Probe of Intercepted Messages Focuses on Shelby
Justice Department Investigating Leak of Classified NSA Material Regarding
Sept. 11 Attacks
By Dana Priest and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 22, 2004; Page A02
The Justice Department's 18-month investigation into the leak of classified
intercepted messages is focusing on Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who was
chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence at the time of the
disclosure, according to a law enforcement official and congressional
A grand jury has been hearing information and has taken the testimony of at
least two witnesses, including Shelby's former press secretary, sources
said. The investigation centers on the disclosure in 2002 that the National
Security Agency had intercepted two messages on the eve of the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks signaling that something was to happen the next day. The
cryptic messages were not translated until Sept. 12.
Shelby has since left the committee and is chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee. He said in a statement yesterday: "My position on this issue is
clear and well-known: At no time during my career as a United States Senator
and, more particularly, at no time during my service as Chairman of the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have I ever knowingly compromised
"To my knowledge, the same can be said about my staff. We have provided the
investigation with our full cooperation in the past, and we will continue to
do so." The statement said Shelby has had no contact with investigators for
more than a year.
Shelby's former press secretary, Andrea Andrews, has moved to Texas. Neither
she nor her attorney could be reached to comment yesterday.
It was unclear yesterday how close the FBI is to concluding its
investigation, or for how long it has focused on Shelby.
On June 19, 2002, CNN, citing "two congressional sources," quoted phrases
contained in two classified NSA intercepts from Sept. 10, 2001, that hinted
of an impending terrorist operation. The intercepts included the phrases
"The match begins tomorrow" and "tomorrow is zero day." This information was
revealed by NSA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, during a
closed session of a joint House-Senate panel investigating the Sept. 11
At the time, Vice President Cheney chastised committee members publicly
about the disclosure of sensitive information. Critics said the
administration was trying to stop public disclosure of embarrassing
information about the lapses in intelligence and security surrounding the
Cheney's criticism prompted the House and Senate intelligence committees to
encourage an FBI investigation of themselves. Within two months, FBI agents
had the phone records, appointment calendars and schedules of 17 senators
and had questioned more than 100 people, including all 37 members of the
committee and about 60 staff members.
The agents typically asked lawmakers and staff members if they were willing
to take polygraph tests.
Meanwhile yesterday, Democratic members of key House committees said they
were frustrated by a lack of information about another leak investigation:
the FBI's probe of who disclosed the identity of a CIA case officer, Valerie
Plame, who was undercover.
In December, seven members of the House asked the Justice Department for a
progress report on the investigation, launched to find out who told
columnist Robert D. Novak that Plame is a CIA officer. Plame is married to
former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a prominent critic of the
administration's Iraq policies, who concluded during a 2002 CIA-sponsored
mission to Africa that there was little evidence Saddam Hussein sought
uranium there. Wilson says he believes his wife's identity was disclosed in
retaliation for his public discussions of those findings.
Bush mentioned the alleged Africa-Iraq uranium connection in last year's
State of the Union address as he built a case for going to war against Iraq.
The CIA had warned the White House against using that assertion, and
documents showing a Niger-Iraq link turned out to be forged.
Members of the House asked the Justice Department how many interviews had
been conducted and how many remain to be scheduled. The lawmakers, some of
whom said they fear the department is not pushing hard enough to resolve the
matter, also wanted to know whether the Bush administration had turned over
the documents requested.
The department, in a letter dated Jan. 13, declined to answer the questions,
citing long-standing policy against revealing information during an
Yesterday, Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), and the ranking members of the House
International Relations, Judiciary and Government Reform committees,
introduced a Resolution of Inquiry, an infrequently used device to compel
the executive branch to turn over information to Congress.
The resolution will be introduced in four committees that share jurisdiction
on the matter. If it is not voted down or acted upon by each committee
within 14 days, Holt and his co-signers can take the matter to the floor.
Holt said chances of the resolution passing are "slim" but "at least it
raises the issue."
"I certainly don't want to compromise an ongoing investigation," he said. "I
think this is a way of strengthening the backbone of investigators."
Co-signers include Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking member of the
Judiciary Committee, Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) of the International Relations
Committee and Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) of the Government Reform