Saudis to let FBI question man with 9/11 ties
Bush says 'no' to declassifying 9/11 report
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal promised the White House on Tuesday that the FBI can question a Saudi citizen known to have ties to some of the September 11, 2001, hijackers, administration officials said.
An administration official said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice raised the issue of questioning Omar al-Bayoumi during a White House meeting, and "the response was positive."
A second official confirmed Rice and Prince Saud discussed "ongoing and additional" Saudi cooperation in terror investigations and confirmed that "one specific individual" came up.
Both officials said the FBI would now try to make the arrangements to question al-Bayoumi.
Al-Bayoumi, one focus of the joint House-Senate report on September 11 released last week, helped two of the hijackers settle in San Diego in January 2000 and provided some financial assistance to them, although officials disagree on the extent of the aid.
At the time, al-Bayoumi was active in San Diego's Muslim community, but he has since returned to Saudi Arabia.
Last November, Adel al-Jubeir, international policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, said al-Bayoumi had been charged with visa violations during his stay in the United States and was questioned and released by the FBI.
Congressional officials highlight the case of al-Bayoumi, employed by the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority, as one example of possible Saudi help to the September 11 hijackers.
Saudi officials have vehemently denied the hijackers received any official government help. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the attacks were from Saudi Arabia.
President Bush on Tuesday rejected calls to release classified sections of the report, saying his administration must protect intelligence sources during the war on terrorism.
"It makes no sense to declassify when we've got an ongoing investigation. That could jeopardize that investigation," Bush said during a Rose Garden appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"And it makes no sense to declassify during the war on terrorism, because it would help the enemy if they knew our sources and methods."
Bush's decision came in advance of the meeting with Saud. The Saudis sought the meeting, angry over allegations of possible Saudi links to terrorism -- an issue that has flared anew with the release of the congressional report.
Following the White House meeting, Saud called suggestions of any Saudi link to the attacks "misguided speculation that is borne of poorly disguised malicious intent."
He said the Saudi government is committed to fighting terrorism along with the United States. He said Saudi authorities have arrested more than 500 suspected terrorists since the attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people.
"Saudi actions have not only led to the arrest of major terrorists and the disruption of their cells in Saudi Arabia, but also led to similar results in the United States," he said.
Saud also urged that classified sections of the report be unsealed to allow the Saudi government to defend itself, but he said the request was refused.
"We have nothing to hide," Saud said. "And we do not seek, nor do we need, to be shielded."
Families representing victims of the attacks have raised questions as to whether al-Bayoumi was working as a Saudi agent when he helped two of the hijackers.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, criticized the administration's "obsession with secrecy" and suggested it had other reasons for withholding the information.
"Classification should protect sources and methods, ongoing investigations and our national security interests," Pelosi said in a written statement. "It is not intended to protect reputations of people or countries."
The edited 800-page report by the House and Senate intelligence committees cited "missed opportunities" to disrupt terrorism before the attacks.
Last week, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said there was "an attempt here to conceal evidence that implicates the Saudi regime in a terrible tragedy."
Over the weekend, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, said at least part of the congressional report was edited to "protect the Saudis," adding that "there was obvious Saudi involvement" in the hijackings.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan did not directly address those comments, but described a "good friendship" between Saudi Arabia and the United Stations.
"We're pleased with the cooperation we have, and we'll continue to work with them," he said.
An independent commission led by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean is still conducting its own inquiry into the attacks. But commissioners have said the probe has been hampered by delays in turning over requested documents by government agencies
Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham sent a letter to Bush on Monday asking him to release censored parts of the congressional report. Declassifying more intelligence information could clear up the matter, Graham wrote.
"That will permit the Saudi government to deal with any questions which may be raised in the currently censored pages, and allow the American people to make their own judgment about who are our true friends and allies in the war on terrorism," Graham wrote. (Full story)
Last week, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, expressed outrage at the decision to keep parts of the report dealing with Saudi Arabia classified.
"There is something wrong with the basic logic of those who spread these spurious charges. Al Qaeda is a cult that is seeking to destroy Saudi Arabia as well as the United States," he said. "By what logic would we support a cult that is trying to kill us?" (Saudi raid on suspected militants)