The presidential commission investigating the prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction has scheduled its first two-day hearing for later this month, to be held behind closed doors, a spokesman said Friday.
The hearings will be held May 26 and 27. The main focus will be on the October 2000 National Intelligence estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities. "That's topic one," said commission spokesman Larry McQuillan.
"There will be experts appearing before the commission," he said. "And at this point, I'm being asked not to name any."
McQuillan said witnesses will include members of the National Intelligence Council and the Iraq Survey Group, the team headed by David Kay that was unable to locate weapons of mass destruction after the war.
"They're kind of contributing to this overall picture that the commission members want," McQuillan said.
In contrast to recent public hearings by Senate committees and the 9/11 commission, these will held in a relatively small room, in an undisclosed location, and without a lot of spectators, McQuillan said. "I suspect everyone's going to be around a table."
The witnesses will all appear voluntarily; the co-chairmen of the commission decided several weeks ago that the commission did not require subpoena power.
The commission, which is co-chaired by federal appeals court judge Laurence H. Silberman and former U.S. senator and Virginia governor Charles S. Robb, was formed by an executive order from President Bush in February.
Since then, one large order of business has been moving into new office space in a government building in Arlington. "To say it's a super secret, super secure area is an understatement," McQuillan said.
The commission is also still hiring its staff, which is expected to top out at around 65 people. Executive director John S. (Scott) Redd recently returned from Iraq, where he was the deputy administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, under L. Paul Bremer.
McQuillan said that commissioners have been busy since they met for their first administrative meeting on March 31. "They've been conducting visits to all the different agencies to talk about the kinds of access that they want and the information that's needed," he said.
Individually or in small groups, commissioners have also met with various foreign intelligence operations, McQuillan said.
"Quite a few of them met with people from Australia," he said.
"The actual mission of the commission is to determine how good is U.S. intelligence in assessing the capabilities of weapons of mass destruction, either by terrorists or by another country. Part of the reason to reach out to foreign intelligence is that one measure of how good ours is is to see what other people think is going on," he said.
Some commissioners also met with members of their British counterparts, the Butler Review Group, McQuillan said.