The 9/11 Commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks voted Tuesday not to subpoena intelligence documents from the White House. The documents are known as the Presidential Daily Briefs and are among the most sensitive national security documents produced for the President. Three of the Commissioners and a handful of staff had access to 75 of the daily briefs. But an agreement the Commission reached with the White House last November forbid those with access from even sharing their notes with the rest of the Commission.
During a meeting Tuesday, the ten Commissioners were presented with a 17-page report that summarized the PDBs a small Commission Review Team had reviewed. “We have all the PDBs we’ve asked to see,” said Commission co-chair, Lee Hamilton. “It is not ideal access,” he said, “but it is significant access.”
Yet, some Commissioners and many of the family members of 9/11 victims believe that the Commission should have had access to the PDBs in their entirety rather than limited portions that focused on terrorism. Commissioner Tim Roemer, a former democratic congressman from Indiana, pushed for the vote to subpoena the documents. “The PDBs are very important to understanding what the Clinton and Bush administrations knew,” he says. “If the Bush administration claims there were no warnings then let us see the PDBs and put this issue to rest.” Access to the full documents, Roemer said, is important to understand what warnings about potential terrorist attacks the intelligence community had prior to September 11, 2001. In addition, some Commissioners believe full access is critical to ensuring that the Commission issues a full report that has the full support of the public. But Al Felzenberg, the Commission’s spokesman, says that the matter of access to the Presidential Daily Briefs is now resolved and that the Commission’s vote brings an end to the issue.
Emerging from a nearly four-hour meeting Wednesday with about a dozen family members of 9/11 victims at his office at Drew University in New Jersey, Thomas Kean, the Chairman of the 9/11 Commission told NBC News that the information gleaned from the PDBs has been important to the Commission’s work. Kean stressed the importance of the Commission’s access to the PDBs, saying that some of the information the Commission has learned from reviewing the PDBs will result in some witnesses being recalled.
Both the family members and Governor Kean also stressed the importance of an extension for the Commission’s work. The White House has already agreed to extend the Commission’s term from May 2003 to July 2003, but Congress still needs to act, said Kean. “We have to have at least two months, if not longer,” he said. If the Commission is not granted an extension, the final report will not be as comprehensive and complete as Kean or the family members would like. “It will not be a report the American people deserve,” said Kean.
Kristen Breitweiser, a leading advocate for the 9/11 families who lost her husband Ron in the World Trade Center, said that without an extension the report will not be complete and the Commission will be unable to hold the public hearings the nation deserves in order to learn the full story of 9/11 and how it happened. “We need to know as a nation why we were so vulnerable on the morning of September 11th,” said Breitweiser. “I want to make sure that in the next attack fewer lives are lost. I don’t want anyone to walk in my shoes,” she said.