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Congressional investigation angers cia fbi

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Sept. 28, 2002, 8:39PM

Investigation angers FBI, CIA officials
New York Times

WASHINGTON -- An aggressive congressional investigation that has yielded new evidence about lapses in counterterrorism at the CIA and the FBI before the Sept. 11 attacks has surprised and enraged senior officials at both agencies, say lawmakers and intelligence officials.

The findings of a joint committee, especially revelations that the CIA and FBI had for years collected information that showed Islamic militants hoped to strike in the United States, have been far more damaging than most officials at either agency expected when the panel's inquiry began early this year.

Even more than the findings of missed signals, however, the increasingly combative tone of the committee's staff and the tough language of its three interim reports on specific terrorism issues have infuriated senior officials at the FBI and the CIA.

With George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and Robert Mueller, the director of the bureau, scheduled to testify before the panel in coming weeks, along with Louis Freeh, the former bureau director, the committee's investigation has added heat to hearings that at first seemed unlikely to produce either fireworks or revelations.

The new disclosures from the first two weeks of hearings and the increasing acrimony surrounding them have left officials at the two agencies expecting an even more protracted and potentially damaging investigation by an independent commission.

The main conclusion of the hearings so far is that the bureau and the intelligence agency missed warning signals of the impending attacks and focused too much attention on threats overseas rather than on the possibility of an attack on U.S. soil. The reports by the ad hoc joint committee of the House and Senate intelligence panels also have included declassified intelligence that has created a far fuller account of the Sept. 11 plot and the 19 hijackers.

A sign of the joint committee's success in raising new questions about the government's performance before Sept. 11 was President Bush's decision a week ago to drop his opposition to an independent commission, created by Congress, to conduct a broader inquiry. A commission could mean that the bureau and the intelligence agency will be under scrutiny for years.

The joint committee has touched nerves at the two agencies by focusing much of its inquiry on a few key incidents in which the two agencies were slow to follow trails of evidence leading to the hijackers. The joint committee revealed a wealth of new details about the case of Khalid Almidhar, a leading hijacker who was able to slip into the United States even after the CIA had discovered that he had attended a meeting in Malaysia of people suspected of being al-Qaida operatives.

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