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TERROR: 9/11 Commission

Author: Esther Pan
April 7, 2004

What is the 9/11 Commission?

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is a bipartisan, independent panel. Its 13 members and staff of nearly 80 are charged with examining the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks--including the country's preparedness for and response to the attacks--and making a full and complete report, including recommendations to prevent future attacks. In a much-anticipated public appearance, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify April 8 before the commission.

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When did it begin its work?

The commission was created by Congress and the president in November 2002. Families of victims of the 9/11 attacks had pressed for its creation. The Bush administration initially resisted, and there were subsequent disagreements over the commission's funding and its access to executive branch documents. Congress also authorized an inquiry into 9/11 conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees, which was completed in December 2002. The 9/11 commission held its first public hearing March 31, 2003, in New York City. The Rice testimony will mark the commission's ninth public hearing.

When will it complete its report?

It will report its findings to Congress and the president on July 26, 2004.

Who are its members?

They are from both major parties and have served in various government positions:

Thomas H. Kean

the commission chairman, is a Republican former governor of New Jersey and the current presidentof Drew University.

Lee H. Hamilton

the commission vice chair, is president and director ofthe Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars inWashington, D.C. A Democrat, he served 17 terms as a U.S.representative from Indiana and is a former chairman ofthe House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the PermanentSelect Committee on Intelligence.

Richard Ben-Veniste

is a partner in the Washington law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe, & Maw. He is a Democratic former assistant U.S. district attorney and worked on investigations of both the Watergate and Whitewater scandals.

    Fred F. Fielding

    is a senior partner at the Washington law firm of Wiley, Rein, & Fielding. He served as counsel to the president for five years in the Reagan administration.

      Jamie S. Gorelick

      is a partner at the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, & Pickering. A former vice chair of the Fannie Mae corporation, she was a deputy U.S. attorney general in the Clinton administration.

        Slade Gorton

        is of counsel at Preston Gates & Ellis LLP. He was a three-term Republican senator from Washington state.

          Bob Kerrey

          is president of New School University in New York City. A Democratic former governor of Nebraska, he also represented the state for two terms in the U.S. Senate.

            John F. Lehman

            is chairman of J.F. Lehman & Company, a private equity investment firm, and several other companies. He served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration.

              Timothy J. Roemer

              is president of the Center for National Policy and a distinguished scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is a former six-term Democratic U.S. representative from Indiana.

                James R. Thompson

                is chairman of the law firm of Winston & Strawn, headquartered in Chicago. A Republican, he was Illinois' longest-serving governor, from 1977-1991.

                What is the commission authorized to investigate?

                The commission is mandated to investigate the "facts and circumstances" around the 9/11 attacks. Topics it is examining include intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, diplomacy, immigration, visas, border control, terrorist financing, aviation, and congressional oversight and funding.

                What is the background of commission staffers?

                Among the full-time employees are a former deputy director of intelligence, state attorney general, deputy attorney general, federal prosecutors, and former congressional staff members.

                How large is the commission's budget?

                Congress has approved $15 million. The funding is contained in three pieces of legislation.

                Has the commission received full access to documents and sources during its investigation?

                There have been many press accounts describing Bush administration efforts to withhold documents or delay their release to the commission. But a statement on the commission website says that, up to this point, the commission has received access to every document it has requested--more than 2 million--and interviewed every official it has asked to meet, including national security advisers, FBI directors, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs and Cabinet secretaries. In all, the commission will interview more than 1,000 individuals in 10 countries.

                Will top officials testify before the commission?

                Yes. Many top officials from the last two administrations--including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, current Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger--all testified publicly during the commission's eighth public hearing March 23-24. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, after initially refusing to meet with the commission, agreed to meet jointly with commissioners and answer their questions in a private session. The commission will also interview former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore in private sessions.

                Has Rice testified before the commission before?

                Yes. She testified privately before the commission for four hours on February 7, 2004, at the White House.

                Why is she testifying again?

                To address claims made by Richard A. Clarke, former counterterrorism official for both the Clinton and Bush administrations. In his testimony before the commission and in a new book, Clarke says the Bush administration failed to take steps to fight al Qaeda and possibly prevent the 9/11 attacks. Clarke worked for Rice in the Bush White House. His charges have fueled questions about what the Bush administration did and did not know or do about al Qaeda in the year before 9/11.

                What is the commission likely to conclude?

                We don't know. Commission staff reports contain information about the investigation, but final conclusions are up to the commission. Commission chairman Thomas Kean has publicly suggested wide-ranging reforms to U.S. intelligence services, including consideration of creating a domestic intelligence agency like Britain's MI-5.

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