Bob Woodward’s State of Denial provides evidence of the politicization of the 9/11 Commission’s investigative process, conclusions, and certain omissions from its report, as well as then national security advisor Condoleezza Rice’s likely role in burying unflattering, damning evidence through the appointment of Bush/Rice loyalist Philip Zelikow as the Commissions’ chief investigator and Zelikow’s reward (perhaps) of a top senior-level position in the State Department, which Rice now heads. First, some background.
One of the burning questions in newspapers, cable TV news, and blogs is why the 9/11 Commission report did not mention the July 10, 2001 meeting called by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, with then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Tenet and Black hoped to impress on Rice the compelling need to act immediately against bin Laden because there was “a huge volume of data” suggesting strongly that a major attack was imminent.
“But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had not taken the warnings seriously,” writes Woodward.
The July 10 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice went unmentioned in the various reports of investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, but it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. (From “Two Months Before 9/11, an Urgent Warning to Rice,” the Washington Post’s excerpt of Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial)
Woodward says the 9/11 investigators “had access to all the paperwork on the meeting.” But Black suggests that the commissioners didn’t want to hear about some the history, so the July 10 meeting got left out of the 9/11 Commission report.
Why? Perhaps it’s that the Commission’s investigation was politicized, and its investigators beholden to Ms. Rice.
The executive director of the 9/11 Commission was Philip D. Zelikow, a longtime intimate of Ms. Rice. Since February 2005, Zelikow has served with now-Secretary of State Rice in a “Senior Official” position as “Counselor of the United States Department of State.”
In March 2004, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman interviewed former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who served on the 9-11 commission. Goodman began the segment with a background report:
A pair of public interest groups, the 9-11 Family Steering Committee and the 9-11 Citizens Watch have called for the resignation of the Director of the Independent 9-11 Commission, Phillip Zelikow. It turns out that in Richard Clarke’s book, he reveals how Zelikow participated in Bush administration briefings on Al Qaeda prior to 9-11 and they’re saying that this compromises him, since the mandate of the commission was to investigate the source of failures. It is now apparent why they said there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We can now see that trail would lead to the staff Director himself.
Cleland told Goodman about the Commission members’ difficulties in obtaining documents: “President Bush personally has nixed the effort of the 9-11 Commission to get all the documents in the White House, especially the Presidential daily briefs.” “[T]he White House has played cover-up and a slow walk to this game from the beginning,” Cleland said. “The commission had to subpoena the F.A.A. for documents, had to subpoena NORAD for documents and they will never get the full story,” the former senator noted.
In “Clinton Aides Plan to Tell Panel of Warning Bush Team on Qaeda,” a March 20, 2004 New York Times story, Richard Clarke points to Philip Zelikow’s active participation in pre-9/11 briefings on the Al Qaeda threat:
One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke, who was President Bill Clinton’s counterterrorism coordinator, said in an interview that the warning about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence briefings that he led.
At the time of the briefings, there was extensive evidence tying Al Qaeda to the bombing in Yemen two months earlier of an American warship, the Cole, in which 17 sailors were killed.
“It was very explicit,” Mr. Clarke said of the warning given to the Bush administration officials. “Rice was briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in.”
On March 20, 2004, LeftCoaster blog’s Steve Soto wrote that “[i]t should be noted that Zelikow is the Bush Administration plant on the Commission, as he is serving as the panels Executive Director.” Soto quoted another section of the NYT story:
They said the warnings were delivered in urgent post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr. Bush’s national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now Ms. Rice’s deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team, among others.
Mr. Zelikow, [then] the director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a co-author of a 1995 book with Ms. Rice, has been the target of repeated criticism from some relatives of Sept. 11 victims. They have said his membership on the Bush transition team and his ties to Ms. Rice pose a serious conflict of interest for the commission, which is investigating intelligence and law-enforcement actions before the attacks.
Mr. Clarke said if Mr. Zelikow left any of the White House intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 without understanding the imminent threat posed by Al Qaeda, “he was deaf.”
It’s also very likely that Zelikow knew of then-NSA adviser Rice’s meeting with the anxious George Tenet and Cofer Black.
ThinkProgress guest blogger Peter Rundlet, who was a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, notes that Tenet, Black and Rice were interviewed by the Commission several times, and claims that “none of them described [the July 10, 2001] meeting.” Rundlet suggests a possible “cover-up”, and takes to task Cofer Black for asserting that the Commission didn’t want to know about certain information.
The notion that both the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry that investigated the intelligence prior to 9/11 did not want to know about such essential information is simply absurd. At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot.
In “9/11 Panel Members Weren’t Told of Meeting,” the New York Times story on October 1, 2006, “Zelikow said that it was ‘entirely plausible’ that a meeting occurred on July 10” but that “the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing in their private interviews with Mr. Tenet and Mr. Black to suggest that they had made such a dire presentation to Ms. Rice or that she had rebuffed them.”
If Cofer Black’s account is true — and George Tenet should be able to verify that the July 10, 2001 meeting took place (has anyone interviewed Tenet yet?) — he also needs to reveal if he and/or Tenet told the 9/11 Commission about the meeting. Woodward’s book, best I can tell, doesn’t make that clear.
But, the partisanship and the White House’s CYA-trumps-the-truth attitude make the selection of Philip Zelikow as the chief investigative official of the 9/11 Commission suspect, and make all continuing suspicions plausible.
More on Zelikow’s involvement with Condi Rice, and his duties at the Dept. of State:
Zelikow joined the National Security Council in the George Herbert Walker Bush administration, at the same time as Condoleezza Rice. … Philip Zelikow has co-authored many books. … He wrote Germany Unified and Europe Transformed with Condoleezza Rice. … Philip Zelikow served on President Bush’s transition team in 2000-2001. After George W. Bush took office, Zelikow was named to a position on the PresidentÃs Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and worked on other task forces and commissions as well, including the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. (Wikipedia bio)
Zelikow was also the author of “War on Terrorism,” a revisionary document put out by Rice to explain events leading up to 9/11. James Mann, the author of the Rise of the Vulcans, revealed:
… when Richard Haass, a senior aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell and the director of policy planning at the State Department, drafted for the administration an overview of AmericaÃs national security strategy following September 11, Dr. Rice, the national security advisor, “ordered that the document be completely rewritten. She thought the Bush administration needed something bolder, something that would represent a more dramatic break with the ideas of the past. Rice turned the writing over to her old colleague, University of Virginia Professor Philip Zelikow.Ã® This document, issued on September 17, 2002, is generally recognized as a watershed document in the War on Terrorism.
Zelikow is on the State Dept.’s short list of “Senior Officials” — just below Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs — Karen Hughes. The Senior Officials page describes Zelikow’s responsibilities: “The Counselor is a principal officer who serves the Secretary as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters.”
A search of the Dept. of State Web site shows Zelikow’s wide-ranging international work for the Dept. of State.
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