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Sept. 11 panel nears completion of report, seeks unanimity

WASHINGTON -- Working in secret, the Sept. 11 commission is finishing a final report that several members believe will be done by week's end and will have unanimous support.

The endorsement of all 10 commission members is important if the findings and recommendations for improvements, most notably in gathering intelligence, are to avoid charges of partisanship in a presidential election year.

"They are all taking their broader responsibility seriously," said Norm Ornstein, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. "They know this is not about scoring political points in the heart of a campaign but about making sure the attacks don't happen again."

The New York Times reported today that the commission will probably be unanimous in largely dismissing White House theories about a close working relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda and about possible Iraqi involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks, the paper said, citing commission officials.

The Times said the report will document management failures at senior levels of the Bush administration that kept the government from acting aggressively on intelligence warnings in the spring and summer of 2001 of an imminent, catastrophic terrorist attack, the officials said.

The commission met several times last week in private sessions, online, and by telephone. "High-level concepts" have been agreed upon, commission members said. Nuances of language, tone, and detail are being debated.

Several commission members previously said the report will highlight significant intelligence failures but refrain from assigning blame to individuals in the Bush and Clinton administrations to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

A report without dissenters would be an accomplishment given the charges of partisanship that surfaced during public hearings featuring such officials as national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, and former counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke.

As recently as last month, former senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington, and several other members on the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats said unanimity might not be possible. The meetings since then have changed Gorton's mind.

"We've had a good personal relationship in our internal deliberations, with no traces of partisanship," Gorton said.

Democratic commission member Jamie S. Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, said, "We have a lot of consensus."

Congress established the commission in 2002 to investigate government mistakes before the attacks and recommend ways to better protect the country against terrorists. Commission members and their staff have interviewed more than 1,000 people, including President Bush, and reviewed more than 2 million documents.

The final report is due July 26. The commission hopes to have the report, which is more than 500 pages, finished this week and wants to release the document July 22 to avoid competing with the Democratic National Convention, which begins July 26 in Boston.

The public release will be dictated by the White House, which is reviewing the report to ensure no classified information is disclosed. But that is not seen as a major stumbling block. Once the report is cleared for release, it will be available to the public via the Internet and at bookstores.

The commission is expected to address modernizing FBI data systems to improve tracking and sharing of terror watch-lists; improving coordination for local authorities, the military, and Federal Aviation Administration in the event of an attack; and strengthening airport passenger screening.

The commission plans final back-and-forth revisions with the White House this week, aiming to submit the complete, declassified report to private publisher W.W. Norton & Co. by Friday.

Norton has promised the panel a quick turnaround so that the $10 paperbacks can be ready for sale July 22.

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