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Profile: James Thompson

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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

Republican 9/11 Commissioner Jim Thompson becomes involved in a scandal surrounding the Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. Black is accused by shareholders and then the US Justice Department of appropriating money—tens of millions of dollars—that should have gone to shareholders for his own use, and of spending it on parties, private jets, and luxury homes. Thompson gets involved in the scandal because he was a director of Black’s company, Hollinger International, and also the chairman of the audit committee there, meaning that Thompson’s role is of great interest to prosecutors. Thompson spends a lot of time trying to extricate himself from the scandal and, according to author Philip Shenon, he “all but disappear[s] from the commission during the first year of the investigation.” This has a bad effect on the commission’s relations with Republicans in the House of Representatives, as Thompson is supposed to function as an unofficial liaison to them. As House Republicans have nobody on the commission who talks to them, they begin to attack it, in particular in April 2004 (see April 13-April 29, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 91-92]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Hollinger International, James Thompson, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following nine months of haggling over access to Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items related to the 9/11 Commission’s work (see Late January 2003, June 2003, and Late Summer 2003), White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees to provide the Commission with a briefing about them.
No Details Provided - Gonzales says the briefing will be about the “contents” of the PDBs, although the Commission is unsure what this means and thinks it may include verbal information about what is written in items relevant to its investigation. However, at the briefing, lawyers simply tell the Commission about how the documents are prepared. They also say that there are approximately 300 PDB items relevant to the Commission’s work, but they will not provide any details of what the items actually say.
Briefing Is 'Ridiculous' - The commissioners are very frustrated, and Republican Commissioner Jim Thompson, for example, complains, “This is ridiculous.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commissioners were seething. If the briefing was meant to placate them, it had done the opposite; it was one more bit of proof of Gonzales’s ham-handed strategy in dealing with the investigation. If anything, the commissioners were now more anxious to see the actual PDBs.” Thompson will add, “We were not going to take no for an answer.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 215-216]

Entity Tags: James Thompson, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales works on questions that are to be put later in the day by the 9/11 Commission to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004). Clarke has recently gone public with criticisms of the Bush administration and is being attacked by it (see March 21, 2004, March 22, 2004 and Shortly After, and March 24, 2004). The questions are supplied to two Republican commissioners, Fred Fielding and Jim Thompson, who author Philip Shenon will say “were seen as the administration’s most reliable supporters on the Commission.” Some of these questions may actually be asked at the hearing, and Shenon will add, “During Clarke’s testimony, Fielding and Thompson could be seen standing up from the dais periodically and disappearing to a back room to take phone calls, apparently from the White House.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] When the communications between the White House and the commissioners come to light after the hearing, critics will call it unethical interference in the hearings. [Washington Post, 4/1/2004] For example, Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey complains, “To call commissioners and coach them on what they ought to say is a terrible mistake.” [New York Daily News, 4/2/2004] In addition to the questions for the commissioners, according to Shenon, Gonzales is in contact with the office of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, and Frist is “prepared to rush to the Senate floor to denounce Clarke and question his truthfulness as soon as the hearing was over.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] Frist will soon ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Fred F. Fielding, Bill Frist, Bob Kerrey, James Thompson, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: CBC]Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Due to publicity generated by the publication of his book and a controversial appearance on 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004), it is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, a “true Washington spectacle” and “one of those moments in the capital when anyone of importance in the city [is] in front of a television set.” Shenon will add, “It was being compared by reporters to the sort of drama that John Dean’s testimony provided in Watergate or Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s testimony offered in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 281-282]
Clarke Offers Apology - Clarke’s opening statement consists of little more than an apology to the relatives of the 9/11 victims. He says: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask… for your understanding and forgiveness.” This leads to a moment of silence, then gasps and sobs. Shenon will point out, “It was the first apology that the 9/11 families had heard from anybody of importance in the Bush administration,” adding that it “was the moment of catharsis that many of the wives and husbands and children of the victims had been waiting for.”
Praises Clinton, Criticizes Bush - Under questioning, Clarke praises the Clinton administration, saying, “My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration—certainly no higher priority.” But he is very critical of the Bush administration, stating, “By invading Iraq… the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” He says that under Bush before 9/11, terrorism was “an important issue, but not an urgent issue.… [CIA Director] George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al-Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continue to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way.” He points out that he made proposals to fight al-Qaeda in late January 2001. While the gist of them was implemented after 9/11, he complains, “I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February [2001].” He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program, “we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud.”
Republican Commissioners Ask Tough Questions - However, Clarke faces tough questioning from some of the Republican commissioners. Jim Thompson, who had been in contact with the White House before the hearing (see Morning, March 24, 2004), challenges Clarke over a briefing he gave in 2002 (see August 22, 2002 and March 24, 2004), which, according to Thompson, contradicts what Clarke is saying now. In addition, fellow Republican John Lehman confronts Clarke over what he sees as discrepancies between Clarke’s book and his private interviews with the Commission. Clarke replies that the differences arose because the Commission did not ask him about all the issues he covered in his book, such as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He adds that he will not accept any position in any administration formed by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Clarke Approved Saudi Flights - Clarke also clears up a mystery about the departure of Saudi Arabian nationals after the attacks, which has caused some controversy (see September 14-19, 2001), saying that he was the White House official that approved them. He did this after clearing it with the FBI, although he does not know “what degree of review the FBI did over those names.” [Washington Post, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 282-289]
Testimony 'Arresting' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later call Clarke’s testimony “arresting.” Rich will write that Clarke’s forceful, confident demeanor—“sonorous voice, secret-agent aura, and vaguely intimidating body language”—serves to brush back antagonistic Republicans such as Lehman and Thompson. Rich will write that the juxtaposition of Clarke’s damning testimony with President Bush’s bizarre comedy routine that same evening (pretending to hunt for Iraqi WMD under the Oval Office furniture—see March 24, 2004) is jarring. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: John Lehman, Clinton administration, Richard A. Clarke, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Rudolph Giuliani testifying before the 9/11 Commission.Rudolph Giuliani testifying before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Gotham Gazette]The second day of the 9/11 Commission hearings about the emergency response on the day of the attacks is dominated by questioning of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, which Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will describe as the Commission’s “low point.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228] Giuliani had become a hero after the attacks, winning the Time magazine Person of the Year award, and the Commission was aware that it had to be careful about how it handled material it had uncovered putting him in a bad light (see Before May 17, 2004 and May 18, 2004). [Time, 12/22/2001] However, commissioner John Lehman had attacked the city’s preparedness the previous day, leading to a major row (see May 18, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will describe the hearing as a “Rudy Giuliani lovefest,” pointing out that, “Many of the questions directed at Giuliani by the commissioners barely qualified as softballs, they were so gentle.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 355-356]
'The Captain Was on the Bridge' - Kean and Hamilton will admit that every commissioner “opens his or her questioning with lavish praise.” For instance, Richard Ben-Veniste says, “Your leadership on that day and in the days following gave the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, an unvarnished view of the indomitable spirit and the humanity of this great city, and for that I salute you.” Jim Thompson thanks Giuliani for “setting an example to us all.” Lehman says: “There was no question the captain was on the bridge.” Kean says, “New York City on that terrible day in a sense was blessed because it had you as a leader.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228]
'Stop Kissing Ass!' - However, Giuliani suggests that hundreds of firefighters died when the North Tower collapsed because they had chosen to remain in the building, not because they had not received the order to evacuate due to problems with their radio system. This angers some of the audience members, who shout out, “Talk about the radios!” “Put one of us on the panel—just one of us!” “Stop kissing ass!” and: “My brother was a fireman, and I want to know why three hundred firemen died. And I’ve got some real questions. Let’s ask some real questions. Is that unfair?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 355-356]
'We Did Not Ask Tough Questions' - Kean and Hamilton will later write: “The questioning of Mayor Giuliani was a low point in terms of the Commission’s questioning of witnesses at our public hearings. We did not ask tough questions, nor did we get all of the information we needed to put on the public record. We were affected by the controversy over Lehman’s comments, and by the excellent quality of the mayor’s presentation.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 226-228]

Entity Tags: Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Richard Ben-Veniste, Philip Shenon, John Lehman, James Thompson, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission interviews two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The interview is conducted mainly by commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Jim Thompson and follows an internal battle inside the Commission (see June 2004 and Early July 2004). Despite a claim by the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow that the analysts, known only as Barbara S and Dwayne D, were reluctant to answer questions, they are willing and eager to respond to Ben-Veniste.
PDB Item Not 'Historical' - According to author Philip Shenon, the analysts are “confused” and “appalled” by claims by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others at the White House that the PDB item only contained an “historical” overview of domestic terrorism threats. The analysts say that this was not its purpose and that it was supposed to remind President Bush that al-Qaeda remained a dire threat in August 2001 and that a domestic attack was certainly a possibility. For example, the item referred to “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.” Barbara S says, “That’s not historical,” and adds the threat of a domestic terror attack by al-Qaeda was thought “current and serious” at that time.
Ordered up 'In-House' - In addition, the analysts say that another claim made by the White House, that President Bush specifically ordered the PDB (see April 13, 2004), is false. They state that the PDB item was ordered “in-house” by the CIA in the hope that the White House would pay more attention to the threat. However, President Bush had asked his intelligence briefers about the possibility of a domestic attack by terrorists that summer (see July 5, 2001).
Zelikow Objects to Placement of Material in Final Report - Ben-Veniste insists that the material from the two analysts is placed prominently in the Commission’s final report, although Zelikow objects to this. After negotiations, the relevant paragraph will read as follows: “During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occasions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article summarizing its understanding of this danger. Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a bin Laden attack in the United States remained both current and serious. The result was an article in the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.’” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 377-379]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, ’Barbara S’, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, Richard Ben-Veniste, Philip Shenon, ’Dwayne D’

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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