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Biden orders review and potential release of classified documents related to September 11 attacks

<i>JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>President Joe Biden
AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden

By Donald Judd and Rachel Janfaza, CNN

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to conduct a declassification review of documents related to the FBI’s investigation of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The review could result in the release of new documents, should the agencies find some that can be declassified.

“The executive order requires the Attorney General to release the declassified documents publicly over the next six months,” Biden wrote in a statement. “My heart continues to be with the 9/11 families who are suffering, and my Administration will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community. I welcome their voices and insight as we chart a way forward.”

The move comes about a month after more than 1,600 people affected by the September 11 attacks released a letter calling on Biden to refrain from going to Ground Zero in New York City to mark the anniversary of the event unless he releases additional documents and information the government has previously blocked. Not long after that letter, the Department of Justice announced that it would review what previously withheld information or documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks it can disclose to the public.

A Justice Department spokesperson said in August that the government advised a Manhattan federal court that the FBI had recently closed an investigation related to certain September 11 hijackers.

“Although this development followed the U.S. District Court rulings upholding the government’s privilege assertions, the FBI has decided to review its prior privilege assertions to identify additional information appropriate for disclosure. The FBI will disclose such information on a rolling basis as expeditiously as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Biden praised the DOJ’s decision at the time, saying it followed through on his campaign promise to have the department work on releasing 9/11 records.

“As I promised during my campaign, my Administration is committed to ensuring the maximum degree of transparency under the law, and to adhering to the rigorous guidance issued during the Obama-Biden Administration on the invocation of the state secrets privilege,” Biden said in an August statement.

He added that the Department of Justice filing “commits to conducting a fresh review of documents where the government has previously asserted privileges, and to doing so as quickly as possible.”

The President also last month reiterated his commitment to the families of victims from the September 11 attacks, but Brett Eagleson, who lost his father that day and is an advocate for many families of the victims killed in the attacks, criticized the Justice Department’s move, saying it did not go far enough toward full transparency.

“The DOJ/FBI have already had three years to ‘review’ the files and can act immediately to produce the documents including the unredacted 2016 FBI Review Report of the bureau’s years-long investigation of Saudi government agents who ‘are known to have provided substantial assistance to’ the hijackers, as well as phone records and witness statements,” Eagleson said.

Eagleson at the time urged the Biden administration to disclose the information pertaining to the FBI’s investigation.

“The DOJ finally admitted that its investigation is actually closed, contrary to the bureau’s prior claims about investigative status. We hope the Biden administration comes forward now to provide the information the 9/11 community has waited to receive for 20 years, so we can stand together with the President at Ground Zero on 9/11,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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