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Chief assess blame but holds off on higher ups { December 19 2003 }

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   http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/19/national/19KEAN.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/19/national/19KEAN.html

December 19, 2003
Chief of Sept. 11 Panel Assesses Blame but Holds Off on Higher-Ups
By PHILIP SHENON

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 The chairman of a federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said on Thursday that information long available to the public showed that the attacks could have been prevented had a group of low- and mid-level government employees at the F.B.I., the immigration service and elsewhere done their jobs properly.

The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, said in a telephone interview that his investigators were still studying whether senior Bush administration officials should also share the blame. He said it was too early to suggest that White House aides or other senior officials had been 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," Mr. Kean said of immigration inspectors who allowed the hijackers into the United States.

"There were visa people who let these people in," he said. "There were F.B.I. 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."

Mr. 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."

Mr. Kean, whose bipartisan 10-member panel is to issue a final report in May, said he was surprised that some midlevel officials at the F.B.I. and in federal immigration agencies had 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 F.B.I. had no formal response to Mr. Kean's comments. A bureau official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the actions of the midlevel personnel before Sept. 11 were "under review, including an inspector general's review of whether there were institutional or personnel issues that should be addressed."


Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


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