WASHINGTON – The Republican chairwoman of a Senate committee denounced the Treasury Department's (search) refusal to reveal how often the Bush administration rejected recommendations to penalize Saudi organizations suspected of financing terrorists.
The information sought by Sen. Susan Collins (search) of Maine, chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee (search), could reveal whether the administration was more reluctant to designate Saudi organizations as supporting terrorism than organizations from other countries.
In a letter Wednesday to Treasury Secretary John Snow, Collins said the department's response to her request was "entirely unsatisfactory."
The dispute is the latest between the Senate and the White House over whether the administration has been trying to conceal information suggesting Saudi links to terrorism. The Saudi government strongly denies any ties and administration officials have praised their help fighting terrorism.
A Treasury Department spokesman said Collins' committee had been offered a classified briefing providing more details, but added that the administration did not want them made public.
"Disclosure of information pertaining to ongoing U.S. government activities to fight terrorist financing may frustrate those efforts," said Taylor Griffin. "The last thing we want to do is tip off terrorists that we're after them."
Senators have been urging the administration to release at least part of a 28-page, classified section of the congressional report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The section deals with foreign support for the hijackers. People who have seen it say it raises questions about the Saudis.
Collins' request for information came in a July 25 letter to Richard Newcomb, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (search). The office makes recommendations to the administration about which groups or individuals should face economic sanctions for helping terrorists. It also helps enforce the sanctions.
Collins asked Newcomb how often OFAC recommended sanctions for Saudi individuals or entities, how often those recommendations were accepted, and how that percentage compares recommendations involving groups or individuals from Spain, Germany, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan.
At a hearing Thursday, members of Collins' committee also asked him to name the Saudi organizations or individuals suspected of financing terrorism.
In a response Tuesday, Newcomb said neither the names requested at the hearing nor the numbers sought by Collins could be provided. He said the information "could compromise ongoing diplomatic efforts as well as intelligence or law enforcement investigations or operations." He offered to help arrange a classified briefing to discuss the factors involved determining who should face sanctions.
Collins said the department "has provided no rationale" for why the statistics can't be provided to the committee.
"I can see no reason why the disclosure of statistics would affect these (investigations) in any way," she wrote.
She said her questions must be answered before any classified briefing. "It is inexcusable that I have not received answers already," she said.