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President Bush, after having trouble making a telephone call, instructs Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, to fix the problem and ensure that he is able to make calls at any time, but the issue will not have resolved by September 11, when Bush experiences significant communication problems. While he is being driven through Washington, DC, in his limousine, Bush tries to make a phone call but is unable to get a signal and hears only static. When he arrives at the White House, he calls Hagin over to discuss the problem. (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Hagin is a little known but influential member of the White House staff who, according to Politico, “manages everything around the president and the presidency except politics and policy.” (Allen 7/3/2008; Abramowitz 7/4/2008) Bush tells him the president should be able to call anyone at any time. “He essentially said to me, ‘We need to fix this and fix it quickly,’” Hagin will later recall. Bush adds, “What would we do if something really serious happened and this didn’t work?” (Ambinder 4/11/2011) Presumably as part of Hagin’s effort to resolve the problem, in the spring of 2001, the White House commissions the Department of Defense to study a communications upgrade. (Yellin 12/20/2006) However, Hagin’s task will not have been completed by September 11. On that day, Bush and other senior government officials will experience serious communication problems (see (After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001; (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001; and (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Ambinder 4/11/2011) But the 9/11 attacks, according to the Associated Press, “spurred on the effort to modernize White House communications.” Hagin subsequently “took the White House’s cell phone technology digital, upgraded the systems in the president’s cars, and moved staffers to the BlackBerry wireless communicator, while not freeing them from carrying pagers as well.” (Associated Press 8/22/2003) According to Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he fix to the presidential communications was one of the first things that was done after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
President Bush and his staff have difficulty communicating with colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are traveling on Air Force One, after the plane takes off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006; Graff 9/9/2016) Bush had problems calling his colleagues at the White House while he was being driven to the airport, after leaving the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006)
Air Force One Should Have 'Outstanding Communications' - He ought to have more success after he boards Air Force One, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001), since the plane has state-of-the-art communications systems. (Inside the White House 9/1998; Hardesty 2003, pp. 167) Its capabilities are “just as good as the communications from the Oval Office in terms of [the president] being able to call, in a secure way, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the generals that might have to fight a war, or the vice president or… the national security adviser,” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will later comment. The plane has the “capacity to have… outstanding communications,” he will say. (Card 8/12/2002)
Communications Systems Are 'All Jammed' - However, Bush and his staff have great difficulty sending and receiving information about the day’s events while they are on Air Force One. (Donnelly 9/22/2002) The “multiple [communications] systems—commercial and terrestrial systems” on the plane are “all jammed,” according to Master Sergeant Dana Lark, superintendent of communications. Lark actually wonders, “Did someone sabotage our comms?” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Bush Has Problems Communicating with Vice President Cheney - Bush finds that his calls are successful only intermittently. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) Attempts are made to establish an open line with Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are at the White House, but the line keeps dropping. (Bush 2010, pp. 131) “It was absolutely stunning, standing next to the president as he was talking to the vice president, then holding the phone off his ear because it cut off,” White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will comment. (Graff 9/9/2016) At one point, Bush pounds his desk in frustration and shouts: “This is inexcusable. Get me the vice president.” (Kohn 9/11/2002) He also has difficulty reaching his wife, Laura, since the line keeps dropping when he tries to call her. He eventually talks to her shortly before 11:45 a.m., when Air Force One is approaching Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (Shortly Before 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bush 2010, pp. 132)
Officials in Washington Are Unable to Call the Plane - Some key individuals in Washington are unsuccessful when they try calling Air Force One. Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the White House Situation Room, is unable to contact the plane while it is flying from Sarasota to Barksdale Air Force Base, even when he tries calling its satellite phone (see 9:54 a.m.-11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/16/2004) And White House counselor Karen Hughes is unable to reach the president when she tries calling him while he is airborne (see (Between 10:31 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; NBC 4/4/2004)
Bush Has His First Teleconference Hours after Leaving Sarasota - As a result of his problems communicating from the plane, Bush will hold his first teleconference with his principal advisers at around 3:15 p.m. (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001)—more than five hours after he takes off from Sarasota—after he arrives at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, where there is sophisticated communications equipment (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Donnelly 9/22/2002; Weisul 11/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326) By that time, the communication problems will apparently have started to ease. Lark will recall that as Air Force One is flying to Offutt, “some of the commercial systems finally began to become available” and she actually receives a call from her chief. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Good Communications Are 'Critical' for the President - Bush’s communication problems may have a significant impact on the government’s ability to respond to the terrorist attacks. Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, will explain why the president’s ability to communicate during a crisis is so important, saying, “In the case of any kind of attack in the United States, what you’re supposed to do is get the president off the ground and Air Force One then becomes the command center.” Once he is airborne, the president is “commanding the forces of the United States from the air,” Kean will say. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) “The president literally can’t function in his constitutional role unless he can communicate, so [good communications are] absolutely critical,” Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer, will similarly comment. (Bates 10/2002) The president “is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given,” Kean will note. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/10/2006) However, Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will claim that the communication problems have only a limited impact. “[F]or the most part I believe the president had the ability to do what was necessary to be in control and have command of his forces, and talk with his national security structure,” he will say. (White House 8/29/2002)
Communications Systems Are Supposedly 'Saturated' - Lark will learn at a later date that the communication problems occur because, she will say, “the commercial systems were all just saturated.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Rosenker will similarly suggest that the problems may be partly due to the fact that communications from Air Force One “have to get through a regular telephone network,” and when there is a crisis, the increased volume of communications “jam and overuse the structure.” (White House 8/29/2002) On top of their problems making and receiving calls, Bush and his staffers have difficulty monitoring the television coverage of the attacks while they are airborne, because the reception on the plane is poor and intermittent (see (9:54 a.m.-6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kohn 9/11/2002; Donnelly 9/22/2002; Graff 9/9/2016)
Following Henry Kissinger’s resignation as 9/11 Commission chairman the day before (see November 27, 2002), presidential aide Karl Rove calls Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, to ask if he is willing to be considered as chairman of the Commission. Kean, who does not know Rove well and has been out of politics for some time, is surprised that he is being considered for the job. He is even more surprised that it is Rove making the call, especially given Rove’s reputation as the brain behind the rise of President George W. Bush. However, he says that he may do the job, if chosen. Kean will later speak to the president’s chief of staff Andy Card about the job, and formally accept it in a call from President Bush. Rove will later say that he thinks it was he who first suggested Kean as chairman, but will add that he regrets this, due to later battles with the White House. Card will also say he thinks he was the first to suggest Kean. (Shenon 2008, pp. 16-7, 25)
President Bush names former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean as the chairman of the 9/11 Commission after his original choice, Henry Kissinger, resigned (see December 13, 2002). (Goldstein 12/17/2002) In an appearance on NBC, Kean promises an aggressive investigation. “It’s really a remarkably broad mandate, so I don’t think we’ll have any problem looking under every rock. I’ve got no problems in going as far as we have to in finding out the facts.” (Guggenheim 12/17/2002) However, Kean plans to remain president of Drew University and devote only one day a week to the commission. He also claims he would have no conflicts of interest, stating: “I have no clients except the university.” (Goldstein 12/17/2002) However, he has a history of such conflicts of interest. Multinational Monitor has previously stated: “Perhaps no individual more clearly illustrates the dangers of university presidents maintaining corporate ties than Thomas Kean,” citing the fact that he is on the Board of Directors of Aramark (which received a large contract with his university after he became president), Bell Atlantic, United Health Care, Beneficial Corporation, Fiduciary Trust Company International, and others. (Kniffin 11/1997)
Newly appointed 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean comes to the White House to meet top officials and discuss the 9/11 investigation. Although a Republican, Kean does not like the “message discipline” of the current White House, where spokesmen keep repeating the same thing over and over. Kean will later tell author Philip Shenon that he is surprised when the officials he meets use the same tactic and keep telling him the same things. Kean thinks the officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and chief of staff Andy Card, are sticking to a pre-agreed script and wonders whether they are reading off the same talking points cards. They keep telling him: “We want you to stand up. You’ve got to stand up,” “You’ve got to have courage,” and “We don’t want a runaway commission.” Kean is baffled by this and thinks it might be some sort of code. He decides they must want him to stand up for the truth and have the courage to follow the evidence wherever it leads. However, Kean will later say: “I decided as the process went on, that’s not what they meant at all.… You’ve got to stand up for the president, and you’ve got to protect him in the process. That’s what they meant.” Card also suggests some names for the key position of executive director of the Commission, but the post goes to somebody else, Philip Zelikow, in the end (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 35-39)
The first time 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat noted for his bipartisanship (see 1992-January 1993, Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004), meet after their appointment to the commission, Kean offers Hamilton extra powers in the investigation. In effect, Kean and Hamilton would be co-chairmen of the inquiry, rather than chairman and vice chairman. Author Philip Shenon will call this a “remarkable gesture,” as it gives Hamilton an equal say in the hiring and structure of the investigation. Kean also proposes that the two of them should be “joined at the hip,” and that they should always appear in public together, especially on television. Hamilton agrees, thinking this will go some way to make up for their lack of stature in Washington in comparison with the two men they replaced on the commission, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. (Shenon 2008, pp. 68)
The 9/11 Commission hires Philip Zelikow for the key position of executive director, the person actually in charge of the commission’s day-to-day affairs. Zelikow was recommended by Commissioner Slade Gorton, who had worked with Zelikow on an electoral reform commission after the disputed presidential election in 2000. Zelikow, the director of that commission, has powerful friends in Washington; even former president Jimmy Carter praises him. However, according to author Philip Shenon, the staff on the electoral reform commission think he is “arrogant and secretive,” and believe his success as commission director rested on “his ability to serve the needs—and stroke the egos” of the commissioners.
Plans for Commission - Zelikow impresses commission Chairman Tom Kean by saying that he wants the panel’s final report to be written for the general public, in a more readable style than most government documents. After about 20 candidates have been considered, Kean decides that Zelikow is the best choice for the position.
Conflict of Interests - Zelikow has a conflict of interests, as he co-authored a book with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995) and also served on a special White House intelligence advisory board. Both these facts are listed on his résumé. Zelikow will say that he also mentioned his work with Rice, whom he served on the Bush administration transition team (see January 2001), to Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton in telephone conversations with them. However, Kean will later say he “wasn’t sure” if he knew of Zelikow’s work on the transition team at the time he was hired, and Hamilton will say that he thought he knew Zelikow had worked on the transition, but did not know the details of what he did. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will be extremely surprised by Zelikow’s appointment, because of his personality and the conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance of them.
Omissions from Press Release - Zelikow’s hiring is announced in a press release issued on January 27. Shenon will later point out that the release, written based on information provided by Zelikow and reviewed by him before publication, is “notable for what it did not say.” It does not mention his work for the National Security Council in the 1980s, the book with Rice, his role on the White House transition team, or the fact he has just written a policy paper that is going to be used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). In fact, the Bush administration transition team had downgraded the position of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Zelikow had played a key role in this decision (see January 3, 2001). (Shenon 2008, pp. 58-62, 65-67)
At its first formal meeting, the 9/11 Commission decides it will not routinely issue subpoenas for the documents it wants from other agencies.
Different Opinions - There is some debate on the matter. Commissioner Jamie Gorelick argues that the Commission should issue subpoenas for all requests it makes to the administration for documents or other information, saying that a subpoena is simply evidence of the Commission’s determination to get what it needs. She also worries that if the Commission waits to issue subpoenas, the time limit on its activities will mean that a late subpoena could not be enforced. However, she is only supported by the other three ordinary Democratic commissioners, with the top Democrat on the Commission, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, siding with the Republicans.
Decision Already Taken - Author Philip Shenon will write: “But [Chairman Tom] Kean and Hamilton had already made up their mind on this issue, too. There would be no routine subpoenas, they decreed; subpoenas would be seen as too confrontational, perhaps choking off cooperation from the Bush administration from the very start of the investigation.” The four Democratic commissioners cannot issue a subpoena by themselves, as it requires the approval of either six of the 10 commissioners, or both Kean and Hamilton. This is not the only occasion on which Hamilton’s Republican leanings become apparent (see March 2003-July 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 70-71)
Staffer Critical - John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating events on the day of the attacks, will be critical of the decision and will urge Kean and Hamilton to change their minds. If subpoenas are issued at the start, the Commission will have time to enforce them in court and the agencies “would know that they couldn’t run out the clock,” whereas if subpoenas were issued later, after non-compliance with document requests, the agencies could use such tactics. (Shenon 2008, pp. 201)
Difficulties with Receiving Documents - As a result of this policy, the Commission will have trouble getting documents from the White House (see June 2003), Defense Department (see July 7, 2003), FAA (see November 6, 2003), and CIA (see October 2003), leading to delays in its investigation.
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. (Shenon 2008, pp. 73-76, 176)
Following the appointment of the Republican Philip Zelikow as the 9/11 Commission’s executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), Democrats on the commission demand that its general counsel be a Democrat. However, some of the Republican commissioners are unhappy about this, and inform the White House what is happening. Shortly after this, Commission Chairman Tom Kean hears from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and others at the White House that they are concerned the commission is attempting to find a partisan Democrat. Kean will later say, “They were very, very alarmed when they heard some of the names being considered.” Both Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, himself a Democrat, agree that the counsel should be a Democrat, but, according to author Philip Shenon, they do not want “a candidate who seemed eager to confront the Bush administration.”
Two Rejected Candidates - One name considered is that of James Hamilton (no relation to Lee Hamilton), who had been a lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee. However, he had worked on the 2000 Florida recount for Al Gore, so Kean rules him out. Another name considered is Carol Elder Bruce, but at her interview she says issuing subpoenas for documents the commission wants would be a good idea, although Kean and Hamilton have already decided against this (see January 27, 2003).
Daniel Marcus Hired - In the end, the position is given to Daniel Marcus, a lawyer who had served in the Clinton administration and specializes in constitutional and regulatory law. Marcus has no ties to Democratic political operations, so he is acceptable to the Republicans on the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 92-95)
In a book published in 2006, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is captured “in an early 2003 raid on a Karachi apartment orchestrated by the CIA, the FBI, and Pakistani security services.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 115) Pakistan and the US will announce the arrest at the beginning of March (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). In contrast to the version put forward later by Kean and Hamilton, the Pakistani government initially states he is captured in a house in Rawalpindi, solely by Pakistani security forces. The US agrees on the date and place, but says it was a joint operation. (CNN 3/2/2003; Iqbal 3/2/2003) However, the initial account is called into question due to various problems (see March 10, 2003). It is unclear whether Kean and Hamilton realize that the passing reference in their book is at variance with the initial account.
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)
The White House comes to prefer dealing with the 9/11 Commission’s vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, rather than its Republican chairman Tom Kean. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The White House found that its best support on the Commission came from an unexpected corner—from Lee Hamilton.… Hamilton, they could see, was as much a man of the Washington establishment as he was a Democratic partisan. Probably more so.” This is because Hamilton, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “underst[ands] the prerogatives of the White House—in particular, the concept of executive privilege—in a way that Kean d[oes] not or w[ill] not.” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will comment: “I came to really respect Lee Hamilton. I think he listened better to our concerns better than Tom Kean.” The White House even comes to view Kean as disloyal, effectively operating as one of the Commission’s Democrats, while Hamilton is a de facto Republican (see Early July 2004). Kean will later say, “I think the White House believed Lee was more reliable than I was.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 177) Hamilton previously helped Republicans cover up political scandals (see Mid-1980s and 1992-January 1993). He is friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and trusts them to tell the truth (see Before November 27, 2002).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is reportedly arrested in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Gannon 3/1/2003) Officials claim that he is arrested in a late-night joint Pakistani and FBI raid, in which they also arrest Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the purported main financer of the 9/11 attacks. (Williams, Mitchell, and Windrem 3/3/2003) An insider informant allegedly tips off authorities to KSM’s location, and is given the $25 million reward money for his capture (see Shortly Before February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, some journalists immediately cast serious doubts about this arrest. For instance, MSNBC reports, “Some analysts questioned whether Mohammed was actually arrested Saturday, speculating that he may have been held for some time and that the news was made public when it was in the interests of the United States and Pakistan.” (Williams, Mitchell, and Windrem 3/3/2003) There are numerous problems surrounding the US-alleged arrest of KSM:
Witnesses say KSM is not present when the raid occurs. (Haven and Bangash 3/2/2003; Ahmad 3/2/2003; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 3/2/2003; McCarthy 3/3/2003; Eckholm and Johnston 3/3/2003)
There are differing accounts about which house he is arrested in. (Gannon 3/1/2003; Meyer 3/2/2003; Rashid 3/3/2003)
There are differing accounts about where he was before the arrest and how authorities found him. (Saporito and McGirk 3/1/2003; Khan and Schmidt 3/2/2003; Khan and Schmidt 3/2/2003; Eckholm and Johnston 3/3/2003; Johnston 3/4/2003)
Some accounts have him sleeping when the arrest occurs and some don’t. (Meyer 3/2/2003; Ikram and Brunnstrom 3/2/2003; Eckholm and Johnston 3/3/2003; Daily Telegraph 3/4/2003)
Accounts differ on who arrests him—Pakistanis, Americans, or both. (CNN 3/2/2003; Meyer 3/2/2003; Eckholm 3/2/2003; Rashid 3/3/2003; Reid and Hussein 3/3/2003; Lumpkin 3/3/2003)
There are previously published accounts that KSM may have been killed in September 2002 (see September 11, 2002).
There are accounts that he was captured in June 2002 (see June 16, 2002).
These are just some of the difficulties with the arrest story. There are so many problems with it that one Guardian reporter says, “The story appears to be almost entirely fictional.” (Hilton 3/6/2003)
Account by 9/11 Commissioners Conflicts - In addition, 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton will write in a 2006 book that the arrest is made in an apartment in Karachi and carried out by a joint CIA, FBI, and Pakistani team (see Early 2003).
Account by Musharraf Also Conflicts - Also in 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will publish a memoir in which he claims that KSM was arrested on February 29, 2003 (instead of the widely cited March 1, 2003), and held by Pakistani forces for three days, “during which time we interrogated him fully. Once we were done with him and had all the information we wanted, we handed him over to the United States government.” (Musharraf 2006, pp. 193)
An article highlights conflicts of interest amongst the commissioners on the 9/11 Commission. It had been previously reported that many of the commissioners had ties to the airline industry (see December 16, 2002), but a number have other ties. “At least three of the ten commissioners serve as directors of international financial or consulting firms, five work for law firms that represent airlines and three have ties to the US military or defense contractors, according to personal financial disclosures they were required to submit.” Bryan Doyle, project manager for the watchdog group Aviation Integrity Project says, “It is simply a failure on the part of the people making the selections to consider the talented pool of non-conflicted individuals.” Commission chairman Thomas Kean says that members are expected to steer clear of discussions that might present even the appearance of a conflict. (Arnold 3/28/2003)
After his opening comments on the first day of the 9/11 Commission’s first hearing, Chairman Tom Kean says, “We will be following paths, and we will follow those individual paths wherever they lead,” adding: “We may end up holding individual agencies, people, and procedures to account. But our fundamental purpose will not be to point fingers.” According to author Philip Shenon, there is “a rumble in the audience, even a few groans,” as the victims’ family members realize “what the Commission would not do: It did not intend to make a priority of blaming government officials for 9/11.” Shenon will add: “A few of the family advocates cocked their ears, wondering if they had heard Kean correctly. They had pushed so hard to create the Commission because they wanted fingers pointed at the government. And Kean knew it; the families had told him that over and over again in their early meetings. For many families, this investigation was supposed to be all about finger pointing. They wanted strict accountability, especially at the White House, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, and other agencies that had missed the clues that might have prevented 9/11. The families wanted subpoenas—and indictments and jail sentences, if that was where the facts led.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 99)
Lack of Publicity - This hearing and the next two do not receive much publicity and Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will later call them “background policy hearings in front of a C-SPAN audience.” They will later say that at this point the Commission “was not ready to present findings and answers,” since the various staff teams are nowhere near completing their tasks. For example, the team investigating the air defense failure on the day of 9/11 will not even issue a subpoena for the documents it needs until autumn (see Late October 2003 and November 6, 2003). (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 127-8)
Close to a Disaster - Referring to various problems with the first hearing, including confusion over logistics, low turnout by the public, and the discontent from the victims’ families, Shenon will say that this first public hearing “came close to being a disaster.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 97)
At its first public hearing, the 9/11 Commission takes testimony from New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Pataki arrives early and insists that he be allowed to speak immediately, so Commission Chairman Tom Kean interrupts the commissioners’ opening statements expressing their pride in serving on the investigation. Pataki then reads a prepared statement pledging the state’s co-operation with the investigation and leaves without taking questions. Bloomberg testifies next. He had originally said he would not appear, but would send a written statement to be read by somebody else. Then he agreed to appear, but said he would not take questions. Then he agreed to take questions, but insisted his police and fire commissioners would not accompany him. However, he arrives with both of them and says they will take questions. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “it was clear to the commissioners and the staff that the mayor was trying to blindside them,” as the Commission had not had the chance to prepare questions for the police and fire commissioners, vital witnesses in their inquiry. When Bloomberg enters the room to testify, in Shenon’s words, “In a gesture that seem[s] designed to make his disdain even clearer, he casually tosse[s] his prepared testimony onto the witness table before taking his seat, as if this were a routine meeting of the zoning board.” When he starts, he offers an aggressive defense of the way the city responded to the attack, and sharp criticism of the way federal emergency preparedness funds are distributed. Bloomberg conducts himself in this way throughout the inquiry (see November 2003), and Shenon will write that it is never clear if Bloomberg is “genuinely furious or if his anger [is] a well-choreographed show by the billionaire mayor to intimidate the 9/11 Commission.” The Commission does not schedule testimony from former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani for this day, as it wants to wait until it better understands his performance on the day of the attacks. (Shenon 2008, pp. 96-98, 100-101)
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)
The 9/11 Commission does not receive video or audio recordings of interrogations of detainees thought to know something about the 9/11 plot (see Spring-Late 2002), even though it is unhappy with the amount and quality of information it is getting from detainees (see Summer 2003) and has a series of meetings with CIA officials to improve access (see November 5, 2003-January 2004). The CIA will indicate that the Commission never asks for the tapes, saying it “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission,” and that one of the reasons that the tapes are not destroyed until after the Commission releases its final report in 2004 is so that it could have the tapes, if it so desires. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) However, when the tapes’ destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will dispute this, saying that in hours of negotiations and discussions with the CIA and written requests they make it clear they want all material connected to the interrogations of the relevant detainees. (Lichtblau 12/8/2007) Kean will say, “They knew what they had and they didn’t give it to us.” (Karl 12/7/2007) Hamilton will say, “The CIA certainly knew of our interest in getting all the information we could on the detainees, and they never indicated to us there were any videotapes… Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge.” (Lichtblau 12/8/2007)
In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126) Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. (Marcus 4/11/2007)
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126)
The 9/11 Commission begins to look for ways to get rid of one of its members, Democrat Max Cleland, who the other commissioners have come to dislike.
Accusations of Partisanship - According to author Philip Shenon, some of the Commission’s members feel that Cleland has been “so combative and harshly partisan in the Commission’s early private meetings—so angry at the mention of the names of [George W.] Bush or [Karl] Rove, so obsessed with what was happening in Iraq—that it threatened any hope of a unanimous final report.” Cleland’s stance is apparently influenced by his recent election defeat, which he blames on what he regards as a smear campaign led by Rove and Bush (see October 11, 2002 and After). Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Max Cleland is an extremely embittered individual, and all he wanted to do was ‘get’ the president.”
Appointment to Federal Agency - Therefore, Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman, and other commissioners begin to look for a way to remove Cleland from the investigation. However, these moves have to be conducted in secret, as Cleland is known to the victims’ family members as a harsh critic of the White House. If news of plans to remove him leaked, it would lead to a firestorm of criticism. Kean therefore calls Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who arranged Cleland’s position on the Commission. In July, Daschle will put Cleland forward as a Democratic member of the board of the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that helps US exports. The lucrative position would be markedly advantageous to Cleland, a severely injured war veteran with no stable source of income. Although the White House does not like Cleland, it will agree to appoint him to the board so that he can be removed from the Commission. However, this will not occur until December (see December 9, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 160-162)
The 9/11 Commission releases a status report showing that various government agencies are not cooperating fully with its investigation. Neither the CIA nor the Justice Department have provided all requested documents. Lack of cooperation on the part of the Department of Defense “[is] becoming particularly serious,” and the Commission has received no responses whatsoever to requests related to national air defenses. The FBI, State Department, and Transportation Department receive generally positive reviews. (Arnold 7/9/2003) Commissioner Tim Roemer complains: “We’re not getting the kind of cooperation that we should be. We need a steady stream of information coming to us.… Instead, We’re getting a trickle.” (Borger 7/10/2003) The Commission is eventually forced to subpoena documents from the Defense Department and FAA (see November 6, 2003). Commission Chairman Tom Kean also highlights the presence of government “minders” at Commission interviews. The minders accompany witnesses the Commission is interviewing and come from the witnesses’ parent agencies. Kean says: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would.” He adds, “We would rather interview these people without minders or without agency people there.” (Shenon 7/8/2003; Arnold 7/9/2003) However, Kean will later play down the effect minders are having on witnesses (see September 23, 2003), the full scope of which will be revealed in an internal Commission memo (see October 2, 2003).
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; US Congress 7/24/2003) Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” (Jacoby, Adair, and Fritz 9/29/2002) Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. (Lipman 9/21/2002) The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)
According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” (Johnston 7/26/2003)
CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
“There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003) Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. (Isikoff 5/25/2003) The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” (Priest 7/25/2003; Cocco 8/7/2003)
The 9/11 Commission files a request to see some Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items it believes it may need for its investigation.
Filed with CIA - The Commission had conducted preliminary discussions about the PDBs with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, but they have not borne fruit (see Late January 2003 and June 2003) and the Commission understands it may have to fight to get the documents. Therefore, it submits the request to the CIA, which writes and keeps the PDBs, as the Commission’s lawyers think it will be easier to enforce a subpoena against the CIA than the White House.
Credibility - Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are aware the Commission must get the PDBs, or at least be seen to try hard, to maintain its credibility. This is particularly because, according to author Philip Shenon, “the PDBs were becoming the ‘holy grail’ for the 9/11 families and for the press corps.” Hamilton will say if the Commission’s investigation ended without it seeing them, “that would be the only thing the press would be interested in.” Shenon will add, “It seemed as if no other evidence unearthed by the Commission mattered; if the Commission did not see the PDBs, it would be seen in history as having failed.”
Scope of Request - The request is not for the full library of PDBs from the Clinton and Bush administrations. The Commission requests items from 1998 on that mention al-Qaeda, domestic terrorist threats, terrorist plots involving airlines used as weapons, and intelligence involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Germany.
White House Says No - Although the request was addressed to the CIA, Gonzales replies for the White House in September, saying the Commission cannot see the PDBs, or even brief extracts. (Shenon 2008, pp. 214-215)
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)
Asked about the intimidation of 9/11 Commission witnesses by government “minders,” the Commission’s chairman, Tom Kean, downplays the effect minders are having. Although he had previously complained about intimidation (see July 7, 2003), now he says: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers.… I’m glad to hear that it’s—from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.” The Commission’s Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton comments, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He adds that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds.” (9/11 Commission 9/23/2003 ) Kean’s comments about the staff’s feelings are untrue. Nine days later, one of the Commission’s team leaders and two other staffers will send an internal memo entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” (see October 2, 2003).
After becoming unhappy with the quality of information it is receiving from the CIA about detainee interrogations (see Summer 2003), the 9/11 Commission not only gives the CIA more questions for detainees, but also asks it how the interrogations are carried out. The Commission thinks the second set of questions is the most important, but the CIA only responds to them in a vague manner. They concern the translation process in the interrogations, the interrogators’ background, the way the interrogators handle inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the particular questions that were asked to elicit reported information, the way interrogators followed up on certain lines of questioning, the context of the interrogations so the Commission can assess the credibility and demeanor of the detainees when they made the reported statements, and the interrogators’ views or assessments. According to a later account by Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, CIA general counsel Scott Muller writes back with “non-specific replies.” Muller also fails to inform the Commission that the CIA has videotapes of some of the interrogations (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Because the Commission is “not satisfied” with Muller’s response, it pushes for direct access to detainees, but this attempt fails (see November 5, 2003-January 2004 and After January 2004). (Kean and Hamilton 1/2/2008)
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).
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)
The 9/11 Commission issues it first subpoena, to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Commission had initially decided not to issue subpoenas (see January 27, 2003), but found that the FAA had withheld documentation from it (see August 2003 and September 2003), prompting it to take this step.
Request from Team Leader - The subpoena’s issue is the result of a request from John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating the day of the attacks. After receiving permission from the Commission’s chairman and lawyer, Tom Kean and Daniel Marcus, to address the full Commission, Farmer tells them: “My team and I have lost confidence in the FAA. We do not believe we have time to take any more chances on the possibility that they will act on good faith.” This leaves them with “no choice other than a subpoena.”
Debate inside Commission - Some of the Democratic commissioners, such as Jamie Gorelick, then claim that this is a reason to subpoena all documents the Commission wants. However Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are against this. Republican Slade Gorton proposes a compromise where the Commission subpoenas the FAA, but only issues a warning to other agencies that are not producing the documents the Commission wants. (Shenon 2008, pp. 202-203) The Commission approves the subpoena unanimously. The Commission comments publicly, saying, “This disturbing development at one agency has led the Commission to reexamine its general policy of relying on document requests rather than subpoenas.” (Arnold 10/15/2003) It also warns other agencies that “document requests must be taken as seriously as a subpoena.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 203)
Several months into its investigation, the 9/11 Commission is already dissatisfied with the Department of Defense (see July 7, 2003).
Recorded Conversations Not Provided to Commission - When its staff take a tour of a Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) facility in Rome, New York, which helped coordinate the air defense on the day of 9/11, the staff enter the operations room, which has “more than 20 banks of operators: some weapons controllers and some flight controllers.” The staff find that the operators’ conversations are always tape-recorded, but the tapes for 9/11 have not yet been sent to the Commission. In addition, according to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, “there were also discrepancies between things NORAD was telling [the Commission] about their performance on the morning of September 11—things that the agency had stated publicly after 9/11—and the story told by the limited tapes and documents the Commission had received.”
'Egregious' Failure - Upon learning of the existence of the tapes, team leader John Farmer immediately suspends the tour and the interviews and flies to meet Kean in New Jersey. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Farmer will say that the failure to produce the tapes was “egregious,” as, “Those tapes told the story of the air defense better than anything else that anyone could have given us.”
Subpoena Demanded - Farmer demands that a subpoena be issued to the Pentagon for the tapes. He tells Kean: “Listen, we have to subpoena this stuff. We may not get it, but if we don’t try to get it, how can you explain to the public that we have done our job?” Farmer is aware that it will be difficult to get a subpoena on the Pentagon—“When you’re talking about subpoenaing the DOD, the room goes quiet”—but he decides privately: “I would have quit if we didn’t. I felt we were becoming a laughingstock.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 204)
Lost Time - Despite opposition from its Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (see (Late October-Early November 2003)) and, allegedly, its Executive Director Philip Zelikow (see November 5, 2003), the Commission will subpoena NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). However, according to Kean and Hamilton, this means that “the staff had lost so much time that our hearing on the 9/11 story in the skies was postponed for months. Indeed, the delays from NORAD and the FAA made it highly unlikely that the team could complete its work as scheduled.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Chapter 1 of the Commission’s final report will draw heavily on the tapes. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-46)
Contrast with Other Aspects of Investigation - However, the Commission does not make the same effort with all day of 9/11 recordings. For example, it does not even find out which person(s) from the Department of Defense participated in a White House video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke during the attacks (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36)
9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean gives an interview to the New York Times in which he attacks the White House over its withholding of classified intelligence about al-Qaeda and attacks on the US from the Commission (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, and October 16, 2003). Although he does not mention Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) specifically, thinking their name secret, he says, “We’re having trouble with the White House,” meaning that a subpoena may have to be issued. He adds: “Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach. I will not stand for it.” The piece runs as the lead story on page one of the newspaper, causing a good deal of criticism of President George Bush. It is picked up by Democrats, such as presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who says, “After claiming they wanted to find the truth about September 11, the Bush administration has resorted to secrecy, stonewalling, and foot-dragging.” (Shenon 10/26/2003; Shenon 2008, pp. 215-216) As a result of this story, President Bush makes a statement identifying the documents the Commission wants as PDBs and promising to work with the Commission to give it some access. (Shenon 2008, pp. 216-217)
After the 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the information it is getting from detainees in US custody who may know something about the 9/11 plot (see Summer 2003), it asks CIA Director George Tenet to let it either talk to the detainees itself, or at least view interrogations through a one-way mirror. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Reasoning - Dieter Snell, the head of the Commission’s plot team and a former prosecutor, is extremely keen that the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, be interviewed. According to author Philip Shenon, he is aware that “testimony from key witnesses like the al-Qaeda detainees would have value only if they were questioned in person, with investigators given the chance to test their credibility with follow-up questions. The face-to-face interrogations would be especially important in situations in which the al-Qaeda members were giving conflicting testimony.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 182)
Request Denied - However, Tenet denies the request because he does not want the Commission to know where the detainees are, and he claims questioning by a Commission staffer could apparently damage the “relationship” between interrogator and detainee and “upset the flow of questioning.” In addition, Tenet is worried that if the Commission has access to the detainees, Zacarias Moussaoui might also be able to compel them to testify in court, so he rejects compromise proposals.
Pushback - The Commission decides “to push the issue” and drafts a letter outlining why they should have direct access. Although the draft is seen by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is never officially sent. At a White House meeting attended by Rumsfeld and commissioners Lee Hamilton and Fred Fielding, Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeat the arguments Tenet made previously, but Tenet says the Commission can submit written questions, and a CIA “project manager” will try to get them answered. After the administration “plead[s]” with the Commission not to use public pressure to get access to detainees, the Commission decides to drop the matter.
Relatives and Media Blamed - Hamilton and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean will later partially blame the victims’ relatives and media for this failure: “Interestingly, there was no pressure from some of the usual sources for us to push for access. For instance, the 9/11 families never pressed us to seek access to detainees, and the media was never engaged on this issue.” Kean and Hamilton will later say that the “project manager” arrangement works “to a degree.”
Report Includes Disclaimer - However, a disclaimer will be inserted into the 9/11 Commission Report in the first of two chapters that draw heavily on detainees’ alleged statements (see After January 2004). It will say that the Commission could not fully judge the credibility of detainee information, so, according to Kean and Hamilton, “it [is] left to the reader to consider the credibility of the source—we had no opportunity to do so.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Criticism from Staffer - Commission staffer Ernest May will later criticize the Commission’s “reluctance ever to challenge the CIA’s walling off al-Qaeda detainees.” May will also say: “We never had full confidence in the interrogation reports as historical sources. Often we found more reliable the testimony that had been given in open court by those prosecuted for the East African embassy bombings and other crimes.” (May 5/23/2005) CIA videotapes and transcripts of interrogations are not provided to the Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004).
The 9/11 Commission votes to issue a subpoena on the Defense Department for documents withheld from it regarding the fighter response on the day of the attacks. The vote follows a demand from the Commission’s team investigating the air defense that it be issued, as the military has been withholding documents and making false statements (see Late October 2003), as well as the failure of last-ditch attempts to stop the subpoena’s issue (see (Late October-Early November 2003) and November 5, 2003).
Chairman Kean Has Decisive Vote - The four ordinary Democratic commissioners vote for the subpoena’s issue, but Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton votes against, together with three ordinary Republican commissioners. The fourth Republican commissioner, Slade Gorton, votes for the subpoena. This means that Tom Kean, the Commission’s Republican chairman, has the deciding vote, and he votes for the subpoena. He dislikes voting against Hamilton, but thinks NORAD is trying to hide something. (Shenon 2008, pp. 207-208)
'Especially Dismayed' - In a statement issued after the vote, the Commission says it is “especially dismayed” by incomplete document production on the part of NORAD. The Commission explains, “In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken.” (Arnold 11/7/2003)
Documents Expose Apparent False Statements by NORAD - When the documents arrive, according to author Philip Shenon, they show that “NORAD’s public statements about its actions on 9/11 had been wrong, almost certainly intentionally.” Based on interviews of 9/11 Commission staffers, Shenon will add: “This was not the fog of war. This was the military trying to come up with a story that made its performance during 9/11 look reasonably competent, when in fact the military had effectively left the nation’s skies undefended that morning.” In particular, tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that the military did not know of the hijacking of Flight 93 until it had crashed. 9/11 Commission team leader John Farmer will even say that it is “99 percent” certain that Pentagon officers knew they were lying when they made statements to the Commission, sometimes under oath. (Shenon 2008, pp. 208)
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 218-219)
9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick is given access to the previously sacrosanct Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from the Clinton and Bush administrations (see Early December 2003). Like commission chair Thomas Kean, Gorelick is struck by the general lack of information in the documents (see Early December 2003), but the thing that strikes her most about the PDBs is just how many warnings were given in the months preceding the 9/11 attacks. Details of the predicted terrorist attack were lacking—the US intelligence community did not know where or when the attacks would take place—but the message from the spring, summer, and fall of 2001 was clear: the US must be prepared for a massive assault either on one of its foreign allies or on itself. Gorelick later recalls the warnings say the anticipated attacks are “the worst thing [the US has] ever seen—an unprecedented threat.” The August 6, 2001 PDB (see August 6, 2001) contained warnings about specific threats to American targets, particularly “federal buildings in New York.” Gorelick, like everyone else in the Commission, has never seen the actual August 6 PDB, and she is shocked by the detail and the specificity of the warnings. The characterization of the warnings as “historical” (see May 16, 2002) is inexplicable, she thinks. (Shenon 2008, pp. 221-222)
Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 220-221) 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).
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)
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. (CBS News 12/17/2003) But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” (Oliphant 12/21/2003)
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. (CBC News 12/21/2003) The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. (Times 12/24/2003) The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and asks him not to demand the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Card says that he has heard the Commission will issue a statement tomorrow, but that President George Bush does not wish it. “You know, the president likes George,” he says, so such a call from the Commission would put Bush in an impossible position. Card asks that the Commission reconsider its apparent demand. However, Kean tells Card that he must have heard a false rumor, and that the Commission has no intention of calling for Tenet’s head in the middle of its inquiry. Card had actually heard the rumor from Tenet himself, although it is not known where Tenet learned it. At this point the Commission is considering recommending a long-mooted split of Tenet’s responsibilities. As director of central intelligence (DCI), Tenet runs the CIA and is also responsible for the intelligence community as a whole, although he does not have any real power over the other agencies supposedly under him. The split would mean that the CIA director would only run the CIA, and a director of national intelligence would be appointed above him, to coordinate the activities of all agencies in the intelligence community. It is possible that Tenet has misinterpreted talk of such a split as preparations for calling on him to resign. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 144; Shenon 2008, pp. 403)
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary 9/21/2005) He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” (Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005)
The 9/11 Commission realizes that it will not meet its reporting deadline of May 2004 and decides it will have to ask for an extension. Any extension would have to be approved by Congressional leaders and the White House. In order to determine how much extra time the commission will need, Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton poll the other commissioners and staff members to gauge their opinions. Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tim Roemer suggest six months, but this would push the reporting date back after the presidential election in November. Kean and Hamilton are aware that this will probably not be permitted by Republicans, as they will be worried that parts of the report critical of Bush will be leaked to the press. In addition, Kean wants the report out during the presidential campaign, in the hopes that the two candidates will have a “bidding war” over who will implement more of the commission’s recommendations. In the end, the commission decides to ask for a two-month extension, meaning the report will be issued in July. (Shenon 2008, pp. 226-227) The extension is initially opposed by the White House (see January 19, 2004), but the administration changes its mind (see February 5, 2004), and the extension is finally granted (see March 2, 2004).
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)
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)
9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton meet with Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, including Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom Delay, to discuss an extension of the commission’s reporting deadline (see Mid-December 2003-Mid-January 2004). The extension is opposed by the House leadership, which has had bad relations with the commission for some time and has been very critical of the commission. For example, a month before the meeting Hastert had accused Democrats on the commission of “leaking things,” trying to “make it a political issue,” and inflict “death by a thousand cuts” on the Bush administration. It is unclear why the House leadership is so against the extension, even though it has been approved by Senate Republicans and the White House. One theory advanced by Democratic commissioners is that, although the White House has publicly dropped its opposition to the extension (see January 19, 2004 and February 5, 2004), it does not really want it and is simply getting Hastert to act as a proxy. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If Hastert’s contempt for the commission was being stage-managed by anyone at the White House, it was assumed on the commission to be Dick Cheney. The vice president was a frequent, if rarely announced, visitor to the Speaker’s office.” However, Kean persuades Hastert and the other House leaders to accept the extension, removing the last hurdle. (Shenon 2008, pp. 227-229)
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. (Shenon 3/20/2004; Waterman 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. (Conason 4/6/2004)
The 9/11 Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. Interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kean refers to the list of failures before the attacks, saying, “If we had been able to put those people on the watch list for the airlines, the two who were in this country [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi]; again, if we’d stopped some of these people at the borders, if we had acted earlier on al-Qaeda when al-Qaeda was smaller and just getting started even before bin Laden went to Afghanistan, there were times we could have gotten him, there’s no question.” Hamilton adds: “Well, there’s a lot of ifs. You can string together a whole bunch of ifs. And if things had broken right in all kinds of different ways, as the governor [Kean] has identified, and many more, and, frankly, if you’d had a little luck, it probably could have been prevented.” (NBC 4/4/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 263)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). (Buncombe 4/3/2004) The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. (Shenon 2008, pp. 293, 295) In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004)
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 295) During questioning several subjects are discussed:
Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. (Washington Post 4/8/2004) Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. (Shenon 2008, pp. 298) Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004)
Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. (Shenon 2008, pp. 299-300)
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” (Woodward 4/8/2004)
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” (unknown 4/9/2004)
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies publicly before the 9/11 Commission. Due to information leaked to the public about Ashcroft’s apparently poor performance and lack of interest in terrorism before the attacks (see Spring 2001, July 12, 2001, and September 10, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, “Everybody expect[s] it to be a difficult day for Ashcroft—maybe the day that mark[s] the end of his tenure as George Bush’s attorney general.” Executing a strategy designed in advance by the Justice Department’s leadership, instead of defending his record, Ashcroft goes on the offensive against the Commission. First, Ashcroft withholds from the Commission a copy of his written statement, although all other witnesses provide this. Then, when his testimony starts, he blames the problems dealing with terrorist threats on information-sharing regulations set up by former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now a 9/11 commissioner. (Shenon 2008, pp. 325-327)
Ashcroft Exaggerates Effect of Gorelick Memo - He comments: “The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the ‘wall’ that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this ‘wall.’ Government buttressed this ‘wall.’ And before September 11, government was blinded by this ‘wall.’” The wall was a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors to ensure that information obtained using warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not be thrown out from criminal cases (see July 19, 1995). Ashcroft says that the wall impeded the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and that a “warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the ‘wall.’” (Note: two applications to search Moussaoui’s belongings were prepared. The first was not submitted because it was thought to be “shaky” (see August 21, 2001). The second warrant application was prepared as a part of an intelligence investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so it was not affected by the “wall” (see August 28, 2001)). According to Ashcroft, the wall also impeded the search for hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi because criminal investigators were not allowed to join in. However, the 9/11 Commission will find that they could legally have helped, but were prevented from doing so by FBI headquarters (see August 29, 2001). Ashcroft asserts that 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for the wall. He cites a document he just declassified that had been written by Gorelick to deal with the two 1993 World Trade Center bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). That document becomes known as the “wall memo.” However, this memo only governed the two WTC cases; all other cases were governed by a different, but similar memo written by Attorney General Janet Reno a few months later (see July 19, 1995). (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
Commission's Response - 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that the “attorney general’s claim was overstated,” and that the two 1995 memos only codified a set of procedures that already existed (see Early 1980s). During questioning, Republican 9/11 commissioner Slade Gorton points out that Ashcroft’s deputy reaffirmed the procedures in an August 2001 memo that stated, “The 1995 procedures remain in effect today” (see August 6, 2001). (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 194-6) Ashcroft’s accusation against Gorelick produces an immediate public response. Commissioner Bob Kerrey (D-NE) will say: “Ashcroft was still speaking, and the e-mails were already coming in. The e-mails said things like, ‘You traitor, you should be ashamed of yourself for having somebody like Gorelick on the 9/11 Commission.’ I could see that this was a setup.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 329)
Falsely Claims No Clinton Program to Kill Bin Laden - Ashcroft also claims there was no program to kill Osama bin Laden before 9/11, saying, “Let me be clear: my thorough review revealed no covert action program to kill bin Laden.” However, the 9/11 Commission has already found a memorandum of notification signed by President Clinton in 1998 after the African embassy bombings that allowed CIA assets to kill bin Laden, and two commissioners, Fred Fielding and Richard Ben-Veniste, point this out to Ashcroft. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485)
Attack Brings Commission Together - Paradoxically, the effect of Ashcroft’s attack is to bring the Commission—made up of five Democrats and five Republicans—together. Shenon will comment, “The Republicans were just as angry as the Democrats over what Ashcroft had done, maybe angrier.” Commissioner Slade Gorton (R-WA) will add, “There was universal outrage on the part of all 10 people.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 332)
Attorney General John Ashcroft’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see April 13, 2004) sparks a wave of attacks against 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who was Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. In 1995 Gorelick played a leading role in extending the “wall,” a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors (see March 4, 1995 and July 19, 1995). Ashcroft calls the wall “the single greatest structural cause for September 11.” The attacks include:
On April 14 James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls on Gorelick to resign because of her “crippling conflict of interest.” He says “the public cannot help but ask legitimate questions about her motives” and argues that the commission will be “fatally damaged” if she continues. Other Republican congresspersons repeat this call;
On April 16 House Majority Leader Tom Delay writes to Commission Chairman Tom Kean saying Gorelick has a conflict of interest and accusing the commission of “partisan mudslinging, circus-atmosphere pyrotechnics, and gotcha-style questioning,” as well as undermining the war effort and endangering the troops;
Criticism of Gorelick also appears in several media publications, including the New York Times, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, and Wall Street Journal. For example, an op-ed piece published in the New York Times by former terrorism commissioners Juliette Kayyem and Wayne Downing says the commissioners are talking too much and should “shut up.” (McCarthy 4/13/2004; McCarthy 4/19/2004; Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 200-203)
On April 22 Senator Christopher Boyd and ten other Republican senators write to the commission calling on Gorelick to testify in public;
On April 26 Congressman Lamar Smith and 74 other Republicans write to Gorelick demanding answers to five questions about her time as deputy attorney general;
On April 28 the Justice Department declassifies other memos signed by Gorelick;
In addition to hate mail, Gorelick receives a bomb threat, requiring a bomb disposal squad to search her home.
Commission Chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton will call this an “onslaught” and say her critics used the wall “as a tool to bludgeon Jamie Gorelick, implicate the Clinton administration, and undermine the credibility of the commission before we had even issued our report.” Gorelick offers to resign, but the other commissioners support her and she writes a piece for the Washington Post defending herself. (Gorelick 4/18/2004; Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 200-205) When the commission meets President Bush and Vice President Cheney at the end of the month (see April 29, 2004), Bush tells Kean and Hamilton he does not approve of memos being declassified and posted on the Justice Department’s website. At this point, the commissioners realize “the controversy over Jamie Gorelick’s service on the commission was largely behind us.” That afternoon, the White House publicly expresses the president’s disappointment over the memos and the effort to discredit Gorelick loses momentum. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 208, 210)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies publicly to the 9/11 Commission, but the commissioners fail to ask him tough questions about the FBI’s apparent failings before the attacks. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[Mueller] might have expected that it might be the showdown in which he would be asked to explain, in excruciating detail, how the FBI had blundered so often before 9/11—the familiar roster of Zacarias Moussaoui, the Phoenix memo, the disasters in San Diego. Instead, he was welcomed as a hero.” The commissioners shower Mueller with praise.
Commission Chairman Tom Kean: “I came to this job with less knowledge of the intelligence community than anybody else at this table. What I’ve learned has not reassured me. It’s frightened me a bit, frankly. But the reassuring figure in it all is you, because everybody I talk to in this town, a town which seems to have a sport in basically not liking each other very much—everybody likes you, everybody respects you, everybody has great hopes that you’re actually going to fix this problem.”
Commissioner John Lehman: “I’d like to echo the encomiums of my colleagues about how good the process has been working with you from the first time you got together with us a year-and-a-quarter ago. It’s been a very—very much of a two-way dialogue. You’ve clearly listen[ed] to us, and you’ve taught us a good deal.”
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste: “Let me first echo the comments of my colleagues on this Commission, say how much we appreciate not only the time that you’ve given us, but the interactive nature of our relationship with you. You have been responsive to our questions, you’ve come back, sometimes you’ve come back and showed up when you weren’t invited.”
Commissioner Slade Gorton: “Mr. Mueller, not only have you done a very aggressive and, I think, so far a very effective reorganization of the FBI, you’ve done an excellent job in preempting this Commission and its recommendations.” (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 368-369)
The second day of the 9/11 Commission hearings about the emergency response on the day of the attacks is dominated by questioning of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will describe as the Commission’s “low point.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 226-228) Giuliani had become a hero after the attacks, winning the Time magazine Person of the Year award, and the Commission was aware that it had to be careful about how it handled material it had uncovered putting him in a bad light (see Before May 17, 2004 and May 18, 2004). (Pooley 12/22/2001) However, commissioner John Lehman had attacked the city’s preparedness the previous day, leading to a major row (see May 18, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will describe the hearing as a “Rudy Giuliani lovefest,” pointing out that, “Many of the questions directed at Giuliani by the commissioners barely qualified as softballs, they were so gentle.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 355-356)
'The Captain Was on the Bridge' - Kean and Hamilton will admit that every commissioner “opens his or her questioning with lavish praise.” For instance, Richard Ben-Veniste says, “Your leadership on that day and in the days following gave the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, an unvarnished view of the indomitable spirit and the humanity of this great city, and for that I salute you.” Jim Thompson thanks Giuliani for “setting an example to us all.” Lehman says: “There was no question the captain was on the bridge.” Kean says, “New York City on that terrible day in a sense was blessed because it had you as a leader.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 226-228)
'Stop Kissing Ass!' - However, Giuliani suggests that hundreds of firefighters died when the North Tower collapsed because they had chosen to remain in the building, not because they had not received the order to evacuate due to problems with their radio system. This angers some of the audience members, who shout out, “Talk about the radios!” “Put one of us on the panel—just one of us!” “Stop kissing ass!” and: “My brother was a fireman, and I want to know why three hundred firemen died. And I’ve got some real questions. Let’s ask some real questions. Is that unfair?” (Shenon 2008, pp. 355-356)
'We Did Not Ask Tough Questions' - Kean and Hamilton will later write: “The questioning of Mayor Giuliani was a low point in terms of the Commission’s questioning of witnesses at our public hearings. We did not ask tough questions, nor did we get all of the information we needed to put on the public record. We were affected by the controversy over Lehman’s comments, and by the excellent quality of the mayor’s presentation.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 226-228)
Mohdar Abdullah is quietly deported to Yemen after spending nearly three years in US prisons. Abdullah was arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He was eventually charged with an immigration violation. He pled guilty to lying on an asylum application and then served a six-month sentence. However, he chose to remain imprisoned so he could fight deportation. He is a Yemeni citizen, and the US wanted to deport him to Yemen, but the Yemeni government would not take him. According to his lawyer, Yemen twice refused to admit him and only finally agreed after intense pressure from the US State Department. (Thornton 5/26/2004)
Suspicious Links to 9/11 Hijackers - Officials said in court documents that Abdullah regularly dined and prayed with 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour. Additionally, he helped Alhazmi and Almihdhar adjust to life in the US in a variety of ways, including help with: interpreting, computer use, finding a job, finding a place to live, obtaining Social Security cards, and obtaining driver licenses. He also worked with Alhazmi at a gas station where many other radical Islamists worked, including some who had been investigated by the FBI (see Autumn 2000). (Thornton 5/26/2004; Thornton 6/2/2004)
9/11 Commission Not Allowed to Interview Him before Deportation - The 9/11 Commission’s work is almost done by the time that Abdullah is deported; its final report will be released two months later. However, the Commission is not allowed to interview Abdullah even though he is being held in a US prison (and not in Guantanamo or some secret overseas prison). 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Kean will later say, “He should not have been let out of the country when the 9/11 Commission wanted to interview him.” Kean will not comment on why the Commission does not or is not able to interview him before his deportation. (Myers 9/8/2006)
Justice Department Will Not Delay Deportation to Help Investigation - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah may have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. But US prosecutors decided not to charge him based on that new evidence, and the Justice Department does not even try to delay his deportation to allow investigators time to pursue the new leads (see September 2003-May 21, 2004).
FBI Will Reopen Investigation into Abdullah - The new evidence suggested that Abdullah may have learned about the 9/11 attack plans as early as the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000). He also seemed to show foreknowledge of the attacks shortly before they occurred (see Late August-September 10, 2001). By October 2004, it will be discovered that he cased the Los Angeles airport with Alhazmi and an unknown man (see June 10, 2000), and this revelation will cause the FBI to reopen its investigation into him—after he is deported (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In September 2006, it will be reported that the investigation is still continuing. (Myers 9/8/2006)
White House lawyers send an angry letter to the 9/11 Commission, which causes the Commission to water down its staff report account of Vice President Dick Cheney’s actions on September 11. (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) Members of the team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission examining the events of the morning of 9/11 believe that a key part of Cheney’s account, regarding the shootdown order, is false (see (Mid 2004)). (Shenon 2008, pp. 265) The Commission has found that Cheney issued the shootdown order, but he and President Bush have stated that this was only after the president had authorized the shooting down of threatening aircraft during a phone call between the two men. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 40-41) However, the Commission has found “no documentary evidence for this call.” Newsweek learns that “some on the Commission staff [are], in fact, highly skeptical of the vice president’s account and made their views clearer in an earlier draft of their staff report.” Some staffers “flat out didn’t believe the call ever took place.” But when the early draft was circulated among the Bush administration, it provoked an angry reaction. White House spokesman Dan Bartlett will say, “We didn’t think it was written in a way that clearly reflected the accounting the president and vice president had given to the Commission.” In a series of phone calls and a letter from its lawyers, the White House forcefully lobbies the Commission to change the language in its report. According to Newsweek, “Ultimately the chairman and vice chair of the Commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean and former representative Lee Hamilton… agreed to remove some of the offending language. The report ‘was watered down,’ groused one staffer.” (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004) The amended staff report will be presented days later, on June 17, at the final round of the Commission’s public hearings. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; Stout 6/17/2004) Cheney will again be angry at how the Commission has dealt with the shootdown issue in its final report, and tries to get this report changed on the eve of its release (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 267)
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.” (May 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)
Several 9/11 Commission members, including chairman Thomas Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, are alarmed at Vice President Dick Cheney’s response to the commission’s claim that no link exists between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see June 17, 2004). They have no desire to go toe-to-toe with an enraged White House over the question. Hamilton privately asks Doug MacEachin, the principal author of that portion of the report, to go back and sift the evidence again to ensure that he missed nothing that might bear out the White House’s arguments. Publicly, Kean and Hamilton are much more resolute. If Cheney has information that he has not shared with the commission, as Cheney has implied, he needs to turn it over promptly. “I would like to see the evidence that Mr. Cheney is talking about,” Hamilton says. (Shenon 2008, pp. 381-385) No more evidence is found, and the commission ultimately sticks by their conclusions.
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, insists that the commission properly interview two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Ben-Veniste makes the demand after he learns that Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow interviewed one of the analysts by phone, but allegedly pressured the analyst to back the White House version of events (see June 2004). Initially, Ben-Veniste asks to see transcripts of interviews with the analysts. However, according to author Philip Shenon: “With a condescending tone that reflected his disdain for Ben-Veniste, Zelikow explained matter-of-factly that there weren’t any transcripts…. After months of battles with Zelikow, it was hard for Ben-Veniste to be shocked by almost anything he did. But the staff could see that Ben-Veniste was genuinely startled.” Ben-Veniste’s demand for full interviews is opposed by Zelikow, who says that one of the analysts, known only as Barbara S, has already been interviewed (although it is unclear how much of this interview was focused on the PDB). Zelikow will also say, “The CIA was pleading with us not to do this, since the career people involved in preparing and presenting PDBs would be intimidated, disrupting the sense of confidentiality and candor they considered essential for the PDB process.” However, when they are interviewed, the two analysts seem eager to volunteer the information they have. The commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who has a record of siding with the Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004) fails to back Ben-Veniste before the full commission. Republican Chairman Tom Kean rescues him, pushing through the request for the interviews in the face of opposition from the other Republicans on the commission (see July 13, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 375-377)
Shortly before the 9/11 Commission is due to release its final report (see July 22, 2004), Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “We believe.… that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, [between al-Qaeda and] Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.” (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004) This is based on a review of NSA material performed by one commission staffer (see January-June 2004) and a day trip to NSA headquarters by a group of staffers to examine material there (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 155-7, 370-373) The US media immediately runs prominent stories on the Commission’s evidence regarding Iran and nearly completely ignores evidence regarding Pakistan. The Commission’s final report mentions that around ten of the hijackers passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001. At least some Iranian officials turned a blind eye to the passage of al-Qaeda agents, but there was no evidence that the Iranian government had any foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot (see Mid-July 2004). (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004; Reuters 7/18/2004) In the wake of these findings, President Bush states of Iran, “As to direct connections with September 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” This puts Bush at odds with his own CIA, which has seen no Iran-9/11 ties. (Chen and Miller 7/20/2004) Bush has long considered Iran part of his “axis of evil,” and there has been talk of the US attacking or overthrowing the Iranian government. (Reuters 7/18/2004) Provocative articles appear, such as one in the Daily Telegraph titled, “Now America Accuses Iran of Complicity in World Trade Center Attack.” (Coman 7/18/2004) Yet, while this information on Iran makes front page news in most major newspapers, evidence of a much stronger connection between Pakistan and 9/11 is nearly completely ignored. For instance, only UPI reports on a document suggesting high-level Pakistani involvement in the 9/11 attacks that is revealed this same week. (de Borchgrave 7/22/2004) Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission’s final report will contain almost nothing on Pakistan’s ties to al-Qaeda, despite evidence given to the Commission that, according to one commissioner speaking to the Los Angeles Times, showed that Pakistan was “up to their eyeballs” in intrigue with al-Qaeda. (Meyer 7/16/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney is furious that the 9/11 Commission is going to conclude in its final report that it does not believe he has been telling the full truth about his actions on the morning of September 11, and tries to get the report rewritten on the eve of its release. Since late June, each completed chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report has been forwarded to the White House for a declassification review by a team of intelligence specialists assembled by White House chief of staff Andrew Card. According to author Philip Shenon, “Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, [are] outraged by the Commission’s timeline on Cheney’s actions on September 11—and the clear suggestion that Cheney had issued an unconstitutional shootdown order that morning without Bush’s knowledge or approval.” Members of the Commission’s staff had become convinced that the decision to authorize the military to shoot down threatening aircraft was made by Cheney alone, not by President Bush (see (Mid 2004)). A few days before the 9/11 Commission Report is to be released, an angry Cheney phones Thomas Kean, the chairman of the Commission. Cheney complains, “Governor, this is not true, just not fair.” He says he finds it startling that the Commission does not accept his word and that of President Bush: “The president has told you, I have told you, that the president issued the order. I was following his directions.” Cheney demands that the relevant sections of the report be rewritten. Kean promises that he will ask the Commission’s staff to review the material about the shootdown order again before the report is published. According to Shenon, “no major changes” are subsequently made in response to Cheney’s complaint. (Shenon 2008, pp. 265 and 411-412) The White House had previously successfully lobbied the Commission to water down one of its staff reports that dealt with the shootdown authorization (see June 15, 2004). (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004)
Sibel Edmonds writes a blistering critique of the 9/11 Commission’s final report in a letter to the commission’s chairman Thomas Kean. She says the commission failed to investigate and report the information she provided in February (see February 11, 2004) regarding the problems she witnessed while working as a contract translator in the FBI’s translation unit. She also explains why she thinks the attacks were not stopped and why the government will not prevent future attacks. “If Counterintelligence receives information that contains money laundering, illegal arms sale, and illegal drug activities, directly linked to terrorist activities; and if that information involves certain nations, certain semi-legit organizations, and ties to certain lucrative or political relations in this country, then, that information is not shared with Counterterrorism, regardless of the possible severe consequences. In certain cases, frustrated FBI agents cited ‘direct pressure by the State Department,’ and in other cases ‘sensitive diplomatic relations’ is cited.… Your hearings did not include questions regarding these unspoken and unwritten policies and practices. Despite your full awareness and understanding of certain criminal conduct that connects to certain terrorist related activities, committed by certain US officials and high-level government employees, you have not proposed criminal investigations into this conduct, although under the laws of this country you are required to do so. How can budget increases address and resolve these problems, when some of them are caused by unspoken practices and unwritten policies?” (Edmonds 8/1/2004)
Former leaders of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, release a statement saying that panel staff members have found no documents or other witnesses that support allegations that hijacker Mohamed Atta was identified by a secret Pentagon program, known as Able Danger, before the 9/11 attacks. The existence of Able Danger first received wide public attention a few days before by the New York Times (see August 11, 2005). According to the commissioners, “The interviewee had no documentary evidence” to back up his claims and “the Commission staff concluded that the officer’s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” (Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton 8/12/2005 ; Eggen 8/13/2005)
A new version of a report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11, which was completed in August 2004, is publicly released. A heavily censored version of the same report came out in February 2005 (see February 10, 2005). Commission members complained that the deleted material included information crucial to understanding what went wrong on 9/11. The newly released version restores dozens of portions of the report, but numerous references to shortcomings in aviation security remain blacked out. Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former heads of the 9/11 Commission, state: “While we still believe that the entire document could be made available to the public without damaging national security, we welcome this step forward.” Commission officials say they were perplexed by the White House’s original attempts to black out material that they considered trivial or mundane. (Miller 9/13/2005; Lichtblau 9/14/2005)
Former members of the 9/11 Commission dismiss recent allegations regarding a secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had been set up in 1999 to bring together information about al-Qaeda. Several former members of the unit have come forward claiming the program identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). The 9/11 Commission has been criticized for not mentioning Able Danger in its final report. In response, its former chairman, Thomas Kean, claims there is no evidence that anyone in the government knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11, and there are no documents that verify the claims made by former members of the unit. However, the Pentagon has recently confirmed that documents associated with Able Danger were destroyed in accordance with regulations about gathering intelligence on people inside the US. Another former commissioner, Slade Gorton, says, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.” But a spokesman for Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who helped bring to light the existence of the program, says that none of the commissioners met with anyone from Able Danger, “yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.” (Barrett 9/15/2005; Fox News 9/16/2005) The commission’s claim that no one in the US knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11 is further contradicted by reports stating that the CIA had been tracking him while he was still in Germany, early in 2000 (see January-May 2000). And soon after 9/11, Newsweek reported US officials stating that Atta “had been known as [an associate] of Islamic terrorists” well before 9/11. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 )
As the former 9/11 Commissioners issue a harsh report card grading the government’s counterterrorism efforts (see December 5, 2005), former commission chairman Thomas Kean adds some critical comments in several interviews. Kean says, “While the terrorists are learning and adapting, our government is still moving at a crawl… Four years after 9/11 we are not as safe as we could be and that’s simply not acceptable.” (Miller 12/5/2005) He also says that public safety is “not a priority for the government right now. You don’t see the Congress or the president talking about the public safety is number one, as we think it should be, and a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren’t being done by the president or by the Congress.” (Meet the Press 12/4/2005)
President Bush’s rationale for authorizing warrantless surveillance against US citizens is of questionable legality and “may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” according to a Congressional analysis. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the independent and nonpartisan research bureau of the legislature, answers the question raised around the nation since the revelation of the secret program by the New York Times (see Early 2002): did Bush break the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on US citizens without court orders or judicial oversight? The CRS report does not give a definitive yes or no answer to that question, but finds Bush’s legal rationale dubious at best. That rationale “does not seem to be as well-grounded” as administration lawyers have claimed, and the report finds that, despite assertions to the contrary by Bush and administration officials, Congress did not authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave the executive branch the authority to wage war against al-Qaeda in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, Bush administration officials criticize the report. But some Republicans and Democrats find the report’s conclusions persuasive, and hold up the report as further evidence that Bush overextended his authority by authorizing the wiretaps. For instance, Republican Thomas Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission (see January 27, 2003, says he doubts the program’s legality. Kean, who has not spoken publicly about the program until now, says the 9/11 commission was never told about the program, and he strongly doubts its legality. “We live by a system of checks and balances, and I think we ought to continue to live by a system of checks and balances,” Kean says. (Congressional Research Service 1/5/2006 ; Lichtblau and Shane 1/6/2006)
Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, release a book giving a behind-the-scenes look at their 20-month investigation of the September 11 attacks. (Yen 8/4/2006) They begin their book, titled Without Precedent, saying that, because their investigation started late, had a very short time frame, and had inadequate funding, they both felt, from the beginning, that they “were set up to fail.” (Hamilton 8/21/2006; Lemieux 8/25/2006) They explain the difficulties they faced in obtaining certain government documents and describe how the commission almost splintered over whether to investigate the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 as a reason for going to war. It says that if original member Max Cleland—a strong proponent of this line of inquiry—had not resigned (see December 9, 2003), the commission probably would not have reached unanimity. It also calls their gentle questioning of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during his May 2004 testimony, “a low point” in the commission’s handling of witnesses at its public hearings (see May 19, 2004). (Yen 8/4/2006; Nichols 8/5/2006; Williams 8/6/2006) Despite the problems it faced, when discussing his book with the CBC, Hamilton says he thinks the commission has “been reasonably successful in telling the story” of 9/11. (Hamilton 8/21/2006) Without Precedent, however, contains little new information about the events of 9/11. Intelligence expert James Bamford says there is “an overabundance of self-censorship by the authors.” (Bamford 8/20/2006)
In an op-ed published by the New York Times, former 9/11 Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton write that their 9/11 inquiry was “obstructed” by the CIA, which failed to provide them with videotapes of detainee interrogations. The White House also knew of the videotapes’ existence but failed to inform the Commission, which had repeatedly asked for all material related to detainee interrogations and was unhappy with what the CIA gave it (see Summer 2003-January 2004, Summer 2003, November 5, 2003-January 2004, and After January 2004). Kean and Hamilton write that the CIA “failed to respond to our lawful requests for information about the 9/11 plot. Those who knew about those videotapes—and did not tell us about them—obstructed our investigation. There could have been absolutely no doubt in the mind of anyone at the CIA—or the White House—of the commission’s interest in any and all information related to Qaeda detainees involved in the 9/11 plot. Yet no one in the administration ever told the commission of the existence of videotapes of detainee interrogations.” (Kean and Hamilton 1/2/2008)
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