Senior lawmakers say a secret chapter of a congressional investigation into the 9/11 attacks that has been locked away in a Capitol vault for 14 years — the so-called 28 pages that probe possible Saudi connections to the hijackers — will be released in the coming days.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, told Roll Call that the document would likely be made public by the end of the week. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam B. Schiff of California, said the release was “fairly imminent.”
The lawmakers, both of whom support making the pages public, said late Wednesday that the final decision rests with congressional leadership, and that discussions have taken place with House and Senate leaders about the correct procedure for releasing the document.
The answer to that question — how to make public the declassified pages — is not as simple as it seems.
The report was drawn up by a joint commission composed of members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. The panel released its final report in late 2002 — except for the 28 pages that President George W. Bush classified over concerns that they might expose methods and harm ties with Saudi Arabia.
The report is a congressional document, and therefore the authority to release the document rests with Congress, not the White House. But the committee that drew up the report no longer exists, so it can’t green light the publication.
Schiff said that since the panel of inquiry was made up of intelligence committee members, he thinks the intelligence committees should be the ones to release it. The original panel also voted to declassify the entire report, which Schiff thinks eliminates the need for a broader congressional vote on the release now.
“Ultimately, leadership will decide,” Schiff told Roll Call.
Pelosi, who was a member of the commission of inquiry, has publicly called for the 28 pages to be made public. Ryan has said he will defer to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes of California who supports the release.
U.S. intelligence agencies, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have been conducting a declassification review of the 28 pages since the spring.
Burr said that as of Wednesday evening, Congress had not yet received a redacted copy of the 28 pages for release, and that the intelligence committee staff had not yet been briefed by the intelligence community on the redactions.
The content of the secret pages has become the subject of intense speculation over the years for a public still hungry for answers about how 19 men — 15 of them from Saudi Arabia — managed to go unnoticed for months in the United States before killing nearly 3,000 people.
There’s no guarantee, however, that opening the cover on the secret chapter will provide answers to those questions. Even the officials who have read the 28 pages don’t agree on what to conclude.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who was co-chairman of the congressional inquiry, has long argued that there are indications in the 28 pages of official Saudi complicity in the 9/11 attacks.
“The most important unanswered question of 9/11 is did these 19 people conduct this very sophisticated plot alone, or were they supported?” Graham said in an interview with NBC this spring.
CIA Director John O. Brennan told the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel in June that the chapter presents a “preliminary review” of potential Saudi links to the hijackers.
He said the official 9/11 commission looked “very thoroughly at these allegations” and concluded “that there was no evidence to indicate that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually had supported the 9/11 attacks.”
Schiff said the chapter “reads like a police report,” while Maine independent Sen. Angus King said that in his judgment, “there’s not anything starling.”
The release would come at a tense time in U.S.-Saudi relations. Officials in Riyadh have grown increasingly frustrated with the Obama administration over its willingness to engage Saudi-rival Iran, and its unwillingness to take more forceful steps in Syria against President Bashar Assad.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have also expressed frustration with America’s Saudi allies. In May, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would allow Americans to sue the Saudi government for any role in the Sept. 11 plot. Families of those killed during 9/11 have welcomed the legislation, although the White House has threatened to veto the measure.
The 9/11 families have also pushed for the release of the 28 pages, which they consider potentially important evidence in their claims against Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials, meanwhile, have brushed aside allegations of any link with the hijackers.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said recently that if people look at the document and the results of later investigations into the 9/11 attacks, “they will come to the conclusion that these allegations are unsubstantiated, unproven and nobody should make a big deal out of them.”