- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The commission set up to probe the September 11 terrorist attacks said yesterday it had reached a deal with the White House over access to highly sensitive intelligence documents.

“This deal will give us the access we need to do our job on behalf of the American people,” commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said, “while respecting the White House’s concerns about the sensitivity of this material.”

At issue is the panel’s access to the most-secret national security documents of all, the Presidential Daily Briefing, the early morning note from the CIA that lists the most important threats to the nation.

Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste said that a subcommittee of four persons, which could include commission staffers as well as panelists, would be allowed access to the documents and to report back to the full panel.

But a source familiar with the terms of the agreement told UPI on the condition of anonymity that subcommittee members would face “a plethora of restrictions” — including on note taking, and on what could be reported back to the full commission.

Mr. Ben-Veniste defended the deal as the best the commission could hope for, given that the panel faced a congressionally mandated May 27 deadline to present its report.

“Under the circumstances, where we are under tremendous time pressure … this compromise provides the minimum acceptable access,” he said. “It preserves the independence of the commission, because we will designate the members of the subcommittee.”

But one commissioner, former Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, said terms of the deal were too restrictive.

“To paraphrase Churchill: Never have so few viewed such important documents under so many restrictions,” he said.

“I have deep reservations and doubts about this deal,” Mr. Roemer concluded.

Many of the relatives of those killed September 11, who campaigned to have the commission established in the first place, said they, too, are unhappy with the deal.

“Why is it necessary to exclude any of the commissioners?” asked Patty Casazza, who lost her husband, John. “They all have the highest level of clearance.”

“If the commission believes this is such a good deal, why don’t they publish the terms?” added Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband, Alan, was killed. “The public should have the right to reach their own judgment about whether this is a good deal, or whether the commission should used its subpoena power.”

The 10-member, bipartisan commission, seeking to find out why the nation was vulnerable to the terror attacks that killed about 3,000 people, wants to know what kind of warnings the intelligence community might have given to Presidents Bush and Clinton.

The deal covers the president’s daily briefings relating to terrorism from both administrations.

Bruce Lindsey, a Clinton administration counsel, said that the Clinton archive had handed over everything it had been asked for to the White House and had waived its right to assert executive privilege.

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