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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28 Pages Action Alert: Demand Hearings on Secret 9/11 Pages

Manhattan 911If you agree that every American deserves to know what’s hidden in a classified, 28-page chapter on foreign government financing of the 9/11 hijackers, it’s important that you take action right away.

Our movement has real momentum, but victory requires your involvement. With two quick phone calls to the chairs of the House and Senate intelligence committees, you can help advance legislation aimed at releasing 28 pages from a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry that are said to link Saudi Arabia to one of the darkest days in our history. Please call, and please share this with others.

Rep. Devin Nunes: 202-225-2523

Rep. Devin Nunes
Rep. Devin Nunes

“I’m requesting that Chairman Nunes immediately schedule intelligence committee hearings on House Resolution 14, which would urge the president to declassify 28 pages from an intelligence inquiry into 9/11.

The American people deserve to have this information so we can better understand the terror threat, and 9/11 victims deserve it for their pursuit of justice in the courtroom.”

Sen. Richard Burr: 202-224-3154

Sen. Richard Burr
Sen. Richard Burr

“I’m requesting that Chairman Burr immediately schedule intelligence committee hearings on Senate Bill 1471, which would direct the president to declassify 28 pages from an intelligence inquiry into 9/11.

The American people deserve to have this information so we can better understand the terror threat, and 9/11 victims deserve it for their pursuit of justice in the courtroom.”

Quick Tips

  • Feel free to use your own words
  • Stick to the 28 pages and be sure to ask for the scheduling of hearings
  • Be brief and be courteous
  • Their lines may be jammed—it’s ok to leave a voicemail
  • Prefer an online contact form? Click here for Rep. Nunes and here for Sen. Burr

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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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