9/11 Commission Leaders Circle Wagons Around Their Legacy

By Brian P. McGlinchey

Tom Kean
9/11 Commission Co-Chair Tom Kean

With the campaign to declassify 28 pages from a congressional inquiry moving ever closer to its goal, the chairmen and executive director of the 9/11 Commission are doing their best to discount the significance of the pages, which are said to illustrate damning ties between Saudi Arabia and 9/11.

In interviews, a formal statement and an op-ed piece, the three have cast doubt on the contents of the final, 28-page chapter of a 2002 congressional report.

Their aspersions can be reduced to two propositions:

  • Comparable to “preliminary police notes,” the 28 pages are a collection of “raw, unvetted material,” and were rendered obsolete after the 9/11 Commission fully investigated those and other leads and issued its own final conclusions.
  • Releasing the 28 pages in full could cast a shadow of guilt on individuals who, via the 9/11 Commission’s investigation, were later deemed innocent.

As citizens and journalists weigh the commentary of commission chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton and executive director Philip Zelikow, they should consider the possibility that members of the Saudi royal family aren’t the only ones whose reputations may be harmed by the release of the pages: To the extent that the release of the 28 pages undermines the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission, Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow may have an interest in minimizing their significance. 

Before we proceed, note the 28 pages are not in the 9/11 Commission Report—they’re in the report of a joint congressional intelligence inquiry that preceded the commission.

Conflicting Justifications for Secrecy

There’s a glaring disconnect between the rationale for the redaction of the 28 pages advanced by Zelikow, Kean and Hamilton and the one offered by President George W. Bush when he classified them. While the three commission leaders argue that secrecy was warranted because the material was unvetted and hence unreliable, Bush said classification was necessary to protect intelligence “sources and methods.”

Republican Porter Goss, who co-chaired the joint inquiry and supports the release of the pages, likewise struck national security chords in 2003 as he tried to put the best face on Bush’s decision, saying nothing to question the reliability of the information that was concealed.

Speaking broadly of the need to keep some information in the 838-page report secret, Goss said, “You have to remember we are at war and there are some actionable items still being pursued by the appropriate authorities.” Then, apparently referring to the 28 pages, he said, “You’ll find there’s a couple of blank pages…as soon as the actions that are necessary to deal with those issues are completed, those pages will be filled out.” Not revised, corrected or repudiated after vetting. “Filled out” after action is taken.

Former Sen. Bob Graham
Bob Graham

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the joint inquiry, flatly refuted the idea that the 28 pages are raw, unvetted material.

Asked if it’s correct to compare the 28 pages to leads in an initial police report, Graham replied, “No. This report was 850 pages. This is 28 pages out of 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.”

Serious Doubts About Thoroughness of Commission

In their Friday statement, Kean and Hamilton remind us that the commission—as controversially stated on page 171 of its report—“found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

That assertion raises a question that goes to the heart of the 28 pages controversy, a question that could threaten the reputations of Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow: Just how thoroughly did the 9/11 Commission pursue leads both inside and outside the 28 pages that point toward Riyadh?  

Philip Zelikow
Philip Zelikow

Though it may come as a surprise to journalists who are reporting the trio’s criticism of the 28 pages without scrutinizing much less acknowledging their potential conflicts of interest, there are many reasons to doubt that the probe of Saudi links was pursued with the vigor that 9/11 victims and the American people deserved.

That doubt specifically springs from Hamilton and Kean’s lack of investigative assertiveness in the face of Bush administration obstructionism, and the manner in which executive director Zelikow ran the inquiry.

  • Commission member and former senator Bob Kerrey, in a statement submitted in the 9/11 victims’ suit against Saudi Arabia, said “evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued.”
  • As Philip Shenon recounted in The Commission, 9/11 commission member and former Navy secretary John Lehman “was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda. ‘They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia,’ Lehman said. ‘Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.'”
  • Kean and Hamilton, against advice from commission member and former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick, ruled out the routine use of subpoenas to compel full cooperation by various parts of the government, including the White House.
  • Bush had a close personal relationship with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Investigators learned Bandar’s wife wrote checks worth tens of thousands of dollars that eventually found their way to the wife of Omar al-Bayoumi, who is widely suspected of being a Saudi government operative. Bayoumi helped two future 9/11 hijackers find lodging and provided ongoing assistance to them. (With an admitted air of speculation, note that Lehman told 60 Minutes the 28 pages not only named names, but that “the average intelligent viewer of 60 Minutes would recognize them instantly.”)
  • The commission bent to the White House’s controversial demands that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney only be interviewed by a limited number of commission members, in private at the White House, with no recording or transcription of the conversation. Kean and Hamilton also conceded to the extraordinary White House stipulation that Bush and Cheney were to be interviewed simultaneously, as a team.
  • Commission member Slade Gorton said the questioners, apparently mesmerized by the Oval Office environment, went easy on Bush and Cheney: “Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when they went in.” Lehman asked Bush about the money transfers from Bandar’s wife to the wife of the alleged hijacker-handler in San Diego. “He dodged the questions,” said Lehman.
  • Zelikow had close ties to the Bush administration: He co-authored a book with Condoleezza Rice, worked on the transition team and commission staffers were alarmed to learn, against policy, he had ongoing contacts with Bush political advisor Karl Rove during the investigation. The first public witness Zelikow called was an individual with no special expertise on 9/11 who used the opportunity to endorse the U.S. invasion of Iraq that had commenced the week before.
  • Mike Jacobson and Dana Lesemann wrote the 28 pages for the congressional inquiry and also worked for the commission. When they set out to further their investigation of Saudi links, they compiled a list of 20 individuals they wanted to interview. Zelikow declared 20 was too many, and directed them to pick just 10, going against basic investigative principles that suggest casting as wide an initial net as possible.
  • After repeatedly asking Zelikow for access to the 28 pages without effect, Lesemann, fed up, went around him to gain access on her own; when Zelikow found out, he fired her.
  • With the commission’s final report nearly complete, Jacobsen was alarmed by a midnight call tipping him off that Zelikow and commission investigator Dieter Snell were rewriting findings that dealt with Saudi Arabia. As Shenon wrote, they removed “virtually all of the most serious allegations against the Saudis” and shifted important information into the footnotes. Members of the investigative team felt the excessive standard of proof demanded by Snell would effectively exonerate the guilty.
  • Rep. Walter Jones read the 28 pages and is championing their release. Asked last week if the government derailed the investigation to protect Bandar and other VIPs, Jones said, “Things that should have been done at the time were not done. I’m trying to give you an answer without being too explicit.”

New Indications of Political Influence on Saudi Investigation

Last week, 28Pages.org broke news by drawing to public notice a recently declassified 9/11 Commission document. While its revelation of a mysterious Saudi embassy envelope made headlines around the world, another revelation has thus far flown largely under the media radar: Jacobson and Lesemann, at the outset of their commission work, questioned the aggressiveness of the investigation of links between the 9/11 attacks and the Saudi Arabia, and wanted to probe the extent to which “political, economic and other influences” had affected that line of inquiry.

Document 17 Two Questions

As we wrote last week:

Organizationally set apart from dozens of other questions as among the more important, overarching lines of inquiry for their particular avenue of the commission’s work, the significance of the questions’ presence in Document 17 is amplified by the absence of corresponding answers in the commission’s final report.

At some point—perhaps after Lesemann’s determined interest in Saudi links to 9/11 led to her dismissal—someone apparently determined a public study of those critical questions was beyond the scope of work.

Between facts old and new, there seems ample reason to place an asterisk after the 9/11 Commission’s declaration that it found no links between the Saudi government and the al Qaeda hijackers. With an eye on the commission’s dubious investigatory approach and stark indications of political influence and White House obstruction, informed citizens and journalists want to know: Just how hard did the commission really look?

As Kean, Hamilton and Zelikow continue their campaign against the credibility of the 28 pages, the world awaits the journalist who will ask them that.

Our gratitude to 9/11 justice advocate Jon Gold for his collections of many facts cited above

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28Pages.org Exclusive: A Buried Envelope and Buried Questions: Your First Look Inside Declassified Document 17

Congressmen Reiterate Call for Release of 9/11 Secrets

Rep. Thomas Massie
Rep. Thomas Massie

When Congressman Thomas Massie first arrived in Washington, DC as a freshman from Kentucky, a long-tenured North Carolinian, Walter Jones, asked him an intriguing question.

“He said, ‘Did you realize there’s 28 pages of the 9/11 report that never been released, but as a congressman, you can go read them in a secret room?’,” Massie recalled on The Tyler Cralle Show (audio below).

His curiosity piqued, the MIT grad obtained permission to read the 28 pages and proceeded to a secure, soundproof facility in the basement of the Capitol where he read them under close observation and without the option of taking notes or bringing anyone from his staff.

Massie was surprised by what he found, telling host Tyler Cralle, “They’re the most consequential pages in the thousand-page report.” At a 2014 press conference, Massie said the experience was “shocking,” and that he had to “stop every couple pages and try to rearrange my understanding of history.”

Jones, who joined Massie in his discussion with Cralle, said, “There’s a lot of information (in the 28 pages) the American people and the 9/11 families have a right to see. The American people cannot trust a government that will not let them see information on one of the worst tragedies in America.”

Pages Said to Implicate Saudi Arabia

Former Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired the 2002 joint congressional intelligence inquiry that produced the 28 pages, has said the 28 pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the attacks.

Rep. Walter Jones
Rep. Walter Jones

The pages—an entire chapter of the joint inquiry report—were classified by the Bush White House. “After reading those pages, I will tell you that I can I can understand (why)…because the Bush administration was very close to the Saudis, if you remember. The king actually visited Crawford, Texas,” said Jones.

Republicans Jones and Massie, along with Democrat Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, are leading the House effort to release the 28 pages. The focus of their campaign is House Resolution 14, which urges the president to release them.

Noting the resolution has attracted a modest 18 cosponsors to date, Massie said, “Trust me, it’s a dangerous thing to cosponsor this because they want to keep this under the rug.” Nonetheless, he said it’s important “to release those 28 pages in the 9/11 report that will once and for all show the American people what caused 9/11 and who funded it.”

Life and Death Decisions Demand Full Information

Jones also told radio host Cralle about his decision-making process regarding the upcoming vote on the Iranian nuclear agreement.

His scrutiny of the topic has already included consultation with Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor to Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush (he supports it), and will include discussion with scientists and a thorough reading of the arrangement, which places additional safeguards on Iran’s nuclear program that go beyond the ones already imposed on the country as a signatory to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Jones said his very deliberate approach to the vote reflects a painful lesson learned in 2002, when he voted to authorize military action against Iraq.

“I did not do what I should have done to read and find out whether Bush was telling us the truth about Saddam being responsible for 9/11 and having weapons of  mass destruction. Because I did not do my job then, I helped kill 4,000 Americans and I will go to my grave regretting that.”

Though he was talking about Iraq and Iran, his conviction that a full understanding of the facts should precede any critical national security decision seems equally applicable to his drive to release the 28 pages.

That same conviction motivates Massie: “If we’re going to be fighting more wars ostensibly because of terrorism and to keep us safe, shouldn’t we know what caused and what enabled 9/11? The American people are in the dark right now.”

The conversation about the 28 pages begins at the 21:00 mark in the broadcast.

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Rand’s Next Stand: Declassifying Foreign Government Ties to 9/11

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.”

Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul

Paul’s introduction of Senate Bill 1471—similar to House Resolution 14—represents a major milestone in the growth and visibility of the nonpartisan 28 pages movement.

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.”

Former Senator Bob Graham
Former Senator Bob Graham

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.

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Video: Press Conference Introducing Senate 28 Pages Resolution on June 2, 2015

Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul

As 28Pages.org was first to report last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has introduced a Senate bill urging the president to declassify 28 pages on foreign government ties to the 9/11 hijackers. He will be joined in leading this effort by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

Senate Bill 1471 was introduced at a Capitol Hill press conference where Senator Paul was joined by Congressmen Walter Jones, Stephen Lynch and Thomas Massie as well as former Senator Bob Graham and several 9/11 family members, including Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.

Press conference video courtesy of LaRouchePAC. 28Pages.org is not affiliated with LaRouchePAC but is grateful to that organization for its ongoing, professional video coverage of many events relating to this issue. 

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MAJOR DEVELOPMENT: Rand Paul, Ron Wyden to Introduce 28 Pages Bill in Senate

Senator Rand Paul
Senator Rand Paul

By Brian McGlinchey

The growing, nonpartisan drive to declassify a 28-page finding on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers is about to take an enormous step forward with the introduction of a Senate bill urging the president to release the material to the public.

Dramatically compounding the issue’s visibility, the bill is being introduced by high-profile Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul of Kentucky.

A spokesperson for Senator Paul told 28Pages.org that Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden will cosponsor the bill, which will serve as the upper chamber’s counterpart to House Resolution 14. Wyden is a member of the Senate intelligence committee.

Paul will unveil the Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims Act at a Capitol Hill press conference on Tuesday, June 2 at 10:00 am, joined by Representatives Walter Jones (R, NC), Stephen Lynch (D, MA), Thomas Massie (R, KY) and former Democratic Senator Bob Graham.

Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Ron Wyden

Jones, Lynch and Massie introduced H.Res.14 and have been championing the issue—and seeking like-minded senators to lead the cause in the upper chamber—since December 2013.

Aided by Graham, who co-chaired the joint congressional 9/11 inquiry that wrote the 28 pages as one chapter in a far larger report, their success in securing the leadership of Paul and Wyden represents a critical milestone for the 28 pages movement.

As Paul and Wyden seek cosponsors for the bill, there are 11 senators whose support should—on principle, if not politics—be automatic:  Patrick Leahy (VT), Barbara Mikulski (MD), Harry Reid (NV), Barbara Boxer (CA), Patty Murray (WA), Dick Durbin (IL), Jack Reed (RI), Chuck Schumer (NY), Bill Nelson (FL), Tom Carper (DE) and Maria Cantwell (WA).  What do these 11 Democrats have in common? Months after the December 2002 release of the congressional intelligence report that holds the 28 pages, each of them signed a 2003 letter to President George W. Bush protesting his decision to redact the 28 pages and urging him to release them. In part, that letter read:

Unfortunately, because all but two pages of the entire section have been deemed too secret for public disclosure, the American people remain in the dark about other countries that may have facilitated the terrorist attacks. It has been widely reported in the press that the foreign sources referred to in this portion of the Joint Inquiry analysis reside primarily in Saudi Arabia. The decision to classify this information sends the wrong message to the American people about our nation’s anti-terror effort and makes it seem as if there will be no penalty for foreign abettors of the hijackers…Protecting the Saudi regime by eliminating any public penalty for the support given to terrorists from within its borders would be a mistake.

Among those 11 natural candidates to join the Paul-Wyden bill, one stands out: Schumer led the 2003 letter-writing effort. At the time, he said, “The bottom line is that keeping this material classified only strengthens the theory that some in the U.S. government are hellbent on covering up for the Saudis. If we’re going to take terrorism down, that kind of behavior has got to be nipped in the bud and shedding some light on these 28 pages would start that process.”

The 28 Pages and the Ongoing Scourge of  Terrorism

Calling the bill the “Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims Act” is an important acknowledgement that 9/11 family members deserve to know the full circumstances of their loved ones’ murders—and to access information that could be useful in lawsuits they’ve filed against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Then again—given the broad impact of 9/11 and the ensuing “War on Terror,” 9/11 transparency is truly owed to every American citizen and to people all around the world. Former Senator Graham and House leaders of the 28 pages movement who’ve read the 28 pages argue that their release is vital to the ongoing struggle with terrorism.

According to Graham, “the 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.” He has also said the U.S. government’s shielding of Saudi Arabia’s role in funding extremism helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS. The House’s Lynch made a similar point in a 2014 story written by the Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender:

(Lynch) believes the information has direct bearing on the new war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other militant Sunni Muslim groups that are believed to be drawing some of their funding from the same Arab states that America considers key allies. The revelations are central to understanding “the web of intrigue here and the treacherous nature of the parties we are dealing with — the terrorists and their supporters,” Lynch said in an interview.

Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie, in a memorable 2014 press conference, described the experience of reading the 28 pages as “shocking” and said “I had to stop every couple of pages and…try to rearrange my understanding of history…It challenges you to rethink everything.” (Watch it here.)

9/11 family members say President Obama, on two different occasions, gave assurances that he would release the 28 pages. Last September, responding to a report on the 28 pages by CNN’s Jake Tapper, the White House’s National Security spokesperson said, “Earlier this summer the White House requested that (the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) review the 28 pages from the joint inquiry for declassification. ODNI is currently coordinating the required interagency review and it is ongoing.”

It takes the average adult about 28 minutes to read 28 pages, but more than 8 months after the White House statement—and almost 14 years since the September 11 attacks—the pages remain under close guard in the basement of the United States Capitol. Brian McGlinchey is the founder and director of 28Pages.org

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