Attorneys general, CIA and FBI chiefs to testify
Focus on FBI field investigations of al Qaeda cells
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The performance of U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community will come under scrutiny this week when the 9/11 commission holds another public hearing as part of its review of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Many lawmakers and administration figures faulted the FBI, CIA and other agencies for not sharing information and tips before September 11, and since the attacks the agencies have been told to cooperate more.
Among those scheduled to testify at the two-day hearings starting Tuesday are Attorney General John Ashcroft and his predecessor, Janet Reno; CIA Director George Tenet; FBI Director Robert Mueller and his predecessor, Louis Freeh; and former acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard.
This week's session follows a high-profile hearing Thursday in which national security adviser Condoleezza Rice delivered an unyielding defense of the Bush administration's antiterrorism policies in the face of occasionally sharp and skeptical questions from commissioners.
A key memo cited repeatedly in Thursday's hearing -- titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S." and given to the president August 6, 2001 -- was declassified and released Saturday by the White House at the urging of the commission. (Full story)
The so-called president's daily briefing memo said the FBI was conducting about 70 investigations concerning possible al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States that might have been planning plane hijackings or other attacks.
Bush said Sunday that the August 6 briefing memo contained no "actionable intelligence" that would have helped him to try to prevent the September 11 attacks.
But commission member Richard Ben-Veniste said the memo should have alerted Bush to the strong possibility of such an attack. (Full story)
Commission member Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, said the reference to the 70 FBI investigations was the most important feature in the memo.
"I don't know where those 70 field investigations were. The FBI didn't put them anywhere. Nobody in Washington knew about them," Gorton said.
"It seems to me the FBI has more questions to answer than Condoleezza Rice or [former White House counterterrorism adviser] Dick Clarke or anyone we've had testify before us so far."
One line of inquiry this week will likely be the so-called Phoenix memo, a missive written July 2001 by a field agent in Arizona who urged a broad review of Middle Eastern men taking flight lessons in the United States and raised the prospect that Osama bin Laden was involved.
The case of Zacarias Moussaoui also will likely be revisited.
In August 2001, the FBI's field office in Minneapolis, Minnesota, pursued an investigation of Moussaoui -- who had been arrested on immigration charges -- but could not get approval from FBI headquarters in Washington to seek a search warrant for the man's computer.
Moussaoui, a flight school student, later was charged as a conspirator in the September 11 attacks.
Many lawmakers have criticized FBI headquarters for not following up on the memo aggressively enough. Some critics have said the FBI failed to connect the dots that might have thwarted the September 11 plot.
Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said the hearing will focus on four questions:"How was our government structured before 9/11 to address the terrorist threat inside the United States?"What was the threat in 2001 and our government's response to it?"How did the intelligence community address the threat?"What reforms have been taken since 9/11 to respond to the terrorist threat inside the United States, and what have these reforms achieved?"
Previous hearings, including a joint congressional probe, have focused on the performance of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement services, particularly the CIA and the FBI.
Tim Roemer, a Democratic member of the bipartisan panel known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, told CNN that this week's session will likely follow up on some of the points raised by the earlier congressional probe.
"Well, the joint inquiry did a fabulous job, actually a brilliant job, in finding and discovering some of the problems at the FBI, and there are many," he said.
Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana, said there would be "new revelations" on that "theme" and the lack of cooperation between the FBI and CIA at this week's hearings.
Congress created the commission -- initially opposed by the Bush administration -- in November 2002 and charged it with coming up with an authoritative account of the attacks of September 11, including any security and intelligence lapses.
The panel is also required to issue recommendations on how to protect against future attacks.
The commission's report is due by July 26, but it may not be released at that time because it is subject first to a security review by the White House.
On Friday, the commission met in private with former Vice President Al Gore. In a statement after the three-hour session, the commission said he was "candid and forthcoming," and it thanked him for his "continued cooperation."
Former President Clinton met in private with the commission Thursday.
CNN's Kevin Bohn and Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.