- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday began an inquiry into whether one of its members leaked the story that the Bush administration had information that Osama bin Laden's followers were contemplating a hijacking.
Committee members did not determine whether a member was responsible for the leak, aides said, but they discussed which members knew what, and when.
"That is the prevailing thought at the moment," said one Republican staffer. "There is a high degree of suspicion about that, but there are also suspicions an agency did it themselves, to cover themselves. But many people think it came from a Democrat with intelligence access."
Another House Republican aide with knowledge of the situation said there was "a general assumption" a committee member was the source and said a Republican also is suspected.
Wednesday night, CBS News reported that President Bush was told in an August briefing that bin Laden's followers could be planning to hijack airliners. Vice President Richard B. Cheney suggested in a speech Thursday night to the New York state Conservative Party that the information may have come from members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"For the most part, the members of the intelligence committees of both houses have conducted themselves in a responsible fashion. That's not necessarily true of every member of Congress," Mr. Cheney said. He said committee members "must protect sensitive sources and methods and must be devoid of leaks and must avoid sensational and outrageous commentary."
The two committees joined together to investigate whether there were intelligence failures before the September 11 attacks. The memo about the president's briefing was made available to committee members within the past two weeks, one senator said. That has prompted a debate on Capitol Hill about whether the leak came from a lawmaker or an administration agency trying to make waves or cover a slip-up.
"There is concern a leak occurred," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and Intelligence Committee member, who said there is a lot of speculation about whether the source was Congress or the administration. "I would like to think the appropriate people should investigate the source of the leaks."
Members also debated what information had been provided to the House and Senate intelligence committees before the attacks and whether they or the White House should have been able to predict September 11.
On Thursday morning, as the story was unfolding, some Democrats said they had not been made aware of the information, while Republicans said they had been informed in general terms. Republicans pointed to signs the information had been made available.
"These threats were relayed on a bipartisan basis to the House Intelligence Committee in real time," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "In fact, Senator Dianne Feinstein said on July 1, 2001, on the Wolf Blitzer show that she had been told that a major attack on the United States could be expected in the next three months."
Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat and Senate committee member, said yesterday she did not know anything specific, but that her remarks stemmed from a "deep sense of foreboding" that an attack was imminent. She said neither she nor the White House could have foreseen September 11, something on which several other intelligence committee members from both chambers and parties agreed.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Senate committee, said the information that Mr. Bush received last year was so lacking in detail, specificity or credibility that it never made the cover page of any intelligence briefing. To suggest it could have prevented the attacks is to "not understand the nature of these intelligence briefings."
The intelligence committees receive daily "senior executive intelligence reports," but they are less detailed than those the president receives.
Committee members were first made aware in 1998 that terrorists were looking to hijack airplanes, but the information pointed to hijackings overseas.
In later briefings by the FBI and CIA, senators regularly asked questions about the threats, said one Republican leadership aide.
"When [National Security Advisor] Condoleezza Rice said there was not a specific time, method or place of attack, that is accurate. [Senators] heard about it in very vague terms," the aide said.
One House Democratic aide with knowledge of both the committee's and the president's briefing from Aug. 7 said the president's briefing specifically mentioned the threat of a plane being hijacked by al Qaeda, but the committee briefing said only that the terrorist organization had stepped up its activity.
Intelligence committee members also said what they saw was spread out over time.
"On the intelligence committee, we get weekly briefings and we see daily situation reports," Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, said on CNN's "Talkback Live" on Thursday. "We had bits and pieces of this over time, and as a member of the commission on terrorism, two years ago, lots of us were predicting attacks on American soil by al Qaeda."
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said the focus should not be on White House decisions or on leaks, but on intelligence agencies' ability to gather and interpret information.
"There is really nothing to leak. There is no story to this. The real story is the FBI's failure to provide the president and intelligence community with adequate information," Mr. Shelby said.


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