The chairman of a federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said on Thursday that information long available to the public showed that the attacks could have been prevented had a group of low- and mid-level employees at the FBI, the immigration service and elsewhere done their jobs properly.
The chairman, Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, said that his investigators were still studying whether senior Bush administration officials should also share the blame.
He said it was too early to suggest that White House aides or other senior officials had been derelict in their duty.
"There were people at the borders who let these people in even though they didn't have proper papers to get into this country," Kean said of immigration inspectors who allowed the hijackers into the US.
"There were visa people who let these people in," he said.
"There were FBI people who, when they got reports from Phoenix and Minnesota and elsewhere, didn't think they were important enough to buck up to the higher-ups. There were security officers at the airports who let these people onto airplanes even though they were carrying materials that weren't allowed on airplanes," he said.
Kean said that an interview broadcast on Wednesday by CBS News was being misinterpreted as suggesting he was calling for the departure of senior administration officials.
"We don't have the evidence to do that yet," he said.
"We're doing the work. The report may in fact end up suggesting that people are the subject of some serious criticism," he said.
Kean, whose bipartisan 10-member panel is to issue a final report in May, said he was surprised that some mid-level officials at the FBI and in federal immigration agencies had not been removed from their jobs in the light of errors before the Sept. 11 attacks that may have allowed the hijacking plot to go undetected.
"It surprises me that if there were serious mistakes, there haven't been any consequences of those mistakes," he said.
The FBI has come under fire from critics in Congress and elsewhere because it has not taken serious disciplinary action against a group of mid-level officials in Washington who failed to act on information from field agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis.
The field agents' intelligence had suggested that terrorists might have entered the US, possibly for an attack making use of commercial airplanes.
The FBI had no formal response to Kean's comments on Thursday.
However, a bureau official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the actions of the mid-level personnel before Sept. 11 were "under review, including an inspector general's review of whether there were institutional or personnel issues that should be addressed."
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