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Profile: Dana Leseman
Dana Leseman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
'We Need the Interviews' - Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts - This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 109-111]
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report - Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-112]
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).
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