9/11 Comm. Chair “Embarrassed” That U.S. Still Keeps Most Records Secret
Fourteen years after 9/11, the U.S. government maintains a robust “stonewall of official secrecy” to hide droves of documents that would likely expose incompetence inside the nation’s intelligence agencies and deceptive relations with foreign governments.
A key portion of the information that was withheld by President George W. Bush has been kept hidden by President Obama so this is not a partisan issue, but rather an ongoing effort by the government to keep the truth from the public. The alarming details are provided in a hard-hitting news article published by a nonprofit journalism watchdog on the 14th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Among the information that long ago should have been made public are 28 blanked-out pages in Congress’s 2002 inquiry into the attacks regarding “foreign support for the hijackers” – read Saudi Arabia.
Additionally thousands of significant records that should be available to the public after all these years remain off limits, including information that was provided to the 9/11 Commission for its 585-page report on the attacks that killed thousands. The Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, was quoted in the story saying that he was “surprised and disappointed” that the documents remain hidden. “I assumed, incorrectly, that our records would be public,” Hamilton said. “All of them, everything. I want those documents declassified. I’m embarrassed to be associated with a work product that is secret.”
The concealed records include key CIA, FBI and Treasury Department documents, National Security Agency intelligence files involving Al Qaeda and hundreds of “fact-finding” interviews that have been labeled “classified” by the government. The government cites national security for withholding many of the files but Bob Graham, the Democrat senator from Florida who co-chaired Congress’s Joint Inquiry into the attacks, questions the assertion. “Thousands of pages, photographs and tangible evidence have been withheld, much of which from my personal knowledge has nothing to do with keeping America safer but rather protects incompetence or relations with perfidious foreign governments,” Graham said.
The story lists a number of examples, including the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) keeping secret information about a meeting with two of Osama bin Laden’s brothers. The documents are cited in the 9/11 Commission’s report yet the OFAC claims that releasing them would constitute “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” apparently that of the bin Laden family. The OFAC also cited personal privacy for refusing to release hundreds of pages of records involving two Saudi charities designated by the Treasury Department as terrorist entities for funding al Qaeda.
A legal investigator for families of 9/11 victims encountered a similar obstacle after requesting a copy of an arrest warrant issued by Interpol for then fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The Justice Department’s Interpol-U.S. National Central Bureau said releasing information about a living person without that person’s consent generally constitutes an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and the investigator was directed to submit a privacy waiver signed by bin Laden.
The U.S. government has also done a great job hiding crucial records involving Saudi-based support for al Qaeda, essentially immunizing financiers of terrorism. An attorney representing a 9/11 victim says there’s been a “wholesale redaction of any relevant detail” involving “Saudi-based support for al Qaeda in the pre-9/11 era.” Examples include CIA documents cited prominently in the 9/11 Commission report that remain exempt under U.S. law or presidential directive. Here are some of the titles the documents identified in the news article: “Saudi-based Financial Support for Terrorist Organizations,” “Identifying Al-Qa’aida’s Donors and Fundraisers: a Status Report” and “Islamic Terrorists – Using Nongovernmental Organizations.”
Nearly a decade and a half after the worst terrorist attack in history, the public deserves to know the truth. Transparency is long overdue and officials directly involved with investigating 9/11 agree. “The United States has paid a high price in justice to injured Americans, national security and confidence in government by this secrecy,” Graham said. “It is time to let our people know.”