White House Vetting Could Delay 9/11 Report Until After Election


(Gold9472: The report was "bi-partisan.")

April 5, 2004 by Agence France Presse

WASHINGTON - The chairman of an independent commission looking into US counterterrorism activities prior to the September 11 attacks said he could not guarantee that the panel's report will be released before the November presidential election because of a protracted White House vetting process.

Former Republican New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean said he was "surprised" by the situation, but saw no way around it.

The probe, which President George W. Bush initially opposed but later agreed to under pressure, has turned in to a political hot potato after former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke accused Bush of doing a "terrible job" of fighting terrorism prior to the strikes on New York and Washington in September 2001.

In a new book and public testimony before the commission, Clarke, who left his White House job last year, said the administration did not treat terrorism as an urgent matter before the attacks.

The accusation has sparked a fierce round of finger pointing and propelled counterterrorism to the forefront of the US political campaign.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" television program, Kean said White House vetters will go over his report "line by line to find out if there's anything in there which could harm American interests in the area of intelligence."

A special clearance team led by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and made up of top US intelligence and counterterrorism officials has already been set up, he said.

But the report, expected to contain hundreds of pages of findings and testimony, is unlikely to be finished before July, according to congressional officials.

That will leave the vetting team only three to four months to complete its work, if American are to see the document before they go to the polls on November 2.

Asked if American will be able to see the report before the election, Kean answered, "I have no guarantees."

It took the White House close to seven months to clear a congressional report on US intelligence in the lead-up to the attacks, which killed all the occupants of four passenger jets, destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and severely damaged the Pentagon building in Washington, leaving some 3,000 people dead in all.

Moreover, the congressional account emerged from that vetting last July with dozens of blacked-out pages, which experts later said contained sensitive information about an alleged Saudi role in financing al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic networks.

Democratic commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton assured on the same show that the panel will not put up with any political editing of the document, saying, "We're not going to let them distort our report."

Hamilton also expressed confidence White House vetters will focus on protecting intelligence sources and information collection methods rather than on the panel's substantive findings.

But reacting to the controversy surrounding the probe, the John Kerry election campaign released a compendium of press reports showing the president's lack of enthusiasm for the commission and its work since its inception.

"Bush opposed the commission entirely, he initially didn't include funding they requested after they were established, he still has not provided documents the commission has said are necessary for their work," said the campaign of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.