Patriotism slows inquiries into intelligence failures

War on Terrorism: Investigation
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The Independent US

The political inquests into the failures of US intelligence agencies before the 11 September attacks, which are certain to embarrass Republicans and Democrats alike, are to go ahead. But do not tune in for a while yet.

Congressional leaders have told the White House that it need fear nothing at least until the new year.

The reasons are partly procedural, but are mostly to do with patriotism. It has been deemed a bad idea to start finger-pointing – at the CIA in particular – when the country is at a crucial phase of the war in Afghanistan.

The hearings, when they get under way, will inevitably be closely watched and are already being compared to the inquiries held on Capitol Hill in response to the Pearl Harbor attack 50 years ago.

At least two sets of hearings are likely on the Hill, one by the Senate side of the US Congress and one by the House of Representatives.

There has also been talk of a separate blue-ribbon presidential panel being established to run an independent investigation into why the country was taken so completely by surprise on 11 September.

Senator Bob Graham, head of the Senate intelligence committee, told The New York Times: "It is very important that there be a thorough and thoughtful investigation, looking at a wide range of issues – intelligence, law enforcement, immigration and domestic preparation. But just a few weeks after 11 September is not the time to do it."

The CIA is expected to be especially bruised by the hearing process.

Questions are also certain to be asked about the degree of attention that was paid to the threat from the al-Qa'ida organisation both by President Bill Clinton, under whose leadership the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked in 1998, and by the Republican administration of President Bush.

Congressional leaders are wary of beginning a process that may seem to undermine national unity at a time of war.

Additionally, many of the people who would be required to appear before the panels are involved in both the war in Afghanistan and the world-wide hunt for al-Qa'ida operatives, which was launched after the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing for a separate hearing into the aggressive moves by the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to broaden the government's powers to fight terrorism, while sweeping aside some traditional civil rights cherished in the land of the free.

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