A South Florida judge ruled the FBI is not improperly withholding information about funding of the 9/11 attacks after journalists tried to uncover connections between the hijackers and Saudis living in Florida at the time.
Florida Bulldog, an organization of investigative journalists, has been investigating connections between Saudis living in the US and the hijackers who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers and Pentagon in 2011. In total, 15 of the 19 hijackers involved were Saudi Arabian.
Judge Cecilia Altonaga ruled the FBI could keep secret certain portions of a 60-page document – a slide show called ‘Overview of the 9/11 investigation’ – the Herald Tribune reports.
Florida Bulldog sued the FBI in June 2016 for records from the 9/11 Review Commission. A redacted version of the 9/11 overview was released by the FBI in February.
In May, Altonaga ruled the document should be largely opened for public inspection, after the FBI failed to establish Freedom of Information Act Exemption 7(E) applied. The exemption applies when the information would “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.”
The FBI asked her to reconsider, arguing that while the document doesn’t discuss techniques, it could still reveal some techniques used. A photograph in the document, taken from a security camera could reveal where the camera is located, the FBI argued, according to the judge’s order.
Altonaga ruled against a Freedom of Information Act trial to examine the need to keep details related to the attacks secret close to 16 years after the fact. “The court sees no need for further facts to be elicited at trial,” Altonaga said.
The pages exempt from disclosure include two pages titled ‘Funding of the 9/11 Attacks,’ ‘Early to Mid-2001 Additional Funding’ as well as pages titled, ‘Early to Mid-2000: Pilots/Intended Pilots Arrive U.S.’, ’Investigative Findings regarding hijacker Identification,’ ‘Financial’, ‘Early to Mid-2001: Non-pilots arrive U.S.,’ ‘July-August 2001: Knife Purchases’, ‘August 2001: Reserving 9/11 Tickets’ and four pages titled, ‘Ongoing Investigation,’ Florida Bulldog reports.
In 2011, Florida Bulldog reported on a secret FBI investigation into a Saudi family living in Sarasota who left their home two weeks before 9/11. The family of the daughter of Saudi royal adviser Esam Ghazzawi abandoned their cars, clothes and even food in their fridge when they left. They never returned.
In 2012, it sued the FBI for details about the Saudi family investigation and acquired a 2002 FBI report which showed “many connections” between the Saudi family and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The FBI discredited the report and it wasn’t disclosed in the 9/11 Review Commission, or the 2002 9/11 Commission.
Former Senator Bob Graham, who was co-chair of Congress’ Joint Inquiry into 9/11, has supported the Bulldog’s attempts to uncover more information. He said the FBI overview likely includes “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,” he said.“The order requires the FBI to release information that was illegally redacted.”
Florida Bulldog lawyer Thomas Julin said that as they “did not get everything we wanted,” the case “may be headed to the Supreme Court.”
The decision comes as a report by think tank Henry Jackson Society found Saudi Arabia to be at the top of the list of countries exporting extremism to the UK.