Bob Graham, 9/11, the FBI and me

Bob Graham
Bob Graham
9/11 Joint Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham, D-FL speaking during a public hearing on Capitol Hill in September 2002. Co-chair Rep. Porter Goss, R-FL, is at left. Committee members Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, seated next to Graham, and Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI are on the right.

By Dan Christensen,

I didn’t get to know Bob Graham until he was late in life. I’d met him briefly a couple of times in the mid-1980s when he was in his second term as Florida’s governor and I was a cityside reporter for The Miami News, but you can’t really know someone under such circumstances.

My real introduction to Bob Graham came in early September 2011 during a two-hour meeting at Miami International Airport. By then, his two terms as Florida’s governor were well behind him. He’d completed another 18 years of service in the U.S. Senate, made a brief unsuccessful run for president, and had been out of politics for six years.

Note I didn’t use the word retired. Graham was among that exceptional breed of public servants who embrace public service. In the first years after his January 2005 departure from the Senate, Graham spent time as chairman of Congress’s Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. In 2009, President Obama appointed him to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. A year later, he was similarly named to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He also served on the CIA’s External Advisory Board, a natural follow-up after his 10 years on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, including as chairman.

Until recently, he also worked at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Florida.

Bob Graham
Bob and Adele Graham

His wife, Adele, told me jokingly once that her husband, who died April 16 at age 87, “failed at retirement.”


The 10th anniversary of the heinous terrorist attacks on New York and Washington was fast approaching when Irish author Anthony Summers and I arranged to meet with Graham at Miami International Airport to inform him of significant new information about an unknown Florida connection to the 9/11 attacks. Graham had co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks – a forerunner to the 9/11 Commission.

What Summers and I had to say was twofold. First, a Saudi Arabian family with ties to both the kingdom’s royal family and several 9/11 hijackers had hurriedly moved out of their upscale Sarasota-area home and returned to Saudi Arabia two weeks before the attacks – leaving behind clothes, cars, a refrigerator full of food and an open safe in the bedroom. Second, the FBI’s Tampa field office had conducted a quiet investigation of those Saudis that was never disclosed to Congress or to the 9/11 Commission.

Graham listened in silence. He was not happy. He told us how FBI officials had assured him at the outset of Congress’s probe that the committee would be told everything the FBI knew. And how his experiences during the inquiry had shown otherwise. And how, as Florida’s senator and former governor, he’d made it clear that his desire to know went double for information involving his home state.

Graham long had believed the U.S. covered up information about possible Saudi involvement in 9/11 to protect America’s relationship with the oil-rich kingdom. He accused the FBI of hindering Congress’s inquiry into 9/11 by not just withholding information but lying – including about what happened in Sarasota.

“The FBI has gone beyond just covering up by simply withholding information into what I call aggressive deception,” Graham told me a decade ago. He wanted us to write a book about 9/11 with that title, but too much remained unknown then.


Florida Bulldog’s first story about the Sarasota Saudis, published jointly with The Miami Herald, appeared on Sept. 8, 2011 – a few days before the 10th anniversary of the attacks. In the weeks that followed, the FBI sought repeatedly to downplay, deny and contend that Congress was informed of its Sarasota investigation.

“It’s total B.S. It’s the same thing we’ve been getting from the FBI for the past 10 years,” Graham told Florida Bulldog.

Graham pursued his own campaign to unlock answers. He prodded President Obama to release records about 9/11. He asked the FBI to show him the records from its Sarasota investigation. In October 2011 he traveled to Washington to meet with a variety of officials in search of answers. That included a visit to the FBI records custodian, who let him see several classified reports. Graham couldn’t disclose it then, but one of those reports said the Sarasota Saudis had “many connections” to 9/11 hijackers and urged further inquiry. The agent who wrote the report was Gregory Sheffield. Graham tried to contact Sheffield.

The ceremony when James Comey became FBI Director on October 28, 2013.

One month later, around Thanksgiving 2011, Bob and Adele Graham flew to Dulles International Airport to visit one of their four daughters. They were met at the plane by FBI agents who took them to an airport office. While Adele cooled her heels, Graham met then-Deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce.

Joyce told Graham that the Sarasota affair had been fully investigated and that the Sarasota Saudis had no contact with the hijackers. He told Graham to drop it.

“You need to get a life,” Joyce told him.

When Graham protested that he’d read Sheffield’s “many connections” report, Joyce badmouthed Sheffield and indicated there was other information available that put the report in a better context. Graham asked to see it and Joyce told an agent to arrange a meeting.


But the meeting never happened. When Graham arrived, Joyce told him it was canceled. Joyce also told him not to try and contact Sheffield again.

“I’ve told him not to talk to you,” Graham recalled Joyce saying.

Later, in a sworn statement Graham made in support of a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by Florida Bulldog’s parent, Broward Bulldog Inc., seeking FBI records of its Sarasota probe, Graham said, “I am troubled by what appears to me to be a persistent effort by the FBI to conceal from the American people information concerning possible Saudi support of the Sept. 11 attacks.” The suit resulted in the release of hundreds of pages of records, including agent Sheffield’s “many connections” memo in 2013.

From left to right: Dick Cheney, Prince Bandar, Condoleezza Rice, and George W. Bush, on the Truman Balcony of the White House on September 13, 2001. [Source: White House via]

Graham kept up his efforts to get at the truth about what was behind 9/11. In April 2016 he went on 60 Minutes to discuss the significance of the censored “28 pages” of the Joint Inquiry’s final report. They were declassified by President Obama in July 2016 and featured news that former Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who met with President George W. Bush at the White House two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had connections to a major al-Qaeda figure and other Saudis suspected of helping two of the suicide hijackers while they were in the United States.

Graham also appeared at public discussions about 9/11 sponsored by Florida Bulldog in 2012 and by Florida Bulldog and Nova Southeastern University in 2016.


Again and again, he asked an essential question: Is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia our ally or our “perfidious ally?” The answer, which as information continues to emerge appears to be the latter, has profound geopolitical implications for the United States.

But as Bob Graham always kept in mind, the answer is just as important for as many as 10,000  Americans – including the families of the nearly 3,000 dead and many others who survived that horrific day – who demand to know who else was responsible for 9/11 and to hold them to account.

That reckoning is unfolding today in federal court in New York City where dozens and dozens of lawsuits against the kingdom and others have been consolidated into one monster of a case. Its title is “In Re: Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001.” It is perhaps the last best hope to obtain the truth in our lifetime.

“There are thousands of Americans who have been attempting to get justice through litigation against Saudi Arabia for its complicity in 9/11. Thus far, they’ve been frustrated,” Graham said several years ago. “I’m hopeful that will change and we will soon get the answers we all seek.”

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Latest comments

  • Thank you Dan. The 9/11 families owe a lot to you and Senator Graham.


    WOE IS US.



    We must carry on his Legacy. That is what he would want us to do.


    Jackson Rip Holmes

  • This is an excellent synopsis of the situation. Thank you for covering Graham’s passing the way you have

  • Doing what the Bulldog does best, bringing truth to the many lies told to us by government agencies, and in particular the FBI. Will the lies ever stop. I think not !!!

  • The lack of context of his statements and yours is just heartbreaking. The FBI is the organization that helped commit and cover up the murders of Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, many Black Panther leaders. Please stop pretending at the FBI is an organization that acts in good faith. And analyze what they are doing, in the context of all their crimes, which are extensive. Here in Florida we have had professors that have looked at this starting with “the 2000 vote recount”, and their research shows the experienced criminality of all large federal law enforcement agencies. As Brian Good states: A consortium of newspapers commissioned a private ballot study in 2001. The initial results were that Bush won by a slight margin, but the study went on. In the fall, the final results were ready for release. The count favored Gore.

    The National Lawyers Guild was preparing a campaign to impeach the five Supremes who had voted to install Bush. But guess who saved Bush’s bacon. Does the name Osama ring a bell? Bush’s approvals shot up from 55% to 90%. The newspapers delayed release of their findings until November. By then Bush was the War President, and nobody cared about hanging chads any more. I read the story in the New York Times, and it was spun so the information that Gore actually got more votes was in the last paragraph and it was made to seem irrelevant.

    The WaPo article was at least straight-shooting enough to put the fact in the second graf, but they put a misleading headline on it.

  • A nod to his book, Intelligence Matters” ?

  • Bob Graham was the kind of leader, whether in the White House or in some other role, that the United States has needed in the Twenty-First Century and never received.

    He was honest, well-informed and conscientious, and would have acted within those guardrails without bowing to political pressures.

    It’s hard to acknowledge, but considering the way the FBI stonewalled him and you, Dan, on the Saudi-9/11 issue, and the Bureau’s later actions, there’s some accuracy to the notion of a Washington “Swamp.” When did it become acceptable for an agency’s prestige and ego to take precedence over telling the truth, geopolitics or not?

    Occam’s Razor suggests there’s no innocent explanation for the Sarasota Saudis’ actions. If the FBI believes otherwise, it could credibly explain why. The fact that it hasn’t done so, even to a respected figure like Graham, is evidence it has something to hide.

    The government has failed us. The legacy media have failed us. Thanks, Dan, for keeping the issue alive.

  • Bob Graham was a powerful, focused bulldog as well, Dan. It’s more than coincidence that you unwound and broke this complete story about the FBI chicanary on this “aggressive deception” of information critical to our national security. And yes, Dan, you’ve got the goods to write this book. Go for it. It will be a best seller. The survivors and families of those lost on 9-11 deserve the universal sharing of these truths.

  • Where have all the Bob Grahams gone? I am hoping that the younger folks are more principled than their parents. Having grown up during the school massacre era in our country, their beliefs are different. This is the generation that loves their kids more than their guns. Plus, they care about the condition of the world. Truth Matters!!

  • Many thanks for Sen. Graham’s work, as well as yours, Dan. See also

  • Thank you, Dan. You confirmed for me that Bob Graham was a good man. The quote from the smart-ass FBI honcho who told Graham “You need to get a life,” should infuriate every American. He is an example of the failed leadership we have seen in the upper echelons of the FBI for some time.

    I’m pretty sure you could write an interesting book detailing the numerous lies and incidents of appalling incompetence by our FBI within the last couple of decades. I witnessed some of their incompetence firsthand. Don’t get me wrong, there are some outstanding FBI Agents. But they are the exception, not the rule.

  • Wow, great work, Dan, together with a great public servant. Thanks for keeping the 9-11 Saudi story on the radar. Since the terrorists took flying lessons in Florida, the Sarasota connection in not implausible. Any hurried flight from the country just before 9-11 is inherently suspicious. It is chilling when even a senator of Bob Graham’s stature could not get the truth. This reeks of somebody or some conclave making a “national security” decision at the highest level to keep the Saudi connection from the American public.

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