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Context of 'October 15, 1998: Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Says ‘Public Assumptions’ Shape Views of History'

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Ashton Carter.Ashton Carter. [Source: Aspen Institute]Over a period of nine months, faculty from Harvard University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Virginia meet in a collaborative effort called the Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group. Its members include experts on terrorism, national security, intelligence, and law enforcement. The project director is Philip Zelikow, future executive director of the 9/11 Commission. Future 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick is also a member, along with Ernest May, who will be a senior advisor to the 9/11 Commission. The culmination of the group’s efforts is a report written by Zelikow and its two co-chairs: former Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and former CIA Director John Deutch. A condensed version of the report is published in the journal Foreign Affairs in late 1998. They write: “Long part of the Hollywood and Tom Clancy repertory of nightmarish scenarios, catastrophic terrorism has moved from far-fetched horror to a contingency that could happen next month. Although the United States still takes conventional terrorism seriously… it is not yet prepared for the new threat of catastrophic terrorism.” They predict the consequences of such an event: “An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people and/or disrupted the necessities of life for hundreds of thousands, or even millions, would be a watershed event in America’s history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented for peacetime and undermine Americans’ fundamental sense of security within their own borders in a manner akin to the 1949 Soviet atomic bomb test, or perhaps even worse. Constitutional liberties would be challenged as the United States sought to protect itself from further attacks by pressing against allowable limits in surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and the use of deadly force. More violence would follow, either as other terrorists seek to imitate this great ‘success’ or as the United States strikes out at those considered responsible. Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a ‘before’ and ‘after.’” [Carter, Deutch, and Zelikow, 10/1998; Foreign Affairs, 11/1998; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. xi-xiv]

Entity Tags: Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, John Deutch, Catastrophic Terrorism Study Group, Ernest May, Ashton Carter

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In his opening remarks at a conference on contemporary political history organized by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow emphasizes that the public understanding of history is shaped by what are sometimes referred to as “public myths.” “[U]nderstanding contemporary political history is extremely important and constantly alive in public discourse. ‘Contemporary’ is defined functionally by those critical people and events that go into forming the public’s presumptions about its immediate past. This idea of ‘public presumption’ is akin to William McNeill’s notion of ‘public myth’ but without the negative implication sometimes invoked by the word ‘myth.’ Such presumptions are beliefs (1) thought to be true (although not necessarily known to be true with certainty), and (2) shared in common within the relevant political community. The sources for such presumptions are both personal (from direct experience) and vicarious (from books, movies, and myths).” Zelikow says that public assumptions often grow out of “searing events”: “particularly ‘searing’ or ‘molding’ events take on ‘transcendent’ importance and, therefore, retain their power even as the experiencing generation passes from the scene.” [Zelikow, 1999 pdf file] In a previous publication, Zelikow had written about how a “catastrophic terrorism” event could constitute a momentous, history-shaping milestone: “An act of catastrophic terrorism that killed thousands or tens of thousands of people… would be a watershed event in America’s history.… Like Pearl Harbor, such an event would divide our past and future into a ‘before’ and ‘after’” (see November 1997-August 1998).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow.Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow. [Source: Public domain]National Security Adviser Rice decides this day to retain Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, and his staff. However, she downgrades his official position as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. While he is still known as the counterterrorism “tsar,” he has less power and now reports to deputy secretaries instead of attending Cabinet-level meetings. He no longer is able to send memos directly to the president, or easily interact with Cabinet-level officials. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30; Guardian, 3/25/2004] Clarke will not be able to meet with President Bush even a single time before 9/11 to discuss al-Qaeda (see January 25, 2001-September 10, 2001). In 2004, Rice will reveal that the person she tasks with considering changes to Clarke and his staff is Philip Zelikow, the future Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow recuses himself from those parts of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation directly relating to his role in this and other matters. However, 9/11 victims’ relatives are not satisfied. For instance, one relative says, “Zelikow has conflicts. I’m not sure that his recusal is sufficient. His fingerprints are all over that decision [to demote Clarke].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Bush administration submits to Congress a 31-page document entitled “The National Security Strategy of the United States.”
Preemptive War - The National Security Strategy (NSS) openly advocates the necessity for the US to engage in “preemptive war” against nations it believes are likely to become a threat to the US’s security. It declares: “In an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle. The United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.” The declaration that the US will engage in preemptive war with other nations reverses decades of American military and foreign policy stances; until now, the US has held that it would only launch an attack against another nation if it had been attacked first, or if American lives were in imminent danger. President Bush had first mentioned the new policy in a speech in June 2002 (see June 1, 2002), and it echoes policies proposed by Paul Wolfowitz during the George H. W. Bush administration (see March 8, 1992). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]
US Must Maintain Military 'Beyond Challenge' - The National Security Strategy states that the ultimate objective of US national security policy is to “dissuade future military competition.” The US must therefore “build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” [London Times, 9/21/2002]
Ignoring the International Criminal Court - The NSS also states, “We will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impaired by the potential for investigations, inquiry, or prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), whose jurisdiction does not extend to Americans and which we do not accept.” [US President, 9/2002]
Declaring War on Terrorism Itself - It states: “The enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism—premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.” Journalism professor Mark Danner will later comment in the New York Times: “Not Islamic terrorism or Middle Eastern terrorism or even terrorism directed against the United States: terrorism itself. ‘Declaring war on “terror,”’ as one military strategist later remarked to me, ‘is like declaring war on air power.’” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005]
Fundamental Reversal of Containment, Deterrence Principles - Washington Post reporter Tim Reich later describes the NSS as “revers[ing] the fundamental principles that have guided successive presidents for more than 50 years: containment and deterrence.” Foreign policy professor Andrew Bacevich will write that the NSS is a “fusion of breathtaking utopianism [and] barely disguised machtpolitik.” Bacevich continues, “It reads as if it were the product not of sober, ostensibly conservative Republicans but of an unlikely collaboration between Woodrow Wilson and the elder Field Marshal von Moltke.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Written by Future Executive Director of 9/11 Commission - The document is released under George W. Bush’s signature, but was written by Philip D. Zelikow, formerly a member of the previous Bush administration’s National Security Council, and currently a history professor at the University of Virginia and a member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Zelikow produced the document at the behest of his longtime colleague National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see June 1, 2002). His authorship of the document will not be revealed until well after he is appointed executive director of the 9/11 commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). Many on the Commission will consider Zelikow’s authorship of the document a prima facie conflict of interest, and fear that Zelikow’s position on the Commission will be used to further the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive war (see March 21, 2004). [US Department of State, 8/5/2005; Shenon, 2008, pp. 128]

Entity Tags: Tim Reich, University of Virginia, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, 9/11 Commission, Andrew Bacevich, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission’s teams of investigators are asked to present interim staff reports to be read in the public hearings. Each report summarizes the staff’s findings regarding the subject of the day’s testimony. The reports help frame the questions for the day’s witnesses, and provide the basis for some of the chapters of the final report, so they are quite important and closely reported in the media. The commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, almost always rewrites the reports. Zelikow is smarting from the rounds of public criticism he has suffered for his apparent close ties to the Bush administration (see November 1997-August 1998, January 3, 2001, September 20, 2002, and March 21, 2004), and decides that he alone should read each staff report in the hearings—in essence, presenting himself as the public face of the commission and hopefully garnering some positive press coverage. That idea falls flat when angry staffers complain to the commissioners. But Zelikow continues to rewrite the reports, often improving on the language and wording, and sometimes rewriting reports to insert information that staffers find unsupportable (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 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

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