A declassification review of 28 pages describing financial links between the 9/11 hijackers and one or more foreign governments has already taken far longer than the entire joint congressional intelligence inquiry that produced those pages—and a National Security Council spokesperson declined to say whether the end is in sight.
Last September 10, following an in-depth Jake Tapper report on the 28 pages controversy, the National Security Council issued this response: “Earlier this summer the White House requested that (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) review the 28 pages from the joint inquiry for declassification. ODNI is currently coordinating the required interagency review and it is ongoing.”
28Pages.org asked National Security Council spokesman Ned Price for more clarity on the timing of the request, but Price said he couldn’t comment on what day or even in which month the White House tasked ODNI with the review.
Considering the summer of 2014 hadn’t ended at the time of the NSC statement, the highly imprecise phrasing—and the subsequent refusal to clarify it—leaves the possibility that the request to ODNI occurred very shortly before the statement was issued.
Price also declined to indicate when the American people might expect the conclusion of the ODNI review—or to say what administrative or procedural milestones in the review process have been accomplished thus far. “I can’t comment on the specifics of the process or deliberations on this issue,” said Price.
To fully appreciate just how slowly ODNI is proceeding in its review of 28 pages, it isn’t enough to realize the review has already taken much longer then the full joint inquiry that produced those pages. It requires an understanding of just how large an undertaking that inquiry was.
Former senator Bob Graham co-chaired the 2002 inquiry. In his book, Intelligence Matters, he described the breadth and depth of the staff’s work. In about six months, the staff:
- Reviewed nearly a half million pages of documents from intelligence agencies and other sources
- Conducted roughly 300 interviews
- Participated in briefings and panel discussions involving about 600 people from the intelligence community, other government departments, state and local entities, foreign government representatives and other individuals
- Held 13 closed-door sessions and nine public hearings
- Dueled with intelligence agencies and the White House over many aspects of the inquiry’s undertaking, including requests for information and the format of the final report
- Wrote, edited and revised an 838-page report on the inquiry’s findings
ODNI’s review of just 28 pages has already taken a year…and counting. All of this time to weigh the declassification of material that—according to views adamantly expressed by members of both parties who’ve read it—shouldn’t have been classified in the first place.
“(Republican) Senator (Richard) Shelby and I, after rereading those…pages, independently concluded that 95 percent of that material was safe for public consumption, and that these pages were being kept secret for reasons other than national security,” wrote Graham, a Democrat, in Intelligence Matters.
Complicating the declassification picture is the fact that the 28 pages are also being scrutinized under a process called Mandatory Declassification Review, which was initiated last year by a request from attorney Tom Julin on behalf of investigative reporters Dan Christensen, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.
The MDR process is managed by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP). The NSC’s Price told us “(The ODNI) request is separate from the ISCAP request.”