More intelligence errors come to light

WASHINGTON -- Sept. 11 hijackers lived freely in San Diego, even after they were linked to al-Qaida. Warnings that terrorist groups were training pilots were ignored. Intelligence officials were more focused on stopping attacks abroad than at home.

A congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks has already revealed major intelligence problems. Today it will reveal more as its final report on the attacks is released, officials and congressional panel members say.

The inquiry's conclusions were released in December. It found that intelligence agencies had no evidence that specifically pointed to a Sept. 11 plot, but that they missed opportunities to disrupt the plot by denying entry to hijackers, keeping them under surveillance or bolstering security in the United States.

The final report will reveal many, but not all, of the details that led to those conclusions.

"When the story line comes out, it is explosive and riveting not so much that there is one single huge burst of information, but a host of new nuggets that kind of have a snowballing effect on the mountain that will hopefully rivet the American people's attention on the continuing problem of terrorism," said former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., who served on the joint inquiry by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Roemer is also a member of the independent commission on the Sept. 11 attacks that is following up the joint inquiry.

The inquiry report comes out at a time that fresh questions are being raised about intelligence, this time on Iraq's weapons programs. Some Democrats have called for investigations of the Bush administration's claims about such weapons.

The inquiry's full, 900-page classified Sept. 11 report was completed in December; staff and intelligence agencies have been working since then to declassify it.

Former Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., a presidential candidate, has said that potentially embarrassing information has been withheld for political reasons. But other inquiry members, including some Democrats, say they have no evidence of that.

The full classified report has four sections: findings and conclusions, a narrative about how the plot unfolded, issues related to intelligence problems and findings involving sensitive national security matters, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That fourth section won't be part of the public report. Officials say it includes criticism of the Saudi government's interest in tackling Muslim extremism.

But the public report will include information about Omar al-Bayoumi, who is believed to have provided financial support for two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, the officials said. A reliable FBI source, the report said, told U.S. agents that al-Bayoumi "must have been an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power."

Many details of intelligence failures have already come to light through the inquiry's public hearings and the preliminary report released in December.

Al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi were identified as having attended an al-Qaida meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, but were not placed on a State Department watch list until weeks before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Among their acquaintances was an FBI informant who was apparently unaware of their terrorist plans.

No action was taken after a Phoenix FBI agent sent a July 10, 2001, memo warning of an effort by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden to have terrorists trained at U.S. flight schools. A redacted version of the memo will be included in the report, a law enforcement official said.

When FBI agents in Minnesota arrested Zacarias Moussaoui, a suspicious student pilot in August 2001, FBI headquarters didn't obtain a court order to search his belongings because it misunderstood the legal standards for obtaining an order. Moussaoui has been charged with conspiring in the attacks.

The inquiry identified many problems that hurt terror-fighting efforts: poor communications among agencies, including the lack of a central terrorist watch list; an FBI that was more focused on solving crimes than preventing them; inadequate emphasis on traditional human spy networks; a lack of analysts and linguists; and outdated technology at the FBI.

Some senior lawmakers have said Congress shares the blame. They say intelligence agencies did not receive adequate funding after the Cold War. Intelligence officials had "risk aversion" problems: They feared being criticized by policy makers for unconventional or aggressive tactics.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he was troubled that intelligence agencies were "woefully unprepared for a threat" despite previous terrorist attacks against U.S. targets in the United States and abroad.

"Basically at a time when governments and intelligence leaders should have been mobilizing, too many hit the snooze button," he said.


Associated Press Writer Curt Anderson contributed to this report.