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Profile: Philip Zelikow
Philip Zelikow was a participant or observer in the following events:
’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]
Ashton Carter. [Source: Aspen Institute]Over a period of nine months, faculty from Harvard University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Virginia meet in a collaborative effort called the Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group. Its members include experts on terrorism, national security, intelligence, and law enforcement. The project director is Philip Zelikow, future executive director of the 9/11 Commission. Future 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is also a member, along with Ernest May, who will be a senior advisor to the 9/11 Commission. The culmination of the group’s efforts is a report written by Zelikow and its two co-chairs: former Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and former CIA Director John Deutch. A condensed version of the report is published in the journal Foreign Affairs in late 1998. They write: “Long part of the Hollywood and Tom Clancy repertory of nightmarish scenarios, catastrophic terrorism has moved from far-fetched horror to a contingency that could happen next month. Although the United States still takes conventional terrorism seriously… it is not yet prepared for the new threat of catastrophic terrorism.” They predict the consequences of such an event: “An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America’s history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans’ fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great ‘success’ or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a ‘before’ and ‘after.’” [Carter, Deutch, and Zelikow, 10/1998; Foreign Affairs, 11/1998; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. xi-xiv]
In his opening remarks at a conference on contemporary political history organized by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow emphasizes that the public understanding of history is shaped by what are sometimes referred to as “public myths.” “[U]nderstanding contemporary political history is extremely important and constantly alive in public discourse. ‘Contemporary’ is defined functionally by those critical people and events that go into forming the public’s presumptions about its immediate past. This idea of ‘public presumption’ is akin to William McNeill’s notion of ‘public myth’ but without the negative implication sometimes invoked by the word ‘myth.’ Such presumptions are beliefs (1) thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty), and (2) shared in common within the relevant political community. The sources for such presumptions are both personal (from direct experience) and vicarious (from books, movies, and myths).” Zelikow says that public assumptions often grow out of “searing events”: “particularly ‘searing’ or ‘molding’ events take on ‘transcendent’ importance and, therefore, retain their power even as the experiencing generation passes from the scene.” [Zelikow, 1999 ] In a previous publication, Zelikow had written about how a “catastrophic terrorism” event could constitute a momentous, history-shaping milestone: “An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people… would be a watershed event in America’s history.… Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a ‘before’ and ‘after’” (see November 1997-August 1998).
President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 357-8]
Historian Ernest May. [Source: Belfer Center]An eminent historian finds serious flaws in a historical treatise about former President John F. Kennedy. The book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, was written in 1997 by conservative historians Ernest May and Philip D. Zelikow, and purports to be an unprecedentedly accurate representation of the events of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis based on transcriptions of recorded meetings, conferences, telephone conversations, and interviews with various participants. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] Zelikow is a former member of George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council and a close adviser to future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [US Department of State, 8/5/2005] May is a Harvard professor. Both will participate heavily in the creation of the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 387-393] Almost three years after the Kennedy book’s publication, Sheldon M. Stern, the historian for the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 through 1999, pores over it and the May/Zelikow transcripts. In the original edition, May and Zelikow admitted that their final product was not perfect: “The reader has here the best text we can produce, but it is certainly not perfect. We hope that some, perhaps many, will go to the original tapes. If they find an error or make out something we could not, we will enter the corrections in subsequent editions or printings of this volume.” But when Stern checks the book against the tapes, he finds hundreds of errors in the book, some quite significant. Stern concludes that the errors “significantly undermine [the book’s] reliability for historians, teachers, and general readers.” May and Zelikow have corrected a few of the errors in subsequent editions, but have not publicly acknowledged any errors. Stern concludes, “Readers deserve to know that even now The Kennedy Tapes cannot be relied on as an accurate historical document.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] One error has then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy talking about the planned “invasion” of Russian ships heading to Cuba, when the tapes actually show Kennedy discussing a far less confrontational “examination” of those vessels. May and Zelikow imply that the Kennedy administration was discussing just the kind of confrontation that it was actually trying to avoid. Another error has CIA Director John McCone referring to the need to call on former President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “facilitator,” where McCone actually said “soldier.” May and Zelikow will be rather dismissive of Stern’s findings, saying that “none of these amendments are very important.” Stern will express shock over their response, and respond, “When the words are wrong, as they are repeatedly, the historical record is wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42]
Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy, Sheldon M. Stern, Robert F. Kennedy, Ernest May, John A. McCone, 9/11 Commission, George Herbert Walker Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dwight Eisenhower
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is not offered a job in the Bush administration, and returns to the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia to teach. Zelikow had worked on the transition team (see January 3, 2001), and thought he would receive an important position in the new administration. He told his friends he thought he was in line for the position of deputy national security adviser to Condoleezza Rice, with whom he had written a book in the mid-1990s (see 1995). Most people in the Bush administration admire his ability, but find him hard to work with. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will even describe Zelikow as a “bully” historian. Author Philip Shenon will later comment that Zelikow is “perplexed that his talents had not been recognized by the people who handed out the best jobs in the Bush administration.” After returning to university, Zelikow will lobby the White House to make the university where he works the official repository of its oral history. His point of contact at the White House is political adviser Karl Rove. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42-44]
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; Guardian, 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].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]
Philip Zelikow, who will later be appointed director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), makes public comments supporting the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. Zelikow says that “we’re now beginning to understand that we can’t wait for these folks to deliver the weapons of mass destruction and see what they do with them before we act.” He adds, “We’re beginning to understand that we might not want to give people like Saddam Hussein advance warning that we’re going to strike.” Zelikow will later help draft a policy paper used as justification for the invasion (see September 20, 2002) and will attempt to link Iraq to 9/11 when appointed to head the commission’s staff (see July 9, 2003, January 2004 and January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128-129, 429]
In remarks made at a foreign policy conference at the University of Virginia, Philip Zelikow says that Iraq is more of a threat to Israel than to the US and that protecting Israel would be a major motive for a US-Iraq war. Zelikow’s speech goes unreported at the time but will come to light in a 2004 article. Zelikow says: “Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I’ll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990—it’s the threat against Israel.… And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don’t care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.” Zelikow is at the time a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), and will later serve as the executive director to the 9/11 Commission. [Asia Times Online, 3/31/2004] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt will later use Zelikow’s statement in their controversial paper “The Israel Lobby” as evidence that the Iraq War was launched in part to advance Israel’s security. [London Review of Books, 3/23/2006; London Review of Books, 4/25/2006; London Review of Books, 4/25/2006]
The Bush administration submits to Congress a 31-page document entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States.”
Preemptive War - The National Security Strategy (NSS) openly advocates the necessity for the US to engage in “preemptive war” against nations it believes are likely to become a threat to the US’s security. It declares: “In an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle. The United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” The declaration that the US will engage in preemptive war with other nations reverses decades of American military and foreign policy stances; until now, the US has held that it would only launch an attack against another nation if it had been attacked first, or if American lives were in imminent danger. President Bush had first mentioned the new policy in a speech in June 2002 (see June 1, 2002), and it echoes policies proposed by Paul Wolfowitz during the George H. W. Bush administration (see March 8, 1992). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]
US Must Maintain Military 'Beyond Challenge' - The National Security Strategy states that the ultimate objective of US national security policy is to “dissuade future military competition.” The US must therefore “build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” [London Times, 9/21/2002]
Ignoring the International Criminal Court - The NSS also states, “We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.” [US President, 9/2002]
Declaring War on Terrorism Itself - It states: “The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism—premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.” Journalism professor Mark Danner will later comment in the New York Times: “Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. ‘Declaring war on “terror,”’ as one military strategist later remarked to me, ‘is like declaring war on air power.’” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]
Fundamental Reversal of Containment, Deterrence Principles - Washington Post reporter Tim Reich later describes the NSS as “revers[ing] the fundamental principles that have guided successive presidents for more than 50 years: containment and deterrence.” Foreign policy professor Andrew Bacevich will write that the NSS is a “fusion of breathtaking utopianism [and] barely disguised machtpolitik.” Bacevich continues, “It reads as if it were the product not of sober, ostensibly conservative Republicans but of an unlikely collaboration between Woodrow Wilson and the elder Field Marshal von Moltke.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Written by Future Executive Director of 9/11 Commission - The document is released under George W. Bush’s signature, but was written by Philip D. Zelikow, formerly a member of the previous Bush administration’s National Security Council, and currently a history professor at the University of Virginia and a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Zelikow produced the document at the behest of his longtime colleague National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see June 1, 2002). His authorship of the document will not be revealed until well after he is appointed executive director of the 9/11 commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). Many on the Commission will consider Zelikow’s authorship of the document a prima facie conflict of interest, and fear that Zelikow’s position on the Commission will be used to further the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive war (see March 21, 2004). [US Department of State, 8/5/2005; Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]
Entity Tags: Tim Reich, University of Virginia, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Issuetsdeah, 9/11 Commission, Andrew Bacevich, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission initially pays very little attention to material from the NSA about al-Qaeda, as it is focusing on the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Colonel Lorry Fenner, a former air force intelligence officer assigned to the commission’s team reviewing the structure of the intelligence community, finds this surprising. Fenner, who had previously worked closely with the NSA, is “dumfounded” when she learns nobody from the commission is making the short trip to the NSA to review its material on 9/11. The NSA tracked al-Qaeda communications for a long time before 9/11, including numerous calls between the hijackers and other al-Qaeda operatives (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but the 9/11 Commission apparently does not realize or seem to care how important the material is. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[F]or the Commission’s staff, [the NSA’s Maryland headquarters at] Fort Meade might as well have been Kabul, it seemed so distant.” One reason is that some people at the commission do not really understand what the NSA does, and also, according to Shenon, “[For executive director Philip] Zelikow and other staff on the commission, it was just more interesting—sexier—to concentrate on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 155-6]
After experiencing some problems at its inception due to the resignation of its chair and vice-chair (see December 11, 2002 and December 13, 2002), the 9/11 Commission spends much of the next four months hiring staff, getting security clearances (see March 27, 2003), finding office space, and asking for a budget increase (see March 26, 2003). One of the first employees hired is executive director Philip Zelikow, but disputes within the Commission over who will be general council last until March, when Dan Marcus is hired. The Commission is unable to even have a telephone until February, when it finds an official security facility for its offices, and until then the cell phone of staffer Stephanie Kaplan is used as the commission’s initial operations center. However, most of the Commission’s staff cannot then enter their offices, because they do not have the relevant security clearances yet, even though there are no secret documents actually in the offices at this point. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commission’s early logistical problems were more than a little humiliating to men like [commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton, who had commanded vast staffs and virtually unlimited office space during their years in power in government. Now they were at the mercy of others if they wanted second-hand office furniture for the commission’s cramped offices in Washington.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 34-45; Shenon, 2008, pp. 92]
When all ten members of the 9/11 Commission meet for the first time, in an informal setting, some of them are already unhappy about the way the commission is being run. Some of the Democratic members are unhappy about the selection of Republican Philip Zelikow as executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a decision made solely by chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will say Zelikow’s appointment was “presented as a fait accompli.” Ben-Veniste is also alarmed by Zelikow’s links to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), and he and fellow commissioner Max Cleland are upset about the proposed staff structure (see Around February 2003). There is to be a single staff led by Zelikow, and the commissioners will not have personal staffers, although this is usual on such commissions. Ben-Veniste proposes that each commissioner develop an expertise in a specific field, but this plan is blocked by Kean, Hamilton, and Zelikow. Kean and Hamilton also say that the commissioners can visit the commission’s offices, but cannot have a permanent presence there. Indeed, not even Kean and Hamilton will have an office in the commission’s building. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “To Ben-Veniste, the way the staff was being organized guaranteed that the commissioners’ involvement in the details of the investigation would be limited. It centralized control in Zelikow’s hands.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 69-70]
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]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is extremely surprised when he learns the 9/11 Commission has hired Philip Zelikow as its executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). According to author Philip Shenon, he says aloud, “The fix is in,” and wonders why anybody would have hired a friend of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to investigate her, amongst others. Clarke had previously thought that the 9/11 Commission might get to the truth of how President George Bush and Rice had ignored the intelligence in the run-up to 9/11, but Zelikow’s appointment dashes these hopes. Shenon will describe Clarke’s reaction as: “[T]here [is] no hope that the Commission would carry out an impartial investigation of the Bush administration’s bungling of terrorist threats in the months before September 11. Could anyone have a more obvious conflict of interest than Zelikow?” Clarke, who dislikes Zelikow personally, wonders whether he has told the commissioners that he was one of the architects of Clarke’s demotion at the start of the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001). He is certain that Zelikow will not want a proper investigation of the transition to the Bush administration, as he was such a central part of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 63-65]
The 9/11 Commission, officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, holds its first meeting in Washington. The commission has $3 million and only a year and a half to explore the causes of the attacks. By comparison, a 1996 federal commission to study legalized gambling was given two years and $5 million. [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] Two months later the Bush administration grudgingly increases the funding to $12 million total (see March 26, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] A few days later, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says, “The focus of the commission will be on the future. We want to make recommendations that will make the American people more secure.… We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.” [United Press International, 2/6/2003]
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]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow makes his first visit to the CIA, where he meets Mark Lowenthal, a CIA staffer responsible for liaising with 9/11 investigations, and Winston Wiley, the CIA’s assistant director for homeland security. Both men have met Zelikow before and Wiley dislikes him, later saying that Zelikow “reeks of arrogance,” and, “Here’s a guy who spent his career trying to insinuate himself into power so when something like this came his way, he could grab it.”
Recriminations at First Meeting - Although the visit is just supposed to be an initial meeting introducing the 9/11 Commission to the CIA, according to Lowenthal, Zelikow starts by saying, “If you had a national intelligence director, none of this would have ever happened.” According to Wiley, Zelikow says that 9/11 was the result of a “massive failure” at the CIA and happened because “you guys weren’t connected to the rest of the community.” Zelikow will later say that he has no recollection of making these remarks and did not have a firm opinion on a director of national intelligence at this time, but both Lowenthal and Wiley will recall both the remarks and being extremely surprised by Zelikow’s tone. Lowenthal thinks that Zelikow has already decided that the intelligence community needs to be restructured, with a national intelligence director appointed above the CIA director, and that Zelikow is “going to make this [the 9/11 investigation] all about the CIA.”
Tenet's Reaction - When Lowenthal warns CIA Director George Tenet about the interview, Tenet cannot believe what Lowenthal is telling him and thinks Lowenthal may have misheard Zelikow. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon, Tenet thinks the idea the CIA is most responsible for 9/11 is “crazy” and the idea of creating a national intelligence director “even nuttier.” Tenet is sure that the “incompetent, arrogant FBI” is most at fault for 9/11 and that if Zelikow gets out of hand, he can deal with the situation by talking to some of the 9/11 commissioners he knows. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 76-80]
In the first few months of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation, the ten commissioners rarely visit the staff’s offices, partly because they are not allowed to have their own offices there. This means that the commissioners are separated from the staff, and that Executive Director Philip Zelikow acquires more control of the inquiry. Author Philip Shenon will write: “[T]he staff could see that with every passing day, Zelikow was centralizing control of the day-to-day investigation in his own hands. He was becoming the eleventh commissioner and, in many ways, more powerful than the others.… Zelikow was in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 69-70, 85-86]
9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean (left) and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton (right) allowed Executive Director Philip Zelikow (center) to handle the hiring of the commission’s staff. [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Recently hired 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow assumes responsibility for hiring the rest of the commission’s staff. According to an agreement with the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the two of them can veto the people he chooses, or even insist that a person Zelikow does not want is hired. However, these powers are exercised rarely, if at all, and, according to author Philip Shenon, it is “left mostly to Zelikow to choose who would conduct the investigations and how their responsibilities would be divided.” In one instance, Zelikow puts potential hire Navy lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer, who was badly injured at the Pentagon on 9/11, through a grueling interview before offering him a job. Shenon will comment that Zelikow did this “to make it clear to everyone that he was in charge; the people being hired for the commission worked for him.” The fact that commissioners do not have their own staffers also enhances Zelikow’s power. Zelikow will comment: “If commissioners have their own personal staff, this empowers commissioners to pursue their own agenda. [If there is a single nonpartisan staff it] doesn’t mean that the commissioners are powerless, It means that they are powerless individually and powerful together.” Shenon will point out: “It also meant that, ultimately, the staff answered to Zelikow. Every one of them. If information gathered by the staff was to be passed to the commissioners, it would have to go through Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 81-83]
After the 9/11 Commission’s staff is divided into nine teams, the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, begins to closely supervise the work done by the commission’s team 3, which is investigating counterterrorism policy. Author Philip Shenon will later point out that this team is responsible for the “most politically sensitive” portion of the commission’s work, because it is to “review the performance of the Bush and Clinton administrations in dealing with al-Qaeda threats before 9/11.” It will have access to CIA and NSC files, and is tasked with determining whether the Clinton administration did enough to destroy al-Qaeda and why “the Bush administration had seemed to do so little in response to the flood of terrorism warnings in the months before 9/11.” Zelikow soon makes it clear that this team is his priority, carefully checking the lists of documents and interviews the commission is asking the Bush administration for. He also announces that he wants to be present at all the major interviews. Shenon will comment: “At first, members of the team found it flattering that Zelikow wanted to spend so much of his own time and energy on the work of Team 3. Their suspicion of his motives grew later.” As time goes on, the team members are startled to discover that he wants to “be involved in the smallest details of their work” to such an extent that he “ignore[s] the work of other teams of investigators,” who are even moved out of the commission’s main building and into separate “dark, claustrophobic” offices known as “the Cave.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 86-87, 145]
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]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, a long-time associate of Zelikow and consultant to the commission, complete an outline of the commission’s final report, although the commission has barely began its work and will not report for another 16 months. The outline is detailed and contains chapter headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings. The outline anticipates a 16-chapter report (note: the final report only has 13) that starts with a history of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the US. There will then be chapters on US counterterrorism policy, threat reporting leading up to 9/11, and the attacks themselves will be in chapter seven (in the final report, the day of 9/11 chapter is moved to the start).
"Blinding Effects of Hindsight" - Zelikow and May even have a chapter ten entitled “Problems of Foresight—And Hindsight,” with a sub-chapter on “the blinding effects of hindsight,” (actually chapter 11 in the final report, slightly renamed “Foresight—And Hindsight;” the “blinding effects” sub-heading does not appear in the final version, but the chapter starts with a meditation on the value of hindsight).
Kept Secret - Zelikow shows the report to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton and they like it, but think it could be seen as evidence that they have pre-determined the outcome. Therefore, they all decide it should be kept secret from the commission’s staff. According to May it is “treated as if it were the most classified document the commission possessed.” Zelikow comes up with his own internal classification system, labeling it “Commission Sensitive,” a phrase that appears on the top and bottom of each page.
Staff Alarmed - When the staff find out about it and are given copies over a year later, they are alarmed. They realize that the sections of the report about the Bush administration’s failings will be in the middle of the report, and the reader will have to wade past chapters on al-Qaeda’s history to get to them. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “Many assumed the worst when they saw that Zelikow had proposed a portion of the report entitled ‘The Blinding Effects of Hindsight.’ What ‘blinding hindsight’? They assumed Zelikow was trying to dismiss the value of hindsight regarding the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 performance.” In addition, some staffers begin circulating a parody entitled “The Warren Commission Report—Preemptive Outline.” One of the parody’s chapter headings is “Single Bullet: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet. But Really. We’re Sure.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 388-389]
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff who are suspicious of the partisanship of the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, establish what author Philip Shenon calls a “back-channel network” through which reports of Zelikow’s behavior can be passed. The staff members are suspicious of Zelikow because they think he is close to the Bush administration, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see January 3, 2001), whose interests he defends on the Commission (see May-June 2004). The network’s aim is to “alert the Democratic commissioners when [staff] thought Zelikow was up to no good.” Commissioner Tim Roemer will say that he often gets phone calls late at night or on weekends at home from staffers who want to talk about Zelikow. “It was like Deep Throat,” he will later say (see May 31, 2005). Richard Ben-Veniste is another one of the Democratic commissioners involved in the network. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 375]
The 9/11 Commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow issues a five-page memo, entitled “What Do I Do Now?” telling newly hired staff members how to go about their jobs on the Commission. The most controversial part of the memo prevents staffers from returning calls from commissioners, stating: “If you are contacted by a commissioner, please contact [deputy executive director] Chris [Kojm] or me. We will be sure that the appropriate members of the Commission’s staff are responsive.” Author Philip Shenon will write that the staffers are surprised by this: “It occurred to several of the staff members, especially those with experience on other federal commissions, that Zelikow was trying to cut off their contact with the people they really worked for—the commissioners.”
Part of Memo Rescinded - When commissioner Jamie Gorelick learns of the restriction, she calls the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, and tells them this is unacceptable. Fellow commissioner Max Cleland also thinks the order is a bad idea, and will later say, “It violates the spirit of an open look at what the hell happened on 9/11.” Zelikow is forced to rescind this portion of the memo, allowing commissioners free access to the staff.
Other Restrictions - Other rules in the memo include:
Commission staff should not disclose the exact location of the Commission’s offices for security reasons;
Staffers should never talk to reporters about the Commission’s work, because “there are no innocent conversations with reporters.” Zelikow or his deputy should be notified of such calls. A breach of this rule can get a staffer fired; and
All staffers have to prepare a confidential memo describing potential conflicts of interest. Shenon will comment, “Staff members who knew some of Zelikow’s own conflicts of interest found it amusing that he was so worried about theirs.” [9/11 Commission, 3/2/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 83-85]
Abraham Sofaer of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, becomes the first expert witness to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He uses this opportunity to express his support for the war in Iraq. Sofaer, a former federal judge and State Department legal adviser, will later say that he was pleased to testify before the Commission and that he knew what an honor it was to be the first expert witness. According to author Philip Shenon, the witness list was drawn up by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who appears to be a supporter of the Iraq war (see June 14, 2002). Despite Sofaer’s experience, Shenon will think it “odd” that he is the first expert witness, as he has “no special expertise on the events of September 11.” Instead, he advocates the recent US invasion of Iraq and champions the concept of “preemptive defense” or “preemptive war,” even against a country that poses no imminent military threat. “The president’s principles are strategically necessary, morally sound, and legally defensible,” Sofaer says. He also criticizes the perceived policy of former President Bill Clinton, saying, “The notion that criminal prosecution could bring a terrorist group like al-Qaeda to justice is absurd.” In the future, he says, when an enemy “rises up to kill you,” the US should “rise up and kill him first.” He calls on the Commission to endorse the preemptive war concept, and, in effect, the invasion of Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 103-104]
Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
'We Need the Interviews' - Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts - This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 109-111]
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report - Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).
Tim Roemer. [Source: US Congress]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]
At early meetings of the 9/11 commission, Commissioner Max Cleland tries to persuade the other commissioners that they should investigate the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq. Cleland wants to know whether the president used 9/11 as an excuse to launch an attack he had been planning from the beginning of his presidency. Cleland also thinks that the administration’s obsession with Iraq was the reason it paid so little attention to the problem of terrorism in the spring and summer of 2001, and tells the other commissioners, “They were focused on Iraq, they were planning a war on Iraq, they were not paying attention to the business at hand.” However, the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, as well as Executive Director Philip Zelikow, are against this, as are some of the Republican commissioners, perhaps because of the popularity of the Iraq war at this point. Author Philip Shenon will say: “Even some of the Democrats [on the commission] were distancing themselves from him. Cleland knew he was quickly becoming a pariah.” Cleland will comment, “It was painfully obvious to me that there was this blanket over the commission, adding, “Anybody who spoke out or dissented, whether against George Bush, the White House, or the war against Iraq, was going to be marginalized.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 129-130]
White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director. The first call comes at 4:40 p.m. and is taken by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary at the Commission. Rove says: “This is Karl Rove. I’m looking for Philip.” Heitkotter wonders why Rove is calling Zelikow, but it is not her place to ask for a reason. Therefore, as Zelikow is out of the office, she gives Rove Zelikow’s cell phone number. Heitkotter has been keeping an unofficial record of Zelikow’s calls in a notebook she purchased herself, and logs the calls as “Karl Rove—gave PZ cell #.” Rove calls again the next day, looking for Zelikow. As he is again absent, Heitkotter takes a message. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 106-107] Zelikow will later describe two interactions with Rove during the Commission’s lifetime. It appears that, according to Zelikow, this exchange of calls was “related to past correspondence with me in my Miller Center role [Zelikow previously worked there as a historian], related to presidential library preparation (I had no horse in that race). It was a brief conversation and we did not discuss the Commission.” [Zelikow and Shenon, 2007 ] However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will dispute this, saying that there had been “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Rove will talk to Zelikow again in September (see September 4-15, 2003). Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that they were not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 173-174]
Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. Several members of the commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculation with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
While some find neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission of a terrorist conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to be compelling (see July 9, 2003), others do not. One group that is not convinced is the so-called “Jersey Girls,” the group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and then worked to force the Bush administration to create the Commission (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003). They lambast Commission director Philip Zelikow for allowing Mylroie to testify. “Jersey Girl” Lorie Van Auken, who has learned a great deal about Mylroie’s theories in her research, confronts Zelikow shortly after the hearings. “That took a lot of nerve putting someone like that on the panel,” she tells Zelikow. “Laurie Mylroie? This is supposed to be an investigation of September 11. This is not supposed to be a sales pitch for the Iraq war.” Van Auken later recalls “a sly smile” crossing Zelikow’s face, as he refuses to answer. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Van Auken will say. “He was selling the war.” After the hearing, Zelikow informs the staff that he wants them to aggressively pursue the idea of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Author Philip Shenon will later write, “To some members of the staff, Zelikow seemed determined to demonstrate that whatever the evidence to the contrary, Iraq and al-Qaeda had a close relationship that justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Warren Bass, the 9/11 Commission staffer allocated to review National Security Council documentation, comes to favor an account of events in the Bush administration given by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke over one given by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Clarke has claimed that the administration did not take the risk of an al-Qaeda attack seriously enough in the summer of 2001, whereas Rice claims the administration did everything it could to prevent one.
Documentation, Speeches, Briefings - Bass comes to this judgment partly because of the small amount of Rice’s e-mails and internal memos about terrorism from the spring and summer of 2001: there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “almost nothing to read.” In addition, she made very few references to terrorism in speeches and public appearances. For example, a speech she was to give on 9/11 itself about national security contained only a passing reference to terrorism (see September 11, 2001). On the contrary, Clarke left a pile of documents and a “rich narrative” of events at the White House concerning al-Qaeda, including warnings about an upcoming catastrophic terrorist attack in the summer of 2001. Bass also sees that Clarke was not allowed to brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before 9/11, whereas he repeatedly talked to President Bill Clinton about it.
Memo Warned of Attacks One Week before 9/11 - He is especially astounded to find a memo dated September 4, 2001 warning of a forthcoming attack by Osama bin Laden (see September 4, 2001). However, when he shows this to his team leader, Michael Hurley, they both realize it may be difficult to get this memo included in the commission’s report due to expected opposition from 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, who the staff suspects is biased towards Rice (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004 and February 28, 2005). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 146-149]
Memo Called a "Jeremiad" - The September 4 memo is mentioned in the commission’s final report, but is followed by a comment from Rice saying she saw it as a warning “not to get dragged down by bureaucratic inertia.” The report then calls the memo a “jeremiad” (a prolonged lamentation) and attributes it to Clarke’s inability “to persuade [the CIA and Pentagon] to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 212-213]
Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, goes to the White House to have lunch with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her staff. Zelikow is close to Rice and defends her interests on the Commission (see 1995, Before December 18, 2003, and May-June 2004). Zelikow’s White House passes are arranged by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary on the Commission. According to author Philip Shenon, during the Commission’s life, “More than once she [is] asked to arrange a gate pass so Zelikow [can] enter the White House to visit the national security adviser in her offices in the West Wing.” Allegedly, at the same time, “Zelikow [is] telling people how upset he [is] to cut off contact with his good friend Rice.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 107]
White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, one on September 4, the other on September 15. The subject of the calls, which are unofficially logged by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary with the Commission, is unclear. Zelikow and Rove had a previous exchange of calls in June (see June 23-24, 2003). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 107, 171-174] According to Zelikow, it concerns “this matter of his elderly friend who had these papers. It had no relation to contemporary problems; he [Rove] was being gracious to someone.” [Zelikow and Shenon, 2007 ] This will be confirmed by a White House official, who will say that Rove calls Zelikow on behalf of an elderly neighbor who had been a senior lawyer at the State Department at the end of World War II. The neighbor wonders whether the Miller Center, a historical research institute Zelikow used to work for, would like to see his papers and talk to him. However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will say this is not the only topic discussed and that there are also “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton say that they are not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 173-174]
A 9/11 Commission staffer notices a record of phone calls made to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, on the desk of Zelikow’s secretary. Glancing at it, the staffer notices the name “Rove,” a reference to White House adviser Karl Rove, who recently called Zelikow (see September 4-15, 2003). Paging through the records, the staffer finds other references to calls made by Rove to Zelikow (see June 23-24, 2003), as well as calls from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to Zelikow. According to author Philip Shenon: “The next day, word of Zelikow’s contacts at the White House began to spread wildly through the Commission. For many of the staff, it was just what they had suspected: Zelikow was some kind of White House mole, feeding information back to the administration about the Commission’s findings. Now, they thought, they had proof of it.” Some of the staffers debate whether to make a formal protest to the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, but decide against doing so, worrying about the scandal if the news ever leaked. Shenon will add: “They were furious with what Zelikow had done and how his conflicts had threatened the integrity of the investigation. But they knew how valuable this work was and how valuable their affiliation with the 9/11 Commission would be to their careers. They wanted its legacy to be untarnished.” Despite this, some of the 9/11 victims’ family members will learn of the contacts, as will a reporter (see September 16, 2003 or Shortly After). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 107, 172]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is interviewed by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon about contacts between Zelikow and White House adviser Karl Rove. According to Shenon, “Zelikow said that there had been only one exchange of phone calls with Rove months earlier and that they involved questions involving his old job at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia” (see June 23-24, 2003). However, there has recently been another exchange of calls (see September 4-15, 2003) and this is the source of some controversy on the Commission, so it is unclear how Zelikow could have failed to mention it (see September 15, 2003 or Shortly After). Shenon writes a “modest article” about the issue for the Times, but it will not be published due to a number of other, seemingly more important, stories. Shenon will later speculate that there were more than just two exchanges of calls between Rove and Zelikow, pointing out that, although records of some calls into the Commission were kept, outgoing calls were not logged in any way: “The General Services Administration, which maintains some of the telephone records from the 9/11 Commission, would not release records showing the specific telephone numbers called by Zelikow on his cell phone. But the records do show frequent calls to phone numbers in area code 202, which is Washington, that begin with the prefix 456-. That prefix is exclusive to phone numbers at the White House.” However, Shenon will also point out that “many if not most of the calls were almost certainly routine.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 172-174]
Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, tells his secretary Karen Heitkotter not to keeps records of his calls. Although there is no formal process for logging calls, Heitkotter has been keeping records of them for Zelikow in a notebook she purchased herself. However, Commission staffers recently learned of contacts between Zelikow and White House adviser Karl Rove, leading to bad feeling on the Commission (see September 4-15, 2003 and September 15, 2003 or Shortly After). Zelikow calls Heitkotter into his office and gives her the order without explaining why. According to Heitkotter, Zelikow is “insistent,” but she is worried about doing something improper so she asks a lawyer friend on the Commission what she should do. The friend tells her to contact someone in authority, to protect herself in case the information ever becomes public. She chooses Dan Marcus, the Commission’s counsel and a Democrat, telling him Zelikow has “asked me to stop keeping records—phone logs—for his contacts with the White House.” Marcus tells her not to obey Zelikow’s instruction and to continue to log the calls, although he does not raise the matter with Zelikow, the Commission’s Chairman Tom Kean, or Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton. Marcus will later say that Zelikow’s order “looks bad—it certainly doesn’t look good.” Asked about the matter later, Zelikow will simply deny that the Commission kept formal phone logs: “I think this is recycled, garbled office gossip. I don’t think my office kept phone logs.” [Zelikow and Shenon, 2007 ; Shenon, 2008, pp. 171-172; Democracy Now!, 2/7/2008]
9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow and several members of his staff embark on a fact-finding mission to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. While in Pakistan, they interview at least two senior members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Whether they are investigating a possible ISI role in the 9/11 plot remains unclear. [United Press International, 11/5/2003]
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). [New York Times, 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 ] 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 Family Steering Committee, an organization formed to represent some of the interests of the relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks, writes a letter to 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton about Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. The committee has lost its trust in Zelikow, because it has gradually found out more and more about him and his links to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as others the Commission is supposed to be investigating (see 1995, September 20, 2002, and September 16, 2003 or Shortly After). In addition, members of the committee have an extremely poor personal relationship with Zelikow, who they feel is dismissive of them and their concerns. The letter says that Kean and Hamilton should either force Zelikow to resign, or recuse himself from all the parts of the investigation linked to the National Security Council. Kean and Hamilton write back to the committee, saying they are aware of Zelikow’s ties to the administration, although it is unclear if they are aware of all of them at this point (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 166-168] However, the Commission will later interview Zelikow about his role in counterterrorism before 9/11 (see October 8, 2003) and he will be recused from dealing with the Bush administration transition (see October 9, 2003 or Shortly After), on which he worked (see January 3, 2001).
The 9/11 Commission interviews its own executive director, Philip Zelikow, over his role in counterterrorism affairs before 9/11 and his links to the Bush administration. The interview occurs shortly after victims’ relatives call for Zelikow’s removal from sensitive parts of the Commission’s investigation (see October 3, 2003).
Insists on Interview - Zelikow actually requests the interview himself and insists that he be placed under oath, as he thinks this will be proof of his eagerness to tell the truth. It is conducted by Dan Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer and one of Zelikow’s subordinates, and lasts for 90 minutes. Zelikow talks about his role in the Bush transition, when he authored a review of operations run by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that led to Clarke’s demotion and the downgrading of terrorism as a priority for the new administration (see January 3, 2001). Zelikow also admits writing a strategy document that was later used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). While the information was known before in outline, author Philip Shenon will say that it is “especially shocking when heard in this much detail.”
Serious Conflicts of Interest - Marcus notes that Zelikow’s resume mentions neither his role in the transition, nor his authorship of the pre-emptive war document. He forms the opinion that Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton may not have known all this before. “I have no idea whether they were deliberately blindsided or not,” he will say. Shenon will add: “Marcus and others on the staff tried to imagine how Zelikow’s conflicts could be any worse. They tried to imagine a comparable conflict on other important blue-ribbon commissions. It became a little parlor game in the office. Would the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster have hired a staff director who was a NASA lobbyist or an executive of one of the contractors that built the faulty shuttle? Would the Warren Commission have hired the chairman of the Dallas tourism board?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Recusal - Following the interview, Zelikow will be recused from the Commission’s investigation of the Bush transition as well as interviews of senior Bush officials (see October 9, 2003 or Shortly After).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is recused from some parts of the Commission’s investigation, specifically its examination of the Bush transition, on which he worked (see January 3, 2001), and interviews of senior Bush aides, including his associate, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see September 2003). This follows a complaint by victims’ relatives about Zelikow’s conflicts of interest (see October 3, 2003) and his interview by one of his own subordinates under oath (see October 8, 2003).
Only Recused from Some Aspects - The subordinate, the Commission’s counsel Daniel Marcus, recommended that, due to the conflicts, Zelikow should be recused from the Commission’s work on the transition and anything to do with the National Security Council (NSC). This is what the families wanted and, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “would have effectively ended Zelikow’s involvement in the parts of the investigation that were most important to him.” Zelikow will later say this recusal proposal “would have had the prompt and foreseeable effect of forcing my resignation.” However, Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton water the proposal down, allowing Zelikow to continue to work on most aspects of the NSC investigation.
Decision to Keep Zelikow Already Taken - According to Shenon, the decision to stick with Zelikow had been taken before Marcus interviewed him: “Kean and Hamilton made it clear to Marcus that they wanted to keep Zelikow on, regardless of what Marcus found. It was too late to find a new executive director. Besides, Zelikow had made himself indispensible, if only because he had so tightly controlled the flow of the information within the Commission that only he really knew all that was going on among the teams of investigators.” Marcus will say: “I think [Kean and Hamilton] basically made the decision that they were going to stick with this guy, that it was too late in the game to make a change.… [I]t was pretty clear that my instructions were to do what we needed to do on the recusal front and to make it work.”
Lack of Appreciation of Zelikow's Importance - One reason behind the decision to keep Zelikow may be that Kean and, in particular, Hamilton do not fully appreciate how important Zelikow’s role is in shaping the Commission’s final output. Marcus will comment, “Lee had this view, which was somewhat unrealistic, that the staff was not important.” Shenon will add, “In Hamilton’s view, Marcus thought, Zelikow might be the most important person on the staff, but he was still a ‘staffer’ and was not capable of ‘sneaking something’ by the commissioners.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-171]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. [CNN, 8/17/2005; Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005] Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. [New York Times, 8/10/2005] Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at [Defense Department] before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ]
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]
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 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]
Entity Tags: Andrew Card, White House, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission suspects that the CIA is using harsh techniques on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees who are being interviewed about the 9/11 plot. The commission does not interview the detainees itself, but submits questions to the CIA, and the CIA then puts them to the detainees. However, commission staffers will later be reported to have “guessed” that harsh techniques are being used, and are worried these techniques affect the detainees’ credibility. Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later say, “We were not aware, but we guessed, that things like that were going on.” According to senior US intelligence officials, the detainees used as sources by the 9/11 Commission are “subjected to the harshest of the CIA’s methods,” including “physical and mental abuse, exposure to extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.” [MSNBC, 1/30/2008] One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager will say that up to 90% of the information he provides under questioning is unreliable (see August 6, 2007).
The NSA allows the 9/11 Commission to access its archives on al-Qaeda, but the commission does not appear interested. The commission had previously shown little interest in the NSA’s material (see Late 2002-July 2004), and is having trouble getting access to information from other agencies, but this offer does not stimulate any additional interest. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “[P]erversely, the more eager [NSA director] General Hayden was to cooperate, the less interested [9/11 Commission executive director Philip] Zelikow and others at the commission seemed to be in what was buried in the NSA files.” Lorry Fenner, a commission staffer who previously worked with the NSA, arranges for a set of relevant NSA files to be transferred to a special reading room in Washington not far from the commission’s offices, so the relevant staff members can have easy access to the material. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156] However, this does not stimulate any interest, and Fenner begins to read through the material herself (see January 2004).
9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey threatens to resign from the commission after discovering a memo written by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow outlining Zelikow’s ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995). Kerrey, who was recently appointed to the commission (see December 9, 2003), makes this discovery on his first day at the commission’s offices.
Conflict of Interests - Kerrey will later say that, although he was aware Zelikow and Rice were friends, he “just could not believe” the more detailed information the memo contains. For example, Zelikow had been responsible for downgrading terrorism as a priority in the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001) and had authored a pre-emptive war doctrine that amounted to the “gene code” for the administration’s policy on Iraq (see September 20, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will write, “Kerrey wondered how [9/11 Commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton could have agreed to put someone with such an obvious conflict of interest in charge of the investigation.”
Persuaded to Remain - The next day, Kerrey meets Kean and tells him, “Look, Tom, either he goes or I go.” Kean tries to talk Kerrey out of it, saying he and Hamilton are keeping a close eye on Zelikow for signs of partisanship. However, he only convinces Kerrey to continue to think over his decision. Shenon will comment, “For Kean, it was hard to see which would be worse, the loss of Zelikow so late in the investigation or the angry resignation of a newly arrived commissioner because of Zelikow’s conflicts of interest.” Soon after this, Kean convinces Kerrey to drop his threat to resign entirely, and both Kerrey and Zelikow remain on the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 164-165]
9/11 Commission staffer Les Hawley is shocked by the interview of former Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, which is primarily conducted by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow. Hawley himself had prepared the questions for Reno after researching what she might be able to tell the commission about her aggressive pursuit of criminal investigations against al-Qaeda, but her caution about using other means.
Questioning - However, at the interview Zelikow dispenses with Hawley’s questions and, according to author Philip Shenon, launches into a “fierce interrogation.” Zelikow makes it obvious, “at least to Hawley, that he [has] utter disdain for Reno and her performance at the Justice Department under Clinton, that she was an architect of the Clinton administration’s weak-kneed antiterrorism policies.” His questions are “focused on demonstrating that Reno had been disorganized, even incompetent, in her management of the department and in overseeing its part in the war on terror.”
Hawley's Reaction - Reno, who is visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, seems unconcerned, possibly because she got used to such treatment when she was in office. Hawley, however, is “startled by Zelikow’s antagonistic tone.” Zelikow takes up the vast majority of the two hours allocated for the interview, leaving only a few minutes for other staffers at the end. A memo for the records is drafted after every interview, and in this case it is Hawley’s job to write it up. According to Shenon, he decides he needs “to get across to the commission what Zelikow was up to—that his partisanship had been blatantly on display in his questioning of Reno.” Therefore, the memo is not a summary of the interview, but mostly “a transcript of the harsh questions that Zelikow had asked and the answers Reno had given.” Hawley tells his colleagues, “I don’t want anybody reading this memo, commissioner or staff, not to understand what happened.”
Part of a Pattern - Shenon will comment: “It was a pattern that Hawley would see again and again on the commission. Others would tell him how offended they were by Zelikow and what they saw as his pattern of partisan moves intended to protect the White House in the investigation. But apart from Warren Bass [another staffer], most would never confront Zelikow themselves. Others on the commission, including some of the commissioners, were frightened of Zelikow.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 485; Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-319]
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]
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Les Hawley, US Department of State, Scott Allan, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
The 9/11 Commission’s teams of investigators are asked to present interim staff reports to be read in the public hearings. Each report summarizes the staff’s findings regarding the subject of the day’s testimony. The reports help frame the questions for the day’s witnesses, and provide the basis for some of the chapters of the final report, so they are quite important and closely reported in the media. The commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, almost always rewrites the reports. Zelikow is smarting from the rounds of public criticism he has suffered for his apparent close ties to the Bush administration (see November 1997-August 1998, January 3, 2001, September 20, 2002, and March 21, 2004), and decides that he alone should read each staff report in the hearings—in essence, presenting himself as the public face of the commission and hopefully garnering some positive press coverage. That idea falls flat when angry staffers complain to the commissioners. But Zelikow continues to rewrite the reports, often improving on the language and wording, and sometimes rewriting reports to insert information that staffers find unsupportable (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Kevin Scheid. [Source: Abledangerblog(.com)]After finding that nobody else on the 9/11 Commission is interested in what the NSA knew about al-Qaeda in general and the 9/11 plot in particular (see Late 2002-July 2004 and Late 2003), commission staffer Lorry Fenner decides to try to read through a portion of the material herself. Fenner is “astonished” that nobody from the commission’s team investigating the 9/11 plot is reading the material, and thinks about asking her boss, Kevin Scheid, to tell the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow that somebody should read the material. However, Scheid resists a confrontation with Zelikow, and Fenner does not want to go over her boss’s head and talk to Zelikow herself. Therefore, although she has other duties on the commission, she starts to read through the material herself. There are tens of thousands of pages of NSA documents about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and, according to author Philip Shenon, “It would take several days of reading to get through even a small portion of it.” Fenner spends “two or three hours” on “several days” between January and June in the reading room, and some colleagues help her towards the end (see June 2004 and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004), but most of the information will go unread by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156-7, 370]
9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 222-224] The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).
Following an October 2003 meeting with three members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff (see October 21, 2003), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer tries contacting Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, as requested by Zelikow himself. Shaffer is an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers in early 2000 (see January-February 2000). He phones Zelikow’s number the first week of January 2004. The person who replies tells him, “I will talk to Dr. Zelikow and find out when he wants you to come in.” However, Shaffer receives no call back, so a week later he phones again. This time, the person who answers him says, “Dr. Zelikow tells me that he does not see the need for you to come in. We have all the information on Able Danger.”
[Government Security News, 9/2005] Yet the commission doesn’t even receive the Able Danger documentation they had previously requested from the Defense Department until the following month (see February 2004). [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ]
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]
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
"I Don't Recall" - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
"We Just Didn't Believe Him" - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257-260]
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 78]
Last-minute action by the 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow averts the filing of a subpoena on the White House over access by the Commission to information from Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). The Commission has already hired an outside counsel to deal with the subpoena and drafted its text (see January 2004).
Effort by Zelikow - However, Zelikow works practically nonstop for 48 hours to draft a 17-page, 7,000-word summary of what is in the documents. He knows that a lot of the information in the highly classified PDBs is also available in less classified documents, to which the White House cannot object the Commission having and referencing. Therefore, he summarises the contents of the PDBs, but sources what he writes to the less classified material.
Agreement - Exhausted by the arguments over the PDBs with the White House, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who has also read all the PDBs that need to be summarised, agrees that Zelikow’s summary can serve as the basis for a compromise with the White House. White House chief of staff Andrew Card pressures White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to accept it as well.
Victims' Families Angry - However, relatives of the attacks’ victims are angry. Author Philip Shenon will write, “Many of the 9/11 family groups were outraged by this new compromise; it was even clearer now that only Gorelick and their nemesis Zelikow would ever see the full library of PDBs; the other commissioners would see only an edited version of what Gorelick and Zelikow chose to show them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 224-225]
The 9/11 Commission has a private meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The meeting is held in the White House’s Situation Room, the location apparently chosen by Rice in an attempt to impress the commissioners.
Questioning Is 'Polite but Pointed' - The White House has insisted that the encounter be described as a “meeting” rather than an “interview,” because that would sound too formal and prosecutorial. In addition, there is to be no recording of the interview and Rice is not placed under oath. The time limit on the interview is two hours, but it actually lasts four. Rice’s close associate Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, attends, but is not allowed to say anything because he has been recused from this part of the investigation. The questioning is led by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, and will be described as “polite but pointed” by author Philip Shenon.
Commissioners Privately Critical of Rice - The commissioners are aware of allegations that Rice performed poorly in the run-up to 9/11 (see Before December 18, 2003), but are unwilling to aggressively attack an accomplished black woman. However, they think the allegations are well-founded. Commission Chairman Tom Kean will say, “obviously Rice bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for not understanding how serious this threat [of terrorist attacks] was.” Commissioner John Lehman will say that he has “no doubt” former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would have paid more attention to the warnings of a forthcoming attack. Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say that the administration’s failure to act on the urgent warnings was “spectacularly wrong.” Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will comment that Rice “assumed away the hardest part of her job,” and that she should have focused on keeping the president up to date on events, rather than trying to put his intentions into action. Commissioner Bob Kerrey will agree with this and will later recall one of Rice’s comments at this meeting, “I took the president’s thoughts and I helped the president describe what he was thinking.” According to Kerrey, this shows how Rice performed her job incorrectly. She should have been advising the president on what to do, not packaging his thoughts. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 230-239]
Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Thomas Kean, Slade Gorton, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Condoleezza Rice, John Lehman
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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]
After finding that FAA and US military officials have made a string of false statements to them about the air defense on the day of the attacks and have withheld key documents for months (see September 2003, Late October 2003, October 14, 2003, and November 6, 2003), the 9/11 Commission’s staff proposes a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into those officials.
Proposal Sent to Zelikow - The proposal is contained in a memo sent by the Commission team investigating the day of the attacks to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. However, nothing much is done with the memo for months. A similar proposal will then be submitted to the very last meeting of the 9/11 commissioners, who decide to refer the matter not to the Justice Department, but to the inspectors general of the Pentagon and FAA (see Shortly before July 22, 2004). Whereas the Justice Department could bring criminal charges for perjury, if it found they were warranted, the inspectors general cannot.
Dispute over Events - According to John Azzarello, a Commission staffer behind the proposal, Zelikow fails to act on the proposal for weeks. Azzarello will say that Zelikow, who has friends at the Pentagon (see (Late October-Early November 2003)), “just buried that memo.” Azzarello’s account will be backed by Commission team leader John Farmer. However, Zelikow will say that Azzarello was not party to all the discussions about what to do and that the memo was delayed by other Commission staffers, not him. Zelikow’s version will receive backing from the Commission’s lawyer, Daniel Marcus. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 209-210]
Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. [New York Times, 3/20/2004; United Press International, 3/23/2004] 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” [NBC, 4/4/2004] Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 263] However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. [Salon, 4/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Lee Hamilton, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Citizens Watch, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004; Washington Post, 3/25/2004; Washington Post, 3/26/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281]
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281] Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]
There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) [New York Times, 4/30/2004; Washington Post, 4/30/2004]
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 342-343] Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. [Knight Ridder, 3/31/2004; Newsweek, 4/2/2004; New York Times, 4/3/2004]
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” [Washington Post, 4/29/2004]
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 343-345]
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 292] According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 344] Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 344]
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 345]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow in Tel Aviv, October 2006. [Source: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Getty Images]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow tells the staff team working on the Bush administration’s response to terrorist threats in the summer of 2001 that their drafts must be rewritten to cast National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a better light. Rice’s testimony about the administration’s prioritizing of terrorism has been contradicted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who said that al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the White House. The Commission staffers think that Clarke is telling the truth, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, Clarke had left a “vast documentary record” about the White House’s inattention to terrorism. Clarke’s account is also corroborated by other National Security Council (NSC) members, the CIA, and the State Department.
Zelikow's Reaction - However, Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), tells the staffers their version is “too Clarke-centric” and demands “balance.” Shenon will comment: “He never said so explicitly, but Zelikow made clear to [the staffers] that the Commission’s final report should balance out every statement of Clarke’s with a statement from Rice. The team should leave out any judgment on which of them was telling the truth.”
Support from Commission Lawyer - Zelikow is supported to a point in this dispute by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer. Marcus thinks that the staffers are making Clarke into a “superhero,” and that there were some “limitations and flaws” in his performance. Marcus also sees that the staff’s suspicions of Zelikow and his ties to Rice are no longer hidden, but will later say, “In a sense they overreacted to Philip because they were so worried about him they pushed and pushed and pushed, and sometimes they were wrong.”
Staffer Regrets Not Resigning Earlier - One of the key staffers involved in the dispute, Warren Bass, had previously considered resigning from the Commission due to what he perceived as Zelikow’s favoring of Rice. At this point he regrets not resigning earlier, but does not do so now. Bass and his colleagues merely console themselves with the hope that the public will read between the lines and work out that Clarke is telling the truth and Rice is not.
"Tortured Passages" - Shenon will comment: “[T]he results of the team’s work were some of the most tortured passages in the final report, especially in the description of the performance of the NSC in the first months of the Bush presidency. It was written almost as a point, counterpoint—Clarke says this, Rice says the opposite—with no conclusion about what the truth finally was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 394-396]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow in April 2004. [Source: Joe Marquette/European Pressphoto Agency]9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow is investigated by the Justice Department following a complaint by the CIA that he mishandled classified information. Zelikow did not leak information to reporters, but there are suspicions he has included classified information in e-mails with other people on the Commission, including e-mails that were sent overseas. The CIA received notification that Zelikow may have mishandled the information from an unnamed member of the Commission’s staff. Zelikow is not interviewed during the investigation, and will later say that he does not become aware of it until later and that his security clearances will later be renewed. Zelikow will also say that the investigation may be an attempt by the CIA to play “hardball” in a dispute over the declassification of information, and to “criminalize this dispute and target me in the process.” The CIA will deny this, saying that they could have leaked news of the investigation to the press, but did not do so. Some of the Commission’s staff find the investigation to be ironic, because Zelikow fired staffer Dana Lesemann for a less serious breach of the rules for handling classified documents soon after the Commission started. The information is closely held within the 9/11 Commission, and even some commissioners do not learn of the investigation. It is unclear how the investigation concludes and how seriously it is taken at the Justice Department. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 406-410]
The 9/11 Commission awards the contract to publish and distribute its final report to W. W. Norton & Company, a leading publisher. The contract is awarded by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who had previously edited or written eight books published by Norton. It is Zelikow’s idea to award the contract to a private publisher, as the Government Printing Office would not be able to print a large number of copies of the report quickly and would charge a high price, and commission chairman Tom Kean allows Zelikow to select the publisher. Norton is chosen over the other two publishers considered, Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt & Company, and PublicAffairs Books, as Zelikow says it offers the best package, security will be good, and it will sell the report for a reasonable $10. One of the conditions of the contract with Norton enables the publisher to keep any profits it may make, even though the report was drafted at the taxpayer’s expense. Several of the commissioners do not know of Zelikow’s connection to the publisher until long after the contract is signed, although Zelikow will say he does not have a conflict of interest as he had long ago waived royalties from his other books published by Norton. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 399-400]
Ernest May, a consultant hired by the 9/11 Commission to help with the drafting of its final report, tells the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, that the report is “indulgent” towards senior officials in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. He thinks that the report is incomplete in many ways as it is being censored by the two groups of commissioners—Democrats and Republicans. However, he believes the effect on the report goes beyond what is reasonable. According to May, the report fails to hold accountable officials that should take a share of the blame for failing to prevent 9/11, and the judgments about Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as their senior aides, are overly forgiving. However, these comments do not spur Zelikow to take any action and do not have an impact on the final version of the report. In addition, May generally does not share them with other staffers on the Commission. In an article published after the report, May will write, “The report is probably too balanced,” adding: “Individuals, especially the two presidents and their intimate advisers, received even more indulgent treatment. The text does not describe Clinton’s crippling handicaps as leader of his own national security community. Extraordinarily quick and intelligent, he, more than almost anyone else, had an imaginative grasp of the threat posed by al-Qaeda. But he had almost no authority enabling him to get his government to address this threat.” Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will agree with some of this. “We did pull our punches on the conclusions because we wanted to have a unanimous report,” he will say. “There was this implicit threat, occasionally made explicit on both sides of the aisle on the Commission, that by God, if you get explicit in criticizing Bush on this, we’re going to insist on being explicit in criticizing Clinton, and vice versa.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 387, 413]
As the 9/11 Commission report is being finalized, the consultant charged with drafting it, Ernest May, comes to favor an account of the Bush administration’s treatment of terrorism before 9/11 given by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Clarke has said that the administration did not pay enough attention to the problem of terrorism, whereas his former superior, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, had argued the administration did what it could, but the attacks were unstoppable. May comes to this conclusion after reviewing the documentation obtained by the commission, despite the fact that he is close to the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, who had worked with Rice in the past (see 1995 and January 3, 2001) and is trying to downplay Clarke’s role. The language of the draft report reflects May’s views, but others working on the report, including an unnamed prominent Democrat on the staff, say the language is “inflammatory,” and get it taken out of the report. According to May, the report is then written in such a way as to avoid “even implicit endorsement of Clarke’s public charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 390-391]
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]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow telephones a CIA analyst who co-wrote a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” President George Bush received the briefing in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The tone of the conversation will be disputed. According to an anonymous Commission staffer who overhears part of the conversation and who talks to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow pressures the analyst to accept the version of the PDB offered by Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and say that it contained historical information and was written in response to a request by President Bush for such briefing. Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001) and defends her interests on the Commission (see May-June 2004). However, Zelikow will later deny pressuring the analyst, saying he was merely trying to prepare a summary of what was known about the PDB for the commissioners and that he had little time, so the interview was conducted by telephone. Nevertheless, the call is in violation of several internal Commission rules, including the requirement that significant interviews be conducted in the presence of at least two staff members. Shenon will describe the call as “a private inquiry into the origins of what was, without doubt, the most controversial document in the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 374-376] Zelikow will try to stop one of the commissioners, Richard Ben-Veniste, from talking to the analyst and a colleague (see Early July 2004).
In a late-night editing session, 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Dieter Snell, head of the Commission team investigating the 9/11 plot, delete sections of the 9/11 Commission Report linking two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to suspected Saudi government operatives.
Evidence of Saudi Link - The sections were drafted by two of Snell’s team members, Mike Jacobson and Raj De, and deal with Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had helped the two hijackers (see January 15-February 2000); Fahad al-Thumairy, another of their associates (see June 9, 2000); cash transfers from the wife of the Saudi ambassador in Washington to an associate of al-Bayoumi (see December 4, 1999); and a taxi driver who said he had seen the two hijackers in Los Angeles (see 2002).
Disagreement - However, Snell, a former prosecutor, is opposed to these sections, as he thinks the hijackers’ links to Saudi intelligence are not 100 percent proven, so it is better to leave them out. Jacobson is notified of the editing session just before midnight; he calls De and they both go into the Commission’s offices to discuss the material. Snell says that the final report should not contain allegations that cannot be backed up conclusively, but Jacobson and De say demanding this level of proof would exonerate the guilty.
Saudi Ties Moved to Endnotes - Zelikow appears sympathetic to Jacobson and De, and had also entertained suspicions of the Saudis at one point. However, he apparently sees his role at this late stage as that of a mediator and allows Snell to delete the sections from the main body of the report, although Jacobson and De are then permitted to write endnotes covering them. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 398-399] Material unfavorable to Pakistan is also omitted from the report (see July 22, 2004).
Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
The final text of the 9/11 Commission’s report is drafted in the two months before publication on July 22, 2004. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274, 296] Although staff members have input into the process, the finished text is subject to vetoes by the ten commissioners, Executive Director Philip Zelikow, and staffer Ernest May, whose main task is the writing of the report. May will later comment, “no language appeared anywhere in the final text unless Zelikow or I or both of us—and all the commissioners—had accepted it.” [New Republic, 5/23/2005] Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton will later write that “there was some concern we not end up with a ‘staff report’—commissioners were determined to review every word, and supply their own comments, corrections, and language for the report.” They will add: “While we did expect there to be a good deal of commissioner editing, we did not anticipate the extent of back-and-forth that took place through June and the first part of July. Commissioners went through the report six or seven times, word by word….” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274]
9/11 Commission staffers that looked at the FBI’s performance prior to the attacks are amazed when they read a draft of the report. The draft recommends almost no changes at the FBI and says that, regarding FBI reforms, “we defer to Director Mueller.” Several staffers go so far as to call this a “whitewash,” as they want an overhaul at the FBI, in particular of its counterterrorist operations. One of the staffers, Caroline Barnes, decides she has to appeal this to the commissioners. However, Executive Director Philip Zelikow does not like staffers talking to the commissioners directly (see March 2, 2003), so Barnes has to make contact with them in a place where Zelikow will not see it. She corners female commissioner Jamie Gorelick in the ladies’ room and tells her the staff are uncomfortable with what the report recommends about the FBI. Gorelick is concerned, and arranges for the whole of the team dealing with the FBI to brief the commissioners before the recommendations are approved. This leads to some minor changes in the final report. The phrase about deferring to the FBI director is edited out, and the commission calls on the bureau to promote the work of counterterrorist agents instead of treating them like second-class citizens. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 403-404]
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]
Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right). [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Philip Zelikow, formerly the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will serve as a senior adviser for Condoleezza Rice in her new position as secretary of state. His position, counselor of the United States Department of State, is considered equal to undersecretary of state. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/28/2005] Rice says: “Philip and I have worked together for years. I value his counsel and expertise. I appreciate his willingness to take on this assignment.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow tells his new colleagues at the State Department that it is “the sort of job he had always wanted.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 418] 9/11 victims’ relatives groups had demanded Zelikow’s resignation from the 9/11 Commission, claiming conflict of interest, including being too close to Rice (see March 21, 2004).
Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]
Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Philip Zelikow, who is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s closest aide, gives a speech asserting that the US must seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, Zelikow says, the US may have trouble securing the support of Arab moderates and Europeans in dealing with the Middle East. The speech seems to be the result of a long discussion of the topic between Rice and former Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft (see October 2004). The counterattack from the neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney’s office, who want nothing to do with any settlements with the Palestinians, is immediate and fierce. Cheney’s office issues harsh condemnations of Zelikow, and neoconservative-friendly newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun publish news reports designed to undermine Zelikow’s message. Rice refuses to stand up to Cheney on behalf of Zelikow, and the State Department officially repudiates Zelikow’s remarks. Zelikow resigns his post. The neoconservatives’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remain the guiding force behind the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 8]
In late September 2006, a new book by Bob Woodward reveals that CIA Director Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave National Security Adviser Rice their most urgent warning about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001 and September 29, 2006). Tenet detailed this meeting to the 9/11 Commission in early 2004 (see January 28, 2004), but it was not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report later that year. According to the Washington Post, “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] The 9/11 Commissioners initially vigorously deny that they were not told about the meeting. For instance, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she checked with commission staff who told her they were never told about a meeting on that date. She says, “We didn’t know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.” [Washington Post, 9/30/2006] Commissioner Tim Roemer says, “None of this was shared with us in hours of private interviews, including interviews under oath, nor do we have any paper on this. I’m deeply disturbed by this. I’m furious.” Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says the meeting “was never mentioned to us.” Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, says the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing in their private interviews with Tenet and Black to suggest that they made such a dire presentation to Rice. “If we had heard something that drew our attention to this meeting, it would have been a huge thing.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] However, on October 3, 2006, a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony to the 9/11 Commission is leaked to reporters and clearly shows that Tenet did warn Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda threat on July 10, 2001. Ben-Veniste, who attended the meeting along with Zelikow and other staff members, now confirms the meeting did take place and claims to recall details of it, even though he, Zelikow, and other 9/11 Commissioners had denied the existence of the meeting as recently as the day before. In the transcript, Tenet says “the system was blinking red” at the time. This statement becomes a chapter title in the 9/11 Commission’s final report but the report, which normally has detailed footnotes, does not make it clear when Tenet said it. [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Zelikow had close ties to Rice before joining the 9/11 Commission, having co-written a book with her (see March 21, 2004), and became one of her key aides after the commission disbanded (see February 28, 2005). Zelikow does not respond to requests for comments after Tenet’s transcript surfaces. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Washington Post, 10/3/2006]
MSNBC counts the number of endnotes in the 9/11 Commission report that cite detainee interrogations and finds that more than a quarter of them—441 out of over 1,700—do so. It is widely believed that the detainees were tortured while in US custody, and that statements made under torture are unreliable. One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager said that up to 90 percent of the information he provided under questioning was unreliable (see August 6, 2007). The endnotes often give the sources of the information contained in the main text. MSNBC comments: “The analysis shows that much of what was reported about the planning and execution of the terror attacks on New York and Washington was derived from the interrogations of high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives. Each had been subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ Some were even subjected to waterboarding.” In addition, many of the endnotes that cite detainee interrogations are for the report’s “most critical chapters”—five, six, and seven—which cover the planning of the attacks and the hijackers’ time in the US. In total, the Commission relied on more than 100 CIA interrogation reports. Its Executive Director Philip Zelikow admits that “quite a bit, if not most” of its information on the 9/11 conspiracy “did come from the interrogations.” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law, says, “It calls into question how we were willing to use these interrogations to construct the narrative.” [MSNBC, 1/30/2008]
The editorial board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls for a new inquiry into 9/11, as it believes the 9/11 Commission’s investigation may have been compromised. The call is due to a new book by New York Times journalist Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. The book highlights the close relationship between 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and the White House, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, as well as an attempt he made to connect Iraq to al-Qaeda. The Post-Intelligencer writes of Zelikow that “[s]omeone with an apparent deference for the White House should not have been trusted with such a valued task.” It comments, “If bulletproof, the book prompts us to add one more thing to our to-do list for the next administration: Pressure it to charge a panel of independent experts to write a real, nonpartisan report on the attacks.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/4/2008]
Some media outlets pick up on a claim made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey on March 27, 2008, when he said that the US intercepted a call to a 9/11 hijacker in the US from an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan (see March 27, 2008). This was possibly a garbled reference to an al-Qaeda hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001) mentioned by several administration officials since the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping story was exposed (see December 17, 2005). The San Francisco Chronicle notes that Mukasey “did not explain why the government, if it knew of telephone calls from suspected foreign terrorists, hadn’t sought a wiretapping warrant from a court established by Congress to authorize terrorist surveillance, or hadn’t monitored all such calls without a warrant for 72 hours as allowed by law.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28/2008] Salon commentator and former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald will attack Mukasey over the story, commenting, “These are multiple falsehoods here, and independently, this whole claim makes no sense.” [Salon, 3/29/2008; Salon, 4/4/2008]
9/11 Commission Comment - In response to a query from Greenwald, former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow comments: “Not sure of course what [Mukasey] had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report… was not of this character. If, as he says, the [US government] didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we.” [Salon, 4/3/2008] (Note: the 9/11 Commission report may actually contain two cryptic references to what Mukasey is talking about (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222] Former 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton initially refuses to comment, but later says: “I am unfamiliar with the telephone call that Attorney General Mukasey cited in his appearance in San Francisco on March 27. The 9/11 Commission did not receive any information pertaining to its occurrence.” [Salon, 4/3/2008; Salon, 4/8/2008]
Other Media - The topic will also be covered by Raw Story and mentioned by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, who also attacks Mukasey: “What? The government knew about some phone call from a safe house in Afghanistan into the US about 9/11? Before 9/11?” He adds: “Either the attorney general just admitted that the government for which he works is guilty of malfeasant complicity in the 9/11 attacks, or he’s lying. I’m betting on lying.” [Raw Story, 4/1/2008; MSNBC, 4/1/2008; Raw Story, 4/3/2008] The story is also picked up by CBS commentator Kevin Drum, who appears to be unaware that information about some NSA intercepts of the hijackers’ calls was first made public by the Congressional Inquiry five years previously. However, Drum comments: “[T]his deserves some followup from the press. Mukasey has spoken about this in public, so if he’s claiming that FISA prevented us from intercepting a key call before 9/11 he also needs to defend that in public.” [CBS, 4/3/2008; CBS, 4/4/2008] A group of Congressmen also formally asks the Justice Department for an explanation of the matter (see April 3, 2008).
Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. [Foreign Policy, 2/17/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Progressive reporter and pundit Spencer Ackerman, responding to former State Department official Philip Zelikow’s revelation of his opposition to the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 21, 2009), calls Zelikow’s Zelikow’s article in which he explained why he opposed those policies “a delicate and thoughtful rejection of the Bush administration’s architecture of torture.” Ackerman then writes: “To ask an impolite question of Zelikow: why didn’t he resign? I know, resignations of senior officials are few and far between. But it seems like this is one of those issues—the entrenchment of a widespread system of abusive interrogations that are, you acknowledge, most likely illegal—that merits walking out the door. I’m not trying to play the critic, especially after he’s offered such a candid, honest view of his tenure. Nor do I mean to imply that resignation is an easy thing—particularly if you’re trying to change the system from within. But it still seems like a question worth asking.” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]
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