The Justice Department said Thursday that it would disclose the name of an individual who lawyers for 9/11 survivors and victims' kin believe aided the bloody terror plot while working for Saudi Arabia.
In court filings, DOJ lawyers said the name will be made available to a small circle of people, including attorneys for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Saudi government, and lawyers for the kingdom. Attorney General William Barr had the option of invoking a "state secrets" privilege to withhold the name but chose not to do so, citing the “exceptional circumstances” involved in the deadliest terror attack in U.S. history.
"This is a good result," Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism, said in a statement. "The families are dedicated to getting to the truth, and we shouldn't have to beg for this sort of basic information, or be kept in the dark, about the Saudi role in the attacks."
The name in question was redacted from a 2012 FBI document describing assistance given to two of the hijackers in Southern California. Lawyers for 9/11 survivors and victims' relatives suspect the name belongs to a Saudi official they say tasked two men connected to the Riyadh government with helping the hijackers find housing, obtain driver’s licenses and more.
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attacks. Of the 19 Al Qaeda attackers who hijacked the four planes, 15 were Saudi nationals.
The 9/11 Commission report found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" the attacks that Al Qaeda masterminded, but the commission also noted "the likelihood" that Saudi government-sponsored charities did.
The plaintiffs note that much more information has come to light since that report, and the existence of the FBI report in 2012 shows that authorities were continuing to investigate years after the attack.
The individual’s name was the families’ top priority in the subpoena. Still, the FBI did not disclose other information requested in the suit. Barr did invoke "state secrets" to block the release of other information in that report that he says could harm national security if released.
The lawsuit against the Saudis was first brought in New York federal court in 2003, but it has gained traction in recent years. A 2016 law permits foreign governments to be held liable in American courts for acts of terrorism. And a judge last year rejected a Saudi request to dismiss the case and instead ordered discovery into whether the government had a role in the attacks.
The release of the information publicly could be received coldly by President Trump, who attempts to maintain close ties to the Saudi government, which he has said is an important ally in the region and supports the U.S. defense industry with billions in arms purchases.