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US Senate to Vote on Sept. 11 Inquiry - 2002-09-24

The U.S. Senate Tuesday is expected to vote on a measure to create an independent commission to investigate last year's September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. The House has already passed a similar version.

A joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee has been investigating intelligence failures prior to the September 11 attacks. But with lawmakers planning to adjourn in mid-October to campaign for November elections, there are concerns the committee will not complete its work by its scheduled February deadline.

The co-chairmen of the joint committee support the idea of an independent inquiry, which would have a broader scope than that of the congressional panel.

Republican Congressman Porter Goss of Florida is Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and addressed the issue on CNN's 'Late Edition' Sunday. "I think it will be important for us as we redesign our systems, that we will get a broader view than we have presently gotten, that we have presently been able to do in the amount of time allotted, focusing on intelligence."

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Government Affairs Committee, is sponsoring legislation to create the independent commission. "I say to myself, I leave it to others to reach their own conclusions, that September 11 could have been prevented if we were doing everything we should have done, and if we had had our guard up."

The staff director for the joint intelligence committee testified last week that intelligence agencies ignored tips about potential terrorist plots prior to September 11. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says he believes the testimony has mobilized Senate support for an independent inquiry. "I think there is a new-found interest and momentum behind a commission, the need to get all the facts, to better understand what happened and why it happened."

But not all lawmakers support the idea. "I am not an advocate of commissions," says Senator Trent Lott, the Senate's top Republican. "I have watched a number of them very closely, been involved in creating some of them. At least in recent years I have found that they do not achieve very much. They take time, they take money, they come up with recommendations and then they are ignored."

The Bush administration had long opposed the creation of an independent commission, fearing that classified information could be leaked and intelligence compromised. But on Friday, the White House bowed to growing support for the proposal and said it could back an independent inquiry that has a broad scope.

Republican Senator John McCain, co-sponsor of the legislation, says the independent inquiry would be wide-ranging, but that intelligence would still be a key part of the probe. "It will have as its primary focus the intelligence failures. But it will also encompass diplomatic, economic, military failures that led up to September 11."

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press' Sunday, Senator McCain said he believes the legislation contained in an amendment to the homeland security bill will pass overwhelmingly.