Bark of the Bulldog — Heard at Last

by Bernard McCormick Friday, October 01, 2021 No Comment(s)

The front page of Miami Herald's September 8, 2021 edition

This piece has been held for several weeks, waiting to see if a dramatic Miami Herald story about 9/11 got picked up around the country. As of this writing, only the Tampa Bay Times and the Bradenton Herald have run it. There was also an excellent story about the background of the Herald report in the recent issue of Sarasota Magazine.

Watching the exhaustive coverage of the 9/11 anniversary and the country's chaotic departure from Afghanistan, one would get the impression that the whole matter began and ended in Afghanistan. Very little mention was given to the fact that 14 of the 19 suicide hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. 

An impressive and dramatic exception to this omission was the Sept. 8 issue of the Miami Herald. In a special edition, the Herald devoted its entire front page, with a full page photo, and four more full pages and part of a fifth to a story revealing connections in Florida between the hijackers and people associated with the Saudi Arabian government. It also described two decades of the FBI elaborately trying to cover up the facts. Rarely does the Herald — which, despite mounting financial pressures, is still among the most highly regarded papers in the country — devoted so much space and resources (three writers contributed) to a story that, by its own admission, it did not originate.

The paper did credit the originator: Dan Christensen, and his online investigative site Florida Bulldog. Christensen, the paper noted, has been on this story for more than 10 years, slowly prying loose details of the mystery from a reluctant FBI. Christensen, based in Fort Lauderdale, started his organization when he took a buyout when the Herald first began cutting back its staff in 2009. Over the years, he has gotten an occasional reference in stories questioning the role of the Saudi government in 9/11, but this is the first time he got the serious credit he deserves. Florida Bulldog has published numerous investigations, but none with the international impact of this one. Make that potential international impact, for Christensen's stories, especially this one, have never received the attention they seem to warrant. 

The details of this tale almost require a mystery story buff to grasp it all. It has taken Christensen a decade to research, and the Herald a lot of space to explain. Christensen and Bob Graham, the former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during 9/11, were tipped in 2011 by another investigative reporter, Irishman Tony Summers, about connections between suspected Saudi government operatives and the hijackers in Florida. Summers is a familiar name. He also worked with our former Gold Coast Magazine colleague, Gaeton Fonzi, in his landmark work on the CIA's suspected involvement in the Kennedy assassination.

Summers had picked up information from sources at a Sarasota community who became suspicious of the behavior of a Saudi Arabian family. Following up, Christensen discovered that the leader of the hijackers visited the family, who had connections to the Saudi government. Most of the hijackers spent time training and even partying in Florida before the event. They seemed to have mysterious financial support and assistance, but from whom? The Sarasota family was well off. They lived in a gated community, which they left for Saudi Arabia shortly before 9/11.The departure was so hurried that they left their cars and other valuable items behind, even dirty diapers. That was what attracted the attention of neighbors and the community's security unit. 

Christensen also uncovered similar connections in Southern California between hijackers and individuals associated with the Saudi government.

Christensen's original article, and subsequent pieces, have been picked up by the Herald. He shared his findings with Graham, who had suspected a Saudi Arabian government connection to 9/11 but had no proof. Graham, 84 and retired from public life, has not commented recently, but he has gone on record accusing the FBI of withholding crucial information, including the Sarasota connection, from his commission. In fact, there was no mention of the Sarasota family in the FBI's original report. It wasn't until Christensen filed lawsuits that the FBI revealed it had investigated the Sarasota family connection and found numerous contacts with the hijackers, but did not establish a connection to the 9/11 attack. Confronted by that blatant contradiction, the FBI later said the agent who filed the report did a sloppy job, suggesting he did not know what he was doing. Lawsuits have since forced more documents to become public, including one that indicated the FBI was still looking at the Sarasota connection 10 years after 9/11. Bizarre, to put it mildly. 

These lawsuits were filed pro bono by Miami attorney Tom Julin, who specializes in first amendment cases. He has gradually forced release of some of the abundant classified records on 9/11. Christensen, and presumably the Herald, continue to press the case. "There is so much more," Christensen told the Herald. "All of us want to know what happened.The FBI is hiding that from us, and I don't think they have the authority to do that."

Except for the Tampa Bay Times and the McClatchy-owned Miami Herald and Bradenton Herald, Christensen's work has been ignored by the state's newspapers. One especially wonders why the Sun Sentinel has not mentioned this important story developing for years under its nose. Its editors know Christensen well. His wife Doreen worked for the paper for years. It would seem smart journalism to at least acknowledge such a story. His work has had one interesting result: It has bolstered the case of thousands of families of 9/11 victims who are suing in federal court the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and related entities.

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