‘28 pages, no smoking gun’
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