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Congressional Panel Probes September 11 Terrorist Attacks - 2002-06-19

Top U.S. intelligence officials resume their testimony Wednesday before a joint Congressional panel probing the September 11 terrorist attacks. On Tuesday, the officials testified in closed session about the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Members of the joint intelligence committee have been questioning the Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency about how al-Qaida operates.

Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters that lawmakers want to know how al-Qaida terrorists are recruited, trained and financed.

Mr. Graham said despite the U.S.-led military campaign against al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan, the organization remains a threat to the United States. "Do we have al-Qaida under control," he asked? "No. It is certainly a diminished organization because of the pounding that it has taken over the last eight months. But it still has the capability of carrying out terrorist acts, and it still has operatives here in the United States who are trained to respond to a request for the execution of a terrorist attack."

The United States says al-Qaida and its leader, Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, are responsible for the September 11 attacks.

The joint Congressional panel is investigating whether U.S. intelligence agencies could have prevented the attacks.

As the hearings enter their third week behind closed doors, Senator Graham said it is still not clear whether the attacks could have been averted. "In the best of worlds," he continued, "had the information that was available been seen by one set of human eyes or a common group of human eyes, a pattern might have emerged that might have led to further intelligence activities that could have at the end of the day disrupted the plot before it was carried out. But nobody will ever know whether that in fact would have occurred."

The first public hearing of the intelligence committee is scheduled for next week.

But Mr. Graham says that may be postponed if it is determined that the public testimony would jeopardize the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of being an accomplice in the September 11 attacks.