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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why We Need a New 9/11 Commission

Veers off a little after this excerpt, but a good op-ed piece overall:

9/11 is unquestionably the most important event in American history since December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor. The magnitude of its impact on America and the world cannot be overstated. The terrible acts of 9/11 and the events leading up to them deserve a thorough and unimpeachable investigation to learn the facts. And if some rogue elements within the U.S. government were complicit in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, it is critical that these elements be exposed and removed from power. A new commission is clearly called for because the investigation and report by the 9/11 Commission were badly flawed, as will be discussed below.

The most important tools of any criminal investigators are the accounts of the eyewitnesses and first responders. The first thing the police do at an accident scene is to gather all witness accounts and within a week the insurance companies are also telephoning the witnesses to take their testimony. Many New York City firemen who were eyewitnesses are calling the Commission's report a cover-up, and victims' family organizations are saying the same thing.

If it had been a comprehensive and thorough scientific investigation it would have looked like the investigation that followed the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Although there may remain minor questions concerning some of the peripheral conclusions, the report on the Columbia accident on the whole stands without major dispute within the scientific community. Contrast this with the 9/11 Commission report, which sidestepped critical questions, and the FEMA 9/11 report and its major inconsistencies.

Flaws in the Commission's Investigation

Conflicts of Interest in the Commission

One important reason for asking for a new truly independent commission is because of the conflicts of interest of the 9/11 Commission members and staff, particularly Philip Zelikow, Executive Director of the Commission. The 9/11 Family Steering Committee came to the conclusion that each of the commission members was placed on the commission to protect specific interests. For example, Jim Thompson's and Slade Gorton's law firms represented the airlines. Jamie Gorelick was on the board of Schlumberger, a large defense contracting company and had also served on a CIA advisory panel. John Lehman owned several companies that provided military components to defense contractors or directly to the government.

But the most profound conflict of interest, one that compromised the breadth and integrity of the commission's investigation, was in the executive staff director, Philip Zelikow. He was a close colleague of Condoleezza Rice, and at the specific request of Rice had served on the Bush administration's transition team. This meant that as the Clinton administration was leaving office and the Bush Administration was coming into office, it was Zelikow's job to facilitate that transition. Because two of Zelikow's specialties are national security and terrorism, he was briefed about al Qaeda and bin Laden by outgoing National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, and CIA Director George Tenet. These briefings took place from late 2000 through early 2001. Zelikow's job was to take that information and convey it to the Bush national security team. How could Zelikow direct an investigation whose mandate was at least in part to investigate the role Zelikow himself played in the transition time between the Clinton and Bush administrations-a transition that went to the heart of why the Bush administration underestimated or ignored the threat posed by al Qaeda and bin Laden?

While the commissioners were the public face of the Commission, the real work was carried out behind the scenes by the staff-and there were about eighty staff members who were divided up into several key areas. Zelikow was in charge of those eighty staffers and the entire course of the investigation. He was the Commission's gatekeeper--all information that ended up in the final report was there only because Zelikow thought it should be there. In essence, the story told by the 9/11 Commission became the story that Zelikow wanted to tell.

Zelikow, as Executive Director, was one of only two people from the Commission to be given primary access to the executive branch documents. As such, he received all the administration's documents relating to al Qaeda and 9/11. Zelikow provided a limited and censored group of documents to the commissioners, but only in a secure location. Commissioners could take handwritten notes about these documents, but these notes could not be removed from the classified location nor used in writing the Commission's final report.

Zelikow designed the investigation so that staff was divided into individual teams, each team addressing one specific part of the investigation. Thus, no one segment of the staff was seeing the whole picture. The official excuse for 9/11 is that "nobody connected the dots," and yet Zelikow set up the Commission's own investigation so that no single investigator could feasibly "connect the dots" of the failure that occurred on 9/11.

The other person given primary access to the administration's documents was Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who ironically was also interviewed by the Commission as a witness regarding her former position as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. The Family Steering Committee issued a press release indicating their total dismay over the conflicts of interest exhibited by Zelikow and Gorelick.

We should note here that Philip Zelikow was the primary author of the Administration's 2002 version of the National Security Strategy (generally known as NSS 2002), which turned the concept of 'preventive-preemptive warfare' into official American policy. The NSS 2000 said, among other things, "The events of September 11, 2001, . . .opened vast, new opportunities." Zelikow apparently believed that 9/11 had turned out to be a "good" thing. Then he wouldn't be inclined during the investigation to focus on any facts that would point the finger at specific federal officials, as this might spoil those "opportunities."

Investigation and Questioning by Commission Not Tough Enough

By late autumn of 2003, it became apparent to the Family Steering Committee that the questioning of the hearings was not tough enough and that the hearings were not identifying specific problems and holding people accountable. Witnesses would contradict their prior testimony and the Commission would fail to ask them why. This happened, for example, when Jane Garvey director of the FAA testified before the Commission. When she first appeared before the Commission, she laid out a timeline that described when the FAA knew the airplanes on 9/11 were confirmed to be hijacked. This is important because none of the protocols in place for hijackings were followed on 9/11 and none of the failures were explained. When she was invited back for a second time, she submitted a new timeline, and the commissioners never pressed for a specific answer as to why Garvey had changed her story.

When Kristen Breitweiser of the Family Steering Committee asked a commissioner why more pointed questions weren't being asked of the witnesses, she was told: "It's not the Washington way."

Investigation Failed to Address Most of the Important Questions

The Family Steering Committee (FSC) has reviewed the 9/11 Commission Report in depth and compared it to the list of questions they had presented to the Commission over the course of its work. As a result of this review, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie van Auken of the FSC have issued a 'report card' on the Commission's work entitled, FSC Questions to the 9/11 Commission with Ratings of its Performance in Providing Answers, which lists each question and the rating they applied to each. This document can be downloaded from the following site:

Their report card showed that of the major questions the FSC asked the Commission to pursue as they questioned officials, only 10% were satisfactorily answered, while 25% were inadequately answered and 65% were generally ignored or omitted from the report.

A petition to Congress signed by 25 military, intelligence and security veterans states in part, "Omission is one of the major flaws in the Commission's report. We are aware of significant issues and cases that were duly reported to the Commission by those of us with direct knowledge, but somehow escaped attention. The omission of such serious and applicable issues and information by itself renders the report flawed, and casts doubt on the validity of many of its recommendations."

Many observers, such as Paul Hellyer former Minister of National Defense of Canada, believe the inquiry carried out by the 9/11 Commission was very shallow and superficial, and that the inquiries should have been undertaken in much greater depth.

Specific Omissions and Contradictions in the 9/11 Commission Report

1. Failure to even mention the Able Danger program of the Department of Defense (DOD). Intelligence officers working in the Able Danger program allegedly identified Mohammed Atta and at least two other terrorists a year or more before 9/11. When they tried to transfer that information to the FBI they were denied. Even the most junior investigator would immediately know that the name and photo ID of Mohammed Atta in 2000 would be precisely the kind of tactical intelligence the FBI has many times employed to prevent attacks and arrest terrorists, yet the 9/11 Commission inexplicably concluded Able Danger was historically insignificant. The 9/11 Commission staff refused to perform any in-depth review or investigate the issues relative to Able Danger that were presented to them. They effectively dismissed the importance of Able Danger based on what many believe was their preconceived conclusion on the 9/11 story they wished to tell.

2. Failure to address serious intelligence issues. For example, Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator and a witness to the Commission, made the commissioners aware of purposeful mistranslations and late translations of critical documents leading up to 9/11. But the Commission did not pursue this. Thus, one must assume that other serious issues were in the same manner omitted from the report. These omissions cast doubt on the validity of the report and therefore on its conclusions and recommendations....