|CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert
Mueller and Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the NSA chief,
described how al-Qaeda began planning the Sept. 11 attacks in
1998, recruited the participants and maintained secrecy. The
three told lawmakers that not even the arrest of alleged
co-conspirator Zaccarias Moussaoui a month before the attacks
swayed the terrorists, according to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The officials appear again today for more
private questioning. But the public's opportunity to hear the
details may be delayed. Early in the Moussaoui case, a federal
judge imposed a broad protective order that strictly limits
public disclosure of information gathered in the government's
Graham said the committee hopes to work
out an arrangement with the Justice Department that would
allow public hearings next week as scheduled.
With the intelligence community facing
intense scrutiny and criticism over its failure to uncover the
Sept. 11 plot, committee members have said they are anxious to
hold as many open hearings as possible.
The closed-door format of the
congressional hearings has raised suspicions among some family
members of Sept. 11 victims, who fear a coverup.
Tuesday's session marked the first time
the NSA, the nation's eavesdropping agency, has faced direct
questioning from lawmakers about its role before and after
Sept. 11. NSA satellites, antennas, bugs and other high-tech
equipment collect 75% of the nation's intelligence, Graham
said. The agency is run by the Defense Department. Graham said
committee members want to know whether there had been "some
signals that might have been acted upon that could have
thwarted this event."
An official privy to the closed-door
session said lawmakers are examining two NSA intercepts
collected Sept. 10 that caught al-Qaeda operatives in
Afghanistan discussing with cohorts in Saudi Arabia an
impending terror strike. The two intercepts were not
translated by NSA until Sept. 12, the day after the
The NSA refused to comment, but a U.S.
official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the
intercepts were too vague to justify a shutdown of the
nation's transportation system and public spaces.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., ranking
Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said
lawmakers want to know what the NSA has done to speed its
handling of threat-related intelligence. Asked if the agency
is now capable of a quick response to an intercept suggesting
that an attack is brewing, Shelby said, "We're not sure."
Graham said National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice told him the Bush administration is willing
to put off reorganization of the intelligence community until
next year, after the joint committee has finished its inquiry.
Legislation to create the new homeland security department is
on a fast track in Congress, but Graham and Shelby said they
want to hold off making decisions about the department's
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Toni