Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 7 News List

FBI to be questioned on Sept. 11 failures


The FBI this week will be pressed to explain why 70 separate investigations did not uncover the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner plot, members of the commission investigating the attacks said on Sunday.

Former US senator Slade Gorton, seizing on the revelation that so many probes were under way weeks before the deadly attacks, also said former US President Bill Clinton told the panel he was frustrated by his inability to give the FBI direct orders.

"The greatest surprise to me was that president Clinton said how limited the White House is in dealing with the FBI," said Gorton, a Republican member of the bipartisan commission.

"You know, after all of the scandals of J. Edgar Hoover and some in the Nixon years, the White House has felt that it couldn't give direct directions to the FBI and I think that was a great inhibiting factor."

The secretive and autocratic Hoover ran the FBI from 1924 until his death in 1972, during which time agents routinely spied on political protesters and others. Nixon resigned from the US presidency in 1974 after the Watergate break-in.

Clinton testified behind closed doors to the national commission on Thursday, following public testimony from Condoleezza Rice, US President George W. Bush's national security adviser.

After Rice's testimony, the White House released a secret briefing for Bush in which he was told a month before Sept. 11, 2001, that al-Qaeda members were in the US and the FBI had detected suspicious activity "consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."

The briefing was given Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, at his central Texas ranch.

On Sunday, Bush said he believed federal agents were on top of the terrorist threat at the time but looked forward to the panel's conclusions on whether each agency had done all it was supposed to.

Insisting he was given "nothing about an attack on America," Bush said he was "satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into ... Had they found something, they would have reported to me."

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