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Context of 'January 27, 2003: 9/11 Commission Decides It Will Not Issue Subpoenas'

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Hamilton and Cheney hold a press conference together about the Iran-Contra Affair investigation on June 19, 1987.Hamilton and Cheney hold a press conference together about the Iran-Contra Affair investigation on June 19, 1987. [Source: J. Scott Applewhite]Future 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), at this time chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, fails to properly investigate Iran-Contra allegations. He learns of press reports indicating that the Reagan administration is illegally funneling weapons and money to the anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua, but when the White House denies the story, Hamilton believes it. Hamilton will later acknowledge that he has been gullible, and will say of his political style, “I don’t go for the jugular.” It is during the Iran-Contra investigation that Hamilton becomes friends with Dick Cheney, at this time a Republican congressman. (Shenon 2008, pp. 33) Cheney is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and so must work closely with Hamilton, including on the Iran-Contra investigation. (PBS 6/20/2006) Hamilton calls Cheney “Dick” and they will remain friends even after Cheney becomes vice president in 2001 and Hamilton, as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, begins to investigate Cheney’s actions as a part of the Commission’s work. (Shenon 2008, pp. 33) Hamilton will also fail to properly investigate “October Surprise” allegations (see 1992-January 1993).

In 1992, a House of Representatives task force chaired by Lee Hamilton (D-NH) conducts a ten-month investigation into the “October Surprise”—an alleged Republican plot to delay the release of US hostages held in Iran in 1980 until after that year’s US presidential election. The investigation concludes in 1993 that there is “no credible evidence” of any such plot. But Robert Parry, a journalist writing for the Associated Press and Newsweek, gains access to the stored records of Hamilton’s task force. He finds clear evidence of a major cover up. For instance, William Casey, CIA Director in the early 1980s, was alleged to have been involved in the plot, and Hamilton’s investigators discovered a CIA created index of Casey’s papers made after Casey’s death in 1987. When investigators searched Casey’s possessions, they found all the papers mentioned in the index, except for all the ones relevant to the alleged October Surprise plot. But the disappearance of such evidence was not mentioned in Hamilton’s findings. (Scott 2007, pp. 101) In addition, an official Russian intelligence report placing Casey in Europe in order to arrange a politically favorable outcome to the hostage crisis arrived in Washington shortly before Hamilton’s task force issued their conclusions, but this Russian information was not mentioned by the task force. (Scott 2007, pp. 106-107) Hamilton will later be appointed co-chair of the 9/11 Commission (see December 11, 2002).

’Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft,’ by Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice.’Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft,’ by Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Harvard University Press]Future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow, who, as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will investigate her performance in the run-up to 9/11, co-author a book about the implications of German reunification. The two had worked together on the National Security Council in the 1980s and early 90s, but are both now working at universities. Zelikow is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rice is the provost at Stanford. The book, entitled Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, is mostly written by Zelikow, who is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “pleased to share credit with such an obvious up-and-comer as Rice.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 40-41)

Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow.Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow. [Source: Public domain]National Security Adviser Rice decides this day to retain Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, and his staff. However, she downgrades his official position as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. While he is still known as the counterterrorism “tsar,” he has less power and now reports to deputy secretaries instead of attending Cabinet-level meetings. He no longer is able to send memos directly to the president, or easily interact with Cabinet-level officials. (Clarke 2004, pp. 227-30; Blumenthal 3/25/2004) Clarke will not be able to meet with President Bush even a single time before 9/11 to discuss al-Qaeda (see January 25, 2001-September 10, 2001). In 2004, Rice will reveal that the person she tasks with considering changes to Clarke and his staff is Philip Zelikow, the future Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow recuses himself from those parts of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation directly relating to his role in this and other matters. However, 9/11 victims’ relatives are not satisfied. For instance, one relative says, “Zelikow has conflicts. I’m not sure that his recusal is sufficient. His fingerprints are all over that decision [to demote Clarke].” (Waterman 4/9/2004)

Technical Sergeant James Tollack, an officer from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, is tasked with transcribing tape recordings from September 11 of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. (9/11 Commission 3/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/29/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 274) On September 11, NEADS was responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. In a corner of its operations floor, four Dictaphone multi-channel tape recorders were recording every radio channel. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Shenon 2008, pp. 203-204) Tollack will later say that NEADS Technical Sergeant Jeremy Powell maybe tells him that personnel at NEADS have already listened to the tapes prior to his arrival there.
Digital Recording Expert Spends Two Weeks Working on Transcripts - Tollack is the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base and also has experience of doing transcription work. He arrives at NEADS on September 20 and stays there for 11 to 14 days, leaving on either October 1 or October 4. His first day at NEADS is spent on orientation, and so September 21 is his first full day of transcribing. Tollack will later recall that Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, probably advises him to only transcribe the tapes from September 11 up to around 10:15 a.m., which is about 10 minutes after the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania. For his first few days at NEADS, Tollack spends 14 to 16 hours per day working on the task. He works at a desk on the operations floor, drafting notes by hand and then typing them out with the assistance of two secretaries.
Transcripts Needed for Investigations - Tollack works directly for Marr, and also reports to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the assistant director of the Sector Operations Control Center. Marr tells Tollack that the transcripts of the tapes are required for investigation purposes. General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, tells Tollack the information is needed for a Congressional report or hearing (see (Between September 23 and September 24, 2001)).
Tollack's Work Not Reviewed - While Tollack is at NEADS, no one there reviews his work as he goes through the tapes. (9/11 Commission 3/22/2004) On September 21, one of the tapes is damaged during the transcription process, causing information on it to be lost (see September 21, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/21/2001)
9/11 Commission Not Initially Made Aware of NEADS Tapes - During its investigation of the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission will only learn of the existence of the recordings of the NEADS operations floor in late October 2003 (see Late October 2003), and it subsequently subpoenas NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). Despite the efforts of Tollack, according to journalist and author Philip Shenon, by the time the Commission receives the tapes, around December 2003, NORAD has still “not prepared transcripts itself” of the tapes’ contents. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 86-88; Shenon 2008, pp. 203-208)

Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton is considered by his party for the position of vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but does not get the appointment, which goes to former Senator George Mitchell (see November 27, 2002). Hamilton, who is nonetheless appointed to the Commission as an ordinary member, is rejected as vice chairman by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats because he is seen as too soft on Republicans—he lacks “a taste for partisan fights,” and seems “always to assume the best about people, Republicans included.” He is also friends with two of the investigation’s targets, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who he calls “Dick” and “Don,” and Cheney’s White House counsel, David Addington. He got to know Cheney during the Iran-Contra investigation, when Cheney was the ranking Republican on the committee and Hamilton failed to distinguish himself (see Mid-1980s), as he did over the “October Surprise” affair (see 1992-January 1993). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “While [Hamilton] might disagree with Cheney and Rumsfeld on policy, Hamilton trusted both men always to tell the truth.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 32-33) However, Mitchell will subsequently resign and Hamilton will replace him as vice chairman (see December 11, 2002). In this role Hamilton will have good relations with the Bush White House (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004).


George Mitchell.
George Mitchell. [Source: Public domain]George Mitchell resigns as vice chairman of the recently-created 9/11 investigative commission. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana congressman for more than 30 years and chairman of the committee which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, is named as his replacement. (Barrett and Karl 12/11/2002) Mitchell cites time constraints as his reason for stepping down, but he also does not want to sever ties with his lawyer-lobbying firm, Piper Rudnick, or reveal his list of clients. Recent clients include the governments of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/15/2002)

Henry Kissinger resigns as head of the new 9/11 Commission. (Fournier 12/13/2002; Fournier 12/13/2002) Two days earlier, the Bush administration argued that Kissinger was not required to disclose his private business clients. (Schmitt 12/12/2002) However, the Congressional Research Service insists that he does, and Kissinger resigns rather than reveal his clients. (MSNBC 12/13/2002; Eggen 12/14/2002)
Spilled Coffee - Kissinger had also been pressured to reveal his client list at a meeting with a group of victims’ relatives, in particular the “Jersey Girls.” One of the “Girls,” Lorie Van Auken, had even asked Kissinger whether he had “any clients named bin Laden?” Kissinger, who was pouring coffee at that moment, refused to answer, but spilled the coffee and fell off the sofa on which he was sitting. (Shenon 2008, pp. 12-3)
Business Ties - It is reported that Kissinger is (or has been) a consultant for Unocal, the oil corporation, and was involved in plans to build pipelines through Afghanistan (see September-October 1995). (Ottaway and Morgan 10/5/1998; Conason 12/3/2002) Kissinger claims he did no current work for any oil companies or Mideast clients, but several corporations with heavy investments in Saudi Arabia, such as ABB Group, a Swiss-Swedish engineering firm, and Boeing Corp., pay him consulting fees of at least $250,000 a year. A Boeing spokesman said its “long-standing” relationship with Kissinger involved advice on deals in East Asia, not Saudi Arabia. Boeing sold $7.2 billion worth of aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1995. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/15/2002)
Not Vetted - In a surprising break from usual procedures regarding high-profile presidential appointments, White House lawyers never vetted Kissinger for conflicts of interest. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/15/2002) The Washington Post says that after the resignations of Kissinger and Mitchell, the commission “has lost time” and “is in disarray, which is no small trick given that it has yet to meet.” (Washington Post 12/14/2002)

The first time 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat noted for his bipartisanship (see 1992-January 1993, Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004), meet after their appointment to the commission, Kean offers Hamilton extra powers in the investigation. In effect, Kean and Hamilton would be co-chairmen of the inquiry, rather than chairman and vice chairman. Author Philip Shenon will call this a “remarkable gesture,” as it gives Hamilton an equal say in the hiring and structure of the investigation. Kean also proposes that the two of them should be “joined at the hip,” and that they should always appear in public together, especially on television. Hamilton agrees, thinking this will go some way to make up for their lack of stature in Washington in comparison with the two men they replaced on the commission, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. (Shenon 2008, pp. 68)

The 9/11 Commission hires Philip Zelikow for the key position of executive director, the person actually in charge of the commission’s day-to-day affairs. Zelikow was recommended by Commissioner Slade Gorton, who had worked with Zelikow on an electoral reform commission after the disputed presidential election in 2000. Zelikow, the director of that commission, has powerful friends in Washington; even former president Jimmy Carter praises him. However, according to author Philip Shenon, the staff on the electoral reform commission think he is “arrogant and secretive,” and believe his success as commission director rested on “his ability to serve the needs—and stroke the egos” of the commissioners.
Plans for Commission - Zelikow impresses commission Chairman Tom Kean by saying that he wants the panel’s final report to be written for the general public, in a more readable style than most government documents. After about 20 candidates have been considered, Kean decides that Zelikow is the best choice for the position.
Conflict of Interests - Zelikow has a conflict of interests, as he co-authored a book with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995) and also served on a special White House intelligence advisory board. Both these facts are listed on his résumé. Zelikow will say that he also mentioned his work with Rice, whom he served on the Bush administration transition team (see January 2001), to Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton in telephone conversations with them. However, Kean will later say he “wasn’t sure” if he knew of Zelikow’s work on the transition team at the time he was hired, and Hamilton will say that he thought he knew Zelikow had worked on the transition, but did not know the details of what he did. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will be extremely surprised by Zelikow’s appointment, because of his personality and the conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance of them.
Omissions from Press Release - Zelikow’s hiring is announced in a press release issued on January 27. Shenon will later point out that the release, written based on information provided by Zelikow and reviewed by him before publication, is “notable for what it did not say.” It does not mention his work for the National Security Council in the 1980s, the book with Rice, his role on the White House transition team, or the fact he has just written a policy paper that is going to be used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). In fact, the Bush administration transition team had downgraded the position of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Zelikow had played a key role in this decision (see January 3, 2001). (Shenon 2008, pp. 58-62, 65-67)

At its first formal meeting, the 9/11 Commission decides it will not routinely issue subpoenas for the documents it wants from other agencies.
Different Opinions - There is some debate on the matter. Commissioner Jamie Gorelick argues that the Commission should issue subpoenas for all requests it makes to the administration for documents or other information, saying that a subpoena is simply evidence of the Commission’s determination to get what it needs. She also worries that if the Commission waits to issue subpoenas, the time limit on its activities will mean that a late subpoena could not be enforced. However, she is only supported by the other three ordinary Democratic commissioners, with the top Democrat on the Commission, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, siding with the Republicans.
Decision Already Taken - Author Philip Shenon will write: “But [Chairman Tom] Kean and Hamilton had already made up their mind on this issue, too. There would be no routine subpoenas, they decreed; subpoenas would be seen as too confrontational, perhaps choking off cooperation from the Bush administration from the very start of the investigation.” The four Democratic commissioners cannot issue a subpoena by themselves, as it requires the approval of either six of the 10 commissioners, or both Kean and Hamilton. This is not the only occasion on which Hamilton’s Republican leanings become apparent (see March 2003-July 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 70-71)
Staffer Critical - John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating events on the day of the attacks, will be critical of the decision and will urge Kean and Hamilton to change their minds. If subpoenas are issued at the start, the Commission will have time to enforce them in court and the agencies “would know that they couldn’t run out the clock,” whereas if subpoenas were issued later, after non-compliance with document requests, the agencies could use such tactics. (Shenon 2008, pp. 201)
Difficulties with Receiving Documents - As a result of this policy, the Commission will have trouble getting documents from the White House (see June 2003), Defense Department (see July 7, 2003), FAA (see November 6, 2003), and CIA (see October 2003), leading to delays in its investigation.

Following the 9/11 Commission’s first formal meeting, Democratic commissioner Max Cleland is unhappy with the state of the inquiry. Specifically, he dislikes the facts that the Commission will not issue subpoenas for the documents it wants (see January 27, 2003) and will have a single non-partisan staff headed by executive director Philip Zelikow, who is close to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). In addition, he is disappointed by the resignations of Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and George Mitchell (see December 11, 2002). Although Kissinger is a Republican, Cleland had believed that “with Kissinger… we were going to get somewhere,” because: “This is Henry Kissinger. He’s the big dog.” Kissinger’s replacement Tom Kean has no experience in Washington and Cleland thinks he is “not going to be the world’s greatest tiger in asking a difficult question.” Cleland respects Mitchell’s replacement Lee Hamilton, but knows that he has a reputation for a non-confrontational style of politics, the reason he was initially passed over for the position of vice chairman of the Commission (see Before November 27, 2002). (Shenon 2008, pp. 71-72)

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. (Shenon 2008, pp. 73-76, 176)

Following the appointment of the Republican Philip Zelikow as the 9/11 Commission’s executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), Democrats on the commission demand that its general counsel be a Democrat. However, some of the Republican commissioners are unhappy about this, and inform the White House what is happening. Shortly after this, Commission Chairman Tom Kean hears from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and others at the White House that they are concerned the commission is attempting to find a partisan Democrat. Kean will later say, “They were very, very alarmed when they heard some of the names being considered.” Both Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, himself a Democrat, agree that the counsel should be a Democrat, but, according to author Philip Shenon, they do not want “a candidate who seemed eager to confront the Bush administration.”
Two Rejected Candidates - One name considered is that of James Hamilton (no relation to Lee Hamilton), who had been a lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee. However, he had worked on the 2000 Florida recount for Al Gore, so Kean rules him out. Another name considered is Carol Elder Bruce, but at her interview she says issuing subpoenas for documents the commission wants would be a good idea, although Kean and Hamilton have already decided against this (see January 27, 2003).
Daniel Marcus Hired - In the end, the position is given to Daniel Marcus, a lawyer who had served in the Clinton administration and specializes in constitutional and regulatory law. Marcus has no ties to Democratic political operations, so he is acceptable to the Republicans on the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 92-95)

The White House comes to prefer dealing with the 9/11 Commission’s vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, rather than its Republican chairman Tom Kean. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The White House found that its best support on the Commission came from an unexpected corner—from Lee Hamilton.… Hamilton, they could see, was as much a man of the Washington establishment as he was a Democratic partisan. Probably more so.” This is because Hamilton, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “underst[ands] the prerogatives of the White House—in particular, the concept of executive privilege—in a way that Kean d[oes] not or w[ill] not.” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will comment: “I came to really respect Lee Hamilton. I think he listened better to our concerns better than Tom Kean.” The White House even comes to view Kean as disloyal, effectively operating as one of the Commission’s Democrats, while Hamilton is a de facto Republican (see Early July 2004). Kean will later say, “I think the White House believed Lee was more reliable than I was.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 177) Hamilton previously helped Republicans cover up political scandals (see Mid-1980s and 1992-January 1993). He is friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and trusts them to tell the truth (see Before November 27, 2002).

After his opening comments on the first day of the 9/11 Commission’s first hearing, Chairman Tom Kean says, “We will be following paths, and we will follow those individual paths wherever they lead,” adding: “We may end up holding individual agencies, people, and procedures to account. But our fundamental purpose will not be to point fingers.” According to author Philip Shenon, there is “a rumble in the audience, even a few groans,” as the victims’ family members realize “what the Commission would not do: It did not intend to make a priority of blaming government officials for 9/11.” Shenon will add: “A few of the family advocates cocked their ears, wondering if they had heard Kean correctly. They had pushed so hard to create the Commission because they wanted fingers pointed at the government. And Kean knew it; the families had told him that over and over again in their early meetings. For many families, this investigation was supposed to be all about finger pointing. They wanted strict accountability, especially at the White House, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, and other agencies that had missed the clues that might have prevented 9/11. The families wanted subpoenas—and indictments and jail sentences, if that was where the facts led.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 99)
Lack of Publicity - This hearing and the next two do not receive much publicity and Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will later call them “background policy hearings in front of a C-SPAN audience.” They will later say that at this point the Commission “was not ready to present findings and answers,” since the various staff teams are nowhere near completing their tasks. For example, the team investigating the air defense failure on the day of 9/11 will not even issue a subpoena for the documents it needs until autumn (see Late October 2003 and November 6, 2003). (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 127-8)
Close to a Disaster - Referring to various problems with the first hearing, including confusion over logistics, low turnout by the public, and the discontent from the victims’ families, Shenon will say that this first public hearing “came close to being a disaster.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 97)

In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126) Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. (Marcus 4/11/2007)
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126)

The 9/11 Commission releases a status report showing that various government agencies are not cooperating fully with its investigation. Neither the CIA nor the Justice Department have provided all requested documents. Lack of cooperation on the part of the Department of Defense “[is] becoming particularly serious,” and the Commission has received no responses whatsoever to requests related to national air defenses. The FBI, State Department, and Transportation Department receive generally positive reviews. (Arnold 7/9/2003) Commissioner Tim Roemer complains: “We’re not getting the kind of cooperation that we should be. We need a steady stream of information coming to us.… Instead, We’re getting a trickle.” (Borger 7/10/2003) The Commission is eventually forced to subpoena documents from the Defense Department and FAA (see November 6, 2003). Commission Chairman Tom Kean also highlights the presence of government “minders” at Commission interviews. The minders accompany witnesses the Commission is interviewing and come from the witnesses’ parent agencies. Kean says: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would.” He adds, “We would rather interview these people without minders or without agency people there.” (Shenon 7/8/2003; Arnold 7/9/2003) However, Kean will later play down the effect minders are having on witnesses (see September 23, 2003), the full scope of which will be revealed in an internal Commission memo (see October 2, 2003).

The 9/11 Commission files a request to see some Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items it believes it may need for its investigation.
Filed with CIA - The Commission had conducted preliminary discussions about the PDBs with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, but they have not borne fruit (see Late January 2003 and June 2003) and the Commission understands it may have to fight to get the documents. Therefore, it submits the request to the CIA, which writes and keeps the PDBs, as the Commission’s lawyers think it will be easier to enforce a subpoena against the CIA than the White House.
Credibility - Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are aware the Commission must get the PDBs, or at least be seen to try hard, to maintain its credibility. This is particularly because, according to author Philip Shenon, “the PDBs were becoming the ‘holy grail’ for the 9/11 families and for the press corps.” Hamilton will say if the Commission’s investigation ended without it seeing them, “that would be the only thing the press would be interested in.” Shenon will add, “It seemed as if no other evidence unearthed by the Commission mattered; if the Commission did not see the PDBs, it would be seen in history as having failed.”
Scope of Request - The request is not for the full library of PDBs from the Clinton and Bush administrations. The Commission requests items from 1998 on that mention al-Qaeda, domestic terrorist threats, terrorist plots involving airlines used as weapons, and intelligence involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Germany.
White House Says No - Although the request was addressed to the CIA, Gonzales replies for the White House in September, saying the Commission cannot see the PDBs, or even brief extracts. (Shenon 2008, pp. 214-215)

Investigators for the 9/11 Commission discover that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has withheld a large amount of documents from it about the day of the attacks and falsely claimed it had provided everything the Commission asked for (see August 2003). The discovery is made on a day when the Commission’s investigators begin interviewing air traffic controllers at centers on the East Coast and in the Midwest. John Farmer, the staffer who leads the Commission’s team dealing with this aspect of its work, is only a few minutes into interviews at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center when he realizes, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “just how much evidence the FAA had held back.” His interviewees tell him that there is “extensive information the Commission has not seen, including tape recordings of conversations between the individual air traffic controllers and the hijacked planes.” He also discovers that what the FAA has provided is merely the “accident package,” rather than the much larger “accident file.” Farmer is “furious” and contacts the Commission’s lawyer in Washington. Asked to explain the situation, the FAA rapidly admits there is other material and, within days, several boxes of new material, including the air traffic control tapes, arrive at the Commission’s offices. (Shenon 2008, pp. 201-202) However, the Commission has lost confidence in the FAA and will issue it with a subpoena next month (see October 14, 2003).

Asked about the intimidation of 9/11 Commission witnesses by government “minders,” the Commission’s chairman, Tom Kean, downplays the effect minders are having. Although he had previously complained about intimidation (see July 7, 2003), now he says: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers.… I’m glad to hear that it’s—from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.” The Commission’s Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton comments, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He adds that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds.” (9/11 Commission 9/23/2003 pdf file) Kean’s comments about the staff’s feelings are untrue. Nine days later, one of the Commission’s team leaders and two other staffers will send an internal memo entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” (see October 2, 2003).

After becoming unhappy with the quality of information it is receiving from the CIA about detainee interrogations (see Summer 2003), the 9/11 Commission not only gives the CIA more questions for detainees, but also asks it how the interrogations are carried out. The Commission thinks the second set of questions is the most important, but the CIA only responds to them in a vague manner. They concern the translation process in the interrogations, the interrogators’ background, the way the interrogators handle inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the particular questions that were asked to elicit reported information, the way interrogators followed up on certain lines of questioning, the context of the interrogations so the Commission can assess the credibility and demeanor of the detainees when they made the reported statements, and the interrogators’ views or assessments. According to a later account by Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, CIA general counsel Scott Muller writes back with “non-specific replies.” Muller also fails to inform the Commission that the CIA has videotapes of some of the interrogations (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Because the Commission is “not satisfied” with Muller’s response, it pushes for direct access to detainees, but this attempt fails (see November 5, 2003-January 2004 and After January 2004). (Kean and Hamilton 1/2/2008)

A memo is distributed inside the 9/11 Commission discussing the problem of government minders attending 9/11 Commission interviews. The memo, entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses,” is written by three staffers on the Commission’s Team 2, which reviewed the overall structure of the US intelligence community. The authors are Kevin Scheid, a senior staffer who led the team; Lorry Fenner, an Air Force intelligence officer; and lawyer Gordon Lederman. The complaint is sent to the Commission’s counsels, Daniel Marcus and Steven Dunne, about halfway through the Commission’s 19-month life. (9/11 Commission 2003; 9/11 Commission 10/2/2003; Shenon 2008, pp. 87-88, 156)
Minder Interference - Typically, if a witness to be interviewed is from a government agency, such as the FBI, then one or more FBI “minders” also attend the interview. But the Team 2 memo makes clear that these minders are not simply passive observers. The memo complains: “When we have asked witnesses about certain roles and responsibilities within the intelligence community, minders have preempted witnesses’ responses by referencing formal policies and procedures. As a result, witnesses have not responded to our questions and have deprived us from understanding the intelligence community’s actual functioning and witnesses’ view of their roles and responsibilities.”
Minder Intimidation - Furthermore: “[M]inders have positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses to our questions. Minders generally have sat next to witnesses at the table and across from Commission staff, conveying to witnesses that minders are participants in interviews and are of equal status to witnesses.” Sometimes, minders simply “answer questions directed at witnesses.” The memo also registers concern that minders take “verbatim notes of witnesses’ statements,” and this “conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review their statements and may engage in retribution.” Furthermore, the verbatim note-taking “facilitates agencies in alerting future witnesses to the Commission’s lines of inquiry and permits agencies to prepare future witnesses either explicitly or implicitly.” The memo states that “the net effect of minders’ conduct, whether intentionally or not, is to intimidate witnesses and to interfere with witnesses providing full and candid responses.”
Not Just Team 2 - The memo makes clear that the problems are not occurring only with witnesses talking to Team 2, but also in “other teams’ interviews.” A hand-written note on a draft of the memo says, “not one agency or minder—also where we’ve sat in on other teams’ interviews.” (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003)
Trip to Canada Provides Example - Minders are mentioned in passing in many other 9/11 Commission documents. One memo entitled “Canada Trip Lessons Learned” provides more details about how minders behave. The memo is undated, but appears to have been written by staffer Gordon Lederman in the autumn of 2003. The memo complains that one minder “acted as a participant,” “responded to inquiries,” and “consulted with” the witnesses during several interviews. This minder took verbatim notes while sitting next to witnesses, and in one interview, “sighed heavily repeatedly.” The memo further notes that the minder “had an opportunity to coach/poison the well with” the witness “at dinner the night before and with others before they arrived.” It is unclear which agency this minder is from, although she is an intelligence community attorney. The memo also complains about another minder: “He sat next to the subjects in at least two [interviews]. He responded to questions and even asked a question.” Furthermore, “He sought to describe Canadian system/organization while there were three Canadians there to talk to us.” He even invited another minder to attend a later interview; the memo notes that it should have been the 9/11 Commission staff inviting the minders. (9/11 Commission 2003)
Proposed Action - The memo does not propose that minders should be banned from interviews, but instead suggests a set of rules governing minder conduct. For example, minders should keep a “low profile,” sit out of witnesses’ sight, not take verbatim notes, and not answer any questions directed at the witnesses. The memo also proposes that there should be only one minder per witness, which reveals that witnesses being outnumbered by minders is a common problem. (9/11 Commission 10/2/2003)
9/11 Commissioners Ignorant or Dishonest about Minders - It is not known if any of the proposals are implemented. However, no documentary evidence will emerge to suggest they are implemented. Furthermore, the heads of the Commission appear to be either oblivious or dishonest regarding the role of minders. In early July 2003, Commission chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, discussed minders in a press briefing, saying: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would” (see July 7, 2003). (Shenon 7/8/2003) But at a later press briefing on September 23, 2003, Kean no longer saw minders as intimidating. Instead, he said: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers.… I’m glad to hear that it’s—from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.” In the same press briefing, vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, commented, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He added that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but, “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds” (see September 23, 2003). These comments were made just nine days before the previously discussed memo entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” is sent. (9/11 Commission 9/23/2003 pdf file) It is unclear if Kean and Hamilton were lying or were just oblivious. 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow generally controls and limits the flow of information between commissioners and staffers to such a degree that even near the end of the Commission’s tenure, one staffer will confront a commissioner in a bathroom in an attempt to get a complaint to her (see March 2, 2003 and July 2004).
No Press Coverage - The issue of minder intimidation will not be made public until 2009, when some of the 9/11 Commission’s source documents are made public. Even then, there will be no mainstream media coverage of the issue.

The 9/11 Commission issues it first subpoena, to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Commission had initially decided not to issue subpoenas (see January 27, 2003), but found that the FAA had withheld documentation from it (see August 2003 and September 2003), prompting it to take this step.
Request from Team Leader - The subpoena’s issue is the result of a request from John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating the day of the attacks. After receiving permission from the Commission’s chairman and lawyer, Tom Kean and Daniel Marcus, to address the full Commission, Farmer tells them: “My team and I have lost confidence in the FAA. We do not believe we have time to take any more chances on the possibility that they will act on good faith.” This leaves them with “no choice other than a subpoena.”
Debate inside Commission - Some of the Democratic commissioners, such as Jamie Gorelick, then claim that this is a reason to subpoena all documents the Commission wants. However Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are against this. Republican Slade Gorton proposes a compromise where the Commission subpoenas the FAA, but only issues a warning to other agencies that are not producing the documents the Commission wants. (Shenon 2008, pp. 202-203) The Commission approves the subpoena unanimously. The Commission comments publicly, saying, “This disturbing development at one agency has led the Commission to reexamine its general policy of relying on document requests rather than subpoenas.” (Arnold 10/15/2003) It also warns other agencies that “document requests must be taken as seriously as a subpoena.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 203)

Following nine months of haggling over access to Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items related to the 9/11 Commission’s work (see Late January 2003, June 2003, and Late Summer 2003), White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees to provide the Commission with a briefing about them.
No Details Provided - Gonzales says the briefing will be about the “contents” of the PDBs, although the Commission is unsure what this means and thinks it may include verbal information about what is written in items relevant to its investigation. However, at the briefing, lawyers simply tell the Commission about how the documents are prepared. They also say that there are approximately 300 PDB items relevant to the Commission’s work, but they will not provide any details of what the items actually say.
Briefing Is 'Ridiculous' - The commissioners are very frustrated, and Republican Commissioner Jim Thompson, for example, complains, “This is ridiculous.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commissioners were seething. If the briefing was meant to placate them, it had done the opposite; it was one more bit of proof of Gonzales’s ham-handed strategy in dealing with the investigation. If anything, the commissioners were now more anxious to see the actual PDBs.” Thompson will add, “We were not going to take no for an answer.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 215-216)

Several months into its investigation, the 9/11 Commission is already dissatisfied with the Department of Defense (see July 7, 2003).
Recorded Conversations Not Provided to Commission - When its staff take a tour of a Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) facility in Rome, New York, which helped coordinate the air defense on the day of 9/11, the staff enter the operations room, which has “more than 20 banks of operators: some weapons controllers and some flight controllers.” The staff find that the operators’ conversations are always tape-recorded, but the tapes for 9/11 have not yet been sent to the Commission. In addition, according to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, “there were also discrepancies between things NORAD was telling [the Commission] about their performance on the morning of September 11—things that the agency had stated publicly after 9/11—and the story told by the limited tapes and documents the Commission had received.”
'Egregious' Failure - Upon learning of the existence of the tapes, team leader John Farmer immediately suspends the tour and the interviews and flies to meet Kean in New Jersey. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Farmer will say that the failure to produce the tapes was “egregious,” as, “Those tapes told the story of the air defense better than anything else that anyone could have given us.”
Subpoena Demanded - Farmer demands that a subpoena be issued to the Pentagon for the tapes. He tells Kean: “Listen, we have to subpoena this stuff. We may not get it, but if we don’t try to get it, how can you explain to the public that we have done our job?” Farmer is aware that it will be difficult to get a subpoena on the Pentagon—“When you’re talking about subpoenaing the DOD, the room goes quiet”—but he decides privately: “I would have quit if we didn’t. I felt we were becoming a laughingstock.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 204)
Lost Time - Despite opposition from its Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (see (Late October-Early November 2003)) and, allegedly, its Executive Director Philip Zelikow (see November 5, 2003), the Commission will subpoena NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). However, according to Kean and Hamilton, this means that “the staff had lost so much time that our hearing on the 9/11 story in the skies was postponed for months. Indeed, the delays from NORAD and the FAA made it highly unlikely that the team could complete its work as scheduled.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Chapter 1 of the Commission’s final report will draw heavily on the tapes. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-46)
Contrast with Other Aspects of Investigation - However, the Commission does not make the same effort with all day of 9/11 recordings. For example, it does not even find out which person(s) from the Department of Defense participated in a White House video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke during the attacks (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36)

Following the discovery that NORAD is withholding extremely important evidence from the 9/11 Commission (see Late October 2003), John Farmer, the leader of the Commission team investigating the day of 9/11, and the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow discuss subpoenaing the Pentagon. In the first meeting, Zelikow seems to support Farmer’s demand that a subpoena be issued, but is “hard to read” according to Farmer.
Charges that Zelikow is 'Undoing' Subpoena - Farmer then returns to New York, where he is based for his work on the Commission. According to Farmer, he receives an urgent phone call from Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s counsel, telling him Zelikow is trying to derail the subpoena and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to meet with the commissioners to dissuade them. Such a meeting will actually be held one day before the Commission votes on the subpoena (see November 5, 2003). In Farmer’s account, Marcus says: “You’d better get down here. It’s all unraveling. Philip is undoing this.” Marcus will later say he does not recall this call, but will say that Zelikow, who was close to members of Rumsfeld’s staff, would even “flaunt” his good relations with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Zelikow will later make a successful last-ditch bid to prevent a subpoena being issued on the White House (see February 2004).
Disagreement between Zelikow, Farmer - According to Farmer, he returns to Washington and together with Dana Hyde, one of his staffers, confronts Zelikow. Hyde complains, “We can’t do our job if you frustrate us.” Farmer adds: “I thought you were supporting this subpoena. Now I hear otherwise. What’s going on?” He demands he be allowed to address the commissioners on the subpoena, but Zelikow replies: “I represent the staff. I will represent your views.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow’s face “turn[s] the crimson color that the staff in Washington ha[ve] seen before in moments of his most extreme rage.” Zelikow then says, “It’s beyond our pay grade at this point.” Farmer disagrees and storms out of Zelikow’s office.
Zelikow's Version - Zelikow will confirm that there was a difference of opinion with Farmer on the matter: “We did have concerns about timing and tactics. Tension was building to a breaking point.” However, Zelikow will say he did not necessarily oppose a subpoena, as he shared Farmer’s concerns about the Pentagon’s truthfulness. Marcus will back Zelikow, saying that he thinks Zelikow did not try to derail the subpoena because of his friendship with Cambone or for any other reason. (Shenon 2008, pp. 205-207)

9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean gives an interview to the New York Times in which he attacks the White House over its withholding of classified intelligence about al-Qaeda and attacks on the US from the Commission (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, and October 16, 2003). Although he does not mention Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) specifically, thinking their name secret, he says, “We’re having trouble with the White House,” meaning that a subpoena may have to be issued. He adds: “Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach. I will not stand for it.” The piece runs as the lead story on page one of the newspaper, causing a good deal of criticism of President George Bush. It is picked up by Democrats, such as presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who says, “After claiming they wanted to find the truth about September 11, the Bush administration has resorted to secrecy, stonewalling, and foot-dragging.” (Shenon 10/26/2003; Shenon 2008, pp. 215-216) As a result of this story, President Bush makes a statement identifying the documents the Commission wants as PDBs and promising to work with the Commission to give it some access. (Shenon 2008, pp. 216-217)

Despite asking some questions about the way the CIA is putting some of its questions to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees it is interested in (see October 2003), the 9/11 Commission fails to inquire more deeply into the harsh interrogation methods the CIA uses on detainees. One Commission staffer will say: “We did not delve deeply into the question of the treatment of the prisoners. Standards of treatment were not part of our mission.” Another will admit: “We did not ask specifically. It was not in our mandate.” In 2008, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, will say he is “shocked” by the failure to ask about interrogation techniques, “If you’re sitting at the 9/11 Commission, with all the high-powered lawyers on the Commission and on the staff, first you ask what happened rather than guess.” (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)

Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, makes an 11th-hour visit to the Pentagon in an attempt to avert a subpoena some on the Commission want to file on the Defense Department over documents NORAD is withholding from the Commission (see Late October 2003).
Meeting with Defense Officials - At the Pentagon, Hamilton meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Hamilton takes with him Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the Commission who is inclined towards issuing the subpoena.
Arranged by Zelikow? - It is unclear who initiated and arranged the meeting; some staffers who want the subpoena issued will accuse Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, of setting it up as a part of a wider effort to thwart the subpoena (see (Late October-Early November 2003)). However, Zelikow will later say he does not recall having anything to do with the meeting.
Rumsfeld Promises to Settle Issue - At the meeting, Rumsfeld is, according to author Philip Shenon, “charming and agreeable” and insists he is unaware of the problems between the Commission and NORAD. He vows to resolve the issues and promises that any evidence that has been withheld until now will be turned over immediately. Therefore, he says, there is no need for a subpoena.
Differences between Hamilton and Gorton - Hamilton, who was initially rejected for the vice chairmanship of the Commission because of his links to Rumsfeld and other Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002) and who sometimes takes the current administration’s side in internal Commission debates (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004), thinks this is the end of the matter. “I’ve known Don Rumsfeld for 20, 30 years,” he tells the other commissioners. “When he said, ‘I’m going to get that information for you,’ I took him at his word.” Gorton’s attitude is different. “I was outraged with NORAD and the way they had operated.” Thinking false statements NORAD officials provided to the Commission may have been made knowingly, he will add, “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it was just so grossly negligent and incompetent.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 207) The Commission will vote to issue the subpoena the next day, with Hamilton against and Gorton for (see November 6, 2003).

The 9/11 Commission votes to issue a subpoena on the Defense Department for documents withheld from it regarding the fighter response on the day of the attacks. The vote follows a demand from the Commission’s team investigating the air defense that it be issued, as the military has been withholding documents and making false statements (see Late October 2003), as well as the failure of last-ditch attempts to stop the subpoena’s issue (see (Late October-Early November 2003) and November 5, 2003).
Chairman Kean Has Decisive Vote - The four ordinary Democratic commissioners vote for the subpoena’s issue, but Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton votes against, together with three ordinary Republican commissioners. The fourth Republican commissioner, Slade Gorton, votes for the subpoena. This means that Tom Kean, the Commission’s Republican chairman, has the deciding vote, and he votes for the subpoena. He dislikes voting against Hamilton, but thinks NORAD is trying to hide something. (Shenon 2008, pp. 207-208)
'Especially Dismayed' - In a statement issued after the vote, the Commission says it is “especially dismayed” by incomplete document production on the part of NORAD. The Commission explains, “In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken.” (Arnold 11/7/2003)
Documents Expose Apparent False Statements by NORAD - When the documents arrive, according to author Philip Shenon, they show that “NORAD’s public statements about its actions on 9/11 had been wrong, almost certainly intentionally.” Based on interviews of 9/11 Commission staffers, Shenon will add: “This was not the fog of war. This was the military trying to come up with a story that made its performance during 9/11 look reasonably competent, when in fact the military had effectively left the nation’s skies undefended that morning.” In particular, tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that the military did not know of the hijacking of Flight 93 until it had crashed. 9/11 Commission team leader John Farmer will even say that it is “99 percent” certain that Pentagon officers knew they were lying when they made statements to the Commission, sometimes under oath. (Shenon 2008, pp. 208)

The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 218-219)

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. (Shenon 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199)

Some months after he begins working on National Security Council (NSC) files (see August 2003), 9/11 Commission staffer Warren Bass decides that he should quit the commission, or at least threaten to quit. The main reason for this is because he feels the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, is distorting the commission’s work to favor National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to whom Zelikow is close (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005).
'Zelikow Is Making Me Crazy' - Bass tells Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer, “I cannot do this,” and “Zelikow is making me crazy.” According to author Philip Shenon, Bass is “outraged” by Zelikow’s conduct and thinks the White House is trying to “sabotage” his work by limiting his access to certain documents. Zelikow will later admit that he had a conflict with Bass, but will say that it was just an honest difference of opinion between historians. However, colleagues will say Bass saw it differently. Shenon will write: “[Bass] made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political—intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism. For every bit of evidence gathered by Bass and [the commission team investigating US counterterrorism policy] to bolster [former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard] Clarke’s allegation that the White House had ignored terrorist threats in 2001, Zelikow would find some reason to disparage it.”
Talked Out of It - However, Marcus and Michael Hurley, Bass’ immediate superior on the commission, persuade Bass not to resign. Shenon will say that his resignation “would have been a disaster for the commission; Bass was the team’s institutional memory on the NSC, and his writing and editing skills seemed irreplaceable.” Hurley thinks that part of the problem is that Bass, as well as the other members of his team, have a heavy workload, so he gets Zelikow’s consent to hire another staffer, Leonard Hawley. (Shenon 2008, pp. 149-150)

Other 9/11 Commission reports are heavily based on detainee interrogations. The red underlines are endnotes based on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph.Other 9/11 Commission reports are heavily based on detainee interrogations. The red underlines are endnotes based on the interrogation of Abu Zubaida in the 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph. [Source: Public domain via Wikipedia] (click image to enlarge)Following unsuccessful attempts by the 9/11 Commission to get direct access to high-value detainees on which some sections of its report will be based (see Summer 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the Commission decides to add a disclaimer to its report at the beginning of Chapter 5, the first of two that describe the development of the 9/11 plot. The disclaimer, entitled “Detainee Interrogation Reports,” reads: “Chapters 5 and 7 rely heavily on information obtained from captured al-Qaeda members. A number of these ‘detainees’ have firsthand knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Assessing the truth of statements by these witnesses—sworn enemies of the United States—is challenging. Our access to them has been limited to the review of intelligence reports based on communications received from the locations where the actual interrogations take place. We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when, or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting. We were told that our requests might disrupt the sensitive interrogation process. We have nonetheless decided to include information from captured 9/11 conspirators and al-Qaeda members in our report. We have evaluated their statements carefully and have attempted to corroborate them with documents and statements of others. In this report, we indicate where such statements provide the foundation for our narrative. We have been authorized to identify by name only ten detainees whose custody has been confirmed officially by the US government.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 146) Most of the endnotes to the report indicate the sources of information contained in the main body of the text. Of the 132 endnotes for Chapter 5, 83 of them cite detainee interrogations as a source of information contained in the report. Of the 192 endnotes for Chapter 7, 89 cite interrogations. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488-499, 513-533) The interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is mentioned as a source 211 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) He was repeatedly waterboarded and tortured (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and it will later be reported that up to 90 percent of the information obtained from his interrogations may be unreliable (see August 6, 2007). Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission sometimes seems to prefer KSM’s testimony over other sources. For instance, in 2003 the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry reported that the CIA learned in 1996 that KSM and bin Laden traveled together to a foreign country in 1995, suggesting close ties between them (see 1996). But the 9/11 Commission will ignore this and instead claim, based on KSM’s interrogation, that KSM and bin Laden had no contact between 1989 and late 1996. (US Congress 7/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 148-148, 489) The interrogations of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are used as a source 74 times, 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh, 68 times, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, 14 times, al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 13 times, and and a generic “interrogation[s] of detainee” is used as a source 57 times. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Most of these detainees are said to be tortured (see May 2002-2003 and Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Although the CIA videotaped some of the interrogations, it does not pass the videos to the 9/11 Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Slate magazine will later say that these detainees’ accounts are “woven into the commission’s narrative, and nowhere does the 9/11 report delve into interrogation tactics or make any recommendations about the government’s continuing or future practices. That wasn’t the commission’s mandate. Still, one wonders where video evidence—or the knowledge that such evidence was being withheld—might have led it.” (Bazelon and Lithwick 12/10/2007)

Following its failure to get direct access to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see October 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the 9/11 Commission has the CIA ask the detainees more questions about how the plot developed. This is a second round of questions from the Commission, which was dissatisfied with the answers produced by the first round. According to CIA and 9/11 Commission staffers, as well as an MSNBC analysis in 2008, this second round is “specifically to answer new questions from the Commission.” Analysis of the 9/11 Commission report indicates this second round includes more than 30 separate interrogation sessions. Based on the number of references attributed to each of the sessions, they appear to have been “lengthy.” The Commission is aware that the detainees are being harshly treated (see Late 2003-2004), but it is unclear whether they are further tortured during these additional sessions. The CIA is still using some or all of its “enhanced techniques” at this time (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005). (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)

The 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow demands that the Commission subpoena a new book by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that is due to be published soon.
Bad Blood - There has been a running argument in the Commission about Clarke’s criticism of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 2003, Before December 18, 2003, and Early 2004) and there is also bad blood between Clarke and Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995) who had Clarke demoted in 2001 (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003). Zelikow’s demand is spurred by a change to the publication date of Clarke’s book, which has been moved forward from the end of April to March 22, shortly before Clarke is due to testify publicly before the Commission.
Zelikow Goes 'Ballistic' - Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will recall that when Zelikow learned of the change, he “went ballistic” and “wanted to subpoena [the book].” The reason for his anger is that he thinks that it may contain surprises for the Commission and does not want new information coming out so close to an important hearing. Marcus thinks issuing a subpoena is a bad idea, as the Commission generally refuses to subpoena government departments (see January 27, 2003), so issuing one for the book will make it look bad, and possibly turn the press against it. However, Zelikow initially refuses to back down, saying, “Well, we have subpoena authority,” and adding, “And they have no right to withhold it from us.”
Publisher Provides Book, Clarke Prevents Zelikow from Reading It - Marcus calls the book’s publisher and asks it nicely to give the Commission the book. The publisher agrees, but, worried that excessive distribution would limit the book’s news value, says that only three staffers, ones involved in preparing for Clarke’s interview, can read it. Clarke personally insists on another condition: that Zelikow is not one of these three staffers. Zelikow protests against this condition, but it is approved by the commissioners.
Zelikow Discomfited - This deal highlights the state of relations between Zelikow and the staff. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Marcus and others on the staff could not deny that they enjoyed Zelikow’s discomfort. Throughout the investigation, Zelikow had insisted that every scrap of secret evidence gathered by the staff be shared with him before anyone else; he then controlled how and if the evidence was shared elsewhere. Now Zelikow would be the last to know some of the best secrets of them all.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 275-277)

Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, insists that the commission properly interview two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Ben-Veniste makes the demand after he learns that Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow interviewed one of the analysts by phone, but allegedly pressured the analyst to back the White House version of events (see June 2004). Initially, Ben-Veniste asks to see transcripts of interviews with the analysts. However, according to author Philip Shenon: “With a condescending tone that reflected his disdain for Ben-Veniste, Zelikow explained matter-of-factly that there weren’t any transcripts…. After months of battles with Zelikow, it was hard for Ben-Veniste to be shocked by almost anything he did. But the staff could see that Ben-Veniste was genuinely startled.” Ben-Veniste’s demand for full interviews is opposed by Zelikow, who says that one of the analysts, known only as Barbara S, has already been interviewed (although it is unclear how much of this interview was focused on the PDB). Zelikow will also say, “The CIA was pleading with us not to do this, since the career people involved in preparing and presenting PDBs would be intimidated, disrupting the sense of confidentiality and candor they considered essential for the PDB process.” However, when they are interviewed, the two analysts seem eager to volunteer the information they have. The commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who has a record of siding with the Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004) fails to back Ben-Veniste before the full commission. Republican Chairman Tom Kean rescues him, pushing through the request for the interviews in the face of opposition from the other Republicans on the commission (see July 13, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 375-377)

Aziz Huq.Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Civil libertarian Aziz Huq writes that Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that his office is not part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to compliance with executive orders (see 2003 and June 21, 2007) is a genuine constitutional crisis. Huq writes, “The term ‘constitutional crisis’ is much abused, invoked generally whenever Congress shows some life. Confrontations on war funding and Congressional subpoenas, to cite recent examples, are in fact as old as the Republic. They are but healthy sparks from a constitutional confrontation of ‘ambition against ambition,’ precisely as the Framers intended. But the true crisis is hidden in plain sight—the existence of an office in the Constitution—the Vice President’s—with no real remit and no real limits, open to exploitation and abuse.” It is nonsensical, Huq writes, for Cheney on the one hand to claim that as a member of the executive branch he has access to the most secret of classified documents, and on the other hand he is not subject to oversight because he is not a member of the executive branch. Cheney receives these documents as a senior member of the executive branch, not of the legislative. Yet, as president of the Senate, Cheney is not subject to the strict Senate rules on handling classified documents—rules far stricter than those imposed on senior members of the executive branch. Cheney’s arguments create what Huq calls a “legal black hole (another one!) where classified documents can disappear without a trace.” Huq finally asks, “Why should addition of legislative duties trigger the subtraction of executive obligations? In lawyerly terms, the 2003 order applies to ‘any’ entity within the executive branch. Having another label doesn’t stop Cheney from being one of those ‘any’ entities.” Huq says, “If it weren’t so frightening, the irony would be delicious: A Vice President who has done more than any other to push the envelope on executive privilege at the expense of the courts and Congress takes the position that his office has both legislative and executive functions so as to avoid accounting for the use of classified materials. Any veneer of intellectual legitimacy that executive power defenders have caked on their vision of a monarchical executive evaporates in the glare of this naked opportunism.… Cheney and [chief of staff David] Addington will go down in history as the most aggressive and successful advocates of executive powers in this nation’s history.… They grounded their vision of executive power on the prerogatives exercised by the British kings who were overthrown by the American Revolution.” Huq recommends that Congress clarify the situation with legislation that would clearly create a system for handling classified documents that would be binding on the entire government, including the Office of the Vice President. (Huq 6/26/2007)

After saying that if Vice President Dick Cheney does not consider himself entirely part of the executive branch, then taxpayers should not fund his executive branch office (see June 24, 2007), House Democrats led by Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) move to strip federal funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP). Cheney has said that because the vice president is not strictly part of the executive branch, therefore he and his office are not subject to an executive order mandating disclosure of how many documents his office has classified. President Bush has said that neither his office nor Cheney’s is subject to that order. Emanuel notes that, five years ago, Cheney claimed executive privilege in refusing to release information about oil industry executives during meetings of his Energy Task Force. “Now when we want to know what he’s doing as it relates to America’s national security in the lead-up to the war in Iraq and after the fact, the vice president has declared he is a member of the legislative branch,” Emanuel says. Therefore, “we will no longer fund the executive branch of his office and he can live off the funding for the Senate presidency.” As vice president, Cheney presides over the Senate. (CBS News 6/27/2007) The federal government, through the executive branch, pays about $4.8 million a year to fund the OVP. (Allen 6/27/2007) After Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington tacitly admits that Cheney is, after a fashion, part of the executive branch (see June 26, 2007), the Democrats drop their proposal to strip Cheney’s office of executive branch funding.


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