Analysis: Joe Biden signed a decree on Sept. 3 permitting the declassification, six months from now, of a portion of the items that, until now, have been classified as state secrets.
Two days from the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Joe Biden wishes to fulfill his campaign promise relating to the declassification of certain documents linked to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. The contents of the investigations led by the FBI — it mobilized more than 4,000 federal agents — should thus be revealed less than six months after the Sept. 3 signature on the presidential decree.
“It is critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary,” the document signed by Biden specified.
“Thus, information collected and generated in the United States Government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.” The possibility of a partial declassification in the name of national security thus remains foreseeable, which would limit the scope of the American president’s announcement.
Fingers Pointed at Saudi Arabia
“As always, the devil is in the details,” believes Jean-Éric Branaa, Associate Professor at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas and an expert on the United States. “The fact of not declassifying everything is going to imply, for certain victims, that there is something amiss.” As it happens, the roughly 1,800 close relatives of the victims of the attacks had sent a letter to Biden at the beginning of August, calling upon him to fulfill his campaign promise or he would not be welcome on the day of the Ground Zero commemorations.
The victims’ families group has been busy for several years in obtaining recognition of the role of Saudi Arabia, persuaded of its involvement in the attacks, which took close to 3,000 lives. They demand that Biden “authorize the release of all documents and information to the 9/11 community that our government has accrued in its investigation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” as well as “implement a policy toward the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that makes clear it must acknowledge its role in terrorist attacks.”
‘Each Needs the Other’
Among the 19 hijackers responsible for the attacks, 15 were of Saudi nationality. They were known to the Saudi intelligence services, suspected of having covered up their operations with the duplicity of the Wahabi power. According to Branaa, nothing at this time allows one to implicate the leaders of one of the main allies of the United States in the Middle East. By contrast, the failings of the FBI and the CIA in addressing the jihadist menace have been pointed out from the beginning.
“Perhaps the documents will show the involvement of the Saudi state, but at this time, this isn’t the case. A great number of Saudi figures have been implicated for having financed the operation from their personal fortunes, but it doesn’t go any further than that,” the researcher points out. Since 2001, no president — neither George W. Bush, Barack Obama nor Donald Trump — has ventured to declassify the FBI investigation. In 2016, Obama even vetoed a bill asking the courts to hold the Saudi kingdom accountable.
“Each needs the other. I don’t think that’s going to change, whatever the U.S.-Saudi relationship may be,” Branaa sums up. The financial stakes are substantial: Saudi Arabia, which has always denied any involvement in the attacks, is the top importer of American arms. For Washington, Riyadh represents one of its principal allies against the common Iranian enemy at a time of growing tension in the Persian Gulf and the restarting of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.