It took President Bush an extraordinary 441 days after 9/11 to establish a commission to investigate the events of September 11, 2001. And it was not just the case that Bush was slow in acting; he actively resisted any investigation for as long as he could, taking the extraordinary and unprecedented step of personally asking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to limit Congress’ investigation into those events.
THOMAS KEAN: “We think the (9/11) Commission in many ways was set up to fail.”
But the most unmistakable sign that Bush was only interested in appointing a cover up commission to “investigate” the largest attack on US soil in modern history was his initial choice for commission chairman.
PRESIDENT BUSH: “Today I’m pleased to announce my choice for commission chairman: Dr. Henry Kissinger.
REPORTER: Dr. Kissinger, do you have any concerns about once the commission begins it work and fingers point to valuable allies, say Saudi Arabia for example, what policy implications could this have for the United States particularly at this delicate time?
HENRY KISSINGER: I have been given every assurance by the President that we should go where the facts lead us.”
(Source: Henry Kissinger and the 9/11 Commission)
Not even the New York Times could believe that Henry Kissinger, the consummate Washington insider, could pretend to conduct an independent fact-finding investigation into 9/11. “It is tempting to wonder if the choice of Mr. Kissinger is not a clever maneuver by the White House to contain an investigation it long opposed,” The Times editorialized after the announcement.
Kissinger may have been prepared for such polite disagreement with his appointment. But he was not prepared to meet the 9/11 widows whose tireless efforts had forced the creation of the commission in the first place.
NARRATOR: “Several family members approached Kissinger and requested a meeting at his office in New York. Prior to the meeting Kristen Breitweiser conducted a thorough investigation of Kissinger’s potential conflicts of interest.
PATTY CASAZZA: Probably much to the chagrin of some of the people in the room, Lorie (Van Auken) asked some very poignant questions. “Would you have any Saudi-Amercian clients that you would like to tell us about?” and he was very uncomfortable kind of twisting and turning on the couch and then she asked, “whether he had any clients by the name of Bin-Laden?”, and he just about fell off his couch.
NEWS REPORTER: Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, stepped down from the position Friday.
MINDY KLEINBERG: We thought the meeting went well.”
(Source: 9/11: Press For Truth)
Kissinger was dethroned and the commission went ahead under chairman Thomas Kean and vice chair Lee Hamilton. But while Kissinger’s appointment and resignation received all the attention, the White House was busy slipping another agent into the commission through the back door.
In January of 2003, just weeks after Kissinger stepped down, it was quietly announced that Philip D. Zelikow would take on the role of executive director. As executive director, Zelikow picked “the areas of investigation, the briefing materials, the topics for hearings, the witnesses, and the lines of questioning for witnesses.” In effect, this was the man in charge of running the investigation itself.
So who was Philip Zelikow? The commission’s press release announcing his position described him as “a man of high stature who has distinguished himself as an academician, lawyer, author and public servant.” Although they noted his position at the University of Virginia and his previous role as executive director for the National Commission on Federal Electoral Reform, curiously missing from this brief bio are the multiple conflicts of interest that show how the Bush administration essentially put one of its own in charge of investigating how the Bush administration “failed” on 9/11.
In 1995 he coauthored a book with Bush’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice.
He was part of the transition team that helped the Bush administration take over the White House from the Clinton administration.
He was even a member of Bush’s post-9/11 Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
But perhaps most incredibly, Zelikow actually authored the Bush administration’s 2002 “National Security Strategy” that outlined the preemptive war doctrine that would be used against Iraq. This, however, is something that not even 9/11 commissioners Kean or Hamilton themselves knew at the time the commission was formed.
PHILIP SHENON: “(Philip) Zelikow was the author of a very important document issued by the White House in September 2002 that really turned military doctrine on it’s head and said that the United States could become involved in preemptive war, preemptive defense. That we could attack a nation that didn’t pose an immediate military threat to this country. And obviously in September of 2002 it sure appeared that that document was being written with one target in mind: Iraq.
Now as I say, the author of the document at the time was anonymous. We didn’t know that Philip Zelikow had written this thing and that becomes known I think widely on this day, if only in the final months of the 9/11 Commission investigation and it appeared to pose yet another conflict of interest for Zelikow.
MICHAEL DUFFY: Just to be clear, the pre-emptive doctrine comes out in September of 2002. The Commission is created formally in …
SHENON: December 2002.
DUFFY: … and do Kean and Hamilton, when they hire Zelikow, are they aware of his role as the author of the preemptive doctrine?
SHENON: I don’t believe so.”
These conflicts of interest were not merely theoretical. After the victims’ family members discovered Zelikow’s links to the Bush administration, he was forced to recuse himself from the proceedings of the commission (which he himself was directing) that had to do with the Bush White House transition or the National Security Council.
Hearing of Zelikow’s appointment, former counter terrorism czar Richard Clarke (who Zelikow helped to demote during the Bush transition), remarked that “The fix is in,” wondering aloud: “Could anyone have a more obvious conflict of interest than Zelikow?”
When the 9/11 victims’ family members discovered Zelikow’s links, they protested his appointment. But unlike with Kissinger, this time their concerns were dismissed and Zelikow plowed ahead.
As even Zelikow himself admits, his ties to the very figures he was supposedly investigating are a legitimate concern, and any real investigation of the 9/11 cover up would begin with him.
PHILIP ZELIKOW: “There’s a whole welter of conspiracy theories about 9/11 floating around the internet, on videocasettes. There’s a whole cottage industry in this, which if you haven’t read much about it then you’re a fortunate person. I get a lot of this.
“I actually figure very largely in a number of key conspiracy theories. [Laughter] No, to be fair, I worked with Condi Rice, right? I worked with her in the administration of Bush 41, so I guess I could be read as a plausible henchman executing a cover up. And it’s a legitimate concern, especially if I hadn’t had 81 other staffers keeping their eagle eye on me.”
(Source: Road to 9/11 : and where we are today)
Conveniently left out of Zelikow’s story about the “81 staffers” keeping their eye on his decisions is that they were staffers who were hired by him and under his complete control. In fact, Zelikow took over the hiring of the commission staff and even stopped staffers from communicating directly with the commissioners themselves. In the first few months, the 9/11 commissioners themselves rarely even visited the commission because Zelikow denied them their own offices or the ability to hire their own staffers.
The most remarkable example of Zelikow’s dictatorial control came in March 2003, just three months into the commission’s 16-month investigation began. It was at that time, before the commission had even convened a single hearing, that Zelikow, along with long-time associate and commission consultant Ernest May, co-wrote a complete outline of the final report.
DAVID RAY GRIFFIN: “Before the staff even had its first meeting, Zelikow had written, along with his former professor, Ernest May, a detailed outline of the commission’s report, complete, as Shenon put it, with chapter headings, sub-headings, and sub-sub-headings. When Kean and Hamilton were later shown this outline they worried that it would be seen as evidence that the report’s outcome had been predetermined, so the three of them decided to keep it a secret from the rest of the staff.
“When the staff did finally learn about this outline a year later they were alarmed. Some of them circulated a parody entitled ‘The Warren Commission Report: Preemptive Outline.’ One of its chapter headings read: ‘Single Bullet: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet, But Really, We’re Sure.’ The implication was that the crucial chapter in the Zelikow-May outline could have been ‘Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet, But Really, We’re Sure’.”
So what exactly did Zelikow do as executive director?
He allowed information in the commission’s final report derived from illegal CIA torture sessions, despite not having access to the evidence of those sessions themselves (which were later illegally destroyed). This included the testimony of alleged “9/11 mastermind” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was waterboarded 183 times in a single month, whose children were kidnapped by the CIA, who was told that his children were going to be tortured with insects, and who eventually confessed to a whole series of plots, including bombing a bank that didn’t exist at the time he was arrested. More than one quarter of the footnotes in the final commission report source from this torture testimony, and as Zelikow himself admitted, “quite a bit, if not most” of the commission’s information on the 9/11 plot itself came from this testimony.
Zelikow denied interviews and documents to staffers investigating the Saudi connection to the attacks, eventually firing one of them and removing the text of their investigation from the final report.
He personally rewrote a commission staff statement to suggest a systematic link between Al Qaeda and Iraq before 9/11, outraging the authors of the original statement.
He worked behind his own staffer’s back to stop them from serving the Pentagon a subpoena to answer about information NORAD was withholding from the commission.
He sat on a proposal to open a criminal investigation into FAA and military officials who lied to the commission for months, and then forwarded that proposal not to the Justice Department, who could have brought criminal charges, but to the Inspector General, who could not.
And he covered up information on Able Danger, a military intelligence team that had identified several of the alleged 9/11 hijackers in the country before 9/11.
Col. ANTHONY SHAFFER: “After the initial disclosure, Dr. Zelikow came to me at the end of the meeting, gave me his card and said: ‘What you said today is critically important. Very important. Please come see me when you return to Washington, D.C.’
“I returned to Washington, D.C., January 2004, call in, they say ‘We want to see you, stand by.’ Nothing happens. A week goes by. I call again, they say: ‘We don’t need you to come in. We have all the information on Able Danger we need, thank you anyway.’ And that was where it ended.
JUDGE NAPOLITANO: “Alright, so the information that you told Dr. Zelikow in Afghanistan about the CIA interfering with your ability to provide actionable intelligence to the United States government–intelligence that might have helped them find out who caused, 9/11–you were not permitted to testify about it?
Col. ANTHONY SHAFFER: “That’s correct.”
JUDGE NAPOLITANO: “OK.”
From the initial outline to the final report, Zelikow carefully guided the process, hiring and firing the staff, directing their research efforts, deciding on witnesses, scrubbing information, and shielding his former colleagues in the White House from criticism.
But perhaps more remarkable than the fact that “the fix was in” from the moment he took over the commission and began working on the predictive outline of the final report, is that he had in fact written about 9/11 and its eventual aftermath in 1998, three years before September 11th.
In an article entitled “Catastrophic Terrorism: Tackling the New Danger,” written for the Council on Foreign Relations’ Foreign Affairs in November 1998, Zelikow and co-authors Ashton Carter and John Deutsche ask readers to imagine a catastrophic act of terrorism like the destruction of the World Trade Center. “Like Pearl Harbor, the event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either future terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks. Belatedly, Americans would judge their leaders negligent for not addressing terrorism more urgently.”
Zelikow’s amazing prediction becomes somewhat less remarkable when we learn his own self-described expertise in the creation and management of “public myth.” In a separate 1998 article on public myths, Zelikow identifies “generational” myths that are “formed by those pivotal events that become etched in the minds of those who have lived through them,” before noting that the current set of public myths, formed during the New Deal in 1933, are currently fading.
Convenient for Zelikow, then, that the “Pearl Harbor” event that would define the next “generational” myth, known as the “War on Terror,” would arrive just three years later, and that he would be in charge of the commission tasked with creating and managing the public perception of that myth.
Indeed, given his central role in the cover up of 9/11 and deflecting concern away from legitimate 9/11 suspects, any true investigation into the events of September 11th would involve a thorough interrogation of Philip D. Zelikow.
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