- National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has agreed
to be interviewed by the bipartisan 9/11 commission on Feb. 7, after weeks
of resistance from the White House to the bipartisan panel's requests,
The Observer has learned.
- In a Feb. 3 interview the newly minted commission member
Bob Kerrey, the former Senator from Nebraska, now the president of the
New School University, said that Ms. Rice's interview will not be held
under oath, and the results of the interview are not to be made public.
- But as the Bush administration fights to limit the scope
and time allotted to the independent commission investigating a broad array
of failures leading up to and during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11,
2001, Mr. Kerrey is emerging as a strong antagonist to their efforts to
contain the political damage.
- Mr. Kerrey, the commission's unlikely new spitfire, told
The Observer he would lobby the comission to request sworn, public testimony
from Bush's embittered national security advisor.
- "I'm very much interested in following up on the
statement Condoleezza Rice made at her famous press conference in '02,
that 'I don't think anybody could have predicted ... that they would try
to use an airplane as a missile,'" Mr. Kerrey said. "I don't
- The commissioners are divided on whether or not to press
the point - and to use a subpoena if she refuses.
- "We're not there yet," said former New Jersey
Governor Tom Kean, the committeeís chairman.
- But with the independent 9/11 commission spinning out
of the White House's control, the fight by Republicans against the panel's
request for an extension of its deadline may hurt the Bush administration
more than it will help it, according to Mr. Kerrey.
- "Given the administration's current behavior, which
is an unwillingness to allow witnesses to come forward and a reluctance
to allow documents to be seen, other narratives will prevail, and the final
report is apt to be a more negative story for them," he said.
- Mr. Kerrey also revealed to this writer that the scope
of the 9/11 commission will take in "about half of what the President
was doing in the pre-9/11 situation in Iraq. He alleged that there were
Al Qaeda and terrorist connections, and that's very much part of what we're
- Mr. Kerrey is dismayed by the President's decision this
week to create another commission to examine the intelligence failures
in assessing Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction before the war.
It's a mission that overlaps with investigations the 9/11 panel is already
doing, he claims.
- "When the Bush administration began in January of
'01, their transition team rearranged the Clinton national-security agenda.
The question is: Did they continue the anti-terrorism effort? Where did
they put Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden on their list of national-security
- The formation of a new committee to investigate U.S.
intelligence on Iraq is a neat divide-and-conquer ploy for the Bush administration:
it will barely have begun its work by Election Day.
- The 9/11 commission didn't even get fully staffed or
adequately funded for its first six months - and still has several hundred
more interviews to do to complete its investigation - the consensus of
the commissioners is that they need at least another two months to complete
a thorough investigation.
- House Speaker Dennis Hastert has insisted that the commission
"live within the current deadline," which is the end of May.
But significant numbers of Senate Republicans, Mr. Kerrey believes, "have
figured out that the best delay for them is a six-month delay, to get our
report beyond the election."
- What's good for the goose, of course, may be good for
the gander. The Family Steering Committee is adamant about wanting a six-month
extension - the very length that Senate Republicans, according to Mr. Kerrey,
are pushing for behind the scenes.
- "We were patient and waited 12 months to get the
hard-hitting, investigative hearings they promised us after the New Year,"
said Kristen Breitweiser, one of the widowed Four Moms from New Jersey
previously profiled by this writer as the dominant force behind the very
creation of the 9/11 commission. Ms. Breitweiser said they were promised
a public hearing on all 12 topics in the commission's mandate.
- "They've already scrapped one public hearing in
January and two sets in February," she said. (A spokesman for the
commission confirmed the decision to hold fewer public hearings.) "If
the commission has to issue more subpoenas to get access to the people
and documents they need, we don't want time to run out while lawyers argue,"
Ms. Breitweiser added.
- When George Bush replaced Henry Kissinger, his first
choice as chairman of the 9/11 commission, with New Jersey's former Republican
governor, the White House may have thought that the mild-mannered, aristocratic
Mr. Kean would be a pushover. He is not. The White House may be relying
on its five Republican appointees to the commission to ease over the rough
patches for the President. But having been dissed, crawfished, starved
for funds and now denied access even to the notes made by four commission
members chosen to see a key Presidential briefing - the one at which Mr.
Bush learned, five weeks before 9/11, that Osama bin Laden and his terrorists
were an imminent threat - at least some of the commissioners feel insulted.
They must all know that someday they will be questioned, perhaps by their
grandchildren, about conspiracy theories certain to spring forth from the
murk of facts selectively plucked by agencies and officials under the umbrella
of a nervous Bush White House.
- Among the 10 white faces arrayed on a raised dais in
a Senate hearing room last week, only one belonged to a woman: Jamie Gorelick.
A former deputy attorney general of the United States under President Clinton,
Ms. Gorelick's dimpled smile, casual turtlenecks and cocoa-warm voice obscure
the steel core of a corporate litigator. Ms. Gorelick was grilling Claudio
Manno, the security chief of the F.A.A., who was charged with regulating
America's air carriers.
- "Our briefings have told us that in the spring-summer
of 2001, the hair of the intelligence community was on fire," Ms.
Gorelick said. "A high-high state of alert existed. Did you take any
enhanced security measures?"
- No, came the answer from Mr. Manno, testifying for the
F.A.A. When a passenger going through security during this high state of
alert set off the magnetometer, were inspectors directed to open the carry-on
bag for inspection? No, came the answer. That explains why the passenger-screening
program was a failure, despite having flagged five of the hijackers when
they or their hand luggage set off the magnetometers.
- The F.A.A.'s only requirement for security screeners
at that time was to look at any knife or other object and, if it looked
"menacing," designate it as a weapon. It was the "common-sense"
test. So the security screeners ran the five men through a second, less
sensitive computerized magnetometer and hand-wanded them - but they never
opened their carry-ons. Thus the hijackers on three of the four planes
all managed to smuggle on bombs (whether real or fake) and compressed chemical
sprays. Both items, obviously, were illegal.
- Commissioners became exasperated as one official after
another pleaded ignorance of any "specific or credible" threats
of terrorism in this country.
- "We know from classified briefings that our government
was tracking Middle Eastern terrorist suspects since the year 2000 and
the millennium plot to blow up LAX was foiled," Ms. Gorelick reminded
them. That catastrophe had been averted by a female Customs agent, Deanna
Dean, one of the many women warriors who rose to the occasion and risked
their jobs, if not their lives, in the cause of fighting a war on terrorism
before the American government declared it.
- Next, Ms. Gorelick drilled down through the gelatinous
responses of Jane Garvey, the former F.A.A. administrator who headed the
agency during both the highly tense run-up to the millennium and in September
- "Again, did you take any increased measures to respond
to the high-high state of alert in the spring-summer of 2001?"
- "I don't recall any," Ms. Garvey said. "I'd
have to go back and look."
- Ms. Garvey had already stalled the commission, which
had to subpoena documents from the F.A.A. At this hearing, the commission
learned that the F.A.A. itself had sent out a CD-ROM in July 2001 to some
700 airline executives and airports, even putting it in the Federal Registry:
- "Members of foreign terrorist groups ... and radical
fundamentalist elements from many nations are present in the US, recruiting
others for terrorist activities and training them to use explosives and
airplanes. This increased threat to civil aviation abroad and within the
United States exists and needs to be countered and prevented."
- The head of the F.A.A. said she had not seen that information
until after 9/11.
- Meanwhile, a wintry Mr. Kerrey - now silver-haired but
still surly-lipped - brought new fire and outrage to the commission's first
hard-hitting hearings last week.
- "One of the presumptions that keeps surfacing is
that an attack on our homeland was incredible," Mr. Kerrey said at
one point during the hearings. "Yet there was a pattern beginning
with the World Trade Center bombing in '93, followed by a much more sophisticated
attack on Americans in our embassies in Africa in August '98 and the terrorist
attack on the Cole in October 2000, which we knew was Al Qaeda. The possibility
of a terrorist strike on our soil was obvious. Do they have to send you
a memo?! You people ought to be coming to the microphone and saying, 'We
failed miserably, and it cost us like hell.' What is this: 'We couldn't
have imagined ...'? These people defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, for
- Mr. Kerrey, though new to the issues, has shown a keen
interest in the same vital but minutely detailed questions that have bothered
the families of 9/11 victims for over two years now - questions that are
- It remains to be seen, so early in his tenure, whether
Mr. Kerrey will be capable of mastering the thousands of pages of documents
and monitoring the selection of interviews that are so important to the
- Part of the problem, family members say, is that the
witnesses that come before the commission appear to be cherrypicked to
provide testimony that paints a rosier picture of the Bush administration's
intelligence operations before Sept. 11.
- "When the commissioners insist theyíre doing
a thorough, independent investigation, but their staff turns away valuable
whistle-blowers like Sibel Edmonds [profiled in a Jan. 26 Observer story],
claiming time problems, we worry about the picture the commissioners are
getting," said Ms. Kleinberg.
- Nevertheless, as the commission gets angrier, it's becoming
a serious thorn in the side of the administration - especially in an election
year hypercharged with security and intelligence concerns.
- While things heat up, it is difficult for the Four Moms
to take much comfort.
- An essential part of the healing process after a trauma
of this proportion is getting at the truth, however unpleasant. As the
Four Moms watched the January hearings on C-Span, they saw proof of the
power of a public airing of the evidence. They want more of the same. "For
things to work in government, it's kind of like religion - you have to
go on blind faith," Ms. Kleinberg said. "We donít have
that anymore. They have to understand that part of their job is to restore
the faith in government. They sometimes forget they work for the people.
Well, weíre the people."
- - You may reach Gail Sheehy via email at: email@example.com.
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