Leaders of 9/11 Panel Ask Cheney for Reports
By Philip Shenon and Richard W. Stevenson
"Probably," Mr. Cheney replied.
Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton said that, in particular, they wanted any information available to back Mr. Cheney's suggestion that one of the hijackers might have met in Prague in April 2001 with an Iraqi intelligence agent, a meeting that the panel's staff believes did not take place. Mr. Cheney said in an interview with CNBC on Thursday that the administration had never been able to prove the meeting took place but was not able to disprove it either.
"We just don't know," Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton made the requests in separate interviews with The New York Times as the White House continued to question the findings of a staff report the commission released on Wednesday and to take exception to the way the report was characterized in news accounts. The report found that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terrorist network.
That finding appeared to undermine one of the main justifications cited by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney for invading Iraq and toppling Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Cheney has also continued to cite a disputed report that Mohamed Atta, a ringleader of the hijacking plot, met in April, 2001, in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, raising the possibility of a direct tie between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, a tie that the commission's staff report found no evidence to support.
Mr. Cheney also said in the television interview that after Osama bin Laden had requested "terror training from Iraq, the Iraqi intelligence service responded; it deployed a bomb-making expert, a brigadier general." The commission's report concluded that Mr. bin Laden's requests went unanswered.
"It sounds like the White House has evidence that we didn't have," Mr. Hamilton said in an phone interview. "I would like to see the evidence that Mr. Cheney is talking about."
Mr. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said in a phone interview that he was surprised by Mr. Cheney's comments and would be "very disappointed" if the White House had not shared intelligence information about Al Qaeda with the commission, especially about the purported meeting in Prague.
Mr. Cheney's spokesman, Kevin Kellems, declined to comment on the request by Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton. Trent D. Duffy, a spokesman for the White House, said, "This White House and this administration have cooperated fully with the commission and have provided unprecedented access to some of the most classified information, including the Presidential Daily Brief. The president wants the commission to have the information it needs to do its job."
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin of Russia said Friday that his country gave intelligence reports to the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks suggesting that Saddam Hussein's government was preparing terrorist attacks in the United States or against American targets overseas. It is not clear whether Mr. Cheney was referring to those reports in citing intelligence that the commission was not aware of.
Mr. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana and former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the commission has found evidence of repeated contacts between Iraqi officials and the Qaeda terrorists and may describe those contacts in greater detail in its final report next month. But he said the panel had been unable to document any "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terror network — against the United States or any other target.