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Sept. 11 commission to close today, reopen soon as independent group


WASHINGTON - The independent federal commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks is scheduled to shut its doors today, ending a 20-month investigation that rewrote the history of the attacks and that has pushed President Bush and Congress this summer to weigh an overhaul of the nation's intelligence agencies.

On the commission's last full day of operations yesterday, commission officials said the panel's 10 members would soon open a small, privately financed office in Washington that would continue to lobby on behalf of the commission's recommendations. Commission members have testified almost daily this month before congressional committees, which have held unusual midsummer hearings on legislation to respond to the commission's final report.

"Through the commission's public hearings, staff statements and final report, we believe we have fulfilled our mandate," the commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, and vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, said in a statement issued yesterday.

"Success will be measured by the implementation of our recommendations," they said.

"While the commission will cease to exist as a government entity, we and the other eight former commissioners will continue to work as an independent, bipartisan group to educate the country about our report and monitor its implementation."

The final report, released late last month, cataloged intelligence and law-enforcement failures in the months and years before the Sept. 11 attacks and called for a restructuring of the government's method of gathering and sharing intelligence, with a national intelligence director appointed to oversee the nation's 15 spy agencies.

Bush and congressional leaders have embraced some of the central recommendations of the bipartisan panel, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

But debate continues over whether to create the post of national intelligence director and whether to provide the job with the full budgetary and personnel authority that the commission recommended. Bush has suggested that he wants a national intelligence director with some, but not full, authority over budgets and the hiring and firing of the intelligence agency managers.

Members of the commission have credited much of the success of the panel, which is likely to be remembered for having conducted one of the most productive investigations in the annals of federal blue-ribbon commissions, to the bipartisan spirit of Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Hamilton, the veteran House Democrat and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

In their statement yesterday, the men referred to the need for bipartisanship in dealing with terrorists: "We believe terrorism is the national security challenge of our generation, and now is the time to act, not as Republicans or Democrats, but together, united as Americans."

Since the final release of the report, both men have been mentioned as potential candidates for the job of national intelligence director, and that speculation is likely to grow with Kean's announcement this week that he would step down in spring as president of Drew University in Madison, N.J., after 15 years at the university.

A spokesman for the Sept. 11 commission, Al Felzenberg, said that Kean had ruled out an immediate return to politics in New Jersey; he had been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for governor if a special election is held in the aftermath of Gov. James E. McGreevey's resignation last week.

But Felzenberg said that Kean, whose resignation statement noted that he would turn 70 next year, "will find lots of great opportunities."

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