9/11

9/11 Commission mission failure; withheld key documents are owed to the American people

Update, October 5, 2019:

While nearly all of the more than 1200 memorandums for record summarizing the interviews conducted by the 9/11 Commission have been reviewed for classification, unfortunately three other key documents remain hidden — perhaps deliberately so as to avoid embarrassing officials — from the American people.

They are the 9/11 Commission’s: transcription of the ten Commissioners interviewing then President Bush and VP Cheney in the Oval Office in April 2004; 7000-word summary of a review of more than 300 related Presidential Daily Briefs to Presidents Clinton and Bush (43); and 78-page staff monograph on National Security Council work on counter-terrorism 1998 to 9/11.

Multiple FOIAs, declassification review requests, and appeals have been filed for them to no effect. We will keep trying.

— July 28, 2014 original post follows —

By January 14, 2009, only 35% of the 9/11 Commission’s staff documents had been processed by the National Archives. They are Congressional records not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. There are nearly 2,000 memorandums for record (MFRs) of the summaries and transcripts of interviews conducted by 9/11 Commissioners and staff, as well as the briefings they received.

117 MFRs are still pending declassification review. Key interviews among them illustrate the 9/11 Commissioners’ lip service last week to transparency. They briefly called for declassification on page 39 of their 49-page “update” to their original 2004 recommendations:

“The job of fully informing the American people is incomplete, however. The commission’s records, including summaries of our interviews and important intelligence and policy documents, are held by the National Archives. Some of those documents and records remain classified and are thus unavailable to the public. Authority to declassify those documents rests with the agencies that created them.”

On July 21, 2004, 9/11 Commissioners met to decide when to release this body of work. Richard Ben-Veniste asked: “Is the theory here the great cover-up of partisan differences?” The notes of the meeting do not show he received an answer. Regardless, the vote was 6 to 3 to kick the responsibility 4 1/2 years down the road. [1]

What motivated Samuel “Sandy” Berger in 2004 to steal classified documents from the National Archives while he acted as former President Bill Clinton’s designated representative to the 9/11 Commission? The answer may be within the 9/11 Commission interviews of Richard Clarke, George Tenet, and Sandy Berger held by the National Security Counsel. [See correction at Note 4].

Surely the Commission asked former CIA Director Tenet what efforts were made to alert the NSC and President Clinton on the movement of al Qaeda operatives immediately preceding and following the Millennium terrorist attacks plots.

On January 15, 2000, two known al Qaeda operatives, future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, arrived in Los Angeles. During December 1999, the CIA had tracked their movements in Southeast Asia, observed their meeting with Walid bin Attash (now at Guantanamo awaiting military commission trial alongside Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), and covertly photocopied the open-ended U.S. visas within their passports. Beginning in March 2000 and before September 11, 2001, more than 50 people at the CIA knew they had entered the United States.

The 9/11 Commission staff also prepared a 78-page monograph of NSC counterterrorism efforts from 1998 to 9/11. Yet the 9/11 Commissioners have never publicly spoken of its existence which is not classified. I filed for declassification review of it in 2009.

In addition, there is the still classified (by the FBI) 9/11 Commission interview of former FBI Director Louis Freeh. Subsequent to my April 2009 request, a previously unheard of staff monograph was declassified in June 2009. [2] It was prepared by staffer (and former DOJ IG) Barbara Grewe on the intelligence sharing “Wall.” It concluded: “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information could not have been shared.” Indeed. A MFR declassified and released on January 15, 2009 of 9/11 Commission staff interviews of former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick states in part:

“Gorelick said she did not know anything about how the wall was structured within the FBI. She did not believe that the FBI was required to erect a wall between intelligence and criminal agents, particularly those on the same squad and working related intelligence and criminal cases. She said she was surprised that the FBI interpreted the provisions that way.”

Strangely, the 9/11 Commissioners reminded no one that Executive Director Philip Zelikow and Commissioner Jamie Gorelick had authored a 7,000-word summary [3] of presidential daily briefs (PDBs). It is in former President George W. Bush’s records. It has been subject to declassification review by the NSC since January 20, 2014 as federal statute mandates a 5-year delay after a President leaves office. And there is the still classified MFR summarizing the President Bush-Vice President Cheney interview conducted by all 10 Commissioners.

Massive finger pointing as the WTC Pile, Pentagon, and a field outside of Shanksville still smoldered would have distracted key government personnel then scrambling to rally our Nation’s defense, and it would not well serve us now. Yet the American people must know the rest of the story. 2,978 names and the face of a 9/11 firefighter on a funeral mass card that I’ve long carried in my wallet haunt me; we owe it to them and future generations.

The 9/11 Commissioners can finally raise their voices and fulfill their charter to provide a “complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness.” I pray they do.

Originally posted on July 28, 2014

Note 1: Also present were “PZ” Philip Zelikow and “GC” General Counsel Daniel Marcus.

Note 2:
Legal Barriers to Information Sharing: The Erection of a Wall Between Intelligence and Law Enforcement Investigations
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Staff Monograph
Barbara A. Grewe
Senior Counsel for Special Projects
August 20, 2004

Note 3: Zelikow confirmed its existence in a 2011 Reuters report.

Note 4: Tenet’s interview remains pending declassification review by the CIA while Clarke’s and Berger’s interviews are being held back by the NSC.

Obama’s DOJ: Gina Haspel’s CIA and Enhanced Interrogation Program ‘Saved Lives’

“I was crushed by the South Tower — my chest was caved in. I was buried, almost suffocated and drowned in my own blood. Then the ambulance that I was in was nearly crushed by the collapsing North Tower. Once in the hospital, my chest was cut open while I was wide awake and I watched the burn victim on the next gurney screaming as the doctors attempted to treat her horrifying injuries. I thought 9/11 might be a cure for American amnesia. I was mistaken.” — Robert Reeg, former FDNY, Engine 44

Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the Central Intelligence Agency as its first female director has hit a stumbling block because of reports that she played some role in the Rendition, Detention, Interrogation (RDI) program at a so-called CIA black site. After news that some members of the Senate are unhappy that she might have been involved in the harsh but then legal interrogation program, Robert Reeg expressed his anger on Facebook, noting that he was about to undergo his sixth surgery for the injuries he sustained 16 years ago responding to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Those most personally affected by 9/11 have maintained the perspective and moral clarity that the entire country once shared. The permanence of their losses, the vivid memories of the horrors they witnessed, prevent them from forgetting the ultimate cause of our government’s inability to protect its citizens from the most deadly attack on America in our nation’s history. The 9/11 Commission declared it a “failure of imagination.” But that was a gloss over of the real problem — the refusal of vast government bureaucracies to put aside turf wars, careerism, and more attention to partisan politics than the real threats that face us.

Now we are seeing it again. Politicians are attacking the very people who have done the most to keep America safe for some of the same reasons, and this is a grave danger.

The RDI program has been unfairly branded a rogue operation and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) “torture.” Real torture can be seen in videos made by Al Qaeda and ISIS — Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, humanitarian aid workers and Christian martyrs lined up for beheading, a caged Jordanian pilot burned alive — which testify to the savage inhumanity of the enemy we, and our troops, continue to face. Worse, contradicting hard evidence, critics of the program are advancing the narrative that it didn’t work.

A succession of CIA directors has declared that the RDI program have netted more actionable intelligence than every other source combined. We don’t have to take their word for it, we can turn to the sworn statement of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for verification. Appointed by President Barack Obama to head the New York Southern District, he was the lead prosecutor in the 2009 trial of Al Qaeda bomb maker Ahmed Ghailani, captured in Pakistan after a 14-hour gun battle, and charged in a 286 count indictment for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya that killed 224 people and injured 4,000.

In a 132-page legal brief explaining why holding Ghailani for two years in the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation program hadn’t violated his right to a speedy trial, Bharara described how Ghailani’s status as a senior member of Al Qaeda with knowledge of the organization made him suitable for the program. “[T]he defendant was believed to have, and did have, actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda, by virtue of his longstanding position in al-Qaeda; his assistance to known al-Qaeda terrorists; and his close relationship to long-standing al-Qaeda leaders, including Usama Bin Laden.”

The brief continues, “[T]he United States justifiably treated the defendant as an intelligence asset — to obtain from him whatever information it could concerning terrorists and terrorist plots. This was done, simply put, to save lives. And when significant intelligence had been collected from the defendant, the U.S. made the decision to continue holding him as an alien enemy combatant pursuant to the laws of war….” [Emphasis added.]

The brief added a citation to a 4th Circuit Court ruling in the 2004 Zacarias Moussaoui case (charged for his role in the Al Qaeda plan for a “2nd wave” of aviation attacks) which stated that “the value of the detainees in the CIA’s interrogation program ‘can hardly be overstated.’” This was followed by pages of classified information elicited from Ghailani, further stating that “the results of the CIA’s efforts show that the defendant’s value as an intelligence source was not just speculative.” [Emphasis added.]

Ruling in the government’s favor, presiding judge Lewis A. Kaplan, stated that the government had offered credible evidence not only that it was reasonable to believe Ghailani had valuable information essential to combating al-Qaeda and protecting national security, but that this valuable information “could not have been obtained except by putting him in that program….” [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that all four Office of Legal Counsel memos describing the Rendition, Detention (RDI), and Interrogation program, detailing EIT methods, as well as two Inspector General reports were part of discovery in the case. Thus, the defense was unable to make the kind of egregious accusations and outright falsehoods which have characterized much of the media’s reporting about the program over the last ten years.

Judge Kaplan further said that the government provided credible evidence that Ghailani continued to provide valuable evidence which didn’t diminish over time. This suggests that the CIA repeatedly went back to him after he began cooperating, as new intelligence was acquired. Indeed, to reduce his sentence, Ghailani’s lead defense attorney actually described his client as a “hero” for providing so much valuable intelligence.

Here we have the Obama Justice Department and two federal courts crediting the work done at CIA black sites and the life-saving intelligence gained in the process. Now we have United States Senators condemning Gina Haspel because she was a part of that process.

The record in the Ghailani case is an important rebuttal to the shameful slander of the men and women of the CIA as they scrambled to defend our county after the devastating attack of September 11. At great personal cost, they did everything asked of them by their government. They repeatedly sought legal confirmation that the RDI/EIT program conformed to policy and law. They repeatedly fulfilled their obligation to inform the legislative branch of government as to the details of the program, even inviting members of Congress to help them shape it. Those members stood silent.

How can Congress ask dedicated CIA officers to fulfill their responsibility to protect the country from future attacks knowing that their careers might be in jeopardy or that they might be subject to prosecution, depending on shifting political winds? Gina Haspel has accumulated an exemplary record of achievement in her 33 years with the agency. The rank and file of the agency and 53 former CIA senior officials who cumulatively served seven presidents endorse her. Senators must show that they respect, support and understand the mission of our defenders.

Gina Haspel answered the call on 9/11. Confirm her, senators.

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney, is the sister of Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, Pentagon attack, September 11, 2001.