Nation Awaits June Conclusion of 28 Pages Declassification Review

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.

Josh Earnest
Josh Earnest

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.

Looking Ahead

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.

MSNBC 28 PAGESAs 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.

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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 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, 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 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 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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