WASHINGTON, July 8 — The leaders of a federal commission investigating the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, complained today that they had encountered "particularly serious" problems in obtaining materials from the Defense Department and lesser delays from some other government departments that could threaten the panel's work.
The commission's chairman, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, also said that the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security were moving too slowly to permit the panel to conclude its report by May 2004, as required by its Congressional mandate.
WHAT IS THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION HIDING?
Republican Thomas H. Kean, former New Jersey governor and chairman of the independent commission on September 11th, left, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., vice-chairman, talk at the end of a press conference in Washington Tuesday, July 8, 2003. The commission released a blunt report Tuesday singling out some government offices, including departments of Defense and Justice, that have not been fully cooperative in the investigation. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Mr. Kean said that commission members were unhappy that some agencies — they cited the Justice Department in particular — had insisted on having monitors present at all commission interviews with their respective officials. That can foster a chilling sense of "intimidation" among witnesses, Mr. Kean said.
The chairman also said that the Justice Department had failed to provide needed cooperation regarding the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.
But Mr. Kean, a Republican, and the panel's co-chairman, former Representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana, a Democrat, did not particularly criticize the White House or President Bush, and they declined to use terms like "foot dragging" to describe the problems they had encountered, or to suggest any attempt at cover-ups.
"The response has not been one of recalcitrance," Mr. Kean said.
The White House, which initially resisted creation of the panel, has not denied any document requests, Mr. Kean said. He did not repeat earlier complaints from one panel member about delays in receiving access to documents from a Congressional inquiry into Sept. 11.
And Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton said they had no plans to subpoena Mr. Bush or former President Bill Clinton, though they said they might seek information from them in other ways.
They said that the panel, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, had amassed highly sensitive information, including officials' diaries, minutes of National Security Council meetings and "boxes" of transcripts of interviews conducted with people detained as terror suspects.
"Thus far, the indications are that we will have extraordinary access to sensitive information," said Mr. Hamilton, who is the director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Still, as the panel seeks answers for how the Sept. 11 terror plot was mounted — and how future attacks might be prevented — Mr. Kean said there was a "crucial" need in coming weeks for "strong support from the White House" to ensure that all materials are provided.
An interim report by the commission said that the C.I.A. had been helpful in sharing the work of its own review group but "slower in producing the internal documents that we have requested." The F.B.I., after a "slow start," was now "moving constructively."
The Justice Department has yet to provide some requested records and has insisted on having representatives present in interviews with officials, the commission said. As to the Defense Department, a number of offices have yet to respond to requests, and, the report said, "Delays are lengthening."
By contrast, the report said, the Departments of State and Treasury have been helpful.
Mr. Kean called the investigation the most sweeping of its kind, noting that the commission had approached 16 agencies, lodging a total of 26 briefing requests and asking for 44 sets of documents.
It has already obtained some 500,000 pages of documents, though it indicated that it was less than halfway to its goal.
© 2003 the International Herald Tribune