Joe Biden has ordered the investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks to declare the documents illegal.
The president of the United States signed an executive order instructing the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to review and publish the documents during the next six months.
President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order ordering the declassification of certain documents related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, A sign of support for the families of victims who have long sought records in the hope of trapping the Saudi government.
The order, which comes just over a week before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is a significant moment in a years-long dispute between the government and families over what classified information about the bombings' preparations can be made public. That conflict was revealed last month when some 1,800 family members, survivors, and first responders protested against Biden's participation in the 9/11 commemorations if the documents remained declassified.
The executive order states that the major events under consideration occurred two decades ago or earlier and refer to a tragic moment that resonates in American history and in the lives of many Americans. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, using classification only when strictly necessary.
The order directed the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies to review the declassification. It requires declassified documents to be made public within the next six months.
However, the practical impact of the executive order and the new documents it may produce was not immediately clear. Previous investigations have outlined links between Saudi citizens and some of the hijackers. Still, they have not established that the Saudi Arabian government was directly involved.
A lengthy lawsuit in a federal court in New York alleges that Saudi officials provided significant support to some of the hijackers before the attacks and seeks to hold the kingdom accountable. The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks.
Families had long claimed that Saudi officials played a more direct role than the US government had publicly said, citing in part the fact that the first two hijackers to arrive in the United States before the attack was met and assisted by a Saudi diplomat. In addition, the hijackers have long accused the government of hindering their demands for documents, and on Thursday urged the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the FBI's apparent inability to locate a photograph, video, and other records they seek.
Last month, the Justice Department revealed that the FBI had recently concluded an investigation examining certain 9/11 hijackers and potential co-conspirators. It would now work to see if it could share information that it had previously determined not to. It could be revealed.
Under the terms of the executive order, the FBI must complete by September 11 its review of the declassification of documents from that investigation, which it has referred to as the "Subfile Investigation."
Over the next six months, the order states that the government must review for declassification all interview reports, documents with investigation findings, any telephone and bank records, other interview reports, and other information. They were deemed potentially relevant to attacks.