Part 1: Interview With Thomas Kean

Thomas Kean, as former New Jersey Governor, and head of new independent commission investigating September 11th terrorist attacks
This appointment was different, part time it was something I didn't feel you could turn down. — I mean, this was one of the greatest national tragedies ever to happen to our country and

If you are asked to answer the questions, to resolve the issues, to finally issue a report to the American people, which will hopefully make people safer in the end, I didn't see any way I could say no.

We've got two jobs really. One is historical. We've got to answer all the questions, what happened on 9/11, how did it happen, why did it happen, and secondly, we've got to make recommendations — and those recommendations, coming out of our research, coming out of history, will hopefully make the American people feel safer.

There have — only been three investigations like this in American history. the first was the Pearl Harbor investigation and that report. The second was the Warren commission on the assassination of President Kennedy, and the third is this report on 9/11.

So to me it has great importance in that historical context. I think the Warren commission, they went as fast as they could because they were scared. Scared that people thought Fidel Castro was involved, that Russia had been involved, some thought the mafia had been involved, and questions had to be answered right away. If a foreign power had been involved, it might have been ....

So the Warren commission really rushed their report and there were some problems because of that. There are still some questions left unanswered, and those questions bedevil us to this day.

We've been given a timeline and it's a tight timeline, we're supposed to finish by the end of this May, and we're going to — try and do it, but there's an enormous amount of material to cover, there's seven specific areas Congress has specifically asked us to look at and we've got to look at them all fully and completely and do so with integrity.

Q: What are those areas?

It's everything from — money laundering to immigration reform to visas to response of NYC and Washington to the attack itself, to the history of al Qaeda, the intelligence agencies-the FBI, the CIA, did they really do their job and if they didn't how did they fail, airline safety? — Defense, all those areas, and they're all specifically outlined by Congress, Congress told us this is what we have to do.

So we have various task forces deep into each of these subjects. Congress was limited to the intelligent functions of the United States government. This was the congressional committee on intelligence, — they weren't able to get a number of documents they wanted. Particularly from the Office of the President because there's a historic separation between the presidency and — the Congress. And the president has always been upheld, when he asserts presidential privilege in those areas by — the courts.

We don't have the same constraints. We're an independent commission, one of only three in history, and we feel we have to see everything in order to give the American people what they really need to know, so we've been doggedly saying there isn't — a material or a piece of paper having to do with 9/11 which we don't have to see.

Q: How close did you come to issuing subpoenas to the White House?

The White House has legitimate concerns. We're talking about the most sensitive materials available to the United States government, and ones that Congress has never seen, that no other commission has ever seen, personal briefings to the president on the most sensitive matters — having to do with intelligence, so we understood their concerns. I just said I couldn't write my report without seeing these presidential briefings and documents.

So we've been negotiating, and finally did come up with an agreement where we have access to every single one of these materials that — we'd asked for by not the whole commission, not all ten commissioners, — we'd asked all ten commissioners, the White House said, these are sensitive documents, — that's too many eyes, but you can set up a subcommittee, put anyone you want on it, to look at these documents and report back to the full committee.

Q: You would rotate commissioners?

This is not a large number of documents, these are very sensitive documents, could be very important documents, but It's not a large number, so we've got basically four commissioners who will look at them.

Q: You can take notes?


Q: Can you take notes out of the White House?

It depends. Notes might have to stay with the documents. — They will have a report from the four members.

No, not on these particular items we've asked for. As with any other agency, if there are documents in some other presidential briefing that have nothing to do with our mission, but have to do with Cuba or China — or some other area, we wouldn't see those, but those don't have anything to do with what our job is here.

The way we do this is, we make a broad, blanket request, saying these are the things that we need from Department of Defense, CIA, White House. We will be seeing everything that we requested.

I have the ultimate respect for Max Clelland, but on this matter, he's wrong. Because we will be seeing every single document. Members of our commission both republicans and democrats will be able to go in, read everything, if there's — something pertinent to report, they're going to bring it back to the commission, they can take notes, and every member of the commission will hear everything that is seen.

None of us who are commissioners are planning to hide things from any other commissioner. So if we see something that is exciting, important, vital to our report, everybody's going to know about it.

Q: Doesn't it get tricky to rely on memory?

In some cases, we can take notes back. And in other cases-

Q:the White House decides.

Yes, that's right. But we can go back to them to use the notes in writing the report. So these are not notes that we take and then can be hidden from us. Taken, we can read, and use, — in writing the report.

What we requested , in the best possible world, was that every commissioner ought to see every document and would be allowed to take those notes, the notes would come back to our office, and those notes would be used in writing our report. That's much easier, and we thought, a better procedure. — But this was a negotiation, the White House has needs. These are documents nobody has ever seen.

Q: Outside the White House?

Except for the president, and a few of — his closest advisors. And this goes for all presidents, all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt, understood they didn't want to set a precedent.

We think we did that, not everybody was pleased with it. — Because a lot of people took the original position, which we would rather have, that every commissioner ought to see everything.

The subpoena route is very difficult with the White House for a couple of reasons. First, the WH would have to invoke presidential privilege because not to do so would certainly have set a precedent. Secondly, they won all those cases. They won every single case of executive privilege. Now, we think we had some pretty unique aspects to our case and we think we would have prevailed, but it would have been a long shot. — Secondly, we go out of existence at the end of May. — If you go into a court case and people start appealing, you can go well beyond May and we'd be out of existence. — We'd never see any one of these documents. Our job was to see everything so we can form our report. Under this compromise, we will see everything and that's why we accepted it.

We are seeing documents that no one has ever seen before in the history of the United States. Not the congressional committee, — the intelligence committee didn't see it. — Nobody's ever gotten them, so we are seeing the most highly sensitive documents in the possession of the United States government.

We are using those documents to form our report. Are they going to all be in there in detail? No, because they are highly classified. — And some of them would — put the security of the — United States, the security of — an agent of the united States in jeopardy, so they will all not be in the report, but they'll be in separate documents to be seen by people — who have classified approval to see them.

Q: Perception problem?

Oh, certainly. And everybody, or a lot of people start with the position that I did: everybody ought to see everything. Why not? — But that's not the way the government works. These documents are the most highly classified there are, and with those documents, not everybody is going to see them.

Q: Questions from families drive your efforts.

We are aware of families [questions], members have given me personally and other commissioners — -- sixty or seventy questions. I told them that to the best of our ability, — when the final report is done, every one of those questions will be answered, and the various task forces has copies of those questions, and as we go through our research we're going to try and see that they're answered to the satisfaction of the families, and for that matter, to the satisfaction of the American public.

Q: Questions beyond mandate?

No, questions of air safety, timeline, NORAD, FAA, questions that go to our mandate, specific questions families have, They feel that's our mandate, and frankly so do we.

Q: Greatest success?

It took a while, but we've had a good success rate with the FBI, the CIA, we're now getting, they were a little delayed, but we're now getting a lot of documents from the Dept of Defense,

We have in our possession now, over two million separate documents. — I mean that, this is the largest investigation ever conducted of the United States in our history. we've got some things we still need. We still got some issues with the White House on some other documents that we still need, some memos. We have a few issues left with the dept of defense, we've got — some big issues with New York City, because the response of NYC is very much part of our responsibility, we had to issue a subpoena to try and get those, but in general, we're proceeding pretty well.

Q: why so difficult?

The idea is we can learn, we can learn from what happened in NYC or in Washington for that matter, to the first responders.

First of all, was their equipment faulty? Did they have trouble communicating with each other? Where were they are various times in the building? — Could more of them have gotten out? Problems of building safety. Were there problems with construction of the WTC that hindered their operation?

We need to know all of these things because only in knowing these things will we be able to make satisfactory recommendations.

Q:Number of docs, enough time — to do everything by May 27?

We believe there is, but time is our biggest enemy. And that why we've gone to, that's why we issued some subpoenas. My — hope was that we could get through this thing without issuing subpoenas for cooperation.**

We've had to issue subpoenas, and a lot of it is because of time We need these documents in hand. We've got most of our documents now, we've done 3 or 400 interviews, we have probably — 5 or 600 more interviews to do in January, February, March, we're going to have some public hearings, where we will have some of the highest figures in the Bush and

Q:Clinton administrations, testifying before us?

What about President Clinton and Mr. — Bush? …We haven't made that determination yet.

Q:Is it possible that you will be calling on the current and former president? … It's possible, but we haven't, as a commission, we haven't made that determination yet.

Q:RP- factors?

After all we get all our other information, what questions are left unanswered. After we've seen the presidential briefings, after we've seen the secret FBI and CIA stuff, after we've seen the airlines, all of that, are there still questions that need to get answered that only one of those two men could answer?

Q:possible you'll try to extend life of commission?

It's possible, and we're talking about that as a commission. We hope not, because — it triggers a whole bunch of things. If we're gonna go longer, we have to get a new bill through Congress more money to pay the staff and the salaries, we've got staff member who've taken time away from jobs that pay them a lot more money and they've told them they'd return at a date certain, so there's a bunch of things that come into play`

But if we can't do the report on time with integrity, then we'll certainly ask for an extension

Q:have you had to twist arms to get info you need, get critical compromises? Hamilton , co chair, work together...

The most difficult time is the areas where we finally had to issue subpoenas. —

and in some cases, — it was not deliberate so much as not taking us with the importance we deserve, saying, let's put that request off, and therefore our — documents were not coming in in a timely manner. I think that was the case with the FAA, Norad, there were some documents we just weren't getting, we had to issue a subpoena, NYC is actually saying, 'no, we don't want to give you certain documents. That's different. We had to issue a subpoena in that area.

We may have to issue a few more subpoenas, but I hope not.


The FBI, CIA have come along well now, they were slow at the beginning, and we were very worried about it, but since we've been holding news conferences, talking about our progress, and publicly singling out agencies and giving them report cards, the cooperation has increased markedly.

Q:Dept of Defense?

The DOD, well, that's NORAD and so we did for some parts of the DOD we had to issue subpoenas, in general, DOD has been very cooperative

Q:What has been the biggest surprise for you?

The biggest personal surprise, and I'm probably the one person on the commission who is not a Washingtonian, the biggest surprise was as I've been reading these highly, highly classified documents, in most cases, I finish with them, I look up and say, 'why is this classified?' In many cases I've read the same materials in the newspaper, heard them on the news, and why is it classified?

And so a lot of the stuff we're seeing now with red stamps on it is stuff that you know, and I know already, and — yet here it is, highly classified.

And so one of the things that I hope is that maybe out of our work and maybe others, a lot of these documents that are classified, will be unclassified

Q:What about the biggest discover that you can share with us now about the events leading up to 9/11, what has been the biggest surprise?

We have had some surprises, I'm not sure there are any I can share with you now because they're integral to the report, they're raising more questions, they're still being investigated, and if I were to give you some of them now, they might be incomplete or lead to questions that are not fair at the moment.

Prior to 9/11 was there in place a system of military security assigned to each domestic airport, for the major airports

What we have found is, and I don't think it's any secret

What we've found is that our whole defense apparatus was still fighting the cold war.

That our defenders in the air force were focused out to sea. They were looking for something that was coming from the direction — of the former soviet union.

1:27:30 Nobody was focused on an internal threat. That was one of the reasons some people were slow to responding. They were fighting the last war.

Q:Now have military cover for every major airport?

I can't say for every major airport, but it certainly has changed

There's a lot more security and a lot more coverage than there was on 9/11

Q:what about the existing crisis plans, Giuliani said, one of things that came to fore, they had rehearsed a lot of scenarios.

We're finding that it's mixed. There are are a number of places in the country, and this involves states and cities who are really doing a very good job of taking 9/11 and the events very seriously, and saying we have to be prepared, it can happen here

There are others who — haven't been and the problem is to get a national response because so much of this is regulated by the state and local governments.

The national guard, for instance, plays a big role in any emergency procedure, it's to try and get uniform,

I can't say they're prepared now, because they're not

Q:Trip to Afghanistan, purpose?

Part of our task is to understand al Qaeda and understand the enemy. And to do that you have to go to places like Afghanistan, and Pakistan, to Saudi Arabia, to a number of other Arab nations, where al Qaeda originates and still is obviously there, and we had staff members do that and they were staff members who were highly trained — in the intelligence area and brought back a lot of information for us, which is going to be very helpful in the final writing of our report?

Q:Visited jumpoff countries?

WE had Germany, and not only that, but the families have done a lawsuit in Germany, and they have been turning over to us the discovery that they have made in those areas, and that information from the families in some cases are things our government doesn't have that's coming out of discovery in German courts.

We have not yet at this point had any staff members in Spain.

The criticism on the part of some of the families, in addition to origins, focus on Europe, Asia, Canada

Already done some of that, money laundering, financial experts are working on that and nothing else

Q:can't conceive how you can complete investigation in six months?

We're doing it in the only way I conceived it was possible and that is setting up task forces. In other words, since we've started, we've assigned a number of people who are experts in these areas to do that and nothing else. So they have been burrowing into these areas, doing their own reports, interviews, what we have now is to — put it all together

Q:Five republicans, five democrats. Appointed by?

The Congress appointed every member, nine of the members, the president appointed me.

The legislation said that the leaders of the congress, republicans and democrats, appoint nine members of the commission, the chairman is appointed by the president

Max Cleland is about to get I think a very well deserved appointment. He is now up before Congress for confirmation, if he is confirmed as I thinkhe will be, Sen. Daschle will appoint his replacement.

Q:Doesn't that complicate your work?

Have to do some catchup, people Daschle is talking about have deep expertise, won't start at ground zero, start at midway

Q:quote — — we will use every tool at our command. Did you think you'd have to use subpoena?

I thought there was a good possibility of it because we were in negotiations, but those negotiations had not come to any satisfactory conclusion and time was moving

you see, time is not our ally, we've got

Q:Didn't the WH understand that?

They understood it perfectly, but they also have their own issues and a lot of them are legal, whole doctrine around presidential privilege, cannot allow certain documents to become public

I think after I said that, negotiations moved a little faster.

But my hope is that we would have come to a resolution anyway. I believe this personally that the white House was negotiating out of good will, therefore I think we would have come to a resolution, but it was difficult

one of questions families want to focus on

Q: How much did the White House know about the potential of aircraft being used as weapons of terror prior to September 11, and when did they know it?

Right. — We have got to have every sing document that will inform that question, and that goes for the Clinton presidency, and the Bush presidency. We have every expectation that we will be able to see every document and use those documents in our report

Congressional report — references to airplanes being used as weapons.

Yeah, but the congressional committee was unfortunately unable to obtain any documentation from the white house, either white house -- Clinton or Bush -- because of this doctrine presidential privilege that separates the white house from congress. If you read the report, there's a whole list at the back of the report , we were not able to see the following, which might have told us a few things

I don't want our report to have any such list at all, not even one item,

I want our report to say we've seen everything, everything that might tell us the answer to any of these questions and we're firm on that, the commission is firm on that.**

Q: Do you intend to answer all of the unanswered questions left my the intelligence committee? —

Yes, I do, yes. — We're trying to answer every question still out there, both from the Congress, from the families, from the American public. I can't tell you how many letters I've gotten, all of them have gone to the staff, we're going to do our best to answer every one of those questions.

Q:comparable to Warren? —

While we're pressed for time, not as pressed, don't have need they had to tell country something right away and prevent war

mandate ends with Afghanistan

intelligence agencies from other countries

we've got authority to go and automatically get the product, the work product of other government's agencies

obviously we don't have subpoena power over other agencies but some of them are being cooperative and we have talked to a number of people who are involved with agencies of other governments. —

Q: Can you tell which governments? —

A: No.

Q:pictures on September 12 of all of the hijackers, how did govt figure out

we know now they did have a number of them under some surveillance and there were obviously some breakdowns. Coordination of our intelligence agencies, warnings that weren't heeded, information that wasn't put together, uh, — puzzles where pieces were missing and the pieces were someplace else and they just weren't put into place

there's no question about that and that's one of the things we're finding out about in our investigation and documenting.

So they did have a number of them under surveillance, how they got pictures of every single terrorist so fast, I don't know. Some of them of course came from the airlines because they had pictures of these people getting on the airlines

Q:But knowing that they were the ones who allegedly took over the aircraft, who would know that? —

I think some of this was surmised at the beginning and became fact with a week or so.

Q:2 days-knew the school

A:Well, we had some warnings. I mean, there were warnings that were not put together, that were ignored, and we had these pieces of information. The problem of putting them together — they came in from various agencies, various agents, and one of the big questions we have to answer as a commission in our recommendations is

Q: Do our intelligence agencies do a proper job? Can they serve as an early warning system for a potential future terrorist attack? — Do we need to create something like MI5 in Great Britain, which specializes only in this area? Or can we transform the FBI, let's say, into this kind of an agency.

A: This is one of the major questions which are commission is going to be considering and making recommendations.

Q: Which way are you leaning?

A: We've had hearings, will be others, for me to make a judgment before hearings would probably be a mistake

Q: FBI — Phoenix and Minnesota

A: They're absolutly essential because warnings came in to those offices that in many cases weren't heeded and we want to know why and how was it that certain agents in those offices sent in information and that information never got above a certain level? We have a very good intelligence gathering mechanism.

Q: but what happens when it gets into the next level? Who is reviewing that intelligence? Who is making determinations whether it's important enough to pass it on? — And is that being done well?

Q: point fingers?

the fingers will come out of the report. To say we're gonna point fingers is probably not accurate.

but as you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done. And what we're looking for, how could this have been prevented? **I mean, this was not something that had to happen. ** How could this have been prevented? What actions could have been taken by the government? Federal, local, state? What could have happened that would have prevented this from happening and

once we look at that, what mechanisms can we put in place to prevent this from happening in the future that might help to disrupt a future 9/11?

Q: This was something that did not have to happen? —

A: I don't think so. Once again, you're getting into my personal belief. — I do not believe it had to happen.

Q: Why? There was so many pieces of information out there — Warnings? —

A: Yeah, that had they been put together, whether it's the office in Minneapolis, or an office someplace else, it's sending warnings and if we had taken those warnings seriously, and really followed them through, if people had been paying attention to who was taking flying lessons and learning how to go up and not how to come down, uh, if somebody had been able to stop some of those people from getting on those planes

Q: there were so many steps along the way, that had they been done differently, could have disrupted the operation

A: I'm the only person from this area on the commission, so I spent my time going to funerals. You know, I lost a number of close friends, a number of people I do business with, a person I played tennis with for more than 20 years, and that's a personal impact and I owe it to those people to make sure that we issue a report which is to make sure there won't be new families in mourning and additional tragedies and more American civilians being killed.