Biden signs executive order ordering the declassification of 9/11 documents

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday that ordered a review of the classified documents related to the 9/11 terror attacks – with the promise of releasing more information to the public.   

Biden had been told by nearly 1,800 Americans impacted by the terror attacks last month – including victims’ family members, first responders and survivors – not to come to any of the 20th anniversary events unless he declassified documents that potentially show Saudi government links to the September 11, 2001 hijackers. 

The order makes no mention of Saudi Arabia.  

‘When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America,’ Biden said in a statement. ‘As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment.’ 

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‘Today, I signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to oversee a declassification review of documents related to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s September 11th investigations. The executive order requires the Attorney General to release the declassified documents publicly over the next six months,’ Biden said.   

Biden’s move could spare him the embarrassment of being snubbed by victims’ family members at memorial events, which will take place next Saturday in New York, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

Biden is expected to go to New York, but the White House hasn’t made those plans official.    

‘My heart continues to be with the 9/11 families who are suffering, and my Administration will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community. I welcome their voices and insight as we chart a way forward,’ Biden also said. 

 The Twin Towers are seen on fire minutes after commercial airplanes were crashed into them by Al Qaeda hijackers on September 11, 2001 

Family groups had applied additional pressure to the government on Thursday, writing a letter to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz asking him to probe the FBI’s handling of 9/11 evidence. 

The families allege that ‘circumstances make it likely that one or more FBI officials committed willful misconduct with intent to destroy or secrete evidence to avoid its disclosure.’  

The letter has the signatures of nearly 3,500 family members, first responders and survivors.   

In the run-up to the executive order’s release, 9/11 families were fearful Biden’s executive order could be a potential letdown, just as they were wary of the president’s move in early August signaling support of the Justice Department’s move to conduct a ‘fresh review’ of the documents.   

‘As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege,’ the president said in a statement on August 9. ‘In this vein, I welcome the Department of Justice’s filing today, which commits to conducting a fresh review of documents where the government has previously asserted privileges, and to doing so as quickly as possible.’ 

Earlier that day, the United States Attorney of the Southern District of New York wrote to the judges overseeing the lawsuit the 9/11 families have filed against Saudi Arabia informing the parties that ‘the FBI has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure.’

‘The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible,’ the letter said. 

Brett Eagleson, who lot his father Bruce in the Twin Towers attacks, and has been an advocate for the families, indicated he would stay skeptical until the documents are released. 

‘We appreciate President Biden acknowledging our families today as we pursue justice and accountability against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, however, we have heard many empty promises before,’ Eagleson said in a statement to 

Eagleson pointed out that the Department of Justice and the FBI have had three years to ‘review’ the files. 

He said the agencies can ‘act immediately to produce the documents including the unredacted 2016 FBI Review Report of the bureau’s years-long investigation of Saudi government agents who “are known to have provided substantial assistance to” the hijackers, as well as phone records and witness statements.’   

‘Just today, the DOJ finally admitted that its investigation is actually closed, contrary to the bureau’s prior claims about investigative status,’ Eagleson said. 

‘We hope the Biden administration comes forward now to provide the information the 9/11 community has waited to receive for 20 years, so we can stand together with the president at Ground Zero on 9/11,’ he added. 

In his statement, Biden commiserated with the families saying, ‘I know well the all-consuming grief of losing someone you love so suddenly.’ 

‘I can only imagine the added pain these families have endured, spending 20 years pursuing accountability and justice,’ the president added. 

The family groups renewed the public push to have the 9/11-Saudi documents declassified after the federal government released an intelligence report in March that said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  

‘I don’t understand how our government can release the documents on the murder of one man two years ago but not the documents on the murder of 3,000 people 20 years ago,’ Eagleson told Yahoo News then.  

The families’ lawyer, James Kreindler, told Yahoo that the release of the Khashoggi report gives his clients fresh leverage to demand the 9/11 documents be released too. 

Those documents include a 2012 FBI report on the suspected links between Saudi government officials and the hijackers. 

The 9/11 families hit a bump in the road during the last administration when Attorney General Bill Barr and acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell prevented the release of additional FBI disclosures that were sought as evidence in the civil lawsuit against the Saudi government.  

In April 2020, Barr, Grenell and other Trump administration officials used last-minute court filings to stop the release, arguing that the disclosures would imperil national security. 

They couldn’t even reveal their justification for why the release could harm national security, because that could too, the officials argued, according to ProPublica’s reporting

Another lawyer for the families, Steven Pounian, told ProPublica at the time, ‘The extraordinary lengths that they’re going to here suggest that there must be some deep, dark secret that they’re still trying very hard to hide after almost 20 years.’ 

‘But who are they protecting?’ Pounian asked. ‘Something might be a Saudi government secret. But how can these be secrets that still need to be kept from the American people after all this time?’  

The 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report found that while 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, investigators found no evidence of the Saudi government funding or approving the attack. 

The 9/11 families first sued the Saudi government in 2003, but federal law at the time shielded the foreign government from lawsuits in American courts. 

Congress overruled President Barack Obama’s veto to change the law in 2016. 

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