9/11 inquiry alleges witness intimidation
Julian Borger in Washington
Thursday July 10, 2003
A US panel investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks yesterday accused the Pentagon and the justice department of obstructing the inquiry and said witnesses were being intimidated.
The federal commission of inquiry was appointed eight months ago by the White House, which was under intense congressional pressure to look into allegations that the CIA, the FBI and the Pentagon could have done more to prevent the 2001 al-Qaida attacks.
Among a string of apparent intelligence failures, the commission will be asking why the FBI failed to heed warnings from some of its agents that al-Qaida could be planning to hit targets with hijacked airliners.
The investigation has been hampered by the withdrawal of its original chairman, Henry Kissinger, on grounds of conflict of interest, and funding difficulties. The bipartisan panel now says its work has been blocked by the bureaucracy.
Tim Roemer, a former congressman and a member of the commission, said yesterday: "We're not getting the kind of cooperation that we should be. "We need a steady stream of information coming to us...Instead, we're getting a trickle."
In a statement, the panel said the Pentagon's lack of cooperation was "particularly serious".
The inquiry's chairman, Thomas Kean, criticised the justice department for insisting intelligence officials giving testimony should be accompanied by "minders" from their agency.
"I think the commission feels unanimously that it's some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency," he said.
The White House said the president was committed to the process, adding: "The president has directed federal agencies to cooperate and to do so quickly."
But Steven Push, whose wife died on September 11 and who represents victims' families, said: "I believe that there is stonewalling going on here."
He added: "It's beginning to look like some type of a cover-up."