Fifteen years after 9/11, the American public still doesn’t know if elements in the government of Saudi Arabia, an American strategic ally and client state, aided the hijackers. But according to once-secret U.S. government notes declassified last year, one of the conspirators, arrested in Pakistan in 2002, was found with what could be a clue.
Tensions between the Saudi kingdom and the United States may soon reach a flashpoint over whether or not to declassify 28 pages of a report, prepared by a joint Congressional inquiry into 9/11, that remain secret 14 years after its publication. These pages are said to describe Saudi ties to the 9/11 plot.
According to former senator and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham, “the 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier.” Rep. Thomas Massie, another member of Congress who’s read the 28 pages, said in a 2014 press conference, “I had to stop every two or three pages and rearrange my perception of history.”
Present and former American legislators are pushing for the declassification of those redacted 28 pages, and even advocating for 9/11 victims’ rights to sue the Saudi Arabian government, while Saudi Arabia itself has made it clear they’re ready to retaliate if documents go public; foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir says his government would sell $750 billion in U.S. treasury securities should pro-transparency pols get their way. Such a liquidation would undoubtedly damage the American (and likely global) economy.
Last week, Brian McGlinchey, director of the 9/11 disclosure advocacy website 28Pages.org, reported on his findings from “Document 17,” a 47-page log of notes and follow-up questions compiled by investigators Dana Lesemann and Michael Jacobson, who worked for the joint congressional inquiry and, subsequently, the 9/11 Commission.
Document 17 was one of many such pages of supplementary notes quietly declassified by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) last year. “Document 17 outlines how the two investigators proposed to extend their earlier research,” McGlinchey reported. “The plans include many questions Lesemann and Jacobson felt the investigation should answer.”
“Doc 17 was drawn to my attention by a 9/11 widow who had been following up with ISCAP asking about the status of a [declassification] review of the 28 pages initiated by three investigative journalists,” McGlinchey told me. “ISCAP replied to her and noted that, while the 28 pages are still in their queue, in the mean time she might take interest in the batch of documents that had been released last summer including Document 17.”
On page nine of Document 17, under the header “A Brief Overview of Possible Saudi Government Connections to the September 11th attacks,” we find the following about Ghassan al-Sharbi, an admitted member of al Qaeda. Al-Sharbi attended flight school alongside the 9/11 hijackers, but didn’t take part in the actual attack. When the FBI captured Al-Sharbi Pakistan in 2002, they also found a hidden “cache of documents,” one of which was highly suggestive:
Why would a member of al Qaeda, with connections to the 9/11 hijackers, have materials from the Saudi Embassy? McGlinchey allows for the possibility that the envelope could be benign, noting that “people often re-use envelopes and citizens of any country may have legitimate reasons for correspondence with the embassies of their government in foreign countries they live in.” Indeed, al-Sharbi, an inmate at Guantanamo Bay since his arrest in 2002, is a Saudi citizen, and might have had perfectly non-terroristic reasons for receiving embassy stationary while living in the U.S. But Lesemann and Jacobson thought it was noteworthy, and flagged the envelope in a section of Document 17 titled “Key Questions Regarding Possible Saudi Government and Royal Family Connections to the September 11 Hijackers and Other Terrorists and Terrorist Groups”:
Why did Ghassan Al-Sharbi bury a cache of documents near where he was staying in Pakistan, including an envelope from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D .C. containing his flight certificate from Embry Riddle University in Phoenix? Have you been able to determine his relationship to Haydar El-Awad, the individual whose name is on the envelope from the Saudi Embassy?
The 9/11 Commission did not answer Jacobson and Lesemann’s questions in its public report. According to The Commission, by Philip Shenon, Lesemann was fired from the commission after trying to view the secret 28 pages without permission, part of a pattern of 9/11 Commission director Philip Zelikow (who has downplayed the significance of the 28 pages) limiting the scope of commission investigators’ work.
Senator Ron Wyden has been one of the more outspoken advocates for the declassification of the pages, and though his office did not comment on the significance of Document 17, they did provide this statement on its continuing relevance to Gawker: “The FBI is clearly going to argue that they investigated these leads in the years after 9/11, and I think they can make a decent case. But that’s no reason to keep these pages secret—it’s a reason to release them with fewer redactions and make that case in public.”
Lesemann declined to comment for this story, and Jacobson did not respond to a request for comment. The Saudi Embassy also did not return a request for comment.
Illustration: Jim Cooke/Photo: Getty