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1st Public Report on 9/11 Congressional Probe Set for Release - 2003-07-23

The first public report from investigations by a joint House of Representatives and U.S. Senate committee into the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be released Thursday on Capitol Hill. While it is not expected to reveal any central cause that led to the attacks, it is likely to re-focus attention on the lack of coordination by U.S. government agencies in sharing information about possible terrorist threats.

The report is the result of months of investigation by members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees into intelligence and events leading up to the September 11, 2001 hijackings of U.S. airliners by members of the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

At about 900 pages, the report will offer new details about issues such as information sharing, or the lack of it, between government agencies and what has become known as "the failure to connect the dots."

Portions of the report were recently leaked to a major U.S. magazine (Newsweek) and The Associated Press by unidentified law enforcement officials. The FBI, in particular, comes in for renewed scrutiny.

According to these media reports, two of the September 11 hijackers were known to an FBI informant in San Diego, California, who nonetheless did not suspect them of being terrorists.

Only after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen did the FBI learn that both men had attended a meeting in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, attended by major al-Qaida operatives. CIA information on their attendance at the meeting was not given to the FBI.

The report is also reported to contain sharp criticism of Saudi Arabia, although a section dealing with Saudi responsiveness in dealing with Muslim extremism, has been blacked out for security reasons.

Another portion of the report deals with earlier U.S. government efforts to infiltrate al-Qaida in Afghanistan. It says an absence of so-called human intelligence left the United States with inadequate knowledge of al-Qaida planning even while intelligence agencies suspect an attack in the United States was imminent.

On the eve of the September 11 report, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about FBI effectiveness in the war on terror.

Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, asked him about the low number of Arab-language speakers in the FBI, and a lawsuit by an Arab-American FBI agent who claims he was excluded from terrorism investigations. "I think (these issues) raise very serious concerns about the FBI's preparedness and ability to truly meet its number one priority the prevention of disruption of terrorist attack," he said. "The picture that emerges is the FBI seeking to hire only minimal numbers of language-proficient agents who would be actually helpful in investigations of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups based in the Arab or Muslim world, failing to recruit even that minimal number of special agents it has identified, and then once hired, keeping them away from terrorism cases."

Director Mueller said the FBI makes good use of its existing Arab and Muslim agents, but realizes it needs to recruit more. "We are finding that we need to more aggressively recruit Arab-American, Muslim-American, Sikh-American agents to assure that we have the numbers we need in the bureau," he said.

The report by the joint congressional panel is not the only one likely to emerge in coming months. A separate independent panel called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, is continuing its work.

In its first interim report issued earlier this month, the independent commission complained about slow response by government agencies, notably the Defense Department and Department of Justice, to the commission's requests for information.

The Bush administration says it is committed to cooperating fully with the independent commission and will encourage government agencies to be responsive.