- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

President Bush reversed course yesterday and said he will support an independent commission to investigate security failures leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Senate is headed toward approving a commission in a vote next week, and the House approved a commission in July. But the administration had opposed those efforts, citing potential leaks and the joint investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Nicholas E. Calio, the administration's liaison to Congress, sent a letter to House and Senate leaders telling them that the president offers "strong support for the establishment of a September 11 commission."
But those pushing for a commission, including survivors of attack victims, said the president stops far short of supporting the broad type of commission proponents desire.
"What they want is a commission that doesn't have the ability to look into the intelligence failures," said Stephen Push, treasurer of Families of September 11, whose wife was a passenger on Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.
The joint intelligence investigation is nearing an end. In his letter, Mr. Calio said now is the time to look beyond that.
"It did not address the panoply of other important and related issues as they may relate to September 11, such as coordination between the intelligence community and non-national security agencies, border security and visa issues, commercial aviation and the role of state and local governments," the letter said. "A focused inquiry into these matters will help strengthen our ability to prevent and defend against terrorism and protect the security of the American public."
Negotiations over the composition, scope and duration of the commission are set to take place, and they could still be contentious.
Lawmakers who support the commission welcomed the president's backing, but said it's important that the commission's scope be broad.
"We strongly believe that everyone should be just not on the same page, but on the same sentence on this commission being inclusive, comprehensive and thorough in its mandate," said Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat and sponsor of the House version. "Intelligence agencies should be looked at, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Visa Viper program and the border control agencies."
"If given the proper authority, mandate and resources, the independent commission will provide more information about the many intelligence and governmental failures that led up to September 11," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican.
The House version which is fairly narrow in scope passed on a close vote in July, with all Republican leaders and most Republicans opposed, and a majority of Democrats supporting it. On Thursday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, introduced an amendment to the pending homeland security bill that would establish a much broader blue-ribbon commission.
"We appreciate that the White House has switched its position and is once again following Senator Lieberman's lead," said Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lieberman.
The president made a similar reversal in June, when he abruptly dropped his opposition to establishing a Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Lieberman had been one of those calling for such a department well before the president joined the effort.

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