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Context of 'December 4-5, 2005: Former 9/11 Commission Chairman Says Public Safety Is ‘Not a Priority for the Government Right Now’'

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Following Henry Kissinger’s resignation as 9/11 Commission chairman the day before (see November 27, 2002), presidential aide Karl Rove calls Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, to ask if he is willing to be considered as chairman of the Commission. Kean, who does not know Rove well and has been out of politics for some time, is surprised that he is being considered for the job. He is even more surprised that it is Rove making the call, especially given Rove’s reputation as the brain behind the rise of President George W. Bush. However, he says that he may do the job, if chosen. Kean will later speak to the president’s chief of staff Andy Card about the job, and formally accept it in a call from President Bush. Rove will later say that he thinks it was he who first suggested Kean as chairman, but will add that he regrets this, due to later battles with the White House. Card will also say he thinks he was the first to suggest Kean. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 16-7, 25]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Karl C. Rove, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Thomas Kean.
Thomas Kean. [Source: Public domain]President Bush names former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean as the chairman of the 9/11 Commission after his original choice, Henry Kissinger, resigned (see December 13, 2002). [Washington Post, 12/17/2002] In an appearance on NBC, Kean promises an aggressive investigation. “It’s really a remarkably broad mandate, so I don’t think we’ll have any problem looking under every rock. I’ve got no problems in going as far as we have to in finding out the facts.” [Associated Press, 12/17/2002] However, Kean plans to remain president of Drew University and devote only one day a week to the commission. He also claims he would have no conflicts of interest, stating: “I have no clients except the university.” [Washington Post, 12/17/2002] However, he has a history of such conflicts of interest. Multinational Monitor has previously stated: “Perhaps no individual more clearly illustrates the dangers of university presidents maintaining corporate ties than Thomas Kean,” citing the fact that he is on the Board of Directors of Aramark (which received a large contract with his university after he became president), Bell Atlantic, United Health Care, Beneficial Corporation, Fiduciary Trust Company International, and others. [Multinational Monitor, 11/1997]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, George W. Bush, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Thomas Kean, Robert S. Mueller III, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, George W. Bush, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

As the former 9/11 Commissioners issue a harsh report card grading the government’s counterterrorism efforts (see December 5, 2005), former commission chairman Thomas Kean adds some critical comments in several interviews. Kean says, “While the terrorists are learning and adapting, our government is still moving at a crawl… Four years after 9/11 we are not as safe as we could be and that’s simply not acceptable.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005] He also says that public safety is “not a priority for the government right now. You don’t see the Congress or the president talking about the public safety is number one, as we think it should be, and a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren’t being done by the president or by the Congress.” [Meet the Press, 12/4/2005]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The ten ex-9/11 Commissioners issue a report card to monitor the progress on implementation of the commission’s recommendations given in their July 2004 final report, and they generally give harsh grades. The report card assigns letter grades to the commission’s 41 key recommendations. In nearly half the categories, the government receives a D, F, or incomplete grade. There is only one high grade, an A-minus for its “vigorous effort against terrorist financing.” [Washington Post, 12/6/2005] Ironically, that one good grade runs counter to the opinion of many counterterrorism experts. For instance, author Zachary Abuza has said, “The glaring exception to the success in fighting terrorism has been on the financial front…” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] The report card criticizes the government for:
bullet still not checking the identities of airplane passengers against a complete terrorism watch list.
bullet continuing to allocate domestic security funding without considering that certain parts of the country are at greater risk than others.
bullet excessive secrecy regarding intelligence spending.
bullet the handling of detainees.
bullet persistent problems in first responder communication systems. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
bullet the slow transformation of and continuing problems with the FBI. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The report does not give grades to President Bush or any other specific officials. The 9/11 Commission formally ceased operations after issuing its final report, but some members formed a privately funded foundation to monitor progress. The foundation disbands after releasing the report card. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defends the Bush administration’s efforts, saying, “The best way to protect the American people is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Zachary Abuza

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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