By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
The FBI should be ordered to publicly identify and make available for questioning under oath the special agent it says authored a “wholly unsubstantiated” 2002 report that connected a Sarasota Saudi family to 9/11 terrorists, newly filed court papers say.
The 9/11 Review Commission cited without explanation the FBI’s controversial assertion in a report last month that sought to discredit the 2002 document and damage the credibility of the unnamed agent. The commission members were paid by the FBI and chosen by FBI Director James Comey.
The document, parts of which were redacted citing national security, was released to FloridaBulldog.org in March 2013 amid the news organization’s ongoing Freedom of Information lawsuit against the FBI. The document said the FBI’s investigation of the Saudi family “revealed many connections” between the family “and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.”
On Wednesday, the Bulldog’s attorneys asked Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Court Judge William J. Zloch to allow them to depose the FBI agent and to inspect documents cited in the 9/11 Review Commission’s report concerning the FBI’s once-secret investigation of the Sarasota Saudis.
“In light of the central importance of this agent and the lack of any independent, direct examination of the agent about the findings,” wrote attorneys Thomas Julin and Paulo Lima, “a deposition of the author of the (2002 FBI report) and access to the relevant records of the 9/11 Review Commission will shed significant light.”
Judge Zloch was asked to intervene after Miami Assistant U.S. Attorney Dexter Lee informed the attorneys that the government opposed their request to depose the agent. Lee likewise rejected a request for access to the Review Commission’s supporting documents.
The 9/11 Review Commission was authorized by Congress to conduct an “external review” of the FBI’s post-9/11 performance and to assess new evidence in the case. It held no public hearings and relied heavily on the FBI for information, staffing and administration.
One subchapter of the commission’s report addressed FloridaBulldog.org’s story about the Sarasota Saudis, who sources and documents say abruptly moved out of their home in the gated community of Prestancia about two weeks before 9/11, leaving behind their cars, furniture, a refrigerator full of food, clothes and other goods.
While ignoring a variety of new information reported by the Bulldog – like interview-based stories about how gatehouse security records showed the home was visited by vehicles used by hijackers and another about a 2004 law enforcement report tying the home’s occupant, Abdulaziz al-Hijji, to al Qaeda figure Adnan Shukrijumah – the commission’s report focused on the credibility of the 2002 report, saying the FBI called it “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 report says.
AGENT INSTRUCTED NOT TO TALK?
According to attorneys Julin and Lima, however, the failure of the Review Commission’s report to identify either the agent or the FBI personnel who questioned him or to explain the FBI’s conclusion that the 2002 report is fatally flawed, is problematic.
“These omissions leave open the possibility that the author 0f (the report) had been instructed by the FBI or by other agencies not to explain why he wrote the document as he did, as well as the possibility the agent simply forgot why he wrote it as he did. The latter possibility seems implausible, however, in light of the startling substance of the document,” they told Judge Zloch.
A year ago, noting that previous records searches were inadequate, Zloch ordered the FBI to conduct a more thorough search for records responsive to FloridaBulldog.org’s FOIA request. Ultimately, the FBI turned over more than 80,000 pages housed in its Tampa field office. Zloch is reviewing those records in order to decide what may be publicly released.
The government provided the judge with three CD-ROMs containing scanned copies of all 80,000 pages. In response to the judge’s specific instructions, the FBI also compiled 27 boxes of paper documents and planned to provide them in sets of four boxes – the maximum capacity of a high-security safe the FBI had installed in the judge’s chambers.
According to prosecutor Lee, the government delivered the first four boxes on May 1, 2014. “I have not received further directions from the court to deliver additional boxes,” Lee wrote in an email.
Thus, it’s unclear how far along Judge Zloch is in evaluating the crush of documents, all of which have been labeled “classified” by the FBI.
Attorneys Julin and Lima requested a status conference with the judge and suggested Zloch consider appointing a special master, or them, to assist in completing the document review.