- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The House early yesterday approved an independent panel to investigate intelligence breakdowns before the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite opposition from leading Republicans and the White House.

The measure was attached to the intelligence authorization bill, and passed 219-188 in a rare 2 a.m. vote.

"Over recent months, the families of those lost on September 11 channeled their grief into active and principled support for this appropriate and necessary step to ensure that others will not have to suffer as they have," said Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat and amendment author.

"Their support was crucial in convincing the Congress to live up to its historic responsibility and support a blue-ribbon September 11 commission," Mr. Roemer said.

The panel would have 10 members three appointed by the Senate majority leader; three by the House speaker; two by the Senate minority leader; and two by the House minority leader. No more than five appointees may be members of the same political party, ensuring a bipartisan approach to the investigation and subsequent recommendations.

The commission, which has subpoena power, will issue a preliminary report within one year of its first meeting and a final report six months after that.

The findings will go to the president and to Congress, with recommendations to prevent future terrorist attacks.

"On September 11, the snakes slithered through the cracks in our intelligence, immigration, border control, aviation security, and law enforcement agencies and succeeded in their deadly mission," Mr. Roemer said.

"To seal those cracks, we need a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of our government responsible for protecting Americans," he said.

In a statement released yesterday, the White House said it opposes the new panel and instead backs the ongoing joint inquiry by the House and Senate intelligence panels.

"These committees are the proper forum for conducting such a review, which involves access to extremely sensitive information under the special safeguards that apply to these committees under Senate and House rules," the administration said in a policy statement.

"Such an amendment is duplicative and would cause a further diversion of essential personnel from their duties fighting the war," the administration said.

The amendment was supported by 25 Republicans but opposed by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, Majority Leader Dick Armey, and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, both of Texas, and Rep. Porter J. Goss of Florida, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

"We don't want to have interference with the 9/11 work that is now ongoing," Mr. Goss said.

The overall bill includes a large funding increase for intelligence agencies that were recommended by the House intelligence panel in an attempt to correct deficiencies uncovered in an ongoing investigation, but the figures are classified.

A Democratic leadership aide put the price at more than $35 billion, larger than Mr. Bush's request.

Mr. Goss called the funding increase "the most significant investment by the administration in the intelligence community in more than eight years."

The funding will give President Bush "the intelligence tools to win the war on terrorism and to remedy many other long-standing problems of the intelligence community," Mr. Goss said.

Another amendment offered by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, would require the inclusion of family members of victims of September 11 on the commission. More than 50 families in his congressional district lost family members in the attack.

"Several of the families with whom I have worked during the past several months have asked to be part of an independent investigation into the failures leading up to September 11," Mr. Smith said.

"They have suffered much and have a unique perspective. Yet, right now, they feel that their many concerns have not been heard," Mr. Smith said.

This story is based in part on wire-service reports.

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