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9/11 panel says government being more helpful

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - A federal commission probing government failures surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks offered a generally upbeat progress report yesterday, with senior officials saying the panel is getting much better cooperation from the Bush administration.

But at least two members of the commission disagreed with the optimistic assessment, saying the investigation is still hampered by heel-dragging by the White House and federal agencies - with eight months to go before a final report is due.

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The conflicting views reflect rising tensions among members of a panel charged with producing a definitive account of the intelligence, immigration and aviation security breakdowns that culminated in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Republican former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, the panel's chairman, said the commission has been granted access to hundreds of thousands of documents since July. That is when the panel issued a harsh critique of some federal agencies, including the CIA and the Pentagon, for moving too slowly to produce Sept. 11 records or make witnesses available.

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"Almost every agency has been more responsive," Kean said, adding that the commission's public scolding was followed by a "flood of documents." He said the panel is still negotiating for access to some materials but is on course to finish its report by its May 27 deadline.

Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana who is vice chairman of the commission, concurred, saying the investigators have received "massive amounts" of information and the materials still being sought amount to a "handful of documents."

The status report offered little insight into whether the panel has unearthed evidence that might alter the public's understanding of the attacks. Nor did it signal how commissioners feel about a number of sensitive policy questions they are expected to address, including whether and how the intelligence community should be reorganized.

Two Democratic members of the bipartisan commission, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, said they were so disappointed by the report that they voted against approving the document in a poll of members yesterday morning.

Roemer said the report views administration cooperation "through rose-colored glasses" and fails to hold a number of agencies accountable for missing deadlines for turning over materials. He declined to name specific agencies.

Cleland had similar complaints, saying the commission should have been in position to release more meaningful information on what its investigation has turned up to date, rather than reciting statistics on documents collected and interviews conducted.

Cleland said that despite the document count, the commission is stuck in negotiations over key materials, including intelligence briefs that President Bush received in the months leading up to the attacks.

"I think the White House wants to delay and deny access to information as long as they possibly can," said Cleland, who has been critical of the administration's counterterrorism policies and the war in Iraq. "They'd like to run out the clock."

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Answering questions from reporters yesterday, Kean and Hamilton acknowledged certain snags in the investigation, but generally downplayed their significance. The two had raised pointed complaints in July that some agencies, including the CIA, were allowing their employees to be interviewed by the commission only in the presence of agency "minders."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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