The families have long moved through US courts to seek accountability for the Saudi government. They accuse multiple US administrations of seeking to cover up close US-ally Saudi Arabia's involvement in supporting the al-Qaeda hijackers.
The ordered declassification comes just days before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks which took the lives of almost 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington D.C., and over Pennsylvania with the downing of United Airlines Flight 93.
Last month about 1,700 family members of the victims wrote a scathing letter to President Biden urging him to skip 9/11 memorial events unless he's willing to release the documents immediately. "Since the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission in 2004 much investigative evidence has been uncovered implicating Saudi government officials in supporting the attacks," the letter said.
Biden's Friday executive order stated that "Information collected and generated in the United States Government's investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed, except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise."
"When I ran for president, I made a commitment to ensuring transparency regarding the declassification of documents on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America. As we approach the 20th anniversary of that tragic day, I am honoring that commitment," Biden said in announcing the move.
"Today, I signed an executive order directing the Department of Justice and other relevant agencies to oversee a declassification review of documents related to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s September 11th investigations. The executive order requires the Attorney General to release the declassified documents publicly over the next six months."
The language of the executive order still leaves room to potentially restrict some documents or sections...
You will have a better chance of striking it rich by panning for gold in your bathtub than having any substantial 9/11 documents declassified and released to the public. https://t.co/iubx5XfwqR— NYC EMS Watch (@NYCEMSwatch) September 3, 2021
Previously in 2016, Trump had declassified the so-called "28 pages" - a reference final section of the December 2002 report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 - which had long remained classified.
The contents of those pages pointed further the Saudi Embassy foreknowledge as well as contacts and monetary support to some of the terrorists who conducted the attacks.