AT THE CENTER of the dispute is a more-than-800-page secret report prepared by a joint congressional inquiry detailing the intelligence and law-enforcement failures that preceded the attacks—including provocative, if unheeded warnings, given President Bush and his top advisers during the summer of 2001.
The report was completed last December; only a bare-bones list of “findings” with virtually no details was made public. But nearly six months later, a “working group” of Bush administration intelligence officials assigned to review the document has taken a hard line against further public disclosure. By refusing to declassify many of its most significant conclusions, the administration has essentially thwarted congressional plans to release the report by the end of this month, congressional and administration sources tell NEWSWEEK. In some cases, these sources say, the administration has even sought to “reclassify” some material that was already discussed in public testimony—a move one Senate staffer described as “ludicrous.” The administration’s stand has infuriated the two members of Congress who oversaw the report—Democratic Sen. Bob Graham and Republican Rep. Porter Goss. The two are now preparing a letter of complaint to Vice President Dick Cheney.
The tensions over the release of 9-11 related material seems especially relevant—if not ironic—in light of recent reports that the president’s political advisers have devised an unusual re-election strategy that essentially uses the story of September 11 as the liftoff for his campaign. The White House is delaying the Republican nominating convention, scheduled for New York City, until the first week in September 2004—the latest in the party’s history. That would allow Bush’s acceptance speech, now slated for Sept. 2, to meld seamlessly into 9-11 commemoration events due to take place in the city the next week.
Insiders who have seen the report are suggesting that it could be politically embarrassing for the President especially if it’s released before the next election seeing as Bush plans to milk 9-11 for all he can in hopes of winning legitimately for a change. Others suggest this is just another example of an administration that would rather keep as much information top secret as it can. Either reality is a troubling one.