A key member of the federal commission investigating the government’s handling of the September 11, 2001, terorist attacks, indicates that President Bush and For. John Lehman, Ronald Reagan’s Navy Secretary and one of five Republicans on the 10-member panel, told Time magazine that he wants to know what their administrations knew about the al-Qaeda terrorist plots–and what was done to combat them–before the 9/11 attacks.
U.S. News & World Report says the commission is off to a rocky start. The panel only recently sought millions of pages of government documents, and commission members have already angered some victims’ relatives. Says 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser, “There’s a whole range of things that this commission doesn’t want to ask.”
The first order of business was hiring a staff of about 60–former prosecutors; law enforcement, intelligence, and military experts, and historians–and persuading the White House to increase the commission’s budget, from $3 million to $14 million. Finding a staff director was especially excruciating. No one in the intelligence community wanted what is widely viewed as a thankless job. The eventual director was Philip Zelikow, 48, a former defense attorney, constitutional scholar, presidential historian, and national security expert who has held sensitive positions under Republicans and Democrats.
It wasn’t until May that members obtained access to some key classified transcripts related to the congressional probe, because the White House, which had waived executive privilege over those documents, was debating whether it could restrict the commission’s access. “Every day that goes by,” says commissioner Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic representative from Indiana, “sand drops through the hourglass.” The panel’s report is due next May.
The panel’s slow start has delayed the request for millions of pages of documents from agencies all over Washington. So far the response has been a trickle. A commission source says the White House, the CIA, and especially the Defense Department and the FBI have all been slow to provide documents requested. Commissioners were concerned enough to raise the issue during a meeting last week with FBI Director Robert Mueller, and “I think he received the message clearly,” says one source. The commission will turn up the heat on recalcitrant agencies at a news conference this week.
Time Magazine also says that investigation fever is building on Capitol Hill. Richard Shelby, former top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who complained that federal agencies like the CIA and countries like Saudi Arabia hampered the congressional probe into the Sept. 11 attacks, has a new angle. Term limits forced the Alabama Republican off the intelligence panel this year, but as new chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he is setting up hearings aimed at terrorist funding.