- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

The Senate Democrat leading an investigation of intelligence failures before September 11 defended the congressional investigation yesterday, just minutes after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called again for an independent inquiry.

"We are going to carry out our responsibility to do the overview of the intelligence community," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "And what people decide to do otherwise is their prerogative."

Mr. Graham said the House and Senate intelligence panels are conducting an "aggressive" joint investigation of the FBI and the CIA, and will begin hearings June 4. But Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, cited the newly disclosed complaint of an FBI agent in Minneapolis who felt that headquarters ignored threats of terrorism as "yet another illustration of why a commission is necessary."

"I think there's a growing realization that a commission is required," Mr. Daschle said.

President Bush and many congressional Republicans oppose another investigation, arguing it could reveal top-secret intelligence during a war and would take too long. Mr. Bush said in Europe this week that he prefers the intelligence committees' investigation "since it deals with such sensitive information."

Most Democrats in Congress and some Republicans support another investigation.

The proposal for a blue-ribbon panel came last week, after news reports that Mr. Bush received intelligence reports warning of plots to hijack American airliners before September 11. The White House aggressively rejected those reports, and Democratic leaders who subsequently toned down their rhetoric have been trying to show that a commission investigation would not be politically motivated.

Mr. Graham said he is not opposed to an independent commission investigation because Mr. Daschle pledged it would look at federal agencies not covered by the joint intelligence investigation, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"We said all along our jurisdiction is the intelligence community," Mr. Graham said.

But in comments to reporters yesterday, Mr. Daschle cited purported intelligence breakdowns as reasons a blue-ribbon commission is necessary.

"We saw another example of the need for a commission just in the last 24 hours, when the 21-year veteran of the FBI came forth and said that there was a lot of information that was sent to headquarters that was ignored with regard to 9/11," Mr. Daschle said.

"The fact that it was ignored and that somebody of her stature and experience in the FBI is complaining about the lack of information sharing and the lack of response to the information made available is yet another illustration of why a commission is necessary," he said.

The co-chairman of the congressional investigation, Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican, said the intelligence committees' investigation is "well under way and doing fine."

"We are not in any way being deflected from our main mission," Mr. Goss said. "And our main mission is our joint, bicameral, bipartisan inquiry."

In a letter to lawmakers, Mr. Graham and Mr. Goss said that their investigation "is the most effective means for discharging the oversight responsibilities of Congress" involving the intelligence agencies. They said their staff of 23 has reviewed more than 100,000 documents since February and has interviewed more than 175 witnesses.

Nevertheless, Mr. Daschle said he intends to hold a vote on the commission proposal next month after lawmakers return from their Memorial Day recess.

"I hope that we can convince the administration and more of our Republican colleagues that a commission is warranted," Mr. Daschle said. "I think there are growing numbers of Republicans who now publicly acknowledge that."

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