President Joe Biden approved the declassification of key papers relating to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in a show of support for victims’ families who had long sought the materials in the hopes of incriminating the Saudi government.
Families of those who perished on that awful day nearly 20 years ago applauded the president’s move, which was considered a supporting gesture toward many who had long wanted the data, AP News reported.
The order comes just a week before the 20th anniversary of the bombings. It marks a turning point in a years-long battle between the government and the families over what secret information about the events leading up to the attacks should be made public. Last month, more than 1,800 relatives, survivors, and first responders spoke out against Biden’s involvement in 9/11 commemoration activities unless the documents were disclosed.
“The significant events in question occurred two decades ago or longer, and they concern a tragic moment that continues to resonate in American history and in the lives of so many Americans,” the executive order states. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary.”
The order authorizes the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies to undertake a declassification study and mandates the distribution of declassified documents within six months.
The FBI must finish its declassification review of materials from that probe, dubbed the “Subfile Investigation,” by Sept. 11 under the terms of the executive order.
According to the directive, the government should analyze all interview reports, documents containing investigative results, any phone and financial data, other interview reports, and other evidence deemed as possibly relevant to the attacks for declassification purposes over the following six months.
In a statement, 9/11 Families United, which is made up of loved ones of those killed, injured, or sickened due to the attacks, praised Biden’s decision.
“We are thrilled to see the President forcing the release of more evidence about Saudi connections to the 9/11 Attacks,” said Terry Strada, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, in a statement provided to Fox News. “We have been fighting the FBI and intelligence community for too long, but this looks like a true turning point.”
The executive order’s practical impact and any new documents it might produce were not immediately apparent. Numerous Saudi entanglements have been described in public records disclosed in the last two decades, notably by the 9/11 Commission, but there has been no proof of government culpability.
A long-running lawsuit filed in federal court in New York seeks to hold the Saudi government accountable, alleging that Saudi officials assisted some of the hijackers before the attacks. Former Saudi officials were questioned under oath as part of the case this year, and family members have long viewed the release of declassified materials as a significant step forward.
Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden, whose al-Qaida network was behind the attacks. The support given to the first two hijackers to arrive in the U.S., Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, has drawn particular attention. A Saudi national with ties to the Saudi government who had previously been under FBI scrutiny assisted the men in finding and leasing an apartment in San Diego.
Although many documents probing possible Saudi ties have been made public, U.S. officials have long considered some information too sensitive to be made public. Families and survivors of the murders encouraged the Justice Department’s inspector general to look into the FBI’s apparent failure to locate an image, video, and other data they are looking for on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Last month, the Justice Department said that the FBI had concluded an investigation into some 9/11 hijackers and potential co-conspirators and was working to provide more information.