In a court filing dated Feb. 1, the Justice Department inspector general's office asked a federal judge in Alexandria, Va., for permission to release a declassified version of the report, which the inspector general completed last July after investigating the F.B.I.'s handling of intelligence related to the attacks in 2001.
But defense lawyers for Zacarias Moussaoui, an admitted member of Al Qaeda who is the only person charged in a United States court in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, are worried that the public release of the report - which deals in part with Mr. Moussaoui's case - could compromise his ability to get a fair trial and an unbiased jury, officials said.
Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers filed a sealed motion last week voicing their concerns to Leonie M. Brinkema, the federal judge in Virginia who is handling Mr. Moussaoui's long-stalled trial.
Glenn A. Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, gave Judge Brinkema a declassified version of his F.B.I. report to review this month, and she must now decide whether it can be released publicly in its entirety, as Mr. Fine is seeking.
The decision comes at a time of stepped-up scrutiny over the federal government's secrecy in classifying important material, particularly documents relating to terrorism.
Two weeks ago, the Bush administration filed with the National Archives a declassified report from the Sept. 11 commission that detailed the failings of the Federal Aviation Administration in preparing for terrorist threats before Sept. 11. But commission members say they believe the entire aviation report should now be made public.
Mr. Fine's report focuses on the F.B.I.'s inability to piece together disparate strands of intelligence that might have led investigators to terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 hijackings, officials who have been briefed on the report said.
"It's a very critical, very thorough and, over all, very fair look at the F.B.I. and where things went wrong before 9/11," said a former government official who had read portions of the report but spoke on the condition of anonymity because it remains classified.
Officials who have read the classified version of the report, which totals several hundred pages, said it focuses largely on missteps by the F.B.I. in failing to follow terror leads adequately before the Sept. 11 attacks: in Minneapolis, where Mr. Moussaoui was jailed after acting suspiciously at a flight training school; in Phoenix, where an F.B.I. agent warned about the prospect of terrorists training at flight schools; and in San Diego, where two of the Sept. 11 hijackers who were on a terror watch list had been living.
All three episodes have been fairly well covered before - both by the Sept. 11 commission in its final report last summer and by a joint House-Senate intelligence committee investigation before that. But Mr. Fine's report is considered the most comprehensive investigation to focus exclusively on the F.B.I. in connection with the 9/11 attacks.
The F.B.I., which along with the C.I.A. has withstood the brunt of criticism for failing to deter the Sept. 11 attacks, has worked for the last three years to strengthen its intelligence-gathering and analytical abilities in order to prevent another attack. But some members of Congress and outside experts have questioned the pace of the bureau's reforms, particularly in light of the F.B.I.'s recent failure to develop a usable computer software system to file, search and link its active investigations.
F.B.I. officials said they were unconcerned by the prospect that the inspector general's report could become public.
A senior F.B.I. official who had read the classified version and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the investigation had not revealed anything that could have actually prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Could we have done better?" the official asked. "Yes, but we can't change what's happened. The real issue is that we're moving forward and that we're taking steps to better coordinate our counterterrorism efforts."
Copyright 2005 The New York Times
Copyright 2005 The New York Times