- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

A Senate committee voted yesterday to establish an independent commission charged with investigating events surrounding the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Authored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the measure would establish a bipartisan, independent commission to conduct a broad investigation into the attacks. The committee approved the bill by a voice vote.

"It's up to the commission members to investigate what they want to investigate regarding the terrorist attacks," said Mr. Lieberman's spokeswoman, Leslie Phillips.

A White House spokeswoman yesterday declined to endorse the Lieberman proposal. A Republican senator said he was "disinclined" to support the plan, while one Democratic senator said he was "reluctant" to approve an independent probe.

The House and Senate intelligence committees already are conducting a joint investigation focusing on the failures of the U.S. intelligence community before September 11.

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat who helped craft Mr. Lieberman's bill, said the intelligence committees' joint investigation is narrower in scope than the independent commission's would be. He said the commission would have "a more open mandate."

Miss Phillips also stressed that unlike the joint intelligence probe, the 14-member commission would not consist of any elected officials, but rather would be composed of citizens who have expertise in relevant areas.

The Lieberman bill would authorize the commission to look into intelligence and law enforcment agencies, diplomacy, immigration, non-immigrant visas and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist organizations, commercial aviation other areas of the public and private sectors it deems relevant.

The independent commission would be charged with investigating relevant facts and circumstances relating to the September 11 terrorist attacks, including any relevant legislation, executive order, plan, policy, practice or procedure.

It also would also be charged with reviewing lessons learned regarding the government's structure, coordination, management policies and procedures set up to detect, prevent and respond to such terrorist attacks.

Commission members would consist of nongovernmental "prominent U.S. citizens" who have experience in fields like law enforcement, intelligence gathering, public administration, armed services, commerce, aviation and foreign affairs.

The president would appoint four commission members and the rest would be appointed ultimately by House and Senate leadership, based on recommendations made by leaders of key committees of both chambers, including the judiciary, armed services and intelligence panels.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the administration is working closely with the Senate and House intelligence committees' joint investigation.

"We feel it's important for the intelligence committees to be the one to conduct the review," Miss Buchan said. "The commission would run the risk of pulling people off of the front lines who are fighting the war on terror."

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, said he hasn't examined the Lieberman bill, but would be "disinclined" to support an independent commission. "I would think congressional oversight would be sufficient," he said.

Mr. Specter said the Senate Judiciary Committee has already asked for additional funding to conduct oversight of the FBI, INS and other agencies under its jurisdiction, regarding September 11.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and Governmental Affairs Committee member, also seemed skeptical. "I'm reluctant to support it, but I'll take a look at it," he said of the Lieberman bill.

The Lieberman bill requests $3 million for the independent commission.


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