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9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow appoints Michael Hurley—a 20-year CIA officer still actively employed—to lead the Commission’s investigation of counterterrorism policy prior to 9/11. This team will be responsible for reviewing the performance of the CIA and NSC (see Around February 2003). Hurley and his team will also be responsible for examining the pre-9/11 conduct of former CIA bin Laden unit manager Rich Blee, even though Hurley presumably served under Blee in Afghanistan after 9/11. Following the 9/11 attacks, Blee was made Kabul station chief (see December 9, 2001) and Hurley served three tours in Afghanistan. According to his biography at the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, “[Hurley] was one of the agency’s lead coordinators on the ground of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle against al-Qaeda in the campaign in Afghanistan” (see March 2-13, 2002). The biography also states: “From 1998-1999, and again in 2000, he was detailed to the National Security Council, where he was director for the Balkans, and advised the national security adviser and the president on Balkans policy. Over the past decade he has been a leader in US interventions in troubled areas: Kosovo (1999-2000); Bosnia (1995-1996); and Haiti (during the US intervention, 1994-1995). Michael Hurley has held a range of management positions at CIA headquarters and served multiple tours of duty in western Europe.” (9/11 Public Discourse Project 8/8/2008) Author Philip Shenon will describe Hurley as “a battle-hardened spy on loan to the Commission from the CIA.” Besides Hurley, other staffers on the counterterrorism review team are Warren Bass, a “terrorism researcher at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York” who will “focus on the NSC,” and Alexis Albion, a “doctoral candidate in intelligence studies at Harvard” who will be “the central researcher on the CIA.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 87)
The 9/11 Commission sends a single member of staff, Alexis Albion, to the CIA to review its material. Although other commission staff and some commissioners will also work on CIA material for the commission, the review conducted at the agency is performed by Albion, who has a PhD in the history of intelligence from Harvard. According to author Philip Shenon, she reads “years’ worth of case files on the CIA and its history of dealing with terrorist threats,” as the CIA is happy to make a lot of information available to the commission. She is also given her own reading room, and free rein of the building. Soon after she starts coming to the CIA in August 2003, she receives a document referred to as “the Scroll.” Shenon will describe the Scroll as “a massive chronology prepared after 9/11 to document every element of the CIA’s antiterrorist effort before the September 11 attacks,” adding that a CIA employee “thought the Scroll must have measured about 150 feet across—a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, almost minute-by-minute chronology of the agency’s battles against al-Qaeda.” In addition: “The information was broken down by activity. On one line was a timeline of the CIA’s covert operations, set against another line that offered a chronology of the work of the agency’s analysts; another line showed the agency’s counterterrorism budget over time.” After Albion finishes this, she begins to read “thousands of other documents” the CIA has prepared for her. (Shenon 2008, pp. 135-139)
The 9/11 Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, has a comparison between Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton that shows Bush in a bad light removed from the 9/11 Commission report.
Clinton and Bush - The comparison was drafted by commission staffer Alexis Albion at the request of vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, and shows how Clinton and Bush addressed terrorism in general and al-Qaeda in particular in their public remarks. It is intended as a measure of how the two presidents had prioritized the issue, although there is the obvious problem that Clinton was in office for eight years, but Bush only eight months before the attacks. Albion found that Clinton addressed terrorism dozens of times, including in every State of the Union address and a speech to the UN General Assembly, and that he often warned about al-Qaeda and similar groups. By contrast, Bush rarely talked about terrorism, and when he did he focused on state-sponsored terrorism and missile defense against rogue states.
Controversial - Albion and other members of her team are aware that the comparison will anger the Bush White House, in particular because other sections of the report will not be especially critical of the current administration. A statement that Bush spoke little about terrorism before 9/11 will probably be seen as the commission’s most direct personal criticism of him. However, they feel strongly that it should be in the report, as what the president says sets the agenda for the rest of the government and media.
Zelikow's Reaction - Zelikow is angered by the comparison, almost yelling that it is “unreasonable” and “unfair,” as Bush “hadn’t been in office long enough to make a major address on terrorism.” Author Philip Shenon will describe Zelikow’s rage about this issue: “Zelikow’s anger was so off the scale on this issue that some of the staff members wondered if this was simply a show on his part to intimidate them into backing down.” Albion is supported by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. According to Shenon: “[Marcus] thought it was one of Zelikow’s most overt displays of his partisanship, of his desire to protect the administration. Obviously it was significant if Bush, who was now claiming that he had been gravely worried throughout 2001 about terrorist threats, never bothered to mention it in public during that same period. ‘You’d think he would say something about it once in a while, right?’ asked Marcus.” However, Zelikow gets his way and the comparison is removed from the report.
Endnotes - Despite this, Albion does manage to reinsert material from the comparison into the endnotes at the back of the commission’s final report. For example, endnote 2 to chapter 6 reads: “President Clinton spoke of terrorism in numerous public statements…. Clinton repeatedly linked terrorism groups and WMD as transnational threats for the new global era.” Endnote 164 to the same chapter reads: “Public references by candidate and then President Bush about terrorism before 9/11 tended to reflect… [his concern with] state-sponsored terrorism and WMD as a reason to mount a missile defense.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 396-398)
The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. (Shenon 2008, pp. 359-360) However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485)
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