A congressional investigation into U.S. intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attack has turned up more missed clues that in hindsight might have helped uncover the plot, a lawmaker said on Friday.
“There was no single piece of information that on its own would have led you to a further investigation that might have avoided September the 11th,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham told reporters.
“But the fact is, it was not a single piece of information, there were a series of pieces of information, and in fact we are continuing to surface additional pieces of information where clues were given,” the Florida Democrat said.
The FBI has come under fire from Republicans and Democrats for not pursuing a memo written by an agent in Phoenix last July expressing concerns that Middle Eastern men linked to Osama bin Laden were taking lessons at U.S. flight schools.
“Of all the things I’ve seen, I think the Phoenix document is the brightest light,” Graham said. That memo was sent to two places at the FBI in Washington — the Radical Fundamentalist Unit and the Osama bin Laden Unit — but not any further.
The FBI also has been criticized for not correlating that memo with the August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen who sought flying lessons in Minnesota. Moussaoui is charged with conspiring in the attack, and U.S. officials suspect he was to have been the 20th hijacker.
Among the materials collected by congressional investigators were notes an FBI agent in Minnesota made about a telephone conversation with an official at FBI headquarters in which the agent said Moussaoui was going to “fly a plane into the WTC.”
“There will be more coming out in our investigation,” a congressional source said.
Asked if there were any missed clues apart from the FBI Phoenix memo and the Moussaoui arrest, Graham replied, “The answer is yes, but I can’t talk about it.”
“As information starts to become public, it causes people to come forward with even more information, so it’s kind of a domino effect,” Graham said.
FBI Agent Coleen Rowley complained in a recent 13-page letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and lawmakers that FBI headquarters should have approved a request from the Minneapolis office for a search warrant involving Moussaoui.
Mueller has asked the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the complaints by the Minneapolis agent.
“There were statements indicating that she felt that the higher-echelon leadership in the FBI had had a pattern of submerging what they considered to be critical comment,” Graham, who has seen Rowley’s letter, said. Congressional investigators interviewed her on Tuesday.
Graham said the letter, which has been classified secret by the FBI in eight places, was “very serious” and that he anticipated investigators would look at the cultures inside the intelligence agencies.
The US$2.9 million joint investigation being conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees is expected to hold its first hearings next month. Initially, the hearings will be closed, but an open one with CIA Director George Tenet and Mueller as witnesses was scheduled for late June.
“We’re ready,” Tenet said about the coming hearings after a meeting with Graham. “I think it’s important that we have hearings. The Senate and the House committees will do their job. We’ll try and help them.”
The investigation will look into the bureaucratic structures of the intelligence agencies and the information flow, and make recommendations on how to improve them.
The committees were expected to announce soon that the new head of the investigation would be Eleanor Hill, a former Defense Department inspector general, to replace Britt Snider who resigned over a personnel issue.