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Cia wont release papers 911 probe { May 1 2003 }

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Hill Panel, CIA-Led Group Fight Over Sept. 11 Papers
Classified Information Sought on Saudis, Al Qaeda

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 1, 2003; Page A10

The congressional intelligence panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is locked in a dispute with a CIA-led committee over declassifying information the panel believes is critical to understanding the attacks and the al Qaeda network, according to panel members and staff.

Topping the list of secrets the intelligence agency is refusing to make public are unresolved allegations, some unearthed by the panel during its investigation, that Saudi diplomats and intelligence officers aided the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and al Qaeda associates living in the United States and abroad.

The information about possible Saudi connections is among the most sensitive and potentially embarrassing information in an 800-page report that the joint House-Senate intelligence panel staff completed several months ago. Saudi Arabia is considered a U.S. ally, and its cooperation and bases were crucial to the United States in the war against Iraq. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and the panel discovered what it believes are other possible links between Saudi government officials and terrorists.

The FBI and CIA have told the committee that these issues have been fully investigated, but some panel members do not agree. Instead, they worry that the FBI in particular has not fully investigated alleged Saudi links to terrorist suspects in the United States.

"We still don't know if the Saudi activities are an official link, whether they were rogue or sanctioned," one panel staff member said.

The declassification dispute involves much more than the Saudi allegations. After an initial review by a CIA-led declassification committee, composed of representatives of the various U.S. intelligence agencies, the congressional panel compiled a 60-page list of still-classified information it believed should be made public. Some of the items on the list have been revealed in news accounts, public testimony or other public documents. Other items included information the panel did not believe was properly classified and would not harm national security if made public.

But the CIA-led committee has refused to budge on its initial review, a position that has angered Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, and Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), former ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee.

"We were promised cooperation, and I don't think we've gotten it," Goss said. He and Graham have asked for meetings with CIA Director George J. Tenet and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to push the matter. "The report is not going forward. I want to get it out," Goss said. "I don't see the nexus between sources and methods or an active prosecution. And I'm not sure anything said by a top intelligence official during public congressional testimony shouldn't be in this report."

CIA spokesman William Harlow said the review committee has been reconsidering the panel's 60 pages of requests. "We expect to have it completed by the end of May," he said. The requests involve about 300 pages of documents, Harlow said, all of which took time to review. "We hope to have this resolved," he said.

The joint, bipartisan panel, made up of all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, worked for 10 months investigating CIA, FBI, State Department and National Security Agency intelligence dealings, and failures, that led up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Among the panel's discoveries was that the FBI failed to seek a warrant to search the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested weeks before the attacks after raising suspicions at a Minnesota flight school, or heed the warnings of a Phoenix FBI agent that terrorists might be training at U.S. flight schools. The Phoenix memo, parts of which have been published in news accounts, is among the items the panel hopes to get declassified.

The panel held a series of public meetings, but most of its sessions were held behind closed doors. It made 19 recommendations for improving the U.S. domestic and foreign intelligence system, many of which were never acted on. A follow-on independent commission is now reviewing those and other findings.

The new commission has also run into difficulties gaining access to intelligence information, in part because of long delays in getting security clearances for its members and staff.

Last week, commission member Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic House member from Indiana, was denied access to some documents held by the joint inquiry panel.

The refusal stemmed from an agreement between the White House and the commission's leadership allowing the administration to review three sensitive transcripts before they were released. The standoff was settled yesterday when the White House said it would not oppose release of the material to the commission, officials said.

But Roemer, who had participated in the joint House-Senate inquiry as a lawmaker, said last week that the White House should not have the ability to cut special deals over information access. "This, by statute, is precisely the kind of fundamental information we are obligated to have," Roemer said.

Staff writer Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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