Family members of Sept. 11 victims on Thursday urged politicians not to use the independent commission’s final report on the nation’s worst terrorist attack for election-year political gain, calling on them to instead band together to quickly enact recommended changes in the nation’s intelligence-gathering operations.
They also vowed to remain active in pushing for reforms aimed at preventing another terrorist strike on America.
“What’s left now is for us to serve as the further inspiration for our leaders to act … before the next attack,” Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ronald, died in the attack on in the World Trade Center, told NBC News shortly after the commission’s report was delivered to President Bush.
But Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband, Alan, also died in the Trade Center, stressed that the government must continue to look for ways to improve security.
‘Intelligence czar will not be enough’
“Just putting someone in as intelligence czar will not be enough,” she said, referring to one of the report’s recommendations.
The family members of the victims also note that the report does not answer some crucial questions, including how the attacks were financed, what hindered the emergency response and, especially, how warning signs of an impending terrorist strike went unheeded.
“These indicators, these actions, were just not picked up, were not fused together. How was that possible? We have spent billions of dollars on intelligence and yet it just broke down when it came to al-Qaida,” Breitweiser said in an earlier interview on NBC's "Today" show.
The families of those killed have had a varied and at times contentious relationship with the panel appointed to investigate the attacks. Family members have pressured agencies to give the commission better access to government secrets, while at the same time challenging members to get tougher with witnesses.
But Breitweiser on Thursday praised the Bush administration’s level of cooperation with the commission, saying that the panel was given unprecedented access to internal, classified documents.
“(The investigation) shattered the ceiling with regard to access,” she said. “… That’s showing us that democracy is alive and at work.”
Identifying financiers remains a major goal
A major goal of the families is that the identity of who paid for the 2001 attacks be determined and publicized. Many fault the commission for putting a price tag on the terror operation, around $500,000, but not publicly identifying or questioning who paid the bill to kill nearly 3,000 people.
“I’ve been to every hearing, and there hasn’t been any mention of how those people got that money,” William Doyle, whose son Joseph died in the World Trade Center, said before the report;s release.
Bruce DeCell, a retired NYPD officer whose son-in-law Mark Petrocelli died in World Trade Center Tower 2, said he also had hoped the the panel would press the government harder on the sources of terrorist funding.
“They had subpoena power, and they didn’t even hardly use it,” DeCell said.
“I think the government didn’t want this commission to happen, and the way they laid the ground rules sort of doomed it not to be a very productive thing,” he said.
Many other families believe the bipartisan commission has worked well and has produced meaningful recommendations for helpful change.
“There most certainly is a split, and that’s natural,” said Robert Fazio of Philadelphia, whose father died in the World Trade Center.
Praise for commission
“The commission is doing a pretty good job. ... There’s a lot of valid information there that could help us become a safer country,” he said.
The panel’s family steering committee issued a letter Tuesday urging bipartisan support for the report’s recommendations. A member of that committee, Carie Lemack, said she remained hopeful the report will offer new facts and a stronger impetus for change.
The steering committee is urging unity among members of the commission, even as family members take very different views on the panel’s work.
“With 3,000 families, you’re going to get 3,000 opinions,” said Lemack, whose mother died aboard American Airlines Flight 11.
The toughest, most uniform criticism from the families stems from a May hearing in New York into the emergency response to the attacks.
Firefighters complained almost immediately after the attacks that their radios didn’t work properly in many sections of the towers, in part because of signal-boosting technology in the building that was either misunderstood or malfunctioning.
The commission also found the fire and police departments suffered from serious gaps in the coordination of their Sept. 11 responses, setting up separate command posts far from each other.