By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
After insisting for months that it could not release information about its once secret probe of Saudi government involvement in 9/11 because it was open and active, the FBI told a federal judge Monday that it has now closed the investigation.
The surprise decision follows intense political pressure on the Biden Administration to open up classified government records by thousands of family members and survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington who are now suing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“We now wish to inform the Court and the parties that the FBI has recently closed the Subfile investigation,” wrote Manhattan Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah Normand and Jeannette Vargas in an Aug. 9 letter, using FBI terminology for the Operation Encore probe that was within its initial PENTTBOM investigation of the 9/11 attacks. “The FBI has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure. The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible.”
The FBI’s decision means new documents about what its agents uncovered during Operation Encore could soon begin to flow to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
The White House quickly released a statement by President Joe Biden about the Justice Department’s filing:
“As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege. In this vein, I welcome the Department of Justice’s filing today, which commits to conducting a fresh review of documents where the government has previously asserted privileges, and to doing so as quickly as possible.”
Until now, the Justice Department has taken extraordinary steps to block the release of information about Encore, including providing a complete copy of a heavily censored four-page FBI summary report written in October 2012. The report, which disclosed Encore’s existence, was released to Florida Bulldog in late 2016 during Freedom of Information litigation.
In 2019 and again last year, Attorney General William Barr blocked release of additional “classified national security information” in the 2012 report and related records by personally asserting the state secrets privilege in the case. The Biden Administration has been asked to reconsider that assertion, and now appears to be doing so.
On Friday, hundreds of 9/11 family and survivors issued a statement calling on President Biden not to attend “any memorial ceremony” next month unless he authorizes 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 (and which former FBI agents have sworn establishes the Kingdom’s role in 9/11) to allow us to rightfully obtain justice…”
Also last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the September 11th Transparency Act that calls on the Justice Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Director of National Intelligence to “declassify, as appropriate,” documents that “could identify additional co-conspirators.”
James Margolin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, declined to say precisely when and why the FBI closed the subfile investigation. He also would not answer questions about whether the investigation, which ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine reported last year had concluded in 2016, was kept “open” to allow the government to assert law enforcement privilege in court to defeat the families’ motion to force production of the Encore file.
Monday evening, a 9/11 families organization released a statement calling the Justice Department’s action an “insufficient commitment to full transparency.”
“Today’s announcement only applies to (a) limited to subset of cherry-picked documents that the FBI has already identified for review. It does not address the FBI’s refusal to look for some of the most critical documents needed for true accountability and transparency. This announcement is a necessary but insufficient step towards transparency, accountability and above all, justice. Only quick passage of the 9/11 Transparency Act will ensure that the government carries out the full declassification review that is needed for the 9/11 community and the American people,” said 9/11 Community United spokeswoman Terry Strada.