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Context of 'September 30-October 3, 2006: 9/11 Commissioners Claim to Be Furious They Were Not Told of July 2001 Warning, When In Fact They Were'

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Richard Ben-Veniste.Richard Ben-Veniste. [Source: C-SPAN]The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. [Chicago Tribune, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/16/2002; New York Times, 12/17/2002] Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/12/2002; Associated Press, 12/13/2002; Reuters, 12/16/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 55-56] It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
bullet Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. [Associated Press, 2/14/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. [Associated Press, 12/12/2002; CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. [Associated Press, 1/31/2003; CBS News, 3/5/2003] Democratic commissioners:
bullet Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. [CBS News, 3/5/2003] He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. [Hopsicker, 2001, pp. 325-30]
bullet Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]
bullet James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. [Associated Press, 3/27/2003]
bullet Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. [CBS News, 3/5/2003]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Fred F. Fielding, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, John McCain, John Lehman, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, United Airlines, Warren Rudman, Slade Gorton, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff who are suspicious of the partisanship of the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, establish what author Philip Shenon calls a “back-channel network” through which reports of Zelikow’s behavior can be passed. The staff members are suspicious of Zelikow because they think he is close to the Bush administration, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see January 3, 2001), whose interests he defends on the Commission (see May-June 2004). The network’s aim is to “alert the Democratic commissioners when [staff] thought Zelikow was up to no good.” Commissioner Tim Roemer will say that he often gets phone calls late at night or on weekends at home from staffers who want to talk about Zelikow. “It was like Deep Throat,” he will later say (see May 31, 2005). Richard Ben-Veniste is another one of the Democratic commissioners involved in the network. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 375]

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, Tim Roemer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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