A U.S. District Court judge has determined that the FBI is not improperly withholding information about who funded the 9/11 attacks and also decided that there would be no Freedom of Information Act trial to evaluate the need for keeping some information related to the attacks under wraps.
Judge Cecilia Altonaga’s ruling was part of a case brought by Florida Bulldog, a South Florida journalism organization, that for years has probed connections between the hijackers and some Saudis living at the time in the United States. The organization has been supported in its efforts by former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into 9/11, and by the Herald-Tribune, as a so-called “friend of the court.”
A Freedom of Information Act trial, in which the government would have to justify why it wants to continue keeping some information secret, presumably could have shed additional light on the hijackers’ alleged relationship with a Saudi family that hastily left its luxury Sarasota residence shortly before al-Qaida operatives rammed jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. The home belonged to Saudi royal family adviser Esam Ghazzawi. His daughter Anoud, son-in-law Abdulaziz al-Hijji and their family abandoned three cars, clothes, personal belongings and food in the refrigerator, and never returned.
“The court sees no need for further facts to be elicited at trial,” Florida Bulldog reported that Altonaga wrote in her seven-page order granting the FBI’s request to keep secret large portions of an FBI slide show titled “Overview of the 9/11 Investigation.” The FBI had argued the information was exempt from public disclosure because it “would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions,” the journalism organization reported.
The judge had previously determined that the 60-page document that was shown to the 9/11 Review Commission in 2014 should be opened for public inspection.
Florida Bulldog attorney Thomas Julin said the organization is weighing an appeal, saying Altonaga “should have ordered the FBI to stand trial for its decision to withhold information about its investigation.”
“The order requires the FBI to release information that was illegally redacted. That information will shed light on 9/11, but we did not get everything we wanted,” Julin said. “Much of what we did get confirmed the Bulldog’s reporting about Sarasota has been 100 percent correct and the FBI lied to the public about that. This case may be headed to the Supreme Court.”
A once-secret 2002 FBI report acquired by Florida Bulldog a decade later indicated that its agents had discovered “many connections” between the al-Hijjis and three of the four pilot hijackers, who earned their wings at flight schools in Venice. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The FBI has subsequently dismissed that report, but its likely author, agent Greg Sheffield, has not spoken publicly about his findings.
The Sarasota links were not mentioned in the formal 9/11 Review Commission report or by its predecessor, the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities, completed in 2002.
Graham told Florida Bulldog that he was disappointed in the judge’s decision last week.
The former Florida governor said that the FBI’s 9/11 overview likely contains “important information relating to the funding of 9/11 and presumably the role of Saudi Arabia in doing so. Knowledge of these facts could change public opinion and governmental actions as to the liability of the Saudis as allies and the wisdom of us supplying them with hundreds of billions of dollars of military armaments,” Florida Bulldog reported.
“The court essentially accepted without detailed substantiation the FBI’s assertions that techniques and procedures would potentially be compromised,” Graham said. “I believe a trial was needed at which those unsubstantiated statements would be challenged with questions such as, ‘Over the 16 years since the events of 9/11 occurred have these techniques and procedures which proved to be so ineffective in preventing 9/11 been continued?’”
Florida Bulldog says its lawsuit has forced the FBI to review 1,858 pages of records and to release parts of 713 pages. The FBI has withheld 1,145 pages.