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Ex-CIA official resigns role in attack inquiry

In charge of the congressional investigation just two months, L. Britt Snider leaves for unspecified reasons.

By PAUL DE LA GARZA, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 1, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A rare joint investigation by the Senate and House into the intelligence failures of Sept. 11 has gotten off to a rocky start.

The official hired to lead the inquiry just two months ago, L. Britt Snider, a former inspector general at the CIA, quit last Friday.

It's unclear what impact, if any, his departure will have on the politically charged hearings scheduled to begin in late May. Like the congressional investigation into the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, lawmakers say the hearings could help shape the intelligence community for years to come.

On Tuesday, congressional and intelligence sources were tight-lipped about Snider's resignation. Almost in unison they characterized it as a "personnel matter."

Snider did not return telephone messages left at his Virginia home.

"Mr. Snider, who I respect greatly, made the decision to submit his resignation and I am not going to elaborate on it," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Porter J. Goss, R-Sanibel, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also declined comment. Goss and Graham will co-chair the hearings.

Snider apparently angered Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by hiring one or more staff members who lacked clearance to view classified material.

Shelby would not comment Tuesday.

Since his appointment in February, critics have complained Snider's CIA background would make him reluctant to conduct a thorough investigation of the CIA.

"This personnel decision sets the stage for a whitewash of epic proportions," wrote Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration, after Snider's appointment, "as if Sen. Sam Ervin had hired John Erlichman to run the Watergate investigation or Ken Lay's general counsel were tapped to run all the congressional investigations into the Enron debacle."

Graham had come to share the view of those critics, the Los Angeles Times reported. But Graham insisted Tuesday he was happy with Snider's work. He declined to say, however, whether Snider had been asked to resign.

Paul Anderson, Graham's spokesman, said he could not say whether other committee staffers had resigned as a result of Snider's departure.

The intelligence committees in the House and Senate hired Snider to oversee the investigation into Sept. 11.

With a budget of $2.9-million and a staff of up to 28, Snider's charge was to help Congress find out why U.S. intelligence was caught off-guard. With the hearings, Congress also wanted to reduce the chance of terrorist attacks in the future.

Even before the hearings begin, the leadership of the House and Senate intelligence committees has bickered over how aggressively to conduct the investigation. One of the big questions is whether to place direct blame.

In an interview two weeks ago, Graham said: "We don't start this with the object of assigning blame to one person or one institution. If the facts that we develop indicate someone is deserving of blame ... they will speak for themselves."

Graham said one of the goals is to determine "what type of intelligence community we need for the 21st century."

The hearings were scheduled to begin in late May and run through August. Graham said Snider's departure will not cause a delay. Some of the hearings will be open to the public.

"We have about two-dozen professionals who are working on this," Graham said. "They generally have the characteristics of some prior background in the intelligence community so they are working from an advanced position."

Snider's top deputy, Rick Cinquegrana, will take Snider's place for now. Graham said they had not decided whether to give Cinquegrana, another former CIA official, the job permanently.

Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, expects Snider's resignation to delay the investigation.

"He is the one who guides formulation of the questions, who identifies the witnesses who will testify, and who supervises the day-to-day operation of the committee," Aftergood said.

"Taking the staff director out of the picture and putting in somebody new can only set back the whole process."

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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