By Brian McGlinchey
Today more than ever, Americans are struggling to unravel the Gordian knot of overt and covert alliances that comprise the Middle East’s geostrategic landscape. As they do, politicians and pundits constantly remind them that reaching the correct conclusions about the region is imperative if we are to thwart the menace of terrorism and prevent the next 9/11.
As if a thicket of misinformation, hit-and-miss journalism and competing propaganda didn’t make the challenge daunting enough, the American people face an even more formidable barrier in their attempts to reach informed and rational conclusions about U.S. policy in the Middle East: the classification of a 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers—classification that continues over the objections of the chairman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission and the former senator who co-chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages.
Preventing a hypothetical “next 9/11” starts with a clear understanding of what enabled the actual one—yet, even as the U.S. military prepares for the next chapter in the seemingly perpetual War on Terror, Americans continue to be denied critical knowledge about how the September 11 attacks were planned and funded. Reflecting on that disconnect, Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie recently told Slate, “Until we know what enabled or caused 9/11, we shouldn’t be talking about starting a third war to prevent another 9/11.”
A Looming Scandal on the Hill
For everyday Americans, ignorance about what lies within the 28 pages is imposed; for apparently far too many in Congress, that ignorance is willful.
You see—unlike the citizens they represent—when it comes to reading or not reading the 28 pages, legislators enjoy the luxury of a choice: After securing permission through their respective intelligence committee, representatives and senators can venture into a guarded, soundproof room at the Capitol and read the classified findings on foreign government assistance to the 9/11 hijackers in their entirety. Astonishingly—given what’s at stake for the country and for the lives of servicemembers and civilians alike—there are indications only a slim minority have bothered to do so.
North Carolina’s Walter Jones is one congressman who did take the initiative to learn what lies in the 28 pages. Later, he said, “I was absolutely shocked by what I read. What was so surprising was that those whom we thought we could trust really disappointed me.” He added, “The information is critical to our foreign policy moving forward and should thus be available to the American people.”
On January 8th of this year, by way of a “Dear Colleague” letter, Jones and Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch urged every one of their fellow House representatives to read the 28 pages for themselves. Among those who heeded their call was Rep. Massie. At a March 11 press conference in which he joined Jones and Lynch in imploring peers to examine the redacted finding, Massie offered a striking description of his reaction to the revelations within the 28 pages, saying: “It was a really disturbing event for me to read those. I had to stop every two or three pages and rearrange my perception of history. And it’s that fundamental…it certainly changes your view of the Middle East.”
Given legislators’ role in advocating, shaping and funding defense and foreign policy, one would think descriptions like those offered by Jones and Massie would instantly spark a long, long queue outside that soundproof room in the Capitol—if not prompted by representatives’ professional curiosity, then surely by simple human curiosity.
However, in what could emerge as a national security scandal that engulfs much of Congress, there are indications that, when it comes to acquiring essential knowledge to shape policies that safeguard the country, a majority of legislators have thus far made a conscious decision to remain ignorant:
- As of this writing, 13 of the House’s 432 representatives have joined as cosponsors of a Jones-authored resolution urging the president to declassify the 28 pages.
- A source on the Hill who is familiar with the declassification effort is personally unaware of any representative who has read the 28 pages over the last several months who didn’t emerge from the experience as a supporter of declassification.
When you overlay one of those observations on the other, the result points to a woefully low level of interest among the nation’s legislators in learning what “shocking,” “surprising” and “history-rearranging” facts are contained in the classified passage.
A Question for Every Representative and Senator: “Have You Read the 28 Pages?”
Those indications paint a bleak portrait of Congressional diligence in overseeing national security policy. What’s needed now is a name-by-name accounting of which representatives and senators have read the 28 pages and which have not. To that end, 28Pages.org urges constituents, journalists and transparency advocacy organizations to help bring accountability to this essential issue of national security job performance by contacting legislators and asking them two simple, yes-or-no questions:
- Have you read the 28 pages?
- If not, have you asked permission from your intelligence committee to do so?