Shortly after Sept. 11, the Department of Justice inspector general
conducted an investigation into why a Phoenix FBI agent's memo regarding
flight schools had been ignored. Yesterday, two congressional committees
looking into intelligence failures pushed to learn more about the newly
The IG investigation, congressional sources said, could be politically
sensitive because it may reveal how widely the July 2001 memo -- which
suggested a nationwide canvassing of flight schools to identify potential
terrorists -- was distributed in the bureau at the time. FBI Director
Robert S. Mueller III and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft were told
about the Phoenix memo shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon.
The IG office conducted seven interviews concerning the Phoenix memo in
November and December of 2001. The department's inspector general, Glenn
Fine, recently prepared a synthesis of events concerning the handling of
the memo, which he will discuss with the Senate Judiciary Committee
Meanwhile, as the joint House and Senate intelligence committee met
privately for a second day yesterday in the secure fourth-floor conference
room in the Capitol, heated exchanges broke out among members concerning
the inquiry's direction, sources said. The joint panel listened to what
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) described as a staff-led "Terrorism 101"
course describing well-known terrorists and terrorist groups dating to
1982. Some members, eager to move more quickly to the current terrorist
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) demanded to know why the committee wasn't
more focused on the anthrax threat, referring passionately to past and
possible future exposure of postal workers, the sources said. Other
members wanted to know why the Senate Judiciary Committee has a higher
public profile than the intelligence panel, whose members have been
particularly closed-mouthed about the proceedings.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," said one committee member
who believed the subject was irrelevant, a source said.
Yesterday morning, the staff laid out for members how the various
intelligence agencies conducted their own terrorism investigations and how
each agency set up its own counterterrorism office and tried to coordinate
information between agencies. The staff also began to work through a
CIA-produced, 327-foot-long chronology of terrorist events and U.S.
reaction to them.
The congressional staff members were joined by staffers from the CIA,
FBI, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency who have
been helping the new congressional panel staff sift through 100,000 pages
of documents and the testimony of 200 witnesses.
"We want to have a good foundation and the same level of knowledge
across the board," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), ranking minority
member of the House committee. "We also have to lay a foundation of
accountability. . . . There has to be accountability."
Among the first outside witnesses to answer questions from the
committee will be Cofer Black, the recently retired head of the CIA's
counterterrorism center, and Richard Clarke, the Clinton administration's
senior counterterrorism official.
Also yesterday, several committee staff members interviewed Minnesota
FBI agent Coleen Rowley at FBI headquarters in Washington. Rowley wrote a
13-page letter to Mueller last month saying that headquarters obstructed
efforts last summer by field agents to wiretap terrorist suspect Zacarias
Moussaoui and search his possessions -- actions that might have yielded
clues to the pending Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui had been arrested after
raising suspicions at a Minnesota flight school.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) said he wants to question FBI
headquarters employees as well. "I think for us it's more relevant to talk
to those people that she's making the allegations against," Reyes said.
"Up to now, these are just allegations."
As a result of the handling of Moussaoui, Sens. Charles Schumer
(D-N.Y.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) proposed legislation yesterday that would
make it easier for the FBI to obtain warrants allowing them to eavesdrop
on people suspected of having terrorist ties.