Bob Graham, a Democrat, represented Florida in the U.S. Senate from 1987 to 2005.
Nearly 15 years after the horrific events of 9/11, President Obama must decide whether to release 28 pages of information withheld as classified from the publicly released report of the congressional inquiry into the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans.
On April 10, the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a story about the missing 28 pages. I was one of several former public officials — including former House Intelligence Committee chairman and CIA director Porter Goss (R-Fla.) ; Medal of Honor recipient and former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.); former Navy secretary John Lehman; and former ambassador and representative Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) — who called on the White House to declassify and release the documents.
Two days after that broadcast, I received a call from a White House staff member who told me that the president would make a decision about the 28 pages no later than June. While that official made no promises as to what Obama would do, I viewed the news as a step in the right direction.
My optimism about the administration’s action on this critical issue was short-lived. On May 1, when CIA Director John Brennan appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” I watched with astonishment as he argued that the 28 pages should not be released because the American people are incapable of accurately evaluating them.
When asked by host Chuck Todd to make the case against releasing the information, Brennan replied, “I think some people may seize upon that uncorroborated, unvetted information that was in there that was basically just a collation of this information that came out of FBI files, and to point to Saudi involvement, which I think would be very, very inaccurate.”
With all due respect, that argument is an affront not only to the American public in general but also to all those who lost family members, loved ones and friends on that fateful September day in 2001. Americans are fully capable of reviewing the 28 pages and making up their own minds about their significance.
As co-chair of the Joint Inquiry Into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, I have read the 28 pages. My oath of confidentiality forbids me from discussing the specifics of that material. But while I cannot reveal those details, I strongly believe the American people deserve to know why this issue is so important. All of the references below are from the declassified, public version of the Joint Inquiry’s final report.
For the first time in more than 200 years, Congress merged two standing committees from different houses of Congress: the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The Joint Inquiry had an impressive staff selected due to its members’ experience serving or overseeing key intelligence agencies.
The first order we gave was for the intelligence agencies to preserve any information that might be useful in understanding what happened before, on and after 9/11. While reviewing these files, our experienced staff found documents that raised concerns about the possible involvement of foreign individuals and foreign sources of support for the hijackers. In several instances, agency leadership conceded that they became aware of this evidence through the probing of the Joint Inquiry staff. On Oct. 10, 2002, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testified, “I think the staff probed and, as a result of the probing, some facts came to light here and to me, frankly, that had not come to light before, and perhaps would not have come to light had the staff not probed.”
The fruit of that probing constitutes the bulk of the material that remains classified. Our final Joint Inquiry Report, released in July 2003 minus the missing 28 pages, reprimanded the agencies for a lack of attention to and action on information in their own files. This data included “information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States.” At the time, “neither CIA nor FBI officials were able to address definitively the extent of such support for the hijackers.” Given the magnitude of the potential risk to national security, the Joint Inquiry found that gap in intelligence coverage “unacceptable” and referred the information summarized in the 28 pages to the FBI and CIA for investigation “as aggressively and as quickly as possible.”
The release of the 28 pages would allow the American people to evaluate important questions, such as:
●Should we believe that the 19 hijackers — most of whom spoke little English, had limited education and had never before visited the United States — acted alone in perpetrating the sophisticated 9/11 plot?
●Did the hijackers have foreign support? If so, who provided it?
●Brennan stated the 28 pages contain information that is “uncorroborated, unvetted” and “inaccurate.” What is the investigatory basis for his conclusion?
●Has the 13-year delay in empowering the American people with the information in the 28 pages affected national security, delayed justice to the families of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11 or undermined the confidence of the American people in their federal government?
Former Illinois governor and two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson put it best: “As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the ruled, the law-givers and the law- abiding, the beginning and the end.” That unique status gives the American people all the authority and capability needed to review the 28 pages and determine the truth. It is long past time they had the opportunity.