Why Did 9/11 Panel Omit “Secret” Meeting?

What did the 9/11 Commission know, and when did they know it? And why didn’t they tell the rest of us?

The esteemed panel has come under fire before, for both its general conclusions and specific findings. But now it appears they’re in for a whole new round of criticism, that could shake the wide public confidence their work once enjoyed.

At issue is a key meeting on July 10, 2001, between then-national security adviser Condolleezza Rice, then-director of central intelligence George Tenet, and Tenet deputy Cofer Black. (Rice is now secretary of state; Tenet is retired; and Black is an executive with private security contractor Blackwater.) The meeting, in which Tenet warned Rice of the al Qaeda threat, does not appear in the commission’s final report, although it had already been publicly reported two years earlier — and the panel had been briefed on its details by Tenet himself.

The meeting was first reported by Time magazine in August 2002, in its mammoth report, “Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?”The meeting was an opportunity for Tenet and Black to brief Rice on the al Qaeda threat, Time said, something Tenet was reportedly very concerned about. The magazine said the DCI’s message was that he ” couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.”

According to stories which appeared online last night, in January 2004 Tenet re-created the briefing for 9/11 panelist Richard Ben-Veniste, executive director Phil Zelikow, and professional staff for the panel. (Zelikow, who worked with Rice before joining the commission staff, is now a top aide to Rice.)

The meeting was reported again last week, this time by Bob Woodward in his new book, “State of Denial.” In it, he characterized Tenet’s message at the sit-down as: “First, al Qaeda is going to attack American interests, possibly within the United States itself. . . Second, this was a major foreign policy problem that needed to be addressed immediately.”

On the premise that Woodward’s book was the first time the meeting had been mentioned to him, 9/11 panelist Ben-Veniste told the New York Times that the meeting “was never mentioned to us.”

“This is certainly something we would have wanted to know about,” he told the paper.

When reporters confirmed Tenet’s January 2004 briefing with the 9/11 commission yesterday, the Democratic panelist changed his tune. “Ben-Veniste confirmed. . . that Tenet outlined for the 9/11 commission the July 10 briefing to Rice in secret testimony in January 2004,” McClatchy newspapers reported. But he wouldn’t comment further, referring all questions about the content of the report to Philip Zelikow. Zelikow has yet to comment.

It’s clear that the commission knew. Even if they didn’t read Time magazine, even if they didn’t search for news clips before digging in, they received a detailed briefing — staffers as well as Ben-Veniste. To date, no one has explained why the meeting wasn’t mentioned in the final report. Why not?