It has emerged that the FBI held back more than 80,000 pages on the 9/11 attacks from public view – including some that could prove the long-denied links between the terrorists and a Florida family with links to Saudi Arabian royals.
Shortly after the attacks occurred, the FBI raided a Saratoga home owned by Esam Ghazzawi, an adviser to a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, and found its occupants had apparently left in a hurry.
The Bureau later denied any connection between the family and the attackers. But now, The Daily Beast reports, a judge is deciding whether to release long-hidden files that could prove they were lying. Some of the pages seen by Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 9/11 investigation, include proof the family had been in contact with three 9/11 attackers.
It was occupied by Ghazzawi’s daughter Anoud al-Hijji, her husband Abdulazzi and their three small children at the time.
Suspicions have lingered for a long time that money from Saudi Arabia – a long-time ally of the US – funded the 9/11 attacks.
So the connection between the terrorists, Ghazzawi’s daughter, Ghazzawi himself and Saudi royalty would fuel those suspicions.
And now the pages that might confirm that connection are being pored over by a federal judge in Florida who must decide whether to declassify the documents or leave them in the FBI’s secret files for good.
The files emerged after a long-standing struggle between the FBI and a group of independent reporters supported by Graham.
Two of those reporters – Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan – managed to find a counter-terrorism source who told them in 2011 that the FBI had received proof that Atta and Jarrah had visited the compound.
That was news to Graham, who had not been told anything about the al-Hijjis or their home while chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee.
He went to the Bureau’s Tampa office and demanded to be shown the information – and there he learned that they had proof of not just Atta and Jarrah, but also Al-Shehhi being in contact with the family.
Meanwhile, the FBI was continuing to deny publicly that the al-Hijji family was connected to the 9/11 attackers.
Campaigner: Florida senator Bob Graham (pictured) has long campaigned for transparency about the 9/11 investigation and backed up investigative journalists who sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act
Graham confronted the FBI with claims that initial reports on the family claimed ‘numerous connections’ to the terrorists.
But the Bureau wrote off the agent who filed the reports as ‘not a good writer and should not be taken as the last word,’ Graham told The Daily Beast.
And yet, the site said, that agent was reportedly promoted to a counter-intelligence task force after 9/11 – unusual for an agent they had dismissed as incompetent.
Things changed when Florida reporter Dan Christensen, who had opened the watchdog site Florida Bulldog with Summers and Swan, sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act.
They continued to deny having any information connecting the al-Hijjis with the attackers until Graham said he would testify under oath that he had seen exactly that – at which point they ‘found’ 35 pages of documents.
The Justice Department said those heavily redacted pages were all that they had, but Judge William Zloch, who was overseeing the case, wasn’t convinced.
He told them to go back using new search methods provided by Christensen and his lawyer.
This time they came back with an incredible 80,226 pages of files marked PENTTBOM – code for ‘Pentagon/Twin-Towers Bombing.’
But whether those files are seen by the public – and if they are, how much of them escapes the censor’s pen – is not yet known. And neither is exactly when they will see the light of day.
Judge Zloch demanded the FBI turn over all the files on May 1, 2014, and is still going through them – with no idea of when he’ll finish.
And that process is slowed down, The Daily Beast said, by legal restrictions that mean Zloch can only take a portion of the documents out of secure storage for examination at a time.
But Christensen told the site that he’s confident that the files will prove the claims his sources made about the family’s contact with the attackers.
After all, he argues, if the information in the files proves that his sources are wrong, the FBI could just release that information.
‘I’ve spent five years on this. I’ve got other things to do. If there’s nothing to this, then tell me,’ he said.
The al-Hijji home at 4224 Escondito Circle was raided by the FBI shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
A security guard had told authorities that the family had left in a white van on August 30, 2001 – leaving behind three cars.
It struck him as odd, but he didn’t report anything until the attacks two weeks later.
When agents raided the home they found an open safe, food left on counters and dirty diapers in the bathroom bin – all signs that the family had left in a hurry.
But the Bureau would later deny that the family – who relocated to Saudi Arabia – had any connection to the attacks, and accepted their explanation that Abdulazzi had graduated and been given a surprise job out there.