WASHINGTON, July 15 (UPI) — More than two dozen top secret investigative pages that contributed to the government’s official 9/11 report were finally released Friday, following years of pressure from lawmakers, leery conspiracy theorists and relatives of some of the victims.
The 29-pages of raw intelligence material, compiled by congressional investigators months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, addresses potential connections between some of the al-Qaida hijackers and the Saudi Arabian government.
The pages were not part of the 9/11 commission’s actual report, but instead were part of a joint congressional inquiry that gathered and evaluated raw intelligence that was later investigated by the commission’s members.
Included in Friday’s release was a January 2003 letter from Senate and House leaders to then-CIA Director George Tenet, which outlined the joint inquiry and the ongoing 9/11 investigation.
Recently, intelligence and legislative officials, as well as President Barack Obama, have advocated the pages’ declassification — something that is commonly done with intelligence materials after the passage of several years.
When the pages were released Friday, with small portions redacted, they offered little to further suspicions of the Saudis’ involvement with the 9/11 hijackers.
The pages, listed under the heading “Part Four — Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” include plenty of suspicion toward Saudi officials by U.S. investigators — but offer nothing in the way of firm proof establishing any link between Riyadh and the 9/11 plot.
“While in the United States, some of the hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” one page states. “There is information … that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
“The Joint Inquiry’s review confirmed that the Intelligence Community also has information, much of which has yet to be independently verified, indicating that individuals associated with the Saudi government in the United States may have other ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups,” another passage states.
For example, the pages list one individual, Omar al-Bayoumi, as being a potential tie between the Saudis and the hijackers. However, the FBI subsequently investigated al-Bayoumi and found no evidence he was ever a Saudi agent or that he was remotely involved in any radical Islamic causes.
For nearly 15 years, the former President George W. Bush‘s administration kept the pages classified out of intelligence and security concerns. Conspiracy theorists have tried to get the pages released, hoping that the pages would shed new light on the terror plot and perhaps finger new perpetrators.
The now-declassified pages might be confusing or misleading, officials say, because they don’t represent investigators’ final conclusions. In other words, they say, the pages are only a glimpse into the early stages of an extremely convoluted and very incomplete investigation. And such early stages, officials say, often involve inaccurate information.
“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,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday. “Many of the Intelligence Community’s [final] findings were [subsequently] included in the 9/11 Commission report.”
The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, released in July 2004, concluded that the Saudi government had no connection whatsoever to the attacks.
“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 committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement. “The Intelligence Community and the 9/11 Commission … investigated the questions they raised and was never able to find sufficient evidence to support them.”
The 9/11 commission did, however, fault Saudi Arabia’s government for at least tolerating and indirectly helping to spread radical Islamic ideologies — the type of philosophies that ultimately led to the attacks and the numerous terror plots around the world that followed — by funding mosques and other venues that preached more radical shades of Islam.
“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,” Schiff said.
Conspiracy theorists, though, haven’t been the only ones calling for the pages’ release.
Friday’s declassification has also been pursued by some 9/11 victims’ families who are seeking financial compensation over the attacks from the Saudi government — and any definitive link between the Saudis and the 9/11 plotters would only serve to favor the families’ claims.
Congress is presently considering legislation, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), that would allow those relatives to seek such damages in civil court — a prospect currently prohibited by federal law. The Senate approved JASTA in May but it remains unpassed in the House. Obama, also, has threatened to veto it.
The Saudi government has also asked for the pages to be declassified — hoping the release of information will show a lack of complicity or at least allow Riyadh to answer questions related to the materials.