- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006


The September 11 commission was so frustrated with repeated misstatements by the Pentagon and FAA about their response to the 2001 terror attacks that it considered an investigation into possible deception, the panel’s chairmen say in a new book.

Republican Thomas Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton’s book, “Without Precedent,” also recounts internal disputes over President Bush’s use of the attacks as a reason for invading Iraq, and the way the final report avoided questioning whether U.S. policy in the Middle East may have contributed to the attacks.

Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton said the commission found it mind-boggling that authorities had asserted during hearings that their air defenses had reacted quickly and were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93, which appeared headed toward Washington.

In fact, the commission determined — after it subpoenaed audiotapes and e-mails of the sequence of events — that the shootdown order did not reach North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) pilots until after all of the hijacked planes had crashed.

The book states that commission staff, “exceedingly frustrated” by what they thought could be deception, proposed a full review into why the FAA and the Pentagon’s NORAD had presented inaccurate information. That ultimately could have led to sanctions.

Due to a lack of time, the panel ultimately referred the matter to the inspectors general at the Pentagon and Transportation Department. Both are preparing reports, spokesmen said this week.

“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,” the book states.

Congress established the commission in 2002 to investigate government missteps leading to the September 11 attacks. Its 567-page unanimous report, which was released in July 2004 and became a national best seller, does not blame Bush or former President Clinton but does say they failed to make anti-terrorism a high priority before the attacks.

The panel of five Republicans and five Democrats also concluded that the September 11 attacks would not be the nation’s last, noting that al Qaeda had tried for at least 10 years to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

In their book, which goes on sale Aug. 15, Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton recap obstacles they say the panel faced in putting out a credible report in a presidential election year, including fights for access to government documents and an effort to reach unanimity.

Among the issues:

• Iraq. The commission threatened to splinter over the question of investigating the administration’s use of 9/11 as a reason for going to war. The strongest proponent was original member Max Cleland, a Democratic former senator who later stepped down for separate reasons.

If Mr. Cleland had not resigned, the commission probably would not have reached unanimity, according to the book. Ultimately, commissioners decided to touch briefly on the Iraq war by concluding there was no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda; the administration had asserted there were substantial contacts between the two.

• Israel. The commission disagreed as to how to characterize al Qaeda’s motives for attacking the U.S., with Mr. Hamilton arguing that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the presence of U.S. forces in the Middle East were major contributors.

Unidentified members believed that “listing U.S. support for Israel as a root cause of al Qaeda’s opposition to the United States indicated that the United States should reassess that policy,” which those commission members did not want.

Ultimately, the panel made a brief statement noting that U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq are “dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.”

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