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9/11 Timeline

9/11 Investigations

Project: 9/11 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Paul, KJF

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Richard Ben-Veniste.Richard Ben-Veniste. [Source: C-SPAN]The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. (Kemper and Zuckman 12/12/2002; Associated Press 12/16/2002; Shenon 12/17/2002) Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. (Jacoby 12/12/2002; Fournier 12/13/2002; Zabarenko 12/16/2002; Shenon 2008, pp. 55-56) It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003) Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
bullet Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. (Associated Press 2/14/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003)
bullet Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. (Guggenheim 12/12/2002; CBS News 3/5/2003)
bullet John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
bullet James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. (Associated Press 1/31/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003) Democratic commissioners:
bullet Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. (CBS News 3/5/2003) He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. (Hopsicker 2001, pp. 325-30)
bullet Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003)
bullet James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
bullet Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
bullet Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (CBS News 3/5/2003)

Thomas Kean.
Thomas Kean. [Source: Public domain]President Bush names former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean as the chairman of the 9/11 Commission after his original choice, Henry Kissinger, resigned (see December 13, 2002). (Goldstein 12/17/2002) In an appearance on NBC, Kean promises an aggressive investigation. “It’s really a remarkably broad mandate, so I don’t think we’ll have any problem looking under every rock. I’ve got no problems in going as far as we have to in finding out the facts.” (Guggenheim 12/17/2002) However, Kean plans to remain president of Drew University and devote only one day a week to the commission. He also claims he would have no conflicts of interest, stating: “I have no clients except the university.” (Goldstein 12/17/2002) However, he has a history of such conflicts of interest. Multinational Monitor has previously stated: “Perhaps no individual more clearly illustrates the dangers of university presidents maintaining corporate ties than Thomas Kean,” citing the fact that he is on the Board of Directors of Aramark (which received a large contract with his university after he became president), Bell Atlantic, United Health Care, Beneficial Corporation, Fiduciary Trust Company International, and others. (Kniffin 11/1997)

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)

Mark Rossini.Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Two FBI agents who were involved in a pre-911 failure, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, are reportedly “eager” to provide testimony to the 9/11 Commission about that failure. However, the Commission does not issue them with a subpoena or otherwise interview them about the matter. Miller and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11, and helped block a cable to the FBI that said 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). (Stein 10/1/2008) The Commission will cite the transcript of an interview of Miller by the Justice Department’s inspector general in its final report. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502) However, in the interview Miller falsely claims that he remembers nothing of the incident (see (February 12, 2004)). The Commission’s final report will also cite an interview it apparently conducted with Miller in December 2003, although this is in an endnote to a paragraph on terrorist financing. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 185, 504) As the blocked cable is not discovered by investigators until February 2004 (see Early February 2004), Miller is presumably not asked about it at the interview.

The final version of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report is heavily censored.The final version of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report is heavily censored. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is originally expected to release its complete and final report in January 2003, but the panel spends seven months negotiating with the Bush administration about what material can be made public, and the final report is not released until July 2003. In late March 2003, the US launches an attack on Iraq, beginning a long war. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The administration originally wanted two thirds of the report to remain classified. (Associated Press 5/31/2003) The inquiry concluded in July 2002 that Mohamed Atta never met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, as some have claimed, but it is unable to make that conclusion public until now (see Late July 2002). Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a member of the 9/11 Commission, will later claim: “The administration sold the connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda] to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war. There’s no connection, and that’s been confirmed by some of bin Laden’s terrorist followers.… What you’ve seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends. The reason this report was delayed for so long—deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created—is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over… before [it] came out. Had this report come out in January [2003] like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.” (Waterman 7/25/2003) Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), one of the inquiry’s chairmen, also suspects that the administration deliberately does not hurry the declassification process along. However, he thinks this is because there is a “direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia.” According to author Philip Shenon, Graham thinks the administration wants to keep this material from the public because of its “determination to keep Saudi oil flowing to the United States.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 50-51)

The FBI conducts a very public search of a Miami, Florida, house belonging to Mohammed Almasri and his Saudi family. Having lived in Miami since July 2000, on September 9, 2001, they said they were returning to Saudi Arabia, hurriedly put their luggage in a van, and sped away, according to neighbors. A son named Turki Almasri was enrolled at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, where hijackers Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also studied. (Roig-Franzia and Eggen 1/23/2003; Barton, Kleinberg, and Lantigua 1/23/2003) Neighbors repeatedly called the FBI after 9/11 to report their suspicions, but the FBI only began to search the house in October 2002. The house had remained abandoned, but not sold, since they left just before 9/11. (McCabe and Kleinberg 1/22/2003; South Florida Sun-Sentinel 1/22/2003; Roig-Franzia and Eggen 1/23/2003; Barton, Kleinberg, and Lantigua 1/23/2003) The FBI returned for more thorough searches in January 2003, with some agents dressed in white biohazard suits. (Roig-Franzia and Eggen 1/23/2003) US Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL), later says, “This scenario is screaming out one question: Where was the FBI for 15 months?” The FBI determines there is no terrorism connection, and apologizes to the family. (United Press International 1/24/2003) An editorial notes the “ineptitude” of the FBI in not reaching family members over the telephone, as reporters were easily able to do. (Palm Beach Post 2/1/2003)

Sixteen months after the attack occurred, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases its Pentagon Building Performance Report on the Pentagon’s architectural response to the impact, blast, and subsequent fires caused by the Flight 77 crash on 9/11. (American Society of Civil Engineers 1/17/2003) The report, which was finished several months earlier (see September 14, 2001-April 2002), admits “the volume of information concerning the aircraft crash… is rather limited,” but the team is able to give some details of the impact. The report reproduces the five frames of security camera footage made public in 2002 that showed the strike on the Pentagon (see March 7, 2002), seeing in them the approaching aircraft with its top about 20 feet above ground before exploding against and into the building. (Mlakar et al. 1/2003, pp. 14 pdf file) The report notes the plane struck a construction generator and vent structure on the lawn and speculates “portions of the wings might have been separated from the fuselage before the aircraft struck the building.” (Mlakar et al. 1/2003, pp. 35-36 pdf file) The ASCE finds that the plane hit the northern edge of Wedge One of the building—its southwest corner—which had been recently renovated, and that the plane made a 90 foot hole in the outer wall, destroying most ground floor support columns there and the limestone and brick façade between and in front of them. Aircraft debris is then reported to have passed through the building’s three outer rings E, D, and C, following the plane’s trajectory, entering the unrenovated Wedge Two towards the end of the path of destruction. (Mlakar et al. 1/2003, pp. 39 pdf file) The report does not say what caused the much-debated hole in the wall of Ring C, which led on to an internal driveway in the middle of the building. However, in a section on the damage caused by the debris it notes, “There was a hole in the east wall of Ring C, emerging into AE drive,” and a photo of the C Ring hole is included in the report. (Mlakar et al. 1/2003, pp. 28 pdf file)

When all ten members of the 9/11 Commission meet for the first time, in an informal setting, some of them are already unhappy about the way the commission is being run. Some of the Democratic members are unhappy about the selection of Republican Philip Zelikow as executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a decision made solely by chairman Tom Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will say Zelikow’s appointment was “presented as a fait accompli.” Ben-Veniste is also alarmed by Zelikow’s links to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), and he and fellow commissioner Max Cleland are upset about the proposed staff structure (see Around February 2003). There is to be a single staff led by Zelikow, and the commissioners will not have personal staffers, although this is usual on such commissions. Ben-Veniste proposes that each commissioner develop an expertise in a specific field, but this plan is blocked by Kean, Hamilton, and Zelikow. Kean and Hamilton also say that the commissioners can visit the commission’s offices, but cannot have a permanent presence there. Indeed, not even Kean and Hamilton will have an office in the commission’s building. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “To Ben-Veniste, the way the staff was being organized guaranteed that the commissioners’ involvement in the details of the investigation would be limited. It centralized control in Zelikow’s hands.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 69-70)

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)

The 9/11 Commission, officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, holds its first meeting in Washington. The commission has $3 million and only a year and a half to explore the causes of the attacks. By comparison, a 1996 federal commission to study legalized gambling was given two years and $5 million. (Associated Press 1/27/2003) Two months later the Bush administration grudgingly increases the funding to $12 million total (see March 26, 2003). (Associated Press 1/27/2003) A few days later, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says, “The focus of the commission will be on the future. We want to make recommendations that will make the American people more secure.… We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.” (Waterman 2/6/2003)

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)

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. (Shenon 2008, pp. 73-76, 176)

Mohamed Atta has his hands on the shoulders of Mohammed Rajih in a portion of a 1999 group photo.Mohamed Atta has his hands on the shoulders of Mohammed Rajih in a portion of a 1999 group photo. [Source: DDP/ AFP]The Los Angeles Times reports that an al-Qaeda cell may still exist in Hamburg, Germany, and al-Qaeda sympathizers are threatening witnesses in a trial there. The CIA told the German government in late 2002 that it suspects an al-Qaeda cell is still present in Hamburg. It is known that a criminal investigation of at least eight suspected cell members is continuing in Germany. Mounir El Motassadeq is on trial for a role in the 9/11 plot. According to the Times, police have taped “telephone conversations of people—who never identify themselves—telling El Motassadeq’s wife that they would give her money if she needs it, implying that El Motassadeq will be assisted as long as he remains quiet.” One witness withdrew his statement to police after he was told he might need to testify publicly. Another witness named Shahid Nickels, who lived with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh at one point, has told investigators that after 9/11, a man named Mohammed Rajih urged him to destroy any phone number or other contact information he might have for the Hamburg cell. Rajih soon moved to Morocco. He is suspected of being involved with the cell, and was under investigation even before 9/11. (Laabs 1/30/2003) In 2009, a group of ten men who regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg—the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers—will depart for militant training camps in Pakistan. One of the men, Naamen Meziche, will turn out to have been a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell even before 9/11 (see March 5, 2009 and August 9, 2010).

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow makes his first visit to the CIA, where he meets Mark Lowenthal, a CIA staffer responsible for liaising with 9/11 investigations, and Winston Wiley, the CIA’s assistant director for homeland security. Both men have met Zelikow before and Wiley dislikes him, later saying that Zelikow “reeks of arrogance,” and, “Here’s a guy who spent his career trying to insinuate himself into power so when something like this came his way, he could grab it.”
Recriminations at First Meeting - Although the visit is just supposed to be an initial meeting introducing the 9/11 Commission to the CIA, according to Lowenthal, Zelikow starts by saying, “If you had a national intelligence director, none of this would have ever happened.” According to Wiley, Zelikow says that 9/11 was the result of a “massive failure” at the CIA and happened because “you guys weren’t connected to the rest of the community.” Zelikow will later say that he has no recollection of making these remarks and did not have a firm opinion on a director of national intelligence at this time, but both Lowenthal and Wiley will recall both the remarks and being extremely surprised by Zelikow’s tone. Lowenthal thinks that Zelikow has already decided that the intelligence community needs to be restructured, with a national intelligence director appointed above the CIA director, and that Zelikow is “going to make this [the 9/11 investigation] all about the CIA.”
Tenet's Reaction - When Lowenthal warns CIA Director George Tenet about the interview, Tenet cannot believe what Lowenthal is telling him and thinks Lowenthal may have misheard Zelikow. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon, Tenet thinks the idea the CIA is most responsible for 9/11 is “crazy” and the idea of creating a national intelligence director “even nuttier.” Tenet is sure that the “incompetent, arrogant FBI” is most at fault for 9/11 and that if Zelikow gets out of hand, he can deal with the situation by talking to some of the 9/11 commissioners he knows. (Shenon 2008, pp. 76-80)

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)

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.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)

Medical examiners match human remains to the DNA of two of the hijackers that flew on Flights 11 and/or 175 into the WTC. The names of the two hijackers are not released. The FBI gave the examiners DNA profiles of all ten hijackers on those flights a few weeks earlier. Genetic profiles of five hijackers from Flight 77 and the four from Flight 93 that did not match any of the passengers’ profiles have been given to the FBI, but the FBI has not given any DNA profiles with which to match them. (Wald 2/27/2003)

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, a long-time associate of Zelikow and consultant to the commission, complete an outline of the commission’s final report, although the commission has barely began its work and will not report for another 16 months. The outline is detailed and contains chapter headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings. The outline anticipates a 16-chapter report (note: the final report only has 13) that starts with a history of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against the US. There will then be chapters on US counterterrorism policy, threat reporting leading up to 9/11, and the attacks themselves will be in chapter seven (in the final report, the day of 9/11 chapter is moved to the start).
"Blinding Effects of Hindsight" - Zelikow and May even have a chapter ten entitled “Problems of Foresight—And Hindsight,” with a sub-chapter on “the blinding effects of hindsight,” (actually chapter 11 in the final report, slightly renamed “Foresight—And Hindsight;” the “blinding effects” sub-heading does not appear in the final version, but the chapter starts with a meditation on the value of hindsight).
Kept Secret - Zelikow shows the report to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton and they like it, but think it could be seen as evidence that they have pre-determined the outcome. Therefore, they all decide it should be kept secret from the commission’s staff. According to May it is “treated as if it were the most classified document the commission possessed.” Zelikow comes up with his own internal classification system, labeling it “Commission Sensitive,” a phrase that appears on the top and bottom of each page.
Staff Alarmed - When the staff find out about it and are given copies over a year later, they are alarmed. They realize that the sections of the report about the Bush administration’s failings will be in the middle of the report, and the reader will have to wade past chapters on al-Qaeda’s history to get to them. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “Many assumed the worst when they saw that Zelikow had proposed a portion of the report entitled ‘The Blinding Effects of Hindsight.’ What ‘blinding hindsight’? They assumed Zelikow was trying to dismiss the value of hindsight regarding the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 performance.” In addition, some staffers begin circulating a parody entitled “The Warren Commission Report—Preemptive Outline.” One of the parody’s chapter headings is “Single Bullet: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet. But Really. We’re Sure.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 388-389)

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).

Members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff who are suspicious of the partisanship of the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, establish what author Philip Shenon calls a “back-channel network” through which reports of Zelikow’s behavior can be passed. The staff members are suspicious of Zelikow because they think he is close to the Bush administration, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see January 3, 2001), whose interests he defends on the Commission (see May-June 2004). The network’s aim is to “alert the Democratic commissioners when [staff] thought Zelikow was up to no good.” Commissioner Tim Roemer will say that he often gets phone calls late at night or on weekends at home from staffers who want to talk about Zelikow. “It was like Deep Throat,” he will later say (see May 31, 2005). Richard Ben-Veniste is another one of the Democratic commissioners involved in the network. (Shenon 2008, pp. 375)

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:
bullet Commission staff should not disclose the exact location of the Commission’s offices for security reasons;
bullet 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
bullet 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)

Time magazine reports that the 9/11 Commission has requested an additional $11 million to add to the $3 million for the commission, and the Bush administration has turned down the request. The request will not be added to a supplemental spending bill. A Republican member of the commission says the decision will make it “look like they have something to hide.” Another commissioner notes that the recent commission on the Columbia shuttle crash will have a $50 million budget. Stephen Push, a leader of the 9/11 victims’ families, says the decision “suggests to me that they see this as a convenient way for allowing the commission to fail. they’ve never wanted the commission and I feel the White House has always been looking for a way to kill it without having their finger on the murder weapon.” The administration has suggested it may grant the money later, but any delay will further slow down the commission’s work. Already, commission members are complaining that scant progress has been made in the four months since the commission started, and they are operating under a deadline. (Burger 3/26/2003) Three days later, it is reported that the Bush administration has agreed to extra funding, but only $9 million, not $11 million. The commission agrees to the reduced amount. (Eggen 3/29/2003) The New York Times criticizes such penny-pinching, saying, “Reasonable people might wonder if the White House, having failed in its initial attempt to have Henry Kissinger steer the investigation, may be resorting to budgetary starvation as a tactic to hobble any politically fearless inquiry.” (listed] 3/31/2003)

It is reported that “most members” of the 9/11 Commission still have not received security clearances. (Eggen 3/27/2003) For instance, Slade Gorton, picked in December 2002, is a former senator with a long background in intelligence issues. Fellow commissioner Lee Hamilton says, “It’s kind of astounding that someone like Senator Gorton can’t get immediate clearance. It’s a matter we are concerned about.” The commission is said to be at a “standstill” because of the security clearance issue, and cannot even read the classified findings of the previous 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. (Fryer 3/12/2003)

An article highlights conflicts of interest amongst the commissioners on the 9/11 Commission. It had been previously reported that many of the commissioners had ties to the airline industry (see December 16, 2002), but a number have other ties. “At least three of the ten commissioners serve as directors of international financial or consulting firms, five work for law firms that represent airlines and three have ties to the US military or defense contractors, according to personal financial disclosures they were required to submit.” Bryan Doyle, project manager for the watchdog group Aviation Integrity Project says, “It is simply a failure on the part of the people making the selections to consider the talented pool of non-conflicted individuals.” Commission chairman Thomas Kean says that members are expected to steer clear of discussions that might present even the appearance of a conflict. (Arnold 3/28/2003)

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)

Mindy Kleinberg.Mindy Kleinberg. [Source: Public domain]Following introductory statements by 9/11 Commissioners (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003) and questioning of New York officials, several of the victims’ relatives testify on the first day of the Commission’s first hearing. One relative is selected from each of the four organizations they have formed. (Shenon 2008, pp. 102) The relatives are unhappy and, as the Miami Herald reports, “Several survivors of the attack and victims’ relatives testified that a number of agencies, from federal to local, are ducking responsibility for a series of breakdowns before and during September 11.” (Davies 3/31/2003) The New York Times suggests that the 9/11 Commission would never have been formed if it were not for the pressure of the 9/11 victims’ relatives. (Chen 4/1/2003) Some of the relatives strongly disagree with statements from some commissioners that they should not place blame. For instance, Stephen Push states: “I think this Commission should point fingers.… Some of those people [who failed us] are still in responsible positions in government. Perhaps they shouldn’t be.” (Waterman 3/31/2003) The most critical testimony comes from 9/11 relative Mindy Kleinberg, but her testimony is only briefly reported on by a few newspapers. (Waterman 3/31/2003; Hetter 4/1/2003; Chen 4/1/2003; Gould and Edozien 4/1/2003; Coscarelli 4/1/2003) In her testimony, Kleinberg says: “It has been said that the intelligence agencies have to be right 100 percent of the time and the terrorists only have to get lucky once. This explanation for the devastating attacks of September 11th, simple on its face, is wrong in its value. Because the 9/11 terrorists were not just lucky once: They were lucky over and over again.” She points out the insider trading based on 9/11 foreknowledge, the failure of fighter jets to catch the hijacked planes in time, hijackers getting visas in violation of standard procedures, and other events, and asks how the hijackers could have been lucky so many times. (9/11 Commission 3/31/2003)

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)

Two investigators on the 9/11 Commission, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, compile a list of interviews they want to do to investigate leads indicating that two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, were linked to elements of the Saudi government. The list is submitted to Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, for approval. However, a few days later Zelikow replies that the twenty interviews requested is too much, and they can only do half the interviews. Leseman, a former Justice Department lawyer, is unhappy with this, as it is traditional to demand the widest range of documents and interviews early on, so that reductions can be made later in negotiations if need be.
'We Need the Interviews' - Leseman tells Zelikow that his decision is “very arbitrary” and “crazy,” adding: “Philip, this is ridiculous. We need the interviews. We need these documents. Why are you trying to limit our investigation?” Zelikow says that he does not want to overwhelm federal agencies with document and interview requests at an early stage of the investigation, but, according to author Philip Shenon, after this, “Zelikow was done explaining. He was not in the business of negotiating with staff who worked for him.”
More Conflicts - This is the first of several conflicts between Zelikow and Leseman, who, together with Jacobson, had been on the staff of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and had researched this issue there. Shenon will write: “Leseman was that rare thing on the commission: She was not afraid of Zelikow; she would not be intimidated by him. In fact, from the moment she arrived at the commission’s offices on K Street, she seemed to almost relish the daily combat with Zelikow, even if she wondered aloud to her colleagues why there had to be any combat at all.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 109-111)
Later Fired, Evidence Deleted from Final Report - Zelikow will later fire Leseman from the commission for mishandling classified information (see April 2003 and (April 2003)) and will have the evidence of the Saudi connection gathered by Jacobson and Leseman’s successor, Raj De, deleted from the main text of the commission’s report (see June 2004).

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow prevents two investigators, Mike Jacobson and Dana Leseman, from viewing a key document they need for their work. Jacobson and Leseman are working on the ‘Saudi Connection’ section of the commission’s investigation, researching leads that there may have been a link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia. Zelikow is also involved in another, related dispute with Leseman at this time (see April 2003).
28 Pages - The classified document in question is part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 28 pages that were redacted in the final report and concerned possible Saudi government support for two of the 9/11 hijackers (see August 1-3, 2003). The 28 pages were actually written by Jacobson and are obviously relevant to his and Leseman’s work at the 9/11 Commission, but Jacobson cannot remember every detail of what he wrote.
Stalled - Leseman therefore asks Zelikow to get her a copy, but Zelikow fails to do so for weeks, instead concluding a deal with the Justice Department that bans even 9/11 commissioners from some access to the Congressional Inquiry’s files (see Before April 24, 2003). Leseman confronts Zelikow, demanding: “Philip, how are we supposed to do our work if you won’t provide us with basic research material?” Zelikow apparently does not answer, but storms away. (Shenon 2008, pp. 110-112)
Leseman Later Fired - Leseman later obtains the document through a channel other than Zelikow, and will be fired for this (see (April 2003)).

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 110-113) Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).

Tim Roemer.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.” (Arnold 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)

At early meetings of the 9/11 commission, Commissioner Max Cleland tries to persuade the other commissioners that they should investigate the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq. Cleland wants to know whether the president used 9/11 as an excuse to launch an attack he had been planning from the beginning of his presidency. Cleland also thinks that the administration’s obsession with Iraq was the reason it paid so little attention to the problem of terrorism in the spring and summer of 2001, and tells the other commissioners, “They were focused on Iraq, they were planning a war on Iraq, they were not paying attention to the business at hand.” However, the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, as well as Executive Director Philip Zelikow, are against this, as are some of the Republican commissioners, perhaps because of the popularity of the Iraq war at this point. Author Philip Shenon will say: “Even some of the Democrats [on the commission] were distancing themselves from him. Cleland knew he was quickly becoming a pariah.” Cleland will comment, “It was painfully obvious to me that there was this blanket over the commission, adding, “Anybody who spoke out or dissented, whether against George Bush, the White House, or the war against Iraq, was going to be marginalized.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 129-130)

Members of the 9/11 Commission are informed that the air threat conference call, initiated by the military in response to the attacks on September 11, was recorded. This call reportedly began at around 9:37 a.m. on 9/11. Throughout the day, numerous key officials had participated in it, including the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, plus senior officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Despite more than 18 months having passed since the attacks, Pentagon officials say they have not yet transcribed the tapes of the conference call. After the 9/11 Commission makes repeated requests, the Pentagon finally creates a classified transcript. On August 6, this is forwarded to the White House for an “executive-privilege review,” which is supposedly required because of Vice President Cheney’s participation in the call. The commission is then promised access to the 200-page transcript. However, the fact that it is not time coded may hinder the commission’s ability to outline an exact sequence of events, and commissioners say they may need to obtain the actual tapes recordings. Whether they are eventually allowed full or partial access to the tapes is unclear: The 9/11 Commission Report, released in 2004, will make numerous references to the “[Defense Department] transcript, Air Threat Conference Call.” It will only make one reference to “the tape… of the air threat conference call,” which it says was used to help reconstruct events in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC). The report will state that all the times it gives for the air threat conference call are estimates, believed to be accurate within a three-minute margin of error. This would suggest it did not have full access to the tape recordings. (Ragavan and Mazzetti 8/31/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37 and 463-465) The recording of the air threat conference call is of particular significance, because the National Military Command Center (NMCC), which initiated the call, is—according to military instructions—the “focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to hijackings in US airspace. (US Department of Defense 6/1/2001 pdf file)

Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi official suspected of contacts with two 9/11 hijackers, is deported from the US. Al Thumairy had worked at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles since 1996. In March 2003, he was secretly put on a watch list due to suspected terrorist links. He then left the US to visit Saudi Arabia. When he returns on May 6, he is stopped at the Los Angeles International Airport and detained, despite having a special diplomatic visa. He is held in custody for two days and questioned for several hours, but apparently he says very little. Then he is deported to Saudi Arabia. (McDonnell 5/10/2003) Al Thumairy was in frequent contact with hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi (see December 1998-December 2000), and the FBI gained evidence he could have been in contact with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see 2002), as well as al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash (see June 9, 2000). Journalist Philip Shenon will later comment that al Thumairy “had a reputation as fanatically anti-American.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 53)

Insulated trusses in the World Trade Center.
Insulated trusses in the World Trade Center. [Source: Gilsanz Murray Steficek]At a press briefing in New York City, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a 122-page progress report on its investigation into the WTC collapses. NIST began its study in August 2002 (see August 21, 2002). Investigators say they believe that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who built the Twin Towers, failed to carry out vital tests to establish how the buildings would cope with a major fire. They have been unable to find evidence that tests were conducted on the fireproofing material used in the buildings. Their report also states that in 1969, builders directed contractors to coat the WTC floor supports with half an inch of spray-on fireproofing. In 1999, the Port Authority issued guidelines to triple the thickness of the fireproofing, and by 9/11, about 30 floors in the upper areas of the two towers had been upgraded. Almost all the floors in the impact zone of the North Tower had their fireproofing upgraded, while in the South Tower just the 78th floor—the lowest in its impact zone—had been upgraded. As the New York Times states, though, “investigators took great care… to say they were nowhere close to definitively determining how and why the towers collapsed after they were struck by hijacked airliners.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 5/2003, pp. 81; National Institute of Standards and Technology 5/7/2003; Guardian 5/8/2003; Glanz 5/8/2003)

The FBI and Customs Department had been waging a bureaucratic war over control of Operation Greenquest, a controversial but largely fruitful Customs terrorist finance investigation (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). On May 13, 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signed a memorandum of agreement giving the FBI near total control over all terrorist finance investigations. According to the memorandum, if the FBI feels the case is related to terrorist financing and should belong to them, “the investigation and operation of the matter shall be led by the FBI.” The agreement also effectively ends Greenquest. The memo states, “The Secretary [of Homeland Security] agrees that no later than June 30, 2003, Operation Greenquest will no longer exist as a program name.” (Katz and Devon 5/27/2003)

9/11 Commissioner John Lehman repeatedly meets with Bush administration officials and discusses links between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials.
Lehman Interested in Saudi Money - Lehman is aware that the Commission’s investigators are working the topic and is interested to see what they will find. According to author Philip Shenon, “He thought it was clear early on that there was some sort of Saudi support network in San Diego that had made it possible for the hijackers to hide in plain sight in Southern California.” He is especially intrigued by money possibly passed from Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US, to associates of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999), although Lehman thinks she would not have known the money’s real destination and had simply signed checks given her by radicals at the Saudi embassy in Washington. Lehman also doubts that the Saudi officials knew the details of the 9/11 plot, but thinks they knew the hijackers were “bad guys,” and “The bad guys knew who to go to to get help.”
Critical of 'Stonewalling' - Lehman is also interested in possible links between Iraq and al-Qaeda and goes to the White House to discuss these with administration officials. However, at the meetings he brings up the Saudi connection. There are several meetings, but the administration is not at all interested in the Saudi angle. Lehman will say: “I used to go over to see [White House chief of staff] Andy [Card], and I met with [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld three or four times, mainly to say, ‘What are you guys doing? This stonewalling is so counterproductive.’”
No Interest in Saudi Connection - However, there is an absolute lack of interest on the administration’s part about the Saudi information. According to Shenon, “Lehman was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda.” Lehman will say: “They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia. Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 185-186)

Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission.Kean (left) and Hamilton (right) of the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]The 9/11 Commission does not receive video or audio recordings of interrogations of detainees thought to know something about the 9/11 plot (see Spring-Late 2002), even though it is unhappy with the amount and quality of information it is getting from detainees (see Summer 2003) and has a series of meetings with CIA officials to improve access (see November 5, 2003-January 2004). The CIA will indicate that the Commission never asks for the tapes, saying it “went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission,” and that one of the reasons that the tapes are not destroyed until after the Commission releases its final report in 2004 is so that it could have the tapes, if it so desires. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) However, when the tapes’ destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), former 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will dispute this, saying that in hours of negotiations and discussions with the CIA and written requests they make it clear they want all material connected to the interrogations of the relevant detainees. (Lichtblau 12/8/2007) Kean will say, “They knew what they had and they didn’t give it to us.” (Karl 12/7/2007) Hamilton will say, “The CIA certainly knew of our interest in getting all the information we could on the detainees, and they never indicated to us there were any videotapes… Did they obstruct our inquiry? The answer is clearly yes. Whether that amounts to a crime, others will have to judge.” (Lichtblau 12/8/2007)

In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126) Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. (Marcus 4/11/2007)
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. (Shenon 2008, pp. 122-126)

The 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the quality of information being provided by the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon about detainees in US custody who are being interrogated, because “the government’s investigators [are] not asking the detainees the kinds of questions [it wants] answered” - they are asking about future threats rather than the history of the 9/11 plot. The Commission is receiving detainee evidence “third-hand - passed from the detainee, to the interrogator, to the person who writes up the interrogation report, and finally to [its] staff in the form of reports, not even transcripts.” It can take up to six weeks for a report on an interrogation to be produced. Due to the absence of any interaction between Commission staff and detainees, they also have “no way of evaluating the credibility of detainee information.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-123) In at least one case, it seem possible that the 9/11 Commission was not given all the information from CIA interrogations that it needed. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later independently view some interrogation transcripts, and from them he will claim that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) confessed to attending a pivotal al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 plot was discussed (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA was in charge of monitoring this meeting, so their failure to notice the presence of KSM, a photographed and well-known terrorist mastermind with a $2 million bounty on his head at the time, would have been nearly inexplicable (see July 9, 2003). The Commission subsequently requests direct access to the detainees, but this request is not granted (see November 5, 2003-January 2004).

White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director. The first call comes at 4:40 p.m. and is taken by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary at the Commission. Rove says: “This is Karl Rove. I’m looking for Philip.” Heitkotter wonders why Rove is calling Zelikow, but it is not her place to ask for a reason. Therefore, as Zelikow is out of the office, she gives Rove Zelikow’s cell phone number. Heitkotter has been keeping an unofficial record of Zelikow’s calls in a notebook she purchased herself, and logs the calls as “Karl Rove—gave PZ cell #.” Rove calls again the next day, looking for Zelikow. As he is again absent, Heitkotter takes a message. (Shenon 2008, pp. 106-107) Zelikow will later describe two interactions with Rove during the Commission’s lifetime. It appears that, according to Zelikow, this exchange of calls was “related to past correspondence with me in my Miller Center role [Zelikow previously worked there as a historian], related to presidential library preparation (I had no horse in that race). It was a brief conversation and we did not discuss the Commission.” (Zelikow and Shenon 2007 pdf file) However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will dispute this, saying that there had been “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Rove will talk to Zelikow again in September (see September 4-15, 2003). Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that they were not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. (Shenon 2008, pp. 173-174)

The 9/11 Commission releases a status report showing that various government agencies are not cooperating fully with its investigation. Neither the CIA nor the Justice Department have provided all requested documents. Lack of cooperation on the part of the Department of Defense “[is] becoming particularly serious,” and the Commission has received no responses whatsoever to requests related to national air defenses. The FBI, State Department, and Transportation Department receive generally positive reviews. (Arnold 7/9/2003) Commissioner Tim Roemer complains: “We’re not getting the kind of cooperation that we should be. We need a steady stream of information coming to us.… Instead, We’re getting a trickle.” (Borger 7/10/2003) The Commission is eventually forced to subpoena documents from the Defense Department and FAA (see November 6, 2003). Commission Chairman Tom Kean also highlights the presence of government “minders” at Commission interviews. The minders accompany witnesses the Commission is interviewing and come from the witnesses’ parent agencies. Kean says: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would.” He adds, “We would rather interview these people without minders or without agency people there.” (Shenon 7/8/2003; Arnold 7/9/2003) However, Kean will later play down the effect minders are having on witnesses (see September 23, 2003), the full scope of which will be revealed in an internal Commission memo (see October 2, 2003).

Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. 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 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 Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, 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 speculation 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. (Bergen 12/2003)

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)

Judith Yaphe testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Yaphe, a CIA veteran who now teaches at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, is considered one of the agency’s most experienced and knowledgeable Iraq analysts. Yaphe states that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, it is improbable, based on what is currently known, that Hussein and Iraq had any connections to the 9/11 attacks, nor that a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is believable. (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 7/9/2003) Yaphe is disturbed by the commission’s apparent acceptance of the testimony of Laurie Mylroie (see July 9, 2003), whose theories about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda have long been discredited by both intelligence analysts and outside experts. She wonders why Mylroie’s “crazed theories” were being heard at all, and why the commission would risk its credibility by giving Mylroie this kind of exposure. She even speculates that Mylroie’s testimony is some sort of setup by the commission or the staff, and hopes that her own testimony can offset Mylroie’s theories and help discredit Mylroie before the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) Yaphe tells the commission, in apparent reference to Mylroie, that the use of circumstantial evidence is “troubling” and that there is a “lack of credible evidence to jump to extraordinary conclusions on Iraqi support for al-Qaeda.” She also calls Mylroie’s theories of Iraqi spies using false identities to help execute the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993) worthy of a fiction novel and completely unsupported by fact. (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 7/9/2003)

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report concludes that at least six 9/11 hijackers received “substantial assistance” from associates in the US, though it’s “not known to what extent any of these contacts in the United States were aware of the plot.” These hijackers came into contact with at least 14 people who were investigated by the FBI before 9/11, and four of those investigations were active while the hijackers were present. But in June 2002, FBI Director Mueller testified: “While here, the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage. As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States” (see June 18, 2002). CIA Director Tenet made similar comments at the same time, and another FBI official stated, “[T]here were no contacts with anybody we were looking at inside the United States.” These comments are untrue, because one FBI document from November 2001 uncovered by the Inquiry concludes that the six lead hijackers “maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [al-Qaeda]-related activities or training.” (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) The declassified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report show the hijackers have contact with:
bullet Mamoun Darkazanli, investigated several times starting in 1993 (see 1993; Late 1998); the CIA makes repeated efforts to turn him into an informer (see December 1999).
bullet Mohammed Haydar Zammar, investigated by Germany since at least 1997 (see 1996), the Germans periodically inform the CIA what they learn.
bullet Osama Basnan, US intelligence is informed of his connections to Islamic militants several times in early 1990s but fails to investigate (see April 1998).
bullet Omar al-Bayoumi, investigated in San Diego from 1998-1999 (see September 1998-July 1999).
bullet Anwar al-Awlaki, investigated in San Diego from 1999-2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
bullet Osama “Sam” Mustafa, owner of a San Diego gas station, and investigated beginning in 1991 (see Autumn 2000).
bullet Ed Salamah, manager of the same gas station, and an uncooperative witness in 2000 (see Autumn 2000).
bullet An unnamed friend of Hani Hanjour, whom the FBI tries to investigate in 2001.
bullet An unnamed associate of Marwan Alshehhi, investigated beginning in 1999.
bullet Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who had contact with Basnan, al-Bayoumi, al-Awlaki, Mustafa, and Salamah, “maintained a number of other contacts in the local Islamic community during their time in San Diego, some of whom were also known to the FBI through counterterrorist inquiries and investigations,” but details of these individuals and possible others are still classified. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) None of the above people have been arrested or even publicly charged with any crime associated with terrorism, although Zammar is in prison in Syria.

Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry.Representative Porter Goss and Senator Bob Graham co-chair the Congressional Inquiry. [Source: Ken Lambert/ Associated Press]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Congress 7/24/2003) Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” (Jacoby, Adair, and Fritz 9/29/2002) Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. (Lipman 9/21/2002) The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
bullet Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)
bullet According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” (Johnston 7/26/2003)
bullet CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
bullet US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
bullet “There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
bullet According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003) Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. (Isikoff 5/25/2003) The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” (Priest 7/25/2003; Cocco 8/7/2003)

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal after meeting Bush over the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report.Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal after meeting Bush over the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. [Source: Associated Press]In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report, pressure builds to release most of the still-censored sections of the report, but on this day President Bush says he is against the idea. (Associated Press 7/29/2003; New York Times 7/29/2003) Through an obscure rule, the Senate could force the release of the material with a majority vote (Kiely and Diamond 5/29/2003) , but apparently the number of votes in favor of this idea falls just short. MSNBC reports that “the decision to keep the passage secret… created widespread suspicion among lawmakers that the administration was trying to shield itself and its Saudi allies from embarrassment.… Three of the four leaders of the joint congressional investigation into the attacks have said they believed that much of the material on foreign financing was safe to publish but that the administration insisted on keeping it secret.” (MSNBC 7/28/2003) Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the main authors of the report, states that “90, 95 percent of it would not compromise, in my judgment, anything in national security.” Bush ignores a reporter’s question on Shelby’s assessment. (Associated Press 7/29/2003) Even the Saudi government claims to be in favor of releasing the censored material so it can better respond to criticism. (MSNBC 7/28/2003) All the censored material remains censored; however, some details of the most controversial censored sections are leaked to the media.

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)

In the wake of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report, and “under intense pressure from Congress,” as the Boston Globe puts it, the FBI and CIA reopen an investigation into whether Saudi Arabian officials aided the 9/11 plot. (Bender 8/3/2003) In early August, Saudi Arabia allows the FBI to interview Omar al-Bayoumi. However, the interview takes place in Saudi Arabia, and apparently on his terms, with Saudi government handlers present. (New York Times 8/5/2003; Associated Press 8/6/2003) Says one anonymous government terrorism consultant, “They are revisiting everybody. The [FBI] did not do a very good job of unraveling the conspiracy behind the hijackers.” (Bender 8/3/2003) But by September, the Washington Post reports that the FBI has concluded that the idea al-Bayoumi was a Saudi government agent is “without merit and has largely abandoned further investigation… The bureau’s September 11 investigative team, which is still tracking down details of the plot, has reached similar conclusions about other associates named or referred to in the congressional inquiry report.” (Eggen 9/10/2003) Yet another article claims that by late August, some key people who interacted with al-Bayoumi have yet to be interviewed by the FBI. “Countless intelligence leads that might help solve” the mystery of a Saudi connection to the hijackers “appear to have been underinvestigated or completely overlooked by the FBI, particularly in San Diego.” (Reno 9/2003) Not only were they never interviewed when the investigation was supposedly reopened, they were not interviewed in the months after 9/11 either, when the FBI supposedly opened an “intense investigation” of al-Bayoumi, visiting “every place he was known to have gone, and [compiling] 4,000 pages of documents detailing his activities.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)

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)

In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. (Risen and Johnston 8/2/2003) One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. (Lumpkin and Solomon 8/2/2003) According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” (Ackerman 8/1/2003) The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” (Bender 8/3/2003)

At the end of a two-day meeting to discuss the progress of their investigation of the WTC collapses on 9/11, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) investigators say that early tests on steel beams recovered from the World Trade Center showed they met or were stronger than design requirements. NIST has collected 236 pieces of steel from the wreckage of the towers. Tests have found that the steel beams exceeded requirements to bear 36,000 pounds per square inch, and were often capable of bearing around 42,000 pounds per square inch. Lead investigator Shyam Sunder says that if further testing corroborates these findings, this will rule out weak steel as a factor in the collapses. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 8/26/2003; Associated Press 8/28/2003) The final report of the NIST investigation, released in 2005, will corroborate this finding: “Overall, approximately 87 percent of all perimeter and core column steel tested exceeded the required minimum yield strengths specified in design documents. Test data for the remaining samples were below specifications, but were within the expected variability and did not affect the safety of the towers on September 11, 2001.” It also will point out: “Of the more than 170 areas examined on 16 perimeter column panels, only three columns had evidence that the steel reached temperatures above 250°C.… Only two core column specimens had sufficient paint remaining to make such an analysis, and their temperatures did not reach 250°C.… Using metallographic analysis, NIST determined that there was no evidence that any of the samples had reached temperatures above 600 °C.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 89-90)

Investigators for the 9/11 Commission discover that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has withheld a large amount of documents from it about the day of the attacks and falsely claimed it had provided everything the Commission asked for (see August 2003). The discovery is made on a day when the Commission’s investigators begin interviewing air traffic controllers at centers on the East Coast and in the Midwest. John Farmer, the staffer who leads the Commission’s team dealing with this aspect of its work, is only a few minutes into interviews at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center when he realizes, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “just how much evidence the FAA had held back.” His interviewees tell him that there is “extensive information the Commission has not seen, including tape recordings of conversations between the individual air traffic controllers and the hijacked planes.” He also discovers that what the FAA has provided is merely the “accident package,” rather than the much larger “accident file.” Farmer is “furious” and contacts the Commission’s lawyer in Washington. Asked to explain the situation, the FAA rapidly admits there is other material and, within days, several boxes of new material, including the air traffic control tapes, arrive at the Commission’s offices. (Shenon 2008, pp. 201-202) However, the Commission has lost confidence in the FAA and will issue it with a subpoena next month (see October 14, 2003).

Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, goes to the White House to have lunch with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her staff. Zelikow is close to Rice and defends her interests on the Commission (see 1995, Before December 18, 2003, and May-June 2004). Zelikow’s White House passes are arranged by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary on the Commission. According to author Philip Shenon, during the Commission’s life, “More than once she [is] asked to arrange a gate pass so Zelikow [can] enter the White House to visit the national security adviser in her offices in the West Wing.” Allegedly, at the same time, “Zelikow [is] telling people how upset he [is] to cut off contact with his good friend Rice.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 107)

White House adviser Karl Rove makes two telephone calls to 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, one on September 4, the other on September 15. The subject of the calls, which are unofficially logged by Karen Heitkotter, an executive secretary with the Commission, is unclear. Zelikow and Rove had a previous exchange of calls in June (see June 23-24, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 107, 171-174) According to Zelikow, it concerns “this matter of his elderly friend who had these papers. It had no relation to contemporary problems; he [Rove] was being gracious to someone.” (Zelikow and Shenon 2007 pdf file) This will be confirmed by a White House official, who will say that Rove calls Zelikow on behalf of an elderly neighbor who had been a senior lawyer at the State Department at the end of World War II. The neighbor wonders whether the Miller Center, a historical research institute Zelikow used to work for, would like to see his papers and talk to him. However, a “senior White House official familiar with Rove’s memory of the contacts with Zelikow” will say this is not the only topic discussed and that there are also “ancillary conversations” about the workings of the Commission. Interviewed around mid-September 2003, 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton say that they are not aware of the calls and seem surprised by them, but accept Zelikow’s innocent explanation. (Shenon 2008, pp. 173-174)

Slate reports that two years after the 9/11 attacks, neither the Chicago Board Options Exchange nor the Securities and Exchange Commission will make any comment about their investigations into insider trading before 9/11. “Neither has announced any conclusion. The SEC has not filed any complaint alleging illegal activity, nor has the Justice Department announced any investigation or prosecution.… So, unless the SEC decides to file a complaint—unlikely at this late stage—we may never know what they learned about terror trading.” (Plotz 9/10/2003)

A 9/11 Commission staffer notices a record of phone calls made to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, on the desk of Zelikow’s secretary. Glancing at it, the staffer notices the name “Rove,” a reference to White House adviser Karl Rove, who recently called Zelikow (see September 4-15, 2003). Paging through the records, the staffer finds other references to calls made by Rove to Zelikow (see June 23-24, 2003), as well as calls from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to Zelikow. According to author Philip Shenon: “The next day, word of Zelikow’s contacts at the White House began to spread wildly through the Commission. For many of the staff, it was just what they had suspected: Zelikow was some kind of White House mole, feeding information back to the administration about the Commission’s findings. Now, they thought, they had proof of it.” Some of the staffers debate whether to make a formal protest to the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, but decide against doing so, worrying about the scandal if the news ever leaked. Shenon will add: “They were furious with what Zelikow had done and how his conflicts had threatened the integrity of the investigation. But they knew how valuable this work was and how valuable their affiliation with the 9/11 Commission would be to their careers. They wanted its legacy to be untarnished.” Despite this, some of the 9/11 victims’ family members will learn of the contacts, as will a reporter (see September 16, 2003 or Shortly After). (Shenon 2008, pp. 107, 172)

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)

Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, tells his secretary Karen Heitkotter not to keeps records of his calls. Although there is no formal process for logging calls, Heitkotter has been keeping records of them for Zelikow in a notebook she purchased herself. However, Commission staffers recently learned of contacts between Zelikow and White House adviser Karl Rove, leading to bad feeling on the Commission (see September 4-15, 2003 and September 15, 2003 or Shortly After). Zelikow calls Heitkotter into his office and gives her the order without explaining why. According to Heitkotter, Zelikow is “insistent,” but she is worried about doing something improper so she asks a lawyer friend on the Commission what she should do. The friend tells her to contact someone in authority, to protect herself in case the information ever becomes public. She chooses Dan Marcus, the Commission’s counsel and a Democrat, telling him Zelikow has “asked me to stop keeping records—phone logs—for his contacts with the White House.” Marcus tells her not to obey Zelikow’s instruction and to continue to log the calls, although he does not raise the matter with Zelikow, the Commission’s Chairman Tom Kean, or Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton. Marcus will later say that Zelikow’s order “looks bad—it certainly doesn’t look good.” Asked about the matter later, Zelikow will simply deny that the Commission kept formal phone logs: “I think this is recycled, garbled office gossip. I don’t think my office kept phone logs.” (Zelikow and Shenon 2007 pdf file; Shenon 2008, pp. 171-172; Zelikow 2/7/2008)

Spokesperson Paul Bresson announces that the FBI has concluded that there was no insider trading in US securities markets by people with advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. According to Bresson, the “vast majority” of a pre-attack surge of trading in options that bet on a drop in the stock of AMR Corp., which owns American Airlines, and UAL Corp., which owns United Airlines, was conducted by investment hedge funds implementing bearish investment strategies or hedging a line position of common stock, and was not linked to terrorists. (9/11 Commission 8/18/2003 pdf file; St. Petersburg Times 9/19/2003; Washington Post 9/19/2003) However, seven months later, a paper by a professor of finance at the University of Illinois will conclude that “there is evidence of unusual option market activity in the days leading up to September 11” (see April 25, 2004). (Poteshman 3/10/2004)

After becoming unhappy with the quality of information it is receiving from the CIA about detainee interrogations (see Summer 2003), the 9/11 Commission not only gives the CIA more questions for detainees, but also asks it how the interrogations are carried out. The Commission thinks the second set of questions is the most important, but the CIA only responds to them in a vague manner. They concern the translation process in the interrogations, the interrogators’ background, the way the interrogators handle inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the particular questions that were asked to elicit reported information, the way interrogators followed up on certain lines of questioning, the context of the interrogations so the Commission can assess the credibility and demeanor of the detainees when they made the reported statements, and the interrogators’ views or assessments. According to a later account by Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, CIA general counsel Scott Muller writes back with “non-specific replies.” Muller also fails to inform the Commission that the CIA has videotapes of some of the interrogations (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Because the Commission is “not satisfied” with Muller’s response, it pushes for direct access to detainees, but this attempt fails (see November 5, 2003-January 2004 and After January 2004). (Kean and Hamilton 1/2/2008)

9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow and several members of his staff embark on a fact-finding mission to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. While in Pakistan, they interview at least two senior members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Whether they are investigating a possible ISI role in the 9/11 plot remains unclear. (Waterman 11/5/2003)

The 9/11 Family Steering Committee, an organization formed to represent some of the interests of the relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks, writes a letter to 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton about Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. The committee has lost its trust in Zelikow, because it has gradually found out more and more about him and his links to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as others the Commission is supposed to be investigating (see 1995, September 20, 2002, and September 16, 2003 or Shortly After). In addition, members of the committee have an extremely poor personal relationship with Zelikow, who they feel is dismissive of them and their concerns. The letter says that Kean and Hamilton should either force Zelikow to resign, or recuse himself from all the parts of the investigation linked to the National Security Council. Kean and Hamilton write back to the committee, saying they are aware of Zelikow’s ties to the administration, although it is unclear if they are aware of all of them at this point (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 166-168) However, the Commission will later interview Zelikow about his role in counterterrorism before 9/11 (see October 8, 2003) and he will be recused from dealing with the Bush administration transition (see October 9, 2003 or Shortly After), on which he worked (see January 3, 2001).

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 it first subpoena, to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Commission had initially decided not to issue subpoenas (see January 27, 2003), but found that the FAA had withheld documentation from it (see August 2003 and September 2003), prompting it to take this step.
Request from Team Leader - The subpoena’s issue is the result of a request from John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating the day of the attacks. After receiving permission from the Commission’s chairman and lawyer, Tom Kean and Daniel Marcus, to address the full Commission, Farmer tells them: “My team and I have lost confidence in the FAA. We do not believe we have time to take any more chances on the possibility that they will act on good faith.” This leaves them with “no choice other than a subpoena.”
Debate inside Commission - Some of the Democratic commissioners, such as Jamie Gorelick, then claim that this is a reason to subpoena all documents the Commission wants. However Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are against this. Republican Slade Gorton proposes a compromise where the Commission subpoenas the FAA, but only issues a warning to other agencies that are not producing the documents the Commission wants. (Shenon 2008, pp. 202-203) The Commission approves the subpoena unanimously. The Commission comments publicly, saying, “This disturbing development at one agency has led the Commission to reexamine its general policy of relying on document requests rather than subpoenas.” (Arnold 10/15/2003) It also warns other agencies that “document requests must be taken as seriously as a subpoena.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 203)

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

Several months into its investigation, the 9/11 Commission is already dissatisfied with the Department of Defense (see July 7, 2003).
Recorded Conversations Not Provided to Commission - When its staff take a tour of a Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) facility in Rome, New York, which helped coordinate the air defense on the day of 9/11, the staff enter the operations room, which has “more than 20 banks of operators: some weapons controllers and some flight controllers.” The staff find that the operators’ conversations are always tape-recorded, but the tapes for 9/11 have not yet been sent to the Commission. In addition, according to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, “there were also discrepancies between things NORAD was telling [the Commission] about their performance on the morning of September 11—things that the agency had stated publicly after 9/11—and the story told by the limited tapes and documents the Commission had received.”
'Egregious' Failure - Upon learning of the existence of the tapes, team leader John Farmer immediately suspends the tour and the interviews and flies to meet Kean in New Jersey. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Farmer will say that the failure to produce the tapes was “egregious,” as, “Those tapes told the story of the air defense better than anything else that anyone could have given us.”
Subpoena Demanded - Farmer demands that a subpoena be issued to the Pentagon for the tapes. He tells Kean: “Listen, we have to subpoena this stuff. We may not get it, but if we don’t try to get it, how can you explain to the public that we have done our job?” Farmer is aware that it will be difficult to get a subpoena on the Pentagon—“When you’re talking about subpoenaing the DOD, the room goes quiet”—but he decides privately: “I would have quit if we didn’t. I felt we were becoming a laughingstock.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 204)
Lost Time - Despite opposition from its Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (see (Late October-Early November 2003)) and, allegedly, its Executive Director Philip Zelikow (see November 5, 2003), the Commission will subpoena NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). However, according to Kean and Hamilton, this means that “the staff had lost so much time that our hearing on the 9/11 story in the skies was postponed for months. Indeed, the delays from NORAD and the FAA made it highly unlikely that the team could complete its work as scheduled.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 85-88) Chapter 1 of the Commission’s final report will draw heavily on the tapes. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-46)
Contrast with Other Aspects of Investigation - However, the Commission does not make the same effort with all day of 9/11 recordings. For example, it does not even find out which person(s) from the Department of Defense participated in a White House video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke during the attacks (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36)

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow.9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. (CNN 8/17/2005; Rosen 11/24/2005) Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” (Goodwin 9/2005) Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. (Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton 8/12/2005 pdf file) According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” (Goodwin 9/2005) Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. (Shenon and Jehl 8/10/2005) Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at [Defense Department] before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.” (Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton 8/12/2005 pdf file)

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

Despite asking some questions about the way the CIA is putting some of its questions to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees it is interested in (see October 2003), the 9/11 Commission fails to inquire more deeply into the harsh interrogation methods the CIA uses on detainees. One Commission staffer will say: “We did not delve deeply into the question of the treatment of the prisoners. Standards of treatment were not part of our mission.” Another will admit: “We did not ask specifically. It was not in our mandate.” In 2008, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, will say he is “shocked” by the failure to ask about interrogation techniques, “If you’re sitting at the 9/11 Commission, with all the high-powered lawyers on the Commission and on the staff, first you ask what happened rather than guess.” (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)

Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, makes an 11th-hour visit to the Pentagon in an attempt to avert a subpoena some on the Commission want to file on the Defense Department over documents NORAD is withholding from the Commission (see Late October 2003).
Meeting with Defense Officials - At the Pentagon, Hamilton meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Hamilton takes with him Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the Commission who is inclined towards issuing the subpoena.
Arranged by Zelikow? - It is unclear who initiated and arranged the meeting; some staffers who want the subpoena issued will accuse Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, of setting it up as a part of a wider effort to thwart the subpoena (see (Late October-Early November 2003)). However, Zelikow will later say he does not recall having anything to do with the meeting.
Rumsfeld Promises to Settle Issue - At the meeting, Rumsfeld is, according to author Philip Shenon, “charming and agreeable” and insists he is unaware of the problems between the Commission and NORAD. He vows to resolve the issues and promises that any evidence that has been withheld until now will be turned over immediately. Therefore, he says, there is no need for a subpoena.
Differences between Hamilton and Gorton - Hamilton, who was initially rejected for the vice chairmanship of the Commission because of his links to Rumsfeld and other Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002) and who sometimes takes the current administration’s side in internal Commission debates (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004), thinks this is the end of the matter. “I’ve known Don Rumsfeld for 20, 30 years,” he tells the other commissioners. “When he said, ‘I’m going to get that information for you,’ I took him at his word.” Gorton’s attitude is different. “I was outraged with NORAD and the way they had operated.” Thinking false statements NORAD officials provided to the Commission may have been made knowingly, he will add, “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it was just so grossly negligent and incompetent.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 207) The Commission will vote to issue the subpoena the next day, with Hamilton against and Gorton for (see November 6, 2003).

After the 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the information it is getting from detainees in US custody who may know something about the 9/11 plot (see Summer 2003), it asks CIA Director George Tenet to let it either talk to the detainees itself, or at least view interrogations through a one-way mirror. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Reasoning - Dieter Snell, the head of the Commission’s plot team and a former prosecutor, is extremely keen that the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, be interviewed. According to author Philip Shenon, he is aware that “testimony from key witnesses like the al-Qaeda detainees would have value only if they were questioned in person, with investigators given the chance to test their credibility with follow-up questions. The face-to-face interrogations would be especially important in situations in which the al-Qaeda members were giving conflicting testimony.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 182)
Request Denied - However, Tenet denies the request because he does not want the Commission to know where the detainees are, and he claims questioning by a Commission staffer could apparently damage the “relationship” between interrogator and detainee and “upset the flow of questioning.” In addition, Tenet is worried that if the Commission has access to the detainees, Zacarias Moussaoui might also be able to compel them to testify in court, so he rejects compromise proposals.
Pushback - The Commission decides “to push the issue” and drafts a letter outlining why they should have direct access. Although the draft is seen by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is never officially sent. At a White House meeting attended by Rumsfeld and commissioners Lee Hamilton and Fred Fielding, Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeat the arguments Tenet made previously, but Tenet says the Commission can submit written questions, and a CIA “project manager” will try to get them answered. After the administration “plead[s]” with the Commission not to use public pressure to get access to detainees, the Commission decides to drop the matter.
Relatives and Media Blamed - Hamilton and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean will later partially blame the victims’ relatives and media for this failure: “Interestingly, there was no pressure from some of the usual sources for us to push for access. For instance, the 9/11 families never pressed us to seek access to detainees, and the media was never engaged on this issue.” Kean and Hamilton will later say that the “project manager” arrangement works “to a degree.”
Report Includes Disclaimer - However, a disclaimer will be inserted into the 9/11 Commission Report in the first of two chapters that draw heavily on detainees’ alleged statements (see After January 2004). It will say that the Commission could not fully judge the credibility of detainee information, so, according to Kean and Hamilton, “it [is] left to the reader to consider the credibility of the source—we had no opportunity to do so.” (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 119-126)
Criticism from Staffer - Commission staffer Ernest May will later criticize the Commission’s “reluctance ever to challenge the CIA’s walling off al-Qaeda detainees.” May will also say: “We never had full confidence in the interrogation reports as historical sources. Often we found more reliable the testimony that had been given in open court by those prosecuted for the East African embassy bombings and other crimes.” (May 5/23/2005) CIA videotapes and transcripts of interrogations are not provided to the Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004).

The 9/11 Commission votes 6-4 not to subpoena Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). Four of the five Democratic commissioners vote in favor. The five Republicans vote against, as does Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who sometimes sides with the Republicans (see March 2003-July 2004 and January 27, 2003). The vote came up because the White House has been stonewalling the Commission on access to the PDBs for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, and Shortly Before October 26, 2003). The White House has just offered the Commission a deal in which Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Hamilton, as well as two staff members, could read a group of 20 significant PDBs, and one of these four could then read all the other PDBs. If he found anything significant, he could insist the other three read it as well. The Commission rejects this, but only obtains a slightly better deal in the end (see November 7, 2003). (Shenon 2008, pp. 217-219)

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.” (Arnold 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)

The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 218-219)

Senators of both parties have been accusing the White House of stonewalling the 9/11 Commission by blocking its demands for documents despite threats of a subpoena. (Associated Press 10/27/2003) On this day, the White House and the 9/11 Commission strike a deal. The main issue is access to the presidential daily briefings given to President Bush. Under the deal, only some of the ten commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents, and their notes will be subject to White House review. Some 9/11 victims’ relatives complain that the agreement gives the White House too much power. The Family Steering Committee complains, “All ten commissioners should have full, unfettered, and unrestricted access to all evidence.” It urges the public release of “the full, official, and final written agreement.” (Arnold 11/13/2003) Commissioner Max Cleland is unsatisfied with the deal and resigns a short time later (see December 9, 2003).

Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.
Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: Public domain]In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. (Associated Press 11/16/2003; Bartelme 11/18/2003; Associated Press 1/19/2005; Hamblett 9/28/2005) A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. (Follath and Mascolo 6/6/2005) The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. (Hamblett 9/28/2005) Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/16/2003; Hamblett 9/28/2005)

9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick is given access to the previously sacrosanct Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from the Clinton and Bush administrations (see Early December 2003). Like commission chair Thomas Kean, Gorelick is struck by the general lack of information in the documents (see Early December 2003), but the thing that strikes her most about the PDBs is just how many warnings were given in the months preceding the 9/11 attacks. Details of the predicted terrorist attack were lacking—the US intelligence community did not know where or when the attacks would take place—but the message from the spring, summer, and fall of 2001 was clear: the US must be prepared for a massive assault either on one of its foreign allies or on itself. Gorelick later recalls the warnings say the anticipated attacks are “the worst thing [the US has] ever seen—an unprecedented threat.” The August 6, 2001 PDB (see August 6, 2001) contained warnings about specific threats to American targets, particularly “federal buildings in New York.” Gorelick, like everyone else in the Commission, has never seen the actual August 6 PDB, and she is shocked by the detail and the specificity of the warnings. The characterization of the warnings as “historical” (see May 16, 2002) is inexplicable, she thinks. (Shenon 2008, pp. 221-222)

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).

The NSA allows the 9/11 Commission to access its archives on al-Qaeda, but the commission does not appear interested. The commission had previously shown little interest in the NSA’s material (see Late 2002-July 2004), and is having trouble getting access to information from other agencies, but this offer does not stimulate any additional interest. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “[P]erversely, the more eager [NSA director] General Hayden was to cooperate, the less interested [9/11 Commission executive director Philip] Zelikow and others at the commission seemed to be in what was buried in the NSA files.” Lorry Fenner, a commission staffer who previously worked with the NSA, arranges for a set of relevant NSA files to be transferred to a special reading room in Washington not far from the commission’s offices, so the relevant staff members can have easy access to the material. (Shenon 2008, pp. 156) However, this does not stimulate any interest, and Fenner begins to read through the material herself (see January 2004).

The 9/11 Commission suspects that the CIA is using harsh techniques on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees who are being interviewed about the 9/11 plot. The commission does not interview the detainees itself, but submits questions to the CIA, and the CIA then puts them to the detainees. However, commission staffers will later be reported to have “guessed” that harsh techniques are being used, and are worried these techniques affect the detainees’ credibility. Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later say, “We were not aware, but we guessed, that things like that were going on.” According to senior US intelligence officials, the detainees used as sources by the 9/11 Commission are “subjected to the harshest of the CIA’s methods,” including “physical and mental abuse, exposure to extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.” (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008) One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager will say that up to 90% of the information he provides under questioning is unreliable (see August 6, 2007).

Bob Kerrey.Bob Kerrey. [Source: US Congress]Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who also served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is appointed to the 9/11 Commission, replacing Max Cleland, who leaves the Commission to accept a position on the board of the Export-Import Bank. (Eggen 12/10/2003)
Criticism of Commission's Work - Just before resigning, Cleland called the Bush administration’s attempts to stonewall and “slow walk” the Commission a “national scandal.” He criticized the Commission for cutting a deal with the White House that compromised its access to information, and said: “I’m not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I’m not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions. I’m not going to be part of political pressure to do this or not do that. I’m not going to be part of that. This is serious.” (Boehlert 11/21/2003) Cleland will later add, “There was a desire not to uncover bad news, a desire to leave rocks unturned—both in the White House and, to a certain extent, on the leadership of the Commission.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 161)
Some Democrats Unhappy - Kerrey is selected by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), but some Democrats are unhappy, as Kerrey has a reputation as a “contrarian” and critic of the Clinton administration. For example, when Kerrey and Bill Clinton were competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Kerrey called Clinton an “unusually good liar.” Democrats are therefore worried that he will be critical of the Clinton administration’s treatment of terrorism, instead of criticizing the Bush administration. (Shenon 2008, pp. 165)

9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey threatens to resign from the commission after discovering a memo written by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow outlining Zelikow’s ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995). Kerrey, who was recently appointed to the commission (see December 9, 2003), makes this discovery on his first day at the commission’s offices.
Conflict of Interests - Kerrey will later say that, although he was aware Zelikow and Rice were friends, he “just could not believe” the more detailed information the memo contains. For example, Zelikow had been responsible for downgrading terrorism as a priority in the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001) and had authored a pre-emptive war doctrine that amounted to the “gene code” for the administration’s policy on Iraq (see September 20, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will write, “Kerrey wondered how [9/11 Commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton could have agreed to put someone with such an obvious conflict of interest in charge of the investigation.”
Persuaded to Remain - The next day, Kerrey meets Kean and tells him, “Look, Tom, either he goes or I go.” Kean tries to talk Kerrey out of it, saying he and Hamilton are keeping a close eye on Zelikow for signs of partisanship. However, he only convinces Kerrey to continue to think over his decision. Shenon will comment, “For Kean, it was hard to see which would be worse, the loss of Zelikow so late in the investigation or the angry resignation of a newly arrived commissioner because of Zelikow’s conflicts of interest.” Soon after this, Kean convinces Kerrey to drop his threat to resign entirely, and both Kerrey and Zelikow remain on the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 164-165)

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)

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)

Rep. Curt Weldon.
Rep. Curt Weldon. [Source: House of Representatives]Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary 9/21/2005) He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” (Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005)

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)

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)

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)

Kevin Scheid.Kevin Scheid. [Source: Abledangerblog(.com)]After finding that nobody else on the 9/11 Commission is interested in what the NSA knew about al-Qaeda in general and the 9/11 plot in particular (see Late 2002-July 2004 and Late 2003), commission staffer Lorry Fenner decides to try to read through a portion of the material herself. Fenner is “astonished” that nobody from the commission’s team investigating the 9/11 plot is reading the material, and thinks about asking her boss, Kevin Scheid, to tell the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow that somebody should read the material. However, Scheid resists a confrontation with Zelikow, and Fenner does not want to go over her boss’s head and talk to Zelikow herself. Therefore, although she has other duties on the commission, she starts to read through the material herself. There are tens of thousands of pages of NSA documents about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda and, according to author Philip Shenon, “It would take several days of reading to get through even a small portion of it.” Fenner spends “two or three hours” on “several days” between January and June in the reading room, and some colleagues help her towards the end (see June 2004 and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004), but most of the information will go unread by the 9/11 Commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 156-7, 370)

9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 222-224) The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).

The 9/11 Commission’s teams of investigators are asked to present interim staff reports to be read in the public hearings. Each report summarizes the staff’s findings regarding the subject of the day’s testimony. The reports help frame the questions for the day’s witnesses, and provide the basis for some of the chapters of the final report, so they are quite important and closely reported in the media. The commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, almost always rewrites the reports. Zelikow is smarting from the rounds of public criticism he has suffered for his apparent close ties to the Bush administration (see November 1997-August 1998, January 3, 2001, September 20, 2002, and March 21, 2004), and decides that he alone should read each staff report in the hearings—in essence, presenting himself as the public face of the commission and hopefully garnering some positive press coverage. That idea falls flat when angry staffers complain to the commissioners. But Zelikow continues to rewrite the reports, often improving on the language and wording, and sometimes rewriting reports to insert information that staffers find unsupportable (see January 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)

Following an October 2003 meeting with three members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff (see October 21, 2003), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer tries contacting Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, as requested by Zelikow himself. Shaffer is an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers in early 2000 (see January-February 2000). He phones Zelikow’s number the first week of January 2004. The person who replies tells him, “I will talk to Dr. Zelikow and find out when he wants you to come in.” However, Shaffer receives no call back, so a week later he phones again. This time, the person who answers him says, “Dr. Zelikow tells me that he does not see the need for you to come in. We have all the information on Able Danger.” (Goodwin 9/2005) Yet the commission doesn’t even receive the Able Danger documentation they had previously requested from the Defense Department until the following month (see February 2004). (Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton 8/12/2005 pdf file)

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)

The Washington Post reports, “A growing number of [9/11 Commission] members [have] concluded that the panel needs more time to prepare a thorough and credible accounting of missteps leading to the terrorist attacks.” As a result, the commission is asking Congress to vote on approving a several month extension to finish their report. “But the White House and leading Republicans have informed the panel that they oppose any delay, which raises the possibility that Sept. 11-related controversies could emerge during the heat of the presidential campaign.” (Eggen 1/19/2004) The White House will reverse its stance a month later (see February 5, 2004).

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).

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