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Context of 'February 28, 2005: Former 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Gets Job as Condoleezza Rice’s Special Adviser'

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Warren Bass, the 9/11 Commission staffer allocated to review National Security Council documentation, comes to favor an account of events in the Bush administration given by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke over one given by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Clarke has claimed that the administration did not take the risk of an al-Qaeda attack seriously enough in the summer of 2001, whereas Rice claims the administration did everything it could to prevent one.
Documentation, Speeches, Briefings - Bass comes to this judgment partly because of the small amount of Rice’s e-mails and internal memos about terrorism from the spring and summer of 2001: there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “almost nothing to read.” In addition, she made very few references to terrorism in speeches and public appearances. For example, a speech she was to give on 9/11 itself about national security contained only a passing reference to terrorism (see September 11, 2001). On the contrary, Clarke left a pile of documents and a “rich narrative” of events at the White House concerning al-Qaeda, including warnings about an upcoming catastrophic terrorist attack in the summer of 2001. Bass also sees that Clarke was not allowed to brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before 9/11, whereas he repeatedly talked to President Bill Clinton about it.
Memo Warned of Attacks One Week before 9/11 - He is especially astounded to find a memo dated September 4, 2001 warning of a forthcoming attack by Osama bin Laden (see September 4, 2001). However, when he shows this to his team leader, Michael Hurley, they both realize it may be difficult to get this memo included in the commission’s report due to expected opposition from 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, who the staff suspects is biased towards Rice (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004 and February 28, 2005). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 146-149]
Memo Called a "Jeremiad" - The September 4 memo is mentioned in the commission’s final report, but is followed by a comment from Rice saying she saw it as a warning “not to get dragged down by bureaucratic inertia.” The report then calls the memo a “jeremiad” (a prolonged lamentation) and attributes it to Clarke’s inability “to persuade [the CIA and Pentagon] to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 212-213]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Michael Hurley, Warren Bass, Richard A. Clarke, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Warren Bass, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Michael Hurley, Daniel Marcus, Philip Shenon, Philip Zelikow, Warren Bass, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow.Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. [New York Times, 3/20/2004; United Press International, 3/23/2004] 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” [NBC, 4/4/2004] Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 263] However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. [Salon, 4/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Lee Hamilton, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Citizens Watch, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Family Steering Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right).Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right). [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Philip Zelikow, formerly the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will serve as a senior adviser for Condoleezza Rice in her new position as secretary of state. His position, counselor of the United States Department of State, is considered equal to undersecretary of state. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/28/2005] Rice says: “Philip and I have worked together for years. I value his counsel and expertise. I appreciate his willingness to take on this assignment.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow tells his new colleagues at the State Department that it is “the sort of job he had always wanted.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 418] 9/11 victims’ relatives groups had demanded Zelikow’s resignation from the 9/11 Commission, claiming conflict of interest, including being too close to Rice (see March 21, 2004).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
bullet First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
bullet Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
bullet Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009; Politico, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council, US Department of State, Philip Zelikow, John Bellinger, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In late September 2006, a new book by Bob Woodward reveals that CIA Director Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave National Security Adviser Rice their most urgent warning about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001 and September 29, 2006). Tenet detailed this meeting to the 9/11 Commission in early 2004 (see January 28, 2004), but it was not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report later that year. According to the Washington Post, “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] The 9/11 Commissioners initially vigorously deny that they were not told about the meeting. For instance, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she checked with commission staff who told her they were never told about a meeting on that date. She says, “We didn’t know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.” [Washington Post, 9/30/2006] Commissioner Tim Roemer says, “None of this was shared with us in hours of private interviews, including interviews under oath, nor do we have any paper on this. I’m deeply disturbed by this. I’m furious.” Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says the meeting “was never mentioned to us.” Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, says the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing in their private interviews with Tenet and Black to suggest that they made such a dire presentation to Rice. “If we had heard something that drew our attention to this meeting, it would have been a huge thing.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] However, on October 3, 2006, a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony to the 9/11 Commission is leaked to reporters and clearly shows that Tenet did warn Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda threat on July 10, 2001. Ben-Veniste, who attended the meeting along with Zelikow and other staff members, now confirms the meeting did take place and claims to recall details of it, even though he, Zelikow, and other 9/11 Commissioners had denied the existence of the meeting as recently as the day before. In the transcript, Tenet says “the system was blinking red” at the time. This statement becomes a chapter title in the 9/11 Commission’s final report but the report, which normally has detailed footnotes, does not make it clear when Tenet said it. [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Zelikow had close ties to Rice before joining the 9/11 Commission, having co-written a book with her (see March 21, 2004), and became one of her key aides after the commission disbanded (see February 28, 2005). Zelikow does not respond to requests for comments after Tenet’s transcript surfaces. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Washington Post, 10/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Tim Roemer, Jamie Gorelick, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. [Foreign Policy, 2/17/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Hillary Clinton, Ashton Carter, Philip Zelikow, William Perry, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow.MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Rachel Maddow, Bush administration (43), Office of the Vice President, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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