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Context of 'June 4, 2002: FBI Investigates Logging Opponents as Potential Domestic Terrorists'

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A Saudi family abruptly moves out of a Sarasota, Florida, residence linked to individuals who will later be accused of being among the 9/11 hijackers. The residence is owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American-born wife, Deborah, and is occupied by Esam’s daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulaziz al-Hijji. An unnamed counterterrorism officer will, in 2012, describe, “The car registration numbers of vehicles that had passed through the Prestancia community’s North Gate in the months before 9/11, coupled with the identification documents shown by incoming drivers on request, showed that Mohamed Atta and several of his fellow hijackers [Marwan al-Shehhi, Walid al-Shehri, and Ziad Jarrah]—and another Saudi terror suspect still at large [Adnan Shukrijumah]—had visited 4224 Escondito Circle on multiple occasions.” The counterterrorism officer will also say that “link analysis… tracked phone calls—based on dates, times, and length of phone conversations to and from the Escondito house—dating back more than a year before 9/11. And the phone traffic also connected with the 9/11 terrorists—though less directly than the gate logs did.” [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012] According to the Broward Bulldog, “The counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi and al-Hijji had been on a watch list at the FBI and that a US agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/8/2011]
Residence Hastily Abandoned - A suspicious neighbor, Patrick Gallagher, will email the FBI on the day of the 9/11 attacks, but apparently the FBI will not investigate until about a month later, after Larry Berberich, senior administrator and security officer of the Prestancia gated community, contacts local law enforcement. According to Berberich and the counterterrorism officer: “[T]here was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms… all the toiletries still in place… all their clothes hanging in the closet… TVs… opulent furniture, equal or greater in value than the house… the pool running, with toys in it. The beds were made… fruit on the counter… the refrigerator full of food.… It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie.… [But] the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip.… A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they’d taken [another] computer and left the cord.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/8/2011] The family also leaves three vehicles and “huge piles of trash in front of the… home.” [Broward Bulldog, 9/13/2011]
Terrorism Links Alleged by FBI Informant - In addition to the visitor logs and call records, FBI informant Wissam Taysir Hammoud will allege that al-Hijji has links to the 9/11 hijackers. In 2004, the FBI and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will interview Hammoud at the Hillsborough County Jail. Hammoud will tell them that al-Hijji introduced him to Adnan El Shukrijumah, that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero,” that al-Hijji may have known some of the 9/11 hijackers, that al-Hijji talked about “going to Afghanistan and becoming a freedom fighter,” and that al-Hijji tried to recruit him. At the time of the interview, Hammoud will be serving a 21-year sentence for attempted murder and weapons violations, and is classified as an “International Terrorist Associate” by the US Bureau of Prisons. [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012]
Al-Hijji Professes Innocence - Responding to the allegations in email correspondence with the London Daily Telegraph in 2012, al-Hijji will acknowledge having been friends with Hammoud, but will say the other allegations against him are false: “I have neither relation nor association with any of those bad people/criminals and the awful crime they did,” he will say. “9/11 is a crime against the USA and all humankind, and I’m very saddened and oppressed by these false allegations.” [Broward Bulldog, 3/12/2012]
FBI Repeatedly Denies 9/11 Links - Following news reporting on the events, the FBI will say in a prepared statement given to the Tampa Bay Times that the related leads “were resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot,” and that “[a]ll of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 Commission” and the Joint Inquiry. [Tampa Bay Times, 9/13/2011] And in a letter denying records requested under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI will say, “At no time during the course of its investigation of the attacks, known as the PENTTBOM investigation, did the FBI develop credible evidence that connected the address at 4224 Escondito Circle, Sarasota, Florida to any of the 9/11 hijackers.” [Broward Bulldog, 2/20/2011]
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Disputes FBI Statements - Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will deny that the Joint Inquiry received information regarding the Saudis and the Escondito Circle address, and will press the FBI to provide the records it says it turned over. The FBI will delay turning these records over for several months, and when it finally does provide two classified documents from 2002 and 2003 to Graham, Graham will say, “An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as truth.” The Broward Bulldog will also report that Graham says, “[T]he agent suggested that another federal agency be asked to join the investigation, but that the idea was ‘rejected.’” Graham will attempt to interview this agent, but find he has been ordered by FBI headquarters not to talk. [Broward Bulldog, 2/20/2011]

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Abdulaziz al-Hijji, Esam Ghazzawi, Anoud al-Hijji, Deborah Ghazzawi, Wissam Taysir Hammoud, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agents monitor the activities of 30-40 individuals participating in an anti-logging protest during the annual meeting of the North American Wholesale Lumber Association in Colorado Springs. Local agents record the names and license plate numbers of about 30 people and add this information to the bureau’s domestic terrorism files. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 6/25/2002 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/9/2005 pdf file] When the FBI’s surveillance of protesters is revealed in late 2005, ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein will tell the Kansas City Star, “This kind of surveillance of First Amendment activities has serious consequences. Law-abiding Americans may be reluctant to speak out when doing so means that their names will wind up in an FBI file.” However FBI Special Agent Monique Kelso, the spokeswoman for the agency in Colorado, insists that the bureau had valid reasons for monitoring the group. “We do not open cases or monitor cases just based purely on protests,” she says. “It’s our job to protect American civil rights. We don’t surveil cases just to do that. We have credible information.” [Kansas City Star, 12/9/2005]

Entity Tags: North American Wholesale Lumber Association, Monique Kelso, American Civil Liberties Union, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. [Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005, 10/25/2005] The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), USA Patriot Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Letters, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), becomes a board member of the American Foreign Service Association. [AFSA News, 1/2008 pdf file] According to its Web site, the association has 15,000 dues-paying members who work abroad, mostly for the State Department, and its principal mission is to protect their interests and enhance the effectiveness of the US’s Foreign Service. [American Foreign Service Association, 4/17/2010] Steinger is currently a desk officer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs (see Before January 2008). Also appointed to the board at this time are former Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who hampered the FBI’s investigation into the USS Cole bombing in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and Anne Aguilera, a consular officer who has served in Iraq. [AFSA News, 1/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, American Foreign Service Association, US Department of State, Barbara Bodine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Misc Entries

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