9/11 Commission Subpoenas FAA
"We can't trust them anymore," said former Rep. Tim Roemer, a Democratic appointee on the 10-member commission created last year to conduct the most far-reaching probe of what enabled the attacks.
The commission voted unanimously Tuesday to subpoena records it had already requested after it discovered the FAA did not provide about 20 boxes of materials following an initial request in May.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command, which protects U.S. airspace, also may not be cooperating with commission document requests.
"It wouldn't surprise me if there are additional documents forthcoming from NORAD, having seen the example of what's happened with the FAA," said commission member Richard Ben-Veniste.
The commission scrutinized the agencies in May, questioning why the FAA took 29 minutes on Sept. 11 to notify NORAD of the hijackings. The FAA said it gave informal notice throughout the morning.
The commission had sought all FAA documents related to its tracking of the four hijacked planes and thought the FAA complied. But commission investigators began interviews that revealed tapes, statements, interview reports and internal assessments had been omitted. Days ago, the FAA gave the commission additional records, but the commission approved a subpoena to "put other agencies on notice."
The FAA said documents were not turned over because it followed old procedures for disseminating records that it now recognizes "were not satisfactory." The agency, "surprised" by the subpoena, said it's given the commission 150,000 pages and 230 hours of air-traffic control tapes.
"No documents were ever knowingly withheld," the FAA said in a statement.
9-11 Commission Subpoenas FAA
Panel says agency failed to produce key records, may seek extension
WASHINGTON – Invoking its subpoena powers for the first time, the commission examining the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has voted to force the Federal Aviation Administration to produce records on the four hijacked jetliners and agency communications with the military air defense command.
The 10 commissioners, in a statement Wednesday, said they decided to issue a subpoena after learning that the FAA had failed to turn over records, tapes and interviews that are "highly material" to their investigation.
Saying the FAA's actions had "significantly impeded" their progress, the commissioners said they would consider asking Congress to extend the panel's term beyond the current May deadline.
The bipartisan panel, which has complained since July that its requests for information have been stymied by some federal agencies, said the subpoena would serve a twofold purpose: highlight its concerns about the FAA's failing and put others on notice that they must cooperate.
"This disturbing development at one agency has led the commission to re-examine its general policy of relying on document requests rather than subpoenas," the statement said.
Though the commissioners said they were assured by the FAA in early September that all requested materials had been turned over, investigators learned that wasn't the case while conducting interviews recently.
The FAA, which has turned over dozens of boxes of materials in the past few days, acknowledged that it had fallen short and pledged full cooperation. "No documents were ever knowingly withheld from the commission," the FAA said in a statement.
"Given the agency's voluntary cooperation with the commission, we are surprised by the commission's decision to formally subpoena the agency's records," the statement said. Though the FAA called the subpoena "unnecessary," spokesman Bill Schumann said the agency would not challenge it.
White House counsel Al Gonzales issued a memo Wednesday to Cabinet secretaries and the CIA director reminding them that President Bush "has stated a clear policy of support" for the commission's work. Noting that the executive branch has provided more than 2.1 million pages of documents and arranged nearly 300 interviews, Mr. Gonzales wrote, "It is imperative that we see these strong efforts through to completion of the commission's work."
victims' relatives welcomed the subpoena as long overdue, saying they
hope the commissioners will issue additional subpoenas if necessary,
particularly for sensitive White House briefing documents that the panel
still is negotiating to review.
"I'm happy they came to the realization finally that they have to use subpoenas, but subpoena has been our mantra from day one," said Bill Harvey, whose wife of one month, Sara Manley, was killed at the World Trade Center.
Some relatives have major questions about when the FAA learned of the hijackings and when that information was communicated to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, whose jet fighters were scrambled too late to reach any of the doomed planes.
During a commission hearing last May that focused on aviation issues, former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey provided a timeline that differed significantly from the one offered by NORAD officials.
The timeline is "at the very heart" of the events of Sept. 11, said Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband, Alan, died at the World Trade Center. "That's really a key point in the failure of our defenses that day," she said.
Robin Wiener, whose brother Jeff also was killed at the World Trade Center, agreed.
think the American public wants to be assured that if there is any detection
of a problem on a plane that this country is ready to react immediately,"
she said. "And it's clear from what happened on 9-11 that perhaps
we weren't ready ... and we need to understand why."
of the senators instrumental in the creation of the 9-11 commission,
Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Joe Lieberman of Connecticut,
demanded that the administration cooperate fully with the panel.
Extension could raise difficult political and substantive concerns for the commission, the Congress, the Bush administration and the families themselves. The White House initially opposed the commission's creation and then fought to limit the two-year investigation sought by Congress to 18 months. The commission's conclusions, if released closer to the 2004 general election date, could hold political peril for the administration and could harm the luster of a panel designed to avoid becoming enmeshed in partisanship.
Some relatives also fear that if they lobby for extension now, federal agencies will further stall their cooperation with the commission.
Stephen Push, whose wife, Lisa Raines, was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, said the administration will have only itself to blame if the commission cannot complete its work by May.
they don't turn over the documents in a timely manner," he said,
"there are going to be renewed calls for yet another investigation
or for extending this one."