WASHINGTON The Obama administration is considering whether to declassify still-secret sections of a congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks which examined Saudi Arabian support for Islamist militants, the White House said on Thursday.
Interest in the 28-page section of the report was raised after an imprisoned former al Qaeda operative, Zacarias Moussaoui, said in deposition transcripts filed this week that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures donated to his group in the late 1990s. Saudi officials have denied this.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that following a congressional request last year the intelligence community was undertaking a review of the decision to classify the secret section. He did not say when it might be completed.
Earnest sought to counter any concern about current U.S.-Saudi ties, saying: "The United States and Saudi Arabia maintain a strong counterterrorism relationship as a key element of our broad and strategic partnership."
Moussaoui said a list of donors from the late 1990s that he drafted during al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's tenure included some "extremely famous" Saudi officials, including Prince Turki al-Faisal Al Saud, a former Saudi intelligence chief.
Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the report's classified section, which documented the involvement of Saudi families and entities in financing terrorism, were divided over whether it should be released.
Some said it should not be published because it included material that had not been thoroughly investigated, while others, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no good reason to keep it secret.
People familiar with the report said most of the material that remained classified originated with the FBI.
Philip Zelikow, former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, a separate U.S. government inquiry into the attacks, said it was appropriate that the material was classified and there may still be reason to withhold it.
"None of the people involved had been interviewed and many relevant documents had not yet been reviewed," Zelikow said.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey and Tom Brown)