Pressure is mounting on the Bush Administration to declassify portions of a U.S. congressional report that alleges an unnamed foreign nation provided backing and support for the al-Qaeda terrorist network prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham has served as co-chairman of the congressional probe of the September 11 attacks and is running in the 2004 presidential race. Speaking on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday, Mr. Graham said there are two reasons that 28 of the 850-page congressional report are blank. One has to do with foreign diplomacy; the other, according to the senator, has to do with shielding federal agencies from embarrassment.
"This is being done in order to protect relationships with foreign governments - particularly a [specific] foreign government - and to disguise and keep from the American people the ineptitude and incompetence [of federal agencies] which was a contributing factor in September 11," Senator Graham said.
Numerous media reports identify Saudi Arabia as the country that the congressional report alleges provided some form of support for those who carried out the September 11 attacks. Saudi officials themselves have made public comments that indicate they believe the report refers to them. Last week, the kingdom's ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, complained that Saudi Arabia "can deal with questions in public but cannot respond to blank pages."
But the congressional inquiry's Republican co-chairman, Florida Congressman Porter Goss, insists there are legitimate reasons for keeping parts of the report classified. Speaking on another U.S. television program, Meet the Press, Mr. Goss said investigations of ties between foreign governments and al-Qaeda are continuing, and that information on the subject must be withheld until the probes are completed.
"There are three reasons we classify information: one is to protect sources and methods [of intelligence gathering], another is to protect ongoing investigations, and another is to protect sensitive foreign liaisons. We request[ed] an active investigation. That investigation is underway. We do not want to contaminate that investigation," Mr. Goss said.
Mr. Goss added that the blank pages from the congressional report will be made public once all investigations are complete.
But that was not good enough for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The California Democrat said vital information concerning terrorism must be released if the United States is to guard against future attacks.
"It is true that sources and methods of ongoing investigations and our national security interests call for classification. But to protect that, we do not have to protect reputations. We need to protect the American people into the future. Secrecy does not serve that purpose," Ms. Pelosi said.
The congressional report details a series of missed opportunities prior to September 11th that, if pursued, might have alerted federal authorities that a terrorist attack was imminent.
Speaking on the U.S. television program Face the Nation, Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin said many of the problems that existed before September 11 have yet to be corrected.
"There has been no accountability of CIA people who failed or FBI people who failed. And there are still ongoing failures in terms of analyzing intelligence information. We do not have a clear single place where all information about foreign terrorism is being analyzed," Senator Levin said.
But Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts insisted that progress is being made. "We have great [intelligence] collection data but we did not analyze it very well. We did not share it very well. We are making progress on those lines. There is some good news in that report," Senator Roberts said.
That view is shared by the Bush Administration. Upon release of the congressional report, the White House issued a statement saying that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working closely together, aided by new tools to prevent terrorist attacks.