9/11 Panel Wants Full Disclosure

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CBS/ AP
As the commission probing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prepares for the crucial testimony of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, its leaders say they don't expect the White House to order many changes to its final report.

Before it's made public, the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States — due in July — must be examined by government security specialists for possible security leaks.

Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor and chairman of the commission, says it's in no one's interests to have the report sitting around being leaked in pieces during the election season.

Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says that White House review is "one of the big remaining obstacles."

Hamilton says he's troubled by the administration's control over classified information — but he says the White House won't be allowed to "distort" the report by selective editing.

Both Kean and Hamilton spoke on NBC on Sunday, five days before Rice is supposed to appear before their panel to answer key questions about what the Bush administration did and didn't do in the months prior to the attacks.

The New York Times reports that some of the questions Rice faces may concern her public comments and leadership style. The newspaper reports that she often failed to mention terrorism in major speeches about foreign policy threats. And she delegated responsibility for counterterrorism to an aide.

Last week, the Washington Post reported that a speech Rice was due to give on Sept. 11, 2001 on security threats focused on missile defense, not al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic terrorism. CBS News found that President Bush appears not to have mentioned bin Laden in any speech or public remark prior to Sept. 11.

Even harsh critics of Rice, like former counterterrorism director Richard Clarke, have said they do not believe the 2001 attacks could have been prevented.

But the commission's leaders aren't so sure.

"There are a lot of ifs; you can string together a whole bunch of ifs, and if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor has identified, and frankly if you'd had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented," Hamilton said. Kean said late last year that he felt the attacks might have been prevented.

But Bush adviser Karen Hughes told NBC: "I just don't think, based on everything I know, and I was there, that there was anything that anyone in government could have done to have put together the pieces before the horror of that day."

To help Rice defuse the attacks, some administration officials are urging that more White House papers be declassified, to show the mixed message the president was receiving about al Qaeda, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. Perhaps this move would even take the sting out of the president's own words to an author: that he never felt any "sense of urgency" about al Qaeda until after Sept. 11, 2001.

Rice will need to answer how that happened, said former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

"Nineteen men with $350,000 defeated every single defensive mechanism we had up on the 11th of September, 2001, and they defeated it utterly," Kerrey said.

Rice also will be asked about ways to correct "what has gone wrong so badly," said a Republican commissioner, former Navy Secretary John Lehman.

"She's now got her mind focused on just what went wrong, and I want to hear her views on some of the things that we're going to do and be recommending to make fundamental changes," Lehman said. He appeared with Kerrey on CBS' Face the Nation.

The White House initially refused to allow Rice to testify in public, citing executive privilege that the administration said exempted presidential aides from having to answer to an outside body like the commission.

Under intense public pressure, the White House relented last week.

Newsweek reports that a staffer from Kean's commission faxed a photograph from November 1945 of presidential chief of staff Admiral William Leahy appearing before a special congressional panel investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Accompanying the photo was a note saying the photo would be all over Washington in 24 hours if the White House didn't allow Rice to testify in public before the commission.

The White House denied that the photograph forced its hand.

Mr. Bush also agreed to testify, alongside Vice President Dick Cheney, but the session will be private, unsworn and unrecorded. The dual Bush-Cheney testimony, Kean said Sunday, was part of a deal with the White House.

"All things considered, maybe we would have rather to have them one at a time, but we don't see any problem with it, really," Kean said. "They promised us to give us the time we needed to get our questions answered, and if we have any problems, … we'll have follow-ups."

Kean said a date has been set for their appearance, but he would not disclose it. After Rice's appearance, the next scheduled public hearings are April 13-14 that will focus on failures in intelligence and law enforcement.