In November 2020 the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP) decided on appeal 2012-156, an appeal for 26 documents created by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, also known as the 9/11 Commission, now in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. These documents were declassified in January 2021 following a 60-day period during which an agency head may appeal to the President an ISCAP decision to declassify additional information. The staff of the ISCAP is preparing to post these documents on the ISCAP website for public access under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The first eight documents have been posted to the ISCAP’s website. They fall into two categories. Documents one through six (some of which are posted on the website in multiple parts due to their file size) are communications logs generated by the U.S. military on September 11, 2001. These communications logs detail individual radio and other communications transmissions concerning air defense mobilization, defense condition changes, the movement of national leaders, and other aspects of the military response at the moment of the terrorist attacks that day. These documents are not self-explanatory and require the reader to decipher military acronyms including NEADS (North East Air Defense Sector), CONR (Continental United States NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] Region), and WADS (Washington Air Defense Sector), among others. These documents provide a view into the minute-by-minute response of the U.S. Government and are the raw materials from which historians and others can construct a more complete analysis of that day.
The second type, documents seven and eight in the set recently posted, are printouts of presentations produced by the Joint Staff summarizing the military response to the terrorist attacks in the several days after the attacks. The presentations, which begin on September 11, 2001, contain slides summarizing the military response including the mobilization of air defenses, of ships, and of medical units. These presentations provide an hour-by-hour, day-by-day view into the military’s response.
Readers will see comparatively few redactions in these documents. The redaction code confirmed by the ISCAP in these documents is national security classification category 1.4(g) from Executive Order 13526, which concerns, “vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans, or protection services relating to national security.” In these documents, that redaction category covers information that, if released, would reveal details about the actual execution of continuity of government plans, the timing of specific aspects of defense condition (DEFCON) changes, and other areas of military emergency planning.
Are these redactions keeping secret information about the 9/11 attacks? Yes, but these redactions are limited and protect details of U.S. Government emergency planning that would weaken our ability to respond to future attacks. For each document the ISCAP weighed the interest in public disclosure with the harm the disclosure would cause to American defense capabilities if the information was known to our adversaries. The ISCAP ultimately decided to declassify these records in part, maintaining some information as secret to protect U.S. national security while declassifying other parts that permit public evaluation of the U.S. Government’s response on September 11 and the days immediately after the attack.