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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CIA Director: 28 Secret 9/11 Pages Should, Likely Will Be Released

John Brennan
John Brennan

CIA Director John Brennan this weekend endorsed the declassification of 28 pages that detail foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers. More significantly, he also said he expects the material will indeed be released when the intelligence community’s declassification review is complete.

In an interview with the Saudi television network Al Arabiya, Brennan said, “I believe they are going to come out, I think it’s good that they come out.”

At the same time, however, he also dismissed what former Senator Bob Graham and many others have said about the contents of those 28 pages. “People shouldn’t take them as evidence of Saudi complicity in the attacks,” said Brennan.

28 Pages a “Very Preliminary Review”

Brennan’s declaration that the release of the 28 pages would be a good thing marked a subtle but significant shift in tone from last month: In a May 1 appearance on Meet The Press, Brennan didn’t say anything positive about the idea of releasing the classified chapter from a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11.

With the rest of his remarks to Al Arabiya, however, Brennan reiterated his previous attack on the credibility of the 28 pages.

“These so-called 28 pages…(were) a very preliminary review trying to pull together bits and pieces of information reporting about who was responsible for 9/11. Subsequently, the 9/11 Commission looked very thoroughly at these allegations of Saudi government involvement and their finding, their conclusion was that there was no evidence to indicate that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually had supported the 9/11 attacks.”

Brennan’s Spin Depends on a False Premise

As noted after his Meet the Press appearance, Brennan’s claims about the 28 pages rests on a false premise—that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated leads that pointed toward Saudi Arabia. That premise has been attacked by some of those most familiar with the commission’s work.

“Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of the Saudis,” 9/11 Commission member and former U.S. Navy secretary John Lehman told The Guardian last month.

His sentiments are shared by 9/11 Commission member and former senator Bob Kerrey. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,” he said in a statement prepared in support of 9/11 victims’ lawsuit against the kingdom.

Lehman and Kerrey’s remarks are just the start: In contrast to what the CIA director would have us believe, there are many more indications that the 9/11 Commission failed to thoroughly investigate Saudi links to the attacks, and that the release of the 28 pages will prompt Americans to question the commission’s conclusions—and not the other way around.

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9/11 Commission’s Lehman Criticizes Statements by Kean, Hamilton

Tom Kean
Tom Kean

In an important development in the drive for greater 9/11 transparency, John Lehman, the former U.S. Navy secretary who served on the 9/11 Commission, has criticized recent statements by commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. The two had cast doubt on the reliability of 28 classified pages from a congressional intelligence inquiry and also said their commission had only identified one Saudi official as being implicated in aiding the hijackers.

Lehman’s statements appeared in a piece for The Guardian written by Philip Shenon, author of The Commission—the most exhaustive and revealing account of the 9/11 Commission’s work. Shenon wrote:

In the interview Wednesday, Lehman said Kean and Hamilton’s statement that only one Saudi goverment employee was “implicated” in supporting the hijackers in California and elsewhere was “a game of semantics” and that the commission had been aware of at least five Saudi government officials who were strongly suspected of involvement in the terrorists’ support network.

“They may not have been indicted, but they were certainly implicated,” he said. “There was an awful lot of circumstantial evidence.”

Lehman wasn’t the only commission member who spoke out via Shenon:

Another panel member, speaking of condition of anonymity for fear of offending the other nine, said the 28 pages should be released even though they could damage the commission’s legacy—“fairly or unfairly”—by suggesting lines of investigation involving the Saudi government that were pursued by Congress but never adequately explored by the commission.

“I think we were tough on the Saudis, but obviously not tough enough,” the commissioner said.

Shenon also reviews several indications that the commission’s pursuit of Saudi leads may have been thwarted—with specific references to the actions of commission executive director Philip Zelikow.

It’s a must-read; rather than fully summarizing it, we’ll instead urge you to read it all, and to also read our recent piece that makes the case that recent statements by Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow about the 28 pages are likely intended to guard their reputations against a truth that’s becoming more evident each day: The 9/11 Commission failed to vigorously examine potential Saudi ties to 9/11.

In other news today:

  • Three more members of Congress have cosponsored House Resolution 14, which urges the president to declassify the 28 pages: Brad Sherman (D, CA-30), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Jackie Speier (CA-14). This new trio from the president’s own party brings the total to 52.
  • A story by Shane Harris at The Daily Beast dives deep into the mystery of the wealthy Saudi family that abrubtly left their Sarasota home just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks—but, according to some, not before having contacts with hijackers, including Mohammed Atta.
  • At Salon, Marcy Wheeler offers a new perspective on the NSA’s failures in the weeks leading up to 9/11, and the positively disturbing extent to which relationships with large government contractors influenced decisions and the drive for accountability.

Contact the White House Today: Demand Full Declassification of the 28 Pages

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On 28 Pages, CIA’s Brennan Has Flawed Premise, Ulterior Motives

By Brian P. McGlinchey

John Brennan
CIA Director John Brennan

Echoing recent statements by the co-chairmen and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, CIA director John Brennan today used an appearance on Meet the Press to cast doubt on the contents of 28 classified pages from a joint congressional intelligence inquiry that are said to link Saudi Arabia to the attacks.

Claiming that he is “quite puzzled” by former Senator Bob Graham and others who have read the 28 pages and are campaigning for their declassification, Brennan described the final chapter of the 2002 inquiry’s report as containing “uncorroborated, unvetted information” and “basically just a collation of information that came out of FBI files.”

In his own Meet the Press appearance last week, Graham countered the notion that the 28 pages are a grab-bag of unsubstantiated leads, pointing to the fact that the 28 pages are just one part of a report spanning nearly 850 pages. “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,” said Graham.

Brennan’s Critical Yet Flawed Premise

911 Report CvrMuch as 9/11 co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and executive director Philip Zelikow have done in recent days, Brennan portrayed the 28 pages as obsolete: “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 discrediting of the 28 pages relies on a key underlying premise: that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated the indications of Saudi support found in the 28 pages. However, as we described in detail on Thursday, there’s a compelling case that the commission failed to do so, thanks to obstructionism by the George W. Bush administration, the commission’s lackluster efforts to overcome it and the possibility that executive director Zelikow deliberately aided the White House in curtailing investigation of Saudi connections.

Meanwhile, a recently declassified document revealed that two 9/11 Commission investigators assigned to examine the kingdom’s links to the hijackers were so wary of political influence on their work that they actually recommended making a probe of that phenomenon a key facet of their investigation.

Document 17 Two Questions
Excerpt from Declassified 9/11 Commission Document

Brennan also pointed to the separate 9/11 Review Commission as having reinforced the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission: Note that undertaking was managed by the FBI—which has its own demonstrated record of concealing information that might implicate Saudi Arabia.

Ulterior Motives

Efforts by Brennan, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow to discredit the 28 pages should be viewed in light of their possible motives. For the 9/11 Commission leaders, those motives may be deeply personal: To the extent the 28 pages counter the commission’s verdict on Saudi links, they pose a very real threat to their professional reputations.

The CIA director’s potential motives are likely more far-reaching; we’ll examine three of them.

Brennan with Saudi King Abdullah
Brennan with Saudi King Abdullah in 2009

First, there’s the long and bipartisan tendency of the U.S. government to preserve U.S.-Saudi relations at all costs. That tendency is cultivated by Saudi Arabia’s enormous public relations and lobbying efforts in the United States, which includes financial ties to many of the think tanks that shape the opinions of government officials, journalists and the public. On Meet the Press, Brennan himself boasted, “I have very close relations with my Saudi counterparts.”

Second, there’s the possibility that the revelation of the 28 pages could strike an enormous blow against the entire narrative of the U.S.-led “war on terror,” in which Brennan’s bureaucracy plays a central role.

In the wake of 9/11, the United States and its partners have lashed out militarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. Graham, however, says the 28 pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as the principal financier” of the attacks, and Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan, who has read the 28 pages, recently said, “They confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong.”

Finally, the 28 pages may reveal embarrassing details about the CIA’s conduct before the 9/11 attacks. Many of the Saudi-9/11 connections detailed elsewhere in the joint inquiry revolve around San Diego-based hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, so it’s reasonable to think the chapter on financial support focuses on them as well.

In January 2000, the CIA learned that al-Midhar, who had already been linked to two 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, had obtained a multi-entry visa permitting him to freely travel to and from the United States. When two FBI agents assigned to the CIA’s al-Qaeda unit tried to alert their headquarters, the CIA stopped them.

Mark Rossini
Mark Rossini

One of those agents, Mark Rossini has a theory for the CIA’s catastrophic silencing of himself and agent Doug Miller: He believes the CIA was attempting to turn al-Midhar into a CIA asset. If conducted on U.S. soil, that action would have been unlawful, Rossini says. Former White House counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke shares Rossini’s theory.

Awaiting Media Scrutiny of Brennan’s Motives

Thus far, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow’s assault on the credibility of the 28 pages has been reported by journalists and echoed in editorials without any scrutiny of their potential motives. Let’s hope that one-dimensional approach subsides in the wake of Brennan’s own salvo against the 28 pages, and that his remarks are weighed against those of many others who’ve read them.

Said one unnamed government official: “We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.”

Contact the White House Today: Demand Full Declassification of the 28 Pages

Brian McGlinchey’s journalism has moved to a Substack newsletter—Stark Realities with Brian McGlinchey: