After more than 13 years of secrecy, US intelligence officials have released 28 classified pages from the congressional investigation into the September 11 terror attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania in 2001.
The document was released with minimal redactions and details information about the 19 hijackers – 15 of whom were Saudi nationals – and their known associates who assisted them in their living situations and helped them attend flight school. The pages were believed to provide evidence that the Saudi Arabian government supported the hijackers.
“Acccording to various FBI documents and at least one CIA memorandum, osme of the September 11 hijackers, while in the United States, apparently had contacts with individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government,” one section of the document reads.
Victims and lawmakers have urged Congress to declassify the top secret pages since 2003, accusing the inquiry of not adequately investigating the apparent connection between Saudi officials and the hijackers – 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.
The bipartisan inquiry did not investigate the extent of the relationship between the hijackers and the Saudi government because it recognised “that such a task would be beyond the scope of this Joint Inquiry”.
Instead, the inquiry said it delivered the information to the FBI and CIA to further investigate those connections.
Saudi officials had called for the release of the documents from the 2002 investigation in order to respond to allegations and take punitive action against any members of the government or nationals who provided support to the hijackers.
“Since 2002, the 9/11 Commission and several government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI,” Saudi ambassador to the US Abdullah Al-Saud said in a statement, “have investigated the contents of the ‘28 Pages’ and have confirmed that neither the Saudi government, nor senior Saudi officials, nor any person acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement for these attacks.
“We hope the release of these pages will clear up, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia's actions, intentions, or long-term friendship with the United States,” he added. “Saudi Arabia is working closely with the United States and other allies to eradicate terrorism and destroy terrorist organisations.”
Prior to the Friday afternoon release of the document, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the report would “confirm what [the Obama administration has been saying for quite some time”, explaining that the redacted pages only included preliminary investigative information.
Former Sen Bob Graham, who co-chaired the first congressional inquiry, had pushed the Obama administration for the release of the documents. On Thursday, when officials first announced that they expected to release the documents, Mr Graham told CNN he was “very pleased” with the news. Yet, the Florida Democrat remained skeptical.
“It is going to increase the questioning of the Saudis' role supporting the hijackers,” Mr Graham said. “I think of this almost as the 28 pages are sort of the cork in the wine bottle. And once it's out, hopefully the rest of the wine itself will start to pour out.”
He added: “Would the US government have kept information that was just speculation away from American people for 14 years if somebody didn't think it was going to make a difference?”
However, House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes said that the declassification of the pages “does not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later fully investigated by the intelligence community.”
The official 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, said that evidence suggested that the Taliban was the only government supporter of al Qaeda and the hijackers.
“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda's fundraising activities,” the report said.
“Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organisation. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda.)”