The Bush administration's refusal to make public which foreign countries are laundering billions of dollars in illegal drug profits is drawing heat in Congress.
Treasury Department officials say releasing the names of the countries could prove so "sensitive" that it might derail U.S. negotiations for money-laundering agreements with other countries.But Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said the administration doesn't want to name the countries because the U.S. has done little to forge such agreements.
A 1988 law requires the Treasury Department to identify foreign countries whose banks launder drug profits and which have not signed agreements with the United States to open bank records to inspection.
Treasury officials sent a report to Congress identifying the countries last month - but stamped the report secret. Officials say only Venezuela has signed an agreement since 1988, but insist negotiations are under way with 18 other countries.
"We can't tell the names of the countries in the report because the administration classified the report," said a staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Commitee.
In an interview, Carlos Correa, an international enforcement specialist with the Treasury Department, said disclosure could interfere with U.S. attempts to negotiate money-laundering agreements.
"These are sensitive negotiations dealing with sensitive issues," he said.
But Kerry, author of the amendment to the 1988 law requiring the report, said his staff was told that public disclosure could embarrass the countries.
"The countries which the Treasury Department has targeted are obvious - by in large, they're the ones that have strict bank secrecy," Kerry said. "The classification is typical of the way in which this administration does business - any time they have a policy failure, they classify it so that the American people won't find out."
Panama, Luxembourg, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas are among those identified in the past with bank secrecy laws.