FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 members of the Senate and
House intelligence committees and have asked many if they would be willing
to submit to lie detector tests as part of a broad investigation into
leaks of classified information related to the Sept. 11 attacks, according
to officials involved in the inquiry.
Most of the lawmakers have told the FBI they would refuse a polygraph,
citing the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and
executive branches of government and the unreliability of the exam, those
involved in the inquiry said.
Although the chairmen of the intelligence committees, Sen. Bob Graham
(D-Fla.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), asked the FBI to conduct the
inquiry, its unprecedented scale has angered some lawmakers, according to
people close to the investigation. The lawmakers are unhappy that the FBI,
an agency they oversee, is investigating them.
In addition to committee members, FBI agents have questioned 60
congressional staff members and officials at the CIA, the Defense
Department and the National Security Agency. They are trying to find the
source of news stories that quoted Arabic communications making vague
references to an impending attack on the United States, which were
intercepted by the NSA on Sept. 10 but not translated until Sept. 12.
Ranit Schmelzer, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Thomas A.
Daschle (D-S.D.), said Daschle had "grave concerns about the congressional
separation of powers issues raised by having one branch of government
asking to polygraph employees of another branch." But, she added in a
statement, "this matter is between the House and Senate intelligence
committees and the Justice Department. The intelligence committees asked
the Justice Department to conduct this investigation and it is up to these
parties to determine the appropriate guidance" for members regarding the
Congressional leaders established a joint intelligence panel this year
to review the performances of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies
leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks and to recommend improvements to the
government's intelligence community.
As the panel's hearings began, stories appeared about the NSA
intercepts, drawing a heated White House rebuke. Vice President Cheney
telephoned Goss and Graham to chastise them for the disclosures, while
presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the information was "alarmingly
specific" and could compromise the war on terrorism. Administration
officials said the leaks could be a federal crime.
Saying he was "chagrined" to have received the call from Cheney, Goss,
along with Graham, wrote Attorney General John D. Ashcroft to request an
investigation. The request was highly unusual because it bypassed the
normal procedure of having a congressional ethics committee investigate an
The intercepts include two snippets of conversation, one stating "the
match is about to begin," and the other saying, "tomorrow is zero
Intelligence officials have said the two messages, even if translated
on Sept. 10, would not have provided enough information to prevent the
attacks because they were unspecific as to the time or place where an
attack would occur. But the disclosure was embarrassing to the NSA,
highlighting chronic problems at an agency that for years has been
criticized for being able to translate and analyze only a fraction of the
millions of conversations and electronic transmissions it intercepts
around the world.
The Washington Times first reported the intercepts and the delay in
translating them 11 days after the September attacks. Several news
organizations published or broadcast similar stories in early June. But it
was not until a June 19 CNN report that cited "two congressional sources,"
and June 20 reports in other major newspapers, including The Washington
Post, that Cheney called Goss and Graham.
Experts in the separation of powers said yesterday that the FBI
investigation raised serious concerns about whether lawmakers would feel
free to aggressively review the performance of intelligence agencies and
"Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop
full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who
would be critical of the FBI," said Charles Tiefer, a University of
Baltimore law professor and former House deputy general counsel. "The FBI,
with their great boots, are tramping around on ground that is privileged
and privileged for good reason, to preclude intimidation of members."
The Bush administration has aggressively tried to close down sources of
news reporting that reveals information that is potentially embarrassing
or, in the administration's view, harmful to national security. Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has started an investigation at the Pentagon
into the source of a New York Times story last month that laid out one
possible plan in a war against Iraq.
During a congressional hearing Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
questioned Rumsfeld about the level of the administration's concerns about
leaks over Iraq policy, telling the defense secretary that unwanted
disclosures are "a game that was played when you first came here nearly 30
years ago, and it will probably be played 30 years from now."
"The fact is that there are competing proposals within the
administration, and certain people are using or attempting to gain
advantage by leaking information . . . and when it is resolved within the
administration . . . then I think you'll find the leaks will stop," McCain