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Sander Hicks Reviews The 9/11 Commission Report

Distribution via the Unanswered Questions Wire .


W.W. NORTON, 516 PAGES, $10
reviewed by SANDER HICKS

NOTE: This is the LONG version, exclusive to Based on the short version Originally Published by the New York Press.

IN THE RECENT documentary Outfoxed, media critic Robert McChesney suggests right-leaning news outlets like Fox News are worse than the Stalinist-era propaganda. At least in Soviet Russia, he says, people knew they were getting the official party line.

The problem of the 9/11 Commission Report is similar. Instead of being printed by the government that wrote it, the Report is published by the employee-owned, independent press W. W. Norton & Co. The writing style goes out of its way to appear informal, with occasional references to Hollywood films or rhetoric about the importance of civil liberties. Norton's first printing of 500,000 has already been snapped up, leaving bookstores nation-wide out of it, in more ways than one.

The only way to explain the best-seller status of this dry, stiff and cynical book is to understand the 9/11 disaster as a national trauma so intense that the co-dependent American family is still reaching for anything that will assure it. The Saudi-Pakistani-Bush Family-CIA connections aren't as incestuous as they seem, right? Everybody in the government did everything in their power to stop it, didn't they? Surely they couldn't have known about 9/11 and allowed it to happen to justify their agenda, right?

The Report may be the most literary work ever authored by a group of 10. "Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States" is the opener. It's that undergraduate formula: Start with the weather. The Report then moves on to tell a selective conspiracy theory.

The Report pays lip service to the value of the "investigative journalists and watchdog organizations." But the Commission refused to call any 9/11 watchdogs or investigative journalists to testify. Instead, they brought in fellow bureaucrats, politicians, spies and policy wonks who provided a parade of mind-blowingly dull chatter. When their witnesses "don't recall" the answers the Commission accepts that at face value. "Our aim has not been to assign blame" the Commission confesses in the Preface.

The 10 D.C. insiders that make up the Commission did their best not to look at any of the strange anomalies that abound around 9/11. On page 20, for example, the Commission reports that an air defense controller at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) reacted to the hijackings by asking, "Is this real-world, or exercise?" The terrorists somehow knew to strike on the morning that NORAD, NEADS and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preoccupied with three different air defense drills (operations named things like "Vigilant Guardian," etc.) Although victim family member Mindy Kleinberg brought up this coincidence to them on the first day of hearings, the Commission only mentions Vigilant Guardian as an afterthought, buried in the notes section in the back of the book.

Regarding the background of Osama bin Laden, the Commission dives head-on into the history of the terrorist ringleader's training as a mujahedeen by the CIA: They deny it.

Bin Laden was the CIA's point man in Afghanistan in the 80s; he ran the Maktab al-Khidamar. The MAK was the "primary conduit," according to MSNBC, for cash, weapons and CIA intelligence to flow through Pakistan's mini-CIA, the ISI. Three weeks after 9/11, the CIA's Bill Harlowe tried to spin that the CIA never had "any relationship whatsoever" with Bin Laden. And the 9/11 Commission shows its cards by trying to repeat the claim: Bin Laden received "little or no assistance from the United States" in Afghanistan. The Commission denies that members of the Bin Laden family were flown out of the US on September 13th, before airspace was open.

Before they published their report, there was something benign about pointing out the possible conflicts of interest inside the Commission. Reporting on the amusing proximity of Commissioners to government and US and UK intelligence felt like a salacious digging of dirt. But now that the report is out, now that it's a best-seller, and none of the cowardly robot media question it, the conflicts of interest strike one as criminal. This 500 page work is rife with outright lies taken directly from the CIA press office.

The Report publishes an edited version of the famous August 6, 2001 presidential intelligence briefing. Here we learn the "FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers Bin Laden-related." Seventy different investigations? Then let's hear about them. But the Report doesn't go there, let alone discuss FBI whistle-blowers who tried to investigate Bin Laden-related terrorists but were smacked down. On page 247, we meet Minneapolis terrorist-to-be Zacarias Moussaoui, but not Time Person of the Year Coleen Rowley, the FBI whistle-blower who couldn't get a warrant from headquarters on him.

Terrorist financing is covered, with a guileless, "We don't know exactly where the money came from" manner. There is no mention of FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, who tracked down and seized $1.4 million of Bin Laden-related funds before 9/11. His higher-ups fought him every step of the way. After the carnage of 9/11, Wright understandably broke down and, through tears, apologized on C-SPAN to 9/11 victims' families. "The FBI…allowed 9/11 to happen," he told the world. "FBI management intentionally and repeatedly thwarted and obstructed my investigations into Middle Eastern terrorist financing."

Both Rowley and Wright point to the FBI's David Frasca, the FBI's Radical Fundamentalist unit chief. After 9/11, Frasca was promoted to #3 in charge of Domestic Terrorism. Frasca is not mentioned in this Report.

Of the many theories about 9/11, some of the best questions involve the mysterious Mohamed Atta, subject of the research of investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker. For two years, Hopsicker tracked Atta's final moves in Florida, including his cocaine and alcohol binges with temporary girlfriend, Amanda Keller, at the time a pink-haired stripper. The flight school that Atta happened to "choose," Huffman Aviation in Venice, also enjoys a sanitized version of its history. Although flight-school president Rudi Dekkers has a long criminal history, and owner Wally Hilliard has ties to GOP Bush family friend Myron DuBain, Reverend Jerry Falwell and Clinton financier Truman Arnold, None of this makes its way into the report. Perhaps because Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste is featured in Hopsicker's 2001 book, Barry and the Boys regarding the CIA's Iran/Contra pilot Barry Seal.

So, let's get this straight: If you're one of the best 9/11 investigative journalists, and you risk your own life, getting death threats in Florida for two years of rubbing elbows with some extremely creepy characters, should all of your research be disqualified just because you found people who call Clinton's friend Richard Ben-Veniste a "mob lawyer" in your last book? The Commission's answer is yes.

Hopsicker, via Keller, found out Atta enjoyed many different forms of identification. The 9/11 Commission goes out of its way to report "the FBI and CIA have uncovered no evidence…that Atta held any fraudulent passports." On the same page, the Commission insouciantly mentions that Atta was somehow able to talk his way out of not having a Visa one time when he was stopped by INS.

The Commission can't ignore the Saudi/Pak/CIA menage-à-trois that has been going on since BCCI and the Afghan civil war. It's just that the most interesting details on this have been reported by the international press, and as a rule, the Commission ignores stories not picked up by the U.S. media. So, the fact that Pakistani ISI director General Ahmed wired $100,000 to Mohamed Atta on September 10 is not covered. The Times of India and Agence France-Presse reported it, and General Ahmed was forced to step down because of it. Stateside, these facts languish unused. Instead, it's pointed out that General Ahmed happened to be in D.C. meeting with Porter Goss and Sen. Bob Graham on the morning of 9/11. The Commission does cover how Deputy Sec. of State Dick Armitage (who holds a major decoration from the Pakistani army) used this to force Pakistan to help with the invasion of Afghanistan.

To their credit, the subjects that the Commission does cover are well researched. The history and influences of Al Qaeda are telling factors. It's correctly noted that the global class divide (not their choice of words) has become so daunting that terrorism itself has changed. The global poor used to hijack planes to call for the release of prisoners. Now, in increasingly desperate times, terrorists have crossed over into martyrdom. Of course, the Commission notes this but doesn't examine why.

Their toughest critics, the "9/11 Truth Movement" believe that 9/11 must have been the product of a military stand-down. Earlier in 2001, 67 jets going off course were handled by established protocols, so why couldn't fighter jets be scrambled on 9/11? The Report points out the crucial difference that morning: The terrorist pilots turned their transponders off and the planes were harder to find. The lack of fighter jets on the morning of 9/11 could be explained, technically, by this report. But then again, wait, wasn't NORAD trained to counter the attack by Soviet Migs? Migs wouldn't be flying with transponders, either.

The Report amuses itself with little anecdotes. They claim power struggles and bureaucratic red tape prevented the US from seizing or killing Bin Laden before 9/11. The CIA wanted to borrow the Predator spy plane from the Air Force to spy on the mastermind, but didn't want to have to pay for it if it blew up.

The Commission often mentions the love life of terrorist Siad Al Jarrah and his European girlfriend, Aysel Senguen, whom he often went away and visited. It's a heart-breaking story, especially their last visit, but at a certain point, you wonder if it's just in there to fill space.

Narcotics trafficking by US allies, intelligence operatives and international assets is a dirty subject. Too weird for the US media, it's the realm of internet researchers, academic historians…and the 9/11 Commission. The report deserves credit for effectively admitting, late in its findings, that with newly installed leader, Harmid Karzai, Afghanistan is exporting an embarrassing amount of heroin. The Report neither condemns nor approves, but coolly observes, "the United States…has largely avoided confronting the…problem of narco-trafficking."

Among the Commission's stellar recommendations are the "routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination." Or how about "Recommendation:…attack terrorists and their organizations." Yes, master! I especially like the throw-away cocktail party generalization of "every major religion will spawn violent zealots." This stuff is like a small press conspiracy theory written without an editor! Wait, this IS a conspiracy theory! Among the kooky theories out there is the one that terrorists with box cutters were able to defeat a $400 billion a year war machine. It's way out-there, man, sure it's seductive. But the facts don't hold up.

The Commission recommends that a passport be required to cross into Canada and Mexico. The Commission wants an oversight office to protect civil liberties, but five pages later, this is effectively nullified by call for a more centralized, more powerful police state apparatus. Earlier in the report, the Commission made a quick reference to J. Edgar Hoover's harassment and concentrated assault on the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists in the 60's. Perhaps if they spent more time and dug deeper into this subject, the Commission would realize that an unbridled police state necessarily damages civil liberties, no matter what you say you believe.

The Report climaxes in a grand paean to war-without-end. The enemy is dehumanized and depoliticized. You can't "bargain" or "negotiate" with terrorists. There is "no common ground," they can "only be destroyed or isolated." In other words, don't ask yourself how your enemy was created, or what the enemy believes about its justification. Don't look at Bin Laden's own statements about the U.S.'s backing of Israel, and don't consider the motivating effect when Arab youth in the poorest countries on Earth watch Palestinian houses bulldozed on Al Jazeera.

The report's final line is "we look forward to a national debate on the merits of what we have recommended, and we will participate vigorously in that debate."

Ha. A debate is the last thing the Commission wants. That became evident when Richard Ben-Veniste came on my segment of the INN World Report TV program and gave me stock non-answers in plodding, DC insider gibberish to the hard questions of 9/11. It became even more evident when he hurled insults at me for broadcasting that show without editing out his tense reaction when I asked him about his involvement with CIA drug-runner Barry Seal.

The 9/11 Commission Report has joined the Warren Report as one of the greatest cover-ups of all time. Even if they did just happen to have been caught off guard on 9/11, high-level personnel at the FBI, CIA and the Department of Justice should have been indicted for incompetence. But if those personnel and their boss in the White House knew about it, they should all be indicted and tried in a high court.

Instead, every one of them is thanked in the preface.


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