After 20 years and hundreds of pages of intelligence reports, some of the families of the nearly three thousand people killed on September 11, 2001 still want answers—and they’re fighting their own government to get them.
“The world's changed a lot in the last 20 years,” retired FBI Agent and Counterterrorism Expert Todd Hulsey said. He says this was the right time for the FBI to release this document.
“We’re out of Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of the attack happened and so these documents can now start to be released,” Hulsey said.
The 16-page document is heavily redacted—but provides a summary of a 2015 FBI interview with a man who had regular contact with Saudi nationals—who FBI investigators say provided “significant logistical support” to several of the 9/11 hijackers.
Among the man's contacts was Saudi national Omar Al-Bayoumi—who helped the first hijackers to arrive in the U.S.--Nawaf Al-Hazmi and Khalid Al-Mihdhar--find an apartment, open a bank account and start flight school in San Diego.
Al-Bayoumi worked for the Saudi government and had described his meeting with the hijackers to the FBI as just a chance encounter—but this document details repeated contacts between them over several months.
However, it does not provide evidence that senior Saudi government officials were complicit in the attacks.
“There's almost never one document that has the smoking gun in it. It is a puzzle that has to be put together piece by piece,” Hulsey said.
Hulsey says Americans should be careful not to jump to conclusions.
"Just because somebody is a member of the Saudi royal family, or an employee of the Saudi government does not mean the government of Saudi Arabia was complicit in the attacks, or knew about the attacks before they occurred,” Hulsey said. “That doesn't mean in coming weeks as more documents get released that there's more pointers in that direction.”
The Saudi government has long denied involvement in the attacks—and the 2004 9/11 Commission Report did not find evidence of any by Saudi leaders, but it did say Saudi nationals played a pivotal role in funding Al Qaeda.
Hulsey says while this may give families closure, he doesn’t think it changes the intelligence community’s understanding of what happened on 9/11.
“We’re digging for answers that we already have, we really won't find out anything new that we didn't know. Just because there's information in a file somewhere, it doesn't mean that it was known at the time, or that it was actionable at the time there's so some many complexities here,” Hulsey said.
This is just the first of many documents expected to be released over the next six months following President Biden’s order.