What to Know
- The once-classified chapter raised questions about Saudi links to the hijackers
- The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News the docs don't prove the Saudi gov't was connected to the attacks
- The pages were withheld from the 838-page report on the orders of President George W. Bush
Congress on Friday released a long-classified and highly controversial 28-page section from the congressional inquiry into 9/11 that revealed suspicions about a Saudi government link to the terror attacks, but no "smoking gun" that linked the country to al-Qaida's operation.
The redacted pages from the 838-page report were published on the House Intelligence Committee's website on Friday afternoon, less than a day after they were sent to Congress for review. The documents implicate several Saudi nationals in the planning and funding of the attacks but don't appear to provide a definitive link to the nation's government -- as officials who had previously seen the documents have maintained.
"Certainly a lot of smoke, certainly a lot of financing from Saudi individuals, but those who are hopeful that those pages contain a smoking gun will be disappointed," Rep. Adam Schiff said before the chapter was released.
Read the redacted pages here.
The newly declassified document, with light redactions, names people the hijackers associated with before they carried out the attacks, killing nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and on a plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. It identifies individuals who helped the hijackers get apartments, open bank accounts, attend local mosques and get flight lessons. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and several were not fluent in English and had little experience living in the West.
Later investigations found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials knowingly supported those who orchestrated the attacks. The document released Friday said that "neither CIA or FBI witnesses were able to identify definitively the extent of Saudi support for terrorist activity globally or within the United States."
The document goes on to detail associates of the hijackers and their dealings and connections with the Saudi government. The document alleges that at least two people who supported the hijackers were Saudi intelligence officers.
The document said, though, that the inquiry made "no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency of the information" from FBI and CIA sources, and that the information could allude to either terrorist involvement or more "legitimate and innocent" explanations for any Saudi connections to the attacks.
Later, the document states that FBI agents noted that the Saudi government was "useless and obstructionist" in investigations into terror before and after the attacks.
Lawmakers and relatives of victims, who don't think all Saudi links to the attackers were thoroughly investigated, campaigned for more than 13 years to get the final chapter of the 2002 congressional inquiry released.
Saudi Arabia has called for the release of the chapter since 2002 so the kingdom could respond to any allegations and punish any Saudis who may have been involved in the attacks.
"Since 2002, the 9/11 Commission and several government agencies, including the CIA and the FBI, have investigated the contents of the '28 Pages' and have confirmed that neither the Saudi government, nor senior Saudi officials, nor any person acting on behalf of the Saudi government provided any support or encouragement for these attacks," Abdullah Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, said in a statement Friday.
"We hope the release of these pages will clear up, once and for all, any lingering questions or suspicions about Saudi Arabia's actions, intentions, or long-term friendship with the United States," he said. "Saudi Arabia is working closely with the United States and other allies to eradicate terrorism and destroy terrorist organizations."
House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes said that while he supported the release, "It's important to note that this section does not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later fully investigated by the intelligence community."
However, others — including Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the congressional inquiry — believe the hijackers had an extensive Saudi support system while they were in the United States. Graham has said that the pages "point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principle financier."
The pages were withheld from the 838-page report on the orders of President George W. Bush, who said the release could divulge intelligence sources and methods. Still, protecting U.S.-Saudi diplomatic relations also was believed to have been a factor.
On Friday, several families of 9/11 victims said that they welcomed the release of the documents, noting that they wanted more government transparency on possible Saudi involvement in the attacks.
The online 28pages.org, an Internet site pushing to get the documents released, points to another document declassified in July 2015 that outlined ways in which the commission could examine possible Saudi links.
The 47-page document lists several pages of individuals of interest and suggests questions that could be pursued. One name is suspected al-Qaida operative Ghassan al Sharbi.
Al Sharbi, who was taking flight lessons in the Phoenix area before 9/11, was captured in 2002 in the same place in Pakistan as Abu Zubaydah, a top al-Qaida trainer who was apprehended and waterboarded dozens of times by U.S. interrogators.
The document said that after al Sharbi was captured, the FBI discovered some documents buried nearby. One was al Sharbi's pilot certificate inside an envelope from the Saudi Embassy in Washington, although it's unclear whether the license had been mailed by the embassy or if the envelope was simply being reused.
A CIA's inspector general report in June 2015 said there had been no reliable reporting confirming Saudi government "involvement with and financial support for terrorist prior to 9/11." But it also said that people in the CIA's Near East Division and Counterterrorism Center "speculated that dissident sympathizers within the government may have aided al-Qaida." The rest of chapter, titled "Issues related to Saudi Arabia," is blacked out.