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'Massive failure' by U.S. intelligence led to attacks, senator says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A leading Republican senator said Wednesday that last week's terrorist attacks represented "a massive failure" on the part of the U.S. intelligence community, and he faulted federal law enforcement agencies for a lack of coordination in relaying key information to one another.

"I think it was a debacle," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CNN. "It was a real massive failure. I don't know what happened. I don't know how it happened, but at the end of the day, we know that we were not warned."

Shelby noted that some information on two suspected hijackers had been passed from the CIA to the FBI, which in turn passed it to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But authorities failed to catch up with the men -- identified by sources as Khalid Al Midhair and Salem Alhamzi -- who were on board the hijacked jet that slammed into the Pentagon, according to the Justice Department.

"It's again, in my judgment, too many bureaucratic failures, not enough coordination between the agencies," Shelby said.

Shelby said the CIA director should be granted Cabinet-level status to elevate the agency's influence and prestige within a presidential administration. He said changes are needed at several agencies, including the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency. “We not only need more money, we need to change some things, and they've got to be changed at the top," Shelby said.

Shelby's comments come in the wake of revelations that the FBI had at least suspicions about the behavior of some individuals now tied to what may be a broader hijacking conspiracy.

One man being held in U.S. custody, Zacarias Moussaoui, was arrested August 17 in Minnesota on an alleged passport violation. Moussaoui was in custody at the time of last week's attacks, being held as a material witness.

Moussaoui had apparently raised suspicions because he sought training in flying commercial jets at an Oklahoma flight school despite having a lack of experience. FBI agents visited the Airman Flight School two weeks before the attacks, asking questions about Moussaoui.

-- CNN correspondents Kelli Arena, Eileen O'Connor, David Ensor and Maria Ressa contributed to this report

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