Philip Zelikow, executive director of the Kean Commission, has compared popular doubts about the 9/11 Commission report to a dangerous disease. Nicholas Levis of 911Truth.org responds to his comments in the Washington Post of Oct. 7, 2004 …
An open Letter to Philip Zelikow and The Washington Post
By Nicholas Levis
[also featured at summeroftruth.org]
NEW YORK, Oct. 8, 2004 —
Philip Zelikow, a high-level national security adviser to both Bush administrations, acknowledges that America faces a new infectious disease: lack of faith in the U.S. government’s 9/11 Commission report.
As executive director of the freshly-retired Kean Commission, Zelikow was a principal author of the 567-page document, which purports to explain everything that matters about September 11th, 2001.
Sales of the 9/11 report have far outpaced those of his earlier study in statecraft, “Germany Unified and Europe Transformed.” He co-wrote that book in 1999 together with one of his closest associates from the original Bush White House, Condoleeza Rice.
Despite blockbuster sales for the 9/11 report, Zelikow tells the Washington Post he is alarmed by the concurrent spread of “conspiracy theories” about the attacks, which he describes as pathogens:
“Our worry is when things become infectious, as happened with the [John F. Kennedy] assassination,” Zelikow says. “Then this stuff can be deeply corrosive to public understanding. You can get where the bacteria can sicken the larger body.” (1)
It’s too late, Dr. Zelikow. The “bacteria” are winning, and your own work is to blame.
Perhaps the disease would have slowed if you had showed the courage to step down as executive director last March – when your resignation was demanded by the same Sept. 11 families who had fought the White House for 14 months to gain a 9/11 Commission in the first place.
They saw a grave conflict of interest in your having participated in White House briefings on al-Qaeda in 2000 and 2001. You did so on behalf of the incoming Bush administration, along with Dr. Rice, Richard Clarke and Sandy Berger, all of whom later testified to the Kean Commission.
“It is apparent that Dr. Zelikow should never have been permitted to be Executive Staff Director of the Commission,” the Family Steering Committee wrote.
They asked you to resign, and to take your rightful place on the other side of the table, as a witness to be questioned in the investigation, in public and under oath. (2)
Perhaps this might have restored some credibility to a Commission badly damaged a few months earlier when its most outspoken member, Max Cleland, resigned after condemning it as a whitewash. (3)
But you ignored the families and stayed on, undeterred. You continued to steer the Commission and its agenda.
You stayed on, as one of only two staff members or commissioners with relatively unrestricted access to White House documents. (The other was Jamie Gorelick, a former high official in the Clinton administration and close associate of George Tenet. Small world.)
A few weeks later, we were treated to a star turn at the hearings by your co-author, Dr. Rice, as one of the most important witnesses before the Commission, even as you conducted behind the scenes.
And now you worry that people won’t buy what you have to say about 9/11.
Guess what? They don’t.
A representative poll of eight hundred New York state residents by Zogby International found less than 40 percent of them say they believe the 9/11 Commission report answered all of the important questions about Sept. 11. (4)
Sixty-six percent of New York City residents are therefore calling on the state attorney general to open a new criminal investigation, one based on the 383 questions of the Family Steering Committee, most of which the 9/11 Commission report simply ignores.
The same poll found that 41 percent of state residents believe high officials knew about 9/11 in advance, and “consciously” allowed the attacks to proceed. That view is shared by one-half of New York City residents – the very people who would have the most reason to be well-informed about Sept. 11.
But 41 percent of the good people in upstate New York, a microcosm of Middle America, also believe there was foreknowledge, as do 30 percent of the state’s registered Republicans.
What would the same poll questions reveal, if they were posed to residents of the entire United States? Or to a sampling of the world population?
Isn’t this big news? Half the people in the city where the worst attacks occurred believe their own government may have been involved. Why wasn’t it in the papers, alongside the Bush-Kerry polling numbers? Shouldn’t the papers be examining the unanswered questions that make people think this way?
What have the papers given us instead?
Zelikow’s worry about the spread of heretical ideas is apparently shared by the Washington Post, which published his comments yesterday in a pop-psychology piece by Carol Morello, analyzing the souls who have fallen prey to “conspiracy theories” about 9/11.
Morello’s first step is to define what the “conspiracy theorists” think in the narrowest possible way. She focuses on a single notion – that the crash of a Boeing 767 does not explain the pattern of damage at the Pentagon. Her article pretends that this is the central hypothesis for all who question the official story of 9/11, which is untrue.
Before the Pentagon anomaly first arose as an issue among American researchers of 9/11 (in Nov. 2001), a broad case for doubting the government’s claims had already been built. It was based in ample evidence of foreknowledge on the part of high U.S. officials, contradictions in investigators’ statements about the alleged hijackers, and many other indications of complicity in the attacks by elements other than the Bin Ladin networks.
This constantly growing body of evidence caused Sept. 11 families and advocates for disclosure to lobby for an independent investigation. It ultimately became the basis for a vibrant “9/11 truth movement.” (5)
But Morello’s presumption – that uncertainty about what happened at the Pentagon is the sole issue of concern – allows her to ignore all that. All that really matters to her is what makes these conspiracy theorists tick, and whether they can be cured.
As Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch pointed out, Morello is merely knocking down her own strawman. In a college debate, she would lose the point. (6)
If we must psychologize rather than argue, as Morello does, then I daresay she is in avoidance. Taking on the facts of 9/11 with an open mind would perhaps force her, in Zelikow’s words, “to repudiate much of [her] life identity,” which relies on rejecting ideas that her society characterizes as outlandish, as “conspiracy theory.”
But what is “conspiracy theory”? Morello rounds up the usual suspects among experts who treat disbelief in official stories as a pathology.
Michael Barkun, author of “A Culture of Conspiracy” and much-cited in these matters, wisely informs us that “conspiracy theories are one way to make sense of what happened and regain a sense of control. Of course, they’re usually wrong, but they’re psychologically reassuring.”
“Usually wrong”? Why does Prof. Barkun hedge his bets?
We need to unpack our terms. “Conspiracy theory” describes the official 9/11 report as well as it does the alternative views. The events of Sept. 11 obviously were not the product of a single perpetrator, but of a criminal conspiracy.
Criminal conspiracy is treated in countless volumes of what prosecutors call conspiracy law or racketeering statutes. Another word for it is organized crime. Any attempt to explain a criminal conspiracy constitutes a theory. Prosecutors devise theories based on initial clues, and then try to see which of them best fit the evidence overall. Convictions often follow.
Morello, and Zelikow, are not concerned about “conspiracy theories” per se. They are applying the term selectively, to include only hypotheses in which elements of the U.S. government were themselves involved in the attacks for political and financial gain.
If Cheney says Saddam Hussein backed the 9/11 attacks, as the vice-president did on many occasions despite his recent protestations to the contrary, this is not called a conspiracy theory, although it obviously involves a theoretical conspiracy. Yet this is the most important 9/11 conspiracy theory to date, because it was used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
If Zelikow tells us that 19 men agreed to hijack four planes and fly them into buildings and evaded all detection (although those identified as the ringleaders had been under observation by U.S. and allied agencies for years beforehand) this is not labeled conspiracy theory, although it describes a conspiracy.
The only theories branded as “conspiracies,” and thus subject to ridicule and dismissal without examination, are those that suspect wrongdoing from the U.S. government – which did its best to hide and destroy evidence, and then sent out a top adviser to both Bush administrations, Zelikow, to investigate what happened.
In the case of the Pentagon, the government has suppressed videotapes of the attack taken from a nearby hotel, a gas station, highway surveillance cameras, and the Pentagon’s own cameras. At a press conference following the Kean Commission hearings of Dec. 8, 2003, the chair and co-chair promised that this evidence would be released, to help dispel speculation.
That evidence has not been released, and Zelikow suggests to the Post that there is no need:
“Asked if there were unreleased photographs of the attack that would convince the doubters, Zelikow, of the 9/11 commission, said, ‘No.'”
Is it any wonder that people don’t believe Dr. Zelikow? First the government suppresses evidence. Then its chief investigator of 9/11 justifies this by saying it would be pointless to release the evidence, and shifts the blame to the “conspiracy theorists,” who are pathologically incapable of believing the truth.
The New Yorkers who are unsatisfied with the 9/11 Commission report are not supposed to get answers; they are remanded to the nearest therapist.
For three years, the Washington Post has joined America’s other major press organs in ignoring the unanswered questions that cause so many people to reject the official conspiracy theory of the 9/11 attacks.
You would think the Zogby poll results, which were at least mentioned on washingtonpost.com if not in the newspaper itself, would finally move the Post to file some real stories.
This isn’t the place to go into every item the Post has failed to report about Sept. 11 – one might start by reading the book mentioned in Morello’s article, “The New Pearl Harbor” by David Ray Griffin – but I submit that DC journalists would normally want to explore the following question:
What about the reports that the Pakistani secret service ISI wired $100,000 to Mohamed Atta? The ISI is often credited as the creator of the Taliban, and its operatives have been linked to the Bin Ladin networks. ISI is also linked to CIA, as historically close allies.
The ISI director, Mahmud Ahmed, was on a two-week visit to Washington and met for breakfast at the Capitol on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 with the heads of the congressional intelligence committees, Bob Graham and Porter Goss. A month later, when Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf reshuffled his cabinet on the eve of the Afghanistan invasion, he forced Ahmed to resign, acting on a request from the FBI. (7)
After 9/11, Graham and Goss oversaw the 858-page report of the congressional joint inquiry into 9/11. The term ISI never occurs in their report, at least not in the 75 percent of the text published after “redactions.”
In all of the Washington Post coverage of Goss’s recent confirmation hearings as director of the CIA, wasn’t his breakfast with the ISI chief worth an article?
The 9/11 Commission report fails to mention reports of a Pakistani connection, not even to explain them away, but at least it offers this gem:
“To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little practical significance… Similarly, we have seen no evidence that any foreign government – or foreign government official – supplied any funding.” (p. 172)
So who financed the attacks is of little significance. Now we know the first rule of the Kean Commission: Don’t follow the money!
Does the Washington Post agree?
The Kean Commission “discussed the theories,” Zelikow tells the Post. “When we wrote the report, we were also careful not to answer all the theories. It’s like playing Whack-A-Mole. You’re never going to whack them all.”
Now we know the second rule of the Kean Commission: Don’t test theories. Just whack them if you can, and otherwise do your best to ignore them.
We shall conclude with two more of the “moles” that Zelikow and the Commission refused to whack. Is the Washington Post willing to take a swing?
First: The owner of World Trade Center Building 7, Larry Silverstein, interviewed for a PBS documentary of 2002 (“America Rebuilds”), seems to reveal that this building’s little-reported collapse on the afternoon of Sept. 11 was the result of a decision to intentionally demolish the building.
Isn’t this worthy of a follow-up call to Mr. Silverstein’s offices? Is it possible to wire a 47-story skyscraper for a controlled demolition within a few hours? If not, what does this imply?
Second: The 9/11 Commission report revised the older NORAD and FAA timelines of air defense response on Sept. 11. For more than two years, these two agencies presented a series of conflicting chronologies to explain the failure of standard operating procedure, under which the errant flights of Sept. 11 should have been intercepted by jet fighters as a routine matter of reconnaissance.
Last June, the Kean Commission issued a staff statement that radically contradicted all accounts upheld until then by either NORAD or FAA, establishing an entirely new timeline. This is now Chapter 1 of the 9/11 Commission report.
It exonerates everyone of blame for the failures of 9/11, in keeping with the dictum of Kean’s vice-chairman, Lee Hamilton: “We?re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission?s responsibility.”
Given the complexity of this issue, it may be asking too much of the Washington Post to figure out if the new timeline holds water – it most assuredly does not. (8) But if the Commission’s version is right, then officials at NORAD and the FAA were issuing false accounts for more than two years. Isn’t that, at least, an issue?
Are none of our taxpayer-financed public officials going to be held accountable for what they say and do? Can the official story of 9/11 be changed every few months without consequence?
Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota doesn’t think so. At hearings on the 9/11 Commission report, Dayton said NORAD officials “lied to the American people, they lied to Congress and they lied to your 9/11 commission to create a false impression of competence, communication and protection of the American people.” (9)
This, at least, made the Minneapolis Tribune. But where is the follow-up? Isn’t the reality that either NORAD or the 9/11 Commission (or both) must be lying about what happened on Sept. 11 worthy of coverage in the
newspaper that was once synonymous with investigative reporting?
Or is the Post too busy making fun of “conspiracy theory”?
(1) Re: “Conspiracy Theories Flourish on the Internet,” Carol Morello, Washington Post, Oct. 7, 2004
(2) “Statement of the Family Steering Committee for The 9/11 Independent Commission,” March 20, 2004. See http://www.911independentcommission.org/mar202004.html
(3) On the history of the Commission and its conflicts of interest, see my earlier article “The Rice/Zelikow Connection
(4) “Poll: 50% of NYC Says U.S. Govt Knew,” press release for Zogby Poll.
(5) “Putting on our tin-foil thiking cap,” William Bunch.
(6) As portals to the kingdom of 9/11 research and truth movement sites, the author recommends 911Truth.org, the New York activist site ny911truth.org,
and his own collection at http://summeroftruth.org
(7) Timeline of reports on allegations that ISI Director Mahmood Ahmed ordered a $100,000 wire transfer to Mohamed Atta in the weeks prior to Sept. 11. http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=mahmood_ahmed
(8) “Analyzing the 9/11 Report, Chapter 1” by Michael Kane http://www.williambowles.info/911/911_analysis_1.html
For a series of links that makes clear how the official timelines of air defense response have changed over time, see “The Emperor’s New Timelines” at http://summeroftruth.org/#timelines
An article is in the works.
(9) “Senator Dayton: NORAD lied about 9/11,” following up on Minneapolis Star-Tribune, July 31, 2004
Copyright (c) 2004 Nicholas Levis