Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement by former Gov. Tom Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, who served as chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission:
In recent days there has been a renewed call for the release of 28 pages that examined possible Saudi Arabian government involvement in the 9/11 attacks. As chairs of the 9/11 Commission, we believe it important the public understand what the Commission did with regard to the 28 pages.
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. That panel completed its report before the Commission began its work. The Commission was created, in part, to finish the work the panel had begun.
The 28 pages were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that came to the FBI. That material was then written up in FBI files as possible leads for further investigation. The 28 pages were a summary of some of those reports and leads, as of the end of 2002. Before completing its work, the congressional panel never had a chance to check out any of these leads. The 28 pages, therefore, are comparable to preliminary law enforcement notes, which are generally covered by grand jury secrecy rules. Those rules exist to avoid implicating people in serious crimes without the benefit of follow-up investigation to determine if such suspicions are substantiated.
This point is crucial because the 9/11 attacks were the worst mass murder ever carried out in the United States. Those responsible deserve the maximum punishment possible. Therefore, accusations of complicity in that mass murder from responsible authorities are a grave matter. Such charges should be levied with care.
9/11 Commission members, senior staff management, and relevant staff were given access to the 28 pages. Those pages were never in the possession of the Commission, nor did the Commission have the authority to declassify them. We deemed vigorously pursuing the congressional panel’s leads so important that we hired the person who drafted the 28 pages to work on our staff, along with the person who had assisted him. They were part of a team, overseen by a veteran former federal prosecutor with experience in terrorism cases.
That team, augmented by the Commission’s executive director, investigated over the course of 18 months all the leads contained in the 28 pages, and many more. The team conducted interviews in California, Saudi Arabia, and Europe. The results of this work are in The 9/11 Commission Report. None of the conclusions are classified. For those interested to learn what is in the 28 pages, we encourage you to read Chapters 5 and 7 of that report and, importantly, their endnotes.
It may be helpful to remind of some of the work the Commission did that stemmed from the 28 pages. Our report said that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the al Qaeda architect of the attacks, had a support network in mind for the first two would-be hijackers who came to the United States in January 2000. KSM denied this to his CIA interrogators. We did not credit these denials, for reasons we explain in the report and endnotes. We still do not know what these two men did during their first two weeks in Los Angeles, or who may have helped them. They spoke no English.
Only one employee of the Saudi government was implicated in the plot investigation. A few other such people are mentioned in the 28 pages but only one turned out to be of interest, a man named Fahad al Thumairy. He was employed by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs and was working as an imam at a mosque in Los Angeles. He became a controversial figure within the mosque and, in May 2003, after Thumairy went home to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government refused to let him back in the United States. He is still a person of interest. The congressional panel did not interview Thumairy—or any other Saudi. 9/11 Commission staff did interview him in Saudi Arabia. So did the FBI. But we had to acknowledge in our report that “we ha[d] found no evidence that Thumairy provided assistance to the two operatives.” (p. 217)
Based on all the evidence available to the Commission in July 2004, 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. (p.171)
To be sure, there is much in The 9/11 Commission Report that is highly critical of Saudi Arabia. Individual Saudis were culpable of heinous crimes: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. For years, the Saudi government tolerated and in some cases fanned the diffusion of an especially vitriolic extremist 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 an ally of the United States in combatting 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 the evidence gathered in recent years. That commission reaffirmed the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission (see p. 101 of the 9/11 Review Commission’s report). That panel also thoroughly reviewed the 28 pages and concluded that despite the fact that two FBI teams continue to actively investigate the issue, there was no new evidence against the Saudi government.
Currently, on President Obama’s instructions, the Director of National Intelligence is evaluating the 28 pages to determine whether they can be released. It is likely the administration will make a decision before too long. Whatever decision is reached, we would 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 fact-based public debate on this very important issue.