(CNSNews.com) – Just days before President Obama is due to visit Saudi Arabia, a retired senator who is pushing for the administration to declassify documents that could highlight links between prominent Saudis and the 9/11 terror attacks said Tuesday a White House official informs him its review could be completed soon.
Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) told the Tampa Bay Times that Brett Holmgren, a senior policy adviser to the assistant to the president for Homeland Security, told him in a phone call Tuesday that he could expect a decision in “one to two months.”
The call came two days after Graham featured in a CBS “60 Minutes” program focusing on a growing campaign to get the administration to declassify 28 blacked-out pages from a 2002 joint House and Senate report entitled “Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the [9/11] Terror Attacks.”
“The decision makers at the White House have realized the public cares about it and there is an urgency to come to a decision,” the paper quoted Graham as saying.
Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time the 2002 report was produced, has long called for the classified material to be released.
A small number of lawmakers who have been allowed to read the 28 pages in a restricted setting are not permitted to reveal details about their contents.
But Graham during the “60 Minutes” episode spoke of his suspicions of high-level Saudi support for the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks. (Fifteen of the 19 men who flew aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania were Saudi nationals.)
“I think it is implausible to believe that 19 people, most of whom didn’t speak English, most of whom had never been in the United States before, many of whom didn’t have a high school education, could have carried out such a complicated task without some support from within the United States,” Graham told CBS’s Steve Kroft.
“And you believe that the 28 pages are crucial to this understanding?” Kroft asked.
“I think they are a key part,” Graham said.
Asked whether he believes that support came from Saudi Arabia, Graham said, “Substantially.”
“And when we say ‘The Saudis,’ you mean the government, rich people in the country, charities?” Kroft asked.
“All of the above,” Graham replied.
‘Declassification … will reshape our foreign policy’
The U.S.-Saudi alliance has been at an important element of U.S. Mideast foreign policy since the 1940s, despite deep differences over the oil-rich Wahhabi-ruled kingdom’s human rights and some regional policies. Over the past year ties have been strained due to Saudi wariness of U.S. engagement with Iran, Riyadh’s regional rival.
Some lawmakers who have been able to read the redacted pages have suggested the information they contain, if released, could have a significant impact on the relationship.
“The declassification of these 28 pages will reshape our foreign policy in the Middle East,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said at an event on Capitol Hill last June, at which Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced bipartisan legislation requiring the president to declassify and make available the 28 pages.
A similar measure in the House of Representatives, introduced six months earlier by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and cosponsored by more than 40 members of both parties, is a “sense of Congress” resolution urging the president to take the step.
The measures have been referred to the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
In a February 2015 Newsmax TV interview Jones – who has also read the pages – did not answer directly when asked whether their declassification would “change relationships between America and Saudi Arabia.”
But he expressed the hope that it would “help our government have a stronger foreign policy than we’ve had in the past.”
‘Myths and erroneous charges’
In response to the “60 Minutes” episode, the Saudi Embassy in Washington in a statement Sunday called the program “a compilation of myths and erroneous charges that have been thoroughly addressed not just by the Saudi government but also by the 9/11 Commission and the U.S. courts.”
“The 9/11 Commission long ago put to rest these false accusations, which have caused fear of and cast doubt over Saudi Arabia,” the embassy statement said.
The 9/11 Commission report, released two years after the 2002 joint House and Senate one, said the inquiry found no evidence of official Saudi backing for al-Qaeda.
“It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban [in Afghanistan] 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,” it said.
“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. (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaeda),” the 9/11 Commission report added.
The 28 pages that have been redacted from the 2002 congressional report – which runs to more than 800 pages in total – are in a section entitled, “Finding, discussion and narrative regarding certain sensitive national security matters.”
The text immediately ahead of the blacked-out section reads: “It was not the task of this Joint Inquiry to conduct the kind of extensive investigation that would be required to determine the true significance of such alleged support to the hijackers.
“On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists [redacted].’ On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.”
The 28 redacted pages follow.
Obama is due to visit the kingdom for a summit with Gulf Arab leaders next Thursday.