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911 panel to get more access to memos

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9/11 Panel to Get More Access to Memos
Commission Reviewing 9/11 Attacks to Get More Access to Notes Taken on Classified Papers

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON Feb. 10 The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will get greater access to classified intelligence briefings prepared for President Bush under an agreement announced Tuesday with the White House.
The 10-member, bipartisan panel had been barred from reviewing notes taken by three commissioners and the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, who reviewed the data in December but couldn't take the summaries with them. Under the agreement, the entire commission were allowed to read versions of the summaries that were edited by the White House.

Commissioners reviewed the materials in a daylong meeting Tuesday and said the information provided a better understanding of what the government knew prior to Sept. 11. The panel now is seeking additional interviews with several officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"The report we have today raised some questions," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the commission. "There are questions that go to what happened, the history of al-Qaida and the history of the Clinton and Bush administrations."

He declined to discuss details.

The materials in question are the presidential daily briefings prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency. They include a memorandum dated one month before the 2001 attacks that discusses the possibility of airline hijackings by al-Qaida terrorists.

"We're pleased to work with them closely and in a cooperative manner," White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the commission said the agreement provided access to all briefings "of critical importance to the commission's work."

"This access to PDBs is unprecedented," the commission said. "We are confident that we can prepare a strong and credible report."

Some commissioners wanted to subpoena the unedited versions but that idea failed on a vote Tuesday by the full panel. Commissioners declined to disclose the vote count.

"I'm disappointed," said commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska who voted for a subpoena. "The White House, I believe, did not keep its word. The agreement narrows the scope of the report."

Commissioner Slade Gorton, a lawyer former Republican senator from Washington, said he was satisfied that the briefings were sufficient.

"My point of view is that I felt we got enough detail and enough substance from the report so that I can make an intelligent judgment," he said.

The Sept. 11 panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was established by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before the attacks and its response afterward, and to recommend ways to guard against similar disasters.

Commission members have complained that their work repeatedly has been delayed because of disputes with the administration over access to documents and witnesses. Last month, the panel asked Congress to give it two additional months to finish its work, with a July 26 deadline. After opposing an extension, President Bush last week reversed course and said he supported it.

The dispute over documents also comes amid growing complaints of alleged politicization on the commission. A July deadline would mean the report would be released one month before the Republican National Convention in New York, the site of the World Trade Center collapse.

Family members of the Sept. 11 victims, who are seeking a January 2005 deadline to limit the influence of election-year politics, criticized the agreement to release edited summaries.

"It sends a dangerous signal to all future presidents if 3,000 people die on your watch, you can still stonewall, prevent a full investigation and escape any accountability or responsibility," said Kristen Breitweiser of New Jersey, a member of the Sept. 11 commission's Family Steering Committee. Her husband Ronald died in the World Trade Center.

The commission previously has issued three subpoenas to force disclosure of documents, and it was under a subpoena threat that the White House last fall agreed to access to the daily briefings. The panel also has subpoenaed the Defense Department, the Federal Aviation Administration and New York City.

More hearings are planned sometime in March and will focus on intelligence issues.

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