Victims' Families Rip 9/11 Documents Deal

Relatives of people who perished in the Sept. 11 (search) attacks say a federal commission accepted too many conditions in striking a deal with the White House over access to secret intelligence documents.

The Family Steering Committee (search), a group of victims' relatives who are monitoring the work of the independent commission, criticized the agreement announced late Wednesday. Under the deal, only some of the 10 commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents, and their notes will be subject to White House review.

"All 10 commissioners should have full, unfettered and unrestricted access to all evidence," the group said in a statement Thursday. It urged the public release of "the full, official, and final written agreement."

Neither the commission nor the White House disclosed the terms of the agreement, although sources familiar with the commission's work described some of its provisions.

"We really want to know the details here," said Lorie Van Auken of New Jersey, whose husband, Kenneth, was killed at the World Trade Center. "I don't understand what's so secret about that. I mean, this is not a game."

A commission spokesman, Al Felzenberg, said there is no need to broadcast the fine print. "The importance of the agreement is access to the documents," Felzenberg said.

The commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean (search), defended the agreement.

"The most important fact to me is that there is not going to be any document not seen by a member of the commission, and those documents will be used to inform our report," Kean said.

Two commissioners, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, criticized the deal after it was announced, saying it places unwarranted restrictions on the panel's work. The commission discussed issuing a subpoena to the White House, although that could have led to a legal battle had the Bush administration claimed executive privilege.

Three other commissioners — former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, former Washington Sen. Slade Gorton and former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson — said the agreement accomplishes what the panel needed.

"The question for me is whether or not we will have sufficient information to do our job," Gorton said, "and I believe the agreement provides that ability."

Thompson said the agreement "balances the rightful concerns of the president for the security of his intelligence advice, and the commission's need to examine every fact."

Roemer, Cleland and Ben-Veniste are Democrats; Kean, Gorton and Thompson are Republicans. The 10-member commission has equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

The dispute centered on access to the "presidential daily brief," a classified written intelligence report Bush 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 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."

The commission has until May 27 to submit its report on the terror attacks and on related issues of diplomacy, U.S. intelligence-gathering, immigration, commercial aviation and the flow of assets to terror organizations.