AP News by Curt Anderson
July 19, 2018
MIAMI (AP) — A Florida online publication asked a federal appeals court Thursday to order a trial be held on its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking FBI documents that may reveal a U.S.-based support network for the 9/11 hijackers.
The case heard before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centers on reporting published by the Florida Bulldog about the FBI investigation into a Saudi Arabian family that abruptly left a Sarasota home two weeks before the 2001 terror attacks. One FBI document that was released said that agents had found “many connections” in 2002 between the family and some hijackers who took flying lessons at a nearby airport, including ringleader Mohamed Atta.
Florida Bulldog attorney Thomas Julin told a three-judge panel of the court that the FBI has been dragging its heels on releasing more FBI documents about the Sarasota case submitted to the 9/11 Review Commission, improperly redacted more material and claimed too much was exempt from FOIA release. Julin wants a lower court to hold a full FOIA trial on the dispute.
“Obviously, we don’t know what is in those documents. We think there is severe over-classification,” Julin said. “All of that is a huge deterrent to people using the Freedom of Information Act.”
The judges did not immediately issue a ruling.
Media organizations including The Associated Press filed briefs in support of the Florida Bulldog, as did former Florida U.S. Sen. Bob Graham — a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Graham, who attended the hearing, said in an interview that the public needs the full picture of how the hijackers pulled off attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.