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09/13/2002 - Updated 06:55 PM ET
Congress to meet on 9/11 intelligence failures
WASHINGTON (AP) After months of delay, Congress on Friday scheduled its first public hearings into intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. One senator said he had little hope they would accomplish much.
Sen. Richard Durbin, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the three months of closed-door hearings into the attacks have been mostly "just tedium squared."
"I sat behind these closed door sessions day after day, hour after hour and I will tell you that precious little comes out of it that is really new or interesting," he said in a phone interview. [congress constipated-RSB]
Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, which are conducting the joint inquiry, announced public hearings would begin Wednesday with appearances by the spouses of two victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Inquiry staff will make a presentation later in the day.
The committees have been meeting behind closed doors since June 4. They are looking into why the attacks weren't prevented and will recommend changes in counterterrorism efforts. Public hearings were to begin in late June, but have been repeatedly postponed.
The Senate panel's chairman, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., has attributed the delay to difficulty of deciding what documents can be released without compromising national security or damaging the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with conspiring in the attacks.
"We have found that to do public hearings with as much classified material as we are working with takes a considerable amount of time to get the intelligence communities to declassify, to determine what witnesses can testify at a public setting," Graham said Friday.
But other members blamed the delay on what they see as a lack of cooperation by the Bush administration and intelligence agencies.
"I think that we're making some progress, but it's slow, at times it's tortuous to get full cooperation, to do a thorough, definitive investigation," said Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The FBI and CIA officials say they have provided tremendous cooperation with the investigation. They say they have provided thousands of documents and made dozens of its personnel many of them involved in fighting terrorism available to the committees' staff.
Congressional aides say the panel has also been frustrated by what they see as the administration's reluctance to allow Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld appear at the public hearings next week.
The Pentagon said Rumsfeld's schedule was full, including two congressional appearances on Iraq next week. There was no comment from the State Department or White House.
Another intelligence committee member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., played down the tensions.
"I think certainly there are some in the administration who have been reluctant," he said. "But I think some of the sparring back and forth about when a witness is going to come and under what circumstances is inevitable."
While the inquiry has continued in secrecy, support appears to have grown in Congress for an independent commission to look into the attacks. The White House has opposed creating a commission, saying the investigation should be left in the hands of the intelligence committees.
In July, the House approved an independent commission as part of its bill authorizing Intelligence activities. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Friday he and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., plan to include the commission in the Homeland Security bill now being considered in the Senate.
Durbin said he believes an independent, public investigation is needed. He said significant information has come to the public's attention only through leaks. He cited as an example the disclosures about the Phoenix memo, in which an FBI agent warned that U.S. flight schools may be training terrorist pilots.
"We won't meet the basic need in this country for a thorough, open and public investigation. I think that has to be done by an independent group," he said.
Wyden, though, said the committees' public hearings will be "critically important."
"The American people have a right to know what can safely be shared," he said.
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