By Andrew Kreig
Members of 9/11 Commission last week leveraged the 10th anniversary of their report to announce a dozen recommendations focused primarily on fanning fears of foreign terrorism. The former commissioners urged strong spending on counter-terrorism intelligence and far fewer congressional oversight committees.
News coverage arising from the announcement and related congressional testimony avoided mysteries and ongoing disputes.
For example, former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, in Re-Open the 9/11 Investigation Now, and former 9/11 Commissioner Max Cleland, who left the commission before its final report in 2004, have each called for renewed formal investigations of 9/11. Their perspectives were almost entirely missing from the forum and mainstream news coverage.
“The fix is in,” former Bush Administration counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke recalled telling a White House colleague in early 2003.
Clarke is best known for apologizing to 9/11 families and other Americans for the tragedy to begin his 2004 testimony before the Commission. He told a biographer he made the “fix” remark upon hearing news that the 9/11 Commission had hired as its executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow, part of the Bush administration transition team, was a close ally of the administration and a fierce opponent of Clarke, a National Security Council staffer who had unsuccessfully warned about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks.
Such talk was not part of last week’s forum convened July 22 by the Bipartisan Policy Center in downtown Washington, DC.
“Many Americans,” they said, “think that the terrorist threat is waning — that, as a country, we can begin turning back to other concerns. They are wrong. The threat remains grave and the trend lines in many parts of the world are pointing in the wrong direction.”
The speakers said the public should fear terrorism and support vigorous counter-terrorism measures. A photo above via Creative Commons portrays the attack on New York’s World Trade Center.
Counter-terrorism contractors and their allies in government, Wall Street and the media fear budget cutbacks in an era of austerity, especially when relatively few foreign terrorism threats have been discovered. Many of plots exposed have revealed deep involvement by undercover federal agents pretending to support a plot. That evidence could mean that counter-terrorism investments are working — or conversely that few plots exist aside from those observed if not fostered by agents until the time of arrest.
This column explores the financial and career incentives that shaped the 9/11 Commission’s work and shows that an effort for consensus has taken the commission far away from its core responsibility to determine why the 9/11 tragedy occurred. This column is organized in the following manner:
- This Week’s News
- A Necessary Flashback
- The Short-Lived ‘Kissinger Commission’
- Unfinished Business
- The Final Word?
- Links To Sources
As a featured segment in the forum, the Obama Administration’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged the audience — including those watching via five video crews — to fight for strong spending against foreign terrorists. My photo above shows Clapper from a vantage point a few feet from the podium. Clapper has headed White House intelligence operations for nearly four years.
Clapper’s message was reiterated by a bipartisan solid front that included eight of the 10 former commission members, and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, right. McCaul is a Republican representing Texans in the 10th district that includes Austin.
The positioning is a rare achievement in Washington these days. Partisan fights are stagnating action through much of the capital. As a finale to the forum, commission leaders shared their tips for success.
Left unspoken is how money, power and media savvy influence create such Washington outcomes.
The commission’s leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, and most commission members have strong ties to the intelligence community — and to the federal contractors, Wall Street financial houses and other institutions that prosper from counter-terrorism spending and related efforts. Naturally, the beneficiaries cycle back part of their revenue from taxpayers to the most supportive lawmakers, thought leaders, and their organizations.
Thus, the former commissioners’ recommendations raise the possibility of self-interest along with civic service. Furthermore, because the commission abstains from the challenging task of addressing lingering mysteries surrounding the 9/11 tragedy the question remains whether any other group in congress or elsewhere dares seek answers.
The drama and mystery of these issues was captured in part, for example, by a photo showing White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informing the president at 9:04 a.m. that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and “America is under attack.”
At the time, Bush and several of his top aides including Karl Rove were in a second-grade classroom in Florida where the president was reading the children’s story “My Pet Goat” while military personnel were scrambling defenses against three other hijacked planes. However, a presidential order was and is required to shoot down civilian aircraft.
The details in the investigation’s history have been forgotten for the most part, but are worth recalling.
President Bush and his aides opposed the 9/11 probe, attempted to stack it with loyalists, and vigorously fought its requests for information both from White House staff and from relevant agencies.
In response, commission members maintained a near-unanimous public front of accommodation for the most part. These days, the inside story regarding conflicts receives scant attention. Below, we start with the news and move to the background.
This Week’s News
The former commissioners unveiled their new findings at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the newspaper industry located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW halfway between the White House and the Capitol. In total, eight of the ten 9/11 Commission members convened for the forum, which was entitled, “Ten Years Later.”
As noted above, one major theme was to warn against “counter-terrorism fatigue” among the American people.
Also, congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is “dysfunctional,” said Hamilton, a former House Intelligence Committee chairman. He noted that 92 committees and subcommittees oversee the department. “That, of course, is completely unacceptable.”
“While Congress often complains about ‘waste, fraud and abuse,’ it seems to be complicit in squandering DHS resources here,” Kean and Hamilton wrote in the new report.“I have testified about 20 times before Congress in the past four or five years,” Kean told Politico in an interview. “It takes time to prepare testimony, it takes all morning to give it, and if you figure the secretary and his top deputies have to appear before these 90 or so committees, you can understand how much time it takes, and you can understand how it distracts them.”
Also, they recommended also disclosure of largely unspecified, still-secret documents. One controversial cache is a sensitive 28-page section about the Saudi Arabia government’s role in providing assistance to hijackers.
The commission was meagerly funded with just $3 million, and ended most of its formal operations after its report a decade ago.
The commission’s leaders began brainstorming last fall on how they could continue to contribute. Their solution? A dozen forward-looking reform recommendations, which are contained at the end of their new report. Commissioners said they could be most effective making recommendations about the future, not looking backward at causes of the attackThe Bipartisan Policy Center is a think tank founded by leaders of the two major parties. It organized this week’s conference with the assistance of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Attendance was about 120, including speakers, staff, reporters, analysts, and family members of 9/11 victims.
Presiding was Commission Chairman Kean, a Republican New Jersey governor from 1982 to 1990 who led as moderate enjoying great popularity. The photo shows Kean at left with Vice Chairman Hamilton, a Democratic congressman representing southern Indiana for 34 years until 1999.
Kean and Hamilton co-chair the Center’s Homeland Security Project.
Kean is a blue-blood descendant of New Jersey’s first governor. After his two terms as governor he served as president of Drew University from 1990 to 2005.
Hamilton was president of the Woodrow Wilson Center after his congressional work, and now directs a center for congressional study at the University of Indiana, where he starred as a basketball player during his student years.
Both Kean and Hamilton have held numerous posts related to civic leadership, which often encompasses less obviously intelligence, foreign affairs and business. Kean, for example, has been a board member of the government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, and many corporate boards. Also, Kean was a paid consultant and executive co-producer for a controversial ABC two-part series in September 2006, “The Path To 9/11.”
The show included several fabricated scenes suspected of inclusion to affect the then-forthcoming 2006 mid-term elections and a longer-term historical view. Democrats alleged that scenes falsely blamed parts of the tragedy on Democrats, whereas creators said they merely used the literary license commonplace in films. The show was released in advance primarily to ultra-conservative radio hosts who touted it as authoritative despite requests also from mainstream and politically neutral reviewers.
ABC’s 9/11 project cost $40 million, an extraordinary sum raising many questions beyond Kean’s involvement and going to the project’s larger purpose since $40 million could not be recouped by advertising.
The show was developed as a special project outside of the news division at the broadcast network, which is owned by the Disney Corp. Disney, like the owners of all major networks, faces heavy federal regulation, and like most also has the opportunity via affiliates for lucrative government contracts in such fields as defense.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at the time was Kevin Martin, who had led the Bush-Cheney Florida vote recount team after the 2000 election. Martin, shown in a file photo, enjoyed loyal support on the five-person commission from Robert McDowell, another graduate of the Florida vote recount team that helped create the Bush-Cheney presidency.
Martin’s wife, Catherine Martin, was White House communications director first for Vice President Dick Cheney and later for President Bush.
In sum, her White House job was to influence the communications industry, as I have written in my book Presidential Puppetry, whereas her husband’s job was to regulate that same industry.
Washington lobbyists know about such power relationships and either leverage them to benefit clients, or at the minimum advise clients to beware of potentially harmful situations. Lobbyists, lawyers, think tanks and other influence peddlers do not maintain elaborate operations in the city just so their personnel can visit the Washington Monument.
Yet almost no one outside of the capital would know such things without retain vigilant operatives. How could the ordinary person connect the dots? Not easily when the media itself and captive members of congress are supposed to be reporting on such relationships.
In congress, one of Lee Hamilton’s most controversial appointive posts was on the Iran-Contra investigative team in the late 1980s. At the outset, Hamilton ruled out probing President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush. Hamilton advocated instead focusing on lower level personnel, including three White House officials: Admiral John Poindexter, his aide Lt. Col Oliver North, and Gen. Richard Secord. Bush won the presidency in 1988, and appointed Justice Department personnel who halted the prosecution of the three after a court overturned their convictions.
Hamilton’s official biography at the University of Indiana congressional center omits his Iran-Contra post, which some regard as a major blot on his career and part of a disturbing pattern.
Critics say that Hamilton’s oversight record in four major investigations — including the “October Surprise” allegations regarding claims that Republicans secretly extended Iran hostage negotiations in 1980 to help swing the presidency to Ronald Reagan — has always been to reject the possibility of high-level wrongdoing.
The July 22 forum lasted from 9 a.m. to just after 2 p.m. The agenda was timed to the minute, a rarity in the nation’s capital. The speakers were eloquent, personable and well-credentialed. As a stellar example of how Washington works, the entire program is worth watching on C-SPAN or elsewhere no matter what one’s views.
Speakers, each with impressive titles at high levels in Washington, made themselves available to all those in the audience, including those not able to ask questions publicly when question periods expired. Those attending could talk to nearly anyone, at least briefly, aside from Clapper, who understandably said he had to rush to other meetings because of multiple crisis situations occurring around the world.
A Who’s Who of recent intelligence and law enforcement officials at the highest levels helped the former commissioners in their latest research. The commissioners cited with thanks more than a score of such officials, as well as such other enabling figures as Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet and Zelikow, the former 9/11 Commission executive director.
The commission’s legacy? “The first important thing that’s been done in this town in a long, long time,” responded Kean. Hamilton added that a secret to their success was Kean’s willingness to proceed in a non-partisan manner.
A Necessary Flashback
Nearly all mainstream news accounts of this week’s events omit reference to the recent history below. The reasons doubtless include space constraints, timidity and an aversion to controversy.
Events such as the 9/11 forum are designed to shape news coverage, in this case a positive message that, as one speaker said, major institutions from the Brookings Institute on the left to the Heritage Foundation on the right essentially agree with the 9/11 commission’s themes. Omitted from that analysis is the reality that major Washington think tanks of whatever description tend to be well-funded advocacy bodies that do not necessarily represent or discuss all relevant facts or points of view.
For example, Brookings senior fellow Robert Kagan, shown in a file photo, describes himself as a “liberal interventionist.” But he was a pioneer during the 1990s in advocating U.S. war against Iraq, a policy that reached fruition in the aftermath of 9/11 even though Iraq had no known role in the attack and has no resulted in more than a millions deaths and a foreign policy disaster for the United States.
For such reasons, Kagan is regarded by others as one of the most influential of the nation’s neo-conservatives as he and his allies provide pivotal thought leadership support in academia and the media for U.S.-orchestrated revolutions and war policies that were brought to fruition in the Bush-Cheney administration. The Obama team has continued the policy goals for the most part, albeit with far fewer ground troops and other spending.
Kagan’s wife, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Victoria Nuland, is arguably the key Obama official in the Ukraine crisis. A former high-ranking Bush-Cheney aide, the career diplomat implements similar bipartisan interventionist policies as those advocated by her husband. She posed at right with several members of the new leadership of the country. They include Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at far right, the “Yats” whose installation Nuland helped orchestrate early last February as documented in Top U.S. Diplomat Caught On Tape In Profane Plot. His surprise resignation this week underscores the volatile that can occur even with bipartisan policies by the United States.
To recall the history of the 9/11 Commission’s creation:
Advocacy by the 9/11 Families Steering Committee, which is defunct, led to the creation of the 9/11 Commission over the objections of the Bush Administration and many members of congress who quietly worried about losing turf even as they more publicly objected to an investigation of intelligence and military topics during the ramp-up of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
But the family members, led in part by several New Jersey widows of World Trade Center victims, successfully pressured for an in-depth probe to succeed the Joint Intelligence Inquiry Committee (JICI). Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham of Florida co-chaired JICI with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican who had been a career CIA officer.
The JICI was required to cease operations after its hasty and underfunded report in November 2003. Graham has since argued that their investigation was crippled by artificial deadlines and research handicaps, and should be reconstituted in some format to provide the public with the full story of 9/11. Goss became CIA director for a brief and troubled tenure.
The Short-Lived ‘Kissinger Commission’
To recap: the commission was created because of public pressure led by 9/11 families, including the widows known as The Jersey Girls.
As a fallback to blocking a probe, President Bush nominated in late 2002 GOP former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as the first chairman.Kissinger, a longtime operative of the Rockefeller family and other powerful Wall Street interests, eagerly undertook his duties on what was soon called “The Kissinger Commission.” Kissinger, 79, a Nobel Peace Prize-winner among his many other accolades, described the commission responsibility as his greatest honor.But a dozen 9/11 family members visited him in the New York office of Kissinger Associates. Their commitment enabled them to resist his considerable credentials and charm, according to the authoritative account by New York Times investigative reporter Philip Shenon, author of The Commission.Kissinger spilled his coffee — possibly to buy time to think — when widow Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick, New Jersey, bluntly cut through his prevarications on conflict of interest and asked whether his firm had clients from Saudi Arabia. The widows ignored Kissinger’s plea for privacy. Instead, they insisted on inspecting his client list themselves to check for potential conflicts of interest.
Kissinger resigned the next day.
Withdrawing for similar reasons was a trusted establishment Democratic counterpart, George Mitchell, a former Senate Majority Leader, federal judge and ambassador.
The commission limped forward with limited powers and finances.In the fall of 2003, some commissioners were astonished to learn, according to the Shenon account, of remarkable conflicts of interest involving the executive director, Zelikow. A former White House national security aide, Zelikow was a University of Virginia-based presidential historian with a background also in law and national security.
It came out that Zelikow had been also a member of the Bush-Cheney Transition Team in 2000 and a close friend of Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, with whom he had worked in George H.W. Bush White House.
Also, Zelikow had co-authored a book with Rice, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft (1995), an academic study of the politics of reunification.
The commission would interview Rice, shown in her official photo, for just three hours in ground rules imposed by the Bush White House. Rice was a central witness because of allegations that she and others in his administration had ignored specific warnings about terrorists for months before the attack occurred.
Another major conflict for Zelikow was that he helped lead the Bush administration’s transition team demotion of Richard Clarke, the former anti-terrorism czar for both Presidents Bush and Clinton and the government’s leading advocate before 9/11 of focusing on the dangers of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The commission quietly resolved the issues by asking Zelikow to recuse from any investigating the National Security Council’s transition from the Clinton to Bush administrations, which Zelikow had helped manage.
This was a difficult situation in view of Zelikow’s obsessive control previously over all elements of staff work. Also, he had close contacts with such vital Bush aides as Rice and Karl Rove. Clarke would later expose the conflicts in his 2003 memoir, Against All Enemies, which was launched with his powerful denunciation of Rice and her colleagues on CBS “60 Minutes.”
Underscoring the depth of the conflict in another way, Zelikow (shown in a file photo) worked for Rice from 2005 to 2007 as counselor after she became Secretary of State Zelikow.
Zelikow and 9/11 Commission leaders disputed (as amplified below) Shenon’s claim that Zelikow’s behavior and connections hurt the commission’s work. Zelikow has returned to the University of Virginia, where he is a professor and associate dean of the arts and sciences graduate school. Also, he advises the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s program in global development and is a member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.
For current purposes, the Zelikow controversy is best understood as yet another DC career “success story” whereby bright front men with long records of government posts advance their careers by providing the appearance of oversight.
More generally, the commission’s consensus decision-making was fostered by its largely homogenous composition. All but one of the members were white men.
Every commissioner came from the top levels of politics and law. No outsiders from politics, such as 9/11 family members, were included on the commission despite some of their hopes that one would win appointment. Kissinger’s appointment should have set off major alarm bells everywhere, not just among the families.
But the commission did maintain outreach with the families. Also, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Director of Homeland Security is 9/11 family member Carrie Lemack, who lost her father in the attack. The commissioners cited her as instrumental in their work, and this week she spoke an eloquent introduction to the forum’s proceedings.
The 9/11 Commission faced its own monumental struggles in obtaining relevant testimony under oath. However, the members were nearly all cut from the same mold of centrist politicians and high-level lawyers, evenly divided between the corporate-friendly wings of the Republican and Democratic parties.
The one outwardly contentious member, former Georgia Senator Max Cleland, protested in late 2003 that Bush administration efforts to block the commission’s investigation were “disgusting.” Cleland, a Democrat, was a triple amputee during the Vietnam War because of a battlefield grenade explosion.
Despite Cleland’s ordeal and brave struggle to build a successful career, he lost re-election in 2002 because of a Rove-orchestrated Republican smear campaign suggesting that Cleland was unpatriotic. The loss was especially difficult because Cleland had prided himself on living only on his Senate salary, and thus needed a job. In 2009, Cleland would entitle his memoir, Heart of a Patriot – How I Found The Courage To Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed, and Karl Rove.
Before that, however, Cleland demanded on the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that the commission subpoena from the Bush administration those 9/11 documents necessary for a thorough inquiry.
His stance created a serious public relations problem for Bush and certain other commissioners. Most of the commissioners, either personally or via their law firms and other employers, had strong ties to the intelligence agencies and their well-financed corporate contractors, law firms and other beneficiaries of funding. This is what is now known as the Military Intelligence Complex, much-fattened from national security dollars from what President Eisenhower had denounced as the Military Industry Complex).
The problem was solved when Cleland, who needed a job, received Democratic Senate support for a Bush appointment to the board of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Some advocated for a 9/11 family member or other non-traditional replacement for Cleland. Leaders kept the group and its mission unified by appointing former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, another Vietnam War who had lost a leg. Kerry, by then president of the New School for Social Research in New York, was an outspoken supporter of the Bush-advocated invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Multiple Bush Executive Branch agencies stonewalled the commission, which did not even take testimony under oath at the beginning of its inquiry.
Wrapping up, the commission issued a report on July 22, 2004 that found systematic intelligence failure. The commission avoided assigning blame. Career reprisal apparently was limited to one executive, an Federal Aviation Administration official, who was permitted to resign.
The Final Word?
Kean and Hamilton co-authored Wthout Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission, published in 2006 and a best-seller. Kirkus Reviews assessed it as follows, “A valuable resource for those needing proof that the government machine could use a good overhaul.” Kirkus amplified as follows:
“We were set up to fail,” Kean and Hamilton candidly remark; the 9/11 committee was given far too broad a mandate, too tight a deadline and too small a budget to do the job. It was also hampered by partisan politics from the start; the Republicans wanted the committee to disband well before the 2004 presidential election, and in all events, the committee was constituted in such a way to prevent subpoenas from reaching inside the White House. Still, built-in flaws and all, the committee set about doing its work as best it could, and it was surprised to discover the depth of detail that 9/11 families commanded.”
The book was drafted in significant part by Benjamin Rhodes, who began his high-profile career working for Republican New York Mayor City Rudolph Giuliani. Rhodes went on to become deputy national security advisor for President Obama under Clapper.
The Rhodes career helps illustrate the bipartisan consensus pervading Washington and the media on intelligence issues among those who receive mainstream news coverage. Rhodes, whose brother David is president of CBS News, is portrayed at left in a White House photo with the president earlier this year.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius this month described Rhodes as “Obama’s speechwriter, deputy national security adviser and the closest thing he has to a chief strategist.”
More generally, the Kean and Hamilton book, this week’s forum and congressional testimony all continue to foster widespread perceptions — enthusiastically implied if not repeated by commission members themselves — that its work succeeded in answering reasonable questions about the 9/11 attack.
But out of the limelight, some continue to question the findings and seek more information. A staffer for Executive Intelligence Review plied the forum this week seeking additional support for the Walter Jones-led effort in Congress to release the 28-pages on Saudi involvement.
Federal courts have so far blocked on national security grounds family members from continuing their lawsuits against Saudi entities in a search for truth and justice. A new column by Glenn Greenwald suggests the kinds of tight bonds between the United States and Saudis that take highest priority: The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police.
Meanwhile, dozens of books have been written raising unanswered questions about the investigation, including two books by former JICI co-chairman Bob Graham. The three-term retired senator from Florida, a Democrat, has urged that a new commission be named to complete the investigation with adequate resources and subpoena power.
Graham is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a successful businessman and a half-brother to longtime Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham, who sold the paper last year.
Yet the former Florida senator’s commitment to 9/11 fact-finding receives little news coverage despite his impressive record and connections. He took time to appear on my relatively small visibility weekly radio show, Washington Update, and to meet privately several years ago after I heard him lecture in a scene portrayed at right
Graham told me he wrote his novel Keys to the Kingdom to provide the public with as many facts as he could without violating CIA requirements against disclosing national security information. The novel (with the word “Kingdom” referring to Saudi leaders) dramatized the stakes of such inquiries by portraying a Florida senator seeking the truth about 9/11 as being murdered by an unknown person via a pickup truck used as a weapon while the senator took his regular morning walk.
Regarding the 9/11 Commission, current coverage tends to omit any mention of the former members Cleland, Kissinger and Mitchell, who dropped from the panel before its final report. The three have disappeared for the most part down the Orwellian memory hole that sometimes swallows up even, or especially, key facts about the nation’s the most horrid and historic events.
But blunt comments and unfinished business occasionally surface.
“Do you think there should be another 9/11 commission?” author and former Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen asked Cleland in 2009 while the former commissioner was signing his memoir at the National Press Club’s book fair.
“There should be about fifteen 9/11 commissions.”
Andrew Kreig is Director of the Justice Integrity Project in Washington DC and the author of Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, and Their Masters (Eagle View, 2013).