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By Brian P. McGlinchey
Three veterans who were flown to Washington as part of a Saudi-sponsored campaign to lobby for changes to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) say organizers of the event concealed the Saudi role in the initiative. Continue reading →
Congressman Stephen Lynch, who has read 28 classified pages said to describe links between Saudi officials and the 9/11 hijackers, today suggested that information in the pages may embarrass the U.S. intelligence community.
Speaking at a press conference promoting a new resolution that calls for Congress to bypass the president and release the 28 pages to the public on its own, Lynch said, “There may be some very embarrassing facts, some very embarrassing moments, and some criticisms on our own intelligence service because of what happened, if all the facts come out.”
“I think that those individuals (in the intelligence community) don’t want this to come out,” continued Lynch. “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 prevent the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Lynch’s remarks about the intelligence community seemed to echo a previous statement by former senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional intelligence inquiry that produced the 28 pages as the final chapter in a report spanning more than 800 pages.
At a January 2015 press conference on the 28 pages, Graham said, “Much of what passes for classification for national security reasons is really classified because it would disclose incompetence. And since the people who are classifying are also often the subject of the materials, they have an institutional interest in avoiding exposure of their incompetence.”
Drawing in part on Graham’s statement, 28Pages.org reasoned in a February 2015 piece that “it’s likely that among the most powerful of (the) unseen opponents of 9/11 transparency are two strange bedfellows: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has fueled the growth of terror (and) the U.S. intelligence community, which is charged with thwarting terror.”
Lynch’s statements today—far more pointed than Graham’s—seem to move that notion decisively away from the category of speculation.
Asked to provide his own explanation for the continued classification of the 28 pages, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie replied, “To answer your question in a word, the word is ’embarrassment.'” He elaborated that “releasing these pages is going to open a chapter back up that they tried to slam shut. It’s going to bring more questions that have to be answered and have to be dealt with and I think people don’t want to have to deal with those questions.”
Introduced last month, H.Res.779 offers a new angle of attack for Capitol Hill’s declassification advocates, who are led by Representatives Walter Jones, Lynch and Massie. A separate resolution—H.Res.14—urges the president to declassify the 28 pages and has attracted a bipartisan mix of 70 cosponsors.
Jones said that, next week, he, Lynch and Massie will send a letter to Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff, the chair and ranking member of the intel committee, urging them to schedule a hearing on H.Res.779 immediately upon the House’s return from summer recess on September 6—just days before the 15th anniversary of the attacks. Both Nunes and Schiff have previously voiced their support for releasing the pages.
No Need for White House Approval
While voicing their hope that President Obama will make good on his reported assurances to 9/11 family members that he would release the pages—and promptly bring to a conclusion a review of the 28 pages that the White House claims has been in progress for two years—the representatives underscored their conviction that Congress has the power to release the pages on its own.
“There is another path here,” said Lynch. “If the Obama administration does not go forward and declassify, then we need to pass House Resolution 779 to urge the House intelligence committee to publish the 28 pages.”
Massie concurred. “Congress has possession and ownership of these documents…we have the power to release them right here in this building. We don’t need to appeal to anybody else,” he said. As part of a congressional report, the 28 pages are kept in a secure facility beneath the U.S. Capitol.
Referring to the precedent set by then-Senator Mike Gravel, who declassified the Pentagon Papers through the Speech or Debate Clause, Lynch said, “It may come to that…it may come to a point where myself and Walter (Jones) and Mr. Massie go to the well of the house and read the text of the 28 pages—if we can get it released to us, that’s the key.”
That scenario seems remote: If the intelligence committee were amenable enough to actually grant the trio unprecedented permission to remove the pages from behind locked doors, it seems likelier it would go ahead and formally publish the document without the drama of having them read on the floor.
If the president and the intelligence committees cannot be persuaded to release the pages, a more plausible Speech or Debate Clause scenario may entail the representatives revealing key information from the 28 pages by speaking about it from memory.
You can view the press conference here. A few more noteworthy statements:
Jones: “We have been beating a drum for five years. We have always said ‘we are not going to let this go’ and you the American people and the press have joined us in this and it’s time now to put the press on those who can make the decision in the matter of a moment.”
Lynch: “I’m on the financial services committee. There are records that we have not been able to access that track financial support for these hijackers while they were in the United States. I would like to see full disclosure of those. It creates a paper trail from the hijackers to individuals who supported them.”
9/11 widow Terry Strada, referring to the long-running declassification review, and the Obama administration’s failure to answer letters from 9/11 family members: “It appears once again the Saudis seem to hold more sway than we, the American people…This type of treatment keeps us, the victims, families and survivors, in a perpetual hell and it’s something we want to end.”
Kaitlyn Strada, daughter of Tom Strada, killed at the World Trade Center: “My father lived by the saying ‘do the right thing’ and today I’m urging Congress to do the right thing and sign on to House Resolution 779 and asking President Obama to keep his word and declassify the 28 pages without further delay.”
Jones: “This is the right of the American people. Their fellow Americans were killed by enemies of America. If we’re protecting them, then whoever’s protecting them ought to be held responsible for protecting the enemy.”
Massie: “We are less safe if (the 28 pages) are kept private…We are debating the causes and sources of terrorism and seeking to prevent it in the future, these 28 pages will inform the public and they will inform members of congress who haven’t taken the time to go read it.”
Saudi Arabia has warned the Obama administration and federal legislators that it will sell off U.S. Treasury debt worth $750 billion if Congress passes a law clearing the way for 9/11 victims to sue the kingdom for its alleged role in aiding the hijackers. according to a story in today’s New York Times.
Appearing on Michael Smerconish’s CNN program Saturday morning, former Senator Bob Graham, a leading advocate of declassifying 28 pages that allegedly implicate Saudi Arabia in the attacks, said, “I’m outraged but not surprised.”
According to the Times report, the kingdom’s caution was personally delivered last month by Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who reportedly told legislators that, if the bill passes, Saudi Arabia would sell up to $750 billion in Treasury debt before it could be potentially frozen by U.S. courts.
Threat Sparked by Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act
Though presented as a necessity for Saudi Arabia’s own financial protection, Saudi Arabia’s cautionary statement is a de facto economic threat against the United States. A sell-off may prompt an increase in U.S. Treasury interest rates, raising borrowing costs for the American government, businesses and consumers.
The Saudi warning was triggered by the legislative progress of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA). Last fall, Saudi Arabia was dropped from a lawsuit filed by 9/11 families, victims and insurers after a federal judge said the plaintiffs had failed to meet the high jurisdictional hurdles that FSIA imposes for claims against foreign governments.
According to the New York Times report, the Obama administration has aggressively lobbied lawmakers against passing JASTA, telling them it could trigger moves by other countries to undermine immunity enjoyed by the U.S. government and American businesses and individuals abroad.
September 11 widow Terry Strada, who has spent years lobbying for JASTA, told Smerconish, “I’m shocked with what’s going on here. Do the Saudis really have that much influence on our government? Are they really calling the shots in Washington, D.C.?”
Graham: Saudis Operate with “Sense of Impunity”
Graham said that failing to hold Saudi Arabia to account for its “complicity in the murder of 3,000 Americans” gave the kingdom “a sense of impunity that they can do anything they wanted to with no sanction, and now that impunity has expanded to their trying to lobby the highest levels of the White House and the Congress” to prevent a courtroom determination of Saudi Arabia’s guilt.
“I believe that there is material in the 28 pages and the volume of other documents that would indicate that there was a connection at the highest levels between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the 19 hijackers. I believe that the plot would not have occurred but for the support and protection that the hijackers were receiving primarily from Saudi Arabia,” said Graham.
Graham’s reference to the “highest levels” of the Saudi government is reminiscent of a statement former Navy secretary and 9/11 Commission member John Lehman made to 60 Minutes on Sunday. Asked if the 28 classified pages names names, he replied, “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”
Smerconish asked Graham about the kingdom’s 2003 request to the Bush administration to release the 28 pages. “I think what the Saudis had was an understanding with the United States that whatever the Saudis indicated they wanted was a sham,” said Graham, adding that Saudi Arabia likely relied on a quiet commitment by the U.S. government to keep the pages classified, freeing the kingdom to make the request solely for public consumption.