Saudis Upset Over Clearance Flap

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal walks out of the West Wing after meeting with President Bush at the White House in Washington Tuesday, July 29, 2003. The White House, facing this crucial meeting with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, refused to declassify part of an intelligence report on possible links between individuals in the Saudi government and some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
AP
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says FBI and CIA agents in his country may question an employee of the Saudi civil aviation authority who befriended two of the Saudis involved in the Sept. 11 hijackings.

That concession made, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal expressed disappointment that President Bush would not declassify parts of a congressional report on the Sept. 11 hijackings. He said the refusal deprives the Arab kingdom of a chance to clear its name.

The information is widely believed to center on Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied supporting the hijackers.

Sources tell CBS News the redacted section lays out a money trail between Saudi Arabia and supporters of al Qaeda, reports Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

Among others, it singles out Omar al-Bayoumi, who gave financial assistance to Sept. 11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar.

The Saudi government has asserted it had no involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Everybody is having a field day and casting aspersions about Saudi Arabia," Saud complained Tuesday after meeting with the president and his senior advisers at the White House. "My concern is that the good name of Saudi Arabia is not tarnished." Still, he said, he understood Mr. Bush's reasoning.

CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller reports al-Bayoumi is an employee of the Saudi Aviation Authority with ties to two of the Sept. 11 terrorists. He was questioned before by the U.S., British and Saudis, but FBI and CIA investigators want to question him again.

President Bush had said earlier at the White House "there's an ongoing investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks and we don't want to compromise that investigation."

"If people are being investigated it doesn't make sense for us to let them know who they are," the president said.

Also, he said, "we have an ongoing war against al Qaeda and terrorists, and the declassification of that part of a 900-page document would reveal sources and methods that will make it harder for us to win the war on terror."

Saud vowed that his government would vigorously pursue terrorists and their financial supporters. Saud said his government was in touch with Iranian intelligence officials on detained al Qaeda suspects and had requested any Saudis among them be turned over to the kingdom.

Saud said anyone who accuses his country of helping Sept. 11 terrorists "must have a morbid imagination."

Several senators persisted in calling for declassification of the withheld sections.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that "90, 95 percent of it would not compromise, in my judgment, anything in national security."

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., called on the committee to ignore Mr. Bush's objections and push for declassification of the part of the report that has fueled allegations against Saudi Arabia.

Graham, a Democratic presidential candidate and the co-chairman of the congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, said that if a majority of the committee approved the request to declassify the 28 pages, President Bush would then have five days to tell the committee why he wants to keep the segment secret.

The committee could then overrule the president and send a resolution to the full Senate for a vote, Graham said.

He said he had asked the chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, to start the process.

"The White House has again today decided it is more important to deny the people of America the opportunity to know what happened before and after Sept. 11 in terms of involvement of foreign governments than it is to open the record for all to see," Graham told reporters.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement the interrogation of Bayoumi must take place in the United States and without any Saudi officials present.

"The administration's stubborn refusal to declassify documents is business as usual — coddling and covering up for the Saudis," Schumer said.

Portions of the 28 pages could be made public, with sensitive material withheld, Schumer said. "The American people have a right to know what countries supported the terrorists."