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Context of 'March 27, 2003: Security Clearance of 9/11 Commission Members Stalled'

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Richard Ben-Veniste.Richard Ben-Veniste. [Source: C-SPAN]The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. [Chicago Tribune, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/16/2002; New York Times, 12/17/2002] Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/13/2002; Reuters, 12/16/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 55-56] It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
bullet Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. [Associated Press, 2/14/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. [Associated Press, 12/12/2002; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. [Associated Press, 1/31/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003] Democratic commissioners:
bullet Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. [Hopsicker, 2001, pp. 325-30]
bullet Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Fred F. Fielding, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, John McCain, John Lehman, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, United Airlines, Warren Rudman, Slade Gorton, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It is reported that “most members” of the 9/11 Commission still have not received security clearances. [Washington Post, 3/27/2003] For instance, Slade Gorton, picked in December 2002, is a former senator with a long background in intelligence issues. Fellow commissioner Lee Hamilton says, “It’s kind of astounding that someone like Senator Gorton can’t get immediate clearance. It’s a matter we are concerned about.” The commission is said to be at a “standstill” because of the security clearance issue, and cannot even read the classified findings of the previous 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. [Seattle Times, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Slade Gorton, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, makes an 11th-hour visit to the Pentagon in an attempt to avert a subpoena some on the Commission want to file on the Defense Department over documents NORAD is withholding from the Commission (see Late October 2003).
Meeting with Defense Officials - At the Pentagon, Hamilton meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Hamilton takes with him Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the Commission who is inclined towards issuing the subpoena.
Arranged by Zelikow? - It is unclear who initiated and arranged the meeting; some staffers who want the subpoena issued will accuse Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, of setting it up as a part of a wider effort to thwart the subpoena (see (Late October-Early November 2003)). However, Zelikow will later say he does not recall having anything to do with the meeting.
Rumsfeld Promises to Settle Issue - At the meeting, Rumsfeld is, according to author Philip Shenon, “charming and agreeable” and insists he is unaware of the problems between the Commission and NORAD. He vows to resolve the issues and promises that any evidence that has been withheld until now will be turned over immediately. Therefore, he says, there is no need for a subpoena.
Differences between Hamilton and Gorton - Hamilton, who was initially rejected for the vice chairmanship of the Commission because of his links to Rumsfeld and other Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002) and who sometimes takes the current administration’s side in internal Commission debates (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004), thinks this is the end of the matter. “I’ve known Don Rumsfeld for 20, 30 years,” he tells the other commissioners. “When he said, ‘I’m going to get that information for you,’ I took him at his word.” Gorton’s attitude is different. “I was outraged with NORAD and the way they had operated.” Thinking false statements NORAD officials provided to the Commission may have been made knowingly, he will add, “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it was just so grossly negligent and incompetent.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207] The Commission will vote to issue the subpoena the next day, with Hamilton against and Gorton for (see November 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Stephen A. Cambone, Slade Gorton, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission realizes that it will not meet its reporting deadline of May 2004 and decides it will have to ask for an extension. Any extension would have to be approved by Congressional leaders and the White House. In order to determine how much extra time the commission will need, Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton poll the other commissioners and staff members to gauge their opinions. Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tim Roemer suggest six months, but this would push the reporting date back after the presidential election in November. Kean and Hamilton are aware that this will probably not be permitted by Republicans, as they will be worried that parts of the report critical of Bush will be leaked to the press. In addition, Kean wants the report out during the presidential campaign, in the hopes that the two candidates will have a “bidding war” over who will implement more of the commission’s recommendations. In the end, the commission decides to ask for a two-month extension, meaning the report will be issued in July. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 226-227] The extension is initially opposed by the White House (see January 19, 2004), but the administration changes its mind (see February 5, 2004), and the extension is finally granted (see March 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Slade Gorton, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

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