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FBI turns leak probe on senators

Washington, Aug. 24: The FBI has intensified its probe of a classified intelligence leak, asking 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters.

In an August 7 memo passed to the senators through the Senate general counsel’s office, the FBI asked all members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to collect and turn over records from June 18 and 19, 2002.

Those dates are the day of and the day after a classified hearing in which the director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, spoke to lawmakers about two highly sensitive messages that hinted at an impending action that the agency intercepted on the eve of September 11 but did not translate until September 12.

The request suggests that the FBI is now focusing on the handful of senior senators who are members of a Senate-House panel investigating September 11 and attend most classified meetings and read all the most sensitive intelligence agency communications. A similar request did not go to House intelligence committee members.

The request also represents a much more intrusive probe of lawmakers’ activities, and comes at a time when some legal experts and members of Congress are already disgruntled that an executive branch agency, such as the FBI — headed by a political appointee — is probing the actions of legislators whose job it is to oversee FBI.

The FBI declined to comment. Most senators are away for the August recess, but Sen. Bob Graham, Democrat, Florida, who heads the Senate intelligence committee, said through a spokesman that he is cooperating with the investigation and has asked staff members to gather the requested records.

In recent weeks, FBI agents finished questioning nearly 100 people, including all 37 members of separate House and Senate intelligence committees and some 60 staff members. At the conclusion of their interviews with members and staff, FBI agents asked them if they would be willing to take polygraph tests. Most declined.

Requesting calendars, phone logs and schedules over a two-day period “has much more of a fishing-around feel to it, trying to find out which senators are talking to the media,” said Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimoreprofessor and former House deputy general counsel.

Some officials generally involved in the probe believe that quashing the release of information to the public about embarrassing or sensitive information related to the September 11 attacks was exactly what the administration intended when it sent Vice-President Dick Cheney to chastise committee members for unauthorised leaks that end up in news reports.

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