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Secrets of 9/11

Aired November 17, 2003 - 08:35   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the work of the independent commission studying the events surrounding 9/11. In an unprecedented move, the White House last week said it would give the commission access to some of its most sensitive, secret documents. But some of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 say that is not nearly enough. Among them is Christian Breitweiser. Her husband, Ron Breitweiser, was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. And Kristen is a member of the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission. She joins us this morning.
It's nice to see you as always, Kristen. Thanks for coming in.

The commission struck this deal with the White House, including among the things that they got was access to the PDB, which is the president's daily briefing. Experts say that this is huge. This is, some will say, the most intimate kind of communication that the president can have with his briefing staff. It is unheard of. And you say, still not good enough, doesn't go far enough. Why?

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, HUSBAND KILLED ON 9/11: You know, I think undoubtedly the president's daily briefing has not been released. But this is not a congressional body. This is a quasi-legislative executive branch entity. And I think never before in history were over 3,000 Americans murdered on the homeland. I think that this situation calls for the release of this information. This commission needs full, unfettered access. All 10 commissioners need to see the PDB. And the reason for that is because we had a national security adviser come out days after the attacks and say we had no idea they could use planes as missiles. We have a historical record that is replete with incidences of al Qaeda and terrorists possibly using planes as missiles. We need to find out how our national security adviser didn't know that. We need to find out exactly where that intelligence information, the flow of that information, had a breakdown so that it didn't reach the national security adviser.

O'BRIEN: Is it the White House not going forward with giving the information, or do you say the commission, the 9/11 commission itself, is not pushing hard enough to get access to this information?

BREITWEISER: Frankly, I think that it's a tenuous situation. But I think none of this had to be a debate. None of this had to be negotiated, if the White House on day one handed over these documents.

This commission's mandate is to take off where the joint inquiry left off. The joint inquiry stated in its recommendations that an issue arose. What had happened was, they were investigating the intelligence failures. They found out in testimony from a witness, something that contradicted what Condoleezza Rice said. They tried to look into that and they were blocked. The joint inquiry thereafter said something needs to be done about this, this issue needs to be reconciled. This commission's mandate is to take off where they left off. It is totally within their mandate to find out why one person said something, and Condoleezza Rice said something else. We need to reconcile that.

O'BRIEN: The White House might say regardless of what the mandate is, we have to be careful of the national security of our nation, and therefore we can't go ahead and give you access to all this, only to protect the country.

BREITWEISER: Undoubtedly. But you know what, it is our position that this is about national security. We need to find out why that information did not get into Condoleezza Rice's hands. The only way you do that is accessing the final document, the PDB, and backtracking, and finding out where along the way it got dropped out. We need to find out why it was, you know, toned down, or dropped down, and didn't make it into her hands. This is about the safety of the nation. That's what national security is. We all want the same goal, we all need to work toward that goal.

O'BRIEN: The commission could have sued, could have subpoenaed the records, but it would have been, most people will say, tied up in court for years. Do you have any feelings that, well at least we got something now?

BREITWEISER: Look, I don't have any feeling, because unfortunately, ironically enough, this is a historical agreement about access, and yet the American public cannot access the agreement. I mean, it's very ironic. So it's our position that they should release this agreement. Let it become part of the public debate, let the public see the deal that has been struck.

And my understanding of it is that it has many restrictions. There are many hurdles that need to be jumped over. This is not access. This is access with a footnote, which, to me, is upsetting. We wanted a definitive report, and now we have a report with a footnote.

O'BRIEN: And you'll never really know because there's no exact sense of what was agreed to in the first place.

Kristen Breitweiser, as always, nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. Appreciate it.


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