FBI wants lawmakers to take lie detector test in Sept. 11 leak investigation

Friday, August 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been asked by the FBI to take lie-detector tests as part of an investigation into the leak of documents related to the Sept. 11 attacks, a law enforcement official said.

The official emphasized that the exams ``are always voluntary.''

``Lie-detector tests are a standard element of FBI investigations and they are meant to eliminate people from suspicion,'' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity late Thursday.

The Washington Post reported in Friday editions that nearly all 37 members of the intelligence committees have been questioned and many have been asked to take polygraphs.

Several lawmakers have refused to take the test, citing the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, along with the unreliability of the exams, the newspaper said.

The FBI's investigation is broad in scope _ several dozen congressional staff members also have been questioned and even some CIA agents have been interviewed.

Investigators are trying to determine who leaked information to CNN about communications in Arabic that made vague references to an impending attack on the United States. The communications were intercepted by the National Security Agency on Sept. 10.

An intelligence source later told The Associated Press they contained the phrases, ``Tomorrow is zero hour'' and ``The match is about to begin.''

The intercepts weren't translated until Sept. 12.

Their relevance is uncertain. Intelligence officials said it wasn't clear if the conversations referred to the Sept. 11 hijackings. Even if they did, they offered few clues about the nature of the attacks.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has called the disclosure of the language ``alarmingly specific.''

``The selective, inappropriate leaking of snippets of information risks undermining national security, and it risks undermining the promises made to protect this sensitive information,'' he said.

The leak investigation was sought in June by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Asked at the time whether lawmakers would submit to FBI interviews and polygraphs, Goss said they ``will cooperate with the FBI in any way possible.''

Concern about leaks has been a key reason the White House has opposed creating an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks, a panel sought by some lawmakers and victims' relatives.

President Bush has said the intelligence panels were better positioned to avoid leaks, that they ``understand the obligations of upholding our secrets and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence.''

But Bush has clashed with Congress before over leaks. On Oct. 5, he limited sensitive congressional briefings to leaders of the House and Senate and their intelligence committees. He dropped the restrictions a week later after Graham and Goss assured him they would rein in lawmakers.