Daily Breeze

August 08, 2003

Harman leads call for declassifying report

TERRORISM: Democrats cite “compelling national interest” to name foreign ties of 9-11 attackers.

By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, led by ranking member Jane Harman, added their voices Thursday to demands that the Bush administration declassify portions of a congressional report that explore sources of foreign support for some of the 9-11 hijackers.

The secret sections reportedly deal with connections that two Saudi men and a Muslim cleric had with two of the hijackers who were based in San Diego for several months before the airborne attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

President Bush has refused to make the information public, saying it could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

But Harman, D-El Segundo, and the eight other Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee rejected that argument in a joint statement.

“We agree with a growing number of our colleagues in the House and Senate that there is a compelling national interest in releasing more of (the report), and that doing so will not compromise important intelligence activities,” they said.

In an interview, Harman said “most” of the disputed section could be released. It is part of a larger congressional report on the Sept. 11 attacks, much of which was made public last month.

“This story line is a critical part of the factual picture. The point of the 9-11 report was to tell the whole story as context for the strong recommendations we made” to improve intelligence and avert another major attack, Harman said.

A majority of the committee members could move to compel disclosure of the information. But Republicans control the panel and none has joined the calls for disclosure.

Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., has defended the Bush administration’s decision and has suggested that releasing the passages may “contaminate the investigation” of the attacks.

Several other congressional Democrats and some Republicans have called for declassifying all or part of the 28 pages at issue. But Harman had not joined those calls until Thursday.

The controversy has been building since late July, when the House and Senate intelligence committees released a nearly 900-page report on their 10-month investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks. Critics contend that the Bush administration refused to declassify the portions dealing with foreign involvement to avoid embarrassing Saudi Arabia.

Saudi officials have publicly called for release of the information, saying they are victims of a smear campaign.

Much of the controversy has centered on two Saudi men — Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan — who had connections to the two hijackers who lived in San Diego, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, who were also Saudi. Questions have been raised about whether al-Bayoumi and Basnan had ties to Saudi government officials.

Al-Bayoumi helped Alhazmi and al-Midhar get settled in San Diego. Basnan was described in declassified parts of the congressional report as a “close associate” of al-Bayoumi, who “also had close ties to a number of other persons connected to the hijackers.”

Both have denied wrongdoing. FBI agents interviewed al-Bayoumi in Saudi Arabia earlier this week.

The classified portions of the report also are said to deal with Alhazmi’s and al-Midhar’s ties to a Muslim cleric in San Diego who was the subject of an FBI counter-terrorism inquiry in 1999 and 2000.

Publish Date:August 8, 2003