Commission votes to subpoena pentagon
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9-11 Commission Votes to Subpoena Pentagon
Nov 7, 6:51 PM (ET)
By LAURENCE ARNOLD
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks voted Friday to subpoena the Pentagon for documents related to the activities of U.S. air defenses on the day of the terrorist hijackings.
The independent commission said it was "especially dismayed" by incomplete document production on the part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, the part of the Defense Department responsible for protecting North American airspace.
The commission's broad investigation includes questions about how, and how quickly, the Federal Aviation Administration notified U.S. air defenses about hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001. The commission's first subpoena, issued last month, was to the FAA.
The panel, formally called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, met privately Friday about matters including production of documents it has requested from numerous government offices.
The panel, headed by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, a Republican, has also encountered resistance from the White House in its efforts to review sensitive intelligence documents.
The panel's statement did not address the White House dispute. Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said talks continued Friday between commission leaders and the administration.
"The commission remains hopeful that these talks will be resolved soon in a way that satisfies the president's concerns for the sensitivity of the documents, and the commission's need for access to materials," Felzenberg said.
In a statement announcing the Defense Department subpoena, the commission said, "In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken."
The 10-person, bipartisan panel said it raised its concerns with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who pledged to help and "has already taken strong steps to back up this pledge."
Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said in a statement that Rumsfeld has made clear the department will comply with "established schedules" for producing documents.
"The commission has a statutory deadline it must meet," Cambone said, "and the secretary has directed that the department be responsive to help ensure the commission can meet its deadlines." He said the department has provided more than 38,000 pages of material to the commission thus far.
The commission has until May 27 to report on the events of Sept. 11 and issues of diplomacy, immigration, commercial aviation and the flow of assets to terror organizations.
One commissioner, Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste, said the Defense Department's failure to produce documents will force the commission to postpone a planned hearing in January on the immediate response to the hijackings by the nation's air security system.
"Our investigative staff will have to spend valuable time backtracking and re-interviewing certain personnel," said Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor. "It is my view that given the very stringent time constraints under which we are operating, the failure of agencies to produce essential materials to us is simply unacceptable."
At a hearing earlier this year, Ben-Veniste dug into the length of time it took the FAA to notify NORAD about American Airlines Flight 77 between the time it deviated from its flight path to the time it crashed into the Pentagon.
The FAA knew that Los Angeles-bound Flight 77 left its course at 8:55 a.m., Ben-Veniste said, but NORAD did not get official notice of a hijacking until 9:24 a.m. A witness at the hearing, retired Maj. Gen. Larry K. Arnold, who was in charge of NORAD on the day of the attacks, said it was "physically possible" that fighter jets could have beaten the civilian airliner to the Pentagon had they been activated earlier.
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