Lawmaker: Investigate Sarasota Link to 9/11 & Former Sen. Bob Graham calls for new 9/11 investigation
A congresswoman demanded details be revealed to the public about FBI
investigation into Saudi family with ties to hijackers in Sarasota.
By Dan Christensen
Special to The Miami Herald
A decade after the FBI found ties between a Saudi family living quietly near Sarasota and the 9/11 hijackers, a Florida Democratic congresswoman is calling on the House Intelligence Committee to investigate whether agents revealed their findings to Congress.
Kathy Castor said she was troubled over reports that federal agents discovered a luxury home where the family was living was visited by vehicles used by the hijackers and phone calls were linked between the home and the terrorists, but Congress was not told of the discovery.
The family abruptly left the home less than two weeks before the attacks, leaving a new car in the driveway, a refrigerator stuffed with food, toys in the pool -- and an open safe in the master bedroom, according to administrators at the development.
"One of the great criticisms of the pre-9/11 intelligence operations," Castor wrote in her letter on Monday to the committee's two senior members, "was the lack of cooperation and information sharing among agencies."
The dispute over what Congress knew about the case emerged last week after The Miami Herald reported about the little known FBI investigation at the upscale development on Florida's west coast.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who chaired the congressional Joint Inquiry into the deadly hijackings, said he was never told about the case, while the FBI, in a statement released Friday, said the agency did indeed tell Congress and the 911 Commission.
"With respect to recent reports about the Sarasota area, there is no new information related to the 9/11 hijackers," said the FBI, adding the case was found not to be related to the 9/11 events. "All of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 Commission and the [joint inquiry]."
But Graham says questions still abound over the bizarre events that occurred at the three-bedroom home owned by Saudi financier Esam Ghazzawi, whose daughter and son-in-law and two young children resided there.
Graham disputed the FBI's statement that the agency informed the Congress, saying it was "BS" that he and congressional investigators were told about the Sarasota events.
In an appearance Monday on MSNBC, Graham said he spoke with President Barack Obama's counterterrorism advisor.
"I laid out what we now know about what occurred in Sarasota and urged him to pursue an investigation in this matter, both in Sarasota and elsewhere," Graham said.
The former Florida governor said the Sarasota case is similar to another one that took place in which the FBI failed to provide information linking members of the 9/11 terrorist team to other Saudis in California until congressional investigators discovered it themselves.
"It was not because the FBI gave us the information. We had a very curious and effective investigator who found out," Graham said.
Castor, whose district includes Sarasota, said she wants to resolve the differences between the former senator and the FBI and provide an explanation for the ties between the terrorists and residents of one of Sarasota County's most exclusive communities. The home was sold in 2003, records show.
"I encourage you to investigate the matter and determine exactly what was investigated and reported to Congress in 2001 and during the years of inquiry thereafter regarding these individuals," she wrote to Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan and ranking Democrat Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.
The stylish home with sweeping arches was raided by law enforcement agents in October 2001 after a neighbor and others became suspicious and contacted the FBI and county sheriff's office.
After discovering the sudden departure of the family members -- who left rooms of expensive furniture and three cars behind -- agents began turning up troubling discoveries, including gate records linking the home on Escondito Circle to the hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta, according to Larry Berberich, a senior administrator and security officer at the development.
A counterterrorism agent who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity said agents were able to track numerous phone calls between the home and a dozen of the 9/11 terrorist suspects in the year leading to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The agent some of the phone links led to Atta and Walid al-Shehhri, one of the men who flew with Atta on the first plane to strike the World Trade Center. Another link was found leading to Adnan Shukrijumah, a former Miramar resident identified as having been with Atta in the spring of 2001. Shukrijumah is still at large and is on the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists.
Dan Christensen is editor of The Broward Bulldog, a not-for-profit online only newspaper. www.BrowardBulldog.org
Former Sen. Bob Graham calls for new 9/11 investigation
Former Democratic Senator Bob Graham on Monday called on the U.S. government to reopen its investigation into 9/11 after a report found that links between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers were never disclosed by the FBI to the 2002 joint Congressional intelligence committee investigating the attacks.
"In the final report of the congressional inquiry, there was a chapter related primarily to the Saudi role in 9/11 that was totally censored, every word of the chapter has been withheld from the public," Graham said on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show.
"Some of the other questions we ought to be asking are if we know that the Saudis who lived in San Diego and now apparently in Sarasota received substantial assistance, what about the Saudis who lived in Phoenix, Arizona? Or Arlington, Virginia? ... What was happening in those places?"
"I believe these are questions for which there are definitive answers, but the American people and largely their elected representatives have been denied that information."
Watch video, courtesy of MSNBC, below:
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