WASHINGTON – Relatives of people who perished in the Sept. 11 terror attacks are urging a federal commission to disclose the fine print of its deal with the White House that gives the panel restricted access to sensitive intelligence documents.
The Family Steering Committee (search), a group of victims' relatives monitoring the work of the independent commission on Sept. 11, said the restrictions are unacceptable.
"The full, official, and final written agreement that was reached between the commission and the White House should be released to the American public in its entirety," the group said a statement Thursday. "The American public should be fully informed as to all legal restrictions and limitations placed within this agreement."
The 10-member, bipartisan commission announced late Wednesday that it had reached an agreement with the White House that will allow the review of classified intelligence documents previously withheld.
"We believe this agreement will prove satisfactory and enable us to get our job done," according to a statement by the commission.
But two commissioners criticized the deal, saying it places unwarranted restrictions on the panel's work. They did not specify what these restrictions were.
The commission will designate a four-person subcommittee that will examine documents, but in some instances, only two of those members will have firsthand access.
Neither the commission nor the White House disclosed details of the agreement.
"We look forward to the recommendations to make America safer," White House spokeswoman Ashley Snee said. At President Bush's direction, she said, the White House "has been working closely with the commission to ensure they have the information they need to be successful."
Bush said last month that the dispute concerned "the presidential daily brief," a classified written intelligence report he gets each morning.
The White House confirmed last year that one such report in August 2001, a month before the attacks, mentioned that Al Qaeda (search) might try to hijack U.S. passenger planes. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has described the report as an analysis, rather than a warning, and said hijacking was mentioned in a traditional sense, not as it was used on Sept. 11.
Describing the White House's concerns about access to the document, Bush said it is important "for the writers of the presidential daily brief to feel comfortable that the documents will never be politicized and/or unnecessarily exposed for public purview."
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean (search), a Republican chosen by Bush to lead the commission, said repeatedly that he respects the sensitive nature of the documents. But he added, "We're not going to be satisfied until we have everything we need to do our job."
The commission has issued subpoenas to the Federal Aviation Administration and to the Pentagon, after concluding that government offices had not fully complied with requests for documents.
Kean did not rule out sending a subpoena to the White House, although that could have prompted a court battle had the administration claimed executive privilege.
Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said the resolution of the White House dispute will let the panel and its staff move from document collection into analysis full time. Its report is due May 27.
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor, said the subcommittee plan "is not a perfect arrangement" but gives the commission the access it needs.
Another commissioner, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, said the panel should have issued a subpoena rather than agree that only some members will see documents.
Ben-Veniste and Roemer are Democrats. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (search), with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, is investigating the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the causes and the U.S. response to terrorism.