The deadline a White House official gave him has come and gone. An official, who had been corresponding with Graham—whose name he did not disclose—is no longer returning his phone calls.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, he expressed his frustration at the White House reneging on a promised April 12 deadline, but said he was undeterred and was preparing a PR strategy just in case the pages were released.
For years, Graham has been pushing the administration to declassify 28 pages of a report he helped write when he co-chaired the congressional joint inquiry into the 9/11 attacks, and that he believes contains information the public has a right to know about foreign assistance, mainly from Saudi Arabia, to the hijackers.
The rest of the 832-page report was made public in December 2002, and for the last several years, Graham has doggedly pursued whatever avenues he could to force the release of the remaining 28 pages.
Asked if he is confident the pages will be released by September 11, the 15th anniversary of the attacks, he said, “No,“ citing the delay by the White House. “I’m not going to put my money on any date until it happens.”
Even so, he is working with 9/11 survivor Sharon Premoli to line up a public relations team to counter what he anticipates will be a well-funded campaign by the Saudi government to discredit the 28 pages when they become public.
“I just know what we’re going to be faced with when the 28 pages are released,” says Graham. “We need to be as well prepared as possible or we’re going to be characterized as converting unsubstantiated, un-vetted materials into fact.”
The Saudis maintain there were no official ties to the hijackers, and that the unreleased material is uncorroborated hearsay. The Saudi government has contracts with several high-powered legal offices and public relations firms in Washington prepared to make that case.
“My concern is the Saudis have big multiple guns to disparage the 28 pages when they come out and we need to be in a position to respond,” says Graham.
Premoli was at her desk on the 80th floor of the North Tower on September 11 when the first plane hit. She survived the harrowing experience and is an activist on behalf of the 9/11 families. In an email last week, she sought advice on finding professional PR assistance in Washington and New York that could keep pressure on the administration and Congress, imploring, “The Saudis have 6 or 7 PR firms, but there has to be one that can help us, perhaps even pro bono? This is a David and Goliath situation with enormous political repercussions that will affect us all. Can you recommend a PR firm you believe could help?”
Full disclosure, I put her in touch with two PR people to get their advice.
Asked if he had qualms about seeking professional PR help, Graham said, “I have no concerns about this being public. Maybe some other firms will come forward.”
Graham outlined the two tracks that could yield results: Track One would continue the process President Obama initiated two years ago when he asked Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper to undertake a review of whether the 28 pages should be released. Graham met with Clapper in mid-May and was told that it would take congressional action to require final release, but that Clapper was about finished with his review, which would then go to an inter-agency group for their comments, and to decide whether it should go to the president.
“I was told this process would be complete by the 12th of June. I was told by a White House official to expect a decision then,” says Graham. “It’s been three weeks since that deadline. I called him on several occasions and haven’t heard back. That’s Track One.”
Track Two is a formal process established back in the Truman administration where a citizen—or in this case a media outlet, the Florida Bulldog—states that information should be released that is classified, and the request is reviewed by ISCAP (Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel).
“And they’ve been looking at it for approximately two years as well,” says Graham, with a decision likely by August or September. Not many people have even heard of ISCAP. “It’s one of those agencies that doesn’t get a lot of public interest, or attention,” says Graham.
The appeal was brought by Dan Christensen, publisher of the Florida Bulldog, who sought declassification of the 28 pages after the FBI rejected his Freedom of Information (FOIA) request related to its investigation of a Saudi family living in Sarasota that had contact with Mohamed Atta and others involved in the 9/11 attacks.
“The panel has a relatively good record of overturning declassification denials,” says lawyer Thomas Julin, who represents Christensen.
Representatives from the Departments of State and Justice, the DNI, the National Security Council and the National Archives are on ISCAP, and if they support public release of the 28 pages, the classifying agency Christensen is challenging, the FBI, would have 60 days to appeal the decision to the President, or to waive that right. If no waiver is made and no appeal is taken, the 28 pages would be declassified after the expiration of 60 days, according to Julin.
Graham doubts this obscure agency will have the last word on the 28 pages, and he expects Christensen to do what he did in the Sarasota case, go to federal court to release the documents related to specific FBI investigations. A federal judge in Florida is currently reviewing some 87,000 pages of documents the FBI amassed before shutting down the Sarasota investigation.
“As a Floridian, I am especially interested in the 15 hijackers who lived between West Palm Beach and Miami,” says Graham, areas where the FBI launched investigations, and then shut everything down in the interests allegedly of geo-politics. Other areas where the hijackers got support are Falls Church, Virginia and Patterson, New Jersey.
“There are many facts which are substantively supported from multiple sources,” says Graham. “And one of the things the 9/11 congressional committee did was to lay out additional information on those and other issues. What did the FBI do with the outline of further investigations? Three of the 19 hijackers lived in San Diego. The other 16 were scattered around the country. When will the FBI release the documents relating to its own investigation so we have a sense of what happened in other places in addition to San Diego and Sarasota?”
As a principle author of the 28 pages, Graham knows what stones have been left unturned in resolving the 9/11 attacks. He is familiar with bureaucratic stalling and how Washington loves to kick the can down the road, but letting yet another anniversary pass without coming clean with the American people would be morally indefensible.