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Context of 'March 2003: Zelikow and 9/11 Commission Consultant Complete Outline of Final Report before Staff Start Writing It'

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When all ten members of the 9/11 Commission meet for the first time, in an informal setting, some of them are already unhappy about the way the commission is being run. Some of the Democratic members are unhappy about the selection of Republican Philip Zelikow as executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a decision made solely by chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will say Zelikow’s appointment was “presented as a fait accompli.” Ben-Veniste is also alarmed by Zelikow’s links to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), and he and fellow commissioner Max Cleland are upset about the proposed staff structure (see Around February 2003). There is to be a single staff led by Zelikow, and the commissioners will not have personal staffers, although this is usual on such commissions. Ben-Veniste proposes that each commissioner develop an expertise in a specific field, but this plan is blocked by Kean, Hamilton, and Zelikow. Kean and Hamilton also say that the commissioners can visit the commission’s offices, but cannot have a permanent presence there. Indeed, not even Kean and Hamilton will have an office in the commission’s building. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “To Ben-Veniste, the way the staff was being organized guaranteed that the commissioners’ involvement in the details of the investigation would be limited. It centralized control in Zelikow’s hands.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 69-70]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Max Cleland, Richard Ben-Veniste

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Ernest May, Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The final text of the 9/11 Commission’s report is drafted in the two months before publication on July 22, 2004. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274, 296] Although staff members have input into the process, the finished text is subject to vetoes by the ten commissioners, Executive Director Philip Zelikow, and staffer Ernest May, whose main task is the writing of the report. May will later comment, “no language appeared anywhere in the final text unless Zelikow or I or both of us—and all the commissioners—had accepted it.” [New Republic, 5/23/2005] Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton will later write that “there was some concern we not end up with a ‘staff report’—commissioners were determined to review every word, and supply their own comments, corrections, and language for the report.” They will add: “While we did expect there to be a good deal of commissioner editing, we did not anticipate the extent of back-and-forth that took place through June and the first part of July. Commissioners went through the report six or seven times, word by word….” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 274]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Ernest May, Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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