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.
INSTEAD OF BEING THE DEFINITIVE WORD on September 11, the report has begun to resemble a literary equivalent of Swiss cheese as more and more data came out about what else the Commission missed in its report, either by chance or by design. These data points, or dots as the Commissioners themselves called them, did not have the opportunity for connection in their report:
* The target=_blank>trial and conviction of Mohammed Afroze in India, for his part in a conspiracy to use airplanes to bomb four overseas targets on 9/11/01 using commercial flights out of Heathrow Airport in London.
* The second memo from U.S. District Attorney Mary Jo White in response to the notorious memo from Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, warning that the implications of the memo will create insurmountable obstacles for prevention of terrorist attacks in the United States. In fact, the report barely mentions the Gorelick memo at all. It certainly never mentions the fact that the Gorelick memo was sent to the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review, which provided legal advice to all government agencies on the use and sharing of intelligence information with Department of Justice agencies.
* A July 21, 2001 editorial in a state-run Iraqi newspaper, al-Nasiriyah, which predicted the three targets of the September 11 attacks two months beforehand. This editorial read was read into the Congressional record by Senator Fritz Hollings on September 12, 2002.
* On July 26, 2001, an Iranian espionage agent told CIA agents in Baku, Azerbaijan, that Osama bin Laden would attack the United States on 9/11 using six men who had already entered the country via Iran. When pressed for his sources, the agent told them that Iranian intelligence knew all about the plot.
* The discovery and arrest of two Iraqi spies in Germany in February 2001, which the Germans claimed at the time exposed an extensive Iraqi espionage network operating in several German cities--at the same time three of the four 9/11 lead hijackers traveled to or through Germany, the only time it ever happened after their successful entry into the United States. Almost six moths to the day before the 9/11 attacks, an Arabic newspaper in Paris described the arrests as relating to the suspicion that radical Islamists, and specifically Osama bin Laden, had started working with the Iraqis to target American interests around the world.
* A memo from the State Department warned Bill Clinton in 1996 that its intelligence services had determined that the United States had to stop Osama bin Laden from relocating to Afghanistan, or al Qaeda would grow into an even more dangerous threat. The report also fails to mention a later Clinton administration effort to offer the Taliban official recognition if they handed bin Laden over to our custody.
* German intelligence analysts concluded in 2002 that radical Islamist terrorists such as al Qaeda worked with Iraqi intelligence services through contacts in the German neo-Nazi community.
* As Stephen Hayes points out, the Commission failed to include Ahmed Hikmat Shakir and Abdul Rahman Yasin--despite their connections to the first World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 hijackers.
None of the above data points is mentioned in the Commission's final report. They all indicate a possibility that other state sponsors had close ties to al Qaeda. They also indicate that the scope of the Islamist war has little to do with American policy but instead with the establishment of a latter-day caliphate for the ummah, and after that, global Islamist domination. More to the point, however, they all demonstrate--along with Able Danger--that the intelligence services had recognized the threat and tried to take at least some action to stop it before it could fully form against the United States.
What kept them from taking that action? Bureaucracies expressing more concern over appearances of impropriety than in providing for national security. The architect of that policy, Jamie S. Gorelick, sat on the Commission itself. And the Commission took this myopic approach and used it to generate an expansion of the very same bureaucratic problem, passing this off as a solution, rather than the primary cause of the failure.
Edward Morrissey is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Captain's Quarters.