How the 9/11 Commission wrote a unanimous report from more than 2 mil pages of notes and 1,000 interviews
My notes from the book: “Without Precedent: the inside story of the 9/11 commission” by Thomas H Kean and Lee H Hamilton, cochairs of the 9/11 commission
Copyright 2006 by Thomas H Kean and Lee H Hamilton with Benjamin Rhodes, Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Page 58: August 1998 Al Qaeda bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; Bill Clinton's responsive launch and cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in a factory in Sudan; the 1993 incident Blackhawk down when 17 Americans were killed in Somalia; the 1983 attack by the terrorist group Hizbollah on Marine barracks in Lebanon killing 242 Americans.
Page 112: 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals as is Osama bin Laden; it was well documented that money from wealthy individuals and charities in Saudi Arabia flowed to Al Qaeda before 9/11 at rumors circulated about the possibility that Al Qaeda had been funded by the Saudi royal family. The 28 redacted pages in the congressional joint inquiry report into 9/11 widely reported to link Saudi Arabia to the attacks.
Prince Bandar, the long-time and highly influential Saudi ambassador to the United States, made some phone calls to help facilitate our staff’s trip and his intervention and cooperation between the State Department and the Saudi government opened many doors.
Page 150:" I also welcome to hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11; to them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed.
And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness."– –Richard Clarke, Former national coordinator for counterterrorism, testifying before the 9/11 commission, March 24, 2004.
Page 154: Clarke was highly critical of the Bush administration. His basic charge was that President Bush and his top advisers had not taken terrorism seriously before 9/11. He also said urgent warnings about potential Al Qaeda attacks over the summer of 2001 were not acted upon with urgency.
Page 156: Clarke said President Bush pushed him to tie Iraq to the attacks. “The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, "I want you to find whether Iraq did this." Now he never said,”Make it up." But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.”
Page 171 – 2: Condoleezza Rice countered Clark's charges saying the Bush administration crafted a comprehensive new strategy to eliminate the Al Qaeda network from the very start.
Page 187: The commission asked why Clinton did not respond to the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. Pres. Clinton said that if he had had a finding from the CIA and FBI saying that Al Qaeda was responsible he would've acted.
Page 240: the Commission reported," We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
Page 254: “It is also a great disrespect to the men and women who died on the airplane, as well as the US military, to suggest that a US missile hit the Pentagon."
Page 255: another issue that drew widespread attention was the reports of Saudi citizens including members of the bin Laden family have been allowed to fly out of the united states in the days after 9/11 when airspace was still close. Indeed we received many more questions about this issue particularly from members of Congress than any other topic within our mandate. What we found does not match up to the more nefarious charges. The Saudi Embassy contacted the FBI about possibly evacuating some Saudi nationals fearing reprisal attacks; The FBI prescreened the Saudi nationals including the members of the bin Laden family before permitting them to leave and many were interviewed; Richard Clarke approved the departure of the planes only after he had been told that the FBI had reviewed the passengers to its satisfaction; And none of the planes departed the United States before September 14, 2001, when US airspace was reopened.
Page 257 – 259: the FAA and NORAD delayed document release and slowed down the commission’s work. There were discrepancies in the agency records and facts obtained from interviews.
One example of the discrepancies between the official accounts and reality involved United Flight 93. In its September 18, 2001, press release, NORAD said that the timing of the FAA’s notification to NORAD on the United 93 hijacking was not available. In public testimony before the commission in May 2003, NORAD said notification took place at 9:16 AM, 47 minutes before the plane crash in Pennsylvania. In reality, though, United 93 had not yet been hijacked at 9:16 TAM–– the last transmission for the pilot of United 93 did not occur until 9:28 AM. In their investigation, our staff found the notification took place at 10:06 AM – – three minutes after the flight had already crashed.
Another example is the FAA notification to NORAD about the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77. In its September 18, 2001 press release and in testimony before the commission in May 2003, NORAD said the notification took place at 9:24 AM, almost 14 minutes before American 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Yet our staff determined that there was no notification that American 77 was a hijacking before the crash time at 9:37; Instead at 9:34, there was notification that American 77 was lost and that its location could not be determined.
The military gave confusing, inaccurate or puzzling accounts about when and where fighter jets were scrambled, giving ammunition to conspiracy theorists. But these gaps were among the biggest questions and concerns of the families of the victims.
They wanted to know why the government had not saved more lives on 9/11 — perhaps by shooting down United Airlines Flight 175 before it crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center or American 77 before it crashed into the Pentagon.
Pg. 260: “Indeed, many of the families’ most detailed and most frequently asked questions dealt with the FAA and NORAD. As it became apparent that FAA and NORAD officials had been inaccurate — if not untruthful — in making public statements, including in testimony before Congress and the 9/11 Commission, the families became more upset. The notion that they were not being told the truth fed their mistrust of the government, and nearly aligned some of them with the conspiracy theorists.”
“For our staff, it became a methodical process of rebuilding the record from scratch. When they took their corrected record to NORAD, however, they found resistance. Even with the evidence, there was pushback from NORAD officials, who insisted that their original timelines had been correct.”
One claim that was hardest to document was whether Vice President Dick Cheney ordered fighter pilots to shoot down the hijacked planes. Cheney said he discussed his order with President Bush by phone shortly after Cheney entered the bunker under the White House at 9:58 a.m.
“Based on transcripts of conference calls, logs of phone calls, and interviews, our staff found that the shoot-down order did not reach the NORAD pilots until after all of the hijacked planes had crashed — well after the vice president thought that it had reached the pilots — and that the order was for the pilots to identify the types and tail numbers of the planes, not to shoot them down.” (Pg. 260)
“Our staff was exceedingly frustrated by their problems with the FAA and NORAD. Fog of war could explain why some people were confused on the day of 9/11, but it could not explain why all of the after-action reports, accident investigations, and public testimony by FAA and NORAD officials advanced an account of 9/11 that was untrue.” (Pg. 261)
Pg. 267: “The only air defense that the American people received on the morning of September 11, 2001, was the heroism of the passengers on United 93. Amazingly, the phone calls placed to and from passengers of United 93 and their loved ones were more effective in foiling an attack that the communication between the FAA and NORAD, or among the senior-most officials in the U.S. Government.” (President Bush told the commission that he was frustrated that the phones on Air Force One kept cutting out and he was unable to stay in constant contact.)
Patty Casazza, one member of the Family Steering Committee, complained: “The Commission failed in its duty to learn all the lessons of 9/11 and squandered the opportunity to protect our country, our children, from terrorist harm.”
Another, Mindy Kleinberg, said: “The hearings in New York were such a disappointment. No real questions were addressed.” Referring to the June 16-17 hearings in Washington, Kleinberg said: “People won’t travel four hours to be frustrated and disappointed again.” (Pg. 267.)
Who wrote the 9/11 Commission report? Keane and Hamilton, the co-chairs, write a whole chapter about this called “Many Voices.” (Pg. 269-289)
Here are highlights of the chapter:
The Commission had funding and sought bids to publish the report and reach the public as broadly as possible. W.W. Norton & Company agreed to print and distribute the book in only six days, to run 200,000 copies, priced no higher than $10 per copy. Norton also pledged to distribute complimentary copies to a representative of each 9/11 family and to make a donation with a portion of the profits.
The writers had more than two million pages of documents, interviews with more than 1,000 witnesses and a staff with a wealth of information and expertise.
All of the staff started by putting all accounts in chronological order.
All summaries were written in journalistic style. The 11 chapters were outlined by Zelikow and May. They circulated the outline and assigned sections to specific individual staff members, including those with the strongest writing skills. (Pg. 272-3).
Some of the teams — focused on terrorist financing and border security for example — wrote book-long drafts and summaries of their findings.
John Farmer wrote what happened on the four flights with key help from two staffers who were aviation security experts.
“For the chapters an al Qaeda, Doug MacEachin took the lead on producing first-draft material on the history of the organization, and Dietrich Snell took the lead on the two chapters outlining the 9/11 plot, which succeeded in placing the readers in the shoes of the enemy.” (Pg. 273)
Mike Hurley drafted the chapters on how the Clinton and Bush administrations handled terrorism including the accounts of Condoleezza Rice and Richard Clarke.
Zelikow had an overall view of how the book should flow.
Kojm was the gifted editor.
Marcus and Dunne focused on accuracy and eliminating errors.
Final staff edits were done by Zelikow, Kojm and Marcus.
Each member of the commission wrote memos, notes for edits, on all drafts.
Pg. 274-5: “By late June and early July, we were having eight-hour commissioner editing sessions in our conference room, occasionally meeting until after midnight. Sometimes we spent 30 minutes on a single sentence, trying to get wording acceptable to all of the commissioners. Time and again, our mantra was to go to the facts. The two of us were wary of shutting down debate while any commissioner was unhappy — everyone had to feel invested in the language of the report to achieve a consensus result. In both our experiences, the only way to build a consensus was talk, talk and then talk some more.”
When there was disagreement on the facts, the expert staff member was brought in to go into detail about the documentation, testimony or interviews with the commissioners.
Here is an example of how all of these writers and commissioners fought for facts, accuracy and non-partisanship, especially on the most divisive argument of whether Bush was prepared or not before 9/11, speaking specifically of a directive about the administration’s strategy against terrorists. (Pg. 275)
“Rice viewed this draft directive as the embodiment of a comprehensive new strategy employing all instruments of national power to eliminate the al Qaeda threat. Clarke, however, regarded the new draft as essentially similar to the proposal he had developed in December 2000 and put forward to the new administration in January 2001. In May or June, Clarke asked to be moved from his counterterrorism portfolio to a new set of responsibilities for cyber-security. He told us that he was frustrated with his role and with an administration that he considered ‘not serious about al Qadea.’ If Clarke was frustrated, he never expressed it to her, Rice told us.” (Pg. 275)
The facts of Clarke’s proposal and Rice’s directive are included in the report for readers and the public to make their own conclusions, Kean and Hamilton wrote.
The report blamed two administrations and many bureaucracies for a systemic failure to prevent the terrorist attacks or to anticipate threats posed by al Qaeda, Kean and Hamilton wrote. (Pg. 276-7)
Among the failures:
Not sharing information about hijackers Hazmi and Midhar, who were known to the CIA and living under their own names in San Diego;
The FBI’s failure to link the arrest of Moussaoui — described as interested in flight training for the purposes of carrying out a terrorist attack — to the increased warning of an attack in the summer of 2001.
Failure to detect false information or fake passports on hijackers’ visas.
Failure to act on aviation security, such as hardening of cockpit doors, as the threats increased.
Page 290: commissioners split down partisan lines regarding the public disputes between Rice and Clark, but they worked line by line and paragraph by paragraph, resulting in a unanimous report.
Page 302: staff team leaders work with all the questions submitted by the families and tried to answer those questions as best they could.
Pg. 318-9: “We learned that the United States Congress needs help. Too often, Congress cannot deal with the toughest questions facing the nation. Because of the diviseness in the country, the dizzying 24-hour news cycle, the constant need to raise funds and travel back and forth to a home district, the complexity of some bills, and the pressure on members to be partisan team players, it is harder for Congress to take time to work through issues and build consensus.”
Pg. 319: Kean was impressed by the public’s hunger for facts and answers. The commission report was an instant best seller. Kean said the U.S. Government needs more openness and transparency and accountability. “Someone needs to guard the guardians. Government would do well to heed people’s desire for accountability. Often the appearance of a cover-up is far more damaging to public perception than the consequences of full revelation of the truth.”
Pg. 323: “…the dramatic actions of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who saved the U.S. Capitol or White House from destruction; watching a fire department chief who took command in the lobby of the World Trade Center on that day view a tape of his brother climbing the steps of the burning tower to rescue civilians, never to come back down.”
In a way, this page is my third book, a virtual and public account of the next chapter of my life. My story is not over.