9/11 vic­tims sub­poena undis­closed FBI records

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By DAN CHRIS­TENSEN Flori­daBull­dog.org

FT. LAUD­ERDALE, Fla. - Armed with sub­poena power granted by a fed­eral judge, thou­sands of 9/11 vic­tims su­ing Saudi Ara­bia have told the FBI to hand over long-hid­den records, in­clud­ing an un­cen­sored copy of a star­tling 2012 sum­mary re­port about an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of an ap­par­ent co­con­spir­a­tor of the sui­cide hi­jack­ers.

The sub­poena, served last week, com­mands the FBI to pro­duce the doc­u­ments on May 17 at the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. of­fice of Cozen O’Con­nor, one of sev­eral plain­tiffs’ law firms in the sprawl­ing New York-based civil case.

“Each doc­u­ment re­spon­sive to this sub­poena shall be pro­duced in its en­tirety,” sub­poena in­struc­tions say.“No doc­u­ment re­spon­sive to this sub­poena shall be with­held or redacted pur­suant to FOIA [Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act] ex­emp­tions.”

Nev­er­the­less, the FBI may with­hold or redact doc­u­ments sub­ject “to cred­i­ble as­ser­tions of priv­i­leges rec­og­nized un­der the com­mon law” such as trade se­crets. If they do, how­ever, the bu­reau must pro­vide what’s known as a “priv­i­lege log” con­tain­ing enough de­tail about what has been with­held – like a re­port’s date and au­thor, its gen­eral sub­ject mat­ter and the ba­sis for with­hold­ing it – to al­low an eval­u­a­tion of the as­serted claims of priv­i­lege.

Lawyers at a Thurs­day hear­ing in New York in­di­cated that more subpoe­nas for records or tes­ti­mony will be is­sued within two weeks to, among oth­ers, the King­dom and the U.S. State De­part­ment, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the pro­ceed­ings.

The FBI has been a zeal­ous guardian of its records about PENTTBOM, the code-name of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Sept. 11, 2001 ter­ror­ist at­tacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple.

Seven­teen years later, tens of thou­sands of FBI records are known to be un­der lock and key for of­ten un­ex­plained rea­sons. Even many doc­u­ments pro­vided to Congress dur­ing its Joint In­quiry into 9/11 and to the sub­se­quent 9/11 Com­mis­sion re­main clas­si­fied in whole or in part.

THE 2012 RE­PORT

In late 2016, the FBI re­leased to Florida Bull­dog a heav­ily cen­sored copy of the Oct. 5, 2012 FBI sum­mary re­port amid on­go­ing FOIA lit­i­ga­tion that seeks ac­cess to records of the 9/11 Re­view Com­mis­sion, also known as the Meese Com­mis­sion for its best-known mem­ber, for­mer At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ed Meese. The FBI cited na­tional se­cu­rity, pri­vacy and other rea­sons for redact­ing the doc­u­ment. But the parts of the re­port that were re­leased helped keep the 9/11 vic­tims’ claims alive.

The re­port de­scribes how in late 2012 fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors and FBI agents in New York were tar­get­ing an ap­par­ent U.S. sup­port net­work for two of the 9/11 hi­jack­ers – Saudis Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mi­hd­har – who were among the five ter­ror­ists who crashed Amer­i­can Air­lines Flight 77 into the Pen­tagon. Specif­i­cally, the re­port says au­thor­i­ties were ac­tively look­ing to charge a sus­pect with pro­vid­ing ma­te­rial sup­port to the 9/11 hi­jack­ers and other crimes.

The four-page re­port was a stun­ner. For­mer Florida Sen. Bob Gra­ham, co-chair of Congress’s Joint In­quiry, said,“It’s to the con­trary of al­most ev­ery­thing the FBI has pro­duced so far that has in­di­cated that 9/11 is his­tory.” And Sean Carter, the Cozen O’Con­nor at­tor­ney who signed the sub­poena, said,“We’ve been re­peat­edly told by U.S. of­fi­cials that all ques­tions of Saudi in­volve­ment were re­solved by the 9/11 Com­mis­sion and now you have con­fir­ma­tion that there was an ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion hap­pen­ing years af­ter the 9/11 Com­mis­sion shut its doors” in Au­gust 2004.

The re­port, em­bla­zoned with a logo that de­picts the Twin Tow­ers in­side a pen­tagon against a back­drop of an Amer­i­can flag, is men­tioned only in a foot­note in the Meese Com­mis­sion’s March 2015 fi­nal re­port. It is so sen­si­tive that even its ti­tle is clas­si­fied “in the in­ter­est of na­tional de­fense or for­eign pol­icy.”

“[Redacted] is an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into in­di­vid­u­als known to have pro­vided sub­stan­tial as­sis­tance to 9/11 hi­jack­ers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mi­hd­har dur­ing their time in Cal­i­for­nia,” the re­port says. It goes on to list three “main sub­jects” of the probe, in­clud­ing Fa­had al-Thu­mairy and Omar alBay­oumi. The third name was cen­sored for na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons, but ap­pears to be some­one who was highly placed.

Thu­mairy, a Saudi diplo­mat, was an imam at Los An­ge­les’ King Fahd Mosque when the two fu­ture hi­jack­ers first ar­rived in the U.S. in Jan­uary 2000. The re­port says Thu­mairy “im­me­di­ately as­signed an in­di­vid­ual to take care of them dur­ing their time in Los An­ge­les.” Bay­oumi, a sus­pected Saudi agent who be­friended Hazmi and Mi­hd­har in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, was also tasked with as­sist­ing the hi­jack­ers, the re­port says.

Those as­ser­tions are of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the New York lit­i­ga­tion. In ad­di­tion to the 2012 re­port, the sub­poena de­mands “any and all records re­fer­ring or re­lat­ing to the per­son(s) “who tasked al-Thu­mairy and al-Bay­oumi with as­sist­ing the hi­jack­ers.”

Who tasked Saudis to as­sist hi­jack­ers?

The iden­tity of the per­son who tasked the pair was a cen­tral is­sue at Thurs­day’s hear­ing, where lawyers for Saudi Ara­bia ar­gued for lim­it­ing the scope and du­ra­tion of fact-find­ing. At­tor­ney Carter told U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge Sarah Net­burn that the plain­tiffs need the FBI to re­lease the name to al­low for a search for re­lated facts.

The sub­poena also de­mands all records “re­fer­ring or re­lat­ing” to any­one men­tioned in the 2012 re­port as “sub­jects” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Many out­stand­ing ques­tions about the 9/11 plot re­main, par­tic­u­larly in Florida where many of the 19 hi­jack­ers spent sub­stan­tial time and FBI agents in Sara­sota in­ves­ti­gated their ap­par­ent ties to lo­cal Saudis who fled the coun­try shortly be­fore the at­tacks. In fact, an April 2002 FBI memo re­leased to Florida Bull­dog states that those lo­cal Saudis had “many con­nec­tions” to “in­di­vid­u­als as­so­ci­ated with the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on 9/11/2001” and asked that a more ur­gent in­ves­ti­ga­tion be opened.

Still, New York U.S. Dis­trict Judge Ge­orge Daniels re­stricted the plain­tiffs to seek­ing to dis­cover facts only in­volv­ing Thu­mairy and Bay­oumi.

In Florida, Florida Bull­dog’s FOIA case seek­ing ac­cess to Meese Com­mis­sion records is pend­ing be­fore the 11th Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. The FBI wants the case dis­missed and some records or­dered to be pro­duced by a Mi­ami dis­trict court judge kept un­der wraps. The case is fully briefed and the court will ei­ther de­cide the case or set a date to hear oral ar­gu­ments. “They should give us no­tice very soon,” said the Bull­dog’s Mi­ami at­tor­ney, Thomas Julin.

A sec­ond FOIA case filed by the Bull­dog six years ago also ap­pears to be ripe for de­ci­sion. That case seeks the FBI’s records about its Sara­sota in­ves­ti­ga­tion – a probe the FBI kept hid­den for a decade and later said went nowhere. The FBI has pro­duced more than 80,000 pages of clas­si­fied 9/11 records for Fort Laud­erdale U.S. Dis­trict Judge Wil­liam J. Zloch’s pri­vate in­spec­tion.

The FBI also seeks to have that case tossed out of court. The Bull­dog op­poses. “At the heart of the case we’re say­ing there are in­con­sis­ten­cies be­tween the FBI’s in­ter­nal doc­u­ments and their pub­lic state­ments that have never been ex­plained, which is why the judge should al­low dis­cov­ery to take place,” said Julin.

Bob Gra­ham PHOTO COUR­TESY OF FLORIDA POL­I­TICS

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