9/11 families demand wider investigation

Congressional sentiment appears to be growing that inquiry falls short

September 20, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Congress' Sept. 11 inquiry might be providing the public new insight into the intelligence community's failures, but it's doing little to dampen the demand by victims' relatives for a full investigation of other facets of the attacks.

As the House-Senate intelligence committee conducted its second day of public hearings yesterday probing why intelligence agencies didn't fully assess the risk al-Qaida posed to the United States, Sept. 11 families gained new congressional support for an independent blue-ribbon commission.

Absent an outside inquiry, the performance before and after the attacks by the Federal Aviation Administration, the military, the New York-New Jersey Port Authority, the city of New York, the immigration service, the airlines and others will never be probed, some Sept. 11 victims' group leaders say.

"We want answers, we want accountability and responsibility. That is absolutely critical to the safety and security of this nation," said Monica Gabrielle, whose husband, Richard, perished on the 78th floor of the South Tower.

"Because if we don't take a hard look going back, we're not going to be able to fix it going forward. And this will happen again."

The families' campaign, coupled with growing congressional sentiment that the intelligence inquiry is falling short of the mark, appeared to breathe new momentum into the blue-ribbon commission concept. The White House, which has resisted an outside inquiry, also appeared to be softening its tone.

Yesterday, Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, said they would attach an amendment creating an independent commission to the homeland security bill being debated in the Senate.

A vote could come Monday.

"Important institutions of the United States government let the American people down on September the 11th, 2001. Now the question is whether this government disappoints the American people again by a failure of accountability," said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the measure.

Top administration officials have expressed concern that an outside commission could interfere with the ability of the CIA, the FBI and other agencies to vigorously combat terrorism.

"We'll work with Congress," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday when asked about the McCain-Lieberman proposal. "The joint inquiry needs to complete its work, and if there are additional issues that need to be addressed, we will work with Congress."

A day after the congressional intelligence inquiry's staff director testified that the intelligence community didn't fully analyze the risks that al-Qaida posed to the homeland - or the many clues suggesting terrorists might use commercial jetliners as weapons - two Bush administration officials appeared before the panel.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said they did not recall being warned about the possibility that terrorists might hijack jets and fly them into buildings.

"I think where we made a mistake was that we didn't have, first of all, a necessary baseline from intelligence on the global aspects and global possibilities of al-Qaida," Armitage said. "And number two, although many of us, including members of Congress, were saying the right words, I don't think that we really had made the leap in our mind that we're no longer safe behind these two great oceans."

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