9/11 Documents To Be Declassified

Some unknown documents related to the FBI’s Investigations into the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda will be declassified in the span of 6 months, US President Joe Biden has ordered.

The move comes days before the 20th anniversary of the attacks and a month after 9/11 survivors, first responders and family members of the nearly 3,000 victims wrote a letter to the president accusing the US of deliberately hiding documents that could prove Saudi government officials’ involvement.

In their August letter, about 1,700 people directly affected by the September 11 attacks called on Biden to skip next week’s memorial events unless he released the documents. They have complaint more thoroughly after the FBI’s claim to have lost critical evidence, allegedly including photos and videotape of hijackers with Saudi officials, records of witness interviews, and phone records of conversations among the plotters.

Biden stated on Friday 3, that “when I ran for President, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment.” The President then directed the Justice Department and other agencies to begin the declassification process.

The timeline 

Family members of the 9/11 victims and other ones affected have long sought US government documents related to whether Saudi Arabia aided or financed any of the 19 people associated with al-Qaeda. They have even sued Saudi Arabia for billions of dollars.

When will we know all the information? According to journalist Julian Borger reporting from Washington, an FBI electronic communication dated April 4, 2016 will be released by 11 September. The families’ lawyers believe it is a 16-page summary of the Operation Encore findings, but the contents have not been disclosed as of yet.

Within two months of the current executive order, the FBI and other agencies will have to release “all other records that previously were withheld as classified, in full or in part, during discovery”, as well as another FBI electronic communication closing Operation Encore.

Within four months, the government will declassify “all interview reports, analytical documents, documents reporting investigative findings, or other substantive records” from the FBI’s original investigation where there is any relevance to Operation Encore.

Within six months, the government must release anything relevant from any other investigation which concerns the hijackers and any “relationship with a foreign government.” In the end, the full record should be disclosed, “except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise”, states the order.

Therefore, information will be declassified in a tailored way and when the public interest outweighs any damage to national security. Additionally, the executive order says, that information should not “remain classified in order to conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error or to prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”

Saudi Arabia’s involvement

It has been speculated that Saudi Arabia could have been directly involved in Al-Qaeda operatives and in its plan to crash three commercial jet planes into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon outside Washington, DC.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, but a US government commission found no evidence that Saudi Arabia directly funded al-Qaeda. While the 9/11 Commission report found that Saudi Arabia had been a “problematic ally”, particularly when it came to sharing intelligence, the investigation found no evidence implicating Saudi leaders or the government.

However, “this conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaida,” the report claimed.

The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks. Nevertheless, in 2016 the declassification of the final chapter of the congressional report on the attacks suggested at least that two people who assisted the hijackers may have been Saudi intelligence officers.

In 2017 former FBI Special Agent Stephen Moore, who oversaw the Los Angeles Task Force Team for PENTTBOM (the FBI’s investigation of the 9/11 attacks) confirmed that “diplomatic and intelligence personnel of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia knowingly provided material support to the two 9/11 hijackers and facilitated the 9/11 plot.”

We still do not know what kind of new information these documents could unveil. Some are saying that they will not reveal anything shockingly unexpected. Nonetheless, the Biden administration has taken a step forward when taking this decision, since previous administrations have declined to declassify supporting documents. Trump went as far as invoking the state secrets privilege in 2019 to justify keeping documents classified.

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