9/11 Group Says White House Has Not Provided Files
New York Times | August 6, 2004
By PHILIP SHENON
The White House has failed to turn over any of the information requested by the 10 members of the disbanded Sept. 11 commission in their renewed, unofficial investigation into whether the government is doing enough to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil, commission members said.
The members said that the Bush administration's lack of cooperation was hindering a project that was otherwise nearly complete.
Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who led the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, said he was surprised and disappointed that the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other executive branch agencies had failed to respond to requests made two months ago for updated information on the government's antiterrorism programs.
The requests came not from the disbanded commission, which was created by Congress, and had subpoena powers, but from its shadow group, which the members call the 9/11 Public Discourse Project. It was established by the members of the Sept. 11 commission when the panel formally went out of business last August, shortly after releasing a unanimous report that called for an overhaul of the nation's counterterrorism agencies.
"It's very disappointing," Mr. Kean said of the administration's failure to cooperate with the group. "All we're trying to do is make the public safer."
Mr. Kean said there had been no response of any sort to interview requests for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Porter J. Goss, the C.I.A. director; Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, and Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, among others.
A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, would not answer directly when asked if the administration intended to respond to the project's requests for information before next month, when the group is scheduled to publish an updated report that assesses the progress of the government's counterterrorism.
Ms. Perino said that much of the information sought by the private group was available from public sources.
"We welcome their interest in seeing their recommendations implemented," Ms. Perino said. "There is ample public information available for them to review about all of the actions we continue to take to better protect the American people."
She said that the administration had provided "unprecedented" cooperation to the commission during the official investigation, including access to more than two million documents.
Several executive branch agencies had no immediate comment when asked Friday whether they intended to provide additional information to the project, but the Department of Homeland Security said it intended to provide a package of information.
In telephone interviews in which he repeatedly expressed his frustration with the White House, Mr. Kean said the Public Discourse Project intended to publish its "report card" next month with or without the administration's assistance, although he said that "obviously it's most helpful to have the information from the agencies that are trying to implement the reforms."
"Honestly, I thought they would want to cooperate," he said of the White House and the agencies. "I thought it would give them a chance to tell their story. They have made some progress."
Mr. Kean would not forecast the conclusions of the new report, except to say it would be "tough but fair" in assessing the work of government agencies involved in counterterrorism.
Several of the major recommendations made in the commission's report last year have been put into effect, including the creation of the job of director of national intelligence, a post now held by John D. Negroponte.
But other recommended actions have not been done, including the commission's call for a restructuring of Congressional oversight of the nation's spy agencies and for a major expansion of the government's nuclear nonproliferation efforts.
During its 21-month investigation, the Sept. 11 commission, which was made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, had subpoena power to force agencies to cooperate.
President Bush had initially opposed the creation of the commission, and the White House repeatedly tangled with the panel over access to government witnesses and classified documents.
Timothy J. Roemer, a Democratic member of the commission and a former House member from Indiana, said that the White House was being "tone deaf" in withholding information from the Public Discourse Project.
"You'd think that the administration would be doing all it could to help address some of the answers that the 9/11 commission proposed to make the country safer," he said.
The project is an unusual effort by the members of a disbanded government panel to retain political viability and to continue to lobby for its recommendations.
The group had announced earlier this year that it intended to conduct a series of public hearings that would culminate in the release of a "report card" on the effectiveness of the government's counterterrorism efforts a year after the commission's final report was issued.
After completing a series of hearings this summer, the new report is scheduled for release next month, close to the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Mr. Kean said that the project had sent detailed letters on June 16 to Mr. Card, the president's chief of staff, and to the leaders of the Pentagon, the State Department, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the other agencies with responsibility for counterterrorism programs.
The letters requested interviews and updated information on the agencies' efforts to deal with terrorism, asking that all of the information be provided by Aug. 15. But Mr. Kean said Mr. Card and the others had failed to respond to the letters or even to acknowledge their receipt.
Mr. Kean released copies of letters to The New York Times. The letters are two pages long and ask for information "on steps taken to make the American people safer and more secure."
Letters also were sent to Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Energy Department and the Treasury Department.