FBI Director Christopher Wray promised the bureau would do “everything they possibly can” to declassify information related to any connections between Saudi Arabia’s government and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people is approaching, and family members of the victims have spent years seeking information about the role that certain members of Saudi intelligence may have played in facilitating the operation, with the Justice Department citing state secrets privilege in the federal lawsuits. Wray was repeatedly pressed on the issue on Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, and the FBI chief said he would discuss further declassifications with Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, contended: “From at least 2007 to 2016, the FBI conducted an investigation into evidence that the Saudi government agents provided essential assistance to the first arriving 9/11 hijackers. And the FBI and DOJ have publicly acknowledged that three Saudi government agents are primary subjects of that investigation, which is named Operation Encore.”
Massie pointed to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a 2016 law that was enacted over a veto by then-President Barack Obama and which empowers the families of the victims of 9/11 to continue their civil lawsuits against Saudi Arabia in federal court.
“The 9/11 families issued a subpoena in 2018 for records from the FBI’s 9/11 investigative files that are critical to that lawsuit,” Massie said. “According to lawyers for those families of the victims, the FBI has refused to search its complete files for responsive documents, claiming it would be too burdensome to do so, and the FBI has withheld certain key documents and significantly redacted others, despite the fact that the records concerning events that occurred 20 years ago.”
Massie asked: “Will you commit today that the FBI will conduct a review of all its relevant 9/11 files on an expedited basis to identify documents relevant to the family’s lawsuit and to produce them to the fullest extent possible without sacrificing justice for the victims in the name of diplomacy?”
Wray replied: “I will make sure that our folks are doing everything they possibly can, consistent with our responsibilities. Obviously, there are matters that involve classified information. There are matters that involve grand jury information. I do know that the Justice Department has asserted the state secrets privilege and that I understand that that has been upheld by both magistrate judge and the district judge about some information.
“I also know, though, and I think this is important for me to add, that we have produced and worked diligently to produce thousands of documents, including ones that have rarely been released. And I would not want to leave this exchange without telling you how much I care about this issue. The families of the 9/11 victims matter deeply to me, and I know they’re frustrated.”
When asked if he would formally request the DNI to review documents the FBI has withheld, Wray said:
“I’m happy to take a look with the DNI and others to see if there’s more information that can be declassified.”
Terry Strada and Brett Eagleson, whose husband and father respectively were killed at the World Trade Center, are the national co-chairs of 9/11 Community United, which works with families and survivors on this issue, and both released statements following Wray’s testimony.
Strada said: “We appreciate Director Wray’s statement that the FBI is working to declassify this critical information, but to say that we are ‘frustrated’ would be a massive understatement. Even as we approach the 20 year anniversary of that horrific day, we face the deeply painful and heartbreaking reality that our own government has chosen to conceal evidence of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks.”
Eagleson added: “Director Wray and others in the Biden Administration know that our government has thousands of pages of evidence that will help us answer to these questions, but the government has stonewalled for 20 years — acknowledging it has the evidence but refusing to share it.”
Saudi Arabia denies any involvement with 9/11.
The 9/11 families have repeatedly pointed to the Biden administration’s declassification of information related to the death of Jamal Khashoggi as a double standard.
The 9/11 Commission Report, originally published in 2004, stated, “It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al-Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al-Qaeda’s fundraising activities. Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al-Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.”
Additional pages were declassified in 2016, stating: “While in the United States some of the 9/11 highjackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected with the Saudi government.”
The 9/11 families have been seeking further details related to Saudi-linked Omar al Bayoumi, said to have been a former intelligence officer, and Fahad al Thumairy, a former consulate official, who allegedly had contacts with Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, two of the 15 Saudis out of the 19 hijackers.