Those Secret 28 Pages on 9/11: Read This Before You Read Them

28 Pages Declassified—See What Was Hidden

By Brian P. McGlinchey

911 wtc aerialThirteen years after they were classified by the George W. Bush administration, 28 pages that are said to detail specific financial links between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers are set to be released as early as Friday, according to CNN and many other outlets. Here’s what to look for both in the 28 pages and in the ensuing debate about their significance.

Less Than Full Declassification

The 28 pages are part of the report of a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry that spans more than 800 pages. There are periodic, specific redactions throughout the rest of the report, so it would not be surprising if the 28 pages had a few surviving redactions of their own. The more numerous, however, the greater the chance that important information is still being concealed from the American people—and perhaps the greater the chance that concerned members of Congress will take matters into their own hands and release that information on their own.

Residual Cover for Saudi Arabia 

Saudi FlagWhite House press secretary Josh Earnest today seemed to hint that, in addition to protecting intelligence sources and methods, concern for U.S.-Saudi relations will also shape decisions on how much the public is allowed to see.

“We want to make sure that we factor in the diplomatic equities into a decision like that. So when that process is completed, we will obviously coordinate not just with the (Director of National Intelligence) but also with the Congress to make sure those diplomatic equities are properly factored in,” said Earnest at the White House press briefing.

False Narratives About 9/11 Investigations

In the months leading up to the release of the pages, U.S. government officials and the chairs of the 9/11 Commission have been waging a public relations campaign aimed at creating doubt about the reliability of what’s in the 28 pages. Expect that effort to resume with renewed intensity as the pages are released.

Bob Graham
Bob Graham

Detractors have described the 28 pages as unvetted investigatory leads. However, former Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages, noted that “there’s been no questions raised about the professionalism and quality of the other 820 pages of that report and this chapter followed the same standards that they did.”

Those questioning the value of the 28 pages also point to the fact that they were written before the 9/11 Commission, and declare that the commission thoroughly investigated all the leads in the 28 pages and, quoting the commission report, “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the hijackers.

In fact, the idea that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated Saudi links to the hijackers has been thoroughly discredited—though that discrediting has so far failed to permeate major media reporting.

9/11 Commission member John Lehman, in a statement offered in support of 9/11 families suing the kingdom, wrote, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”

That statement from someone who should know is only the beginning. Indeed, the case against the commission’s work regarding the Saudi line of inquiry is so broad and multifaceted that, rather than repeating it here, we urge you to review our April piece, “9/11 Commission Leaders Circle Wagons Around Their Legacy.”

Ulterior Motives

Tom Kean
Tom Kean

What’s driving the campaign to denigrate the 28 pages? Where 9/11 Commission chairs Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton are concerned, it’s surely about safeguarding their reputations: To the extent the 28 pages cast doubts on the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission—and raise questions about their personal leadership of that effort—the most salient chapter of their professional careers stand to be tarnished.

For the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies, reputations again hang in the balance. At a press conference last week, Rep. Stephen Lynch said, “I think that those individuals (in the intelligence community) don’t want this to come out. They don’t want the facts to come out because it may reveal terrible, terrible errors on their part and they may bear part of the blame” for failing to foil the attacks.

In addition, the very foundation of the U.S. government’s war on terror may be called into question. Saudi Arabia is routinely praised by government officials and Saudi-funded think tanks as an important partner in fighting extremism; revelations that the kingdom may have aided the 9/11 attacks could in turn expose U.S. hypocrisy—particularly when juxtaposing the invasion of Iraq alongside continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Seeming to make that very point, Rep. Rick Nolan, who has read the 28 pages, said, “They confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong.”

Bogus Reasons for Redactions

If officials announce that some remaining redactions were made to protect individuals who were initially under suspicion but later exonerated, journalists and citizens should push back, because that is not a valid justification for secrecy.

Steven Aftergood
Steven Aftergood

Classification expert Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told 28Pages.org earlier this year, “If you examine the executive order governing the classification system, it does not say that information that is inaccurate or unvetted may be classified. Those words aren’t in there,” said Aftergood.

Driving the point home, Aftergood said, “The 28 pages could be entirely false, malicious and nonsensical. That is not a basis for classification and that should not be an impediment to their declassification.” If persons of interest were subsequently ruled out from aiding the hijackers, the government should release the corresponding documents that led to that conclusion.

Household Names

9/11 Commission member John Lehman was asked by 60 Minutes if the 28 pages name names. He replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

Given very few Saudi officials are household names even among educated viewers, you’d expect Lehman to be referring to someone on the level of, say, former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud.

Outside the 28 pages, it’s already been revealed that cashiers checks found their way from Bandar’s wife to two Saudi citizens in San Diego who furnished heavy financial and other assistance to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.

Echoes of Document 17

Last summer, the government silently declassified a 9/11 Commission document that listed dozens of people of interest to investigators who were exploring Saudi links to the hijackers. Written by the same authors as the 28 pages and first revealed by 28Pages.org, “Document 17” had many interesting revelations—most notably, the fact that the FBI found the U.S. pilot license of an al Qaeda associate buried in Pakistan, inside an envelope from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

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Questions Swirl Around 28 Pages Declassification Process

There’s no shortage of news in the drive to declassify 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers. Of foremost concern, uncertainty continues to swirl around precisely what will happen at the end of the intelligence community’s declassification review of the 28 pages. Meanwhile, lobbyists for Saudi Arabia unveiled some some new marketing material, a House hearing examined Saudi Arabia’s position in the fight against terrorism, and Rand Paul is trying to tie 28 pages declassification to a major piece of legislation.

Declassification Process In Need of Its Own Transparency

James Clapper
James Clapper

When former Senator Bob Graham—along with Rep. Walter Jones and Rep. Stephen Lynch—met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week, Graham was surprised when Clapper suggested that the final move would be left to the Congress.

Graham told Carl Hulse of the New York Times, “No one has ever questioned that this is a decision that rests at the White House. The idea of adding another elongated, contentious step to the process is befuddling.”

When Dan Christensen of FloridaBulldog.org first broke the story of Clapper’s confusing comments, some observers interpreted that as possibly referring to a vote of the House or Senate intelligence committees. However, Graham says Clapper hinted at a scenario far more worrisome to transparency advocates. Wrote Hulse:

Mr. Graham said Mr. Clapper had compared the approach to the handling of a Senate report on C.I.A. torture of terror detainees. That document was reviewed by the Obama administration, which redacted parts of it over security concerns, and the Senate ultimately released an executive summary. But that was a messy process that took months of bitter fighting to resolve.

Responding to the Times story yesterday, the September 11th Advocates—a group of activist 9/11 widows—issued a two-page statement expressing alarm over the idea that the 28 pages could follow the same path as the torture report. In addition to expressing concern over the likelihood for delays, the group is also concerned about the idea that the final product would be a synopsis of the pages rather than full declassification: “Executive summaries are not meant to reveal facts or the truth— they are used to hide the facts and the truth. Thus, we find Clapper’s suggestion unacceptable.”

Reached yesterday by 28Pages.org, Rep. Jones seemed hopeful for a more straightforward White House recommendation to declassify the material, promptly followed by in a simple vote from the intelligence committees or the full House and Senate. “If President Obama says, ‘I recommend that we declassify the 28 pages,’ I don’t think it would take 10 minutes for the House and Senate to do it. There’s just too much American interest in this,” he said.

The September 11th Advocates claimed that the continued classification of the 28 pages violates the executive order that governs classification. Specifically, they noted that Executive Order 13526 forbids the use of classification to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency, or to delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of national security—flawed rationales that have been alluded to by CIA Director John Brennan and the two chairmen of the 9/11 Commission.

A spokesperson for Clapper declined both a New York Times and 28Pages.org request to clarify his remarks to Graham: It looks like it will be up to the White House to provide the American people with a clear understanding of the declassification end-game.

Saudi Lobby on the Offensive

Front Cover of Saudi Arabia's Counterterrorism Paper
Saudi Arabia’s Glossy Counterterrorism Paper

Last week, Politico revealed that Saudi lobbyists were distributing a slick, 104-page white paper extolling the kingdom’s dedication to countering terrorism. Yesterday, The Hill’s Julian Hattem reported that the lobbyists’ collateral package had grown to include a 38-page prebuttal of the 28 pages, and that Saudi lobbyists are characterizing proponents of 28 pages declassification as “delving into conspiracy theories.”

That term is rarely used in serious discussions of the 28 pages, however it was central to a highly Saudi-friendly paper on the topic published last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies—and then scathingly critiqued by 28Pages.org. CSIS accepts money from Saudi Arabia and a who’s who of defense companies that call the kingdom a customer.

We’ve obtained and posted both the Saudi white paper and 28 pages prebuttal so you can see precisely what the Saudis are selling.

House Hearing on Saudi Arabia and Counterterrorism

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher

Yesterday, Texas Congressman Ted Poe chaired a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee that focused on Saudi Arabia and counter-terrorism. (Archived video here.) A few highlights:

  • As The Intercept’s Alex Emmons reported, when the panel of witnesses was asked by California congressman and House Resolution 14 cosponsor Dana Rohrabacher if they believed “the royal family of Saudi Arabia did not know and was unaware that there was a terrorist plot being implemented that would result in an historic attack in the United States,” only two of the four raised their hands. One of the doubters was 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer, who declared it too difficult a question to answer with a show of hands—perhaps owing to the vast size of the royal family.
  • Rohrabacher said, “We are intentionally ignoring who’s financing (terrorism). It’s clear to all of us…that the Saudis and the Saudi royal family have been right up to their eyeballs in terrorist activity and supporting the terrorist activity of radical Islamic forces in the Middle East.”
  • The panelists were uniform in their support of releasing the 28 pages. Roemer said, “The 9/11 families deserve it, the American people deserve it, and justice deserves it. We have a right to transparency and sunlight.”
  • Poe said he has read the 28 pages and supports their release, but is notably absent from the list of cosponsors of HRes 14.
  • Georgetown University’s Dan Byman said the biggest beneficiary of Saudi intervention in Yemen has been Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Rep. Brad Sherman said Saudi Arabia can’t claim to oppose terrorism while supporting extremism: “It’s time for Saudi Arabia to come clean.”

Rand Paul Working to Catch-Up with House Allies

Senator Paul, who last year introduced a bill with Sen. Ron Wyden that would direct the president to declassify the 28 pages, yesterday introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would do the same thing.

While a House resolution aimed at achieving the release of the pages has been steadily accumulating cosponsors—reaching 62 this morning—the Senate bill has inexplicably languished, even after 60 Minutes thrust the issue into nationwide headlines last month and a number of senators advocated their declassification.

New York’s Kristin Gillibrand was an original cosponsor of the Senate bill; in stark contrast to what House declassification leaders Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie have accomplished, Paul and Wyden have yet to persuade even one additional senator to officially sign on to a cause that has wide public support.

This is the second time Paul has pursued a 28 pages amendment to the NDAA. Last year’s amendment was not taken up for a vote.

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9/11 Bill Prompts Saudi Threat to Sell Off U.S. Treasury Debt

Saudi Arabia has warned the Obama administration and federal legislators that it will sell off U.S. Treasury debt worth $750 billion if Congress passes a law clearing the way for 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in aiding the hijackers. according to a story in today’s New York Times.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 2.36.10 PMAppearing on Michael Smerconish’s CNN program Saturday morning, former Senator Bob Graham, a leading advocate of declassifying 28 pages that allegedly implicate Saudi Arabia in the attacks, said, “I’m outraged but not surprised.”

According to the Times report, the kingdom’s caution was personally delivered last month by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who reportedly told legislators that, if the bill passes, Saudi Arabia would sell up to $750 billion in Treasury debt before it could be potentially frozen by U.S. courts.

Threat Sparked by Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act

Though presented as a necessity for Saudi Arabia’s own financial protection, Saudi Arabia’s cautionary statement is a de facto economic threat against the United States. A sell-off may prompt an increase in U.S. Treasury interest rates, raising borrowing costs for the American government, businesses and consumers.

The Saudi warning was triggered by the legislative progress of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Last fall, Saudi Arabia was dropped from a lawsuit filed by 9/11 families, victims and insurers after a federal judge said the plaintiffs had failed to meet the high jurisdictional hurdles that FSIA imposes for claims against foreign governments.

NYT TAccording to the New York Times report, the Obama administration has aggressively lobbied lawmakers against passing JASTA, telling them it could trigger moves by other countries to undermine immunity enjoyed by the U.S. government and American businesses and individuals abroad.

September 11 widow Terry Strada, who has spent years lobbying for JASTA, told Smerconish, “I’m shocked with what’s going on here. Do the Saudis really have that much influence on our government? Are they really calling the shots in Washington, D.C.?”

Graham: Saudis Operate with “Sense of Impunity”

Graham said that failing to hold Saudi Arabia to account for its “complicity in the murder of 3,000 Americans” gave the kingdom “a sense of impunity that they can do anything they wanted to with no sanction, and now that impunity has expanded to their trying to lobby the highest levels of the White House and the Congress” to prevent a courtroom determination of Saudi Arabia’s guilt.

“I believe that there is material in the 28 pages and the volume of other documents that would indicate that there was a connection at the highest levels between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 19 hijackers. I believe that the plot would not have occurred but for the support and protection that the hijackers were receiving primarily from Saudi Arabia,” said Graham.

Graham’s reference to the “highest levels” of the Saudi government is reminiscent of a statement former Navy secretary and 9/11 Commission member John Lehman made to 60 Minutes on Sunday. Asked if the 28 classified pages names names, he replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

Smerconish asked Graham about the kingdom’s 2003 request to the Bush administration to release the 28 pages. “I think what the Saudis had was an understanding with the United States that whatever the Saudis indicated they wanted was a sham,” said Graham, adding that Saudi Arabia likely relied on a quiet commitment by the U.S. government to keep the pages classified, freeing the kingdom to make the request solely for public consumption.

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Drive to Release 9/11 Docs Gains Strength After 60 Minutes Report

Things have been moving fast since a momentous 60 Minutes report on the drive to declassify 28 pages on foreign government financing of 9/11. Here’s your personal briefing on all the latest developments.

Declassification Decision in “One or Two Months”

911 wtc aerialBrett Holmgren, senior policy advisor to the assistant to the president for Homeland Security, called former Senator Bob Graham on Tuesday to say a declassification review of the 28 pages will be completed “soon.” Pressed by Graham for a more precise estimate, Holmgren was said to reply “one or two months.”

The review of just 28 pages has been ongoing since the summer of 2014. Last year, a spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to tell us on what day or even in what month the president tasked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper with the review.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Signals Support

Congressman Devin Nunes, chair of the House intelligence committee, said the “benefits of publishing this information would outweigh any potential damage to America’s national security.” House Resolution 14, which urges the president to declassify the 28 pages, has 41 cosponsors and been referred to the intelligence committee, but Nunes has yet to schedule hearings on it.

There’s no new word yet from his counterpart, Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate intelligence committee. According to Carl Hulse in a February 2015 New York Times story, Burr “said he was skeptical of the value of releasing the pages, calling them more of a historical document in a fight against terrorism that has shifted substantially since 2002.” [Call the two chairmen right now and ask them to schedule hearings on H.Res.14 and S.1471. Here’s how.]

Congressman: 28 Pages Present “Clear and Startling Picture”

Congressman Rick Nolan this week renewed his support for declassifying the 28 pages. Nolan, who has read the secret chapter, said the secret chapter of the congressional intelligence report “presents a clear and startling picture of who financed the attacks.”

Nolan, a cosponsor of H.Res.14, also said the 28 pages “detail the probable financing behind the Saudi Arabian terrorists…and they confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong.”

Graham: 60 Minutes Report Didn’t Tell Full Story of Saudi 9/11 Ties

Dan Christensen
Dan Christensen

In investigative journalist Dan Christensen’s latest piece, Bob Graham acknowledged disappointment that 60 Minutes didn’t include some “other important information about 9/11,” including the story of an undisclosed FBI investigation into a wealthy Saudi family that abruptly abandoned its Sarasota home two weeks before 9/11. It was later established that the family’s home had been visited by future 9/11 hijackers including Mohammed Atta.

Christensen broke the news of that FBI investigation, has requested the declassification of the 28 pages through a process called Mandatory Declassification Review, and is also party to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking the records of the FBI’s Sarasota investigation. His new piece provides an excellent summary of his work to date and the status of his own 9/11 declassification maneuvers: Read it here.

Saudi Government Ridicules 60 Minutes Report

On Sunday evening, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia issued a statement calling the 60 Minutes report “a compilation of myths and erroneous charges that have been thoroughly addressed not just by the Saudi government but also by the 9-11 Commission and the U.S. courts.”

It went on to declare that “the 9/11 Commission confirmed that there is no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia supported or funded al-Qaeda.” That Saudi assertion had already been contradicted in the 6o Minutes report by 9/11 Commission members, including former Senator Bob Kerrey, who said, “We didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the resources. We certainly didn’t pursue the entire line of inquiry in regard to Saudi Arabia.”

The Saudi embassy described the joint congressional intelligence inquiry that produced the 28 pages as an “infamous” undertaking “which aimed at perpetuating these myths instead of investigating them seriously.”

Conspicuously absent from the Saudi statement was a reiteration of its 2003 request that the 28 pages be released so the kingdom could address its contents in the open.

Victims’ Attorneys Respond to Saudi Statement

On Tuesday, James Kreindler and Sean Carter, who represent 9/11 families and victims, responded to the Saudi critique of the 60 Minutes piece. Among other points, the attorneys countered a Saudi claim that U.S. courts had dismissed the kingdom from the 9/11 suit for “sheer absence of any substantive claims” by noting that the Court of Appeals said the plaintiffs had presented a “wealth of evidence, conscientiously cited to published and unpublished sources.”

Kreindler and Carter said, “In fact, the kingdom has never been willing to address the merits of the families’ claims—it has at every stage hidden behind the defense of sovereign immunity, maintaining that U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction to even consider the families’ evidence that Saudi agencies and employees supported al Qaeda and the hijackers in carrying out the worst terrorist attacks in history on US soil. If the kingdom is as confident as it purports to be about its innocence, there is a simple way to prove it—just withdraw the immunity defense it has been hiding behind for 12 years and answer the charges on the merits.”

Dorgan: American People “Deserve” Declassification

Byron Dorgan, who represented North Dakota in the House and Senate, said, “I am absolutely convinced that the American people deserve and need to see what’s in those pages, because only then will they fully understand that they can connect the dots to the financing and other things. It’s just sad to me that’s been labeled ‘top secret.’”

In 2003, Dorgan twice offered language similar to the current H.Res.14 as an amendment to other bills. His effort was thwarted by procedural objections initiated by Senator Mitch McConnell.

Under Media Pressure, White House Resets Review Expectations

The Obama administration’s assurance to Graham that the review should be completed in “one or two months” came just a day after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced a far less ambitious timetable.

CBS News correspondent Bill Plante kicked off what turned into eight minutes of questioning that centered on how a review of just 28 pages could be nearing the start of its third year, and when the American people could expect it to end. Earnest initially deferred to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Pressed, he said the president “hopes” to see the review completed before his term ends in January 2017.

Pelosi Revives Her Pro-Declassification Stance

In 2003, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sharply criticized the George W. Bush administration’s decision to declassify the 28 pages—but fell silent on the topic for the first seven years of the Obama administration.

Hours before the 60 Minutes report aired, she issued a statement saying, “I agree with former Senator Bob Graham that these documents should be declassified and made public, and that the Bush Administration’s refusal to do so was a mistake. I have always advocated for providing as much transparency as possible to the American people consistent with protecting our national security.”

One Sloppy Headline Begets Another

As noted above, Lucy Morgan of the Tampa Bay Times was first to report the news of the White House call to former Senator Bob Graham assuring a near-term conclusion to the long-running declassification review of the 28 pages. Morgan was on the money, but the editor who penned her headline wasn’t: The story’s title declared that the declassification is “underway.”

Other outlets, racing to follow Morgan’s scoop, took their cue from the headline and doubled down on the mischaracterization. The Daily Beast’s headline said, “Senator Graham: 9/11 Declassification Happening,” and the brief item beneath it said the White House told Graham “the papers are set to be released to the public.” Slate erred in much the same way but corrected it after feedback from a 28 pages activist. The Daily Beast corrected the headline but left the over-exuberant story intact.

To its great credit, however, the Tampa Bay Times on Monday issued an editorial urging the release of the 28 pages.

Lehman Quote Goes Unscrutinized

In our report on the historic 60 Minutes segment, we noted that CBS inexplicably relegated the most intriguing statement in any of its interviews to a web-only extra feature. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, asked if the 28 pages include specific names, said, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

While we have yet to see any other outlets analyze Lehman’s remark, here’s some speculation from the world of social media:

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On 60 Minutes, A Compelling Case for Releasing 28 Pages on 9/11

Former Sen. Bob Graham
Former Sen. Bob Graham

The movement to declassify 28 pages on foreign government ties to 9/11 received its highest-profile exposure to date tonight, as 60 Minutes aired a report that featured insights from several former officials who are familiar with what the 28 pages contain—and believe the information should be public.

Even before it aired, Steve Kroft’s report had already had an impact: This afternoon, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement reviving her long-dormant stance that the pages should be declassified.

The 28 pages are an entire chapter in the 838-page report of a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry into 9/11 conducted in 2002. They were redacted by the George W. Bush administration over the objection of many who served on the inquiry, and of 46 senators who signed a 2003 letter to Bush demanding the release of the pages to the public. Among the signatories: future Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and future Vice President Joe Biden.

“Substantial” Saudi Support for 9/11 Terrorists

While none of the individuals Kroft spoke to disclosed any specifics about their contents, former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the inquiry, told Kroft he believes Saudi Arabia “substantially” supported the 19 hijackers. Asked if that support came from the government, wealthy individuals or charities, Graham said, “All of the above.”

Kroft elicited a particularly intriguing statement that, surprisingly, wasn’t included in the prime time segment, but can be found in an online “60 Minutes Overtime” segment. Asked if the 28 pages include specific names, former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman said, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

Perhaps the strongest unclassified indication of Saudi support of the 9/11 hijackers was found in San Diego, where future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar received cash, assistance with lodging and other help from Omar al-Bayoumi, who is widely believed to have been an operative for the Kingdom.

Secure U.S. Capitol Facility That Houses the 28 Pages
Secure U.S. Capitol Facility That Houses the 28 Pages

Though they weren’t covered in the 60 Minutes segment, there are unanswered questions—and more government resistance to transparency—concerning an FBI investigation of a wealthy Saudi family that appeared to have multiple contacts with future 9/11 hijackers including Mohammed Atta from their home in Sarasota. The family abandoned the residence in haste just days before the attacks.

Investigative journalists have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the FBI’s records of its investigation of the Sarasota Saudis. The FBI initially said it had no files on it; a federal judge is now reviewing more than 80,000 pages the FBI ultimately produced.

Along with the secrecy of the 28 pages, the reluctance of the government to share the Florida files is part of what Graham previously called “a pervasive pattern of covering up the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11, by all of the agencies of the federal government which have access to information that might illuminate Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11.”

Roemer TenetProponents of the release of the 28 pages ostensibly have a surprising ally: Saudi Arabia itself. As former Congressman and 9/11 Commission member Tim Roemer told Kroft, “Look, the Saudis have even said they’re for declassifying it.”

While it’s true that Saudi Arabia, in the summer of 2003, formally requested that the Bush administration declassify the 28 pages, the public plea may have been offered with confidence—or perhaps even an assurance—that the White House would deny it. In 2014, Congressman Stephen Lynch told MNSBC’s Chris Hayes, “I think there might be some duplicity on the part of the Saudis in terms of them desiring this to be disclosed.”

Protecting Saudi Arabia…At What Cost?

Though Bush attributed the classification of the 28 pages to a need to protect intelligence “sources and methods,” Lehman forcefully refuted the idea that the secrecy is justified.

Referring to himself and other former officials who’ve read the 28 pages and favor their release, Lehman said, “We’re not a bunch of rubes that rode into Washington for this commission….we’ve seen fire and we’ve seen rain and the politics of national security. We all have dealt for our careers in highly classified and compartmentalized in every aspect of security. We know when something shouldn’t be declassified….those 28 pages in no way fall into that category.”

In his report, Kroft said, “Graham and others believe the Saudi role has been soft-pedaled to protect a delicate relationship with a complicated kindgom where the rulers, royalty, riches and religion are deeply intertwined in its institutions.”

There was no mention of a more specific interest Bush may have been protecting when he redacted the pages: His family’s close, multi-generational ties to the Saudi royals, ties that are deeply personal and financial. Likewise missing was commentary on the apparent double-standard applied as the U.S. government identified friend and foe in the nascent “war on terror.”

Graham has previously asserted that, by covering up Saudi ties to the worst terror attack on U.S. soil, the Bush and Obama administrations have only encouraged their continued sponsorship of extremism and proliferation of the ultra-conservative form of Islam called Wahhabism.

Saudi FlagClassified State Department documents published on Wikileaks acknowledge Saudi support for extremism enduring well beyond 2001. “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups,” declared then-Secretary of State Clinton in a 2009 cable. “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Kroft also spoke with Jim Kreindler and Sean Carter, attorneys representing families of 9/11 victims suing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged financial and logistical support of the 9/11 hijackers. In September, a federal judge dropped Saudi Arabia from that suit for lack of evidence.

Though that decision is being appealed, the case underscores why the press to release of the 28 pages isn’t a mere exercise in updating the history of that pivotal event.

“It’s been difficult for us because, for many years, we weren’t getting the kind of openness and cooperation that we think our government owes to the American people, particularly the families of people who were murdered,” said Kreindler.

In proclaiming its innocence, the Saudi government has routinely pointed to a sentence from the report of the 9/11 Commission: “We have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”

Carter said the sentence was written with a precision that deliberately narrowed its meaning: “They conspicuously leave open the potential that they found evidence that people who were officials that they did not regard as official had done so.”

The 9/11 Commission’s Lehman agreed: “It’s not an exoneration.”

Lehman’s fellow commission member and former Senator Bob Kerrey told Kroft the 9/11 Commission wasn’t able to fully examine the leads found in the 28 pages. “We didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the resoures. We certainly didn’t pursue the entire line of inquiry in regard to Saudi Arabia.”

President Obama to Visit Saudi Arabia Next Week

The publicity around the 28 pages and allegations that a country often described as a U.S. ally aided and abetted the 9/11 hijackers comes at particularly sensitive time: President Obama will visit the kingdom on April 21.

Ronald Breitweiser: Killed on 9/11
Ron Breitweiser

The close U.S.-Saudi relationship sparks anger in many of those who lost loved ones on September 11, among them, Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, worked in the World Trade Center.

Anticipating the president’s upcoming trip, Breitweiser wrote, “I only wish I could adequately relay the disgust I have in my heart when I anticipate having to see my president smiling, laughing, and joking with his ‘special Saudi friends’ — the very same people who I believe underwrote the murder of my husband and nearly 3,000 others.”

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