Robert Mueller involved in FBI release of deceptive statements about Sarasota 9/11 probe

By Dan Christensen, 

A recent government court filing is raising questions about then-FBI Director Robert Mueller’s involvement in the public release of deceptive official statements about a secret FBI investigation of Sarasota Saudis with apparent ties to the 9/11 hijackers.

The misleading statements, issued by FBI officials in Miami and Tampa, were made within days of a September 2011 Florida Bulldog story disclosing the existence of the investigation and reporting that Congress had been kept in the dark about it.

The statements sought to discredit the story, asserting that agents had found no connection between the Sarasota Saudi family and the 9/11 plot. In fact, the FBI’s own files contained at least three reports that said the opposite: that agents found “many connections” between the family and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The FBI released those reports later amid continuing Freedom of Information (FOI) litigation brought by Florida Bulldog.

Mueller, now the special counsel overseeing the investigation into alleged Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, is referenced in a document index created in late November by the FBI at the direction of U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch of Fort Lauderdale. The index was compiled after Zloch asked the FBI to explain where in its complex file system it had located about 80 pages released earlier in the six-year-old FOI case.

The FBI has produced an additional 80,000 classified pages for Zloch’s private inspection. The judge recently indicated he’d completed his three-year review of those records, but has given no hint as to what they say.

Flurry of 9/11 related activities

News of Mueller’s involvement comes amid a flurry of 9/11 related activities, and not just in Fort Lauderdale. Today, January 18, lawyers for thousands of survivors, relatives and other victims of the 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attacks will appear in federal court in New York City to argue against Saudi Arabia’s renewed motion to dismiss their long-running lawsuit against it, and other matters.

Last week in Atlanta, attorneys for Florida Bulldog replied in a federal appeals court to government arguments that seek to block the further release of records of the 9/11 Review Commission. The filing also opposed the FBI’s effort to overturn rulings by Miami U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga that would require the FBI to restore the names of agents and others whose names were redacted from documents released earlier on privacy grounds.

Abdulaziz al-Hijji, right, in Sarasota prior to 9/11 and leaving his London office in 2012 Photo in London by Warren Allot for The Telegraph

In Washington last month, three members of Congress, two Republicans and one Democrat, introduced House Resolution 663 that calls for the declassification of all 9/11 documents “to the greatest extent possible” to allow for a “full public understanding” of what happened.

The index reference to former FBI Director Mueller is contained in an item about a FBI white paper that was written one week after the Bulldog and the Miami Herald simultaneously published the Bulldog’s story about the abrupt departure of Saudis Abdulaziz and Anoud al-Hijji from their Sarasota area home about two weeks before 9/11. The couple left behind their cars, clothes, furniture, jewelry and other personal items.

“It was created to brief the FBI Director concerning the FBI’s investigation of 4224 Escondito Circle,” the al-Hijjis’ address, the index says.

The white paper, titled “Alleged Sarasota Link to 9/11 Hijackers,” is on stationery of the Counterterrorism Division Guantanamo Detainee Prosecution Section 9:11 Prosecution Unit. It was first released in March 2013 and erroneously begins: “The FBI found no evidence that connected the family members mentioned in the Miami Herald article to any of the 9/11 hijackers, nor was any connection found between the family and the 9/11 plot.”

Same day announcement

The same day the white paper was prepared for Director Mueller, Sept. 15, 2011, FBI Tampa Public Affairs Officer David Couvertier sent a similarly worded email to the Tampa Bay Times on behalf of Special Agent in Charge Steven E. Ibison: “At no time did the FBI develop evidence that connected the family members to any of the 9/11 hijackers as suggested in the article, and there was no connection found to the 9/11 plot.”

Florida Bulldog’s Miami attorney, Thomas Julin, filed court papers last week asserting a “red flag” has been raised in the case by disclosure of the FBI director’s involvement.

“That Mueller received a briefing about the Sarasota investigation suggests that the issues the Bulldog raised required the attention of the FBI’s highest authority,” Julin wrote.

The circumstances further suggest that Director Mueller approved the deception in which the FBI engaged.

Mueller did not respond to questions emailed to his office on Tuesday.

The two-page white paper, not attributed to any individual, is likewise interesting for what it did not tell Mueller. For example, it made no mention of the 2002 FBI reports stating that “many connections” were found between the al-Hijjis and the 9/11 hijackers. Nor did it discuss whether the FBI withheld the results of its Sarasota investigation from Congress, as former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, co-chair of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11, has said under oath.

The provenance of the “Guantanamo” white paper is also curious. While the source of the document is undoubtedly the FBI,  a second altered version was released to Florida Bulldog last year amid another FOI lawsuit seeking records of the 9/11 Review Commission that is now on appeal by both sides. The reference in the heading that indicates the document was generated by Guantanamo’s 9/11 prosecution unit is missing. No explanation for the differences was given.

The white paper appears to have been written in response to a Sept. 14, 2011 request for information about the Sarasota investigation made by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to Mueller and then-Attorney General Eric Holder.

More than two months later, on Nov. 22, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich sent Leahy a response that perpetuated the FBI’s deception about its Sarasota findings:

“Contrary to suggestions in media reports, the FBI did not develop any evidence that connected the family members to any of the 9/11 hijackers or to the 9/11 plot.”

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