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9/11 Families Continue to Press Biden over Declassification Review

A person stands in the rain with a red rose at the 9/11 Memorial ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City, September 9, 2021. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Family members of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are still skeptical that the Biden administration will declassify documents from the FBI investigation into the attacks, which they say point to involvement by officials in the government of Saudi Arabia.

President Biden issued an executive order last week mandating a “declassification review” of the FBI investigation. Brett Eagleson, who lost his father, Bruce, in the attacks on the World Trade Center, told National Review in a phone interview that families were “apprehensive” as to whether documents pertaining to the investigation would see the light of day.

“We think that it’s a good first step, but it’s only a first step,” Eagleson said. “Because at the end of the day, they did not compel any documents from the FBI and DOJ, and they did not guarantee anything. All Biden’s order mandated was to review what they can and can’t give us.”

The announcement of the declassification review came after hundreds of family members of 9/11 victims signed a letter telling Biden not to participate in September 11 memorial events unless he declassified investigation documents. Eagleson said the families, many of whom were “ready to protest” if Biden visited Ground Zero, relented after Biden ordered the declassification review. The White House announced on Saturday that the president would visit all three sites where the planes hijacked on 9/11 crashed: Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pa.

However, “every single one of us has a little bit of fear, we have a little bit of anxiety, thinking like, we’re totally trusting you, Biden,” Eagleson added. “We are trusting that you mean what you say, and that you’re going to follow through, and that you’re going to give us meaningful and useful documents. You’re not going to give us something that’s 50, 60 percent redacted.”

Eagleson said the families are hoping to see documents from the FBI’s initial investigation of the attacks, known as PENTTBOM, and a subsequent FBI investigation into alleged Saudi involvement in the attacks, which in 2007 was dubbed Operation Encore.

Biden’s executive order mandates a complete review of documents pertaining to the investigations within six months. However, the order also mandates the completion by Saturday of the declassification review of an “electronic communication” dated April 4, 2016, which lawyers for 9/11 families believe is a summary of Operation Encore. (Even if the review of the summary is completed, it wasn’t clear if the summary would be released immediately.)

The precise details of alleged involvement of Saudi government officials in the 9/11 plane hijackings have remained opaque, although some individuals suspected or alleged to have helped the hijackers are known to the public. They include, for example, Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah, a Saudi diplomat whose name was revealed, apparently by accident, in an FBI filing unsealed in May 2020 and reported by Yahoo! News.

A partially redacted 2012 report by FBI agents said that a Saudi consular official and imam, Fahad al-Thumairy, and a suspected Saudi government agent, Omar al-Bayoumi, were “tasked” with helping two hijackers who would go on to fly American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. The 2020 court filing indicates that agents theorized that the person who allegedly “tasked” Thumairy and Bayoumi could be the diplomat, Jarrah.

The Saudi government has long denied that any of its officials were involved in the attacks. The Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., put out a statement on Wednesday saying it “welcomed” declassification of any documents pertaining to the 9/11 investigations.

“The Kingdom has always advocated for transparency surrounding the September 11 tragedy. . . . No evidence has ever emerged to indicate that the Saudi government or its officials had previous knowledge of the terrorist attack or were in any way involved in its planning or execution,” the statement contends. “It is lamentable that such false and malicious claims persist.”

Eagleson, who along with other 9/11 families has sued the Saudi government for damages, contends that the proof is in the classified documents he hopes will be revealed soon.

PHOTO GALLERY: 9/11 Attacks

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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