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US Congress to Investigate Warning Signs Ahead of 9/11 - 2002-05-16

U.S. lawmakers want to know if the U.S. government had enough information to avoid the September 11 terrorist attacks, after the White House revealed President Bush was warned of possible hijackings a month before the attacks.

Lawmakers of both political parties are calling for investigations into what the Bush administration knew about potential hijackings prior to September 11.

House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri wants a public hearing to get answers to his questions.

"Was there a failure of intelligence?" he asked. "Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the right way? These are the things we need to find out."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle called on President Bush to release to congressional investigators the classified briefing he received about the hijacking threat. He also called on Mr. Bush to turn over an FBI memo drafted before September 11 that warned of suspicious activity by Middle Eastern men at U.S. flight schools.

Senator Daschle also suggested that an independent commission be established to investigate.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona vowed to press for such a commission, as did Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat.

"Is there something we can learn from September 11 to strengthen ourselves, to raise our guard, to do whatever is humanly possible to make sure nothing like those terrorist attacks ever happens again to the American people?" asked Mr. Lieberman.

Republicans, too, expressed concern. Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, questioned why the White House waited so long to confirm Mr. Bush's knowledge of the hijacking threat.

The head of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Porter Goss of Florida said his panel received similar unspecified warnings prior to September 11. "What we did have was this continuous reporting coming in that had some credibility that said within a certain period of time, something is going to happen," he said. "Then the clock would expire, then the next report would say 'it is still going to happen, but it has been pushed back for two weeks.' So you were not sure. Then the volume went up, saying 'something is going to happen soon.'"

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona agreed that an investigation is warranted, but he warned Democrats against blowing the matter out of proportion. "Terrorists have been hijacking planes for over 40 years," he said. "So it is not exactly big breathless news that this could happen hypothetically. But that is a far cry from somebody suggesting that there is credible, specific information about a particular threat of hijacking. So I think we all need to take a deep breath here."

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer vowed the administration would cooperate with any investigation.