Mr. Chairman, I don’t have any general remarks to make at this point, but I would like to say one thing. We are holding a hearing today on, in large part, what our intelligence agencies knew about Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi before they participated in the September 11 attacks.
In our first open hearing on Wednesday, several Members complained about how much information the Administration has been willing to declassify. That issue, of course, is of concern to all of us.
I would like to point out, however, that there is vital information about these two hijackers that the Administration has shared with the Joint Inquiry Staff – but which the Chairmen have ordered be concealed not only from the public but also from the Members of these two Committees, and from Committee staff.
Mr. Chairman, in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence we have certain rules that govern how we do business. Among those rules is the requirement that information in the possession of the Committee be shared between the two sides of the aisle. This rule prevents the Majority from taking advantage of its status to hide information.
As you made clear in our first closed hearing, Mr. Chairman, we do not sit here as a joint committee. This Joint Inquiry is being run concurrently by the Senate and House oversight committees – as two separate committees, acting jointly. All records of the Joint Inquiry are simultaneously the investigative records of each committee.
It is a violation of our Senate Committee rules, Mr. Chairman, to conceal information in the Committee’s possession from Members of this Committee and from properly cleared Minority staff.
Unfortunately, this is not the only problem. In discussions with my staff, the FBI has indicated that it has been instructed by the two Chairmen not to share this same vital information with Members or staff of these two committees. I do not know what legal authority the Chairmen have to tell the FBI to withhold information from Senators and Congressmen, but these are apparently the instructions given to the Bureau.
I do not necessarily propose that we make the information in question – about these two hijackers – public at this time. That is a matter for the proper declassification authorities to determine.
I must insist, however, that we end this policy of withholding crucial information from committee Members and staff.
Conducting investigations and pursuing leads without fully informing the Members of the very committees who are supposedly in charge of the inquiry is not a precedent that any of us should ever condone.
I do not know how many Members of these committees are aware that information about these two hijackers has been concealed from them by the Committee leadership.
Members of these committees are privy every day to enormously sensitive compartmented information from across the Intelligence Community. I doubt that they will understand why they may not be permitted to know this information.
Before Members of these committees can consider themselves properly informed about the subject at hand, we must end this practice of withholding information from committee Members and staff.
If we need to discuss this matter in closed session, so be it. But we must not conduct investigations out of the full view of our Members.
With that said, Mr. Chairman, I believe that this still promises to be a very productive hearing and I am looking forward to the testimony.
I am very concerned, however, that the topics we are about to explore involve a great deal of classified and sensitive law enforcement information.
When we begin questioning the witnesses, the possibility of an inadvertent disclosure of classified information is very real and we would not serve the public interest if such a disclosure took place.
I support strongly your efforts to share as much information with the public as possible, but I am afraid that we may be walking too fine a line in this instance.
I believe that we should we conduct this hearing in a secure facility where we can have a full and unrestricted discussion without the risk of an inadvertent disclosure. We could also then be assured that we do not endanger the safety of our witnesses.
After the hearing we can review the transcript, redact classified and sensitive law enforcement information, then release it to the public.
Therefore, I urge you and Chairman Goss to close this hearing. Thank you.