Federal judge blames Yahoo!News for publishing 9/11 story based on diplomat’s leaked deposition; upholds sanctions on victims’ law firm

New York Senior U.S. District Judge George Daniels and Magistrate Sarah Netburn

By Dan Christensen,

The federal judge handling the multi-billion-dollar 9/11 lawsuit against Saudi Arabia has accused Yahoo!News of “permanently” damaging the effectiveness of court “protective” orders by publishing a 2021 story about an FBI attempt to “flip” a Saudi diplomat based on a leaked copy of the diplomat’s deposition in the case.

Last week’s 30-page order by New York Senior U.S. District Judge George Daniels upheld sanctions imposed on the Kreindler & Kreindler law firm by Magistrate Sarah Netburn for leaking diplomat Musaed al Jarrah’s deposition to investigative reporter Michael Isikoff and then attempting to cover up the firm’s role in the leak.

“Isikoff’s news article ‘has permanently damaged the credibility of the Protective Orders as a tool for encouraging fulsome disclosure,’” Daniels wrote, quoting from Netburn’s order last September. “Entities in the case have also been harmed: Al Jarrah and Saudi Arabia have faced ‘gratuitous’ attacks with information irrelevant to 9/11…”

Isikoff did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Yahoo!News journalist Michael Isikoff

Yahoo!News’s July 15, 2021 story about Jarrah’s June 17-18, 2021 deposition reported that FBI agents questioned Jarrah “at least three times and even threatened him, confronting him with photos of child pornography found on his home computer in an apparent attempt to ‘flip’ him and gain his cooperation…But the gambit does not appear to have worked. After acknowledging he was confronted by an FBI agent with a photo of a naked child taken off his computer, Jarrah testified that he basically told the agent to take a hike.”


Why the judges consider information about an FBI effort to confront a key witness in its 9/11 investigation to be “irrelevant” was not explained.

“The information in the deposition was pretty important information that the public should be aware of – that the FBI is out there pressuring witnesses to testify against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Miami First Amendment lawyer Thomas Julin. “And the inference from that is that they wouldn’t be doing that if they didn’t think that they had a chance to get evidence showing that Saudi Arabia supported the attacks on the United States.” (Julin represented Florida Bulldog in two Freedom of Information lawsuits seeking FBI records about 9/11.)

The court’s use of protective orders that allow discovery between parties in civil cases to go forward requires that certain sensitive records be kept confidential. Jarrah, who lives in Morocco, “was under no obligation to testify, but did so voluntarily in part because of the protections afforded by the Protective Orders,” according to Magistrate Netburn.

9/11 suspect and Saudi diplomat Musaed al Jarrah

The Yahoo!News story about Jarrah’s deposition touched off an unusual and intense leak investigation, conducted by Netburn herself, that dragged on for months.

Jarrah has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But FBI agents investigating 9/11 clearly considered him to be a suspected ringleader of a U.S.-based support network for the hijackers.

Jarrah is named in a 2012 FBI document from Operation Encore as having “tasked” two other Saudis, Los Angeles-based diplomat and imam Fahad al Thumairy and Saudi intelligence agent Omar al Bayoumi, with helping the first two al Qaeda hijackers who entered the country via Los Angeles International Airport in January 2000. Jarrah’s name, redacted when the report was first released to Florida Bulldog in 2016 amid Freedom of Information litigation, was made public in 2020 due to a government mistake.

Jarrah, then-director of Islamic Affairs at Saudi Arabia’s Washington, D.C. embassy, was “heavily connected/linked to Saudi Sunni extremists operating inside the U.S.,” according to a report by the FBI’s Washington Field Office written in early 2003.


The 9/11 Commission shut down in 2004. Encore was the FBI’s follow-on investigation into possible Saudi government complicity in the attacks. It was conducted in secret for a decade, ending in 2016.

Government secrecy about Operation Encore was extreme. When the 2012 report was made public, even the title Operation Encore was blanked out. In 2020, Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, invoked the state secrets privilege to keep all information about it hidden.

President Biden reversed that official position in September 2021 with an executive order requiring a declassification review of records about Operation Encore. The result: the public release of thousands of pages that revealed many new facts pointing to the kingdom’s involvement, but nothing remotely threatening to genuine U.S. national security interests.

The leak investigation never sought to compel reporter Isikoff to identify his sources, although Oath Inc., representing Yahoo!News, sought to intervene to ask Netburn to modify her order on First Amendment grounds. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offered similar arguments, but Netburn ruled that Yahoo!News hadn’t suffered any “legally cognizable injury” and had no standing to intervene in the case.

The leak investigation soon flushed out Kreindler & Kreindler (K&K) consultant and in-house expert John Fawcett as the leaker. Fawcett eventually admitted emailing Isikoff a copy of the deposition on July 12, 2021. He testified he did so to expose al Jarrah as a dangerous pedophile.

“The law firm of Kreindler & Kreindler subsequently made repeated false and misleading statements to the Court regarding the firm’s involvement in the breach, falsely attesting to a comprehensive investigation which in fact had not been conducted,” Daniels wrote in his July 17 order. “They conducted a totally inadequate investigation that failed to question the two most obvious suspects who the firm knew had longstanding ties to the reporter: John Fawcett and lead partner James Kreindler.”


Netburn held a two-day hearing in early November 2021 at which the kingdom’s Washington, D.C. lawyers were allowed to grill K&K’s New York lawyers. Eleven months later, she issued a lengthy order spelling out her findings of fact, sanctioning K&K by removing its attorneys from a committee spearheading personal injury and death claims, requiring the firm to pay unspecified related attorney fees and costs to Saudi Arabia and barring Fawcett, who was terminated by the firm, from participating in the case.

K&K was allowed to continue to represent its clients in the case.

K&K objected to Netburn’s decisions and appealed to Daniels, who in a detailed order, confirmed the magistrate’s findings.

“Magistrate Netburn properly determined that James Kreindler at least had knowledge of or gave his tacit consent to Fawcett to leak the al Jarrah transcript,” wrote Daniels. He added that K&K “held a substantial financial ‘motive for the leak’ to try and induce Saudi Arabia into settlement…”

If so, the law firm’s plan backfired in a big way.

A K&K spokesman said the firm will appeal Daniel’s ruling but declined further comment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • Interesting that you always mention when a Judge was appointed by a Republican when you don’t agree with their judgement but not when they were appointed by a Democrat, in this case, Bill Clinton 🤔

  • I don’t feel sorry for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or al-Jarrah, As nothing happens in an Absolute Monarchy without the Kingdom knowing about it. “The then-director of Islamic Affairs at Saudi Arabia’s Washington, D.C. embassy, was “heavily connected/linked to Saudi Sunni extremists operating inside the U.S.,” according to a report by the FBI’s Washington Field Office written in early 2003″ and to add insult to injury, he was a pedophile. Not exactly your citizen of the year.

    I only have a problem if the Saudis use this “leak” to avoid further accountability for their alleged part in the 9/11 attacks. This law office must monitor its zeal to wrap up the 9/11 cases based on an assumed windfall. Let’s remember this case is about getting justice for those murdered on 9/11, first and foremost.

  • Isikoff’s 2021 article states that “Jarrah did for the first time acknowledge his interactions with the FBI, testifying that he recalled three occasions when he was approached and questioned by agents as late as 2004. Prior to confronting him with the pornographic photos of children taken from his home computer, the agents even took him to dinner at a Washington restaurant.” Also, reportedly, “The then-director of Islamic Affairs at Saudi Arabia’s Washington, D.C. embassy, was “heavily connected/linked to Saudi Sunni extremists operating inside the U.S.,” according to a report by the FBI’s Washington Field Office written in early 2003.″
    I guess what I’d like to know is what was the earliest date that al Jarrah first showed up on the FBI’s radar–and why.
    If it’s anything like Anwar Awlaki’s pre-9/11 “interactions” with the FBI/CIA , then the FBI (much like the CIA) has some serious explaining to do. (FYI, Awlaki was similarly “interviewed” and released pre-9/11 by the FBI, although Awlaki was confronted by the FBI about his affinity for prostitutes, not young children.)
    Additionally, two of the hijackers (Mihdhar and Hazmi) who were intimately connected to Jarrah and Awlaki, were, according to the US State Department “participants in an ongoing counter-terrorism operation.” Will we ever learn more about that “ongoing counter-terrorism operation” and/or the alleged recruitment efforts by the CIA of these two hijackers?
    Again, why were any of these guys on anybody’s radar pre-9/11? As I remember it, FBI Director Mueller testified that the FBI had no idea about the 19 hijackers while they were living inside the US. In fact, Mueller said that the FBI was caught completely “flat-footed.” How does that make any sense, other than revealing that FBI Director Mueller is a liar.
    And, why was the State Department’s Directive (one week before 9/11) regarding Mihdhar and Hazmi to not arrest or detain the two individuals but to “let them go” because they were “participants in an ongoing counter-terrorism operation.” How could they be participants in a counter-terrorism op if they weren’t on any intelligence agencies’ radar? Again, this stuff just doesn’t add up.
    Of course, the US government’s two decade+ long cover-up and use of “state-secrets” to keep such damning and quixotic details surrounding 9/11, the 9/11 hijackers, and their official and non-official foreign and domestic “support network(s)” remain thickly shrouded in secrecy. Likely for a very good and deeply uncomfortable reason.
    Remember–the 9/11 Commission said that the 9/11 attacks could have 100% been prevented. I think that was one of the few conclusions that the Commission made that was actually correct. And I’d like to get to the bottom of who failed to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent civilians, and set the stage for the 2 decade old war on terror.
    Sadly, these two judges seem more hell-bent on chastising seemingly well-intentioned attorneys. I think that any Judge who has the audacity to lament the Kingdom or al Jarrah having to endure “gratuitous” attacks (especially given the human rights atrocities of the former and the apparent pedophile proclivities of the latter), needs to have their head’s examined, and at bare minimum some kind of thorough background check to see if they’ve received any large sums of money in the past few years.
    And kudos to the Florida Bulldog and Dan Christensen who continue to cover the travesty of justice also known as the 9/11 MDL.

  • Patricia …when the CIA killed Kennedy , they left multiple trails to follow to keep people busy . See Gaeton Fonzi’s Last Investigation . WIth all respect to the pain you and your friends have suffered , refocus on the U.S . Its almost impossible now I realize , but that’s the only way to uncover anything , I think . People trust the government less now than ever.

    You probably read back then how Mohammed Atta caused a commotion in a bank and did other things to be noticed , leaving his plane in the middle of the runway in Florida. Leaving a trail . Like Oswald handing out leaflets in New Orleans and going on the radio.

    Without Atta’s antics and the stuff left in the car at the airport ….”The lucky finds” and the passport in the rubble handed to a NYC cop . ( Would like to see that cop . Identified on paper, but never interviewed ) Without those ..what would we know about the “hijackers”.

    Good luck , from a fellow New Yorker.

leave a comment