Sen. Graham Charges FBI Wrongly Classified Sarasota 9/11 Files
May 19, 2014 • 9:28AM

The latest coverage of the ongoing FOIA suit by the Broward Bulldog, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the Miami Herald raises further questions about the legality of the FBI and Justice Department's efforts to suppress investigative files on high-level Saudi links to the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers. Federal Judge William Zloch is now reviewing more than 80,000 pages from the Tampa FBI office dealing with the involvement of a prominent Saudi businessman, Esam Ghazzawi, and his daughter and son-in-law Abdulazziz Al-Hijji, in supporting at least three of the 9/11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta. In response to an FOIA law suit, the FBI and Justice Department had initially claimed that there were no relevant documents, only later to admit, in response to the Federal suit, that they had over 100,000 separate files relevant to the 9/11 attacks. A handful of documents were declassified in March 2013, according to news coverage today in the Herald-Tribune published under the headline "Judge peruses Southwest Florida's 9/11 secrets." That document file confirmed that Ghazzawi was a subject of FBI investigation. One document, referring to Ghazzawi and his daughter and son-in-law, stated, "Further investigation of the (redacted) family revealed many connections between the (redacted) and individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 09/11/2001."

Retired U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who chaired the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11, told the Herald-Tribune that he was deeply skeptical about the government claims of legitimate secrecy. "One of my concerns about this whole process is how opaque it is. My experience has been that often classification has more to do with covering up mistakes and avoiding embarrassment than it does with any reasonable definition of national security. Having seen some of the documents now being withheld, I would state with high confidence that they are more likely to have been withheld because of embarrassment at agency actions, rather than any reasonable standard of national security." Sen. Graham has charged that there was a vast "support system" backing up the hijackers, who spent months in the United States, traveling, obtaining flight training, and engineering the hijackings without speaking English. He and the news organizations filing the FOIA suit are convinced that the Sarasota family was part of that system. Days before the 9/11 attacks, the Ghazzawi/Al-Hijji household fled the United States on short notice.