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Source: FBI to bear brunt of 9/11 criticism

Committee prepares to release final report

From Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau

Committee prepares to release final report

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is expected to bear much of the criticism from the joint congressional committee investigating the September 11 attacks, which is to release its final report Thursday, according to sources.

One issue discussed in the report is the help two of the hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, got once they settled in the San Diego area in January 2000, and whether there were signals the FBI should have picked up on.

Both have been identified as some of the hijackers who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

Alhazmi and Almihdhar are the two hijackers whose names were not put on a watch list before they entered the United States in January 2000, although the CIA was aware the men had attended a terror planning meeting in Malaysia earlier that month. The focus of that meeting, officials later determined, was the deadly bombing of the USS Cole.

While living in Los Angeles, the two went to the Saudi consulate to renew a visa and while there, according to a U.S. government official, they met Omar al-Bayoumi, active in San Diego's Muslim community. He suggested the men move to San Diego because it was more friendly.

According to the government officials, al-Bayoumi helped arrange their move to a San Diego apartment. While some press reports have said al-Bayoumi provided them with money, this government official said that because the two men did not have a checking account, al-Bayoumi wrote a check for rent and then they reimbursed him.

One of the questions raised in the report is whether al-Bayoumi was an agent for Saudi Arabia. A government official told CNN the report says one of the FBI's best sources thought al-Bayoumi must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another country, but there was no proof offered to support that contention so there was no reason for the FBI to place him under surveillance.

Informant: No hint of men's intentions

The final report also discusses, for the first time, the relationship between the two hijackers and their landlord at a house they moved to in San Diego.

The landlord, coincidentally, turned out to be an FBI informant, which CNN has previously reported. The informant told his handlers in the summer of 2000, according to a government official, that he had rented a room to the two men and described them as good, solid Muslims who were legally in the United States to attend school and were not involved in anything political or criminal.

Officials have said repeatedly that the informant saw no hint of the men's intentions.

The information about the help Alhazmi and Almihdhar received in San Diego was redacted from the committee's preliminary presentation in December.

In the December report, the committee said the nation's intelligence community "failed to capitalize on both the individual and collective significance of available information that appears relevant to the events of September 11th."

It said the intelligence community "missed opportunities to disrupt the September 11th plot" by such actions as denying entry to detaining would-be hijackers, and to at least try to unravel the plot through surveillance and to generate a heightened state of alert.

Members of the panel have criticized U.S. government officials for classifying too much material as national security sensitive and thereby keeping it out of the public version of the final report. It took congressional and government authorities seven months to come to agreement on what could be released in the declassified report.

Sources said much of the information about Saudi Arabia and its alleged support of terrorism will be redacted from the version of the report released publicly. There will be no mention, a government official tells CNN, of the FBI investigation of whether charitable contributions made by the wife of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States may have inadvertently gotten into the hands of hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One of the women who received money was the wife of al-Bayoumi, the man who helped the hijackers settle in San Diego.

A government official said the FBI investigation is complete and no wrongdoing was found.

Sources have told CNN the coming report also criticizes the intelligence agencies for failing to collect enough intelligence on al Qaeda activities in the United States and in their training camps in Afghanistan. Both CIA and FBI officials have acknowledged that was a problem and have already taken steps to do what they can to correct it.

Some of the criticism will again focus on whether the FBI should have been able to find signs of the planning of the attacks. FBI officials have repeatedly said the hijackers were very successful in staying under the radar while doing their planning.

Officials from several government agencies that are expected to receive criticism said their organizations already have made dramatic changes to improve intelligence collection and analysis. The FBI has completely changed its focus to that of preventing terrorist attacks.

And according to a U.S. government official seeking to deflect some of the expected criticism, the report states, "This inquiry has uncovered no intelligence information in the possession of the intelligence community prior to the attacks of Sept. 11th that, if fully considered, would have provided specific advance warning of the details of those attacks."

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