Profile: Philip Shenon
Philip Shenon was a participant or observer in the following events:
’Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft,’ by Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Harvard University Press]Future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow, who, as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will investigate her performance in the run-up to 9/11, co-author a book about the implications of German reunification. The two had worked together on the National Security Council in the 1980s and early 90s, but are both now working at universities. Zelikow is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rice is the provost at Stanford. The book, entitled Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, is mostly written by Zelikow, who is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “pleased to share credit with such an obvious up-and-comer as Rice.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 40-41]
Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is not offered a job in the Bush administration, and returns to the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia to teach. Zelikow had worked on the transition team (see January 3, 2001), and thought he would receive an important position in the new administration. He told his friends he thought he was in line for the position of deputy national security adviser to Condoleezza Rice, with whom he had written a book in the mid-1990s (see 1995). Most people in the Bush administration admire his ability, but find him hard to work with. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will even describe Zelikow as a “bully” historian. Author Philip Shenon will later comment that Zelikow is “perplexed that his talents had not been recognized by the people who handed out the best jobs in the Bush administration.” After returning to university, Zelikow will lobby the White House to make the university where he works the official repository of its oral history. His point of contact at the White House is political adviser Karl Rove. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42-44]
Thomas Pickard. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” [9/11 Commission, 6/3/2004 ] Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 240-248, 433] According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247] Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” [Pickard, 6/24/2004] The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” [Ayres, 7/12/2004] The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” [Commission, 2004]
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247-248, 433] According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” [Commission, 2004, pp. 536n52]
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Mark Jacobson, Thomas Pickard, David Ayres, Dale Watson, 9/11 Commission, Caroline Barnes, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Shenon, Al-Qaeda, Ruben Garcia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. [Source: BBC]The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. [CNN, 7/18/2001] No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 154]
Air Force General Richard Myers appears before the Senate Armed Forces Committee for a hearing to confirm him as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and makes false statements about the launching of fighters in response to the 9/11 attacks. Myers claims that no fighters were launched before the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m. However, the 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the first fighters were airborne before 9:00 a.m. (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). It is unclear why Myers, a former pilot who had flown hundreds of missions, gives such an inaccurate account. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “It seemed obvious that Myers, of all people at the Pentagon, would want to know—would demand to know—how jet fighters under NORAD’s control had responded on the morning of September 11 to the threat in the skies.” [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Shenon, 2008, pp. 118-119] A different version of the air defense response will be put forward the next day (see September 14, 2001).
On December 3, 2001, New York Times reporter Judith Miller telephones officials with the Holy Land Foundation charity in Texas and asks them to comment about what she says is a government raid on the charity planned for the next day. Then in a December 4, 2001, New York Times article, Miller writes that President Bush is about to announce that the US is freezing the assets of Holy Land and two other financial groups, all for supporting Hamas. US officials will later argue that Miller’s phone call and article “increased the likelihood that the foundation destroyed or hid records before a hastily organized raid by agents that day.” Later in the month, a similar incident occurs. On December 13, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon telephones officials at the Global Relief Foundation in Illinois and asks them to comment about an imminent government crackdown on that charity. The FBI learns that some Global Relief employees may be destroying documents. US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had been investigating the charities. He had been wiretapping Global Relief and another charity in hopes of learning evidence of criminal activity, but after the leak he changes plans and carries out a hastily arranged raid on the charity the next day (see December 14, 2001). Fitzgerald later seeks records from the New York Times to find out who in the Bush administration leaked information about the upcoming raids to Miller and Shenon. However, in 2005 Fitzgerald will lose the case. It is still not known who leaked the information to the New York Times nor what their motives were. Ironically, Fitzgerald will succeed in forcing Miller to reveal information about her sources in another extremely similar legal case in 2005 involving the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. [New York Times, 12/4/2001; New York Times, 12/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2004; Washington Post, 2/25/2005] The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in addition to the above cases, “press leaks plagued almost every [raid on Muslim charities] that took place in the United States” after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/10/2004]
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says that, in contrast to the period before 9/11, “there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11” about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States. Before the attacks: “I was not on point, but I knew [Osama bin Laden] was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the previous bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.” Author Philip Shenon will comment that this interview is something Bush “almost certainly regretted later.” Shenon will also comment on who should have imparted such a sense of urgency, “If anyone on the White House staff had responsibility for making Bush’s blood ‘boil’ that summer about Osama bin Laden, it was [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 154-155]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and urges him not to launch a 9/11 inquiry. When the call is made, Howard Fineman of Newsweek is in Daschle’s office and he hears that end of the conversation, providing important independent confirmation of Daschle’s account. Author Philip Shenon will later describe Cheney’s tone as “polite but threatening,” and Cheney reportedly tells Daschle that an investigation into 9/11 would be a “very dangerous and time-consuming diversion for those of us who are on the front lines of our response today.” Cheney also says that if the Democrats push for an investigation, the White House will portray them as undermining the war on terror. Shenon will later call this “a potent political threat” the Republicans are holding over the Democrats. President Bush repeats the request on January 28, and Daschle is repeatedly pressured thereafter. [Newsweek, 2/4/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 29-30, 426] Cheney will later disagree with this account: “Tom’s wrong. He has, in this case, let’s say a misinterpretation.” [Reuters, 5/27/2002]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to respond to the public leak (see May 15, 2002) of the title of President Bush’s August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Presidential Daily Brief - She asserts: “It was an analytic report that talked about [Osama bin Laden]‘s methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.… I want to reiterate, it was not a warning. There was no specific time, place, or method mentioned.” [White House, 5/16/2002] In April 2004, Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission and repeatedly assert that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting” (see April 8, 2004).
Comment by Philip Shenon - Author Philip Shenon will later comment, “She failed to mention, as would later be clear, that the PDB focused entirely on the possibility that al-Qaeda intended to strike within the United States; it cited relatively recent FBI reports of possible terrorist surveillance of government buildings in New York.” After rereading the transcript of the press conference, Shenon will call it a “remarkable document,” because “To many of the Commission’s staff, it offered proof of how, to Condoleezza Rice, everything is semantics. A threat is not a threat, a warning is not a warning, unless she says it is. The word historical appeared to have an especially broad definition to Rice. To her, a warning that was a few weeks or months old was of relatively little value because it was ‘historical.’”
Aircraft as Weapons - Rice also says, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon—that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” However, various government agencies were well aware of the concept of planes as missiles, including the FBI (see August 27, 2001), the Defense Department (see April 17-26, 2001), and the White House itself (see June 20, 2001). Shenon will point out that this news conference occurs eight months after the attacks, yet Rice is “suggesting that in all that time, no one had bothered to tell her [of these reports].” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 213, 237-239]
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer misstates the title of a key presidential daily brief item from August 2001 about al-Qaeda’s intentions to attack the US (see August 6, 2001). Fleischer says: “The president was aware that bin Laden, of course, as previous administrations have well known, that bin Laden was determined to strike the United States. In fact, the label on the president’s (presidential daily briefing) was ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States.’” [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Author Philip Shenon will later point out that “Fleischer had left out the title’s all-important preposition—‘in’ the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 214] The full title is “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 261] The Washington Post soon points out the misstatement: “White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday […] the headline on the document was, ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike the United States.’ But sources who have read the memo said the headline ended with the phrase ‘in US.’” [Washington Post, 5/19/2008]
Richard Clarke, who was counterterrorism “tsar” in the run-up to 9/11, briefs the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about counterterrorism before the attacks.
Clarke's Status - Normally, a White House official such as Clarke would not be allowed to testify before Congress, but the administration makes an exception for him, although the testimony is behind closed doors and is classified. In addition, Clarke is not placed under oath and is not even considered a witness before the inquiry, just a briefer. Clarke’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will not testify before the inquiry, and it is unable to obtain access to National Security Council files, which are privileged as they relate to advice given to the president.
Content of Briefing - House Intelligence Committee member Tim Roemer will say that Clarke is riveting during the six-hour briefing. According to author Philip Shenon, Roemer thinks that Clarke is “intelligent, articulate, seemingly candid in discussing his own failings as White House counterterrorism [‘tsar’].” Clarke will later be extremely critical of President George Bush and Rice (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but now he is “coy about certain questions—especially about President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.” Shenon will add: “[I]f anyone knew whether Bush and Rice had reacted appropriately to the threats reaching the Oval office before 9/11, it was Clarke. Yet in front of these lawmakers, Clarke seemed unwilling to make any judgments about the president and Rice. He was certainly volunteering little about his bosses. He was still on the [National Security Council’s] payroll. Perhaps it was understandable that Clarke would want to hold his tongue for now.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 195-196]
Later Positive Briefing about Administration's Record - Two months later, Clarke will give journalists a positive briefing about the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002).
Senator Richard Shelby.
[Source: US Senate]The Washington Post reveals that FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 senators and congresspeople making up the 9/1 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11-related information leaks. In particular, in June 2002 the media reported that the day before 9/11 the NSA intercepted the messages “The match is about to begin” and “Tomorrow is zero hour”(see September 10, 2001). The FBI has asked the members to submit to lie detector tests but most have refused. Congresspeople express “grave concern” for this historically unprecedented move. A law professor states: “Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who would be critical of the FBI.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggests that “the constitutional separation of powers is being violated in spirit if not in the letter. ‘What you have here is an organization compiling dossiers on people who are investigating the same organization. The administration bitterly complains about some leaks out of a committee, but meanwhile leaks abound about secret war plans for fighting a war against Saddam Hussein. What’s that about? There’s a bit of a contradiction here, if not a double standard.’” [Washington Post, 8/3/2002] Later the search for the source of the leak intensifies to unprecedented levels as the FBI asks 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters. [Washington Post, 8/24/2002] Most, if not all, turn over the records, even as some complain that the request breaches the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. One senator says the FBI is “trying to put a damper on our activities and I think they will be successful.” [Associated Press, 8/29/2002] In January 2004, it will be reported that the probe is focusing on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He will not be charged with any crime relating to the leak. [Washington Post, 1/22/2004] In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee will announce it has dropped a probe of Shelby, citing insufficient evidence. [Reuters, 11/13/2005] Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will write in a book in late 2004 that, at the time, he guessed “the leak was intended to sabotage [the inquiry’s] efforts. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the fact that we were hit with this disclosure at the moment we began to make things uncomfortable for the Bush administration has stuck with me. Over a year later, I asked [inquiry co-chair] Congressman [Porter] Goss (R-FL) whether he thought we had been set up. Nodding, he replied, ‘I often wonder that myself.’” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 140] Author Philip Shenon will observe that this tactic of intimidation worked, as “Members of the joint committee and their staffs were frightened into silence about the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 55]
Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton is considered by his party for the position of vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but does not get the appointment, which goes to former Senator George Mitchell (see November 27, 2002). Hamilton, who is nonetheless appointed to the Commission as an ordinary member, is rejected as vice chairman by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats because he is seen as too soft on Republicans—he lacks “a taste for partisan fights,” and seems “always to assume the best about people, Republicans included.” He is also friends with two of the investigation’s targets, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who he calls “Dick” and “Don,” and Cheney’s White House counsel, David Addington. He got to know Cheney during the Iran-Contra investigation, when Cheney was the ranking Republican on the committee and Hamilton failed to distinguish himself (see Mid-1980s), as he did over the “October Surprise” affair (see 1992-January 1993). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “While [Hamilton] might disagree with Cheney and Rumsfeld on policy, Hamilton trusted both men always to tell the truth.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 32-33] However, Mitchell will subsequently resign and Hamilton will replace him as vice chairman (see December 11, 2002). In this role Hamilton will have good relations with the Bush White House (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004).
The 9/11 Commission initially pays very little attention to material from the NSA about al-Qaeda, as it is focusing on the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Colonel Lorry Fenner, a former air force intelligence officer assigned to the commission’s team reviewing the structure of the intelligence community, finds this surprising. Fenner, who had previously worked closely with the NSA, is “dumfounded” when she learns nobody from the commission is making the short trip to the NSA to review its material on 9/11. The NSA tracked al-Qaeda communications for a long time before 9/11, including numerous calls between the hijackers and other al-Qaeda operatives (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but the 9/11 Commission apparently does not realize or seem to care how important the material is. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[F]or the Commission’s staff, [the NSA’s Maryland headquarters at] Fort Meade might as well have been Kabul, it seemed so distant.” One reason is that some people at the commission do not really understand what the NSA does, and also, according to Shenon, “[For executive director Philip] Zelikow and other staff on the commission, it was just more interesting—sexier—to concentrate on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 155-6]
The first time 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat noted for his bipartisanship (see 1992-January 1993, Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004), meet after their appointment to the commission, Kean offers Hamilton extra powers in the investigation. In effect, Kean and Hamilton would be co-chairmen of the inquiry, rather than chairman and vice chairman. Author Philip Shenon will call this a “remarkable gesture,” as it gives Hamilton an equal say in the hiring and structure of the investigation. Kean also proposes that the two of them should be “joined at the hip,” and that they should always appear in public together, especially on television. Hamilton agrees, thinking this will go some way to make up for their lack of stature in Washington in comparison with the two men they replaced on the commission, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 68]
After experiencing some problems at its inception due to the resignation of its chair and vice-chair (see December 11, 2002 and December 13, 2002), the 9/11 Commission spends much of the next four months hiring staff, getting security clearances (see March 27, 2003), finding office space, and asking for a budget increase (see March 26, 2003). One of the first employees hired is executive director Philip Zelikow, but disputes within the Commission over who will be general council last until March, when Dan Marcus is hired. The Commission is unable to even have a telephone until February, when it finds an official security facility for its offices, and until then the cell phone of staffer Stephanie Kaplan is used as the commission’s initial operations center. However, most of the Commission’s staff cannot then enter their offices, because they do not have the relevant security clearances yet, even though there are no secret documents actually in the offices at this point. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commission’s early logistical problems were more than a little humiliating to men like [commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton, who had commanded vast staffs and virtually unlimited office space during their years in power in government. Now they were at the mercy of others if they wanted second-hand office furniture for the commission’s cramped offices in Washington.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 34-45; Shenon, 2008, pp. 92]
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]
The 9/11 Commission hires Philip Zelikow for the key position of executive director, the person actually in charge of the commission’s day-to-day affairs. Zelikow was recommended by Commissioner Slade Gorton, who had worked with Zelikow on an electoral reform commission after the disputed presidential election in 2000. Zelikow, the director of that commission, has powerful friends in Washington; even former president Jimmy Carter praises him. However, according to author Philip Shenon, the staff on the electoral reform commission think he is “arrogant and secretive,” and believe his success as commission director rested on “his ability to serve the needs—and stroke the egos” of the commissioners.
Plans for Commission - Zelikow impresses commission Chairman Tom Kean by saying that he wants the panel’s final report to be written for the general public, in a more readable style than most government documents. After about 20 candidates have been considered, Kean decides that Zelikow is the best choice for the position.
Conflict of Interests - Zelikow has a conflict of interests, as he co-authored a book with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995) and also served on a special White House intelligence advisory board. Both these facts are listed on his résumé. Zelikow will say that he also mentioned his work with Rice, whom he served on the Bush administration transition team (see January 2001), to Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton in telephone conversations with them. However, Kean will later say he “wasn’t sure” if he knew of Zelikow’s work on the transition team at the time he was hired, and Hamilton will say that he thought he knew Zelikow had worked on the transition, but did not know the details of what he did. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will be extremely surprised by Zelikow’s appointment, because of his personality and the conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance of them.
Omissions from Press Release - Zelikow’s hiring is announced in a press release issued on January 27. Shenon will later point out that the release, written based on information provided by Zelikow and reviewed by him before publication, is “notable for what it did not say.” It does not mention his work for the National Security Council in the 1980s, the book with Rice, his role on the White House transition team, or the fact he has just written a policy paper that is going to be used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). In fact, the Bush administration transition team had downgraded the position of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Zelikow had played a key role in this decision (see January 3, 2001). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 58-62, 65-67]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is extremely surprised when he learns the 9/11 Commission has hired Philip Zelikow as its executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). According to author Philip Shenon, he says aloud, “The fix is in,” and wonders why anybody would have hired a friend of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to investigate her, amongst others. Clarke had previously thought that the 9/11 Commission might get to the truth of how President George Bush and Rice had ignored the intelligence in the run-up to 9/11, but Zelikow’s appointment dashes these hopes. Shenon will describe Clarke’s reaction as: “[T]here [is] no hope that the Commission would carry out an impartial investigation of the Bush administration’s bungling of terrorist threats in the months before September 11. Could anyone have a more obvious conflict of interest than Zelikow?” Clarke, who dislikes Zelikow personally, wonders whether he has told the commissioners that he was one of the architects of Clarke’s demotion at the start of the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001). He is certain that Zelikow will not want a proper investigation of the transition to the Bush administration, as he was such a central part of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 63-65]
Following the appointment of the Republican Philip Zelikow as the 9/11 Commission’s executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), Democrats on the commission demand that its general counsel be a Democrat. However, some of the Republican commissioners are unhappy about this, and inform the White House what is happening. Shortly after this, Commission Chairman Tom Kean hears from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and others at the White House that they are concerned the commission is attempting to find a partisan Democrat. Kean will later say, “They were very, very alarmed when they heard some of the names being considered.” Both Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, himself a Democrat, agree that the counsel should be a Democrat, but, according to author Philip Shenon, they do not want “a candidate who seemed eager to confront the Bush administration.”
Two Rejected Candidates - One name considered is that of James Hamilton (no relation to Lee Hamilton), who had been a lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee. However, he had worked on the 2000 Florida recount for Al Gore, so Kean rules him out. Another name considered is Carol Elder Bruce, but at her interview she says issuing subpoenas for documents the commission wants would be a good idea, although Kean and Hamilton have already decided against this (see January 27, 2003).
Daniel Marcus Hired - In the end, the position is given to Daniel Marcus, a lawyer who had served in the Clinton administration and specializes in constitutional and regulatory law. Marcus has no ties to Democratic political operations, so he is acceptable to the Republicans on the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 92-95]
In the first few months of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation, the ten commissioners rarely visit the staff’s offices, partly because they are not allowed to have their own offices there. This means that the commissioners are separated from the staff, and that Executive Director Philip Zelikow acquires more control of the inquiry. Author Philip Shenon will write: “[T]he staff could see that with every passing day, Zelikow was centralizing control of the day-to-day investigation in his own hands. He was becoming the eleventh commissioner and, in many ways, more powerful than the others.… Zelikow was in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 69-70, 85-86]
9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean (left) and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton (right) allowed Executive Director Philip Zelikow (center) to handle the hiring of the commission’s staff. [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Recently hired 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow assumes responsibility for hiring the rest of the commission’s staff. According to an agreement with the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, the two of them can veto the people he chooses, or even insist that a person Zelikow does not want is hired. However, these powers are exercised rarely, if at all, and, according to author Philip Shenon, it is “left mostly to Zelikow to choose who would conduct the investigations and how their responsibilities would be divided.” In one instance, Zelikow puts potential hire Navy lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer, who was badly injured at the Pentagon on 9/11, through a grueling interview before offering him a job. Shenon will comment that Zelikow did this “to make it clear to everyone that he was in charge; the people being hired for the commission worked for him.” The fact that commissioners do not have their own staffers also enhances Zelikow’s power. Zelikow will comment: “If commissioners have their own personal staff, this empowers commissioners to pursue their own agenda. [If there is a single nonpartisan staff it] doesn’t mean that the commissioners are powerless, It means that they are powerless individually and powerful together.” Shenon will point out: “It also meant that, ultimately, the staff answered to Zelikow. Every one of them. If information gathered by the staff was to be passed to the commissioners, it would have to go through Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 81-83]
After the 9/11 Commission’s staff is divided into nine teams, the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, begins to closely supervise the work done by the commission’s team 3, which is investigating counterterrorism policy. Author Philip Shenon will later point out that this team is responsible for the “most politically sensitive” portion of the commission’s work, because it is to “review the performance of the Bush and Clinton administrations in dealing with al-Qaeda threats before 9/11.” It will have access to CIA and NSC files, and is tasked with determining whether the Clinton administration did enough to destroy al-Qaeda and why “the Bush administration had seemed to do so little in response to the flood of terrorism warnings in the months before 9/11.” Zelikow soon makes it clear that this team is his priority, carefully checking the lists of documents and interviews the commission is asking the Bush administration for. He also announces that he wants to be present at all the major interviews. Shenon will comment: “At first, members of the team found it flattering that Zelikow wanted to spend so much of his own time and energy on the work of Team 3. Their suspicion of his motives grew later.” As time goes on, the team members are startled to discover that he wants to “be involved in the smallest details of their work” to such an extent that he “ignore[s] the work of other teams of investigators,” who are even moved out of the commission’s main building and into separate “dark, claustrophobic” offices known as “the Cave.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 86-87, 145]
The White House comes to prefer dealing with the 9/11 Commission’s vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, rather than its Republican chairman Tom Kean. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The White House found that its best support on the Commission came from an unexpected corner—from Lee Hamilton.… Hamilton, they could see, was as much a man of the Washington establishment as he was a Democratic partisan. Probably more so.” This is because Hamilton, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “underst[ands] the prerogatives of the White House—in particular, the concept of executive privilege—in a way that Kean d[oes] not or w[ill] not.” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will comment: “I came to really respect Lee Hamilton. I think he listened better to our concerns better than Tom Kean.” The White House even comes to view Kean as disloyal, effectively operating as one of the Commission’s Democrats, while Hamilton is a de facto Republican (see Early July 2004). Kean will later say, “I think the White House believed Lee was more reliable than I was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 177] Hamilton previously helped Republicans cover up political scandals (see Mid-1980s and 1992-January 1993). He is friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and trusts them to tell the truth (see Before November 27, 2002).
The 9/11 Commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow issues a five-page memo, entitled “What Do I Do Now?” telling newly hired staff members how to go about their jobs on the Commission. The most controversial part of the memo prevents staffers from returning calls from commissioners, stating: “If you are contacted by a commissioner, please contact [deputy executive director] Chris [Kojm] or me. We will be sure that the appropriate members of the Commission’s staff are responsive.” Author Philip Shenon will write that the staffers are surprised by this: “It occurred to several of the staff members, especially those with experience on other federal commissions, that Zelikow was trying to cut off their contact with the people they really worked for—the commissioners.”
Part of Memo Rescinded - When commissioner Jamie Gorelick learns of the restriction, she calls the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, and tells them this is unacceptable. Fellow commissioner Max Cleland also thinks the order is a bad idea, and will later say, “It violates the spirit of an open look at what the hell happened on 9/11.” Zelikow is forced to rescind this portion of the memo, allowing commissioners free access to the staff.
Other Restrictions - Other rules in the memo include:
Commission staff should not disclose the exact location of the Commission’s offices for security reasons;
Staffers should never talk to reporters about the Commission’s work, because “there are no innocent conversations with reporters.” Zelikow or his deputy should be notified of such calls. A breach of this rule can get a staffer fired; and
All staffers have to prepare a confidential memo describing potential conflicts of interest. Shenon will comment, “Staff members who knew some of Zelikow’s own conflicts of interest found it amusing that he was so worried about theirs.” [9/11 Commission, 3/2/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 83-85]
After his opening comments on the first day of the 9/11 Commission’s first hearing, Chairman Tom Kean says, “We will be following paths, and we will follow those individual paths wherever they lead,” adding: “We may end up holding individual agencies, people, and procedures to account. But our fundamental purpose will not be to point fingers.” According to author Philip Shenon, there is “a rumble in the audience, even a few groans,” as the victims’ family members realize “what the Commission would not do: It did not intend to make a priority of blaming government officials for 9/11.” Shenon will add: “A few of the family advocates cocked their ears, wondering if they had heard Kean correctly. They had pushed so hard to create the Commission because they wanted fingers pointed at the government. And Kean knew it; the families had told him that over and over again in their early meetings. For many families, this investigation was supposed to be all about finger pointing. They wanted strict accountability, especially at the White House, the CIA, the FBI, the Pentagon, and other agencies that had missed the clues that might have prevented 9/11. The families wanted subpoenas—and indictments and jail sentences, if that was where the facts led.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 99]
Lack of Publicity - This hearing and the next two do not receive much publicity and Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will later call them “background policy hearings in front of a C-SPAN audience.” They will later say that at this point the Commission “was not ready to present findings and answers,” since the various staff teams are nowhere near completing their tasks. For example, the team investigating the air defense failure on the day of 9/11 will not even issue a subpoena for the documents it needs until autumn (see Late October 2003 and November 6, 2003). [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 127-8]
Close to a Disaster - Referring to various problems with the first hearing, including confusion over logistics, low turnout by the public, and the discontent from the victims’ families, Shenon will say that this first public hearing “came close to being a disaster.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 97]
At its first public hearing, the 9/11 Commission takes testimony from New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Pataki arrives early and insists that he be allowed to speak immediately, so Commission Chairman Tom Kean interrupts the commissioners’ opening statements expressing their pride in serving on the investigation. Pataki then reads a prepared statement pledging the state’s co-operation with the investigation and leaves without taking questions. Bloomberg testifies next. He had originally said he would not appear, but would send a written statement to be read by somebody else. Then he agreed to appear, but said he would not take questions. Then he agreed to take questions, but insisted his police and fire commissioners would not accompany him. However, he arrives with both of them and says they will take questions. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “it was clear to the commissioners and the staff that the mayor was trying to blindside them,” as the Commission had not had the chance to prepare questions for the police and fire commissioners, vital witnesses in their inquiry. When Bloomberg enters the room to testify, in Shenon’s words, “In a gesture that seem[s] designed to make his disdain even clearer, he casually tosse[s] his prepared testimony onto the witness table before taking his seat, as if this were a routine meeting of the zoning board.” When he starts, he offers an aggressive defense of the way the city responded to the attack, and sharp criticism of the way federal emergency preparedness funds are distributed. Bloomberg conducts himself in this way throughout the inquiry (see November 2003), and Shenon will write that it is never clear if Bloomberg is “genuinely furious or if his anger [is] a well-choreographed show by the billionaire mayor to intimidate the 9/11 Commission.” The Commission does not schedule testimony from former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani for this day, as it wants to wait until it better understands his performance on the day of the attacks. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 96-98, 100-101]
Abraham Sofaer of the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, becomes the first expert witness to testify before the 9/11 Commission. He uses this opportunity to express his support for the war in Iraq. Sofaer, a former federal judge and State Department legal adviser, will later say that he was pleased to testify before the Commission and that he knew what an honor it was to be the first expert witness. According to author Philip Shenon, the witness list was drawn up by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who appears to be a supporter of the Iraq war (see June 14, 2002). Despite Sofaer’s experience, Shenon will think it “odd” that he is the first expert witness, as he has “no special expertise on the events of September 11.” Instead, he advocates the recent US invasion of Iraq and champions the concept of “preemptive defense” or “preemptive war,” even against a country that poses no imminent military threat. “The president’s principles are strategically necessary, morally sound, and legally defensible,” Sofaer says. He also criticizes the perceived policy of former President Bill Clinton, saying, “The notion that criminal prosecution could bring a terrorist group like al-Qaeda to justice is absurd.” In the future, he says, when an enemy “rises up to kill you,” the US should “rise up and kill him first.” He calls on the Commission to endorse the preemptive war concept, and, in effect, the invasion of Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 103-104]
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).
Tim Roemer. [Source: US Congress]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]
The 9/11 Commission holds a public hearing at which it takes testimony from military officials about the timeline of events on the day of 9/11. The key witness is retired Air Force General Larry Arnold, who commanded NORAD’s Continental US Region on the day of 9/11. Under questioning from commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, Arnold says, “I believe that to be a fact: that 9:24 was the first time that we had been advised of American 77 as a possible hijacked airplane.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military was not notified of the hijacking at this time, although it had been mistakenly advised Flight 11 was inbound to Washington three minutes previously (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds that if the military was slow in responding to Flight 77, it was because “our focus—you have got to remember that there’s a lot of other things going on simultaneously here—was on United 93.” However, Flight 93 was not hijacked until a few minutes after 9:24 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds: “It was our intent to intercept United Flight 93. And in fact, my own staff, we were orbiting now over Washington, DC, by this time, and I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military did not learn that Flight 93 had been hijacked until around 10:00 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Prior to the hearing, the Commission’s staff had been concerned about the inaccuracy of timelines offered by the military. Author Philip Shenon will write: “It seemed all the more remarkable to [Commission staffer John Farmer] that the Pentagon could not establish a clear chronology of how it responded to an attack on the Pentagon building itself. Wouldn’t the generals and admirals want to know why their own offices—their own lives—had been put at risk that morning?” Therefore, Farmer thought that the hearing should clear things up, but, according to Shenon, he and his colleagues are “astonished” when they analyze what Arnold says, although he is not under oath on this day. Shenon will add, “It would later be determined that almost every one of those assertions by General Arnold in May 2003 was flat wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 119-121]
While some find neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission of a terrorist conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to be compelling (see July 9, 2003), others do not. One group that is not convinced is the so-called “Jersey Girls,” the group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and then worked to force the Bush administration to create the Commission (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003). They lambast Commission director Philip Zelikow for allowing Mylroie to testify. “Jersey Girl” Lorie Van Auken, who has learned a great deal about Mylroie’s theories in her research, confronts Zelikow shortly after the hearings. “That took a lot of nerve putting someone like that on the panel,” she tells Zelikow. “Laurie Mylroie? This is supposed to be an investigation of September 11. This is not supposed to be a sales pitch for the Iraq war.” Van Auken later recalls “a sly smile” crossing Zelikow’s face, as he refuses to answer. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Van Auken will say. “He was selling the war.” After the hearing, Zelikow informs the staff that he wants them to aggressively pursue the idea of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Author Philip Shenon will later write, “To some members of the staff, Zelikow seemed determined to demonstrate that whatever the evidence to the contrary, Iraq and al-Qaeda had a close relationship that justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
The 9/11 Commission files a request to see some Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items it believes it may need for its investigation.
Filed with CIA - The Commission had conducted preliminary discussions about the PDBs with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, but they have not borne fruit (see Late January 2003 and June 2003) and the Commission understands it may have to fight to get the documents. Therefore, it submits the request to the CIA, which writes and keeps the PDBs, as the Commission’s lawyers think it will be easier to enforce a subpoena against the CIA than the White House.
Credibility - Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are aware the Commission must get the PDBs, or at least be seen to try hard, to maintain its credibility. This is particularly because, according to author Philip Shenon, “the PDBs were becoming the ‘holy grail’ for the 9/11 families and for the press corps.” Hamilton will say if the Commission’s investigation ended without it seeing them, “that would be the only thing the press would be interested in.” Shenon will add, “It seemed as if no other evidence unearthed by the Commission mattered; if the Commission did not see the PDBs, it would be seen in history as having failed.”
Scope of Request - The request is not for the full library of PDBs from the Clinton and Bush administrations. The Commission requests items from 1998 on that mention al-Qaeda, domestic terrorist threats, terrorist plots involving airlines used as weapons, and intelligence involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and Germany.
White House Says No - Although the request was addressed to the CIA, Gonzales replies for the White House in September, saying the Commission cannot see the PDBs, or even brief extracts. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 214-215]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is interviewed by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon about contacts between Zelikow and White House adviser Karl Rove. According to Shenon, “Zelikow said that there had been only one exchange of phone calls with Rove months earlier and that they involved questions involving his old job at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia” (see June 23-24, 2003). However, there has recently been another exchange of calls (see September 4-15, 2003) and this is the source of some controversy on the Commission, so it is unclear how Zelikow could have failed to mention it (see September 15, 2003 or Shortly After). Shenon writes a “modest article” about the issue for the Times, but it will not be published due to a number of other, seemingly more important, stories. Shenon will later speculate that there were more than just two exchanges of calls between Rove and Zelikow, pointing out that, although records of some calls into the Commission were kept, outgoing calls were not logged in any way: “The General Services Administration, which maintains some of the telephone records from the 9/11 Commission, would not release records showing the specific telephone numbers called by Zelikow on his cell phone. But the records do show frequent calls to phone numbers in area code 202, which is Washington, that begin with the prefix 456-. That prefix is exclusive to phone numbers at the White House.” However, Shenon will also point out that “many if not most of the calls were almost certainly routine.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 172-174]
The 9/11 Commission interviews its own executive director, Philip Zelikow, over his role in counterterrorism affairs before 9/11 and his links to the Bush administration. The interview occurs shortly after victims’ relatives call for Zelikow’s removal from sensitive parts of the Commission’s investigation (see October 3, 2003).
Insists on Interview - Zelikow actually requests the interview himself and insists that he be placed under oath, as he thinks this will be proof of his eagerness to tell the truth. It is conducted by Dan Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer and one of Zelikow’s subordinates, and lasts for 90 minutes. Zelikow talks about his role in the Bush transition, when he authored a review of operations run by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that led to Clarke’s demotion and the downgrading of terrorism as a priority for the new administration (see January 3, 2001). Zelikow also admits writing a strategy document that was later used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). While the information was known before in outline, author Philip Shenon will say that it is “especially shocking when heard in this much detail.”
Serious Conflicts of Interest - Marcus notes that Zelikow’s resume mentions neither his role in the transition, nor his authorship of the pre-emptive war document. He forms the opinion that Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton may not have known all this before. “I have no idea whether they were deliberately blindsided or not,” he will say. Shenon will add: “Marcus and others on the staff tried to imagine how Zelikow’s conflicts could be any worse. They tried to imagine a comparable conflict on other important blue-ribbon commissions. It became a little parlor game in the office. Would the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster have hired a staff director who was a NASA lobbyist or an executive of one of the contractors that built the faulty shuttle? Would the Warren Commission have hired the chairman of the Dallas tourism board?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Recusal - Following the interview, Zelikow will be recused from the Commission’s investigation of the Bush transition as well as interviews of senior Bush officials (see October 9, 2003 or Shortly After).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is recused from some parts of the Commission’s investigation, specifically its examination of the Bush transition, on which he worked (see January 3, 2001), and interviews of senior Bush aides, including his associate, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see September 2003). This follows a complaint by victims’ relatives about Zelikow’s conflicts of interest (see October 3, 2003) and his interview by one of his own subordinates under oath (see October 8, 2003).
Only Recused from Some Aspects - The subordinate, the Commission’s counsel Daniel Marcus, recommended that, due to the conflicts, Zelikow should be recused from the Commission’s work on the transition and anything to do with the National Security Council (NSC). This is what the families wanted and, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “would have effectively ended Zelikow’s involvement in the parts of the investigation that were most important to him.” Zelikow will later say this recusal proposal “would have had the prompt and foreseeable effect of forcing my resignation.” However, Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton water the proposal down, allowing Zelikow to continue to work on most aspects of the NSC investigation.
Decision to Keep Zelikow Already Taken - According to Shenon, the decision to stick with Zelikow had been taken before Marcus interviewed him: “Kean and Hamilton made it clear to Marcus that they wanted to keep Zelikow on, regardless of what Marcus found. It was too late to find a new executive director. Besides, Zelikow had made himself indispensible, if only because he had so tightly controlled the flow of the information within the Commission that only he really knew all that was going on among the teams of investigators.” Marcus will say: “I think [Kean and Hamilton] basically made the decision that they were going to stick with this guy, that it was too late in the game to make a change.… [I]t was pretty clear that my instructions were to do what we needed to do on the recusal front and to make it work.”
Lack of Appreciation of Zelikow's Importance - One reason behind the decision to keep Zelikow may be that Kean and, in particular, Hamilton do not fully appreciate how important Zelikow’s role is in shaping the Commission’s final output. Marcus will comment, “Lee had this view, which was somewhat unrealistic, that the staff was not important.” Shenon will add, “In Hamilton’s view, Marcus thought, Zelikow might be the most important person on the staff, but he was still a ‘staffer’ and was not capable of ‘sneaking something’ by the commissioners.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-171]
The 9/11 Commission issues its third and final major subpoena, this time for emergency tapes and transcripts from New York City authorities. However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to fight the subpoena and says he will go to court. A settlement is reached a couple of weeks after the subpoena is issued and the Commission gets access to all the material, under the condition that nobody heard on the tapes will be named in a public document without their consent, or that of their survivors. The Commission’s staff is puzzled by Bloomberg’s tactics, as he was not mayor on 9/11 and personally has nothing to hide. There is speculation he was, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “put up to it by his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who might not be so eager to see all of the facts aired, especially given the glory that his performance on 9/11 had otherwise brought him.” Shenon will add, “They [the tapes] were the clearest evidence obtained by the Commission of just how unprepared the city was to deal with a catastrophic terrorist attack.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 306-307]
The 9/11 Commission votes to issue a subpoena on the Defense Department for documents withheld from it regarding the fighter response on the day of the attacks. The vote follows a demand from the Commission’s team investigating the air defense that it be issued, as the military has been withholding documents and making false statements (see Late October 2003), as well as the failure of last-ditch attempts to stop the subpoena’s issue (see (Late October-Early November 2003) and November 5, 2003).
Chairman Kean Has Decisive Vote - The four ordinary Democratic commissioners vote for the subpoena’s issue, but Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton votes against, together with three ordinary Republican commissioners. The fourth Republican commissioner, Slade Gorton, votes for the subpoena. This means that Tom Kean, the Commission’s Republican chairman, has the deciding vote, and he votes for the subpoena. He dislikes voting against Hamilton, but thinks NORAD is trying to hide something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207-208]
'Especially Dismayed' - In a statement issued after the vote, the Commission says it is “especially dismayed” by incomplete document production on the part of NORAD. The Commission explains, “In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken.” [Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
Documents Expose Apparent False Statements by NORAD - When the documents arrive, according to author Philip Shenon, they show that “NORAD’s public statements about its actions on 9/11 had been wrong, almost certainly intentionally.” Based on interviews of 9/11 Commission staffers, Shenon will add: “This was not the fog of war. This was the military trying to come up with a story that made its performance during 9/11 look reasonably competent, when in fact the military had effectively left the nation’s skies undefended that morning.” In particular, tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that the military did not know of the hijacking of Flight 93 until it had crashed. 9/11 Commission team leader John Farmer will even say that it is “99 percent” certain that Pentagon officers knew they were lying when they made statements to the Commission, sometimes under oath. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 208]
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).
9/11 Commission staffer Les Hawley is shocked by the interview of former Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, which is primarily conducted by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow. Hawley himself had prepared the questions for Reno after researching what she might be able to tell the commission about her aggressive pursuit of criminal investigations against al-Qaeda, but her caution about using other means.
Questioning - However, at the interview Zelikow dispenses with Hawley’s questions and, according to author Philip Shenon, launches into a “fierce interrogation.” Zelikow makes it obvious, “at least to Hawley, that he [has] utter disdain for Reno and her performance at the Justice Department under Clinton, that she was an architect of the Clinton administration’s weak-kneed antiterrorism policies.” His questions are “focused on demonstrating that Reno had been disorganized, even incompetent, in her management of the department and in overseeing its part in the war on terror.”
Hawley's Reaction - Reno, who is visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, seems unconcerned, possibly because she got used to such treatment when she was in office. Hawley, however, is “startled by Zelikow’s antagonistic tone.” Zelikow takes up the vast majority of the two hours allocated for the interview, leaving only a few minutes for other staffers at the end. A memo for the records is drafted after every interview, and in this case it is Hawley’s job to write it up. According to Shenon, he decides he needs “to get across to the commission what Zelikow was up to—that his partisanship had been blatantly on display in his questioning of Reno.” Therefore, the memo is not a summary of the interview, but mostly “a transcript of the harsh questions that Zelikow had asked and the answers Reno had given.” Hawley tells his colleagues, “I don’t want anybody reading this memo, commissioner or staff, not to understand what happened.”
Part of a Pattern - Shenon will comment: “It was a pattern that Hawley would see again and again on the commission. Others would tell him how offended they were by Zelikow and what they saw as his pattern of partisan moves intended to protect the White House in the investigation. But apart from Warren Bass [another staffer], most would never confront Zelikow themselves. Others on the commission, including some of the commissioners, were frightened of Zelikow.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 485; Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-319]
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration, Les Hawley, US Department of State, Scott Allan, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
White House adviser Karl Rove orders a Republican Party poll to determine public interest in a number of issues: Martha Stewart’s insider trading case, Enron’s collapse, and the 9/11 Commission’s investigation. The poll suggests that the public is not that interested in the Commission, which, according to author Philip Shenon, is “a relief at the White House.” Apparently, this is not the only poll Rove orders about the 9/11 Commission. Shenon will add that Rove “would have been a fool not to keep an eye on the Commission, given the potential trouble it could create for Bush on the eve of his reelection campaign—a campaign that would be centered almost entirely on the president’s record on terrorism.” Perhaps partly because of this, the Commission and its staff have “a sense of being watched” by Rove, and commissioner John Lehman will say that Rove views the Commission as a “mortal threat” to Bush’s reelection chances. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 175-176]
Some months after he begins working on National Security Council (NSC) files (see August 2003), 9/11 Commission staffer Warren Bass decides that he should quit the commission, or at least threaten to quit. The main reason for this is because he feels the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, is distorting the commission’s work to favor National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to whom Zelikow is close (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005).
'Zelikow Is Making Me Crazy' - Bass tells Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer, “I cannot do this,” and “Zelikow is making me crazy.” According to author Philip Shenon, Bass is “outraged” by Zelikow’s conduct and thinks the White House is trying to “sabotage” his work by limiting his access to certain documents. Zelikow will later admit that he had a conflict with Bass, but will say that it was just an honest difference of opinion between historians. However, colleagues will say Bass saw it differently. Shenon will write: “[Bass] made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political—intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism. For every bit of evidence gathered by Bass and [the commission team investigating US counterterrorism policy] to bolster [former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard] Clarke’s allegation that the White House had ignored terrorist threats in 2001, Zelikow would find some reason to disparage it.”
Talked Out of It - However, Marcus and Michael Hurley, Bass’ immediate superior on the commission, persuade Bass not to resign. Shenon will say that his resignation “would have been a disaster for the commission; Bass was the team’s institutional memory on the NSC, and his writing and editing skills seemed irreplaceable.” Hurley thinks that part of the problem is that Bass, as well as the other members of his team, have a heavy workload, so he gets Zelikow’s consent to hire another staffer, Leonard Hawley. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 149-150]
CIA Director George Tenet spends a lot of time reading material about the CIA’s performance in the run-up to 9/11 before interviews with the 9/11 Commission. Author Philip Shenon will point out that Tenet sets aside so much time despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the problems this is causing.
'Cram Sessions' - “Tenet insisted on all-day, almost all-night cram sessions to prepare himself for the interview with the 9/11 Commission,” Shenon will write. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “He spent an enormous amount of time mastering an enormous amount of material.” The cram sessions are held at the weekend and until late on week nights, and cover the work done by Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as well as the failed plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
CIA's Achilles' Heel - Shenon will also comment: “Tenet wanted specifically to master what had happened in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 with [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and why the CIA had apparently failed for so long to alert anyone that the two hijackers had later entered the United States from Asia. Like almost everyone else at the agency, Tenet seemed to understand that the CIA’s failure to watch-list the pair after their arrival in California was the agency’s Achilles’ heel—one horrendous blunder that could sink the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257]
Still Cannot Remember - Despite the cramming, Tenet apparently has problems remembering facts that could cast the CIA in a bad light (see January 22, 2004, April 14, 2004, and July 2, 2004).
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
"I Don't Recall" - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
"We Just Didn't Believe Him" - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257-260]
FBI Director Robert Mueller launches a charm offensive to win over the 9/11 Commission and ensure that its recommendations are favorable to the bureau.
Commission Initially Favored Break-Up - The attempt is greatly needed, as the Commission initially has an unfavorable view of the FBI due to its very public failings before 9/11: the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), the fact that two of the hijackers lived with an FBI counterterrorism informer (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and the failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 16, 2001). Commissioner John Lehman will say that at the start of the investigation he thought “it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5,” the British domestic intelligence service, which would entail taking counterterrorism away from the bureau.
Lobbying Campaign - Author Philip Shenon will say that the campaign against the commissioners “could not have been more aggressive,” because Mueller was “in their faces, literally.” Mueller says he will open his schedule to them at a moment’s notice and returns their calls within minutes. He pays so much attention to the commissioners that some of them begin to regard it as harassment and chairman Tom Kean tells his secretaries to turn away Mueller’s repeated invitations for a meal. Mueller even opens the FBI’s investigatory files to the Commission, giving its investigators unrestricted access to a special FBI building housing the files. He also gets Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to meet the commissioners and intercede for the bureau.
Contrast with CIA - The campaign succeeds and the Commission is convinced to leave the FBI intact. This is partially due to the perceived difference between Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet, who the Commission suspects of telling it a string of lies (see July 2, 2004). Commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Mueller was a guy who came in new and was trying to do something different, as opposed to Tenet.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will also say that the Commission recommended changing the CIA by establishing the position of director of national intelligence. It is therefore better to leave the FBI alone because “the system can only stand so much change.”
Change Partially Motivated by Fear - This change of mind is also partially motivated by the commissioners’ fear of the bureau. Shenon will comment: “Mueller… was also aware of how much fear the FBI continued to inspire among Washington’s powerful and how, even after 9/11, that fear dampened public criticism. Members of congress… shrank at the thought of attacking the FBI.… For many on Capitol Hill, there was always the assumption that there was an embarrassing FBI file somewhere with your name on it, ready to be leaked at just the right moment. More than one member of the 9/11 Commission admitted privately that they had joked—and worried—among themselves about the danger of being a little too publicly critical of the bureau.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 364-368]
The 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow demands that the Commission subpoena a new book by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that is due to be published soon.
Bad Blood - There has been a running argument in the Commission about Clarke’s criticism of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 2003, Before December 18, 2003, and Early 2004) and there is also bad blood between Clarke and Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995) who had Clarke demoted in 2001 (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003). Zelikow’s demand is spurred by a change to the publication date of Clarke’s book, which has been moved forward from the end of April to March 22, shortly before Clarke is due to testify publicly before the Commission.
Zelikow Goes 'Ballistic' - Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will recall that when Zelikow learned of the change, he “went ballistic” and “wanted to subpoena [the book].” The reason for his anger is that he thinks that it may contain surprises for the Commission and does not want new information coming out so close to an important hearing. Marcus thinks issuing a subpoena is a bad idea, as the Commission generally refuses to subpoena government departments (see January 27, 2003), so issuing one for the book will make it look bad, and possibly turn the press against it. However, Zelikow initially refuses to back down, saying, “Well, we have subpoena authority,” and adding, “And they have no right to withhold it from us.”
Publisher Provides Book, Clarke Prevents Zelikow from Reading It - Marcus calls the book’s publisher and asks it nicely to give the Commission the book. The publisher agrees, but, worried that excessive distribution would limit the book’s news value, says that only three staffers, ones involved in preparing for Clarke’s interview, can read it. Clarke personally insists on another condition: that Zelikow is not one of these three staffers. Zelikow protests against this condition, but it is approved by the commissioners.
Zelikow Discomfited - This deal highlights the state of relations between Zelikow and the staff. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Marcus and others on the staff could not deny that they enjoyed Zelikow’s discomfort. Throughout the investigation, Zelikow had insisted that every scrap of secret evidence gathered by the staff be shared with him before anyone else; he then controlled how and if the evidence was shared elsewhere. Now Zelikow would be the last to know some of the best secrets of them all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 275-277]
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
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).
The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279] Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” [Salon, 3/29/2004] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” [Washington Post, 3/28/2004]
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. [Associated Press, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/28/2004] Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. [Guardian, 3/29/2004] Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277-279]
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” [Reuters, 3/29/2004]
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]
Entity Tags: Robert Novak, John McCain, Karen Hughes, Philip Shenon, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Krauthammer, Laura Ingraham, Andrew Card, Ann Coulter, Wesley Clark, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, Washington Times
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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]
The White House discloses to Fox News that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke was the anonymous official who gave a background briefing to reporters in August 2002 praising the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002). This move, which violates a longstanding confidentiality policy, is made hours before Clarke is to testify to the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004). Clarke recently went public with criticism of the administration (see March 21, 2004) and is being attacked by it (see March 22, 2004 and Shortly After). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “In agreeing to allow Fox News to reveal that Clarke had given the 2002 briefing, the White House was attempting to paint him as a liar—a one-time Bush defender who had become a Bush critic in order to sell a book.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says to the media: “There are two very different stories here. These stories can’t be reconciled.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004; Washington Post, 3/25/2004; Washington Post, 3/26/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281]
Opposing Spin? - Shenon will add that in the briefing Clarke was “spin[ning] the facts” in order to try to knock down an article unfavorable to the administration published by Time magazine, although “the spin took him perilously close to dishonesty, albeit the sort of dishonesty practiced every day in official Washington.” Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director and a long-term opponent of Clarke (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003), is delighted by the story and tells a Commission staffer that it might be enough to end the Clarke “circus,” adding, “Does it get any better than this?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280-281] Later trying a similar line of attack, Republican Senate leader Bill Frist will ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002, and also ask if Clarke is attempting to promote his book. According to media critic Frank Rich, Frist’s credibility is undermined by his use of his Senate status to promote his own book, a virtually worthless primer entitled When Every Moment Counts: What You Need to Know About Bioterrorism from the Senate’s Only Doctor. Frist’s accusation that Clarke revealed classified information in his book falls flat when Clarke notes that the White House vetted his book for possible security transgressions before publication. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
No Evidence of Contradiction - A review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. [Washington Post, 4/4/2004]
At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks, saying, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.” He also suggests that his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, was more to blame for the attacks than he was, as the 9/11 Commission is looking at “eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration.” This speech comes one day after his former counterterrorism “tsar,” Richard Clarke, had given damaging high-profile testimony to the Commission (see March 24, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will comment that Bush “was apparently hoping that his audience would forget that the August 6 [Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001)] had warned specifically that planes might be hijacked by al-Qaeda within the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289]
The Bush administration bows to growing pressure in the wake of former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission (see March 21, 2004) and agrees to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the Commission in public and under oath. It also agrees that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney can be interviewed in private by the whole Commission. However, according to the New York Times, “In exchange for her appearance, the [9/11 Commission] agreed not to seek testimony from other White House aides at public hearings, although it can continue to question them in private.” [New York Times, 3/31/2004] There was some debate in the administration over whether Rice would testify or not. As she is national security adviser and there are no allegations of criminal wrongdoing, there are good grounds for Rice refusing to testify under the doctrine of executive privilege, and this argument is made in particular by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s counsel. However, Rice insists that she wants to testify. According to author Philip Shenon, she is “uncharacteristically frantic” over the issue. White House chief of staff Andy Card will say, “Condi desperately wanted to do it.” Shenon will write of the decision, which is made by President Bush: “The political pressure on the White House was too great, and Rice’s persuasive powers with the president were more than a match for Alberto Gonzales’s. Rice was as strong-willed as any member of the White house staff. Gonzales was strong-willed until the president told him otherwise.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289-292] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The dirty little secret about the uproar over Clarke’s revelations were that many of them had been previously revealed by others, well before he published his book. But as the Bush administration knew better than anyone, perception was all, and perception began with images on television. Clarke had given the charges a human face.” The administration is sending Rice to testify publicly before the Commission, Rich will write, in part because she is the most telegenic of Bush’s top advisers, and has the best chance of “rebranding” the story with her face and testimony. [Rich, 2006, pp. 119]
Entity Tags: White House, Frank Rich, Philip Shenon, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, 9/11 Commission, David S. Addington, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
Attorney General John Ashcroft before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies publicly before the 9/11 Commission. Due to information leaked to the public about Ashcroft’s apparently poor performance and lack of interest in terrorism before the attacks (see Spring 2001, July 12, 2001, and September 10, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, “Everybody expect[s] it to be a difficult day for Ashcroft—maybe the day that mark[s] the end of his tenure as George Bush’s attorney general.” Executing a strategy designed in advance by the Justice Department’s leadership, instead of defending his record, Ashcroft goes on the offensive against the Commission. First, Ashcroft withholds from the Commission a copy of his written statement, although all other witnesses provide this. Then, when his testimony starts, he blames the problems dealing with terrorist threats on information-sharing regulations set up by former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now a 9/11 commissioner. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 325-327]
Ashcroft Exaggerates Effect of Gorelick Memo - He comments: “The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the ‘wall’ that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this ‘wall.’ Government buttressed this ‘wall.’ And before September 11, government was blinded by this ‘wall.’” The wall was a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors to ensure that information obtained using warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not be thrown out from criminal cases (see July 19, 1995). Ashcroft says that the wall impeded the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and that a “warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the ‘wall.’” (Note: two applications to search Moussaoui’s belongings were prepared. The first was not submitted because it was thought to be “shaky” (see August 21, 2001). The second warrant application was prepared as a part of an intelligence investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so it was not affected by the “wall” (see August 28, 2001)). According to Ashcroft, the wall also impeded the search for hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi because criminal investigators were not allowed to join in. However, the 9/11 Commission will find that they could legally have helped, but were prevented from doing so by FBI headquarters (see August 29, 2001). Ashcroft asserts that 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for the wall. He cites a document he just declassified that had been written by Gorelick to deal with the two 1993 World Trade Center bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). That document becomes known as the “wall memo.” However, this memo only governed the two WTC cases; all other cases were governed by a different, but similar memo written by Attorney General Janet Reno a few months later (see July 19, 1995). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Commission's Response - 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that the “attorney general’s claim was overstated,” and that the two 1995 memos only codified a set of procedures that already existed (see Early 1980s). During questioning, Republican 9/11 commissioner Slade Gorton points out that Ashcroft’s deputy reaffirmed the procedures in an August 2001 memo that stated, “The 1995 procedures remain in effect today” (see August 6, 2001). [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 194-6] Ashcroft’s accusation against Gorelick produces an immediate public response. Commissioner Bob Kerrey (D-NE) will say: “Ashcroft was still speaking, and the e-mails were already coming in. The e-mails said things like, ‘You traitor, you should be ashamed of yourself for having somebody like Gorelick on the 9/11 Commission.’ I could see that this was a setup.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 329]
Falsely Claims No Clinton Program to Kill Bin Laden - Ashcroft also claims there was no program to kill Osama bin Laden before 9/11, saying, “Let me be clear: my thorough review revealed no covert action program to kill bin Laden.” However, the 9/11 Commission has already found a memorandum of notification signed by President Clinton in 1998 after the African embassy bombings that allowed CIA assets to kill bin Laden, and two commissioners, Fred Fielding and Richard Ben-Veniste, point this out to Ashcroft. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485]
Attack Brings Commission Together - Paradoxically, the effect of Ashcroft’s attack is to bring the Commission—made up of five Democrats and five Republicans—together. Shenon will comment, “The Republicans were just as angry as the Democrats over what Ashcroft had done, maybe angrier.” Commissioner Slade Gorton (R-WA) will add, “There was universal outrage on the part of all 10 people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 332]
Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Zacarias Moussaoui, Slade Gorton, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Khalid Almihdhar, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Fred F. Fielding, John Ashcroft, Nawaf Alhazmi, Richard Ben-Veniste
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies publicly to the 9/11 Commission, but the commissioners fail to ask him tough questions about the FBI’s apparent failings before the attacks. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[Mueller] might have expected that it might be the showdown in which he would be asked to explain, in excruciating detail, how the FBI had blundered so often before 9/11—the familiar roster of Zacarias Moussaoui, the Phoenix memo, the disasters in San Diego. Instead, he was welcomed as a hero.” The commissioners shower Mueller with praise.
Commission Chairman Tom Kean: “I came to this job with less knowledge of the intelligence community than anybody else at this table. What I’ve learned has not reassured me. It’s frightened me a bit, frankly. But the reassuring figure in it all is you, because everybody I talk to in this town, a town which seems to have a sport in basically not liking each other very much—everybody likes you, everybody respects you, everybody has great hopes that you’re actually going to fix this problem.”
Commissioner John Lehman: “I’d like to echo the encomiums of my colleagues about how good the process has been working with you from the first time you got together with us a year-and-a-quarter ago. It’s been a very—very much of a two-way dialogue. You’ve clearly listen[ed] to us, and you’ve taught us a good deal.”
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste: “Let me first echo the comments of my colleagues on this Commission, say how much we appreciate not only the time that you’ve given us, but the interactive nature of our relationship with you. You have been responsive to our questions, you’ve come back, sometimes you’ve come back and showed up when you weren’t invited.”
Commissioner Slade Gorton: “Mr. Mueller, not only have you done a very aggressive and, I think, so far a very effective reorganization of the FBI, you’ve done an excellent job in preempting this Commission and its recommendations.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 368-369]
There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) [New York Times, 4/30/2004; Washington Post, 4/30/2004]
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 342-343] Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. [Knight Ridder, 3/31/2004; Newsweek, 4/2/2004; New York Times, 4/3/2004]
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” [Washington Post, 4/29/2004]
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 343-345]
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 292] According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 344] Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 344]
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 345]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow in Tel Aviv, October 2006. [Source: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Getty Images]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow tells the staff team working on the Bush administration’s response to terrorist threats in the summer of 2001 that their drafts must be rewritten to cast National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a better light. Rice’s testimony about the administration’s prioritizing of terrorism has been contradicted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who said that al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the White House. The Commission staffers think that Clarke is telling the truth, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, Clarke had left a “vast documentary record” about the White House’s inattention to terrorism. Clarke’s account is also corroborated by other National Security Council (NSC) members, the CIA, and the State Department.
Zelikow's Reaction - However, Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), tells the staffers their version is “too Clarke-centric” and demands “balance.” Shenon will comment: “He never said so explicitly, but Zelikow made clear to [the staffers] that the Commission’s final report should balance out every statement of Clarke’s with a statement from Rice. The team should leave out any judgment on which of them was telling the truth.”
Support from Commission Lawyer - Zelikow is supported to a point in this dispute by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer. Marcus thinks that the staffers are making Clarke into a “superhero,” and that there were some “limitations and flaws” in his performance. Marcus also sees that the staff’s suspicions of Zelikow and his ties to Rice are no longer hidden, but will later say, “In a sense they overreacted to Philip because they were so worried about him they pushed and pushed and pushed, and sometimes they were wrong.”
Staffer Regrets Not Resigning Earlier - One of the key staffers involved in the dispute, Warren Bass, had previously considered resigning from the Commission due to what he perceived as Zelikow’s favoring of Rice. At this point he regrets not resigning earlier, but does not do so now. Bass and his colleagues merely console themselves with the hope that the public will read between the lines and work out that Clarke is telling the truth and Rice is not.
"Tortured Passages" - Shenon will comment: “[T]he results of the team’s work were some of the most tortured passages in the final report, especially in the description of the performance of the NSC in the first months of the Bush presidency. It was written almost as a point, counterpoint—Clarke says this, Rice says the opposite—with no conclusion about what the truth finally was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 394-396]
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]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow telephones a CIA analyst who co-wrote a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” President George Bush received the briefing in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The tone of the conversation will be disputed. According to an anonymous Commission staffer who overhears part of the conversation and who talks to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow pressures the analyst to accept the version of the PDB offered by Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and say that it contained historical information and was written in response to a request by President Bush for such briefing. Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001) and defends her interests on the Commission (see May-June 2004). However, Zelikow will later deny pressuring the analyst, saying he was merely trying to prepare a summary of what was known about the PDB for the commissioners and that he had little time, so the interview was conducted by telephone. Nevertheless, the call is in violation of several internal Commission rules, including the requirement that significant interviews be conducted in the presence of at least two staff members. Shenon will describe the call as “a private inquiry into the origins of what was, without doubt, the most controversial document in the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 374-376] Zelikow will try to stop one of the commissioners, Richard Ben-Veniste, from talking to the analyst and a colleague (see Early July 2004).
Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, insists that the commission properly interview two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Ben-Veniste makes the demand after he learns that Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow interviewed one of the analysts by phone, but allegedly pressured the analyst to back the White House version of events (see June 2004). Initially, Ben-Veniste asks to see transcripts of interviews with the analysts. However, according to author Philip Shenon: “With a condescending tone that reflected his disdain for Ben-Veniste, Zelikow explained matter-of-factly that there weren’t any transcripts…. After months of battles with Zelikow, it was hard for Ben-Veniste to be shocked by almost anything he did. But the staff could see that Ben-Veniste was genuinely startled.” Ben-Veniste’s demand for full interviews is opposed by Zelikow, who says that one of the analysts, known only as Barbara S, has already been interviewed (although it is unclear how much of this interview was focused on the PDB). Zelikow will also say, “The CIA was pleading with us not to do this, since the career people involved in preparing and presenting PDBs would be intimidated, disrupting the sense of confidentiality and candor they considered essential for the PDB process.” However, when they are interviewed, the two analysts seem eager to volunteer the information they have. The commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who has a record of siding with the Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004) fails to back Ben-Veniste before the full commission. Republican Chairman Tom Kean rescues him, pushing through the request for the interviews in the face of opposition from the other Republicans on the commission (see July 13, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 375-377]
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]
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, pleads guilty to stealing copies of a memo from the National Archives. Berger took the papers because he thought they might be used against him, but was caught by the archives staff (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). He pleads guilty to the misdemeanor of “unauthorized removal and retention of classified material” and to mishandling classified documents. Although Berger could be sent to prison for a year, the Justice Department only asks for a $10,000 fine, and does not even request that he be stripped of his security clearance. The judge rejects this as too lenient, imposes a $50,000 fine, and orders Berger to give up his security clearance for three years. Berger says: “My actions… were wrong. They were foolish, I deeply regret them.… I let considerations of personal convenience override clear rules of handling classified material.” Author Philip Shenon will write, “It is widely believed in Washington legal circles that [Berger’s lawyer] got his client an extraordinarily lenient deal from the Justice Department.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 414, 425]
The editorial board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls for a new inquiry into 9/11, as it believes the 9/11 Commission’s investigation may have been compromised. The call is due to a new book by New York Times journalist Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. The book highlights the close relationship between 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and the White House, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, as well as an attempt he made to connect Iraq to al-Qaeda. The Post-Intelligencer writes of Zelikow that “[s]omeone with an apparent deference for the White House should not have been trusted with such a valued task.” It comments, “If bulletproof, the book prompts us to add one more thing to our to-do list for the next administration: Pressure it to charge a panel of independent experts to write a real, nonpartisan report on the attacks.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/4/2008]
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