Twenty-eight secret pages from a Congressional inquiry have generated a ton of interest in the wake of President Obama’s recent meeting in Riyadh with Saudi Arabian King Salman. According to observers, as well as at least one influential insider, 28 top-secret pages of a report authored by the 9/11 Commission may contain information that links the Saudi government to support of the hijackers. Calls for declassifying the 28 secret pages come as President Obama has pushed the Saudi government to renew joint efforts to increase counterterrorism efforts. Relations between the two nations, already tense, have become even more strained as calls to release the report’s 28 secret pages have increased.
Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, onetime head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, played a key role in the classification of the 28 secret pages. Now he believes that their redacted status should be reversed. Graham and former Florida Representative Porter Goss (who also went on to be a Director of the CIA) note that the material was classified by the Bush Administration in the interests of national security, but Graham believes that the 28 secret pages contain material revealing a network of people that likely supported the hijackers while they lived in the U.S.
Interestingly, such a statement from such a highly placed and knowledgeable source runs counter to previous claims that declassified reports reveal no evidence of Saudi involvement. Court reviews of these released documents have led to the same conclusion. Apparently, whatever information that was revealed in previous releases bears little in common in whatever is contained in these 28 secret pages. Adding to the intrigue, recent revelations show that a flight training certificate belonging to known al-Qaeda operative and Guantanamo detainee Ghassan al-Sharbi was found tucked in an official Saudi Arabian Embassy envelope upon al-Sharbi’s arrest in Pakistan.
Recently, Congress has been considering a bill that would allow victims of terrorist attacks, such as the events of 9/11, to sue foreign governments thought to have provided financial and other material support to the perpetrators of the attack. Part of the deliberations have included the classified status of the 28 secret pages, which Saudi officials have asked to be made public since 2003, stating that doing so would give them the opportunity to offer defense against claims that they provided support to the terrorists. The Bush Administration refused to do so, deciding that such an action would negatively impact its ability to gather sufficient, actionable intelligence on suspected terrorists; a policy that the Obama Administration adopted and carried on.
Whatever the current thoughts of the Saudi government regarding the possible declassification of the 28 secret pages, they are not nearly as sanguine in their views on the proposed bill allowing victims of terrorism to sue foreign government. Saudi officials, including Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, have threatened to sell of hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets if Congress passes the bill, an action that would have dire consequences for the American economy. Saudi Arabia holds, at a minimum, some $750 billion in U.S. Treasury securities and other assets. The mounting tension between the two nations was made evident during President Obama’s recent visit to Riyadh. Upon disembarking at King Khalid International Airport, Mr. Obama was greeted not by the king, but by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the governor of Riyadh.
Senator Graham was neither surprised nor moved by the threats coming out of Riyadh, putting forth the opinion that both Washington and Riyadh knew what the Saudis did at their highest level of government. This insinuation seems to agree with the claims of convicted 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui that at least some members of the Saudi family supported al-Qaeda. Some observers believe that the declassification and public release of the 28 secret pages will negate the Saudi’s ability to make good on their threats. In that camp may be current CIA Director John Brennan, who believes the 28 secret pages contain preliminary links to Saudi involvement that could not be verified at the time.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]