America mourns as FBI releases declassified 9/11 documents | First Thing

First Thing: America mourns as FBI releases declassified 9/11 documents

FBI documents show no evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 2001 attacks. Plus, Britney Spears gets engaged

US-ATTACK-9/11-ANNIVERSARYA flower adorns the apron at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City on September 11, 2021 during the commemoration for the 20th anniversary of terrorist attack in New York City. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

A flower at the 9/11 memorial in New York. Declassified FBI documents show no evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

A flower at the 9/11 memorial in New York. Declassified FBI documents show no evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 2001 terrorist attacks. Photograph: Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Mon 13 Sep 2021 11.58 BST

Good morning.

The FBI has released a newly declassified 16-page document related to logistical support provided to two of the Saudi hijackers in the lead-up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The document describes contacts the hijackers had with Saudi associates in the US but offers no evidence the Saudi government was complicit in the plot.

The document, released on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, is the first investigative record to be disclosed since Joe Biden ordered a declassification review of materials that for years have remained out of public view. The president had encountered pressure in recent weeks from victims’ families, who have long sought the records as they pursue a lawsuit in New York alleging that senior Saudi officials were complicit.

On Saturday, families of the victims gathered at the 9/11 memorial plaza in New York to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Similar ceremonies were held in Washington DC and Pennsylvania – the sites of other attacks that day.

  • Biden last week ordered the justice department to conduct a declassification review of investigative documents and release what they can.

  • The Saudi government has always denied any involvement and supports the full declassification as a way to “end the baseless allegations against the kingdom once and for all”.

  • George W Bush spoke at a memorial service in Shanksville, lamenting America’s current political turmoil and attacking those who threatened – or carried out – violence at home.

California recall: Newsom fights for survival as historic crises fuel extraordinary race

Gavin Newsom speaks at a ‘vote no on the recall’ rally in San Leandro, California, on Wednesday.
Gavin Newsom speaks at a ‘vote no on the recall’ rally in San Leandro, California, on Wednesday. Photograph: Terry Schmitt/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

Ballots were already being cast in California’s gubernatorial recall election when Gavin Newsom, visiting a pop-up clinic in Oakland, once again implored his constituents to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The week before, the governor had visited the site of the devastating Caldor fire, which had threatened the resort town of South Lake Tahoe and destroyed nearly 1,000 structures.

These calamities – a once-in-a-generation health crisis and unprecedented challenges posed by drought and extreme weather – were, largely, what gave rise to the recall effort. Having won his seat by a historic margin in 2018, Newsom has found himself in a peculiar position.

Still broadly popular in the state, he’s fending off challenges from Republicans and rightwingers that could trigger extraordinary political upheaval in one of America’s bluest states.

  • What’s on the ballot? Californians are being asked two questions. First, should the governor be recalled? And, if so, who should replace him?

  • If voters decide to recall Newsom, who is likely to replace him? Newsom’s leading challenger is the rabble-rousing rightwing radio host Larry Elder.

  • Who else is in the running? Other Republicans, including the former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, the assemblyman Kevin Kiley, the businessman John Cox and the Olympian turned reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, have failed to gain traction, and no prominent Democrats are running.

Trump’s White House chief of staff is target of Capitol attack records request

The then White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, passes a note to Donald Trump in the cabinet room of the White House on 3 August 2020.
The then White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, passes a note to Donald Trump in the cabinet room of the White House on 3 August 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol instructed telecom and social media companies last week to preserve records of Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The move positions the select committee on the doorstep of the Oval Office as it pursues a far-reaching inquiry into whether Trump and his White House helped plan or had advance knowledge of the insurrection perpetrated by the former president’s supporters.

House select committee investigators signaled their intention to examine potential involvement by the Trump White House and House Republicans when they last week made a series of records demands and records preservation requests for Trump officials connected to the Capitol attack.

Britney Spears engaged to Sam Asghari

Britney Spears,Sam AsghariBritney Spears and Sam Asghari arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Monday, July 22, 2019. Spears announced on Instagram on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, that she and Asghari are engaged. The couple met on the set of her “Slumber Party” music video in 2016. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
Britney Spears posted a video with Sam Asghari showing her engagement ring. Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Britney Spears has announced her engagement to her long-term boyfriend, Sam Asghari, with an exuberant post displaying a diamond ring engraved with the word “lioness”.

In an Instagram video post, she winks, kisses a smiling Asghari on the cheek and answers “yes!” when he asks if she likes it. Asghari, an actor and personal trainer, posted his own photo of Spears showing her ring to the camera.

The news comes days after her father filed to end the court conservatorship that has controlled the singer’s life and money for 13 years. In June, the singer told a court she wanted to marry Asghari and have a baby with him, during an impassioned plea to end the conservatorship.

Asghari’s manager, Brandon Cohen, confirmed that the pair were engaged. “The couple made their longstanding relationship official today and are deeply touched by the support, dedication and love expressed to them,” Cohen told Reuters.

  • Who is Asghari? He’s a personal trainer, model and actor who was born in Tehran, Iran and came to the US when he was 12. The couple met on the set of the Slumber Party music video in 2016.

  • Is Spears allowed to marry? Legally, Spears can get married, but the conservatorship must approve it, as with other major life decisions.

  • What’s happening with the fight to end the conservatorship? Britney Spears’s father filed an unexpected request to terminate the controversial conservatorship last week. The next hearing is on 29 September.

In other news …

Afghan Shiite Muslim refugees living in India pray for Afghanistan as they attend a procession to mark Ashoura in New Delhi, India, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Ashoura falls on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, when Shiites mark the death of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq in the 7th century. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Afghan Shiite Muslim refugees living in New Delhi, India pray for Afghanistan. Photograph: Altaf Qadri/AP
  • India is weighing up new security risks after the Taliban takeover as it faces the problem of greater Pakistani influence on Afghanistan and implications for the Kashmir insurgency. Meanwhile, hopes for a more progressive and less dogmatic Taliban are fading.

  • Russia’s Daniil Medvedev won his first grand slam title, ending Novak Djokovic’s calendar slam dream in the US Open final. Second seed Medvedev, 25, lost his two previous grand slam finals but won 6-4 6-4 6-4 yesterday.

  • Asa Hutchinson, the governor of Arkansas, added to the growing Republican backlash against Biden’s Covid vaccine mandate. He called the measure “counterproductive” and said it was an “unprecedented assumption of federal mandate authority” as other governors threaten to sue.

  • Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat standing in the way of Joe Biden’s signature $3.5tn spending bill, insisted again on Sunday he would not support the package, declaring the price tag too high and White House efforts to speed its passage too hasty.

Stat of the day: 9.2 million Britons watched Emma Raducanu win the US Open

Emma Raducanu with the US Open women’s singles trophy.
Emma Raducanu with the US Open women’s singles trophy. Photograph: Ella Ling/REX/Shutterstock

Never in tennis history has anyone fought through three qualifying rounds of a grand slam before winning the entire tournament, let alone an 18-year-old whom the bookies rated as a 400-1 outsider. What’s more, she did it without dropping a set. It was the stuff of Hollywood: the $2.5m (£1.8m) cheque, the praise from legends such as Martina Navratilova and a peak TV audience of 9.2 million Britons willing her on to her 6-4 6-3 victory over the Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

Don’t miss this: What I learned from living five years in a van

Illustration of van driving away, towards mountains, leaving behind piles of stuff
Illustration: Rita Liu/The Guardian

Like millions of other Americans reeling from the Great Recession, Stevie Trujillo suddenly couldn’t afford to pay bills and rent. “Something had to give. To make ends meet, I sold my car, and we moved into Tree’s van with only the bare necessities – some clothes, a few dishes, one pot and pan. For months, we slept in 24 Hour Fitness parking lots, but after a customer complained and the supervisor at Starbucks in San Clemente kicked me out for brushing my teeth, we headed south, where there would be less shame in being poor.”

Climate check: Murders of environment and land defenders hit record high

Deforestation in Colombia, the country that had the largest number of people killed while trying to protect forests, rivers and ecosystems in 2020.
Deforestation in Colombia, the country that had the largest number of people killed while trying to protect forests, rivers and ecosystems in 2020. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Murders of environment and land defenders hit a record high last year as the violent resource grab in the global south continued unabated despite the pandemic. Figures released by Global Witness show that 227 people were killed in 2020 while trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems on which their livelihoods depended. All but one of the deadly attacks took place outside North America, Europe and Oceania. The authors say environment-related conflict is, like the climate crisis, disproportionately affecting lower-income nations.

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Last thing: is it time to take aliens more seriously?

Illustration of shooting star in sky above a look, looking like a UFO in reflection
Illustration: Ana Yael/The Observer

In June, the US government published a long-awaited report into UFOs. Although the report did not, as many had hoped, admit to the existence of little green men, it did reveal that not only were objects appearing in our skies that the Pentagon could not explain, but some clearly posed “a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to US national security”. The Pentagon also revealed that it has been taking UFOs so seriously that it discreetly set up the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) in 2007.

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Author: Nicola Slawson