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9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser is still waiting for answers from the U.S. government

·Chief Investigative Correspondent
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Twenty years later, Kristen Breitweiser is still waiting for answers about why her husband had to die.

It was Sept. 11, 2001, a little before 9 a.m., when Breitweiser’s husband, Ron, a money manager working on the 94th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower, called to let her know there had been an explosion at the building next door.

“He had told me that he had seen some people falling out of the building’s windows next door — jumping out of the windows,” Breitweiser recalled in an interview for the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. “He just said that he didn’t want me to worry, that he loved me, and that he was OK.”

But he wasn’t. Minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower — and Breitweiser never spoke to her husband again. The devastating loss prompted Breitweiser, whose daughter was 2 years old at the time, to embark on a personal crusade to demand accountability for one of the darkest days in American history.

As the country commemorates the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Breitweiser is far from achieving her goal. She remains irate that none of the al-Qaida terrorists who planned the attacks have been put on trial (largely because of legal wrangling over the CIA’s torture of those accused); that key documents about the FBI’s investigation into what happened remain under lock and key, and that the U.S. government has yet to hold accountable the senior CIA and FBI officials who failed to prevent the attacks or the officials of the Saudi government she believes were complicit in assisting the hijackers.

[See also: "The things they kept: 9/11 survivors and family members open up about the mementos that helped them heal"]

Kristen Breitweiser, co-founder of September 11th Advocates, speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2002.
Kristen Breitweiser, co-founder of September 11th Advocates, speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2002. (Hyungwon Kang/Reuters)

“Obviously, it’s not comforting to know that my government has not prosecuted one co-conspirator of the terrorists,” she said. “Yes, we have detainees in Guantanamo, some of whom have made self-admissions as to planning the 9/11 attacks, like [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed], and yet, we will never be able to hold them accountable in an open court of law. 

“And so, at the end of the day, what you have is 3,000 homicides in broad daylight, and this country really letting them go unanswered,” says Breitweiser. “And that’s not something I would have ever thought to see in my country.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, Breitweiser and several other widows, known collectively as “the Jersey Girls,” became high-profile lobbyists for the creation of a national commission to investigate the attacks. She and her Jersey Girls colleagues then became persistent monitors of the panel’s activities, including a memorable meeting with the man President George W. Bush had originally picked to chair the commission, Henry Kissinger.

One of Breitweiser’s fellow Jersey girls asked Kissinger point-blank if his international consulting firm had any Saudi clients. “He was drinking a cup of tea, and he bobbled his cup of tea, and nearly fell of out of his seat,” recalls Breitweiser.

Kissinger resigned as the panel's chairman the next day.

Firefighters walk toward one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City.
Firefighters walk toward one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City. (Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

Today, it is the lack of transparency about the role of Saudi government officials that irks Breitweiser the most. She finds it inexplicable that in February, the Biden administration could release a U.S. intelligence report about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 — including details about communications involving Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — but still refuse to release key documents from “Operation Encore,” the FBI’s investigation into the role of other Saudi officials in allegedly assisting two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khaled al-Mihdhar, after they flew into Los Angeles Airport in January 2000. Both of the hijackers were on the agency’s radar after they attended an al-Qaida summit that was being monitored by the CIA in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“If that information [about the Khashoggi murder] can be shared, then you need to answer for me why information about wiretaps that came out of these two hijackers in California — Mihdhar and Hazmi — cannot be shared with the American public. Can any of you guys explain why that should be?” Breitweiser asked.

In recent days, President Biden — after some 9/11 families threatened to boycott any ceremonies with him if he didn’t act — directed the Justice Department and FBI to review the still classified documents from Operation Encore to determine what material can now be publicly released. Already, the Justice Department has notified a federal magistrate that it is seeking the release of phone records involving the hijackers that were obtained through grand jury subpoenas, a sign that at least so far, officials are taking Biden’s directive seriously.

But Breitweiser says she is waiting to see what will come if it. “Now whether that review is going to be as fulsome as needed, I don’t know,” she said. “I’m hopeful because that’s all I’ve got left 20 years out, is hope.”

As for her plans for Saturday, the day of the anniversary, Breitweiser won’t be attending any ceremonies. “I’ll be taking the day outside, quietly, in nature,” she said. “Because that’s the way I feel closest to Ron. I just will completely immerse myself outdoors, feel the sunshine, because that’s how I feel closest to him.”

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