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After 9/11 families told Biden not to attend memorials, FBI could release some secret files

Family members of Sept. 11 victims say the information could shed light on whether any Saudi Arabian officials were involved in the attacks.
Image: A man looks at The Tribute in Light installation from Liberty State Park, marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, as seen from Jersey City
A man looks at The Tribute in Light installation from Liberty State Park, marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Sept.11, 2020.Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department signaled Monday that it could release some classified information from its investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, which families of the victims say could show connections between the Saudi government and the terrorist attackers.

In a letter in federal court, the Biden administration said the FBI recently closed part of the investigation and is now reviewing classified documents and evidence to determine whether more of them can be disclosed.

“The FBI has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure,” the letter said. “The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible.”

The move comes after victims' family members, first responders and survivors called on President Joe Biden to skip Sept. 11 memorial events this year unless he releases the documents, which they believe implicate Saudi officials in supporting the acts of terrorism. They said that Biden pledged as a candidate to release as much information as possible, but that his administration has since then ignored their letters and requests.

Biden expressed support for the Justice Department’s move, saying in a statement Monday that he promised during his campaign that his administration would be committed to maximum transparency under the law. The department has previously cited state secrets privilege in refusing to declassify the documents.

“In this vein, I welcome the Department of Justice’s filing today, which commits to conducting a fresh review of documents where the government has previously asserted privileges, and to doing so as quickly as possible,” he said.

The Justice Department’s letter was filed in federal court in Manhattan as part of a long-running lawsuit brought by those victims’ families against the Saudi Arabia. The administration did not provide any information about the findings from the probe.

The plaintiffs have said they believe that as many as 25,000 pages of documents have been withheld from discovery in their case.

Brett Eagleson, whose father, Bruce, died at the World Trade Center in 2001, said he and the others who urged Biden not to attend upcoming memorial events are “collectively are at our wits’ end with our own government.”

“We are frustrated, tired and saddened with the fact that the U.S. government for 20 years has chosen to keep information about the death of our loved ones behind lock and key,” he said.

Courtney Kube contributed.