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Context of 'April 2003: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Blocks Access to Key Document by ‘Saudi Connection’ Investigators'

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Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
'We Need the Interviews' - Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts - This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 109-111]
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report - Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman, Michael Jacobson, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Dana Leseman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).

Entity Tags: Daniel Marcus, Dana Leseman, Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tim Roemer.Tim Roemer. [Source: US Congress]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Tim Roemer, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. [New York Times, 8/2/2003] One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. [Associated Press, 8/2/2003] According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” [New Republic, 8/1/2003] The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama Basnan, Omar al-Bayoumi, Anwar al-Awlaki, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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