Lawmakers promise 'fact-driven' 9/11 probe
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House and Senate leaders said they were encouraged by their progress Tuesday in the first day of closed-door sessions looking into the September 11 attacks.
The session, which participants described as "a business meeting," set the ground rules for joint House-Senate hearings into reports that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies missed a series of signals that potentially could have pointed to some of the September 11 hijackers before the plot unfolded.
Rep. Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence committee, said the joint panel was already ahead of schedule and would begin staff briefings on Wednesday, instead of Thursday.
"We will be a fact-driven, witness-driven review inquiry," said Goss, R-Florida. "We will not be driven by outside pressures."
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said this was the first time in Congress' history that two standing committees have held joint hearings. He called the session "extremely constructive."
Earlier, congressional leaders urged the FBI and the CIA to stop trying to pin the blame on each other for intelligence failures prior to the attacks.
"It is not constructive to have two of your most important agencies perceived as having a fight, almost a children's playground fight," Graham said. "This is going to be a difficult, challenging period, and we all need to act like adults."
The joint House-Senate hearings are being held in a soundproof room under the Capitol dome. They followed revelations that the CIA tracked two suspected terrorists -- who wound up on the plane that hit the Pentagon -- for about 18 months before putting them on a border watch list about three weeks before the attacks.
The men, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, already were in the United States by then. (Full story)
CIA officials said late Monday that they had told the FBI in January 2000 that Almihdhar was expected to attend an upcoming al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia and merited scrutiny. The FBI, which already is under fire by some of its own agents who say headquarters stifled their investigative efforts, said it would not "engage in finger pointing."
Graham said the congressional inquiry will be organized like "a three-act play." The first act, he said, will focus on establishing a factual timeline as it relates to what was known before September 11. The second will examine strengths and weaknesses in the U.S. intelligence system and the third will look at likely reforms.
The first few meetings will be closed to the public, but later hearings are expected to be open.
"I want to understand what went wrong," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-California, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "I want to understand what was broken in the system so we can fix it, but the goal is to fix the system."
Earlier Tuesday, President Bush said he was concerned that the congressional inquiry could jeopardize the war against terrorism. He said Congress should conduct one focused investigation -- not several reviews -- so that law enforcement and intelligence officials are not distracted from their work.
"What I am concerned about is tying up valuable assets and time and possibly jeopardizing sources of intelligence," Bush told reporters during a tour of the National Security Agency on Tuesday. (Full story)
Bush said it was clear that communications between the CIA and FBI broke down before September 11, but said he was aware of no evidence that the government could have prevented the attacks.
In another development, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said that Egyptian intelligence warned U.S. officials about a week before September 11 that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was ready to execute a significant operation against an American target, according to a New York Times interview published Tuesday. (Full story)
A U.S. Embassy official in Cairo later cast doubt on that claim, telling CNN the U.S. Embassy is "reviewing conversations held with President Mubarak prior to 11 September 2001" but "we are pretty sure we were not warned of an impending attack."
-- CNN Correspondents John King, Kelli Arena, David Ensor and Kate Snow and Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
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