Lawmakers optimistic secret 9/11 pages will soon see release

Lawmakers optimistic secret 9/11 pages will soon see release
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are growing increasingly optimistic that the federal government will soon release 28 pages of secret documents rumored to tie Saudi Arabia to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The lawmakers say renewed scrutiny on the pages from the 2002 congressional report about 9/11 has given momentum to their argument that the documents should be released.

ADVERTISEMENT

“All this has helped us,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the author of a bill pressing the White House to release the pages, told The Hill on Wednesday.

Jones said he and former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), an author of the 2002 report who has vigorously pushed for the pages to be released, will meet with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper next month to push for the analysis to be declassified.

“It’s just more and more spotlight on the issue, and that’s really what we’ve been hoping for, that the 9/11 families would be able to get some peace by reading the 28 pages — and the American people as well,” Jones said.

The issue has won renewed attention this week during President Obama’s visit to Riyadh, which coincided with a debate over legislation that would make it easier for families of the 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia’s government.

Riyadh has warned Washington that the bill could force it to sell off up to $750 billion in U.S. assets, leading to renewed questions about whether it had any role in the attacks.

The administration has pushed back forcibly against that measure.

There is bipartisan support for releasing the pages, including from the top Democrat and Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

“The benefits of publishing this information would outweigh any potential damage to America’s national security,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has also called for the pages to be released, saying earlier this month that it was a “mistake” for the Bush administration to classify them.

“I think most people who have gone through and read them multiple times are of the opinion that it would not compromise any methods and sources or anything like that,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.).

Saudi Arabia’s own government has also called for them to be made public. The kingdom’s former ambassador to the U.S. said in 2003 that the pages should be released because “Saudi Arabia had nothing to hide.”

Rumors about a link between the country’s government and 9/11 have long circulated; Osama bin Laden came from a prominent Saudi family, and 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudi citizens.

In 2002, the George W. Bush administration decided to black out a 28-page section starting on page 395 of an 830-page inquiry conducted by the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

In an introduction to the section, the lawmakers claimed, obliquely, to have “developed information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States.”

However, they added that FBI and CIA officials could not “address definitively the extent of such support for the hijackers globally or within the United States” or whether it “is knowing or inadvertent in nature.”

The independent 9/11 Commission — which was separate from the joint congressional probe — concluded in 2004 that it “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda.

Those qualifiers raised speculation about whether individual, mid-level members of the Saudi government might have provided support to the extremist group.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is currently reviewing whether the pages should be released, and it is “about to complete that process,” Obama said in a CBS interview this week.

“There’s been a concerted attempt by everybody at the White House to make sure that this follows the standard process,” press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday. “I think that is what the American people would expect when we’re talking about something as significant as information related to the terror attacks of 9/11.”

People who have read the classified pages have offered mixed reviews of their content.

“For someone who is practiced in this area and looked at it, it would probably confirm some of the suspicions that they might have had,” Lynch said on Wednesday. 

“But for people that are totally unfamiliar with it, they might find it surprising.”

Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Democratic lawmaker: Mueller testimony 'doesn't have to go beyond' report to be 'really damning' for Trump 'Fox & Friends' co-host: 'I don't think' Mueller knows the details of Mueller report MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested the details are more innocuous.  

“As is often the case, the speculation about what they contain is more damaging than, in fact, the contents of the 28 pages,” he said on MSNBC on Wednesday. “It’s really a set of allegations more than it is a set of proof, and the 9/11 Commission thereafter looked into those allegations. They weren’t able to substantiate them.”