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Congressional Report on 2001 Terror Attacks Faults Intelligence Agencies - 2003-07-24

A joint Congressional committee has released a report on its probe of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The document faults intelligence agencies for mishandling information, but does not single out any piece of evidence that could have led directly to the attacks.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California was among the lawmakers who released the nearly 900-page report that is sharply critical of the performance of intelligence agencies prior to the attacks.

"They failed to share information, they failed to ensure that techniques for collection analysis were of the highest standards, and they failed to focus appropriately on the possibility that foreign-based terrorists would attack the United States," she said.

Among its findings, the report says intelligence agencies received information as early as 1994 that terrorists were considering using aircraft in attacks, but the agencies did not act upon the information.

The report says two of the September 11 hijackers had numerous contacts with an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Diego, California over a period of six months or more in 2000.

The report says the Central Intelligence Agency knew the two men had connections to the al-Qaida terror network. But the agency never shared the information with the FBI or put the names on a terrorism watch list that would have prevented the men's entry into the United States.

The United States blames al-Qaida for the attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. Some three-thousand people were killed.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, but the document does not answer questions about the Saudi role in the attacks. The Bush administration, citing national security concerns, has withheld 28 pages of the report dealing with Saudi Arabia.

The committee's report offers 19 recommendations aimed at correcting the failures that led to the attacks. They include new accountability standards for the CIA, improved cooperation among intelligence agencies, and reforms to the way information is classified and declassified.

"The attacks of September 11 could have been prevented, if the right combination of skill, cooperation, creativity, and some good luck had been brought to the task," said Senator Bob Graham, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is running for the Democratic Party's nomination for president next year.

Still, nearly two years after the attacks, much remains unknown.

"I do not know exactly how the plot was hatched on 9-11 (September 11). I do not know the where, the when and the why and the who in every instance," said Congressman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "I know a lot more than I did. But still cannot fill in a lot of the blanks."

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said the committee's report 'confirms the importance of the strong, aggressive stance' the administration has taken 'to better protect the American people at home and abroad'.