WASHINGTON – An independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks convened for the first time Monday, out of public view, to grapple with logistics and meet with some of the victims' relatives.
The 10-member commission named Philip Zelikow, currently the head of a nonprofit foundation's task force on national security, as its executive director.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, said significant progress was made in its first meeting. The commission's next meeting, also a private session, will be held Feb. 12.
After their executive meeting, the commissioners spent about 90 minutes with some relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Stephen Push, whose wife, Lisa Raines, was on the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon, said he and seven other victims' relatives listed some topics they hope the commission will tackle, including foreign affairs, aviation security, the response of U.S. air defenses on Sept. 11, immigration policy and border control.
"We got a very positive response" from the commissioners, Push said. "I got the sense that we're on the same page with them as far as what should be covered."
Monica Gabrielle, whose husband Richard died at the World Trade Center, said the informal meeting was a good chance to let commissioners "know we're here, and we're not going away."
Kean said he regards the family members as knowledgeable resources whose goals reflect those of the commission.
"The victims' families feel very strongly that there are questions that have never been answered, and any serious report on the events of that day and what led to them must be answered," Kean said. "I think we agree. I think we're going down the same path."
The meeting was held at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. Former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat who is the commission's vice chairman, is president of the center.
Hamilton said in a statement that commission members understand "this is the most important factual inquiry they will participate in during their lifetimes."
Zelikow, the commission's first staff appointment, is director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and worked for the National Security Council during the first Bush administration.
He is executive director of the Markle Foundation's Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, which produced a report last October that faulted the current Bush administration's homeland security plans for giving the FBI too much responsibility for analyzing terrorism threats.
It said the new Department of Homeland Security "should have lead responsibility as the all-source intelligence analysis center for all relevant domestic information."
Peter Kerr, a spokesman for the Markle Foundation, said Zelikow is expected to resign his post on the task force to concentrate on the independent commission.
The commission was created last year in a compromise between Congress and the White House, which had initially opposed it. It has 16 months and $3 million to explore the causes of the attacks, preparations for future terrorism and the response to the airline hijackings that killed more than 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Kean said the commission will create task forces to handle specific topics of inquiry, including intelligence, law enforcement, diplomacy, immigration, commercial aviation and the flow of assets to terrorist organizations.
He estimated the commission will ultimately hire about 30 to 35 staff members. The panel is still seeking office space in Washington, and Kean said he is determined to have a second office in New York City and hold many of the public hearings there.
The five Republican members are Kean, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, former White House Counsel Fred Fielding, former Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington and John Lehman, former Navy secretary under President Reagan.
The Democrats are Hamilton, former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, former Rep. Timothy Roemer of Indiana, attorney Richard Ben-Veniste and Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.