Those Secret 28 Pages on 9/11: Read This Before You Read Them

28 Pages Declassified—See What Was Hidden

By Brian P. McGlinchey

911 wtc aerialThirteen years after they were classified by the George W. Bush administration, 28 pages that are said to detail specific financial links between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 9/11 hijackers are set to be released as early as Friday, according to CNN and many other outlets. Here’s what to look for both in the 28 pages and in the ensuing debate about their significance.

Less Than Full Declassification

The 28 pages are part of the report of a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry that spans more than 800 pages. There are periodic, specific redactions throughout the rest of the report, so it would not be surprising if the 28 pages had a few surviving redactions of their own. The more numerous, however, the greater the chance that important information is still being concealed from the American people—and perhaps the greater the chance that concerned members of Congress will take matters into their own hands and release that information on their own.

Residual Cover for Saudi Arabia 

Saudi FlagWhite House press secretary Josh Earnest today seemed to hint that, in addition to protecting intelligence sources and methods, concern for U.S.-Saudi relations will also shape decisions on how much the public is allowed to see.

“We want to make sure that we factor in the diplomatic equities into a decision like that. So when that process is completed, we will obviously coordinate not just with the (Director of National Intelligence) but also with the Congress to make sure those diplomatic equities are properly factored in,” said Earnest at the White House press briefing.

False Narratives About 9/11 Investigations

In the months leading up to the release of the pages, U.S. government officials and the chairs of the 9/11 Commission have been waging a public relations campaign aimed at creating doubt about the reliability of what’s in the 28 pages. Expect that effort to resume with renewed intensity as the pages are released.

Bob Graham
Bob Graham

Detractors have described the 28 pages as unvetted investigatory leads. However, former Senator Bob Graham, who chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages, noted that “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.”

Those questioning the value of the 28 pages also point to the fact that they were written before the 9/11 Commission, and declare that the commission thoroughly investigated all the leads in the 28 pages and, quoting the commission report, “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the hijackers.

In fact, the idea that the 9/11 Commission thoroughly investigated Saudi links to the hijackers has been thoroughly discredited—though that discrediting has so far failed to permeate major media reporting.

9/11 Commission member John Lehman, in a statement offered in support of 9/11 families suing the kingdom, wrote, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”

That statement from someone who should know is only the beginning. Indeed, the case against the commission’s work regarding the Saudi line of inquiry is so broad and multifaceted that, rather than repeating it here, we urge you to review our April piece, “9/11 Commission Leaders Circle Wagons Around Their Legacy.”

Ulterior Motives

Tom Kean
Tom Kean

What’s driving the campaign to denigrate the 28 pages? Where 9/11 Commission chairs Tom Keane and Lee Hamilton are concerned, it’s surely about safeguarding their reputations: To the extent the 28 pages cast doubts on the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission—and raise questions about their personal leadership of that effort—the most salient chapter of their professional careers stand to be tarnished.

For the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies, reputations again hang in the balance. At a press conference last week, Rep. Stephen Lynch said, “I think that those individuals (in the intelligence community) don’t want this to come out. They don’t want the facts to come out because it may reveal terrible, terrible errors on their part and they may bear part of the blame” for failing to foil the attacks.

In addition, the very foundation of the U.S. government’s war on terror may be called into question. Saudi Arabia is routinely praised by government officials and Saudi-funded think tanks as an important partner in fighting extremism; revelations that the kingdom may have aided the 9/11 attacks could in turn expose U.S. hypocrisy—particularly when juxtaposing the invasion of Iraq alongside continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Seeming to make that very point, Rep. Rick Nolan, who has read the 28 pages, said, “They confirm that much of the rhetoric preceding the U.S. attack on Iraq was terribly wrong.”

Bogus Reasons for Redactions

If officials announce that some remaining redactions were made to protect individuals who were initially under suspicion but later exonerated, journalists and citizens should push back, because that is not a valid justification for secrecy.

Steven Aftergood
Steven Aftergood

Classification expert Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told 28Pages.org earlier this year, “If you examine the executive order governing the classification system, it does not say that information that is inaccurate or unvetted may be classified. Those words aren’t in there,” said Aftergood.

Driving the point home, Aftergood said, “The 28 pages could be entirely false, malicious and nonsensical. That is not a basis for classification and that should not be an impediment to their declassification.” If persons of interest were subsequently ruled out from aiding the hijackers, the government should release the corresponding documents that led to that conclusion.

Household Names

9/11 Commission member John Lehman was asked by 60 Minutes if the 28 pages name names. He replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”

Given very few Saudi officials are household names even among educated viewers, you’d expect Lehman to be referring to someone on the level of, say, former Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan al Saud.

Outside the 28 pages, it’s already been revealed that cashiers checks found their way from Bandar’s wife to two Saudi citizens in San Diego who furnished heavy financial and other assistance to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.

Echoes of Document 17

Last summer, the government silently declassified a 9/11 Commission document that listed dozens of people of interest to investigators who were exploring Saudi links to the hijackers. Written by the same authors as the 28 pages and first revealed by 28Pages.org, “Document 17” had many interesting revelations—most notably, the fact that the FBI found the U.S. pilot license of an al Qaeda associate buried in Pakistan, inside an envelope from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

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Brennan: Release of 28 Pages Requires “Discussions” with Congress

John Brennan
John Brennan

Echoing private comments made by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in May, CIA Director John Brennan today said the release of 28 classified pages that describe links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11 would necessitate coordination between the White House and Congress.

Brennan’s remarks came in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, and are the first public assertion by an administration official that an ongoing review of the 28 pages will not end at the White House.

The CIA director’s statement was prompted by a question from the audience—posed by a registered foreign agent of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

A Review Two Years in the Making

In the summer of 2014, spurred by members of the House seeking the release of the 28 pages, President Obama tasked Clapper with coordinating an intelligence community review of the 28 pages.

Asked today about the status of the review, Brennan replied, “I am only the director of CIA, so I don’t make decisions about the release of a congressional document.”

“There’s an executive branch responsibility, because that document cited executive branch information,” said Brennan. However, he said, “there is going to be the appropriate discussions that need to take place between the executive and legislative branches to finalize (the declassification process.)”

Brennan did not elaborate on who would participate in those discussions or when they would take place. In May, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “intelligence officials have indicated they expect to complete that process by the end of June.”

This Secure U.S. Capitol Facility Houses the 28 Pages
The 28 Pages: Locked Behind These Doors

The 28 pages are found in the report of a 2002 congressional joint intelligence inquiry into 9/11, and are housed in a secure facility beneath the U.S. Capitol.

As he did earlier this month, Brennan simultaneously endorsed the release of the 28 pages while questioning their value in providing a better understanding of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

“I believe it’s important that that document get out because there’s so much speculation and conjecture about it,” said Brennan. “I have said there are a lot of things in there that unfortunately I think will be used by some to maybe misrepresent the facts or history, but that’s why the 9/11 Commission’s thorough, thorough, researched investigation really should be seen by folks as the much more dispositive of it.”

28 Pages vs 9/11 Commission Report

Brennan did not mention Saudi Arabia in his remarks, but has previously made clear his concern that readers of the 28 pages might conclude the Saudis were complicit in aiding the hijackers—a conclusion that they would share with former Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the congressional inquiry. Graham has said that “the 28 pages point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks.

On Meet the Press, Brennan said, “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 suggestion that the 9/11 Commission report effectively rendered the 28 pages obsolete is countered by members of the commission, including former senator Bob Kerrey. In a statement offered in support of a the 9/11 families and victims suit against Saudi Arabia, Kerrey said, “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”

In addition, there are many more counterpoints to Brennan’s assertion that the 9/11 Commission conducted a “thorough, thorough” investigation of Saudi links to the attacks.

28 Pages May Be Accompanied by Other Documents

Brennan’s remarks were elicited by a question from George Salem, a strategic advisor to DLA Piper, which is a registered foreign agent of Saudi Arabia. Salem asked Brennan to comment on the timing of the release, the expected extent of declassification and whether the release would be accompanied by additional investigation reports to provide fuller context.

“There are some other documents that may come out at the same time, as you point out, but again I defer to others who have that decision-making responsibility,” said Brennan.

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Massie: Keeping 28 Pages Secret Threatens National Security

Massie CSPANCongressman Thomas Massie, one of Capitol Hill’s leading advocates for the declassification of 28 pages said to link 9/11 to Saudi Arabia, used an appearance on CSPAN to make the case that releasing the pages would make Americans safer.

“I think keeping it secret jeopardizes national security,” Massie told CSPAN’s Greta Brawner on Wednesday.

The Kentucky congressman argued that hiding critical facts about the 9/11 attacks prevents the American people and their representatives from fully understanding the terror threat and adopting the right policies to counter it.

Massie decried the lack of professional curiosity his fellow legislators have demonstrated where the 28 pages are concerned.

“Frankly, most of my colleagues haven’t even read them. We are debating the National Defense Authorization Act this week which has policy implications for the Middle East. People voting on the NDAA this week have not read (the 28 pages), yet they’re crafting policy ostensibly to prevent another 9/11. Well, if you don’t know what caused the first 9/11, how are you going to prevent another one? So I think the argument about national security is an argument to release the 28 pages,” he said.

On Saturday, The Hill’s Julian Hattem reported that the congressional intelligence committees have seen a notable uptick in requests to read the 28 pages after an April 60 Minutes report thrust the topic into the national spotlight.

Since the 114th Congress convened in January 2015, 72 members have requested to read the pages. While that’s nearly triple the number who requested to read in the 113th Congress, it’s still low enough to confirm Massie’s claim that most of his peers are casting life-and-death national security votes in a fog of willful ignorance.

Support for Bill to Enable Suit Against Saudi Arabia

Earlier this week, the Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act (JASTA), which would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act to enable 9/11 family members and victims to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in supporting the hijackers. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives.

Massie hadn’t seen the text of the Senate bill, but said, “I would probably vote for that. One of the arguments that I’ve made for releasing that report is so that you can discover the chain of culpability or liability for the victims. I’ve spoken with the families of the victims and the children of the victims and they really have no recourse right now and I think these 28 pages could help them.”

On Thursday, in an interview on RT America, Rep. Rick Nolan said the experience of reading the 28 pages made him “much more” supportive of JASTA and enabling 9/11 victims to sue those who enabled the attacks.

Massie’s Answer to a Frequent Declassification Question

Massie said he’s often asked why he doesn’t simply read the 28 pages on the floor of the House under the protection of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. “I don’t have a copy of it and they don’t let me take my cell phone (into the secure facility that houses the 28 pages)—and by the way, if I read it on the floor of the House they’ll never give me a secret document again,” he said.

Massie reaffirmed his commitment to bringing about the release through other avenues. “It may jeopardize relationships with other countries but so be it,” said Massie. “The truth needs to get out for the victims’ families and for our national policy.”

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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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