The FBI has accidentally revealed the name of a Saudi official believed to have aided two Al-Qaeda hijackers involved in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, after going to absurd lengths to keep it secret for years.
The name was unintentionally left unredacted in a court filing unsealed last week in the ongoing lawsuit by 9/11 victims’ families against the Saudi government, which they accuse of complicity in the terrorist attacks. The ‘error’ was reported by Yahoo News on Tuesday – at which point the Justice Department withdrew the filing, refusing to comment on how the mistake had been made.
But the filing – a declaration by FBI assistant director for counterterrorism Jill Sanborn – had already been seen, and there was no putting the cat back in the bag: the name of Mussaed Ahmed al-Jarrah, a mid-level official in the Saudi Foreign Ministry assigned to the embassy in Washington, DC during 1999 and 2000, is now public knowledge. The catastrophic fallout for national security that the Trump, Obama, and Bush administrations implied would come from releasing Jarrah’s name has not materialized, though a spokesperson for the victims’ families was livid.
“This shows there is a complete government cover-up of the Saudi involvement,” spokesman Brett Eagleson told Yahoo on Tuesday, explaining Jarrah’s involvement speaks to “a hierarchy of command that’s coming from the Saudi Embassy to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs [in Los Angeles] to the hijackers.”
“This is a giant screwup.”
Jarrah is believed to have directed two other Saudi nationals, radical cleric Fahad al-Thumairy and suspected Saudi intelligence agent Omar al-Bayoumi, to set two of the hijackers up with an apartment in Los Angeles, bank accounts, and plenty of money. While Thumairy and Bayoumi’s names have been declassified since 2016, when the infamous “28 pages” redacted from the 9/11 Commission Report were finally released to the public, the name of the man who had “tasked” them with essentially babysitting the hijackers had remained a state secret.
Indeed, the agency went to almost cartoonish lengths to suppress Jarrah’s name, stonewalling the victims’ families for years in court. In September, the lawyers for the families were finally permitted to see the long-redacted name, but only if they promised not to reveal it to their clients or the public. Adding insult to injury, Attorney General William Barr filed a motion that same day to declare all other material they were seeking to be “state secrets,” which would place it permanently off-limits.
In a colossal irony, Sanborn’s declaration was supposed to support Barr’s “state secrets” claim that Jarrah’s name and the rest of the information the victims’ families want released would cause “significant harm to national security” if unleashed on the public. Other affected material includes “interview reports, telephone and bank records, source reporting documents and foreign government information.” Barr and acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell have insisted that declassifying the files would reveal “sources and methods” of intelligence collection and make foreign governments less willing to collaborate with the FBI.
The families of the 9/11 victims were finally able to sue Saudi Arabia in 2016 alleging the Kingdom provided material support for the attacks after Congress overrode then-President Barack Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Previously, Riyadh had been protected by sovereign immunity. The Kingdom has strenuously denied any involvement in the attacks.
The Justice Department is also facing a legal challenge from the Lawyers’ Committee for 9/11 Inquiry, which sued last year alleging the US Attorney was stonewalling their Grand Jury proceedings. Several victims’ families and the Franklin Square-Munson Fire Department have also joined that suit.