Shenon 9/11 Commission Expose - Not the Last Word
Not the Last Word: New Expose Shreds Credibility of 9/11 Commission Report
By Kyle F. Hence
© Copyright 2008 - Kyle F. Hence
"Senior investigators on the 9/11 Commission believed their work was being manipulated by the executive director to minimize criticism of the Bush Administration."
"Investigative staffers at the Commission believe [executive director] Philip Zelikow repeatedly sought to minimize the administration’s intelligence failures in the months leading up to 9/11, which had the effect of helping to ensure President Bush’s re-election in 2004."
"There’s a lot of things they missed, and unfortunately there is going to be a lot of talk for rest of our lifetimes about whether or not these connections at the White House had some impact on the final report."
-- Philip Shenon on "The Daily Show, with Jon Stewart, February 10, 2008
I first met Philip Zelikow, the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, during the "independent" investigative body’s first hearing in New York City in 2003. As Executive Director, Zelikow was to set the course of the investigation and I was curious to hear what Zelikow had to say. After the hearing, gathered in a tight little circle of journalists, Zelikow mused on two monumental and historic investigations, the Warren Commission – created to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and his Commission – created to investigate the mass murder of over three thousand people from over 80 countries. Before cutting himself off and expressing concern about going "on-the-record", Zelikow insisted he would avoid the fate of the Warren Commission, which many critics have questioned over the years, and announced that Lee Oswald acted alone.
In this one exchange, Zelikow showed just how wrong a choice he was to lead the investigation. His conclusion about Oswald had in fact been undermined by later Congressional findings—revealing an astounding ignorance of the historic record regarding the JFK assassination.
In the shadow of the Warren Commission
In point of fact, an overwhelming majority of Americans today just don’t buy the Warren Commission findings, and for good reason. Our own Congress by way of the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that, "on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy." [on page 3 - http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/select-committee-report/summary.html]
Though the 9/11 Report has sold over 1.5 million copies, many more millions are just not buying the 9/11 Commissions findings, and like the critics of the Warren Commission – for good reason.
Don’t take my word for it; polls from Zogby, Scripps-Howard, CBS and others tell the story. On this count we know Zelikow failed. It’s where he succeeded that is of concern to commission critic and New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, especially relative to the Commission’s mandate to produce "a full accounting of the facts and circumstances" surrounding the 9/11 attacks.
When dogged recently, and no doubt to Zelikow’s chagrin, Tom Kean, the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission and other commissioners conceded that their 9/11 Report is "not the last word." Now a new book by Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, paints a definitive portrait of why their final report cannot possibly be, and must not be, deemed the final word on the September 11th attacks.
While several damning high profile disclosures have raised doubts these past years about the Commission’s ‘definitive account’ (see Able Danger and Woodward’s disclosure of two commission-censored high level meetings for examples), Shenon’s expose’ strikes a mortal blow at the standing and credibility of the increasingly scrutinized 9/11 Commission and its now justifiably suspect report, especially inside-the-beltway where Shenon has been reporting for years. Judging by early response, this is one fire that the former Commissioners or Zelikow will not be able to put out, no matter how many finely-worded press releases or rebuttals they circulate. The slow burn will likely continue until a full accounting compels a new investigation willing to point fingers, as Shenon does here.
Among the most seasoned investigative reporters at the Times, Shenon covered the 9/11 Commission wall to wall for over two years. Few reporters were as close to the work of the panel and the "9/11 families"; and no one since the report’s release gained more access to former staff (two-thirds) and commissioners (8 of 10), lending the book and its claims added weight and consequence. All those who previously dismissed or attacked the "Jersey Girls" and others turn the page and take note. Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity…that means you.
Pointing fingers at a would-be star witness
At the center of this riveting expose is the controversial figure of Director Zelikow whose impact on the Commission is depicted throughout the book, more often than not in a negative light. He lords threateningly over his underlings, restricts their contact with Commissioners, and most disturbingly fails to disclose the full scope and nature of his work for the Bush White House. More than any single commission member, the ambitious and willful Zelikow is responsible for the Commission’s nuanced, non-partisan, zero accountability "point-no-fingers" conclusions, and especially for minimizing the Bush administration record leading up to 9/11. As months pass Zelikow increasingly becomes a lightning rod, for some of his own staff, but most especially for the 9/11 families who call for his resignation when glaring conflicts of interest emerge.
Though Shenon focuses heavily on Zelikow’s highly compromising conflicts of interest he is himself reluctant to draw obvious conclusions. Zelikow’s role in the Bush White House should have precluded any role in the 9/11 investigation, much less that of Executive Director. In fact he should have been a star witness. Prior to his hiring, the Commission Chair interviewed Zelikow and reviewed the resume he’d submitted. The only problem was the resume, like his final report, glossed over critical details that would have precluded his securing the job of Director.
While the resume did detail his close ties to Rice, with whom he had written a book, and his service on the Bush transition team, Zelikow did not reveal his role as ‘architect’ of the Counter-terrorism Security Group (within Rice’s National Security Council) and in demoting counter-terrorism ‘czar’ Richard Clarke. Beginning in January Clarke warned Rice repeatedly about the al-Qaeda threat, including, shockingly, from known cells in the U.S. (more on that later). Zelikow also failed to disclose the fact he had anonymously authored the Administration’s pre-emptive war doctrine. When finally exposed the deception was the last straw for the 9/11 families who felt compelled to call for Zelikow’s resignation.
Though the Commissioners did force Zelikow to recuse himself from key inquires involving Rice and Richard Clarke, they defended him and insisted he would remain. Then, in an unsettling twist Zelikow is put under oath to be the subject of the investigation, one that he is to lead, adding commission insult to 9/11 injury.
A preempting Karl Rove plays quarterback
Early on, Zelikow had agreed to avoid contact with senior Bush officials, but here too Zelikow reveals a deceptive and controlling streak. Shenon tells of how the agreement is violated when Executive Secretary Karen Heitkotter logged two calls in June of 2003 from Karl Rove, Bush’s senior political advisor and legendary maestro of dirty tricks. Commissioner John Lehman will later tell Shenon that Rove, with eyes on the 2004 election, had been preemptively "quarterbacking" commission-related damage control for the White House. Nervous about the scrutiny, Zelikow called the secretary into his office, closed the door behind her and told Ms. Heitkotter to stop logging calls. Alarmed over the propriety of the request she turned to Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s General Counsel, who advised her to ignore her boss. In September she logged two more incoming calls from Rove. Outgoing calls to the White House were not logged; nor were calls to and from Zelikow’s personal cell phone.
Since the book’s release, Zelikow has admitted to only two discussions with Rove, both of which he says strictly pertained to his work as a Presidential historian at the University of Virginia. Zelikow insists he and Rove did not discuss the 9/11 investigation but Shenon’s own White House sources reveal there were in fact ‘ancillary conversations’ about the workings of the commission. Just days after publication of The Commission, former Navy Secretary Lehman, who had made the Rove "quarterbacking" allegation, defended Zelikow on MSNBC saying he fully expected Zelikow to be talking with White House officials, including Rove, as part of the commission’s fight to secure access to documents. On Pacific Radio, Zelikow was repeatedly pressed by Democracy Now host Amy Goodman; clearly frazzled, he would not directly deny he told his Secretary to stop logging calls.
Recently I confronted Karl Rove personally about his contact with Zelikow. I asked quite simply why he had called Zelkow in June, mentioning specifically the two logged dates disclosed in Shenon’s book. No surprise; I was rudely stonewalled. Thus, no comment from Rove about his alleged quarterbacking and preemptive damage control.
Attorney General Spitzer’s #2 and purpose-built failures
Though undoubtedly the staffer with the most influence, Zelikow is not the only one pulled out of the shadows in The Commission’s hidden history. Shenon reveals that Dieter Snell, a former Asst. U.S. Attorney in New York and #2 under Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, censored convincing evidence of high-level Saudi support in the U.S. for two of the future hijackers, Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, who were monitored, but not watch-listed, by the CIA. Snell, the leader of the investigative team focusing on the 9/11 plot, is depicted as ‘cautious’ as he applies a prosecutor’s high "courtroom" standard to evidence his own team members insist should be included in the report. Over the objections of his investigators, solid and damning evidence is effectively redacted, just as the infamous "28 pages" of the Congress’ Joint Inquiry Report had been, over the earlier objections of Senators Shelby and Graham, heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Perhaps even more revealing, though not noted by Shenon, Snell relegates to the small print of back-page footnote 44, an episode in which the Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, Tom Wilshire (unnamed in the report) quashes a cable drafted by an FBI detailee to the CIA, Doug Miller (also unnamed). In so doing Wilshire prevents the CIA from alerting the FBI (and others in the CIA) to important intelligence about Hazmi and Mihdhar, the first of at least half a dozen similar instances of withholding or obstruction between January of 2000 and early September 2001, several of which also involved Wilshire. At the time Hazmi and Mihdhar were first monitored by the CIA in Kuala Lampur, the CIA Director George Tenet and the FBI Director Freeh were both receiving daily briefings. Shenon never poses the questions begged here. But for her part, 9/11 widow and "Jersey Girl" Kristen Breitweiser dives right in, concluding this pattern of repeated ‘failures’ was "purposeful"; their pervasiveness simply could not be chalked up to mere incompetence. [see… http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristen-breitweiser/enabling-danger-part-one_b_5951.html]
Shenon makes only brief mention of Snell’s role in the Commission’s cover-up of Able Danger, a top-secret Special Operations Command (SOCOM) project that five witnesses testified to a Department of Defense investigation as having linked Mohamed Atta, Hazmi, Mihdhar and Marwhan al-Sheehi to a Brooklyn cell over a year before the attacks. Navy Commander Scott Phillpott, the head of the top-secret project, told Snell of the program ten days before the release of the final report. The kicker: these details had already been revealed to Zelikow at Fort Bagram in Afghanistan months earlier by another Able Danger team member, Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer. Though asked to follow up personally with Zelikow upon his return to the US, Shaffer was twice rebuffed. When all this surfaced in 2005, it was met with denials and obfuscations forwarded by the obviously embarrassed former Commissioners and Shaffer was unjustly tarred and feathered by the military in an attempt to destroy his reputation.
"You lied to the American people"
On the night of the Democratic Convention in 2004, then Senator Dayton, rather than join other Dems on the Convention floor or back-stage, stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, unsettled and angry by what he gleaned from the commission’s account of the nation’s air defense on 9/11. A few months later when presented with an opportunity on Capitol Hill to confront Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and General Myers about the four wildly varying ‘official’ timelines they released, Senator Dayton burned through all ten of his allotted minutes for questions. In outrage rarely expressed at Congressional hearings, he asked how the nation’s defense apparatus, warned throughout the Spring and Summer, could have failed so completely. He railed against what he called lies put forward in the changing NORAD timelines. "You lied to the American people" he charged. Neither witness, Myers or Rumsfeld, responded because the committee chair, Senator Snowe, quickly turned to prompt the next Senator.
We learn from Shenon that the General and the Secretary escaped further, and no doubt harsher, questioning over a possible perjury inquiry had the Commission voted to refer the matter to the Justice Department. Instead the matter was referred the Inspectors General at the FAA and Department of Defense, neither of which have the power themselves to bring criminal charges. To this day the lies of NORAD stand unaccounted for.
Censoring the Fog of War-games
Shenon’s uncensored history is of course not exhaustive. As just one example there is the question of war games, several of which were being conducted on 9/11. Though Congresswoman McKinney, a Representative from Georgia on the House side would ask about them, Senator Dayton did not; and the Commission, as with so many ill-explained anomalies, (see Sibel Edmonds State Secrets ‘gag’ or put-option trading in United and American, both footnoted) relegated Vigilant Guardian, the one war game acknowledged by the military during public hearings, to the footnotes of the Report. Others real-world exercises including Global Guardian and Vigilant Warrior, named in Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies, are not explained. And despite the documented confusion within NORAD caused by Vigilant Guardian that morning, the Commission repeats General Myers’ absurd claim before the House Armed Services Committee: that the exercises only heightened NORAD’s response. We can only speculate as to why the multiple war games, coincident and mirrored in the actual attacks themselves, were merely footnoted by the authors of the report, and whether Zelikow was involved in that decision.
It should be noted that Shenon ignores authors and academics, such as the prolific author David Ray Griffin or the controversial former LAPD investigator Michael Ruppert (neither cited in his bibliography) who have carefully critiqued the commission and built strong cases challenging the official story laid out in the 9/11 Report. Unfortunately all too often, lack of intellectual courage and/or fear of the social and professional stigma of being labeled a ‘conspiracy theorist’ may have prevented official investigations from examining without prejudice all of the available evidence.
The result: trails have gone cold and investigators and investigative reporters are not even asking the right questions, much less answering them. Shenon’s work suggests that perhaps Zelikow, Snell and others within the Commission might have precluded such a fearless open-minded, less narrowly cast investigation. Shenon reveals that early detailed outlines written at the Investigation’s outset by Zelikow suggest that this was, in fact, the case. As a result many have claimed it a ‘cover-up’ commission and a "9/11 Omission Report".
Rewarding Failure for all the marbles
A few months after the report’s release I caught up with Philip Zelikow and Commissioner Kean at the 2004 National Book Awards in New York City where the 9/11 Report had been nominated in the non-fiction category. When I finally located the honorees table, decorated with flowers, nominated books and flickering votives, I approached Zelikow. I asked him how it felt to be responsible for what I called "the worst cover-up in American history" and then I suggested, only half in jest, that the 9/11 Commission Report had been nominated in the wrong category.
As I turned away from the now red-faced fuming former Director to greet Chairman Tom Kean with whom I had a friendly cordial relationship, I tossed a flyer that quoted a recent Harper’s Magazine critique of the Commission on the table. Just moments later as I was discussing Chairman Kean’s latest holiday getaway to the islands, Zelikow thrust the flyer, now in flames from contact with a lit votive, between me and the chairman. I grabbed it, snuffed out the fire, and stuffed it into my jacket pocket, all without hesitation or alarm. Judging by the look on his face, Chairman Kean must have wondered if the Commission Director, on the eve of possible book award glory, had finally lost his marbles
Thanks to Philip Shenon we do know that Zelikow, among others, lost integrity and credibility in his direction of the most important investigation in our nation’s history. Writing his Acknowledgments this past December Shenon insists that, "if the full truth is ever told about September 11, 2001," it will be the doing of the 9/11 families…. "It has not been told yet." In response to Shenon’s revealing expose, several of the 9/11 widows have now formally called for a new investigation. Perhaps it’s not too late to make the last word, the whole truth. But that’s up to you, to us, to make it an issue this election year, and every year until it is done.
© Copyright 2008 - Kyle F. Hence - please contact author for permission to republish.
Kyle F. Hence, founder and director of 9/11 CitizensWatch, a watchdog group whose work was highlighted on CNN, C-SPAN, NPR, BBC the LA Times, and many other media outlets since its launch March 31, 2003 in NYC. Hence served as Executive Producer, Co-producer and co-writer of 9/11: Press for Truth, a feature-length documentary about the struggle of leading 9/11 family members and 9/11 TERROR TIMELINE author, Paul Thompson to learn the truth.
Also distributed via the Unanswered Questions Wire - unansweredquestions.org