there ties back to the al-Hijjis.

The same is true about another FBI document dated Feb. 2, 2012.

On that day, FBI offices in Tampa and Charlotte received information from Washington stamped “secret” stating that a “person of interest” in the FBI’s massive 9/11 investigation had returned to the United States.

The person, whose name is redacted, was reported to be “traveling to Texas and LA for business/tourism.” The person apparently told authorities upon entering the country that he could be reached in Charlotte. He provided a phone number “associated with furniture manufacturers in North Carolina,” the report says.

Details about that were blanked out. But the report also says, “Tampa is notified that a person of interest to Tampa regarding the PENTTBOMB investigation has a valid visa for re-entry into the U.S.” PENTTBOMB is the FBI’s code name for its 9/11 investigation.

In all, the FBI released 11 pages Monday. They contain statements reiterating that the al-Hijjis had departed the U.S. in haste shortly before 9/11 and that “further investigation” had “revealed many connections” between them and persons associated with “attacks on 9/11/2001.”

Those statements flatly contradict the FBI’s public statements that agents found no connection between the al-Hijjis and the 9/11 plot.

Yet they dovetail with the account of a counterintelligence source who has said investigators in 2001 found evidence – phone records and photographs of license plates snapped at the entrance to the al-Hijji’s Sarasota area neighborhood – that showed Mohamed Atta, other hijackers and former Broward resident and current al Qaeda fugitive Adnan Shukrijumah had visited the al-Hijji’s home.

None of that information, or even the fact that an investigation in Sarasota took place was disclosed by the FBI to Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks or the 9/11 Commission, according to former Florida Sen. Bob Graham. Graham co-chaired the joint inquiry.

The documents, while stamped secret, are marked as having been formally classified earlier this month in accordance with the National Security Information Security Classification. The parts of the documents that were not released are to be kept secret until 2039.

Among other things, the government asserted that classification is necessary because the censored information pertains to foreign relations or foreign activities, including confidential sources.

“This could be about information considered embarrassing to Saudi Arabia,” said Julin. Fifteen of the 19 suicide hijackers were Saudi nationals.

The April 2002 FBI report contains additional new information, though the deletions make its full meaning difficult to discern.

It says the Tampa FBI office “has determined that (blank) is an antagonist of the United States of America. (Blank) resides in Jerusalem. (Blank) allegedly has held regular and recurring meetings at his residence to denounce and criticize the United States of America and its policies. (Blank) is allegedly an international businessman with great wealth.”

In November 2001, (blank) visited the United States for the first time. He traveled to Sarasota, Florida, opened a bank account and made initial queries into the purchase of property in south central Florida. (Blank) intends to establish a Muslim compound in Central Florida. (Blank) revealed that (blank) is fearful of (blank) and fears that (blank) intends to begin offensive operations against the United States if he is able to purchase property and establish a Muslim compound in Central Florida.”

Three follow-up lines are blanked out.

FBI search can’t find any more info on Sarasota Saudis, even its own investigative reports

By Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers, BrowardBulldog.org twintowers2

The FBI told a federal judge Friday that its page-by-page review of more than 80,000 pages of records from its 9/11 investigation turned up “no additional substantive information” about connections it has said existed between Saudis in Sarasota and 9/11 terrorist figures.

At the same time, the Bureau made public 31 pages of documents not previously released about the Sarasota Saudis, Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud. The pages contain little new information.

More notably, the FBI’s extensive search failed to identify any reports generated by its own agents documenting the nature and extent of the Sarasota investigation, or its findings and conclusions. A law enforcement source has said agents found vehicle and phone records indicating the al-Hijji’s home in the upscale gated community of Prestancia was visited by 9/11 hijack leader Mohamed Atta, Broward resident-turned-most wanted al Qaeda terrorist Adnan Shukrijumah, and other terror figures.

WHERE ARE THE RECORDS?

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the terrorist attacks, said the lack of such investigative reports is at odds with previous public statements by Bureau officials that downplayed the significance of its Sarasota investigation. The investigation started after neighbors reported the al-Hijjis, who had ties to Saudi Arabia’s royal family, abruptly quit their home two weeks before 9/11 – leaving behind furniture, cars and other personal belongings.

“How can they make public statements that they conducted a thorough investigation, but have no documents to substantiate that?” said Graham.

The dearth of FBI reports, including so-called FD 302 reports used by agents to report the results of interviews they conduct, may also be of special interest to Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch.  His April order requiring both manual and database text searches cited the FBI’s failure to acknowledge the existence of such records as one reason for his decision.

“An investigation took place during this time period that apparently resulted in certain findings, yet seemingly, the search yielded no documentation. This alone moves the court to believe that a further search is necessary,” Zloch wrote.

FOIA LAWSUIT

Zloch is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought against the FBI and the Department of Justice by BrowardBulldog.org. The suit, filed in 2012 by Miami attorney Thomas Julin, followed the FBI’s denials of the news organization’s requests for access to agency records about its Sarasota investigation.

Friday’s release of records marks the third time the FBI has publicly disclosed records from files that it once asserted contained no records responsive to the FOIA request.

In March 2013, the FBI unexpectedly released 35 pages. Those records flatly stated the Sarasota Saudis who “fled” their home had “many connections to “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”

One partially declassified document, marked “secret,” listed three of those individuals and tied them to the Venice flight school where Atta and his fellow suicide pilot/hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi trained. The names of the individuals were blanked-out, citing national security, but one was described as a relative of the Sarasota Saudis.

The FBI released four additional pages last month confirming the “many connections” between the Saudi family and the 9/11 terrorists. For the first time, they also identified by name international businessman Esam Ghazzawi as being involved in the investigation. Ghazzawi, an adviser to a senior Saudi prince, is the father of Anoud al-Hijji. He and his wife, Deborah, owned the al-Hijji’s home at 4224 Escondito Circle, near Sarasota.

AN ‘INADVERTENT’ RELEASE

In Friday’s filing, FBI records section chief David M. Hardy said the FBI had “inadvertently” released Ghazzawi’s name. He said the release did not mean the FBI had waived the privacy of individuals, like the al-Hijjis and Mr. Ghazzawi, where their “individual right of privacy outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

The FBI’s latest search encompassed all 9/11 records held in its Tampa field office, and led to the release of another 31 pages. The pages are mostly hand-written “Information Control Forms” documenting phone tips received after the attacks from U.S. Postal Service workers and neighbors. The information was previously reported.

The filing says four additional documents, now under review, are to be made public on June 27.

Judge Zloch also required the FBI and the Justice Department to disclose any “documented communications” about the Sarasota investigation between them and any other government agencies.

The government replied that its search had identified no such communications.

The FBI told Zloch that 127 FBI employees logged nearly 600 hours of review time to comb through the files seeking responsive records.

Page 1 of 212»

Newsletter

Notify me by email when new stories are published.