If the Obama administration is to live up to expectations it set, a two-year long declassification review of 28 pages said to describe Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers will finally conclude by this Thursday.
As yet, there are no public indications that an announcement is imminent. The Saudi embassy in Washington has scheduled a mid-day briefing for reporters on Thursday, but no topic has been announced and it could be unrelated.
End of June Target
According to a September 2014 White House statement issued in response to a CNN report on the 28 pages, President Obama tasked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to review the secret chapter from a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry earlier that summer. (A National Security Council spokesperson refused to specify on which day or even in which month this task was assigned.)
With the media seemingly placated by a mere White House assurance that the pages were being reviewed, little more was heard of the alleged review until April of this year, when a 60 Minutes report gave the 28 pages their most prominent exposure to date.
Two days later, former Senator Bob Graham—who co-chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages and been a leading advocate of their release—received a phone call from Homeland Security policy adviser Brett Holmgren, who told him the review should be completed in one or two months.
On May 2, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said “our intelligence officials have indicated that they expect to complete that process by the end of June.”
Earlier this month, CIA Director John Brennan signaled that a declassification was likely, telling Saudi television network Al Arabiya, “I believe they are going to come out, I think it’s good that they come out.”
Review Endgame is Unclear
Though the White House was clear in setting an end-of-June expectation, it remains unclear exactly what will happen at the end of the intelligence community’s review.
In a May meeting with Graham and Representatives Walter Jones and Stephen Lynch, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly seemed to indicate that, after receiving the intelligence community’s recommendation, the president would turn the issue back over to Congress for final disposition. The 28 pages were produced by a joint inquiry of the House and Senate intelligence committees and are in Congress’s custody.
Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff, the chair and ranking member of the House intelligence committee, have each endorsed the release of the 28 pages, as has Senate intelligence committee vice chair Dianne Feinstein. In February 2015, Senate intel chair Richard Burr told Carl Hulse of The New York Times he saw little value in declassifying the pages, noting that “there may have been a level of participation by some Muslim country that is not commensurate with today.”
Earlier this month, Jones, Lynch and Thomas Massie introduced a resolution that would direct Nunes and Schiff to release the 28 pages themselves under the protection of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.
If the Obama administration wants the next milestone in the 28 pages saga to receive as little attention as possible, expect a Friday afternoon, pre-holiday weekend announcement.
As for the substance of that announcement, we can only speculate. If the president has decided to finally make good on his reported promises to 9/11 family members, we might see a full declassification, perhaps accompanied by the release of a companion document that reiterates CIA Director Brennan’s characterizations of the 28 pages as “uncorroborated, unvetted information” that was essentially rendered obsolete by the subsequent work of the 9/11 Commission. (As we’ve written here and here, that premise is a false one.)
If, on the other hand, the White House is bent on continuing to stall the release as long as possible, we may simply see an statement that the administration has forwarded ODNI’s recommendation to the House and Senate intelligence committees for further action. That would give Congress just eight working days to act before it goes into a long summer recess.
They will return on September 6, just five days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks.