National Intelligence Director Clapper Suspected of Creating New Obstacle to Release of Censored Pages from 9/11 Report

Tuesday, May 24, 2016
James Clapper (photo: Mark Wilson, Getty Images)


By Carl Hulse, New York Times


After years of frustration, proponents of releasing 28 classified pages of a congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks were seeing real progress in their push for disclosure of findings that are said to show high-level Saudi Arabian support for the hijackers.


“We seem to be coming to a point of decision as to whether to release it or not and in what form,” said Bob Graham, the former Democratic senator from Florida, who served as a co-chairman of the 2002 inquiry and has made disclosure of the pages a personal cause since leaving Congress.


But last-minute obstacles, often by design, have a way of cropping up in Washington and slowing things down. Graham hopes he is not seeing an example of that, he said, after suggestions from James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, that Congress will ultimately be left to decide what to do with the pages once intelligence officials finish a review as early as next month.


That approach — first raised in a private meeting last week among Clapper, Graham and lawmakers — took Graham by surprise. It threatens to add a new layer of complexity to a process that those backing the release thought was reaching its long-sought end.


“No one has ever questioned that this is a decision that rests at the White House,” said Graham, who noted that Congress had long ago moved to release the pages, only to be stopped by the intervention of President George W. Bush. “The idea of adding another elongated, contentious step to the process is befuddling.”


Graham said Clapper had compared the approach to the handling of a Senate report on CIA torture of terror detainees. That document was reviewed by the Obama administration, which redacted parts of it over security concerns, and the Senate ultimately released an executive summary. But that was a messy process that took months of bitter fighting to resolve.


If the decision on making the pages public is returned to Congress, it is not even clear what procedure would be used to make the documents public.


Would it take a vote by the House and Senate? Would it be left up to the House and Senate Intelligence committees, which first produced the report? The current chairmen of those panels, Sen. Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Rep. Devin Nunes of California, both Republicans, have expressed reluctance about doing so.


“I am just worried,” Graham said in an interview. “We have been at this for 13 years now.”


A spokesman for Clapper declined to discuss the meeting with Graham.


The possibility of a renewed role for Congress was just one new wrinkle as the potential for releasing the pages loomed. Some in the intelligence community have raised concerns that some of the original findings proved unsubstantiated and that a release now might do more harm than good.


Graham said he expected skeptics to take that view.


“It is going to be in the eye of the beholder,” he said. “I think the person looking at this without preconception is going to find it very disconcerting what the Saudis did.”


The developments on the potential release of the 28 pages come as Congress is exerting other pressure on Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Senate voting without objection this month to change foreign sovereign immunity laws to give families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, the opportunity to hold Saudi Arabia accountable in federal court.


Backers of that legislation are increasingly optimistic that it can pass the House and be sent to President Barack Obama.


Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican and a chief author of the legislation, said he had kept his Republican colleagues in the House apprised of the Senate legislation. His aides met last week with staff members of the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider the bill, and representatives of Sept. 11 families backing the measure met Monday with House leadership aides.


“This is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., an author of the House version of the immunity legislation.


The White House has raised objections to the bill, saying it could spur retaliation against the United States and hurt ties with an important ally. But Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who helped write the legislation, said he believed that any veto could be overridden.


“They will have their day in court, and if they weren’t complicit, so be it,” he said. “But if they are, it outweighs diplomatic considerations.”


Saudi officials have said for years that they support the release of the 28 pages, but the immunity legislation is a different story. Saudi officials have said a loss of immunity could force them to remove billions of dollars in investments from the United States, a move that could have implications for the economies of both nations.


The congressional willingness to challenge the Saudis suggests a weakening of their political standing — a fact the Saudis seem to recognize. The Saudi government prepared a glossy 110-page white paper now being circulated around Washington to show its seriousness about fighting terrorism.


“It is in the kingdom’s national interest to defeat terrorism, and it is a national priority,” the document, first reported on by Politico, begins. “The devastating May 2003 and May 2004 terrorist bombings in the kingdom galvanized the Saudi people against terrorism.”


That galvanizing, backers of the legislation easing immunity like to note, came well after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.


To Learn More:

Saudi-9/11 Controversy Heats Up on Presidential Campaign Trail while Obama Meets with Saudi Sheikhs (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)

Angry 9/11 Families See Obama Capitulation to Saudi Threat Over Congressional Bill on 9/11 Lawsuits (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

Convicted 9/11 Plotter Claims Members of Saudi Royal Family Helped Finance Attacks…He’s not Alone (by Steve Straehley and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Judge Rules Saudi Kingdom Immune from Legal Action by 9/11 Victims’ Families (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Why is Obama Still Hiding the 28-Page Report on Saudi Royal Family Involvement in the 9/11 Attacks? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

Federal Court Reinstates Saudi Arabia as Defendant in 9/11 Survivors’ Lawsuit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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