911 inquiry fired
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Reason Cited for Ousting of Terror Inquiry's Director
By JAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON, May 8 — The staff director of the Congressional panel investigating the government's handling of the Sept. 11 attacks was forced to resign last month because he did not alert the committee that he had hired an employee who was being investigated for failing a C.I.A. polygraph exam, government officials said today.
The staff director and the employee under investigation were once Central Intelligence Agency employees.
Several government officials said the leaders of the joint House-Senate panel forced the staff director, L. Britt Snider, to resign after they learned that he had hired a C.I.A. officer who was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.
C.I.A. officials had told Mr. Snider that the employee was under scrutiny because of problems that had surfaced in a polygraph examination, officials said. Mr. Snider did not immediately inform the committee leadership when he learned of the inquiry, and crucial lawmakers were angered after they somehow found out on their own, officials said.
The furor over Mr. Snider has dealt a setback to the Congressional investigation, which has been slow to get under way and was planned to be a rigorous, bipartisan examination of the failures that permitted the preparations for the Sept. 11 attacks to go undetected by intelligence and law enforcement authorities.
Mr. Snider resigned from the panel on April 26, and his action was announced on April 30, two months after he had started the job. The reasons for his decision were not made public then, and the matter has remained a delicate topic on Capitol Hill and at the C.I.A.
Mr. Snider did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.
Employees of the agency must undergo periodic security reviews, including polygraph examinations, to retain their security clearances. The C.I.A. officer, whose name has not been disclosed, had a problem on a recent polygraph that was being investigated when he quit to take the job with the committee.
The employee was forced out along with Mr. Snider and has not returned to the C.I.A, officials said.
Several officials stressed that despite the polygraph problem, the employee was not suspected of involvement in espionage. The officials noted that it was not uncommon for C.I.A. employees to have inconclusive or negative results on polygraph examinations.
In many such instances, the polygraph tests prompt security or counterintelligence reviews, which then lead to employees' being cleared to return to work.
In this case, the main problem for Mr. Snider appears to have been his failure to inform the joint committee's leadership of the investigation. The committee is made up of members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate committees are running the joint Sept. 11 investigation.
Mr. Snider, a former inspector general of the C.I.A., is a longtime, close associate of the central intelligence director, George J. Tenet. They first worked together more than a decade ago on the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Mr. Snider, a lawyer, was later a special counsel to Mr. Tenet before taking over as inspector general.
Because of Mr. Snider's close ties to Mr. Tenet, some critics had seen his appointment to run the Sept. 11 inquiry as a sign that Congress would not aggressively investigate the agency's performance in the months leading up to the attacks.
Senator Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama Republican who is the ranking member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, also a member of the Senate intelligence committee, had both expressed concern that Mr. Snider's appointment would leave the perception that the panel would not be sufficiently independent of the intelligence community.
A replacement for Mr. Snider has not yet been named, leaving the newly hired staff without a leader as it tries to gain access to records and documents at the C.I.A., F.B.I. and other agencies in preparation for hearings.
Senator Bob Graham, the Florida Democrat who is chairman of the Senate intelligence committee and a co-chairman of the Sept. 11 panel, said earlier this year that he hoped to begin hearings by late April or early May. Now, the timetable is unclear, though several lawmakers said they hoped the hearings could begin this summer.
"The timetable may slip some, but hopefully not too much," said Representative Jane Harman, Democrat of California and a member of the House intelligence committee.
"I am optimistic that the probe will proceed," Ms. Harman said, "and hope that the excellent staff we have put together will stay and that a successor to Britt will be selected soon."
Senator Graham said hearings could begin as soon as June, and praised Mr. Snider for assembling a professional staff. Mr. Snider, he noted, "has played a very significant role in our progress."
But with the panel falling behind its schedule, it remains unclear how significant its investigation of the terrorist attacks will be.
Congressional leaders say they are having trouble getting full cooperation from the Bush administration in efforts to obtain documents and witnesses for hearings.
Lawmakers said the Justice Department, in particular, has not been fully cooperative, and some agencies in the intelligence community have also been grudging in providing full access to the committee staff. Mr. Graham said he hoped to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft as early as Thursday to discuss the need for cooperation.
There have also been strong signs that the committee leadership remains at odds over the the focus of the panel's efforts.
Some members want a look back that assigns blame for the intelligence failure culminating on Sept. 11. Others want to look forward and propose reforms in the government's counterterrorism operations.
Senator Graham and Representative Porter J. Goss, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the House intelligence committee, generally seem inclined to make the panel forward-looking. But Senator Shelby has made it clear that he believes Mr. Tenet's tenure at the C.I.A. should be scrutinized to determine if he should be held accountable for the intelligence failure before Sept. 11.