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EDITIONS
Friday, 25 July, 2003, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
9/11 could have been prevented
Saxby Chambliss
The United States has the most sophisticated intelligence gathering operation in the world. So how did the combined forces of the CIA and FBI fail to thwart the single worst attack on American soil?

Two of the hijackers were living with an FBI informant. The CIA knew they were linked to al-Qaeda yet that important information wasn't shared. The best chance of unravelling the plot was bungled.

A key section of the report dealing with the alleged involvement of Saudi Arabia was deleted causing senators to voice deep concern about censorship.

Martha Kearney was joined by a Republican Senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee - Saxby Chambliss.


MARTHA KEARNEY:
It seems to be an extremely serious indictment of the intelligence agencies. Who will have to resign as a result of all of this?

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
That is yet to be seen. This is not new information. All of this information has been in the public eye before. My subcommittee on the House produced a report about a year ago. Detailing the fact that there were serious deficiencies within our intelligence community that allowed September 11th to happen. The fact of the matter is though, that when you look back at this, you see all the pitfalls that we fell into, all of the lack of information that we failed to come up with. You still cannot say without question that we could have prevented September 11th from happening.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
Well, the report today did, in effect, say that it could have been prevented.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
No, no, I disagree with you. If you look at the end of the report, it says that even under the best of circumstances September 11th could not have been prohibited.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
I think the first words of the press conference, one of the senators said it could have been prevented by a combination of circumstances, in particular it points to what was happening in San Diego and said the best chance to unravel the plot was in effect bungled because the FBI and CIA were not talking to each other. Whether it is new information or not, surely somebody has to be held accountable to this?

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
Well, certainly the situation regarding the hijackers was not handled properly. It was bungled - it may be the best way to describe it. But that was in 2000. We know that there were a number of these individuals in the country in 2001, obviously several months prior to September 11th. There was a lack of community and a lack of sharing of information between the NSC, the INS, the CIA as well as the FBI. It has to be improved and that is the recommendation in the report. That is what we're trying to accomplish since then. We're going to move forward. I don't know that there is any smoking gun in this report that has not... A great deal of concern about the fact that 28 pages about the vital connection possible links with Saudi Arabia have been deleted, classified in the report.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
How do you account for that?

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
Well, any time in the intelligence community, if you're going to gather information, you have to have the right kinds of sources. Those sources for the most part, come from individuals operating in the intelligence community. If we divulged those sources we put their lives at risk. We remove them from the capability of giving us additional information. The other thing that is removed is methods. We have various methods of gathering intelligence information around the world, the same as MI5 and all the other British intelligence agencies. Certainly. If we reveal those, then we run the risk of not being able to gather that information in the future. The senators responsible for the report certainly acknowledge the need to keep their sources quiet.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
They said a great deal besides was classified which needn't have been. One of the senators talked about his deep concerns about censorship, the implication being that the links were covered up to hide links between the Republican administration and the Saudi Arabian Government.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
You have to remember that Washington is a political town. We're in a political season. The senator who made that statement is running for President of the United States.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
Can it really be dismissed so easily?

SAXBY CHAMBLISS:
George Bush is very strong both domestically and with our foreign policy. You know, folks are taking all kinds of shots at him. But this is just another one of those attempts to try to make something out of nothing, with respect to this administration.

MARTHA KEARNEY:
Senator Saxby Chambliss, thank you for joining us.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Martha Kearney
was joined by a Republican Senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee - Saxby Chambliss.
See also:

25 Jul 03 | Americas
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