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Lawmakers get details on 9/11 intelligence lapses

Senators: Information could have thwarted attacks

CIA Director George Tenet
CIA Director George Tenet  

From Kate Snow and Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of Congress heard a detailed description Tuesday of lapses and mistakes in handling intelligence information prior to September 11 -- information two key senators said might have helped thwart the plot.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Florida, and Vice Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, gave that conclusion after a lengthy session behind closed doors with the directors of the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency. Members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees investigating the September 11 attacks attended the session.

"I think in the best of worlds, had the information that was available been seen by one set of human eyes or a common group of human eyes, a pattern might have emerged which would have led to further intelligence activities that could have, at the end of the day, disrupted [the] plot before it was carried out," Graham told reporters after the session.

FBI Director Robert Mueller
FBI Director Robert Mueller  

Graham said the testimony identified lapses at all three agencies.

"They were the kinds of lapses that we have been hearing about over the past several weeks -- information that should have been communicated among law enforcement and intelligence agencies that was not; information that had a greater importance than it may have been given credit for and was not pursued; information that was gathered in a raw form but wasn't processed and analyzed so that it could have been utilized," he said.

Shelby said testimony showed there was "information, perhaps in all of the agencies, that if acted upon" might have made a difference, including information gathered by the NSA that would have been "very useful" if it had been translated, analyzed and disseminated in a timely matter.

"The same thing at the CIA and the FBI," Shelby said.

One lawmaker who attended Tuesday's session said NSA Director Michael Hayden was questioned specifically about a message that was intercepted by the agency on September 10 but was not translated until September 12.

Despite tough questioning, lawmakers said the atmosphere at Tuesday's closed hearing was cordial and professional. One lawmaker said there was no "slamming fists on the desk."

"There were no brawls," said Shelby.

Most of the session on Tuesday was devoted to a discussion of what happened in the days and weeks immediately before September 11, Graham said.

He said the three speakers had talked about everything from "the original concept of the 9/11 attack, the recruitment and training of hijackers [to] the financing and the coordination of those who were involved in its execution."

Graham said the September 11 plot had its origins "shortly after the African embassy bombings" in 1998.

Lawmakers who attended the session said the message from the three witnesses was that the plotters of the attack were extraordinarily professional and sophisticated.

While Graham said no new specific missed clues were revealed Tuesday, one new piece of information emerged about how one of the agencies "had or had not functioned." But he declined to reveal either the new information or the agency to which he was referring.

Graham also said having the three top officials in the same room enabled lawmakers to see connections that may have been missed or had appeared unrelated before the attack.

"We failed to see relationships that we should have. We failed to communicate from one agency to the other. Those are part of what we are learning today," Graham said.

All three directors are expected to testify before the panel again on Wednesday.

While this week's hearings are being held in private, the joint intelligence committees had expected to have public hearings next week.

But Graham raised doubts Tuesday that those public sessions would go forward as scheduled, since a judge hearing the ongoing criminal case against accused September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has placed some documents under seal.

"Much of the information that's going to be used in his trial is the same as, or similar to, what we're going to be gathering in terms of the plot," Graham said. "So we're working with the Department of Justice on a process by which we can get some pre-clearance by the court to assure that we're not doing anything that would jeopardize the Moussaoui trial."

Graham said there is a tradeoff between protecting national security information and information that will be used in a criminal trial versus the American public's right to know about what happened prior to September 11.

Asked if the snag would delay next week's planned public hearings, Graham said the committee would have to "see how that negotiation [with the Department of Justice] goes."




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