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Inquiry begins into failure to predict attacks

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WASHINGTON — Analysts from the FBI and other security agencies are restudying intelligence data for missed clues that might keep a horror like last week's terror strike from happening again.

In Congress, members with oversight of the intelligence apparatus are ready to grill officials to find out whether they missed signs of the attacks.

The Senate Intelligence Committee said Monday it will hold hearings on why the government didn't predict the Sept. 11 attacks by hijackers who slammed jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and into one side of the Pentagon in Washington. Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi multimillionaire accused of masterminding major international terrorism, is the prime suspect.

U.S. officials say they had no warning on the method, timing or location of the attacks, only a sense that something big was on the horizon, probably overseas.

"It's troubling to all of us in America, I suppose, that nobody had a clue as to this forthcoming attack of such devastation," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It was a lot of people involved, a lot of coordination involved. There had to be some evidence, somewhere, of something being planned."

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Tuesday the agency "won't be distracted" by criticism of its efforts.

"Our focus is on terrorists; it is not on addressing criticisms," he said. "The CIA has very important work to do, and that's determining who was responsible for these horrendous attacks, and continuing to do everything we can to counter terrorism."

Shelby and the intelligence committee chairman, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., agreed to conduct hearings but have set no date.

Did U.S. intelligence agencies possess information in fragments that did not coalesce to prevent an attack? Is a specific warning sitting, unanalyzed for lack of time or linguists, on a CIA report or a hard drive at the National Security Agency?

Were counterterrorism agents looking in the wrong places? Should U.S. training of foreign pilots be suspect? Or were the terrorists truly able to conduct a massive, highly coordinated operation and keep it almost perfectly secret for months, even years?

"You go back and see what was the evidence ... that maybe we missed," Shelby said. "Maybe they didn't miss it. Maybe they didn't go after it."

For now, intelligence agencies are working to prevent more attacks and are looking through old information as part of that effort, officials said.

Already, U.S. investigators have learned that two of the hijackers were on a terrorist watch list before the attacks.

Khalid Al-Midhar and Salem Alhamzi were on the flight that crashed into the Pentagon. Al-Midhar was a known associate of one of a suspects in last October's bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, according to a report in Newsweek.

In late August, the CIA told the Immigration and Naturalization Service to add them to the watch list, which would prohibit them from entering the country. The INS told the CIA it believed the men were already in the United States, so the CIA provided the information to the FBI, officials said.

The CIA issued warnings throughout the summer to beware of possible terrorist action and in August privately told U.S. leaders that bin Laden could be planning an attack, possibly in the United States, U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other possible hints and warnings are beginning to emerge. Some are general, others specific. They include:

—Recent reported statements by bin Laden himself, in which he announced that he was planning an unprecedented attack on U.S. interests.

—A general sense among U.S. intelligence agencies that bin Laden's organization had a major operation planned. However, it was widely believed the operation would be done overseas, officials said. CIA counterterrorism officers, working with authorities in several countries, had broken up several planned overseas terrorist operations connected to bin Laden in recent years, U.S. officials say.

—A foreign intelligence agency tipped a U.S. law enforcement agency that a possible bin Laden associate from the Middle East was in Boston. The agency checked into the information but decided the man was no longer in Boston, where several bin Laden supporters are known to live, officials said. Two of the hijacked flights took off from Boston.

—In late May and again in late June, the State Department issued worldwide cautions that said U.S. citizens were at high risk of terrorist attacks; the May warning specifically cited bin Laden's group.

—In July, the department issued one of the strongest warnings ever in the Persian Gulf. Washington said it had "strong indications that individuals may be planning imminent terrorist actions against U.S. interests in the Arabian Peninsula."

On the Net: CIA: www.cia.gov/

National Security Agency: www.nsa.gov/

FBI: www.fbi.gov/