Turmoil reportedly besets joint inquiry into attacks
By Frank Davies,
WASHINGTON - Almost halfway through its historic investigation, the joint House-Senate inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks is hampered by infighting, politics, leaks, and dueling agendas.
Several staff members at a recent meeting talked openly of ''getting'' CIA Director George Tenet fired, according to two knowledgeable sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They described a staff that has been divided and lacked direction.
One source said members of the independent staff made ''disparaging, unprofessional'' comments about Tenet one day after the CIA director's closed-door testimony last month before the House and Senate committees.
That's exactly the sort of ''blame game'' that Senator Bob Graham and Representative Porter Goss, the two chairmen from Florida overseeing the investigation, promised would not happen.
Goss has described the inquiry as ''fact- and witness-driven,'' with the goal of finding out what a dozen intelligence agencies did - or did not do - before the terrorist attacks.
Goss, House Intelligence chairman, expressed deep concerns about staff problems and lack of control in conversations last week, according to two sources. Goss, a Republican, declined to be interviewed about these issues on Friday.
Democrat Graham, who has chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee for the last year, said any staff problems are being addressed and should be kept in perspective. He also praised the staff for ''some excellent groundwork'' for public hearings later this year.
''This is a difficult process we're going through, and we're dealing with issues that are without precedent,'' Graham said. He noted it's the first time two standing committees of Congress - with a total of 37 members - have come together to oversee such a complex inquiry.
''We're not out to get anybody or build statues to anybody,'' he said.
The $2.9 million yearlong inquiry is the only investigation so far into the Sept. 11 attacks, and Graham and Goss have emphasized that it's the duty of their oversight committees to conduct the probe. The Bush administration grudgingly agreed to cooperate with the inquiry while opposing an independent investigation. Many congressional leaders, especially Democrats, continue to call for an independent commission to investigate Sept. 11 as the only way to escape the politics of Capitol Hill and avoid the cozy relationship some committees have with the agencies they monitor.
But Graham said he's confident the inquiry can reach its ambitious goal in a tight time frame to thoroughly review federal agencies' performance and recommend important changes, all by February.
Two dozen temporary staff members, many of them veterans of the CIA, FBI, and the military, were hired to investigate agencies that in some cases were once their employer. Many are experts in particular fields. Five or six are retired.
At least one has generated controversy. Heading up the team investigating the FBI is Thomas Kelley, a former deputy general counsel of the FBI who allegedly obstructed an independent investigation two years ago of the 1993 Waco siege.
Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and a critic of the FBI, said last month in a letter to the intelligence committees that he was ''concerned'' about Kelley's role. Eleanor Hill, the staff director of the current inquiry, is reviewing that complaint.
L. Britt Snider, the original staff director, was forced to leave in April, after a dispute about a staffer's security clearance. Since then, a lack of control and direction - and interference from permanent intelligence committee staffers - set back the investigation, according to two sources.
''Permanent staffers for Senate Intelligence started tasking the joint inquiry staff, telling them what to do,'' said one source.
Graham said that has ended, and that Hill, an experienced congressional investigator and former Pentagon inspector general who came on in June, has set rules restricting that sort of contact.
''Would the investigation have been better off with the continuity of the same director from February to today? Definitely. But we're very fortunate to have Eleanor Hill right now,'' he said.
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