The National Archives and 9/11 Commission Records
Via Reuters on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we are reminded that the many records of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States remain sealed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA):
“Ten years after al Qaeda’s attack on the United States, the vast majority of the 9/11 Commission’s investigative records remain sealed at the National Archives in Washington, even though the commission had directed the archives to make most of the material public in 2009.” (Reuters, para.1)
“Several former commission staff members said that because there is no comprehensive effort to unseal the remaining material, portions of the records the commission had hoped would be available by now to scholars and the public instead will remain sealed indefinitely.” (Reuters, para. 4)
NARA’s Web site reports several key issues concerning the Commission’s records (emphasis added):
When the 9/11 Commission closed on August 21, 2004, it transferred legal custody of its records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Commission encouraged the release of its records to the fullest extent possible in January 2009. Because the Commission was part of the legislative branch its records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). (para.2)
NARA staff was unable to process the entire collection by January 2009. Review and processing focused on the portion of the collection that contains unique documents created by the Commission and those that reveal the most about the scope of the investigation and the internal workings of the Commission and its staff. (para.3)
So questions to National Archives – specifically, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferrie, Richard Hunt, Director of the Center for Legislative Archives, (NARA) and Assistant Director of the Center for Legislative Archives (NARA), Matt Fulgham:
Why is “no comprehensive effort” dedicated to releasing the remaining bulk of the 9/11 Commission’s records, especially on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attacks?
Is it really within NARA’s purview to determine “uniqueness”? To restrict access to only those documents its staff finds “unique”?
It seems to me the task of assigning “uniqueness” belongs to the families of the victims; the survivors; the responders, unwittingly exposed to a myriad of toxic substances; the general public, hungry for closure; to scholars, to verify or reject persistent conspiracy theories; and the Intelligence Community and policy makers to develop lessons learned. It is only through full release of the 9/11 Commission records that “uniqueness” can possibly be assigned.
In not releasing the 9/11 Commission records – especially the Bush and Cheney interviews conducted April 29, 2004 by the 9/11 Commissioners – NARA is in violation, at least in spirit, of the legislation that created the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks (Title VI, P.L. 107–30, November. 27, 2002):
SEC. 602. PURPOSES.
The purposes of the Commission are to—
(1) examine and report upon the facts and causes relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, occurring at the World Trade Center in New York, New York, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon in Virginia;
(2) ascertain, evaluate, and report on the evidence developed by all relevant governmental agencies regarding the facts and circumstances surrounding the attacks;
(3) build upon the investigations of other entities, and avoid unnecessary duplication, by reviewing the findings,conclusions, and recommendations of—
(A) the Joint Inquiry of the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives regarding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, (hereinafter in this title referred to as the ‘‘Joint Inquiry’’); and
(B) other executive branch, congressional, or independent commission investigations into the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, other terrorist attacks, and terrorism generally;
(4) make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, and the extent of the United States’ preparedness for, and immediate response to, the attacks; and
(5) investigate and report to the President and Congress on its findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures that can be taken to prevent acts of terrorism…