- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

A leading Republican senator yesterday called for the release of classified information in a report on September 11 and suggested Saudi Arabia will be the target of a congressional investigation into terrorist financing.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Banking Committee, said 28 blanked-out pages of the report were withheld because it “might be embarrassing to some international relations.”

“I think they’re classified for the wrong reason. I went back and read every one of those pages, thoroughly, two or three days ago. My judgment is 95 percent of that information could be declassified, become uncensored so the American people would know,” Mr. Shelby said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The report released last week detailed mismanagement and incompetence of some federal agencies before the deadly hijackings. The withheld information reportedly implicates Saudi Arabia for donating millions of dollars to charity that instead financed terrorist activities.

Government officials complained in the report that Saudi officials refused to cooperate on matters relating to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi native, prior to the terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday” an unnamed government “provided logistical assistance to at least two of the hijackers.” He and other officials appearing on Sunday talk shows refused to name Saudi Arabia as the country identified in the redacted pages, citing disclosure of classified information as a crime.

“High officials in this government, who I assume were not just rogue officials acting on their own, made substantial contributions to the support and well-being of two of these terrorists and facilitated their ability to plan, practice and then execute the tragedy of September 11,” Mr. Graham said.

However, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that withholding part of the report was done to “protect the Saudis.”

“There was obvious Saudi involvement,” said Mr. Roberts, who wants the redacted pages released.

Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, defended the report’s classification, saying disclosure would “contaminate that investigation.”

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, said the redacted pages “are being used by some to malign our country and our people” and that “false accusations against Saudi Arabia continue to be made by some for political purposes.”

An official close to the Saudi Embassy called yesterday’s criticisms “a free kick to go after Saudi Arabia” and said the country has “nothing to hide when it comes to charitable donations.”

“Saudi Arabia is probably the strictest country with rules and regulations to watch charitable giving and money-laundering,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “There is no way this stuff is going on to the degree that people seem to claim.

“There is nothing there the Saudi Arabians can respond to until they actually see it. They can’t respond to blank pages and [members of Congress] are using the blank pages to malign Saudi Arabia. It is completely unfair.”

Mr. Shelby said the Banking Committee will conduct its own investigation into terrorist financing and suggested Saudi Arabia will be the top target.

He said Americans deserve to know of the hijackers’ foreign sources of support, but that “the American people will figure it out, who is supporting who, and who is our real ally, and who has a transactional relationship with us.”

“I’m not at liberty to get into who it is on this show, but I can tell you on the Banking Committee, which I now chair, we are … going to investigate who’s financing the terrorist operations,” Mr. Shelby said.

Appearing on CNN’s “Late Edition,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, said he also agrees with the Bush administration’s decision to classify some portions of the report to protect sources and methods.

“We have people who are out in communities, people who are named in this particular report, who, if we divulged their names, we put their life at risk,” Mr. Chambliss said.

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