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Redacted Section of 9/11 Report on Possible Saudi Ties to Al Qaeda Released

Following a lengthy declassification review, the Obama administration today released a redacted version of the controversial 28 page classified section of the 2002 Joint Congressional Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 regarding possible connections between the Saudi government and the 9/11 terrorist plotters.

But the long awaited 28 pages doesn’t necessarily contain the bombshell information some believed it contained. The once classified pages do, however, raise some troubling questions.

"The question here is whether United States law enforcement and military fully investigated the leads in the previously secret 28 pages regarding the possible involvement of the Saudi Arabian government in the 9/11 attacks," Homeland Security Today was told by Thomas M. McDonnell, a professor of international law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and author of, The United States, International Law and the Struggle against Terrorism. "Recall that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian citizens as was Osama Bin Laden."

"The broader question," he added, "is to what extent has the Saudi government’s financial support for Wahhabi imams and the spread of their extreme strain of Islam throughout the world have contributed to the rise of Al Qaeda, Daesh and Islamic terrorism generally. Given that Saudi Arabia has one of the worse human rights records on the planet, it is high time for the United States and the West generally to look beyond the economic interest in oil and demand that Saudi Arabia reject extremism in all its forms and begin to respect fundamental rights."

“Based on all the evidence available to the [9/11] Commission in July 2004, when the commission issued its final report, we found ‘no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” Al Qaeda,’” said former Gov. Tom Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, respectively chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, in a lengthy statement Friday.

However, “To be sure,” they added, “there is much in the 9/11 Commission Report that is highly critical of Saudi Arabia, and the commission also sharply criticized the conduct of other foreign governments. Individual Saudis were culpable of heinous crimes: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. For years, the Saudi government tolerated and in some cases fanned the diffusion of an especially vitriolic extremist form of Islam, funding schools and mosques across the globe that spread it. Wealthy Saudis contributed to Islamic charities, some of which had links to terrorism. That policy has had tragic consequences for Saudi Arabia itself. Extremists made the Saudi kingdom one of their top targets. This is one of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has been an ally of the United States in combatting terrorism; many Saudi public servants have died in their battles with Al Qaeda operatives.”

Continuing, Kean and Hamilton said, “Although the commission expressed concerns about multiple individuals, only one employee of the Saudi government was implicated in the commission’s plot investigation. A few other such people are mentioned in various leads, but only one turned out to be of continuing interest—a man named Fahad Al Thumairy. He was employed by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs and was working as an imam at a mosque in Los Angeles. He became a controversial figure within the mosque and, in May 2003, after Thumairy went home to Saudi Arabia, the US government refused to let him back in the United States. He is still a person of interest. The earlier congressional panel did not interview Thumairy—or any other Saudi. 9/11 Commission staff did interview him in Saudi Arabia. So didthe FBI. But we had to acknowledge in our report that ‘we ha[d] found no evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to [Al Qaeda] operatives.’”

In 2015, the 9/11 Review Commission created by Congress also reviewed the evidence gathered in recent years. That commission “reaffirmed the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission,” Kean and Hamilton said, noting, “That panel also thoroughly reviewed the Saudi-related leads in the 28 pages and concluded that despite the fact that two FBI teams continue to actively investigate the issue, there was no new evidence against the Saudi government.”

The administration sent the 28 pages, with the redactions to protect sources and methods, to congressional leadership. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) approved publication of the declassified section.

In announcing the release of the redacted 28 pages, Nunes said, “I support the administration’s decision to declassify this section of the post-9/11 Joint Inquiry. Because the information can be released without jeopardizing national security, the American people should be able to access it.”

“However,” he noted, “it’s important to note that this section does not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later fully investigated by the Intelligence Community. Many of the Intelligence Community’s findings were included in the 9/11 Commission report as well as in a newly declassified executive summary of a CIA-FBI joint assessment that will soon be released by the Director of National Intelligence.”

Schiff said, “The American people have the right to know the full scope of the matters examined by the Joint Inquiry, and I have every confidence the public can assess the allegations raised in the 28 pages and the 9/11 Commission’s conclusions on those matters. I hope that the release of these pages, with appropriate redactions necessary to protect our nation’s intelligence sources and methods, will diminish speculation that they contain proof of official Saudi Government or senior Saudi official involvement in the 9/11 attacks. The Intelligence Community and the 9/11 Commission, which followed the Joint Inquiry that produced these so-called 28 pages, investigated the questions they raised and was never able to find sufficient evidence to support them. I know that the release of these pages will not end debate over the issue, but it will quiet rumors over their contents – as is often the case, the reality is less damaging than the uncertainty."

Kean and Hamilton explained that, “These 28 pages were not drafted by the 9/11 Commission,” they pointed out, saying, “Those pages were part of a prior report by [the joint] congressional panel investigating intelligence failures related to the 9/11 attacks. That panel completed its work before the commission began its work. The 9/11 Commission was created, in part, to finish the work the congressional panel had begun. The questions and possible leads related to Saudi Arabia thus became part of the commission’s work, and the two staff members who had worked on this issue on the congressional panel joined the much larger commission staff. Thus the same substance found in the 28 pages was restated in one of several staff work plans prepared early in the commission’s labors. That staff work plan (June 2003) was declassified last year.”

“This work plan joined with several other complementary work plans prepared by other parts of the commission’s staff,” which “included the rest of the Al Qaeda plot team, the Al Qaeda terrorist finance team, the team investigating the overall background of Al Qaeda, the team investigating foreign state issues and US policy (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and so on), the team investigating FBI performance and the team working on terrorist travel/border security issues,” Kean and Hamilton said. “All those work plans, which were furtherrefined over time, guided our investigation during the following year.”

Continuing, they stated, “Both the 28 pages from 2002 and the related staff work plan of June 2003 were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that had come to the FBI. That material was then written up in FBI files as possible leads for further investigation. As of June 2003, none of these leads had been checked out. The documents are therefore comparable to preliminary law enforcement notes, which are generally covered by grand jury secrecy rules. In general, such preliminary notes should be viewed with regard to implicating people in serious crimes before there has been sufficient follow-up investigation to determine if such suspicions are substantiated.”

“This point is crucial,” they pointed out, “because the 9/11 attacks were the worst mass murder ever carried out in the United States. Those responsible deserve the maximum punishment possible. Therefore, accusations of complicity in that mass murder, made by responsible authorities, are a grave matter. Such charges should be levied with extreme care.”

Kean and Hamilton added that, “The leads developed in 2002 and 2003 were checked out as thoroughly as possible. The lead staff team was overseen by a veteran federal prosecutor with direct experience in prosecuting international terrorism cases. That team, augmented by the commission’s executive director and the work of other teams, conducted relevant interviews in California, Saudi Arabia and Europe and examined thousands of additional documents.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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