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Sept. 11 Commission Faces Challenges
January 20, 2003

By The Associated Press

Sixteen months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, an independent commission charged with investigating what happened is only beginning to confront a task complicated by a ticking clock, limited finances and the high expectations of those who lost loved ones.

The commission, which holds its first meeting next Monday in Washington, will have just $3 million and 16 more months to explore the causes of, preparations for and response to the terrorist hijackings that killed more than 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

By comparison, a federal commission created in 1996 was given two years and $5 million to study legalized gambling.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks came to life last year in a compromise between Congress and the Bush White House, which had initially opposed it. Relatives of Sept. 11 victims had lobbied strenuously for the independent panel.

The 10-member commission, chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, was given 18 months to get its work done, and the clock started ticking in late November.

Mary Fetchet of Connecticut, who lost her son Brad on Sept. 11, said time is of particular concern because lawmakers spent months debating whether even to have a commission.

"I would have hoped this would be up and moving forward by now," Fetchet said. "I'm concerned about (an attack) happening again, yet so much time has passed before we've taken a good complete look at what the failures were."

Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and some of the victims' relatives say they doubt the commission can do a thorough job with only the $3 million authorized by Congress. Corzine predicts a push on Capitol Hill to raise the amount.

During a conference call last week, about a dozen relatives decided to dig more into possible conflicts of interest that commission members might face as they probe the inner workings of American government.

"We simply want to alleviate any worry, on anyone's part, that this commission will not go where the facts lead them," said Kristin Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband Ronald died at the World Trade Center.

There is no shortage of ideas on how the commission should expend its limited time and resources.

Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., has urged the commission to probe the nation's procedures for approving visas.

Steve Morello Jr. of South Carolina, whose father Steven died at the World Trade Center, said he hopes the commission investigates the role of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, in the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Sally Regenhard of New York, whose son Christian was among the firefighters killed, said the commission should study the response on Sept. 11 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the metropolitan New York airports and owned the World Trade Center towers.

"What happened or didn't happen in those precious minutes before the second plane hit? What information did the Port Authority have or know? These are issues that remain in the darkness," Regenhard said.

Bush signed the law creating the commission on Nov. 27 and named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as chairman. But Kissinger, who runs an international consulting firm, resigned 17 days later in response to questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Bush then turned to Kean, a popular Republican with little experience in intelligence and foreign affairs but with a reputation for independent thinking. Soon after accepting, Kean met at Drew University in New Jersey _ where he is president _ with 13 relatives of Sept. 11 victims.

Breitweiser said Kean assured the group he would not hesitate to issue subpoenas and would treat the commission's Democratic vice chairman, former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, as an equal partner.

Breitweiser said she and others listed for Kean some examples of warnings not pursued before Sept. 11, including hints throughout the 1990s that terrorists might try to crash planes into significant buildings.

According to Breitweiser, Kean replied, "That's unbelievable."

Kean has been on a previously planned island vacation and did not respond to interview requests last week.

One potential conflict that interests some victims' relatives is the tie that three commission members have to law firms that lobby for airlines.

Another is Kean's service as a director of energy company Amerada Hess Corp., which entered a 1988 alliance with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia on a venture in Azerbaijan. Delta Oil reportedly is controlled by two Saudi families who have been investigated for financial ties to Osama bin Laden.

Amerada Hess ended its role in the venture in November. A spokesman for Amerada Hess, Carl Tursi, said one company official who remembers the 1998 deal says there was no hint at the time of any possible link between Delta Oil and terrorism.

Tursi added that he doubts whether Kean, whose term expires in 2004, played any role in creating what was, for Amerada Hess, a relatively minor deal.


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Sally Regenhard,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470

Monica Gabrielle,

P. O. Box 70
Woodlawn Station
Bronx, NY 10470