Panel Subpoenas NORAD, Not CIA
"Unfortunately NORAD has not complied with our long-standing document requests," said Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste.
He said that after a series of field inquiries and interviews with NORAD personnel, commission staff had realized, "quite recently" that "the materials (NORAD) had previously provided were incomplete."
"Our staff will have to backtrack, re-interview people and duplicate effort," said Ben-Veniste. He said the failure would cause "significant delays" to the commission's work, and might mean the postponement of a hearing planned for January.
That hearing, like an earlier one in June, dealt with the immediate response of federal agencies and the military to the news on Sept. 11, 2001 that several aircraft had been hijacked and one of them flown into the World Trade Center.
Last month the commission issued a subpoena to the Federal Aviation Administration for material covering their response. Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said the subpoena to NORAD -- the military entity responsible for the defense of the nation's skies -- covered similar issues.
At stake is the vexed question of whether a swifter response might have made it possible to shoot down the other hijacked planes that were subsequently crashed into the WTC and the Pentagon.
A NORAD spokesman, Lt. Col. Roberto Garza said they had given the commission all relevant documents. He said that 20 tapes of conversations involving NORAD personnel had been given to the commission, and the only material that was not handed over were another 28 tapes that were either blank or duplicates of the ones that had been handed over.
"We were surprised (by the subpoena)," he said. "We support the commission, we want to help them."
Commissioner Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman, told United Press International that the commission had also voted down a proposal to issue a subpoena to the CIA to obtain the so-called Presidential Daily Briefings, or PDBs, that the agency produces.
Roemer would not give further details of the vote.
The commission's mandate gives the chairman, former GOP New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, and his deputy, former Indiana Democratic congressman Lee H. Hamilton, the right to issue subpoenas after consulting other commissioners, but without a vote.
The PDBs, which are distributed early every morning to the president and a handful of top aides, summarize the most important threats to the nation. They are considered among the most secret and sensitive national security documents of all.
Roemer said that the commission had asked for PDBs and other presidential documents going back several years. He said they were essential if the commission was to complete its task of finding out what went wrong.
"We need to know what advice and warnings presidents Bush and Clinton might have received about al-Qaida," he said, "and what advice and warnings the intelligence community was issuing."
Media reports earlier this year suggested that an August 2001 PDB had warned about al-Qaida's plans to hijack U.S. jetliners.
Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband Ron in the attacks and who campaigned tirelessly alongside other victims' relatives for the commission to be established, said she was disappointed.
"These documents show the flow of information within the government, the chain from the bottom to the top," she said. "Something went wrong, the nation was unaware and undefended that day. If we want to find out what went wrong, we have to examine every link in the chain to find out where the break was."
Roemer said that the commission requested the documents on July 3. He said that there had been several weeks of negotiations with the White House about access to them. He said that so far, the commission was dissatisfied with the White House's posture.
"The offer that was on the table yesterday was too restrictive and threatened our independence," said Roemer, "It begs the question, 'what are they trying to hide?'"
"We don't want a repeat of the Warren Commission," he said, referring to the widely derided investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. "There must be no question marks, no asterisks, no stains on our report.
"The only way to ensure that is if the commission, not the White House or anyone else, decides who gets to see the documents we need."
Commission members and staff said the matter would remain a priority until it was resolved.
"The independence of the commission and its credibility in the eyes of the American people is essential. Personally, I am hopeful that a compromise can be reached which preserves that," said Ben-Veniste.
Neither Ben-Veniste nor Roemer would discuss details of the negotiations, or say what the White House offer was. But Ben-Veniste laid out what he said was a compromise.
"I have proposed that a subcommittee be established to review these ultra-sensitive materials. That's the minimum that would be acceptable to me personally."
"It's not a perfect arrangement," he went on, "it's a compromise, but we need to move forward given the urgency of our timetable."
The commission must report before a legislatively mandated deadline of May 27, 2004.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told UPI that the administration was working with the commission, and had offered them "unprecedented cooperation."
"There are a number of ways we can provide the information the commission needs," he said, but he declined to give further details.
The New York Times reported Friday that the White House had offered to let the commission chairman and his deputy see the documents.
"Their offer was more restricted than that," said a commission source, asking not to be identified.
When asked about the reasons for the delay in handing over documents, McClellan said, "We don't want to do anything that might jeopardize national security or harm the war on terror."
Roemer responded by pointing out that the commission's requests related to the period before Sept. 11, when the war on terror had not yet begun, and that all commission members had security clearances high enough to see the documents.
Felzenberg said that there were some continuing problems with the rest of the Pentagon's response to document requests, but these were of a different order.
"They're practical questions," he told UPI, "connected with the physical transfer of this material. It's just a matter of getting things from here to there. We expect these to be solved very soon."
a statement Friday evening, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence
Stephen A. Cambone, who is coordinating the department of defense's response
to the commission, said, "If there are any indications that a scheduled
document delivery might not be met, the secretary (of defense, Donald
Rumsfeld) expects that relevant department officials will inform me or
him of that fact, and advise as to whatever resources may be needed to
meet the schedule."
NORAD Subpoenaed By Sept. 11 Commission
Washington - The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks took legal action against a second federal agency Friday, issuing a subpoena for documents from the military agency that protects U.S. airspace.
The commission said it was "dismayed" at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, for not turning over documents concerning its response on Sept. 11, 2001, to the hijackings.
Commission investigators found, after being assured that NORAD had released all documents, that "a significant quantity of materials ... had not been turned over," commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste said. He said the "failure to comply" has delayed the commission, which has until May to issue a congressionally mandated report on what allowed the attacks to happen and to recommend changes.
Friday's subpoena, combined with one issued three weeks ago to the Federal Aviation Administration, suggests an ongoing dispute about what happened the morning of Sept. 11. NORAD has said it was not notified of the hijackings until nearly half an hour after the first one occurred. The FAA has said it gave informal notice throughout the morning.
"If we're going to improve our air defenses in the future, we have to understand who dropped the ball here and what new procedures need to be put in place to prevent this from happening again," said Stephen Push of Virginia, whose wife was killed in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Commission chairman Thomas Kean recently threatened to subpoena highly classified White House intelligence documents being withheld.
had no immediate response Friday.
WASHINGTON Ė The independent commission examining the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on Friday issued a second round of subpoenas, complaining about serious delays in obtaining necessary Defense Department records.
In a statement issued after a closed-door meeting, the 10 commissioners said they were especially dismayed by the failure to receive documents from the Air Force and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is responsible for protecting U.S. airspace.
In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced but then we discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken and that records of importance to our investigation had not been produced, the commission said.
Last month, the bipartisan panel subpoenaed the Federal Aviation Administration after investigators learned that highly material information had not been shared with the commission, established last year by Congress to investigate the failures surrounding the terrorist attacks.
Some Sept. 11 victimsí relatives are keenly interested in the differing timelines offered by the FAA and NORAD regarding when the military command was notified by the FAA that four airliners had been hijacked. The military jetfighters were scrambled too late to reach the hijacked craft.
Fridayís statement didnít address the largest unresolved issue on the commissionís plate Ė and a key topic of Fridayís meeting: The ongoing dispute with the White House over access to the highly sensitive intelligence briefing documents prepared every day for the president by the CIA.
The commissionís chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, warned last month that he was prepared to subpoena the documents, known as the Presidential Daily Brief, if the White House did not provide them. Kean, a Republican, and the commissionís vice chairman, former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, have been negotiating access to the documents with White House counsel Al Gonzales, thus far falling short of a resolution acceptable to both parties.
Commission officials didnít return calls Friday.
In their statement, the commissioners said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had pledged to do everything in his power to address the commissionís concerns and already had taken strong steps to back up this pledge.
Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said Rumsfeld has made clear the need for Pentagon cooperation with the commission, which was given until May 27 by Congress to complete its work.
The secretary has directed that the department be responsive to help ensure the commission can meet its deadlines, Cambone said, noting the Defense Department already has provided more than 38,000 pages.
Relatives of some Sept. 11 victims said they were troubled the commission still is encountering roadblocks, but welcomed the panelís action.
Iím very encouraged and excited to see that the commission is readily using its subpoena power, and hopefully that will compel any remaining agencies that are not cooperating to cooperate, said Robin Wiener, whose brother, Jeff, died at the World Trade Center.
Wiener said she remains anxious that the dispute over the White House
documents hasnít been resolved. There really is not any excuse for the
White House not to turn over the records, she said.
Warns More Subpoenas Are Possible In 9/11 Probe
10-member bipartisan panel will meet in closed session today to assess
this continuing problem, and it could decide to use its subpoena power
to obtain the missing information from the Bush administration.
Kean said he is making "good progress" with the White House, describing the negotiations for sensitive presidential daily intelligence briefings as "formal and cordial." Still, commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said, as of yesterday the White House dispute had not been resolved.
The CIA maintained yesterday it is "cooperating fully" with the commission and has "provided them with a wealth of material." The Pentagon, however, has publicly acknowledged problems meeting the panel's demands.
"It is unfortunately a longer term, more drawn out process ... than one would care to admit, but it's a reality," a senior defense official said during a briefing a week ago.
That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pentagon staffers have been combing through some 90 storage boxes to find requested documents, which first must be cleared for release by the Defense Department and then reviewed by the Justice Department.
Another Pentagon official said yesterday that documents involving meetings or discussions with the White House or CIA also must be reviewed and cleared by officials there.
A month ago, Kean and his vice chairman, former Indiana Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, complained that the CIA and the Defense Department "have not completed production of the key policy documents" and urged them to remedy the problem quickly. Similar complaints had been voiced by Kean in July.
Felzenberg said the panel at its meeting today will "discuss how it wants to approach the outstanding issues that remain regarding the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA."
"This meeting follows a period of negotiation between the commission and these agencies. The commission will have to decide how to proceed," he said. "The goal is to get past these procedural matters. We need a sense of closure so we can move on."
On Oct. 15, the commission issued its first and only subpoena so far, to the FAA, saying that agency's behavior had "significantly impeded the progress of our investigation." The documents sought related to the agency's tracking of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11 and its communication with military air defense units.
Similar information has been requested from the Pentagon.
Less than two weeks ago, Kean suggested a subpoena could be issued to the White House if crucial intelligence information is not forthcoming. While not ruling out the possibility, he has continually emphasized a desire for cooperation over confrontation.
Kean said in a recent interview he believes the White House is afraid of leaks and said the negotiations involve how best to prevent them. He also said the White House is concerned about setting a precedent that might be used by congressional committee to obtain White House documents that must be kept privileged.
Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said yesterday that presidential aides are "continuing to work with the commission in a cooperative spirit."
Created by Congress last year, the commission is examining the intelligence failures and mistakes that occurred before the terrorist attacks as well as looking at aviation security, diplomacy, immigration control and how the Clinton and Bush administrations responded to the growing al Qaeda threat.
The commission has received more than 2 million documents and conducted hundreds of interviews. It is mandated to complete its inquiry by May.
3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, after terrorist hijackers crashed
airliners into both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and
into the Pennsylvania countryside.