The White House announced on Friday that in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it would begin the process of reviewing documents related to the attacks for possible declassification and release before the end of the year.
In a Friday statement, US President Joe Biden said he had issued 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.”
Last month, the DOJ committed itself to such a review ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks in response to years of petitioning by victims’ families. Biden has also faced demands by 1,800 survivors of the attacks to skip the upcoming memorial events if he refused to release the documents.
The attacks were carried out by 19 hijackers from the al-Qaeda* terrorist group who took over four airliners, flying two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York, another into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and a fourth which plummeted from the sky in southern Pennsylvania after the passengers attempted to retake control of the aircraft. Some 2,977 people were killed in the attacks, which successfully collapsed the two 110-story skyscrapers in lower Manhattan and sparked a raging fire in one part of the Pentagon, which houses Department of Defense offices.
In the aftermath of the attacks, then-US President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban government in Afghanistan hand over the al-Qaeda leaders behind the attacks, including leader Osama bin Laden. When the Taliban* said it wanted proof of bin Laden’s guilt before it would hand him over, Bush said his government would not negotiate with terrorists and launched an invasion of Afghanistan that became a 20-year occupation war against the Taliban insurgency. When the last US troops flew out of Kabul’s main airport on Monday, Washington declared the war to be over. Ironically, their final hours in-country were spent cooperating with the Taliban, which captured Kabul days prior, to waylay terrorist attacks against both groups by Daesh-Khorasan*.
Beginning in 2002, Congress created a massive investigative commission to look into the attacks and the intelligence failures leading up to them, which were published in 2004 in the 9/11 Commission Report. However, the report was itself criticized for failing to adequately explore the many failures of both domestic and foreign intelligence that allowed the attacks to occur.
Subsequent information has been released only at a trickle. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and the birthplace of the Wahabbist version of Sunni Islam behind bin Laden’s terrorist campaign. In fact, bin Laden himself came from one of the country’s wealthiest and best-connected families. For example, in 2019, families of the 9/11 victims were permitted by the DOJ to learn the identity of one of two people connected to the Saudi government whose names had been redacted in an internal 2012 FBI memo.
In April 2020, the DOJ reversed the planned release of more documents to the families, but said it couldn’t explain why the information had to remain secret because that information was also secret.