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Bush administration dismisses 'coverup' charge from Graham on 9/11

Florida Democrat running for White House

Sen. Bob Graham, pictured at a recent political event.
Sen. Bob Graham, pictured at a recent political event.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Monday dismissed a former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman's accusation that it is covering up information on the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, saying the senator's presidential aspirations were behind the comments.

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, said Sunday that the White House has refused to declassify portions of a joint House-Senate committee report on the attacks to "cover up the failures that occurred before September 11." Graham said the administration has thrown a "heavy blanket" over information that would help Americans better protect themselves against future attacks.

But a Bush administration official familiar with the debate between the White House and Congress over what to publicly release called the accusation "proof Senator Graham is running for president."

"I think it is noteworthy that you don't hear this kind of language from others involved in the inquiry -- only the one running for president," the official said.

Graham's office, however, pointed out that the administration's handling of the 9/11 probe has been criticized by other lawmakers and that Graham is not alone in pushing for the release of more information. Some newspapers have described support by Florida Rep. Porter Goss, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for the release of more information.

Graham was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002, when it conducted a joint inquiry into the attacks on New York and Washington with the House Intelligence Committee. Unclassified portions of their report, released in January, concluded there had been "significant gaps" in U.S. intelligence before the attacks.

"By continuing to classify that information so that it's not available to the American people, the American people have been denied important information for their own protection, for the protection of the communities," Graham told CBS' Face the Nation.

"Local agencies have been denied information which would help them be more effective first responders, and the American people do not have the information upon which they can hold the administration and responsible agencies accountable," he said. "I call that a coverup."

But the Bush administration says it offered unprecedented cooperation with the joint inquiry, providing more than 400,000 pages of highly classified documents and hundreds of interviews with officials in top positions and on front lines of law enforcement and antiterrorism efforts. It says it is trying to protect U.S. intelligence efforts by keeping a substantial amount of material classified.

"We do not think the American people want anyone in the government to release operational details or sources and methods and other sensitive information that could undermine national security and possibly endanger people's lives," the administration official said.

This official said the administration wants to release all materials that it has agreed with Congress should be public, then "come to closure on the remaining issues as quickly as possible."

But Graham said "a great deal" of what the administration is keeping under wraps "has already been released ... in public hearings."

Among the information still being withheld, Graham said, is the "kind of capability" terrorists have to operate within the United States, the prospects of foreign governments funding terrorists in the United States and why such information isn't being used to "deal with terrorists where they live and when they've been placed in the United States."

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.

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