The Blog

Accounting for the Final Report

The 9/11 Commission's report was once thought of as definitive. Now it looks more rickety with each passing day.

12:00 AM, Aug 31, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

IN 2003, as part of that year's Intelligence Authorization Act, Congress specifically authorized the creation and funding of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which quickly and simply changed its common name to the 9/11 Commission. Congress mandated that this entity not just examine and report on the facts of the attacks themselves--which they did in the gripping narrative that comprises the first part of their report--but also to "make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, and the extent of the United States' preparedness for, and immediate response to, the attacks." The Act also required the new panel to submit its recommendations for "corrective measures that can be taken to prevent acts of terrorism."

The birth of the Commission can trace itself to the mistrust of Congress, which had tried--and failed--to effectively investigate the circumstances of 9/11 and the al Qaeda threat through a joint inquiry between the House and Senate Intelligence Committees prior to forming this commission. The vestiges of the rancor in which the Commission was forged shows clearly in the language of the Act itself, which demands an exact method of selection for the panel members. The Act authorized ten commissioners, no more than five of which could have the same party affiliation. None could currently work in federal, state, or local governments. Republicans and Democrats got five selections each, and only one of those selections came from the White House, Commission chair Thomas Kean.

In July 22, 2004, the Commission delivered its final report. In its triumphant press release, the panel proclaimed its unanimity in its investigation and conclusions. The second paragraph stakes its claim a claim to being the definitive and final word on the 9/11 plot and recommendations for reorganizing the bureaucracy of intelligence agencies to prevent future terrorist attacks.

The report met with overwhelming political approval. Politicians fell over themselves to endorse not just the fact-finding results of the book but also its complete slate of recommendations. John Kerry demanded that the Bush administration immediately implement every last recommendation, even though Congress had conveniently left on its summer recess and had not even debated the Commission's recommendations themselves--despite having nominal oversight responsibility for the panel. Bush held out for a short period of time on implementation, but in the end bowed to the political winds and put most of the Commission's recommendations into effect.

WHAT DID THE 9/11 COMMISSION CONCLUDE? Despite the highly coordinated nature of the attacks, the enormous scale of the plot, and the commando tactics used by the hijackers--a combination of elements that had not previously or since been seen in al Qaeda attacks--the report concluded that the only state which sponsored Osama bin Laden in 9/11 was Afghanistan and its Taliban government. The report explicitly concluded that no operational connection existed between the 9/11 attacks and governments in Syria, Iran, or Iraq. The panel laid the blame for the failure of the United States to prevent the attacks on our intelligence communities and their political leadership, and added during public hearings recent administrations (George W. Bush and Bill Clinton) had failed to "connect the dots." Its recommendations comprised an expansion of the bureaucracy.

For a year, the final Commission report provided the alpha and omega of all debate on 9/11 . . . until Able Danger came to light earlier this month.

The Special Operations Command data-mining program, which according to three public witnesses identified Mohammed Atta as a potential terrorist 18 months before September 11, wasn't included in the final report and was apparently ignored by the Commission's staff on at least two occasions. When confronted by this new evidence, the Commission changed its story several times over one week, eventually settling on a rebuttal which hinged on discrediting the one witness who had come forward. By the time another week had gone by, two more witnesses had appeared--and further damaged the Commission's credibility.