9/11 Panel: Free to Probe
By Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton
Washington Post; Saturday, November 15, 2003; Page A23
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has reached an agreement with the White House that will allow commissioners unprecedented access to materials from the president's daily intelligence briefs, the most sensitive documents the government produces.
For the first time ever, the president will allow individuals other than the most senior officials in the executive branch to see these documents. Access to the briefs will enable the commission to put speculation to rest.
The commission will be able to state authoritatively what information and threat warnings were provided to presidents Clinton and Bush. Access to these daily intelligence briefs will enable the commission to fulfill its mandate to prepare an authoritative report on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, for the American people. Two representatives from the commission will check the items responsive to our document request. Four representatives from the commission will constitute our review team to examine all items of critical interest in the Sept. 11 probe. Our review team will provide a complete report on the critical documents to all commissioners. The commission, in turn, will be able to use this highly classified information to inform the writing of its public report. So an assertion that all commissioners will not read every single document, while true, is misleading.
Even more misleading is an assertion that the White House is editing the material being made available to the commission. The commission requested a broad range of relevant intelligence. Hundreds of responsive articles have been produced. None of these relevant articles is being edited in any way. The commission will have access to everything -- we repeat, everything -- it asked to see.
The law that created the commission mandated an investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the terrorist attacks on the United States and the immediate response to those attacks. The commission therefore never asked to see other intelligence presented to the president on subjects that have nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks -- for example, items dealing with China, Kosovo, Colombia or hundreds of other topics.
The agreement before us gives the commission access to materials on which the executive's claim of executive privilege and state secrets is strong. If the commission had subpoenaed these documents, the White House would no doubt have fought the subpoena to avoid setting a damaging constitutional precedent.
In that case, the commission might have seen no documents and could have been tied up in the courts past its date of expiration. The choice before us is not unrestricted access versus conditional access; the choice is between access to fulfill our mandate and no access at all. Under this agreement, the commission has gained a degree of access to sensitive information unequaled in the history of the United States.
The agreement before us gives us the ability to fulfill our mandate, and it respects the integrity and independence of the commission. Some charge that this agreement "compromises" the commission's work. We obviously disagree.
Some have suggested that we have impinged too far on the prerogatives of the presidency; others say we have not gone far enough. The bottom line is that this agreement allows us to see everything we have requested.
The Sept. 11 attacks were an episode of surpassing public importance. The commission's statutory mandate is explicit. The president has said he supports the commission's work. With this unprecedented and constitutionally delicate agreement, he has followed through on that commitment. And amid the clamor, we can now do our job.
Thomas H. Kean is chairman and Lee H. Hamilton vice chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
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