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Context of 'Early December 2003: 9/11 Commission Chair Kean Shocked to Discover Lack of Information in Presidential Daily Briefings'

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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

9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean gives an interview to the New York Times in which he attacks the White House over its withholding of classified intelligence about al-Qaeda and attacks on the US from the Commission (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, and October 16, 2003). Although he does not mention Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) specifically, thinking their name secret, he says, “We’re having trouble with the White House,” meaning that a subpoena may have to be issued. He adds: “Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach. I will not stand for it.” The piece runs as the lead story on page one of the newspaper, causing a good deal of criticism of President George Bush. It is picked up by Democrats, such as presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who says, “After claiming they wanted to find the truth about September 11, the Bush administration has resorted to secrecy, stonewalling, and foot-dragging.” [New York Times, 10/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 215-216] As a result of this story, President Bush makes a statement identifying the documents the Commission wants as PDBs and promising to work with the Commission to give it some access. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 216-217]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 220-221] 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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