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Context of 'July 24, 2003: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry Says Almost Every Government Agency Failed'

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Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007] The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Al-Qaeda, Dana Bash, Michael Hayden, Richard Shelby, Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today, Washington Post, Porter J. Goss, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry had been frustrated in its attempts to speak with Abdussattar Shaikh (see October 5, 2002), the FBI informant who was a landlord to two of the 9/11 hijackers (see Mid-May-December 2000; May 10-Mid-December 2000). On this day, a senior FBI official sends a letter to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL), the co-chairs of the Inquiry. In explaining why the FBI has been uncooperative and not allowed the informant to testify, the letter says, “the Administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source, nor did the Administration agree to allow the FBI to serve a subpoena or a notice of deposition on the source.” Graham later will comment, “We were seeing in writing what we had suspected for some time: the White House was directing the cover-up.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 166]

Entity Tags: Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Porter J. Goss

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry.Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry. [Source: Ken Lambert/ Associated Press]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/29/2002] Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. [Palm Beach Post, 9/21/2002] The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
bullet Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
bullet According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” [New York Times, 7/26/2003]
bullet CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
bullet US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
bullet “There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
bullet According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. [Newsweek, 5/25/2003] The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2003; Newsday, 8/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Saudi Arabia, National Security Agency, Porter J. Goss, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Thomas Kean, US Department of the Treasury

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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