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2015 New York Times story, Burr “said he was skeptical of the value of releasing the pages, calling them more of a historical document in a fight against terrorism that has shifted substantially since 2002.”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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Paul Offers NDAA Amendment to Drive Release of 28 Pages

Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul

Following through on intentions he announced earlier this week, Senator Rand Paul today offered an amendment to the pending National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would require the president to declassify 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers. The language is identical to S.1471, the bill Paul introduced on Monday with Senators Ron Wyden and Kirsten Gillibrand.

In a story on Paul’s new move, The Hill’s Julian Hattem said the proposed amendment (No. 1680) “heightens the profile of the fight and may increase the stakes for the opponents.”

Speaking via press release, Paul said, “For over 13 years, the family members of the victims of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have been deprived of the details surrounding the redacted 28 pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. I firmly believe the American people deserve a government that instills trust and a restoration of their sense of security, and think my amendment is a step in the right direction.”

Flushing Opponents of the 28 Pages Movement into Daylight

While there are a growing number of vocal champions of the declassification of the 28 pages, those who want the 28 pages kept under wraps have worked quietly and effectively out of public view.

As we wrote earlier this year, “It’s likely that among the most powerful of those unseen opponents of 9/11 transparency are two strange bedfellows: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—which has fueled the growth of terror, and the U.S. intelligence community—which is charged with thwarting terror.”

Paul’s amendment to the must-pass NDAA could force some of those opponents—and, more specifically, their Senate allies—out of the shadows.

In addition to Wyden and Gillibrand, there are 11 other senators who, if they are consistent on principle, should support Paul’s amendment. Senators Patrick Leahy (VT), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Harry Reid (NV), Barbara Boxer (CA), Patty Murray (WA), Dick Durbin (IL), Jack Reed (RI), Chuck Schumer (NY), Bill Nelson (FL), Tom Carper (DE) and Maria Cantwell (WA) each signed a 2003 letter asking then-President George W. Bush to release the 28 pages.

Similar 2003 Move Thwarted by McConnell

This isn’t the first time a senator has tried to elevate the 28 pages by way of an amendment to a bill. In October 2003, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan offered an amendment to the Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriations Act, urging Bush to reverse his decision to redact the 28 pages.

Dorgan offered the amendment twice, but was thwarted on each attempt by then-GOP Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, who objected and claimed that the amendment was not germane to the legislation. (For transcripts of that debate—which included a supporting speech from Senator Bob Graham—click here and here.)

McConnell, who is now Senate Majority Leader, recently engaged in a high-profile—yet cordial—parliamentary battle with Paul over the extension of the PATRIOT Act.

Where Dorgan’s “sense of the Senate” amendment would have urged the president to declassify the 28 pages, Paul’s language is more forceful. His amendment and bill each say that, not later than 60 days after the NDAA’s enactment, “the president shall declassify and release to the public the previously redacted portions” of the report of the joint intelligence inquiry where the 28 pages are found.

Protecting “Sources and Methods” or Preventing Embarrassment?

However, the language may also offer President Obama an opportunity to continue his administration’s refusal to release the 28 pages, as it says he is not required to declassify sources and methods if that release would “result in imminent lawless action or compromise presently on-going national security operations.”

Rep. Walter Jones
Rep. Walter Jones

In 2003, Bush invoked “sources and methods” when defending his decision to classify the pages, saying “Declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror. … It would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods.”

Among many who have read the 28 pages, Congressman Walter Jones denies that declassification would harm national security in any way, pointing to other motives for the secrecy. “There’s nothing in it about national security. It’s about the Bush administration and its relationship with the Saudis,” Jones told The New Yorker.

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Mitch McConnell’s Multifaceted Opposition to 9/11 Transparency

Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell

He won’t confirm or deny it, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may be among what suspects is a scandalously high number of incumbent federal legislators who haven’t bothered reading the classified, 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers.

McConnell and staff have now twice refused to answer the two simple questions is posing to every senator and representative:

  • Have you read the 28 pages?
  • If not, have you requested permission from your intelligence committee to do so?

Considering legislators familiar with the classified finding say it has direct bearing on the ongoing confrontation with radical Islam in the Middle East—and can inform the life-and-death decisions of federal policymakers—failure by any representative or senator to read the 28 pages may well amount to gross negligence. That’s particularly evident when you reflect on the fact that a 19-year old Marine last week became the first servicemember to die in recently-launched operations against ISIS.

McConnell’s silence on these two simple questions gives reason to doubt he’s taken a half hour break from re-election fundraising and campaigning to read the 28 pages—and there’s an even stronger indication that he doesn’t want you to read them either.

McConnell Blocked Senate Declassification Push

Today, the primary focus of the growing, bipartisan drive to declassify the 28 pages is House Resolution 428, which urges the president to declassify the finding. Meanwhile, the House sponsors of H.Res.428 are working to find a senator to introduce a comparable resolution in their own chamber.

Byron Dorgan
Byron Dorgan

It wouldn’t be the first time a senator pursued a legislative push to declassify the 28 pages. In 2003, then-Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) twice introduced amendments to Senate bills with language similar to that of H.Res.428. Each time, his effort to help give the American people the information they need to reach informed decisions on foreign policy were thwarted via procedural maneuvers by initiated by McConnell. (You can read the transcripts of the debate on the Senate floor here and here.)

We recently wrote that, despite having been repeatedly and intriguingly urged by Congressmen Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie to read the 28 pages, it appears the great majority of federal legislators have inexplicably chosen to remain in a state of willful ignorance regarding intelligence that bears directly on the ongoing “war on terror.”

Does McConnell’s silence indicate he’s among those willfully ignorant incumbents? As Kentucky voters weigh McConnell’s job performance–in deciding between him and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes—it should arguably be the foremost question on their minds. is a nonpartisan resource for the movement to declassify the 28 pages. This piece on the Republican McConnell was preceded by a similar critique of Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.

Ask your representative and senators if they’ve read the 28 pages. We make it easy.