President Biden ordered a declassification review of secret documents related to the FBI’s 9/11 investigation, the White House announced Friday.
Biden signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice and other agencies to oversee the review — and ordering Attorney General Merrick Garland to release any declassified documents publicly over the next six months.
“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America,” Biden said in a statement. “As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment.”
The president has been under mounting pressure from some victims’ families and attack survivors to release the records amid claims they show links between Saudi Arabia and Al Qaeda.
A group of 1,800 people affected by the terror attacks told Biden last month not to attend their 20th anniversary memorial services unless he ordered the release of the documents.
“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason – unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise – to keep this information secret,” the group said in a statement.
The group 9/11 Families United praised the review.
“We are thrilled to see the President forcing the release of more evidence about Saudi connections to the 9/11 Attacks,” Terry Strada, whose husband died in the attacks, said in a statement for the group. “We have been fighting the FBI and intelligence community for too long, but this looks like a true turning point.”
Still, the practical impact of the executive order and any new documents it might yield was not immediately clear. Past investigations have outlined ties between Saudi nationals and some of the airplane hijackers, but have not established the government was directly involved.
A long-running lawsuit in federal court in New York alleges that Saudi officials provided significant support to some of the hijackers before the attacks and aims to hold the kingdom accountable. The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks.
As a candidate in 2020, Biden had told some of the group that he would direct the Justice Department to “err on the side of disclosure,” the statement claimed.
Questions have long lingered over the Saudi government’s role or complicity in the 9/11 terror attacks, in which terrorists killed almost 3,000 people by crashing highjacked planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and into a field in Shanksville, Pa.
A 2002 congressional report found connections between some highjackers and members of the Saudi government, but didn’t conclude there the government or officials had any direct role in the attacks.
The FBI’s Review Report into Operation Encore which concluded 2016 has been a focus of some 9/11 victims’ families, who are suing Saudi Arabia over its alleged role. A 2012 Encore-related memo outlined Saudi officials including a worker in the Saudi Embassy of assisting the hijackers find a place to live and get flight lessons.
A group of New York and New Jersey lawmakers including Senate Leader Chuck Schumer recently sent a letter to the attorney general contesting the “state secrets privilege” that former administrations had used to halt the declassification of documents related to the FBI’s probe.
Biden in his statement said the pain of the families of those killed should never be forgotten.
“For them, it was not only a national and international tragedy,” Biden said. “It was a personal devastation. For 20 years, children have grown up without parents and parents have suffered without children.
“Husbands and wives have had to find a way forward without their partners in life,” he went on. “Brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, loved ones and friends have celebrated 20 years of birthdays, family gatherings, and milestones looking at an empty chair at homes and with a hole in their hearts.”
With Post wires