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June 9, 2002

September 11 attacks called avoidable
By Joyce Howard Price

     The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said yesterday that the September 11 "hijackers could have been stopped" had U.S. officials acted on intelligence information available before the terrorist attacks.
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     Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in an interview that aired yesterday on CNN, called September 11 the "worst example of what happens when information is not shared and is not acted upon."
     "There was plenty of information available before September 11. I think historians are going to find, tragically, that, had it been acted upon, the hijackers could have been stopped," Mr. Leahy said on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields."
     The Democratic chairman, whose committee is holding public hearings examining the failure of top FBI officials to take seriously leads given to them by field agents about the possibility of hijackings and planes being flown into the World Trade Center, joins at least two others on the Judiciary panel who have said they believe the September 11 attacks could have been prevented, given the clues that were available.
     Last week, Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said, "I don't believe any longer this is a matter of connecting the dots. I think they had a veritable road map. And we want to know why they didn't act on it. I think there was a distinct possibility of preventing 9/11."
     Likewise, Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat, told CBS: "It appears that the FBI had information enough and resources at its disposal to possibly unravel the terrorist plot before September 11."
     Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee, have both said Americans can expect to learn through the congressional inquiries now under way of other circumstances in which federal investigators failed to follow up on intelligence leads before September 11.
     President Bush has acknowledged the FBI and CIA should have done more with the intelligence they had, but he has said he thinks it's unlikely they could have stopped the terrorist attacks. In his weekly radio address yesterday, the president called on Americans to push members of Congress to pass legislation this year to create a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to fight terrorism.
     The nation needs "dramatic reforms to secure our people at home I'm asking for your help in encouraging your representatives to support my plan," said Mr. Bush, whose proposal would consolidate dozens of federal agencies — including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Border Patrol and the Secret Service — and hold them responsible for protecting Americans against another terrorist attack.
     The president's radio message was followed by the Democratic response delivered by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. He urged Congress to enact the legislation creating the new department by September 11 as a tribute to more than 3,000 Americans who died in last year's attacks.
     On CNN's "Saturday Edition," Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and ranking member on the intelligence committee, said he has long pushed for a "massive overhaul of our intelligence agencies." While Mr. Shelby says he does not know if the new department will solve the kinds of intelligence failures the joint House and Senate intelligence panels and the Judiciary committee are uncovering in their investigations, he said he thinks it will improve things.
     "But I believe it will help a lot. I think we have to have something better than what we do today. We've got to have somebody that's going to take control of the security of this country in the domestic way," Mr. Shelby said.
     He said he believes it is possible for Congress to complete work on the authorization measure to establish the new department by September 11.
     Asked if he believes it's a problem that the FBI and CIA will not be part of the new department, Mr. Leahy said: "It's going to be a problem if the kind of balkanization that has existed for decades between those two agencies continues." He said he recognizes the current directors are "trying hard to break down those walls" but said whoever is appointed secretary of homeland security must get them "to cooperate and work closer together."

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