May/June 2016-McCormick Place

by Bernard McCormick May 2016 Also on Digital Edition

May/June 2016-McCormick Place

The story is a 9/11 mystery, which, if the government has its way, will remain a mystery as long as possible. Christensen and Irish journalist Anthony Summers discovered that some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with a highly connected Saudi Arabian figure in Sarasota. The man and his family, close to Saudi Arabia's extensive royal family, were living well in a gated community until shortly before the terrorist attacks, and they left the country in such a hurry that they abandoned their house, cars and other possessions. Suspicious to put it mildly, but that is only the beginning of the tale. Nobody knew it at the time, but some of the hijackers had visited that home.

It turns out the FBI had a file on the Saudi family but never turned it over to the 9/11 commission. After denying it was withholding information, the FBI has released part of its file, but a number of pages remain sealed, despite a lawsuit brought by Florida Bulldog and several 9/11 commissioners, including former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. Graham and other 9/11 commission members, appeared on “60 Minutes,” making the case for the government ending the secrecy.

The TV story prompted another powerful figure, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to add her voice to those calling for more information.

The reasons for the stonewalling appear clear. Either the FBI is covering up bungling on its part, or, more likely, our government is afraid of the backlash against Saudi Arabia if its government, or any part of its complex power structure, were linked to this awful event. Considering the state of the Middle East, we need all the friends we can find over there.

Still, it is hard to believe that men with the clout of the 9/11 commissioners can't prevail. It is hard to believe, unless one remembers that some 40 years ago the government performed a similar stonewalling act in a situation that was even more important than the 9/11 crime—if that is possible. And in that case a highly placed U.S. Senator was also trying to probe the murky corridors of the intelligence community. He was Pennsylvania's Richard Schweiker, who died not long ago. Schweiker had privately looked into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and was convinced the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was anything but the “lone nut' the Warren Commission had made him out to be. “He has the fingerprints of intelligence all over him,” Schweiker said at the time.

Schweiker was in a position to reopen the JFK investigation. He hired Gaeton Fonzi, at the time a partner in this magazine, to look into Florida CIA connections to the anti-Castro movement. Schweiker recalled revealing articles Fonzi had written previously for Philadelphia magazine.

He had a hunch that the anti-Castro movement, or at least the intelligence community working with it, might have connections to the President's death. Fonzi soon discovered such a connection supporting Schweiker's theory. An anti-Castro Cuban leader in Miami told him he had seen his CIA handler, who turned out to be high ranking, with Oswald in Dallas shortly before the assassination. That revelation led to five years additional work for Fonzi for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. It also led to Fonzi's conviction that the CIA, if it had not masterminded the murder of an American president, had done everything it could to impede the investigation by the Warren Commission, and later his committee.

An example: The house committee hired Richard Sprague, a brilliant prosecutor from Philadelphia, to be its chief counsel. But as soon as Sprague tried to get information from the CIA, damaging press on matters unrelated to the JFK probe appeared in important newspapers. Sprague was forced to resign. He said at the time his troubles began when he knocked on the door marked CIA.

The stonewalling continued for five years. In fact, it still goes on. Investigators over the years seeking CIA information have met resistance. Key files are lost. Eighteen months of one man's life as a spook were missing from his personnel file. It turns out that was the time he spent in South Florida working with anti-Castro groups.

Fonzi's committee eventually concluded that there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, but take your guess on who did it.

Fonzi wrote “The Last Investigation” to get the truth out. In painful dribs and drabs over the decades, history has confirmed him. One hope is that it does not take that long for Florida Bulldog to get justice.