The president’s move was lauded by families of victims who died on that fateful day nearly 20 years ago, and was seen as a supportive gesture toward many who have long sought the records in hopes of implicating the Saudi government.
The order, coming little more than a week before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is a significant moment in a yearslong tussle between the government and the families over what classified information about the run-up to the attacks could be made public. That conflict was on display last month when some 1,800 relatives, survivors and first responders came out against Biden’s participation in 9/11 memorial events if the documents remained declassified.
“The significant events in question occurred two decades ago or longer, and they concern a tragic moment that continues to resonate in American history and in the lives of so many Americans,” the executive order states. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary.”
The order directs the Justice Department and other executive branch agencies to begin a declassification review and requires declassified documents be released over the next six months.
Under the terms of the executive order, the FBI must complete by Sept. 11 its declassification review of documents from that probe, which it has referred to as the “Subfile Investigation.”
“The significant events in question occurred two decades ago or longer, and they concern a tragic moment that continues to resonate in American history and in the lives of so many Americans,” Biden’s executive order states. “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency, relying on classification only when narrowly tailored and necessary.”
Over the course of the next six months, the order states, the government should review for declassification purposes all interview reports, documents with investigative findings, any phone and banking records, other interview reports and other information seen as potentially relevant to the attacks.
A long-running lawsuit in federal court in New York alleges that Saudi officials provided significant support to some of the hijackers before the attacks and aims to hold the kingdom accountable. The Saudi government has denied any connection to the attacks.
The families have long asserted that Saudi officials played more of a direct role than the U.S. government has said publicly, citing in part the fact that the first two hijackers to arrive in the U.S. ahead of the attack were welcomed and assisted by a Saudi diplomat. They have long accused the government of stonewalling their demands for documents, and on Thursday, urged the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the FBI’s apparent inability to locate a photograph, video and other records they seek.
An organization called 9/11 Families United, which consists of loved ones of those murdered or hurt or who have fallen ill from the attacks, celebrated Biden’s decision in a statement.
“We are thrilled to see the President forcing the release of more evidence about Saudi connections to the 9/11 Attacks,” said Terry Strada, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, in a statement provided to Fox News. “We have been fighting the FBI and intelligence community for too long, but this looks like a true turning point.”
Fox News’ Courtney Crawford contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.