Guest Editorial: Release the secret 9/11 pages
In 2002, two years before the blockbuster 9/11 Commission report provoked by the events of that day, a bipartisan congressional task force published an 838-page report on how terrorists attacked America. But the account as released wasn’t complete: A 28-page passage that may describe possible Saudi Arabian official connections to the terrorists was kept secret.
President George W. Bush ordered those pages be withheld, purportedly for fear that their release could jeopardize America’s intelligence sources and methods. But there probably was another reason: to preserve official Washington’s relations with a longtime ally in the Middle East.
After the attacks, there was widespread suspicion that the Saudis had somehow aided al-Qaida kingpin Osama bin Laden and the plotters, possibly with financing. There were ample reasons for that suspicion. Among them: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens. So was bin Laden.
Now, under pressure from Congress, the Obama administration says it soon may release at least part of the report. The Saudis have said they would welcome the release of the chapter because it would “allow us to respond to any allegations in a clear and credible manner.”
We say, release the entire passage. Let all the facts come out. Free of selective editing by the Obama administration.
The Saudis have long denied any involvement in 9/11. The 9/11 Commission report in 2004 did not expose any direct Saudi government links to the attackers. But check this curious passage from page 171:
“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al-Qaida before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al-Qaida sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al-Qaida’s fundraising activities,” the report said. “Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al-Qaida funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaida.)”
That’s not exactly an ringing exoneration.
Former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, a Democrat who was a member of the 9/11 Commission, described the 28-page section of the earlier congressional document as a “preliminary police report”: “There were clues. There were allegations. There were witness reports. There was evidence about the hijackers, about people they met with — all kinds of different things that the 9/11 Commission was then tasked with reviewing and investigating.”
The 28-page secret passage may not be conclusive. But it could shed more light on the Saudi government’s connections, if any, to the attackers. At the very least, releasing it will dispel the notion that Riyadh and Washington have something terrible to hide.
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has read the secret pages and wants them declassified, even though he thinks doing so won’t resolve every question: “As is often the case, the reality is less damaging than the uncertainty.”
Fourteen years after the 2002 report, however, the Saudis are still on the defensive over suspicions that their country had a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Case in point: The New York Times reports that Saudi Arabia has warned the Obama administration that it will sell off up to $750 billion in Treasury securities and other assets in the U.S. if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the 9/11 attacks. Sure sounds like someone is nervous about being sued by U.S. plaintiffs.
The release of the secret pages may or may not spur efforts by families of Sept. 11 victims to hold members of the Saudi royal family, Saudi banks and Saudi charities liable for alleged financial support of terrorism. It all depends on what’s in those pages.
But that isn’t our primary reason for urging release of the passage. This is:
American intelligence agencies famously failed to connect the dots to prevent the attacks. The 9/11 Commission blamed the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies for disastrous lapses. The missing chapter should help Americans learn if congressional investigators connected any other dots.