by Shaun Waterman
Thursday, Jan 15, 2004
WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — The panel set up to investigate why the United States failed to prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was rocked Thursday by the bizarre revelation that two of its senior officials were so closely involved in the events they are investigating that they have had to be interviewed as part of the inquiry.
Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, worked on the Bush-Cheney transition team as the new administration took power, advising his longtime associate and former boss, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, on the structure of the incoming National Security Council.
“He came forward in case he might have useful information,” said commission spokesman Al Felzenberg.
Zelikow, who the commission says has withdrawn himself from those parts of its investigation directly connected with the transition — a process known as recusal — was also appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in October 2001.
The board provides the White House with advice about the quality, adequacy and legality of the whole spectrum of intelligence activities.
Jamie S. Gorelick, one the 10 members of the commission and the other official who has answered investigators’ questions, was a senior official under Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration.
“(Zelikow) recused himself from those relevant parts of the inquiry,” said Felzenberg. “Frankly, we don’t see what the fuss is about.”
But the revelations have been greeted with dismay by the commission’s critics, especially survivors and relatives of the dead, because they suggest the investigation will be — in the words of Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband Ron in tower 2 of the World Trade Center — “a whitewash.”
The families have said for many months that they are unhappy with Zelikow’s role, and are furious that they were not told he would be giving evidence.
“Did he interview himself about his own role in the failures that left us defenseless?” asked Lori Van Auken, the widow of Kenneth. “This is bizarre.
“We entered a looking glass world on Sept. 11 and we’re still in it.”
The news is a particularly sharp blow to the commission’s credibility because Gorelick and Zelikow are the two officials to whom the White House has granted the greatest access to the most secret and sensitive national security documents of all, the presidential daily briefings.
Last year, officials acknowledged that one such briefing in August 2001, more than a month prior to the attacks, warned that al-Qaida was determined to strike in the United States. Some reports suggested that hijacking — and even the use of airplanes as missiles — was mentioned as the mode of assault.
The question of the transition is a significant one, because critics of President Bush say the incoming administration “dropped the ball” on the fight against Osama bin Laden, which had been ramping up under President Clinton after a suicide attack by the al-Qaida network nearly destroyed the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.
Bush’s supporters counter it was Clinton’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden after his network destroyed two U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998 that emboldened the extremists to attack the United States on Sept. 11.
The families planned a meeting on the issue Thursday evening with commission members and staff, which one predicted would be a “slugfest.”