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May-June 2004: Zelikow Has Portions of 9/11 Commission Report Rewritten to Be More Favorable to National Security Adviser Rice

Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow in Tel Aviv, October 2006.Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow in Tel Aviv, October 2006. [Source: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Getty Images]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow tells the staff team working on the Bush administration’s response to terrorist threats in the summer of 2001 that their drafts must be rewritten to cast National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a better light. Rice’s testimony about the administration’s prioritizing of terrorism has been contradicted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who said that al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the White House. The Commission staffers think that Clarke is telling the truth, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, Clarke had left a “vast documentary record” about the White House’s inattention to terrorism. Clarke’s account is also corroborated by other National Security Council (NSC) members, the CIA, and the State Department.
Zelikow's Reaction - However, Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), tells the staffers their version is “too Clarke-centric” and demands “balance.” Shenon will comment: “He never said so explicitly, but Zelikow made clear to [the staffers] that the Commission’s final report should balance out every statement of Clarke’s with a statement from Rice. The team should leave out any judgment on which of them was telling the truth.”
Support from Commission Lawyer - Zelikow is supported to a point in this dispute by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer. Marcus thinks that the staffers are making Clarke into a “superhero,” and that there were some “limitations and flaws” in his performance. Marcus also sees that the staff’s suspicions of Zelikow and his ties to Rice are no longer hidden, but will later say, “In a sense they overreacted to Philip because they were so worried about him they pushed and pushed and pushed, and sometimes they were wrong.”
Staffer Regrets Not Resigning Earlier - One of the key staffers involved in the dispute, Warren Bass, had previously considered resigning from the Commission due to what he perceived as Zelikow’s favoring of Rice. At this point he regrets not resigning earlier, but does not do so now. Bass and his colleagues merely console themselves with the hope that the public will read between the lines and work out that Clarke is telling the truth and Rice is not.
"Tortured Passages" - Shenon will comment: “[T]he results of the team’s work were some of the most tortured passages in the final report, especially in the description of the performance of the NSC in the first months of the Bush presidency. It was written almost as a point, counterpoint—Clarke says this, Rice says the opposite—with no conclusion about what the truth finally was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 394-396]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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