Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Today in America we are witness to a great unraveling, the likes of which we have never seen before. There are no historical precedents. For many months now the official narrative about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America has been coming apart, and I mean: at the seams. The official story about that terrible day is disintegrating. The trend shows no sign of abating and in recent weeks it even appears to have accelerated. At the present rate, soon there will be nothing left of the official version of events but a discordant echo and a series of extremely rude after shocks.
Is our nation prepared to face those rude shocks?
The unraveling began within weeks of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report (in July 2004) with the shocking revelation that members of the 9/11 commission were convinced that government officials, including NORAD generals, had deceived them during the investigation–––in essence, had lied to their faces during the hearings. According to the Washington Post the members of the commission vented their frustrations at a special meeting in the summer of 2004. The panel even considered referring the matter to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.
The unraveling continued in 2006 with the release of a follow-up volume, Without Precedent, authored by the two men who had co-chaired the commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton. The men had come under increasing fire ever since the release of their final report for presiding over what many now believe was a failed investigation. Stung by so much criticism, Kean and Hamilton felt the need to explain (and defend) themselves. The gist of their 2006 book is easily summarized. They write: ”We were set up to fail.”
The bleeding continued in May 2007 with the stunning announcement that former BYU physicist Steven Jones had found residues of thermate, a high temperature explosive, in the dust of the collapsed World Trade Center. The discovery has the gravest implications for our nation, and probably for this reason the announcement went reported in the US media. In a later chapter I will discuss this important evidence in detail.
Yet another startling revelation occurred in December 2007 when we learned that the CIA destroyed evidence, in the form of audio-tapes, deemed vital to the official investigation.
The news prompted 9/11 Commission co-chairs Kean and Hamilton to fire off an angry salvo in the New York Times in which they charged that the CIA had obstructed their investigation. Their blunt accusation was explosive and should have caused every American to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, the average American probably failed to connect the dots because, as usual, the US media offered nothing in the way of helpful context or analysis. We were fed the usual diet of tidbits and sound bytes: a wealth of minutiae. The big picture remained elusive.
But back to the unraveling story.
Starting in 2002, the CIA conducted interrogations of captured Al Qaeda operatives, including Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Binalshibh, at undisclosed CIA prisons outside the US. During these interrogations the CIA resorted to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the CIA’s euphemism for torture) to extract information. The methods included “waterboarding,” which induces a sensation of drowning in the unlucky individual. Evidently, the CIA decided for its own internal reasons to video-tape these early interrogation sessions. However, years later (in 2005), Jose A, Rodriquez, the CIA’s Director of Operations, ordered the tapes destroyed. For what reason? Well, according to current CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, because the tapes posed “a serious security risk.” Hayden went on to clarify his rather cryptic remark, and explained to the press that if the tapes had become public they would have exposed CIA officials “and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.” The excuse was flimflam, but the US media hung on Hayden’s every word as if he were speaking gospel. The press certainly did not throw him any hard balls. Nor did they press him on the point.
Hayden also claimed that the CIA had notified the appropriate committee heads in Congress in 2005 before destroying the evidence. But according to the Times this was immediately denied by the top two members of the House Intelligence Committee. A spokesman for Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), who at the time chaired the oversight committee, said that he was “never briefed or advised” that the tapes even existed, let alone “that they were going to be destroyed.”
Kean and Hamilton had a similar reaction–––outrage. In their article they state categorically that the CIA never informed them about any taped interrogations, despite their repeated requests for all pertinent information about the captured Al Qaeda operatives, who were then in CIA custody. In fact, as damaging as the news about the CIA’s destruction of evidence surely was, the story exposed an even more serious problem. One might naturally assume that the official commission charged to investigate the events of 9/11 would have had unfettered access to all of the evidence pertinent to the case, including government documents and key witnesses. This goes without saying. Access was vital to the success of the investigation. How else could the commission do its work? Yet, it never happened.
In their article Kean and Hamilton summarize their dealings with the CIA. They describe their private meeting with CIA Director George Tenet and how he denied them access to the captured members of Al Qaeda. Which means, of course, that the panel never had a chance to conduct its own interviews. Tenet even denied them permission to conduct second-hand interviews with the CIA interrogators, which Kean and Hamilton felt were needed to “to better judge the credibility of the witnesses and clarify ambiguities in the reporting.” Ultimately, the commission was forced to rely on third-hand intelligence reports prepared by the CIA itself. Many of these reports were poorly written and incomplete summaries which, according to the co-chairs “raised almost as many questions as they answered.”
In order to resolve the many uncertainties the commission prepared a list of questions, which they then submitted to the CIA. The questions covered a range of topics, such as the translations from the Arabic, inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the context of the questioning, how the interrogators followed up certain lines of questioning, and the assessments of the interrogators themselves. But the CIA’s response was less than helpful. In their article Kean and Hamilton state that “the [CIA] general counsel responded in writing with non-specific replies.” This is a bland way of saying that the agency stiffed the panel. Not satisfied, Kean and Hamilton made another attempt to gain access to the captives, but were again rebuffed during a head-to-head meeting with Tenet in December 2003. For this reason the ambiguities and other questions went unresolved and still flaw the commission’s final report. Yet, as I have indicated, the more serious problem was the panel’s lack of access to begin with, a problem that was by no means obvious until the recent story broke in the mainstream press. As we now know, Kean and Hamilton had inserted a caveat in their report (on page 146) conceding that they were denied access to the witnesses. Most readers, however, probably pass right over it without understanding its awful significance. I know I did, the first time I read the report.
The latest unraveling also came with a twist. Not even Porter J. Goss, CIA Director at the the time, knew that the tapes had been destroyed. That decision, as noted, was made by Jose A, Rodriquez, the CIA’s Director of Operations–––as in covert operations. According to the Times, Goss was angered to learn he had been left out of the loop. But Goss declined to make a public statement. What are we to make of this? Why was the CIA chief kept in the dark about the destruction of evidence deemed vital to the 9/11 investigation? This is just as shocking as the destruction of the tapes because it points to a disconnect in the chain of command. Was the CIA’s covert branch, long notorious for staging rogue operations, up to its old tricks? Are there loose cannons at Langley still?
The 9/11 Commission Report was packaged and sold to the American people like some trendy product. The US media has told us countless times it is the definitive version of the events of September 11, and in 2008 most Americans probably take this for granted. When something is repeated enough times on television people begin to believe it whether it is true or not. This is what happens when mass marketing is made to serve a political agenda. We witnessed a similar phenomenon during the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, when President G.W. Bush’s mantra about Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and his supposed links to Al Qaeda were drummed into the brain of every American. Today, of course, we know different. None of it was true. Yet, on the eve of that war a Washington Post poll found that 70% of Americans believed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The case is a sobering example of the power of the corporate media to shape public opinion with–––let us call it by its true name–––propaganda.
OK. It is now 2008. Is America prepared to face reality? The 9/11 Commission’s lack of direct access to the captured members of al Qaeda can only mean that the official 9/11 investigation was fundamentally compromised from the outset. No other conclusion is possible, given the latest disclosures. In their recent article Kean and Hamilton do not repudiate their own report, at least, not in so many words. But they come close. They insinuate that the CIA’s stonewalling now calls into question the veracity of key parts of the official story, especially the plot against America supposedly masterminded by Khalid Shiekh Mohammed and approved by Osama bin Laden. Until now, the nation has assumed that all of this was soundly based on the testimony of the captured al Qaeda operatives, several of whom supposedly confessed. This is the story told in the 9/11 Commission Report. However, when you probe more deeply you discover the devil lurking in the details. I personally believe there was a plot by al Qaeda to attack America. Yet, without independent confirmation about what the captives actually confessed to, precisely what was said and by whom, indeed, whether they confessed at all, there is absolutely no way for us to know how much of the official story is true and how much was fabricated by the CIA for reasons we can only guess.
For all that we know, the entire story is a pack of lies. It comes down to whether the CIA is telling the truth. Should we believe them? Another important question is: How did the miscarriage of a lawful process of discovery happen, given that Congress invested the 9/11 Commission with the authority to subpoena evidence?
Now, in February 2008, along comes a new “tell-all” book by Philip Shenon with much to say about the above, and some answers. His book’s sub-title, The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, sounds very promising. Nor does the author fail to deliver. Shenon covered the 9/11 Commission for the New York Times and over the course of the investigation he personally interviewed many of the commissioners and staff. His book is an overnight best-seller, and for good reason. It is a well-written expose and affords our best look yet at what went on behind-the-scenes. Instead of burdening us with his personal opinions, Shenon plays the role of reporter, and describes what happened through the eyes of the commissioners and staff. The book provides valuable insights into why the investigation failed.
Of course, we already knew large parts of the story. We knew about National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice’s incompetence, for example, and about the serious conflicts of interest on the commission, particularly in the case of Philip Zelikow, who served as the panel’s executive director. In that capacity Zelikow controlled many facets of the investigation, including the scheduling of witnesses and the vital flow of information between the staff and commissioners. Zelikow also edited (and, no doubt, doctored) the final report. In addition to being a long-time confidante of Rice, with whom he coauthored a book, Zelikow served on Bush’s transition team and even drafted a national security strategy paper that became the basis for the Bush administration’s attempts in late 2002 to justify the coming war against Iraq. It is hard to believe that Kean and Hamilton, who claim their goal was to lead a nonpartisan investigation, would have knowingly hired such a man–––a neocon–––to manage the day-to-day affairs of their panel. According to Shenon, it only happened because Zelikow failed to report the full extent of his ties to the Bush administration when he submitted his resume for the job. If Zelikow had been more forthcoming he would have been instantly eliminated from consideration. But this hardly excuses Kean and Hamilton for failing to properly vet the candidate.
Shenon’s most important revelation is sure to fuel the unraveling process. Shenon names CIA Director George Tenet as one of the government officials whom the commissioners and staff were certain had lied during the hearings. Tenet gave testimony on three occasions (in addition to the private meetings with Kean and Hamilton) and in each of these hearings the CIA Director suffered from a faulty memory, frequently responding with “I can’t remember.” Initially, the commissioners were inclined to be sympathetic and gave the director the benefit of the doubt. (Tenet’s supporters at the agency reportedly made excuses for their boss: George could not remember because he was dead-tired, physically exhausted from dealing with the war on terrorism, and suffering from sleep deprivation–––not getting enough shuteye. Poor old George.) But gradually the tide turned. By Tenet’s third appearance it was obvious to everyone he was perjuring himself.
Curiously, there no mention of this spectacle in the 9/11 Commission Report. Why not? Kean gave the reason at the panel’s first public hearing in New York City, when he said: “Our…purpose will not be to point fingers.” The comment was not well received. According to Shenon, it prompted a rumble in the audience, including sneers from the families of the victims who wanted those officials responsible to be held accountable.
It is important to understand that when Tenet stiffed the commission he was carrying on a time-honored Langley tradition. For the first 25 years of its existence the CIA functioned entirely outside our constitutional framework of government. Like it or not, this is the disturbing reality. The state of affairs prevailed until the Watergate era when the Church hearings exposed a laundry list of criminal activities by the CIA, such as domestic spying, the assassination of foreign leaders, the overthrow of governments, plus the nasty habit of deceiving Congress. The Church hearings shocked the nation and led to the creation of House and Senate intelligence committees to provide the democratic oversight that was sorely lacking. At any rate, that was the intent. But as with so many good ideas it never worked as expected. The CIA soon found ways around the oversight process. This is not surprising when you consider that the agency’s expertise is clandestine operations. Today, the Intelligence Committees in both houses are widely viewed as a joke, and despite a chorus of denials from the agency and its admirers the perception is undoubtedly correct. To his credit, Shenon touches on the problem. The author mentions that one of the commissioners, former Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), once served on the Senate Intelligence Committee but quit in frustration because of the lack of any serious business. Said Gorton: “I felt it was a useless exercise–––I never felt I was being told anything that I hadn’t learned in the Washington Post.” Does such an agency deserve our trust and respect?
As to why Kean and Hamilton did not make more aggressive use of their authority to subpoena evidence, Shenon’s answer is not very satisfying but rings true. The co-chairs were overcautious because they wished to avoid a legal showdown that would drag out in the courts. A legal stalemate threatened to delay their investigation beyond the mandated deadline, which in their view would have been tantamount to a Bush victory. It was a huge mistake, however. Had Kean and Hamilton stood tough and issued blanket subpoenas early in the investigation as their legal counsel advised, the inevitable showdown in the courts would have worked in their favor. Bush and Tenet would have been perceived–––correctly–––as obstructing the investigation and would have come under increasing pressure and scrutiny. That sort of confrontation would have served the discovery process and the cause of 9/11 truth. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. This helps to explain why the official investigation failed in its stated objective: “to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11.”
Although Philip Shenon supports the official narrative, his research was so narrowly focused that his rather casual discounting of “conspiracy theorists” can do no harm to the 9/11 truth movement. (Here, of course, “conspiracy theorist” means anyone who does not agree with the official conspiracy theory.) Judging from his book, Shenon appears to be genuinely unaware that in 2007 the evidence shifted decisively in favor of the “conspiracy theorists.” It is ironic that, whatever his personal views, his book is likely to speed the unraveling process.
The showdown with the CIA, though long delayed, appears to be developing as I write, and it portends–––I believe–––a coming shift in the terms of the debate, away from the previous discussion about the incompetence of officials and “security failures” to more grave issues. But how this important drama will be played out remains unclear. Obviously, a new legally empowered investigative body is urgently needed, since the 9/11 Commission no longer exists. While there are many reasons to worry about the future––––we have entered the most dangerous time in our history––––the good news is that, once begun, the unraveling process is irreversible. It moves in only one direction: forward. As in the famous nursery rhyme, the official reality is falling apart and the pieces will never be put back together again.
1 Dan Eggen, “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2006. 3 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007. 4 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008. 6 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007. 7 Ibid. 8 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008. 10 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p.391. 11 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007. 12 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p. 360. 13 Ibid., p. 360. 14 Ibid., pp. 258-260. 15 Ibid., p. 99. 16 Ibid., p. 229. 17 Ibid. pp. 94 and 201. 18 The 9/11 Commission Report. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. xvi.
2 The Jones paper is posted at http://www.journalof911studies.com/volume/200704/JonesWTC911SciMethod.pdf
5 “CIA destroyed terrorism suspect videotapes. Director says interrogation tapes were security risk. Critics call move illegal,” NBC News, December 7, 2007.
9 The 9/11 Commission Report. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p.146.
1 Dan Eggen, “9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2006.
3 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.
4 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008.
6 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.
8 Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, “Stonewalled by the CIA,” New York Times, January 2, 2008.
10 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p.391.
11 Mark Mazzetti, “CIA Destroyed 2 Tapes Showing Interrogations,” New York Times, December 7, 2007.
12 Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2008, p. 360.
13 Ibid., p. 360.
14 Ibid., pp. 258-260.
15 Ibid., p. 99.
16 Ibid., p. 229.
17 Ibid. pp. 94 and 201.
18 The 9/11 Commission Report. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, p. xvi.