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Context of 'September 5, 2002: Senator Decries Lack of Government Cooperation in 9/11 Congressional Inquiry'

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Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), both future members of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, appear on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” and warn of potential attacks by bin Laden. Feinstein says, “One of the things that has begun to concern me very much as to whether we really have our house in order, intelligence staff have told me that there is a major probability of a terrorist incident within the next three months.” (CNN 3/2002)

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. (Lengel and Priest 8/5/2004; Waas 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).

Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, expresses doubts that the committee’s 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will be able to accomplish anything, and he supports an independent investigation. “Time is not on our side,” he says, since the investigation has a built-in deadline at the end of 2002. “You know, we were told that there would be cooperation in this investigation, and I question that. I think that most of the information that our staff has been able to get that is real meaningful has had to be extracted piece by piece.” He adds that there is explosive information that has not been publicly released. “I think there are some more bombs out there… I know that.” (Mitchell 9/10/2002)

The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. (Lengel and Priest 8/5/2004; Waas 2/15/2007)


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