The federal commission probing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington has leveled charges that government agencies are impeding its efforts.
Commissioners charged the agencies are reluctant to turn over documents or to provide witnesses needed in the investigation.
The chairman and vice chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, aimed their fire at the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for withholding information about NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian air defense command. On the day of the attacks the air defense system failed to scramble fighter planes in time to intercept the four hijacked airliners.
Millions of documents were requested from 16 federal agencies, but the majority of them have not been produced, even though the panel has used up almost half the time allotted by Congress for the investigation. The commission report is due by May 27 of next year.
A statement from the commission said problems that have arisen so far with the Department of Defense are becoming particularly serious. It called for better cooperation from the Bush administration in the remaining months of the inquiry.
Kean and Hamilton, at a news conference, directed attention to the administrations insistence that all government witnesses be accompanied by officials from their respective agencies when they are interviewed by the commission.
Some reporters have likened this move to the Iraqi governments use of official minders to sit in on interviews by U.N. weapons inspectors. At that time, Bushs spokesmen said that tactic proved Saddam Hussein had something to hide.
Kean told the assembled media personnel: I think the commission feels unanimously that its some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would. We would rather interview these people without minders or without agency people there.
The national commission was created last fall after fierce opposition by the Bush administration. The White House backed off only after families of the Sept. 11 victims protested and threatened to embarrass the administration right before the 2002 congressional elections.
Several commission members have raised serious questions about the role of the White House and the national security system before and during Sept. 11.