9/11 Commission records still sealed at the archives.[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
A decade after al Qaeda's attacks on the United States, he 9/11 Commission's records remain sealed at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), despite a directive from the commission to make most of the material public in 2009.
Matt Fulgham, assistant director of NARA's center for legislative affairs, which oversees the commission documents, told Reuters that more than a third of the 575 cubic feet of records have been reviewed for possible release. But many of those documents have been withheld or heavily redacted, and the released material includes documents that have already been made public, such as news articles.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was established by Congress in late 2002 to investigate the events leading up to the 9/11 attacks, the pre-attack effectiveness of intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the government's emergency response.
According to Reuters, documents still classified include a 30-page summary of an April 2004 interview by all 10 commissioners with President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that was conducted in the Oval Office--the only time the two were formally questioned about events surrounding the attacks.
Other sealed records document actions taken by Bush on the day of the attacks, as well as the Clinton White House's earlier responses to growing threats from al Qaeda. The material also includes vast amounts of information on al Qaeda and U.S. intelligence efforts the years preceding the attacks, Reuters said.
Shortly before the commission ceased to exist, it turned over all its records to NARA. In a letter dated August 20, 2004, the commission's chairman and vice chairman instructed NARA to make the material public "to the greatest extent possible" on January 2, 2009, "or as soon thereafter as possible."
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean told Reuters he saw no justification for withholding most of the unreleased material. The commissioners had agreed on a January 2, 2009, date for release so the material would not come out until after the 2008 elections, he said.
Several former commission staff members said that because there is no comprehensive effort to unseal the remaining material, parts of the records the commission had wanted to be released by now will remain sealed indefinitely.
Fulgham told Reuters that in preparation for the 2009 deadline, NARA assigned additional employees for months to help prepare disclosure of an initial batch of records. But since then, the effort has halted, in part because of a shortage of personnel and the difficulty of dealing with classified material, Reuters reported.
One big problem, he said, is that about two-thirds of the material is still classified by the agencies that gave it to the commission.
In a 2004 letter, the commission had asked NARA to submit all classified material to the agencies that created the documents to review them for declassification. But Fulgham said NARA has not done so.
According to Reuters, commission records held by NAKA are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because the commission was established by Congress and the legislative branch records are exempt from FOIA. Some of the material now public is posted on NARA's website, but Wilhelm said most of the released material can be viewed only at the archives' headquarters.