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911 attacks preventable panel head believes { December 19 2003 }

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9/11 attacks preventable, panel head believes
He cites years of errors at lower levels of government
Philip Shenon, New York Times
Friday, December 19, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Washington -- The chairman of a federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said Thursday that information long available to the public shows that the attacks could have been prevented had a group of low- and mid- level government employees at the FBI, the immigration service and elsewhere done their jobs properly.

The chairman, Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, said Thursday that mistakes over many years left the United States vulnerable to such an attack, but he resisted pinning blame on either of the last two presidential teams.

"We have no evidence that anybody high in the Clinton administration or the Bush administration did anything wrong," Kean said in an interview with ABC's "Nightline" taped for airing Thursday night.

He said in a separate interview, however, that his investigators are still studying whether senior Bush administration officials should also share the blame. He said it is too early to suggest that White House aides or other senior officials were derelict.

"There were people at the borders who let these people in even though they didn't have proper papers to get into this country," Kean said of immigration inspectors who allowed the hijackers into the country.

"There were visa people who let these people in," he said. "There were FBI people who, when they got reports from Phoenix and Minnesota and elsewhere, didn't think they were important enough to buck up to the higher-ups. There were security officers at the airports who let these people onto airplanes even though they were carrying materials that weren't allowed on airplanes."

Kean said an interview that was broadcast Wednesday by CBS News was being misinterpreted as suggesting that he was calling for the departure of senior administration officials.

"We don't have the evidence to do that yet," he said. "We're doing the work. The report may in fact end up suggesting that people are the subject of some serious criticism."

Kean, whose bipartisan 10-member panel is to issue a final report in May, said he is surprised that some midlevel officials at the FBI and in federal immigration agencies have not been removed from their jobs, given errors before the Sept. 11 attacks that may have allowed the hijacking plot to go undetected.

"It surprises me that if there were serious mistakes, there haven't been any consequences of those mistakes," he said.

The FBI has come under fire from critics in Congress and elsewhere because it has not taken serious disciplinary action against a group of midlevel officials in Washington who failed to act on information from field agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis suggesting that terrorists might have entered the United States, possibly for an attack using commercial airplanes.

The FBI had no formal response to Kean's commentsThursday. A bureau official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the actions of the midlevel personnel before Sept. 11 are "under review, including an inspector general's review of whether there were institutional or personnel issues that should be addressed."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday that the administration has not changed its view on whether the attacks could have been thwarted. "As we have previously said, there is nothing that we have seen that leads us to believe that September 11th could have been prevented," he said. "We previously said that. That still stands."

Chronicle news services contributed to this report.

2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback | FAQ

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