WASHINGTON – The leaders of an independent commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks pledged Wednesday to cast a wide net in their probe of the causes, responses and lessons of Sept. 11.
Chairman Thomas H. Kean said the commission's early agenda includes examining the United States' international strategy against terrorism before 2001: its policy toward Afghanistan, its interactions with "crucial friends, such as Saudi Arabia," and its coordination with law enforcement in countries such as Germany.
Other issues include the sharing of information among agencies of the U.S. government and White House handling of the crisis on Sept. 11.
Lee Hamilton, the commission's vice chairman, said another topic of inquiry, suggested by some key lawmakers, is the way Congress handles intelligence matters.
The law creating the commission listed several topics for it to explore, including intelligence, law enforcement, diplomacy, immigration, aviation and the flow of assets to terrorist organizations.
"We're going to follow wherever the trail leads," said Kean, a former New Jersey governor picked by President Bush to lead the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Kean, a Republican, and Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, met with reporters after the 10-member commission held its second private meeting, this time in newly rented office space in downtown Washington. They would not reveal the precise location of the office but said it includes secure space that prevents eavesdropping.
Kean said the commission will hold initial public hearings in New York City, the first in late March or early April. The commission will next meet Feb. 27 and plans to convene in Washington every two weeks or so.
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims lobbied hard for an independent investigation and have urged the commission to take a broad view of its jurisdiction.
Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ronald, was killed at the World Trade Center, said Kean and Hamilton appear to be doing just that. "On Sept. 11, there were colossal failures across the board," she said.
The panel is focusing for now on hiring staff and finding more office space in Washington and a location for a satellite office in New York City. It is also pushing the White House to help gain security clearance for the 10 members, so they can begin reviewing classified information.
The law that President Bush signed in November to create the commission gave it 18 months and $3 million.
Kean noted that the commission got off to a late start because Bush's first pick as chairman, Henry Kissinger, and Democratic congressional leaders' first pick as vice chairman, George Mitchell, each resigned shortly after being appointed.
"We're already in a sense behind the eight ball, racing to catch up," Kean said.
Members of the commission have agreed to file financial disclosure forms listing their sources of income and business affiliations to address questions about potential conflicts of interest. So far, only Kean and former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia have done so.
Kean said commissioners who might have a conflict on a given topic will not serve on task forces or prepare recommendations on that issue.
In an early example of that principle at work, Kean said former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines, probably will not serve on a task force exploring aviation security.
The five Republican members are Kean, 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, Cleland, former Rep. Timothy Roemer of Indiana, attorney Richard Ben-Veniste and Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.