Television news show "60 Minutes" has provided a high-profile reminder that some of United States' most credible intelligence experts believe 28 pages of a key report on the 9/11 terrorist attacks should finally be declassified and publicly released.
Two of Florida's most respected, well-informed and prudent officials — former Democrat Sen. Bob Graham and former Republican Rep. Porter Goss — were interviewed for a broadcast Sunday.
Graham and Goss were co-chairmen of the 2003 congressional joint inquiry into the attacks. The bipartisan investigation tracked the terrorists before and after they entered the United States and detailed their interactions here and abroad.
One section of the inquiry's 838-page report dealt with "sources of foreign support for some of the Sept. 11 hijackers," Graham has said previously. Yet those 28 pages have never been disclosed publicly: They were classified by former President George W. Bush and have remained sealed during President Barack Obama's presidency, despite requests for their declassification by Graham, Goss, a majority of the 9/11 Commission's members and appeals by media organizations.
CBS reported Monday that the White House said a declassification review is underway; the president hopes it will be complete by the end of his presidency.
It's understandable that Obama, who will soon visit Saudi Arabia, would find it awkward for declassification to occur soon. But the delays have been unacceptable, and Obama should not leave this to his successor.
The fact that Republican and Democratic presidents with different foreign-policy views have refused to release the 28 pages is reason for pause. But Graham, a former Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chairman, and Goss, who served in the CIA — including a post-9/11 stint as director — make compelling arguments. So does John Lehman, the Navy secretary during the Reagan years and a 9/11 commissioner, who told "60 Minutes": "We know when something shouldn't be classified. And ... those 28 pages in no way fall into that category."
Graham points to public records and reasonable assumptions suggesting that the 19 terrorists directly involved in the attacks — 15 of whom were citizens of Saudi Arabia — carried out their plots with the aid of influential Saudis.
Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes" asked Graham, "You believe that support came from Saudi Arabia?"
"Substantially," Graham replied.
"And when we say, 'the Saudis,' you mean the government, the ... rich people in the country? Charities?" Kroft said.
"All of the above," Graham answered.
The Saudi government, with which the United States has a tenuous relationship, has denied involvement, even though the inquiry established connections between at least one diplomat and two of the hijackers when they first arrived in Los Angeles. What's more, the 9/11 Commission concluded Saudi Arabia was a primary source of al-Qaida funding through citizens and charities operating with government support.
As Graham noted, it is implausible to believe 19 terrorists with little education could have carried out the complicated attacks without significant Saudi support planted in the United States. It is no more plausible than the FBI's conclusion that there were no significant connections between the 9/11 hijackers who received flight training in Venice, Florida, and the Saudi family — closely related to a prominent Saudi financier — who lived in Sarasota, Florida, and abruptly abandoned their upscale home two weeks before the attacks. (Documents related to that mysterious disappearance have been withheld as well.)
"I remain deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from (the Joint Inquiry) report," Graham said on "60 Minutes."
You and many other Americans, Sen. Graham.
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