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Context of 'December 11, 2002: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry Blames President Bush, CIA Director Tenet, and Others'

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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

Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). [National Journal, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Ari Fleischer, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Murray Waas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry concludes its seven-month investigation of the performance of government agencies before the 9/11 attacks. A report hundreds of pages long has been written, but only nine pages of findings and 15 pages of recommendations are released at this time, and these have blacked out sections. [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002] After months of wrangling over what has to be classified, the final report will be released in July 2003 (see July 24, 2003). In the findings released at the present time, the inquiry accuses the Bush administration of refusing to declassify information about possible Saudi Arabian financial links to US-based Islamic militants, criticizes the FBI for not adapting into a domestic intelligence bureau after the 9/11 attacks, and says the CIA lacked an effective system for holding its officials accountable for their actions. Asked if 9/11 could have been prevented, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the committee chairman, gives “a conditional yes.” Graham says the Bush administration has given Americans an “incomplete and distorted picture” of the foreign assistance the hijackers may have received. [ABC News, 12/10/2002] Graham further says, “There are many more findings to be disclosed” that Americans would find “more than interesting,” and he and others express frustration that information that should be released is being kept classified by the Bush administration. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002] Many of these findings will remain classified after the inquiry’s final report is released. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the vice chairman, singles out six people as having “failed in significant ways to ensure that this country was as prepared as it could have been”: CIA Director George Tenet; Tenet’s predecessor, John Deutch; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; NSA Director Michael Hayden; Hayden’s predecessor, Lieutenant General Kenneth Minihan; and former Deputy Director Barbara McNamara. [US Congress, 12/11/2002; Washington Post, 12/12/2002] Shelby says that Tenet should resign. “There have been more failures on his watch as far as massive intelligence failures than any CIA director in history. Yet he’s still there. It’s inexplicable to me.” [Reuters, 12/10/2002; PBS, 12/11/2002] But the Los Angeles Times criticizes the inquiry’s plan of action, stating, “A list of 19 recommendations consists largely of recycled proposals and tepid calls for further study of thorny issues members themselves could not resolve.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2002]

Entity Tags: John Deutch, George J. Tenet, Michael Hayden, Louis J. Freeh, Richard Shelby, Saudi Arabia, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Kenneth Minihan, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Barbara McNamara

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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