“If it isn’t a conspiracy, they’re doing their best to make it appear like one.”
Two years after the 9/11 Commission published its final report investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was revealed that officials from the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] and the North American Aerospace Defense Command [NORAD] had lied to the commission during the course of its investigation.
The story was published in the Washington Post on Wednesday August 2, 2006, under the title, “9/11 Panel suspected deception by Pentagon“. For more than two years after the attacks, officials from NORAD and the FAA had provided “inaccurate information” regarding their response to the hijackings that saw two commercial airliners flown into the World Trade Center‘s twin towers in New York City, and another into The Pentagon building in Arlington County, Virginia. Their statements had “suggested that U.S. Air Defenses had reacted quickly” to the hijackings and that “fighters were prepared to shoot down [any aircraft] if it threatened Washington.” The inaccuracy of these statements “did not become clear until the commission, forced to use subpoenas, had obtained audiotapes from the FAA and NORAD”. According to the commission, “the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights”.
“I was shocked at how different the truth was,” said John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led the staff inquiry into the events of September 11. “The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years.”
“We to this day don’t know why NORAD told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor and Chairman of the 9/11 Commission. “It was just so far from the truth…It’s one of the loose ends that never got tied.”
According to “sources involved”, it was assumed that false statements were made “hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings”, and that this lack of transparency “may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public.”
In a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in the summer of 2004, the 10-member commission debated whether or not to refer the matter to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. They decided not to.
In 2006, Chairman Kean co-authored “Without precedent: the inside story of the 9/11 Commission”, in which he rationalized why a criminal investigation of NORAD personnel was never pursued: “The issue was presented to the commission in May 2004”, just as the commissioners had begun to finalize their report to congress. The commission had a “reporting date” of July 22; “At that point, we did not have time to launch a separate investigation into why the FAA and NORAD had presented inaccurate information,” Kean explained (262).
The only reason for having created the commission at all was to try to reveal the whole truth of what had happened. To achieve this, the commissioners should have insisted on more time to investigate these “loose ends”, otherwise withhold their final report. Apparently it was more important to the commission and its sponsors that the report be released on schedule, rather than thoroughly researching the facts relevant to its conclusions.
In the 9/11 Commission’s final report of 2004, it was stated: “Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned.” (Preface, xvi) The government officials who knowingly presented “inaccurate information” while under oath before the commission were never called to account for their actions.
I did not understand how the commissioners expected to provide the “fullest possible account” of what had happened without investigating all of the available leads. How could they seriously make recommendations for reforms without being sure that they had all of the facts, knowing as they did that people within the FAA and NORAD had lied to them and that additional information may have been withheld?
If bureaucratic incompetence was the explanation for a “bungled response” to the 9/11 hijackings, as suggested by a commission insider, shouldn’t the incompetent bunglers at NORAD and in the FAA be identified then weeded out? How could this be done if the commission was not going to “assign individual blame”?
On the surface, it appeared to me as if the commission had uncovered a conspiracy that originated from within the FAA and NORAD: false statements were made under oath in order to fabricate a positive cover story intended to disguise their mutual ineffectiveness during the attacks. If true, this conspiracy would have been entered into by FAA and NORAD officials as an attempt to avoid accusations of personal negligence or incompetence and the repercussions that would ensue. By failing to act on this information, however, the commission exposed itself to the accusation of being in collusion with the conspirators as an accessory after the fact.
In turn, the 9/11 commissioners’ complacent response to the revelation of an internal government conspiracy was mimicked both by Congress and the White House. The commission’s final report was accepted as presented, despite the knowledge that investigators “did not have time to launch a separate investigation into why the FAA and NORAD had presented inaccurate information” to the commission. It seemed to me that a speedy conclusion to the investigation was welcomed by those in control of the federal government regardless of the circumstances, perhaps for “national security” reasons beyond the appreciation of the general public. Before it was released by the commission, the final public report was screened for any potentially classified information and edited “as necessary”.
On November 21, 2003, former senator and commission member Max Cleland expressed his frustration at the lack of cooperation forthcoming from the FAA, NORAD, and the White House in their failure to provide documentation requested by the commission: “We’ve had to subpoena the FAA. We’ve now had to subpoena documents from NORAD, which they have not given us. I for one think we ought to subpoena the White House.” Cleland did not feel a thorough investigation could be completed within the six months remaining of the time allotted for the commission to complete its task. The commission had yet to review all of the documents it had so far received, and was still waiting for more. “This is a three- or four-year project, it really is,” he stated. Cleland resigned in protest from the commission in December 2003. During an interview the following spring, he said: “The commission had to subpoena the FAA for documents, had to subpoena NORAD for documents and they will never get the full story. That is one of the tragedies. One of these days we will have to get the full story because the 9/11 issue is so important to America. But this White House wants to cover it up.”
Cleland believed that the President had been warned of Al-Qaeda’s intention to carry out a major attack within the United States, but did nothing to protect the nation. It was his contention that the Bush Administration had been incompetent, if not criminally negligent, in its failure to act on numerous warnings of an imminent attack provided by the intelligence community, and was now concealing this fact by refusing to turn over damning documents to the commission.
In October of 2003, Senator Joseph Lieberman, co-sponsor of the bill creating the 9/11 Commission, urged the commissioners to subpoena the White House if necessary. “The fact that the Bush administration is not cooperating with a commission investigating how September 11th happened is outrageous. What are they hiding? What’s on the line here is finding out everything we can about how September 11th happened so we can make sure we do everything to see that it never happens again.”
White House spokesman Brian Besanceney was quoted in the Washington Times as saying that the administration was cooperating in an “unprecedented” manner with the inquiry. “We have turned over more than 2 million pages of documents,” he said. No doubt the commission’s investigators would have preferred more time to sift through the documents; charged with the task of reviewing so much material while facing an imminent deadline must have been unprecedented indeed. I could only wonder if anything of relevance was ever found among these documents. If the White House had been trying to bury information, what better place than under a mountain of paperwork? Regardless, access to certain highly classified national security documents, including presidential daily briefings, was not forthcoming. Another “administration official” who spoke to the Times “on the condition of anonymity” stated, “There are documents we do not feel it is appropriate to make available.”
No White House documents would ever be subpoenaed.
This lack of thoroughness on the part of the 9/11 commissioners exposed them to criticism that questioned both their integrity and the validity of their report’s conclusions. As political appointees, it is plausible that individual commissioners avoided opportunities to uncover information that could be potentially embarrassing to the Bush Administration and its supporters. More disturbing is the possibility that the 9/11 commissioners were coerced into restricting their investigation for other, more nefarious, reasons. There is a plethora of information available that examines this possibility in detail. This research has been casually dismissed in mainstream media as having originated with “conspiracy theorists” whose personal agendas have nothing to do with discovering the truth. The two prevalent themes in alternative media accuse the Bush Administration of having prior knowledge of the coming terrorist attacks yet allowing them to succeed, or having participated in engineering the attacks as part of a “false flag” operation. In both scenarios, the conspirators’ motivation was to gain the support of congress and the public for legislating unconstitutional laws, transferring public wealth to private elites, and the waging of wars intended to expand America’s geopolitical influence throughout the resource rich regions of southern Eurasia. Since a veil of secrecy continues to surround the full circumstances of the events of September 11 as well as the subsequent investigation, none of these possibilities, however preposterous they may appear on the surface, can be entirely discounted. The lack of transparency on the part of America’s government has only fueled distrust and provided a foundation for further speculation.
Whatever the reasons, the 9/11 Commission failed to fulfill its mandate. Through their inaction, the commissioners had rendered the entire investigation a farce – no more than a panacea to assuage public concerns.
As a result, it was understandable that skeptics would speculate on ulterior motives for the Bush Administration’s lack of cooperation with the 9/11 investigation.
On January 22, 2002, CNN reported that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was asked personally by President Bush during a private meeting to “limit the congressional investigation” into 9/11. The President had initially wanted to confine the investigation to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, citing national security concerns. This investigation would be in secret, without congressional oversight or public scrutiny. Daschle was also contacted personally by Vice President Dick Cheney, who “worried a wide-reaching inquiry could distract from the government’s war on terrorism.”
In September of 2002, Bush acquiesced to public pressure generated by family members of the 9/11 victims to establish an “independent” 9/11 Commission. It would be comprised of 5 Republican and 5 Democrat congressmen. By October 11, however, hours after Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced that they had agreed on the terms of an independent commission to investigate the attacks, the White House raised fresh objections. According to a CNN report on November 15, 2002, “The White House was threatening to create the commission by executive order.” The 9/11 Commission would be created without congressional participation if Congress did not acquiesce to specific White House demands. Congress complied and a final agreement was announced on November 27, 2002. Among the concessions made to the White House: limiting the investigation to 18 months, limiting the commission’s subpoena power, and allowing the President the right to choose the commission’s Chairperson.
President Bush allotted a meager 3 million dollars to financing the investigation, then refused Commission Chair Thomas Kean’s request for an additional 11 million dollars. Kean had sought the funding as part of a 75 billion dollar supplemental spending bill that the president had requested from congress to pay for the war with Iraq! Nine million dollars of additional funding was eventually granted, but again, only through public pressure generated by family members of the 9/11 victims.
In comparison, a March 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times cited the cost of investigating the crash of TWA Flight 800, a 747 that exploded after takeoff from New York in 1996, as officially being 35 million dollars, not including FBI efforts that ruled out terrorism as the cause.
Roughly $175 million was spent to investigate the 1986 Challenger explosion.
The investigation into the 2003 Columbia disaster was allotted $50 million just to begin, with a final cost estimated to be over half a billion dollars. No fixed budget was ever set for the Columbia investigation. Bernard Loeb, former head of aviation safety at the National Transportation Safety Board, was quoted as saying that “There is an expectation that these investigations are going to go to the end of the world to determine what happened.”
The events of September 11, 2001, have been characterized as the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. Considering the cost of these other federal investigations and the billions of dollars being spent waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impossible to imagine any legitimate reason for limiting the 9/11 Commission’s funding to a meager 12 million dollars.
Yet the investigation’s funding was limited to this miniscule amount, and without a significant protest from the House of Representatives, the Senate, or any national media.
President Bush was also reluctant to testify before the commission. Initially he refused, then consented to “meet only with the panel’s top two officials”, Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton, and would “submit to only a single hour of questioning.” Bush finally agreed to meet with all of the 9/11 commissioners to answer their questions, but with conditions attached. The President and Vice President were interviewed together in the Oval Office of the White House and would not testify under oath. An audiotape of the questioning was not permitted, and there was no transcript kept of the exchange. White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales was also in attendance to provide counsel for the president, along with two members of his staff.
No reporters or photographers were allowed to watch any part of the session. Bush spoke to the media shortly afterwards, telling them that his testimony before the ten commissioners was “a good discussion.” Bush also stated, “I enjoyed it,” and observed that the commissioners “had a lot of good questions.” The president had just given testimony in the murder investigation of more than three thousand people, yet he spoke as if he had just come from addressing a meeting of corporate shareholders. His incongruous statements were inexplicable to me.
When it was suggested by a reporter that he and the vice president may have wanted to testify together in order to present a consistent story in their testimony, Bush responded: “Look, if we had something to hide we wouldn’t have met with them in the first place.” He also told the reporters, “I was never advised by my counsel not to answer anything. I answered every question they asked.” With nothing to hide and no official record of his testimony being kept, why did the president need his lawyer present at all, and what question if asked would the president have refused to answer?
These unusual circumstances surrounding their testimony posed another question that was never addressed: might the vice president have had reasons of his own to avoid questioning without the benefit of the president and his White House counsel being in attendance?
Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore also testified in closed session before the 9/11 commissioners but appeared separately, while being recorded.
On December 22, 2007, the New York Times published an article that only served to reinforce suspicions of a conspiracy among federal officials to conceal information relevant to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] had also withheld information from 9/11 investigators. It was disclosed that the CIA had destroyed at least two videotapes in November of 2005 which documented the interrogation of alleged Al Qaeda operatives held in custody.
During 2003 and 2004, the commission had made “repeated and detailed requests” for “documents and other information” from the CIA concerning the interrogation of alleged Al Qaeda operatives. Investigators were told by “a top C.I.A. official” that the agency had “produced or made available for review” everything that had been requested. According to the Times article, “A C.I.A. spokesman said that the agency had been prepared to give the Sept. 11 commission the interrogation videotapes, but that commission staff members never specifically asked for interrogation videos.”
This statement was contradicted by the Chair and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission. During a December 2003 meeting between Commission Chair Thomas Kean, Vice Chair Lee Hamilton and CIA Director George J. Tenet, Hamilton had asked Tenet to provide the commission with “all relevant documents even if the commission had not specifically asked for them.” To consider interrogation videos as not being relevant documents in the investigation of 9/11 is inconceivable. The director’s noncompliance convinced both Kean and Hamilton that “The agency had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry.”
“Intelligence officials” said that the tapes documented hundreds of hours of interrogations during 2002 of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, two Al Qaeda suspects who were taken into CIA custody that year. In December of 2003, commission staff members sought permission to interview these prisoners directly, but were refused. Instead they were instructed to provide questions to CIA interrogators, who then posed their questions to the detainees.
Why were 9/11 investigators denied access to these prisoners and the videotapes? It is possible that the CIA was using torture as part of its interrogation techniques and wanted to hide this fact. It may have been trying to conceal the identities of its interrogators who were using torture in order to shield them from prosecution under the United Nations convention against torture. The convention was adapted by the United States in 1984. Torture is an extraditable offense, and it is conceivable (though unlikely) that the United States would be faced with demands to surrender the CIA torturers of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri to Saudi Arabia, the homeland of both prisoners.
This reasoning loses its credibility however, when considering that the CIA officially inquired with the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC] after the September 11 attacks into whether it could “aggressively interrogate” suspected high-ranking Al-Qaeda members captured outside the United States. In August of 2002, Assistant Attorney General for the OLC, Jay S. Bybee, authored the controversial Bybee memo on detainee interrogation, a Justice Department memo interpreting the statutory term of “torture”. Bybee ruled that even though an act may be “cruel, inhuman, or degrading,” it does not necessarily constitute torture, and “thus does not subject an interrogator to criminal prosecution.” This ruling provided the CIA with “legal” permission to use torture, and justification for the American government to ignore extradition requests, however improbable, from its close ally Saudi Arabia.
Why 9/11 investigators were denied access to these prisoners was never satisfactorily explained. Public criticism has done little to curtail the CIA’s unorthodox activities in the past and it is an open secret that dubious interrogation techniques have been employed by the agency for decades – so it made no sense to me that media observers would assume that the agency was trying to avoid a public relations fiasco by hiding the fact that suspected Al-Qaeda detainees were routinely tortured. As implausible as these circumstances may seem, however, the public cannot be sure of any explanation, since the truth has been intentionally kept secret by government authorities for reasons unknown.
The CIA could have been lying to the commission about what was learned during these hundreds of hours of interrogations, or they may have selectively chosen the information they considered appropriate to share, as did the White House. Even if the CIA had been completely forthright, information derived through torture is notoriously unreliable; victims will tell their tormentors anything to end their pain. Perhaps the prisoners knew nothing at all, or perhaps they told a story of September 11 that was entirely different from the official conclusions – a story that the CIA did not want publicly known.
This flagrant refusal to cooperate with the 9/11 Commission by the very agencies that the investigation depended upon for information was not just distressing to me – it was alarming. The media had documented multiple examples of obstruction of justice by the FAA, NORAD, the White House and the CIA, yet no effort was made by the commission to expose the individuals responsible, or to discover why they had withheld evidence.
Most disturbing for me was the failure of the United States Congress to respond, even after these facts became public knowledge.
This display of impotence by “the people’s representatives” demonstrated once again the unspoken truth of America’s federal government that continues to be ignored – political power in the United States is wielded by an influential elite, “special interests” that exert their influence anonymously, beyond the public’s scrutiny. I had no doubt that elements from within this oligarchy of powerful politicians, bureaucrats and their sponsors conspired to conceal the facts of what really happened on September 11 by not allowing a thorough investigation to be conducted. It was their motivation that remained unclear.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we have been assured that the same “mistakes” can never happen again, and it is inferred that to prosecute those responsible for allowing the “mistakes” to happen would serve no useful purpose. Airport security has been improved, intelligence between government agencies is said to be shared more readily and the Department of Homeland Security has been established.
As distasteful as the possibility may be, a vast conspiracy among government officials to conceal evidence of misconduct or negligence may be the only benign explanation behind why so many federal agencies failed to cooperate with the investigation. If true, the federal government’s dysfunctional condition should be viewed with as much alarm as if the perpetrators of this heinous crime came from within the government itself. Letting such pervasive corruption continue unchecked and allowing the guilty to go unpunished is just as likely to end constitutional democracy in America as an armed insurrection or a coup d’etat.
Alternative explanations for the attacks accuse government officials of treason. These accusations are based upon information still available to anyone who is interested in judging for themselves. Much of this information, including the testimony of survivors, eyewitnesses, intelligence agents and military personnel was not addressed in the commission’s final report at all. It was simply dismissed or ignored without explanation.
Trying to understand the reason for these omissions led me to ask myself many more questions. My curiosity demanded answers, and once I had found them it was reminiscent of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box – as much as I may have wanted to, it was too late to put the lid back on and pretend that I didn’t see what had been revealed.