7 Unanswered Questions About the 28 Pages Declassification

Two weeks ago, after a declassification review led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the congressional intelligence committees finally released 28 pages from a joint congressional inquiry that outline a wide variety of connections between Saudi government officials, members of the Saudi royal family, suspected Saudi intelligence operatives and the 9/11 hijackers.

While the pages invite many questions about Saudi ties to the 9/11 attacks and just how thoroughly they were investigated by the 9/11 Commission, there are also many unanswered questions about the declassification itself.

Did President Obama ever read the 28 pages himself?

In 2009, Obama reportedly gave the first of two assurances to 9/11 family members that he would declassify the 28 pages. Seven years later—in April of this year—9/11 families were disappointed when he admitted he still hadn’t bothered to read the pages that were said to link a supposed ally to the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

Obama Charlie Rose“I have a sense of what’s in there. But this has been a process which we generally deal with through the intelligence community and Jim Clapper, our director of national intelligence, has been going through to make sure that whatever it is that is released is not gonna compromise some major national security interest of the United States,” the president told Charlie Rose.

The average adult can read 28 pages in about a half hour. One would hope Obama ultimately insisted on reading the pages for himself and didn’t rely on an ODNI recommendation that may have hidden important information not only from the American people but from Obama himself. The importance of his personally reading the pages is underscored by the possibility that, as discussed below, some of the still-redacted information may shed unflattering light on the very intelligence community that was performing the declassification review.

What’s still hidden from view?

Rep. Justin Amash
Rep. Justin Amash

In the last hours before the release, Rep. Walter Jones—Capitol Hill’s foremost advocate for the release of the pages—was assured by an ODNI representative that the remaining redactions would be minimal. However, the public version of the 28 pages has 97 separate redactions, some of a single word or name and many representing multiple paragraphs in sequence.

In a Wednesday Q&A session following remarks at a convention of Young Americans for Liberty, Rep. Justin Amash—who had co-sponsored the House resolution that called for the release of the 28 pages—said he and fellow co-sponsor Thomas Massie intend to read both the public and the unredacted 28 pages side-by-side to see what’s still being kept under wraps.

What are the specific rationales for each redaction?

When declassifications occur under the Freedom of Information Act or the Mandatory Declassification Review process, each redaction is labelled to give the reader an understanding of the reason the information must remain secret. These labels usually don’t offer a lot of specificity, but instead simply refer to a provision of Executive Order 13526, which governs the classification system. For example, a label that says “E.O. 13526, section 1.4(c)” tells us the redaction is related to “intelligence activities (including covert action), intelligence sources or methods, or cryptology.”

Bassnan RedactionIn the declassified 28 pages, however, there are no such labels, leaving us to question if there’s truly a bona fide national security reason behind every redaction. We confess that even a label wouldn’t necessarily remove that doubt, but it would at least represent an attempt by the government to justify each individual decision.

It’s important to note that E.O. 13526 explicitly prohibits classification meant to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency or administrative error,” “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization or agency” or “prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.” Looking at what we can read in the 28 pages, it’s hard not to conclude that President George W. Bush’s original classification of essentially every word of the 28-page chapter from the congressional inquiry was a violation of these rules.

Do some redactions provide lingering cover for Saudi Arabia?

Bandar McLean VA RedactionOn the day before the 28 pages were released, White House press secretary Josh Earnest seemed to indicate that the U.S.-Saudi relationship would be factored into just how much of the 28 pages the American people would finally be granted permission to read.

“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.

Did the intelligence committees make adjustments to the redactions recommended by ODNI?

The release of the 28 pages was preceded by a intelligence community declassification review that President Obama requested in the summer of 2014. The White House portrayed the conclusion of that review as a recommendation from the intelligence community, with the ultimate decision on the release of the 28 pages left in the hands of Congress.

Considering the intelligence committees reportedly released the 28 pages on the same day they received the ODNI recommendation, it seems likely they chose to give full deference to the executive branch and made no adjustments. We’ll have to rely on the judgments of declassification advocates like Jones, Amash and Massie to see if that deference was actually warranted.

Were some of ODNI’s recommendations self-serving?

At a June press conference calling for the release of the 28 pages, Rep. Stephen Lynch seemed to imply that information in the 28 pages would be embarrassing to the intelligence community.

FBI Saudi Threat Redaction“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,” said Lynch. “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 prevent the 9/11 attacks.

The released 28 pages do contain some passages that don’t reflect well on the intelligence community, including an admission that, before 9/11, the FBI didn’t focus resources on Saudis in the United States “due to Saudi Arabia’s status as an American ‘ally.'” However, given nearly 100 redactions, we’re left to wonder if some of them are intended to safeguard individual and departmental reputations rather than national security.

What will become of the still-pending Mandatory Declassification Review of the 28 pages?

Separate from the intelligence community’s declassification review, the 28 pages were in a queue for a similar but not identical assessment by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, or ISCAP. That assessment—called a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR)—was requested by attorney Tom Julin on behalf of investigative reporters Dan Christensen, Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.

ISCAP is dominated by representatives of the intelligence community, so it’s safe to assume it wouldn’t deviate much if at all from the recommendation produced by the ODNI review, and, in any event, the ultimate outcome of a Mandatory Declassification Review is a non-binding recommendation to the president.

While that could be a different president by the time the process is complete, we may find that the MDR, if seen through, would only give us the benefit of some token rationales for each of the remaining redactions.

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Rep. Lynch: 28 Pages on 9/11 May Reveal “Terrible, Terrible Errors” by U.S. Intelligence Community

By Brian P. McGlinchey

Rep. Stephen Lynch
Rep. Stephen Lynch

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.

Concealing Incompetence?

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.”

New Resolution Would Bypass President

Today’s press conference was called to promote House Resolution 779, which urges the chair and ranking member of the House intelligence committee to publish the 28 pages into the Congressional Record, relying on the protection from prosecution afforded by the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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

Massie CSPANWhile 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.

Notable Quotes

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.”

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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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New House Resolution Directs Intel Committee to Release 28 Pages From 9/11 Report

By Brian P. McGlinchey

Rep. Walter Jones
Rep. Walter Jones

Encouraged by rising, bipartisan support for a resolution urging President Obama to declassify 28 pages said to link Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 hijackers, the leaders of Capitol Hill’s declassification drive have now introduced a resolution directing the leaders of the House intelligence committee to take matters into their own hands.

Introduced Monday, House Resolution 779 directs the chair and ranking member of the House intelligence committee—Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff, respectively—to disclose the con the 28 pages by publishing them in the Congressional Record under the protection of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.

Congressman Walter Jones introduced the resolution along with original cosponsors Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie. The same trio is the driving force behind House Resolution 14, which urges the president to release the pages that comprise the final chapter in the report of a 2002 congressional intelligence inquiry. Introduced last year, HRes 14 has seen a surge in support following an April 60 Minutes report on the 28 pages, and now has 70 cosponsors.

“I have read these pages and can say that while their release will not harm national security, the contents are critical to our foreign policy moving forward…That is why I have introduced a resolution that would enable the House Committee on Intelligence to declassify the 28 pages,” said Jones in a press release issued today.

Committee Leaders Support Declassification

Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes
Rep. Devin Nunes

In April, both Nunes and Schiff voiced their support for releasing the 28 pages. Nunes said “the benefits of publishing this information would outweigh any potential damage to America’s national security,” and Schiff told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “They should be released and I think, as is often the case, the speculation about what they contain is more damaging in fact than the contents.”

H.Res.779 has been referred to the House rules committee. The committee’s ranking member, Louise Slaughter, is a cosponsor of the resolution urging the president to declassify the pages.

The resolution’s preamble notes that the CIA has acknowledged that the 28 pages are the property of Congress and that the Supreme Court “upheld the constitutional prerogative of Members of Congress or committees of Congress to disclose classified information” by way of the Speech or Debate Clause.

This new legislative action comes as an intelligence community declassification review of the 28 pages is expected to wrap up in the next few weeks.

The White House said it ordered the review in the summer of 2014. Skeptical that a review of just 28 pages could truly take two years and counting, many observers—including 9/11 family members and victims—point to the delay as signaling the Obama administration’s desire to put off a resolution of the issue as long as possible.

Former Sen. Bob Graham
Former Sen. Bob Graham

The delay strategy grew untenable in April when the 60 Minutes report spawned fresh media attention, dozens of newspaper editorials, heightened citizen interest and an increase in legislator requests to read the secret pages. Soon after the 60 Minutes segment aired, former senator Bob Graham said that a Department of Homeland Security advisor told him to expect a decision in June.

However, confusion has mounted over what exactly will happen at the end of that review. In a May meeting with proponents of the pages’ release, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly voiced an expectation that the president would turn the matter back over to the Congress. If that is indeed the White House’s intention, it could represent a new means of stalling the release of a document that, according to Graham, “point(s) a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks. H.Res. 779 addresses that possibility head-on.

A New Angle on Speech or Debate Clause

The drive to declassify the 28 pages has spanned 13 years; throughout that time, many citizens have called for members of Congress to declassify the 28 pages by entering them into the congressional record under the protection from prosecution provided by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.

As we reported earlier this month, one of those advocating that avenue of declassification is former senator Mike Gravel, who used it to release the “Pentagon Papers,” a secret government history of the Vietnam War.

In his own declassification feat, Gravel had something that individual members of Congress lack where the 28 pages are concerned: physical custody of the document. The 28 pages are kept in a secure facility in the basement of the Capitol, precluding Jones, Lynch, Massie or other members of Congress from entering them into the record themselves.

SchiffRecognizing that, House Resolution 779 challenges those with greater dominion over the 28 pages—the chair and ranking member of the House intelligence committee—to do for Congress what rank-and-file members cannot do on their own.

Apart from the Speech or Debate Clause, both the House and Senate have rules by which either body, acting alone, can declassify information, even over the objection of the president. In both houses, the initiation of that process begins in the intelligence committee, but also entails seeking the president’s opinion and then a majority vote of the chamber to override it, if necessary.

In opting instead for a Speech or Debate Clause approach, Jones, Lynch and Massie are pursuing a route that bypasses the president and gives Congress an opportunity to assert its own authority by flexing a rarely-used muscle.

A Multi-Purpose Tactic

In the widening, multi-front battle to secure the release of the 28 pages, House Resolution 779 could serve two purposes.

First, the prospect of a congressional declassification of the 28 pages adds a new variable for Obama to weigh as he considers his own decision to declassify the 28 pages.

REDACTED1Embedded in his pending decision is yet another question: If the pages are released, what information, if any, should continue to remain secret? Knowing that the House intelligence committee could later release additional details he chose to conceal puts additional pressure on the president to be more liberal in his declassification. If he attempts to cater to Saudi Arabia or other interested parties by leaving damning details secret, he could face criticism and questioning of his motives if and when those details come out later.

Second, the new resolution also serves as a Plan B: Should the president decide not to release the 28 pages, to do so with heavy redactions, or turn the issue back to Capitol Hill, Congress would be poised to deliver transparency to the American people on its own.

“At a minimum, the draft resolution tends to maintain a drumbeat of pressure on the issue and makes it a tad more likely that the administration will act to release the material,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, in an email to 28Pages.org.” Whether the resolution does more than that depends on what kind of reception it receives in the House.”

The development was applauded by Sharon Premoli, who endured a harrowing escape from the World Trade Center on 9/11: “I think it is unconscionable that it has taken this administration 8 years to read 28 pages and to make a decision. Anything that can move congress to declassify the 28 pages is a good thing and I support it 100 percent.”

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“Pentagon Papers” Senator Urges Use of Speech or Debate Clause to Disclose Secrets of 28 Pages

By Brian P. McGlinchey

Former Sen. Mike Gravel
Former Sen. Mike Gravel

As an intelligence community declassification review of 28 pages on foreign government links to the 9/11 hijackers enters its third year, the former senator who put the Pentagon Papers into the public record under the protection of the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause is urging members of Congress to use the same tactic to finally reveal what’s in the 28 pages.

Mike Gravel, who represented Alaska in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, has shared the idea with Senator Ron Wyden and staffers for Senators Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand. (Last year, Paul and Wyden introduced Senate Bill 1471, which would direct the president to release the pages; Gillibrand is the bill’s only other cosponsor.)

A Powerful Option Seldom Used

Found in Article 1, Section 6 of the U.S. Constitution, the Speech or Debate Clause shields senators and representatives from criminal prosecution for their remarks during official congressional business:

“Senators and Representatives…shall in all cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their attendance at the Session of their Respective Houses, and in going to and from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.”

In 1971, Gravel used the clause to single-handedly declassify 4,100 pages from the Pentagon Papers, a classified history of the Vietnam War. After securing a leaked copy of the report, he convened a meeting of a Senate subcommittee he chaired, read from them for an hour and then entered all of them into the congressional record.

In Gravel v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the Speech or Debate Clause protected both Gravel and his aide who assisted him from prosecution for the disclosure.

“What the Pentagon Papers proved in my case, which was the landmark of it, was that any member of Congress could release anything—secret, top secret, confidential—anything that they felt was in the best interest of the people to know. Period. That’s a judgment they have the power to make under the constitution,” said Gravel.

Though Gravel blazed a broad declassification trail 45 years ago, it hasn’t been used since. Now, he’d like to see the path used to bypass the executive branch’s classification of the 28 pages.

“We are three separate divisions. That’s the strength of our country. You have the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. The legislative has no obligation to honor the classification of the executive. That’s what the Speech or Debate Clause is all about,” said Gravel.

Easier Said Than Done?

“I think it’s a hypothetical scenario and not a very likely one,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “There’s a reason we call it a Pentagon Papers scenario—because it really hasn’t happened deliberately since then.”

The first hurdle to a Gravel-style release of the pages is a physical one: The pages are kept in a secure facility beneath the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress can only read them with the permission of their intelligence committee, and then do so under close observation, after first shedding their pens, papers and cell phones.

One of the 28 Pages

“The problem is that no one can take notes, so how are you going to get the 28 pages—are you going to put them in your pocket and walk out? I doubt it,” said Rep. Walter Jones, who introduced House Resolution 14, which urges the president to release the pages.

As an alternative to a cloak-and-dagger acquisition of the pages, a legislator could summarize them in a speech.

The idea of recapping 28 pages of text that are filled with dates, dollar amounts, account numbers and a variety of Arabic names struck Jones as daunting. “It would take someone with a better memory than mine,” he said with a soft chuckle.

Last month, the September 11th Advocates, a group of activist 9/11 widows, suggested an ambitious way of overcoming the limits of human memory: They challenged each member of Congress to read the 28 pages, memorize a few sentences each and then individually read them into the record in a mass act of rebellion against undue executive branch secrecy.

As much as we are determined to read every word of the 28 pages, however, it would seem that a single conscientious member of Congress could do a great deal for the cause of transparency without the need for heavy-duty memorization.

Judging from the remarks of those who’ve read them, the 28 pages contain specific “headline” revelations that could be summarized without quoting minute details like account numbers or dollar amounts—all that’s needed is an elaboration on these comments already made in public:

  • 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, when asked if the 28 pages name names: “Yes. The average intelligent watcher of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”
  • Former Sen. Bob Graham: “The 28 pages point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of 9/11.
  • Rep. Rick Nolan: “The information presents a clear and startling picture of who financed the attacks.”

Congressional Consequences

While the Speech or Debate Clause shields members from prosecution, they may face other consequences.

“It would protect them from legal liability. It would not protect them from internal sanctions by their own colleagues. They wouldn’t be arrested, but they might be censured,” said Aftergood.

Senator Mike Gravel
Senator Mike Gravel

Gravel thinks otherwise: He has been circulating a detailed analysis written by attorney Mick Harrison that concludes— given the specific facts surrounding the 28 pages—that censure wouldn’t be a possibility.

A different consequence does seem likely: “They would lose access to classified information in the future,” predicted Aftergood.

Though Gravel said he was able to view classified information after he exposed the Pentagon Papers, the more recent experience of Florida Congressman Alan Grayson lends credibility to Aftergood’s prediction.

Grayson made a speech from the House floor in which he cited Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA mass surveillance. Despite the fact that these revelations had been already published in a newspaper, Grayson says the intelligence committee chair at the time, Mike Rogers, characterized his action as a disclosure of classified information, and the House intelligence committee then denied Grayson’s request to read the 28 pages.

For Gravel, however, there’s too much at stake for the pages not to be released: “Members of Congress, under the Constitution, have a right and—believe me—an obligation, because if you don’t inform the people, they have no role in influencing government policy because they’re left in ignorance.”

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