Echoing private comments made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in May, CIA Director John Brennan today said the release of 28 classified pages that describe links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11 would necessitate coordination between the White House and Congress.
Brennan’s remarks came in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, and are the first public assertion by an administration official that an ongoing review of the 28 pages will not end at the White House.
The CIA director’s statement was prompted by a question from the audience—posed by a registered foreign agent of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
A Review Two Years in the Making
In the summer of 2014, spurred by members of the House seeking the release of the 28 pages, President Obama tasked Clapper with coordinating an intelligence community review of the 28 pages.
Asked today about the status of the review, Brennan replied, “I am only the director of CIA, so I don’t make decisions about the release of a congressional document.”
“There’s an executive branch responsibility, because that document cited executive branch information,” said Brennan. However, he said, “there is going to be the appropriate discussions that need to take place between the executive and legislative branches to finalize (the declassification process.)”
Brennan did not elaborate on who would participate in those discussions or when they would take place. In May, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “intelligence officials have indicated they expect to complete that process by the end of June.”
The 28 pages are found in the report of a 2002 congressional joint intelligence inquiry into 9/11, and are housed in a secure facility beneath the U.S. Capitol.
As he did earlier this month, Brennan simultaneously endorsed the release of the 28 pages while questioning their value in providing a better understanding of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“I believe it’s important that that document get out because there’s so much speculation and conjecture about it,” said Brennan. “I have said there are a lot of things in there that unfortunately I think will be used by some to maybe misrepresent the facts or history, but that’s why the 9/11 Commission’s thorough, thorough, researched investigation really should be seen by folks as the much more dispositive of it.”
28 Pages vs 9/11 Commission Report
Brennan did not mention Saudi Arabia in his remarks, but has previously made clear his concern that readers of the 28 pages might conclude the Saudis were complicit in aiding the hijackers—a conclusion that they would share with former Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the congressional inquiry. Graham has said that “the 28 pages point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks.
On Meet the Press, Brennan said, “The 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry, and those 28 pages or so, and followed through on the investigation. And they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution, or Saudi officials individually, had provided financial support to Al Qaeda.”
Brennan’s suggestion that the 9/11 Commission report effectively rendered the 28 pages obsolete is countered by members of the commission, including former senator Bob Kerrey. In a statement offered in support of a the 9/11 families and victims suit against Saudi Arabia, Kerrey said, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
In addition, there are many more counterpoints to Brennan’s assertion that the 9/11 Commission conducted a “thorough, thorough” investigation of Saudi links to the attacks.
28 Pages May Be Accompanied by Other Documents
Brennan’s remarks were elicited by a question from George Salem, a strategic advisor to DLA Piper, which is a registered foreign agent of Saudi Arabia. Salem asked Brennan to comment on the timing of the release, the expected extent of declassification and whether the release would be accompanied by additional investigation reports to provide fuller context.
“There are some other documents that may come out at the same time, as you point out, but again I defer to others who have that decision-making responsibility,” said Brennan.