Monday, October 6, 2003

The families of some September 11 victims are asking that the staff director of the commission set up to investigate the attacks be removed from a big part of the inquiry.

They say he has a conflict of interest in investigating the National Security Council because of his previous relationships with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

“We believe staff director [Philip] Zelikow should remove himself from any and all portions of the investigation addressing the NSC,” the Family Steering Committee wrote in a letter sent to the commission Friday.

The families say Mr. Zelikow, who was a part of the Bush transition team, drafted a memo for Miss Rice on reorganizing the NSC. Finding out why that body failed to anticipate or defend against the attacks is a major part of the commission’s mandate.

“Really, if he’s looking at the NSC, he’s investigating himself,” said Lorie Van Auken, one of the letter’s authors, who lost her husband, Kenneth, in the World Trade Center.

Mr. Zelikow did not return calls yesterday.

“We knew he was on the transition team,” said one commission member, who declined to be named. “I don’t know about this memo, but we’ll be looking into it.”

Mr. Zelikow worked with Miss Rice in the NSC during the first Bush administration and subsequently collaborated with her on a book. In October 2001 he was appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a group of private citizens advising the White House on intelligence matters.

All of this was known to the families. “We didn’t want to nitpick,” Mrs. Van Auken told United Press International. Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband, Ron, in the attacks, added that the family committee felt it would have been churlish to raise the issue of his prior relationship with Miss Rice.

But they felt his work on the transition, and in particular on restructuring the NSC, fell into a different category, and they were angry they had not been told about it.

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