‘28 pages, no smok­ing gun’

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Thiomas Kean, Lee Hamil­ton Kean, Lee Hamil­ton are for­mer chair­man and vice chair­man of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion and are co-chairs of the Bi­par­ti­san Pol­icy Cen­tre’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Pro­gramme.

AMID re­newed calls to de­clas sify and re­lease 28 pages of ma­te­rial about pos­si­ble Saudi Ara­bian gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in the 9/11 at­tacks, we be­lieve it is important for the public to un­der­stand what they are … and what they aren’t. First, the 28 pages were not drafted by the 9/11 Com­mis­sion. Those pages were part of a prior re­port by a con­gres­sional panel in­ves­ti­gat­ing in­tel­li­gence fail­ures re­lated to the 9/11 at­tacks. Our com­mis­sion was cre­ated, in part, to fin­ish the work of that panel. But the 28 pages of that 2002 re­port were never ours to de­clas­sify or re­lease.

The 28 pages have gen­er­ated a lot of public spec­u­la­tion over the years and have been de­scribed as a “smok­ing gun” im­pli­cat­ing the Saudi gov­ern­ment in the dead­li­est ter­ror­ist at­tack car­ried out on US soil. What of­ten gets lost in those the­o­ries is that the 28 pages were based al­most en­tirely on raw, un­vet­ted ma­te­rial that came to the FBI. That ma­te­rial was writ­ten up as pos­si­ble leads for fur- ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the 28 pages were a sum­mary of some of those re­ports and leads as of end of 2002 — all of them un­in­ves­ti­gated. The 28 pages are com­pa­ra­ble to pre­lim­i­nary law en­force­ment notes, which are gen­er­ally cov­ered by grand jury se­crecy rules.

Be­cause the con­gres­sional panel did not com­plete its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, 9/ 11 Com­mis­sion mem­bers and rel­e­vant staff were given ac­cess to the 28 pages. All the leads con­tained in them were in­ves­ti­gated by our team, which in­cluded the orig­i­nal drafter of the 28 pages as well as Di­et­rich Snell, a veteran for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor with experience in ter­ror­ism cases, and Philip Ze­likow, the com­mis­sion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. The re­sults are in the 9/11 Com­mis­sion Re­port we re­leased in July 2004, specif­i­cally chap­ters 5 and 7, as well as their end­notes. All those con­clu­sions are public; none is clas­si­fied.

Only one em­ployee of the Saudi gov­ern­ment men­tioned in the 28 pages, Fa­had al-Thu­mairy, was im­pli­cated in our plot in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He was em­ployed by the Saudi Min­istry of Is­lamic Af­fairs and was an imam at a mosque in Los An­ge­les. The ear­lier con­gres­sional panel did not in­ter­view him or any other Saudi. Our staff did in­ter­view him in Saudi Ara­bia. So did the FBI. But, ul­ti­mately, we ac­knowl­edged in our re­port that we had “found no ev­i­dence” that he as­sisted the two fu­ture hi­jack­ers who passed through Los An­ge­les.

We also looked at the ques­tion of whether Saudi Ara­bia pro­vided fi­nan­cial sup­port for the at­tacks. Based on all the ev­i­dence avail­able to the com­mis­sion, 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.

For years, the Saudi gov­ern­ment tol­er­ated and in some cases fanned the dif­fu­sion of an ex­treme 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 a US ally in com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism; many Saudi public ser­vants have died in their bat­tles with al-Qaeda op­er­a­tives.

In 2015, an­other in­de­pen­dent panel, the 9/11 Re­view Com­mis­sion cre­ated by Congress, re­viewed ev­i­dence gath­ered in re­cent years. That panel also thor­oughly re­viewed the 28 pages, and reaf­firmed the con­clu­sions of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion. It also con­cluded that there was no new ev­i­dence against the Saudi gov­ern­ment.

On Pres­i­dent Obama’s in­struc­tions, the di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence is eval­u­at­ing the 28 pages to de­ter­mine whether they can be re­leased. What­ever de­ci­sion is reached, we’d rec­om­mend that steps be taken to pro­tect the iden­ti­ties of any­one who has been ruled out by au­thor­i­ties as hav­ing any con­nec­tion to the 9/11 plot. We also rec­om­mend that the back­ground and con­text de­vel­oped in the on­go­ing FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­tained in the work of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion and the 9/11 Re­view Com­mis­sion be in­cluded. That in­for­ma­tion will help ad­vance a fact­based public de­bate on this very important is­sue. Thomas

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