Secret 9/11 Documents to Be Released
Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Al-Qaida need few catalysts to generate a controversy. The 28 pages of a secret document locked up in the Capitol Building in Washington could trigger a major diplomatic crisis between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Americans will pay attention to this, because unlike sanctions against Russia or Iran, this one is likely to have serious repercussions on the average American Joe’s wallet.
The growing clamor along with allegations about Saudi attempts to keep the 28 pages hidden from the public eye will only increase the public calls to release them.
The issue certainly has cast a long shadow on President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Riyadh. The Saudi government has threatened to sell $750 billion of U.S. assets (Treasury bills and others) if Congress approves a law that would launch a process to determine what role, if any, that country played in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.
Seven-hundred-and-fifty billion dollars is a huge amount. It’s roughly the same amount that the Treasury Department used to bail out the banks in September 2008. That kind of sum, especially if dumped aggressively by a foreign government, could destabilize the U.S. economy. Recall that Japan sold U.S. Treasury bonds in October 1987, triggering one of the most historic market crashes of the 20th century. (Source: “Saudi threat to sell $750 billion in U.S. assets an empty bluff,” Journal Sentinel, April 23, 2016.)
As U.S. bond yields remain at historically low levels relative to inflation, a massive sale of bonds would push interest rates to rise beyond what market regulators have deemed necessary. This could generate massive pressure on fixed-income prices. (Source: Ibid.)
Saudi Arabia has played hardball before; it triggered the oil crisis and changed the way Americans designed and drove cars (the 55-mile-per-hour limit is a product of that move) in 1973 to protest Washington’s support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War.
This time, as indicated by Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir during a visit to Washington, the Kingdom would be forced to sell these assets to prevent them from being frozen for an overly extended period. President Obama is said to have asked Congress not to approve the legislation. However, U.S. legislators are under pressure from their constituents. Getting voted in again may trump stock market concerns this time.
Bernie Sanders, a candidate in the Democratic primaries for the White House, would like to see the 28 pages declassified. His rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, did not rule on the content of “28 pages,” but said that the declassification remains a national security issue.
Americans, especially those who have lost loved ones in these attacks, have not appreciated President Obama’s interference. There has been a long suspicion that Saudi Arabia has something to cover and it’s not easy to let this one pass without at least the semblance of a struggle. President Obama may simply appear to have interfered. He is doing his job—maintaining the United States’ interests—yet the fact that the issue has come to the fore now reflects a rapidly worsening bilateral relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
For the record, Saudi Arabia has denied involvement and a U.S. investigation has not found any evidence of it. Still, officially, 15 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of Al-Qaida, was himself a Saudi, even if authorities stripped him of his citizenship in 1994.
All of this matters little, though. Many Americans suspect that senior Saudi political leaders played a role in the attacks.
Yet the large-scale dumping of U.S. Treasuries would weaken the U.S. dollar, itself pegged to the Saudi riyal. This would backfire on the Saudis, who are facing increasing problems keeping up their social welfare obligations. Any major lapse in social spending risks fueling an Arab Spring-like revolt in the Kingdom.
Moreover, the Saudi bite doesn’t hold as deeply as it once did. The United States and others have been so good at extracting oil from shale and other non-traditional deposits that they have become energy-independent. The Saudis cannot afford any oil embargos, since they themselves have chosen to avoid production cuts to eliminate competitors.
The problem is that even if the Saudi threat to dump U.S. assets is a bluff, President Obama cannot take that risk. He may end up vetoing the release of the 28 pages. The Saudis, as The Atlantic points out, have done irrational things recently, from starting wars to funding Salafist groups in Syria to refusing to cut oil production in order to regulate oil prices. (Source: “Why Obama Should Veto the Saudi 9/11 Bill,” The Atlantic, April 20, 2016.)
Still, President Obama has 60 days to decide. He does not need to worry about re-election and he may call the Saudis’ bluff.