The announcement came during a White House ceremony Wednesday for the signing of the Intelligence Authorization Act, which establishes the commission and provides additional funding for the government’s counterterrorism and intelligence activities.
“Dr. Kissinger will bring broad experience, clear thinking and careful judgment to this important task,” the president said.
Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and Secretary of State in the Nixon administration and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 for his efforts to negotiate a cease-fire during the Vietnam War. Since leaving government he has headed a global consulting and lobbying firm.
“It means a great deal to me as someone who grew up in New York,” Kissinger said of the appointment.
Kissinger pledged that the commission would operate in a non-partisan fashion and follow the facts wherever they may lead.
“We will get at all the facts, the president has promised that all the facts will be made available,” Kissinger said.
Earlier in the day Kissinger placed calls to congressional leaders of both parties to ask for cooperation.
Later, Democratic leaders announced that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell — known for his efforts to broker peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland — will serve as the commission’s vice chairman.
Members of Congress first proposed the commission to a wary Bush administration. The president lent his support to the idea after requests from victims’ families and assurances from members of Congress that the commission would not be used for political purposes.
The body’s 10 members will be evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees and at least six members must approve all subpoenas, the Associated Press reported.
In his announcement, the president reviewed the commission’s broad mandate to investigate not only the government’s lapses, but to also report on the strength and capability of the nation’s enemies.
“Dr. Kissinger and I share the same commitments. His investigation should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead. We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th,” the president said.
Democrats said that under the commission’s mandate, executive branch officials, including the president, could be called on to testify.
“I would be surprised if this commission, in pursuit of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth … did not want to speak with this president, and high officials in this administration,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut told reporters.
A White House spokesman said Bush did not expect to give testimony. Kissinger, meanwhile, said he did not yet want to make a judgment about the possibility of Mr. Bush appearing before the panel.
Under the statute the commission’s investigation is to last 18 months and will focus on issues such as the aviation system, border security and intelligence weaknesses.
Mr. Bush said, however, that he would encourage the commission to unveil important findings when they become available so the government can move to further protect the nation’s vulnerabilities.
Many of the other aspects of the Intelligence Authorization Act are secret. Lawmakers have said it will provide the largest ever boost in funding for the United States’ counterterrorism capabilities.