Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham hopes that Sunday's 60 Minutes report will help in a prolonged battle to declassify sensitive records on Saudi Arabian officials who helped hijackers plot to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The former Florida governor appeared on the CBS program to talk about 28 pages of a congressional report on 9/11 that has remained secret for 13 years. Graham was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-chairman of a joint congressional commission that investigated the attacks and wrote the full 838-page report. He and several other commission members are pushing for release of the 28 pages that were classified.
"People would be surprised by the information," Graham said.
On Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi joined the fight to open the records with a call for disclosure. Other former senators who served on the commission have also urged the FBI and the president to open the records.
Graham says the report discloses incidents where high-ranking Saudi officials appeared to be helping some of the hijackers who spoke no English and had no visible means of support but were able to organize the most sophisticated terrorist attacks on American soil.
The commission's official report said the hijackers acted on their own without help. But the report omitted a 28-page segment dealing with the FBI's investigation of Saudi involvement. The report entitled "specific sources of foreign support for hijackers" was withheld under President George W. Bush's administration and President Barack Obama has taken no action despite repeated requests from Graham and other members of the joint commission.
Attorneys representing the families of those who died in the attacks and a South Florida news organization that disclosed details of the FBI investigation are pursuing the records in federal court in South Florida. Graham has filed an affidavit supporting the release.
When initial lawsuits were filed, the FBI denied the existence of any records, but Graham says the agency has now turned over more than 80,000 pages for court inspection. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge William Zloch.
Graham believes those working to block release of the records are trying to protect access to Saudi oil reserves and longtime friendships between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Graham learned about the FBI investigation into a Saudi family living in Sarasota from a report from FloridaBulldog.org written in 2011. Reporters Dan Christensen and Anthony Summers included interviews with neighbors in a gated Sarasota community where some of the hijackers were frequent visitors. The home was owned by prominent Saudis who left the country in a hurry 11 days before the attacks. Neighbors called the FBI after 9/11 and photos taken of visitors to the home reportedly included Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The report of help provided in Sarasota was similar to that discovered in San Diego where several of the other pilots were associated with other Saudi officials.
Graham began pushing for release of the report in 2011 and was at one point detained by high-ranking FBI officials at Dulles International Airport when he and his wife arrived to visit relatives for Thanksgiving. Graham said the agents essentially wanted him to forget about the report.
Now he hopes renewed interest will lead the president to declassify the FBI records before his term ends in January 2017.
"These 28 pages have become a symbol of withholding information,'' Graham said Sunday night. He accused the FBI of using Freedom of Information laws to delay access to the records.