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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
US launches terror message leak inquiry
WTC tower on fire after attack
Translation could not have averted attack, officials say
Leaders of a congressional panel investigating the 11 September attacks in the United States have asked the Justice Department to investigate leaks from their hearings.


The president has deep concerns about the inappropriate disclosure of information that can compromise sources.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer
On Wednesday, anonymous congressional sources told reporters that the National Security Agency (NSA) had intercepted two messages on 10 September that could possibly have referred to the attacks.

The messages - in Arabic - read: "Tomorrow is zero hour" and "The match is about to begin". But they were not translated until after the attacks, according to sources quoted by the Washington Post.

The White House has complained about the disclosure of the messages, saying it could be harmful to America's efforts to prevent further attacks.

Security concerns

Senator Bob Graham and Representative Porter Goss, who chair the joint congressional committee, asked the Justice Department to investigate who, among congressmen and their staffs, leaked the information.

Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, NSA director
Hayden testified before the congressional panel
The Justice Department said it would "expeditiously review this matter and take any appropriate action".

"The president has deep concerns about the inappropriate disclosure of information that can compromise sources and methods and potentially interfere (with) and harm America's capacity to fight the war against terror," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

On Tuesday the two messages were put before the committee, which is looking into events leading up to the attack and how intelligence agencies can avert future attacks.

Members of the panel are questioning senior FBI, CIA and NSA officials behind closed doors.

Lieutenant General Michael Hayden, the NSA director, was reportedly asked by the committee why it took his agency two days to translate the messages.

Criticism

According to one legislator quoted by CNN, his response was that the agency collects a lot of information daily and it would be nearly impossible to translate all of it in a timely manner.

National Security Agency
One of 13 US federal intelligence agencies
Based in Fort Meade, Maryland
Director: Lieutenant General Michael Hayden
Protects information sent through US Government equipment
Intercepts and deciphers foreign signals
Budget and staff numbers are secret
NSA analysts are still not certain who the messages were from, according to sources quoted in the Washington Post.

Some reports in the American media suggest the communications were sent from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia.

Officials say that even if the communications had been translated on 10 September, they would not have provided enough information to prevent the attacks on New York and Washington in which about 3,000 people were killed.

The CIA and FBI have been heavily criticised for not sharing intelligence leading up to the 11 September attacks.

The two Arabic messages have now put the NSA under the spotlight for the first time.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This revelation highlights one of the biggest problems faced by the US intelligence community"
Washington Post journalist Dana Priest
"We're grasping at clues"
Professor of International Affairs Charles Kupchan
"There is clearly a lack of co-ordination"

Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

08 Jun 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
20 Jun 02 | UK Politics
11 Jun 02 | Americas
18 Jun 02 | Middle East
18 May 02 | Americas
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