At a crowded Capitol Hill press conference today, Kentucky senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul (R) introduced legislation urging the president to declassify 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers.
“We cannot let page after page of blanked-out documents be obscured behind a veil,” said Paul “We cannot let this lack of transparency erode trust and make us feel less secure.”
Furthering his pattern of collaborating across the aisle on national security and other issues, Paul has already garnered the cosponsorship of Democrats Ron Wyden (OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). Paul and Wyden famously teamed up last week to block the extension of PATRIOT Act provisions that enabled the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone data.
Saying he was not alone in calling for the pages to be released, Paul noted that other advocates include “former heads of the CIA and the Republican and Democrat heads of the 9/11 commission” as well as bipartisan members of the House who are working to advance H.Res.14, which likewise urges the release of the 28 pages.
In an interesting twist, Paul announced his intention to next week offer the language of the bill as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. A similar maneuver was twice attempted in 2003 by then-Senator Byron Dorgan. Interestingly in note of last week’s high-profile clash over NSA surveillance, Dorgan’s effort was stymied on procedural objections initiated by Mitch McConnell.
At the press conference, Paul was joined by three congressmen who are leading the 28 pages effort in the House of Representatives—Walter Jones (R, NC), Stephen Lynch (D, MA) and Thomas Massie (R, KY)—and former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the intelligence inquiry that produced the 28 pages. 9/11 family members also spoke, including Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.
Graham: Release Will Prompt Reconsideration of Saudi Relationship
Of the speakers, former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the inquiry that produced the 28 pages as part of a much larger report, spoke most pointedly about the 28 pages and what they reveal: “The 28 pages…go to the question of who financed 9/11 and they point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia.”
According to Graham, the release of the 28 pages will have broad ramifications. “The 28 pages are very important, and will…inform the American people and, in so doing, cause the American government to reconsider the nature of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”
Graham said the 28 pages are “emblematic of a pattern of withholding information, unnecessarily and to the detriment of the American people.”
Graham offered a highly visual example of that pattern of withholding, describing a request made to the Treasury Department for information it had on a Saudi-based foundation suspected of funneling money to al Qaeda. The Department of Justice responded by distributing a report summarizing what it knew about the foundation.
Holding a think bundle of paper aloft, Graham said, “Let me just show you what the report said.” He thumbed through perhaps a hundred pages—all of them entirely blacked out.
Congressman Jones, who has spearheaded the 28 pages movement in the House of Representatives, said, “One of my biggest disappointments on the House side is that we have gotten very few members from the areas that were impacted by 9/11 to join us in our House Resolution 14, which simply calls on the President of the United States to keep his word to the 9/11 families and declassify this information.”
Lynch: Secrecy of 28 Pages “a Disgrace”
Congressman Lynch said, “It is appalling, it is a disgrace to a country that prides itself on transparency and truth and justice that these 28 pages of this bipartisan, bicameral congressional inquiry remains classified after 14 years from those terrorist attacks. It is not just a mere deletion of a few words here and there as is typical in these reports …this is a full-fledged black-out of information.”
Lynch rebutted the notion that national security is served by keeping the 28 pages under wraps. To the contrary, he said, “I firmly believe the information contained in these 28 pages will better inform our national security protocol and inform our anti-terrorism policy going forward.”
Lynch also said he shared Jones’ frustration with the low support of the 28 pages resolution in the House and the difficulty in persuading members to read the 28 pages for themselves.
Massie: Legislators “Pretending to be Informed” on Terror
Congressman Massie said the 28 pages represented a bipartisan issue. “Unfortunately, it is bipartisan in two regards. You have Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who are leading the charge to release these pages, but you have two presidents, either of which could have released them: A Republican president who is the reason that they are secret, and a Democratic president who keeps them secret,” said Massie.
Massie noted that legislators are, on a daily basis, considering what steps to take at home and abroad to prevent another 9/11. All the while, he said, “some of the best intelligence we have is in these 28 pages and most of our colleagues in the House have not read them, yet they’re pretending to be informed on these issues and having a discussion on how to prevent the next 9/11, yet turning a blind eye to the 28 pages.”
According to The Hill’s Julian Hattem, only 25 House members requested permission from the House intelligence committee to read the 28 pages over the 24 months that ended on December 31. Seventeen have done so in the first five months of 2015.