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Who is Khalid Almihdhar? He is one of the 20 suspected hijackers who committed the Sept. 11 attacks.

What was he doing around January 2000? According to reports this week, both the CIA and the FBI knew he was attending a meeting of suspected al-Qaida members in Malaysia.

What about Nawaf Alhazmi? He was another eventual 9-11 hijacker who, along with Almihdhar, was attending the al-Qaida meeting.

A week ago, anonymous U.S. officials told news agencies that the CIA had this important information but failed to disclose it to FBI officials. Shortly thereafter, another CIA official – again speaking on anonymity – denied the FBI had been kept out of the loop. The second official said that, in fact, two FBI agents had been briefed in early 2000 about Almihdhar.

Both Almihdar and Alhazmi eventually boarded American Airlines Flight 77 and dive-bombed it into the Pentagon. But it seems as though no U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agency wants to admit they knew who these bozos were, what they were up to, whom they associated with, and when.

Who is right? Who is lying? Who’s responsible for the intelligence “lapse” which resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 people?

With all this finger-pointing, it’s hard to tell. But what isn’t difficult to figure out is the fact that officials in both agencies botched a number of opportunities to at least blunt the Sept. 11 attacks, if not prevent them outright.

President Bush admitted as much Tuesday, when he said, “In terms of whether the FBI and CIA were communicating properly, I think it is clear that they weren’t.” Permit me a “duh” here.

Now, what should be done about it? Whatever Americans insist upon, I can only hope it is not the status quo of denials, cover-ups and attempts to usher those most responsible along their career paths, though that seems to be where all of this is headed.

Already a joint House-Senate panel examining aspects of the innumerable intelligence failures preceding 9-11 says it is not looking for “scapegoats.” That has usually meant that those most responsible will get a free pass.

Well, the American people aren’t looking for scapegoats either. Call us silly, but we’re only looking for the guilty parties – which is who the congressional members sitting on this House-Senate panel ought to be looking for.

In the aftermath of 9-11, as vital information about the performance (or lack of performance) of our intelligence services prior to the attack continues to trickle out, it is becoming obvious to me that not only did they fail us, they were criminally negligent.

I’m finding there were so many legitimate leads federal intelligence and law enforcement officials ignored that it’s absurd to insist, as Bush has done recently, there was “no evidence” the clues could have been detected beforehand.

Instead of full disclosure, however, Americans are – once again – getting the “Clinton treatment:” Washington is in full cover-up mode. The only thing you need to be aware of regarding that assertion is the fact that House and Senate members examining the 9-11 intelligence failures are meeting in sealed, soundproof rooms.

Worries over intelligence leaks? Not hardly. Think: “Controlling the flow of information.” In other words, meeting in private allows lawmakers and government officials to craft the news and shape resultant public views, as well as control the damage to “key” political careers. That’s ironic, considering that some of the same lawmakers have accused CIA and FBI officials of doing exactly that.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When a rapist rapes, the people of his community hold him responsible. When a murderer murders, he or she is held to account. When a corporate manager fails to guide his division to profitability, he or she is held liable. When a major-league baseball team manager cannot guide his team to victory, the owner dumps him.

Americans should insist that those responsible for the criminal breakdown of our intelligence community are held to account. Anything less should be considered criminally remiss.

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