Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Commission may not have done as good a job as you assume

I have been reading The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation by Philip Shenon, a New York Times reporter who covered the 9/11 Commission and has documented the story of its deliberations in this, his first book. A am about half through.

The Commission was very political, as one might expect where its members were five Republican and five Democratic members appointed by the Congress. The Bush administration senior officials were fearful that its report might be damaging to Bush's reelection and the normal efforts to protect executive privilege were probably increased by efforts to control the report.

The first choices to head the Commission resigned and were replaced. The Chair of the Commission had no foreign policy nor intelligence experience. Another Commission member resigned, apparently tempted out by the offer of a better post after he asked to many questions too angrily.

Shenon is quite negative about the appointment of Philip Zelikow as Executive Director of the study. He is a brilliant man and it is widely agreed that he put together a good team and turned out that rarest of products, a readable committee report. On the other hand, Shenon points out that Zelikow was a member of the Bush transition team, worked with the National Security Council in the early days of the Bush administration, had a history with the key NSC terrorism czar, was the (unacknowledged) author of the document used to justify the policy of preventive war, was a close associate and friend of Condoleezza Rice, and was a difficult man who not only had phone discussions with Karl Rove but tried to get rid of the record of those conversations. (I assume that anyone qualified to lead a major study of such a complex event in a limited period of time would have to have qualifications that some would see as potential interests and Zelikow clearly had the background in the subjects involved.)

Apparently the study directors, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, did not fully understand Zelikow's history as it related to the Bush White House; Zelikow eventually recused himself from some of the deliberations of the Commission. Kean and Hamilton are portrayed as assuming that the commissioners would do more of the work, the staff less, and the Executive Director would be their agent. Shenon and I doubt that that was true; the staff of smart academics who actually searched the files and dealt with the interviews had to be important in the product of the Commission and the Executive Director clearly had to have put his mark on the work.

The serious charges are that the Commission failed to fully explore the possible role of Saudi Arabian and Iranian people in support of Al Qaeda and the 9/11 attack.

More to come later.....

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