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Roadblocks Seen in Sept. 11 Inquiry

by Bryan Bender Monday, Jul. 14, 2003 at 5:43 PM

WASHINGTON -- The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks says the Bush administration and Congress have failed to cooperate fully with requests for key documents and information and have presented other roadblocks to a thorough and timely inquiry.

Relatives of those killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon expressed dismay that the government could hinder the investigation.

''I am going to assume the White House is stonewalling the investigation,'' said Stephen Push, director of Families of September 11.

''How do you not question the government?'' asked Mindy Kleinberg of September 11 Advocates, whose husband, Allan, perished in the World Trade Center.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States yesterday expressed concern that the congressionally mandated panel is at risk of missing its final report deadline of May 2004 unless the Bush administration acts swiftly to expand its level of cooperation. If the report -- which will address what led to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people and how to prevent other acts of terror -- is not finished by then, its delay will probably become an element in the presidential elections.

Commission chairman Thomas H. Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, and vice chairman Lee H. Hamilton, former chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the intelligence committees in the House and Senate, which recently completed their own secret investigation into the attacks, have not provided sufficient access to materials. Without greater cooperation, ''we cannot do the job we are supposed to do,'' Kean said. The panel, also known as the 9/11 commission, provided a report card on the 16 federal agencies covered by its inquiry, describing only the State Department as being fully cooperative, and the FBI as having improved its performance.

But it says the White House has placed conditions on the access and usage of some documents, and such disagreements have yet to be resolved. The CIA, which failed to effectively predict the Al Qaeda threat, has been slow to provide documents on management and budget issues from before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Problems with the Department of Defense were ''particularly serious.'' The commission's six-month progress report noted that requests relating to the North American Air Defense Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been met with considerable delays.

One commissioner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, ''The Department of Homeland Security has been unhelpful. If we don't get these issues resolved, the public is not going to have the report it deserves.''

The Justice Department has also been a source of frustration. The commission objects to the department's insistence that an official accompany employees being interviewed by the commission. ''It's some intimidation . . . to have someone sitting behind you,'' Kean said.

When Bush signed the legislation creating the panel, he expressed ''hope that the commission will act quickly and issue its report prior to the 18-month deadline.'' The White House yesterday insisted that the president ''is dedicated to cooperation with the 9/11 commission and has directed that the administration cooperate,'' said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan. ''We have already produced thousands of pages .''

Keane and Hamilton acknowledged that the commission is asking for millions of documents, including some that even Congress is not privy to because of the consitutional separation of powers among the executive and legislative branches. However, while briefing reporters yesterday, the two said that only in recent days has the administration shown a willingness to provide the necessary information, including transcripts of interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees and some internal National Security Council documents. Much more is required, they say, for the commission's staff of 60 people to accomplish their job on time.

The commission, established last November, has the power to subpoena witnesses and has been granted all the necessary security clearances to review the requested documents. Officials said yesterday it may request interviews with President Bush and former president Bill Clinton, among other top officials.

But the commission's requests for documents related to the pending case against Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged ''20th hijacker'' who was arrested in Minneapolis before the attacks, have so far been ignored. Kean said discussions were underway to determine how the commission could access what are considered some of the most important clues to what the government may have known before the terrorist attacks without jeopardizing any trial.

Kleinberg, of September 11 Advocates, believes the Moussaoui dossier is important and that the commission must have access to it to do a sufficient job -- even if it means risking the government's case.

''I would rather see the safety of the nation put forth rather than prosecuting one potential terrorist,'' she said.

This story ran on page A2 of the Boston Globe on 7/9/2003.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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