Thanks to www.historycommons.org
1995: Condoleezza Rice and Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Co-author Book on European Politics
Future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow, who, as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will investigate her performance in the run-up to 9/11, co-author a book about the implications of German reunification. The two had worked together on the National Security Council in the 1980s and early 90s, but are both now working at universities. Zelikow is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and Rice is the provost at Stanford. The book, entitled Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, is mostly written by Zelikow, who is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “pleased to share credit with such an obvious up-and-comer as Rice.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 40-41]
January 2001: Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Not Offered Full-time Job with Bush Administration, Returns to University
Future 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is not offered a job in the Bush administration, and returns to the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia to teach. Zelikow had worked on the transition team (see January 3, 2001), and thought he would receive an important position in the new administration. He told his friends he thought he was in line for the position of deputy national security adviser to Condoleezza Rice, with whom he had written a book in the mid-1990s (see 1995). Most people in the Bush administration admire his ability, but find him hard to work with. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card will even describe Zelikow as a “bully” historian. Author Philip Shenon will later comment that Zelikow is “perplexed that his talents had not been recognized by the people who handed out the best jobs in the Bush administration.” After returning to university, Zelikow will lobby the White House to make the university where he works the official repository of its oral history. His point of contact at the White House is political adviser Karl Rove. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42-44]
December 3-14, 2001: Bush Administration Officials Tip Off Reporters About Raids on Suspect Charities
On December 3, 2001, New York Times reporter Judith Miller telephones officials with the Holy Land Foundation charity in Texas and asks them to comment about what she says is a government raid on the charity planned for the next day. Then in a December 4, 2001, New York Times article, Miller writes that President Bush is about to announce that the US is freezing the assets of Holy Land and two other financial groups, all for supporting Hamas. US officials will later argue that Miller’s phone call and article “increased the likelihood that the foundation destroyed or hid records before a hastily organized raid by agents that day.” Later in the month, a similar incident occurs. On December 13, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon telephones officials at the Global Relief Foundation in Illinois and asks them to comment about an imminent government crackdown on that charity. The FBI learns that some Global Relief employees may be destroying documents. US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had been investigating the charities. He had been wiretapping Global Relief and another charity in hopes of learning evidence of criminal activity, but after the leak he changes plans and carries out a hastily arranged raid on the charity the next day (see December 14, 2001). Fitzgerald later seeks records from the New York Times to find out who in the Bush administration leaked information about the upcoming raids to Miller and Shenon. However, in 2005 Fitzgerald will lose the case. It is still not known who leaked the information to the New York Times nor what their motives were. Ironically, Fitzgerald will succeed in forcing Miller to reveal information about her sources in another extremely similar legal case in 2005 involving the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. [New York Times, 12/4/2001; New York Times, 12/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2004; Washington Post, 2/25/2005] The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in addition to the above cases, “press leaks plagued almost every [raid on Muslim charities] that took place in the United States” after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/10/2004]
December 14, 2001: Two US-Based Charities Are Shut Down for Links to Al-Qaeda and Other Militant Groups
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 pdf file] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 pdf file] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
Before November 27, 2002: Lee Hamilton Considered for Vice Chairmanship of 9/11 Commission, but Republican Ties Count against Him
Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton is considered by his party for the position of vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but does not get the appointment, which goes to former Senator George Mitchell (see November 27, 2002). Hamilton, who is nonetheless appointed to the Commission as an ordinary member, is rejected as vice chairman by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats because he is seen as too soft on Republicans—he lacks “a taste for partisan fights,” and seems “to always to assume the best about people, Republicans included.” He is also friends with two of the investigation’s targets, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who he calls “Dick” and “Don,” and Cheney’s White House counsel, David Addington. He got to know Cheney during the Iran-Contra investigation, when Cheney was the ranking Republican on the committee and Hamilton failed to distinguish himself (see Mid-1980s), as he did over the “October Surprise” affair (see 1992-January 1993). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “While [Hamilton] might disagree with Cheney and Rumsfeld on policy, Hamilton trusted both men always to tell the truth.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 32-3] However, Mitchell will subsequently resign and Hamilton will replace him as vice chairman (see December 11, 2002).
Late 2002-July 2004: 9/11 Commission Initially Pays Little Attention to NSA Material
The 9/11 Commission initially pays very little attention to material from the NSA about al-Qaeda, as it is focusing on the CIA, FBI, and other agencies. Colonel Lorry Fenner, a former air force intelligence officer assigned to the commission’s team reviewing the structure of the intelligence community, finds this surprising. Fenner, who had previously worked closely with the NSA, is “dumfounded” when she learns nobody from the commission is making the short trip to the NSA to review its material on 9/11. The NSA tracked al-Qaeda communications for a long time before 9/11, including numerous calls between the hijackers and other al-Qaeda operatives (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), but the 9/11 Commission apparently does not realize or seem to care how important the material is. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[F]or the Commission’s staff, [the NSA’s Maryland headquarters at] Fort Meade might as well have been Kabul, it seemed so distant.” One reason is that some people at the commission do not really understand what the NSA does, and also, according to Shenon, “[For executive director Philip] Zelikow and other staff on the commission, it was just more interesting—sexier—to concentrate on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 155-6]
After December 16, 2002: 9/11 Commission Chairman Gives Vice Chairman Additional Power
The first time 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat noted for his bipartisanship (see 1992-January 1993, Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004), meet after their appointment to the commission, Kean offers Hamilton extra powers in the investigation. In effect, Kean and Hamilton would be co-chairmen of the inquiry, rather than chairman and vice chairman. Author Philip Shenon will call this a “remarkable gesture,” as it gives Hamilton an equal say in the hiring and structure of the investigation. Kean also proposes that the two of them should be “joined at the hip,” and that they should always appear in public together, especially on television. Hamilton agrees, thinking this will go some way to make up for their lack of stature in Washington in comparison with the two men they replaced on the commission, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 68]
2003: 9/11 Commissioner Becomes Involved in Fraud Scandal, Has Little Time for Commission
Republican 9/11 Commissioner Jim Thompson becomes involved in a scandal surrounding the Canadian media tycoon Conrad Black. Black is accused by shareholders and then the US Justice Department of appropriating money—tens of millions of dollars—that should have gone to shareholders for his own use, and of spending it on parties, private jets, and luxury homes. Thompson gets involved in the scandal because he was a director of Black’s company, Hollinger International, and also the chairman of the audit committee there, meaning that Thompson’s role is of great interest to prosecutors. Thompson spends a lot of time trying to extricate himself from the scandal and, according to author Philip Shenon, he “all but disappear[s] from the commission during the first year of the investigation.” This has a bad effect on the commission’s relations with Republicans in the House of Representatives, as Thompson is supposed to function as an unofficial liaison to them. As House Republicans have nobody on the commission who talks to them, they begin to attack it, in particular in April 2004 (see April 13-April 29, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 91-92]
Shortly Before January 27, 2003: 9/11 Commission Hires Philip Zelikow as Executive Director Despite His Links to National Security Adviser Rice
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]
January 27, 2003: Richard Clarke Amazed at Zelikow’s Hiring by 9/11 Commission, Thinks ‘The Fix Is In’
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]
Around February 2003: 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Assumes Close Control of Key Commission Team
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.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 86-87]
(February-April 2003): 9/11 Commissioners Rarely Visit Commission’s Offices, Giving Executive Director Zelikow More Power
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]
Around February 2003: 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Assumes Responsibility for Hiring Commission’s Staff
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]
March 2003: 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Tries to Prevent Staff Talking Directly to Commissioners
The 9/11 Commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow issues a five-page memo, entitled “What Do I Do Now?”, telling newly hired staff how to go about their jobs on the commission. The most controversial part of the memo prevents staffers from returning calls from commissioners: “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.”
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.
Rest of Memo - Other rules in the memo include:
- Commission staff should not disclose the exact location of the commission’s offices for security reasons;
- Staffers should never talk to reporters about the commission’s work, because “there are no innocent conversations with reporters.” Zelikow or his deputy should be notified of such calls. A breach of this rule can get a staffer fired; and
- All staffers have to prepare a confidential memo describing potential conflicts of interest. Shenon will comment, “Staff members who knew some of Zelikow’s own conflicts of interest found it amusing that he was so worried about theirs.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 83-85]
March 2003-July 2004: White House Has Better Relationship with 9/11 Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman than Republican Chairman
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. 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).
March 31, 2003: 9/11 Commission Says It Will Not ‘Point Fingers,’ Family Members Are Disappointed
After his opening comments on the first day of the 9/11 Commission’s hearings, 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 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]
Before April 24, 2003: 9/11 Commission Executive Director Zelikow Cuts off Commissioners’ Access to Congressional Inquiry Files
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow strikes a deal with the Justice Department to cut the 9/11 Commission’s access to files compiled by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see July 24, 2003) until the White House is able to review them. However, he keeps the agreement secret from the commissioners and, when Commissioner Tim Roemer, who had actually sat on the Congressional Inquiry and already seen the material, goes to Capitol Hill to read the files on April 24, he is turned away. Roemer is furious and asks: “Why is our executive director making secret deals with the Justice Department and the White House? He is supposed to be working for us.” [Associated Press, 4/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 90] He adds, “No entity, individual, or organization should sift through or filter our access to material.” [Associated Press, 4/30/2003] Author Philip Shenon will comment, “Roemer believed, correctly, that it was a sign of much larger struggles to come with Zelikow.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 90]
July 9, 2003: ’Jersey Girls’ Lambast Zelikow over Author’s Testimony Linking 9/11 to Iraqi Government
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 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]
July 9, 2003: Mylroie Testifies Before 9/11 Commission, Airs Theories of Connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda
The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
- ‘Political Theater’ - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
- Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
Early December 2003: 9/11 Commission Chair Kean Shocked to Discover Lack of Information in Presidential Daily Briefings
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).
January 2004: Staffers Appalled at Zelikow’s Rewrite of 9/11 Commission Statement to Imply Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda
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]
January 2004: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Backs Down on Allegations of Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda
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]
Before January 22, 2004: CIA Director Tenet Spends Much Time Reading Material in Preparation for Interviews with 9/11 Commission, Focuses on Surveillance of Malaysia Meeting
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).
January 22, 2004: CIA Director Tenet’s Memory Losses Alarm 9/11 Commission
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
- “I Don’t Recall” - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
- “We Just Didn’t Believe Him” - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
- CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257-260]
May-June 2004: Zelikow Has Portions of 9/11 Commission Report Rewritten to Be More Favorable to National Security Adviser Rice
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow tells the staff team working on the Bush administration’s response to terrorist threats in the summer of 2001 that their drafts must be rewritten to cast National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a better light. Rice’s testimony about the administration’s prioritising of terrorism has been contradicted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who said that al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the White House. The commission staffers think that Clarke is telling the truth, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, Clarke had left a “vast documentary record” about the White House’s inattention to terrorism. Clarke’s account is also corroborated by other National Security Council (NSC) members, the CIA, and the State Department.
- Zelikow’s Reaction - However, Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), tells the staffers their version is “too Clarke-centric” and demands “balance.” Shenon will comment: “He never said so explicitly, but Zelikow made clear to [the staffers] that the commission’s final report should balance out every statement of Clarke’s with a statement from Rice. The team should leave out any judgment on which of them was telling the truth.”
- Support from Commission Lawyer - Zelikow is supported to a point in this dispute by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus thinks that the staffers are making Clarke into a “superhero,” and that there were some “limitations and flaws” in his performance. Marcus also sees that the staff’s suspicions of Zelikow and his ties to Rice are no longer hidden, but will later say: “In a sense they overreacted to Philip because they were so worried about him they pushed and pushed and pushed, and sometimes they were wrong.”
- Staffer Regrets Not Resigning Earlier - One of the key staffers involved in the dispute, Warren Bass, had previously considered resigning from the commission due to what he perceived as Zelikow’s favoring of Rice. At this point he regrets not resigning earlier, but does not do so now. Bass and his colleagues merely console themselves with the hope that the public will read between the lines and work out that Clarke is telling the truth and Rice is not.
- “Tortured Passages” - Shenon will comment: “[T]he results of the team’s work were some of the most tortured passages in the final report, especially in the description of the performance of the NSA in the first months of the Bush presidency. It was written almost as a point, counterpoint—Clarke says this, Rice says the opposite—with no conclusion about what the truth finally was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 394-396]
Early June 2004: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Accepts Lack of Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda
Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
April 2005: Former Clinton National Security Adviser Receives ‘Extraordinarily Lenient’ Sentence for Document Theft
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, pleads guilty to stealing copies of a memo from the National Archives. Berger took the papers because he thought they might be used against him, but was caught by the archives staff (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). He pleads guilty to the misdemeanor of “unauthorized removal and retention of classified material” and to mishandling classified documents. Although Berger could be sent to prison for a year, the Justice Department only asks for a $10,000 fine, and does not even request that he be stripped of his security clearance. The judge rejects this as too lenient, imposes a $50,000 fine, and orders Berger to give up his security clearance for three years. Berger says: “My actions… were wrong. They were foolish, I deeply regret them.… I let considerations of personal convenience override clear rules of handling classified material.” Author Philip Shenon will write, “It is widely believed in Washington legal circles that [Berger’s lawyer] got his client an extraordinarily lenient deal from the Justice Department.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 414, 425]
February 4, 2008: Seattle Post-Intelligencer Calls for New 9/11 Inquiry
The editorial board of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer calls for a new inquiry into 9/11, as it believes the 9/11 Commission’s investigation may have been compromised. The call is due to a new book by New York Times journalist Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission. The book highlights the close relationship between 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and the White House, in particular National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, as well as an attempt he made to connect Iraq to al-Qaeda. The Post-Intelligencer writes of Zelikow that “[s]omeone with an apparent deference for the White House should not have been trusted with such a valued task.” It comments, “If bulletproof, the book prompts us to add one more thing to our to-do list for the next administration: Pressure it to charge a panel of independent experts to write a real, nonpartisan report on the attacks.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/4/2008]