A: The investigation, which officially began in February, is running along two tracks — one looking at the government's failure to detect and stop the Sept. 11 plot, and the other examining the U.S. government's counterterrorism effort since the mid-1980s. Graham has pushed the general inquiry; the vice chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has wanted a more focused look at Sept. 11.
To these dual ends, investigators are looking at specific intelligence hinting at Sept. 11 — like the FBI's Phoenix memo, in which an agent worried about Arabs in U.S. flight schools as a possible sign of al Qaeda terrorism in the works. They are also looking at the structure and funding of the U.S. intelligence community, seeing if some failure of the system, rather than individuals, allowed the Sept. 11 and other terrorist attacks to slip through the cracks.
The CIA, FBI and National Security Agency — which gathers intelligence through intercepted communications — are the chief agencies being examined.
Q: What has the investigation accomplished so far?
A: Investigators have interviewed about 180 people and been provided access to about 180,000 pages of documents, officials said. About 50 of those interviews have been with CIA personnel; another 37 came from the Justice Department and FBI.
Q: Has the investigation run into any problems?
A: The first executive director, former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider, ran afoul of some senators by not informing them of a potential security issue with one of his staff members. Snider was dismissed.
Graham has criticized the CIA and Justice Department for not being fully cooperative with requests by investigators for information. Both agencies have responded that they are providing unprecedented access to their officials and documents.
Q: How much does it cost taxpayers?
A: The committee has a budget of $2.9 million through February 2003.
Q: What sort of conclusions might investigators reach?
A: They may pin some kind of failure on specific persons or agencies. Or they may simply recommend changes to the structure and funding of the intelligence community and their counterterrorism branches.
Q: How much of the investigation is classified?
A: A good deal, although the congressional officials have promised to be as forthcoming as they can. Hearings are expected to begin in mid-June, but some will be closed to the public.
Q: When will the committee issue its findings?
A: Interim recommendations for legislation may be issued this fall. The final report may not be finished until next year.
Q: Why do some members of Congress want an independent commission?
A: Senators like Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and John McCain, R-Ariz., say an independent commission, composed of experts who have an understanding of intelligence matters, would be able to take a more objective look at the U.S. intelligence community, and perhaps feel free to propose more radical changes.
But the Bush administration, Republican congressional leadership and other proponents of the existing inquiry say another commission will only tie up CIA and FBI officials who must run the war on terrorism while already answering to the congressional investigation.
Also, an independent commission's report can be ignored by both Congress and the White House, while the congressional investigation can be backed up by legislation.
Q: Is there any precedent for this sort of inquiry?
A: The investigation has been compared to the government's inquiry into how the United States missed preparations for Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the findings led to the foundation of the modern U.S. intelligence community. The last large-scale investigation of intelligence matters was the commission set up by Sen. Frank Church in 1975. Its conclusions led to new congressional oversight of the CIA.
— The Associated Press