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9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow appoints Michael Hurley—a 20-year CIA officer still actively employed—to lead the Commission’s investigation of counterterrorism policy prior to 9/11. This team will be responsible for reviewing the performance of the CIA and NSC (see Around February 2003). Hurley and his team will also be responsible for examining the pre-9/11 conduct of former CIA bin Laden unit manager Rich Blee, even though Hurley presumably served under Blee in Afghanistan after 9/11. Following the 9/11 attacks, Blee was made Kabul station chief (see December 9, 2001) and Hurley served three tours in Afghanistan. According to his biography at the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, “[Hurley] was one of the agency’s lead coordinators on the ground of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle against al-Qaeda in the campaign in Afghanistan” (see March 2-13, 2002). The biography also states: “From 1998-1999, and again in 2000, he was detailed to the National Security Council, where he was director for the Balkans, and advised the national security adviser and the president on Balkans policy. Over the past decade he has been a leader in US interventions in troubled areas: Kosovo (1999-2000); Bosnia (1995-1996); and Haiti (during the US intervention, 1994-1995). Michael Hurley has held a range of management positions at CIA headquarters and served multiple tours of duty in western Europe.” (9/11 Public Discourse Project 8/8/2008) Author Philip Shenon will describe Hurley as “a battle-hardened spy on loan to the Commission from the CIA.” Besides Hurley, other staffers on the counterterrorism review team are Warren Bass, a “terrorism researcher at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York” who will “focus on the NSC,” and Alexis Albion, a “doctoral candidate in intelligence studies at Harvard” who will be “the central researcher on the CIA.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 87)
Warren Bass, the 9/11 Commission staffer allocated to review National Security Council documentation, comes to favor an account of events in the Bush administration given by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke over one given by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Clarke has claimed that the administration did not take the risk of an al-Qaeda attack seriously enough in the summer of 2001, whereas Rice claims the administration did everything it could to prevent one.
Documentation, Speeches, Briefings - Bass comes to this judgment partly because of the small amount of Rice’s e-mails and internal memos about terrorism from the spring and summer of 2001: there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “almost nothing to read.” In addition, she made very few references to terrorism in speeches and public appearances. For example, a speech she was to give on 9/11 itself about national security contained only a passing reference to terrorism (see September 11, 2001). On the contrary, Clarke left a pile of documents and a “rich narrative” of events at the White House concerning al-Qaeda, including warnings about an upcoming catastrophic terrorist attack in the summer of 2001. Bass also sees that Clarke was not allowed to brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before 9/11, whereas he repeatedly talked to President Bill Clinton about it.
Memo Warned of Attacks One Week before 9/11 - He is especially astounded to find a memo dated September 4, 2001 warning of a forthcoming attack by Osama bin Laden (see September 4, 2001). However, when he shows this to his team leader, Michael Hurley, they both realize it may be difficult to get this memo included in the commission’s report due to expected opposition from 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, who the staff suspects is biased towards Rice (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004 and February 28, 2005). (Shenon 2008, pp. 146-149)
Memo Called a "Jeremiad" - The September 4 memo is mentioned in the commission’s final report, but is followed by a comment from Rice saying she saw it as a warning “not to get dragged down by bureaucratic inertia.” The report then calls the memo a “jeremiad” (a prolonged lamentation) and attributes it to Clarke’s inability “to persuade [the CIA and Pentagon] to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 212-213)
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. (Shenon 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199)
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)
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)
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