Clash over 800 page 911 report
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Congress, White House clash over declassifying 9/11 report
By Kathy Kiely and John Diamond
WASHINGTON -- A behind-the-scenes dispute over how much the public should be allowed to see of a report on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could touch off a constitutional confrontation between Congress and the White House.
The House and Senate intelligence committees spent most of last year investigating why the nation's spy and law enforcement agencies failed to prevent the attacks. The committees filed the approximately 800-page report in December, but it was classified so that intelligence agencies could review it first.
When the agencies recommended censoring more than two-thirds of the report, committee leaders protested. The agencies made their counteroffer late Thursday; committee aides were reviewing it.
''We will continue to work with them to resolve issues and address concerns,'' said CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield. He said the agency is trying to ''protect sensitive sources and methods that will help us prevent future attacks.''
But Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who co-chaired the joint intelligence committee's inquiry and is running for president, said he suspects intelligence agencies want parts of the report kept secret because it tells ''a fuller and more complete story than they would like.''
One sign of the seriousness of the dispute: Even House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., a former CIA officer who is sympathetic to the intelligence agencies, has said Congress could overrule the agencies. ''We have the right to use our apparatus to declassify the report,'' he said earlier this week.
Under an obscure, 26-year-old rule, the House and Senate could vote to declassify the intelligence committees' report over administration objections. ''If we want, we could have the entire thing printed,'' said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Among the information at issue: reports on Saudi Arabian ties to the terrorists. Graham would not confirm that the report fingers the Saudis, but he said, ''There's a lot of protection of . . . political relationships between the United States and foreign governments.''
Another potential area of dispute: an August 6, 2001, intelligence briefing for President Bush that warned al-Qaeda might try to hijack U.S. airliners.
The White House says material from the briefings should not be made public for security reasons. But some committee members have questioned that argument after it was revealed that Bush invited Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend his morning intelligence updates while they were at his Texas ranch.
''You can be assured that they are getting access to information that is in America's interest for them to know,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said she wants to know what type of briefings were shared with the foreign leaders. ''If it's the president's daily briefing, which is only for him, that would be totally inappropriate,'' she said.
The declassification rule has never been used and would be certain to provoke a court challenge. But there are those, including some family members of Sept. 11 victims, who think Congress should invoke it if the agencies don't agree to make most of the report public.
''If the agencies cannot or will not declassify it, then Congress . . . should pursue that option,'' said Tim Roemer, a former congressman who participated in the House-Senate inquiry. He is now a member of an independent commission investigating the attacks.
Some of those who lost loved ones in the attacks suspect a coverup. ''Apparently, the joint inquiry did too good a job,'' said Kristen Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband, Ronald, died at the World Trade Center. Said Steve Push of Washington, D.C., whose wife, Lisa Raines, died on the jet that struck the Pentagon: ''It's essential that this report be declassified.''