Clinton

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

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.

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 and the 9/11 Families; The president isn’t sincere about ‘swift and certain’ justice for terrorists

In February I was among a group of USS Cole and 9/11 victims’ families who met with the president at the White House to discuss his policies regarding Guantanamo detainees. Although many of us strongly opposed Barack Obama’s decision to close the detention center and suspend all military commissions, the families of the 17 sailors killed in the 2000 attack in Yemen were particularly outraged.

Over the years, the Cole families have seen justice abandoned by the Clinton administration and overshadowed by the need of the Bush administration to gather intelligence after 9/11. They have watched in frustration as the president of Yemen refused extradition for the Cole bombers.

Now, after more than eight years of waiting, Mr. Obama was stopping the trial of Abu Rahim al-Nashiri, the only individual to be held accountable for the bombing in a U.S. court. Patience finally gave out. The families were giving angry interviews, slamming the new president just days after he was sworn in.

The Obama team quickly put together a meeting at the White House to get the situation under control. Individuals representing “a diversity of views” were invited to attend and express their concerns.

On Feb. 6, the president arrived in the Roosevelt Room to a standing though subdued ovation from some 40 family members. With a White House photographer in his wake, Mr. Obama greeted family members one at a time and offered brief remarks that were full of platitudes (“you are the conscience of the country,” “my highest duty as president is to protect the American people,” “we will seek swift and certain justice“). Glossing over the legal complexities, he gave a vague summary of the detainee cases and why he chose to suspend them, focusing mostly on the need for speed and finality.

Many family members pressed for Guantanamo to remain open and for the military commissions to go forward. Mr. Obama allowed that the detention center had been unfairly confused with Abu Ghraib, but when asked why he wouldn’t rehabilitate its image rather than shut it down, he silently shrugged. Next question.

Mr. Obama was urged to consult with prosecutors who have actually tried terrorism cases and warned that bringing unlawful combatants into the federal courts would mean giving our enemies classified intelligence — as occurred in the cases of the al Qaeda cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb New York City landmarks with ringleader Omar Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh.” In the Rahman case, a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators given to the defense — they were entitled to information material to their defense — was in Osama bin Laden’s hands within hours. It told al Qaeda who among them was known to us, and who wasn’t.

Mr. Obama responded flatly, “I’m the one who sees that intelligence. I don’t want them to have it, either. We don’t have to give it to them.”

How could anyone be unhappy with such an answer? Or so churlish as to ask follow-up questions in such a forum? I and others were reassured, if cautiously so.

News reports described the meeting as a touching and powerful coming together of the president and these long-suffering families. Mr. Obama had won over even those who opposed his decision to close Gitmo by assuaging their fears that the review of some 245 current detainees would result in dangerous jihadists being set free. “I did not vote for the man, but the way he talks to you, you can’t help but believe in him,” said John Clodfelter to the New York Times. His son, Kenneth, was killed in the Cole bombing. “[Mr. Obama] left me with a very positive feeling that he’s going to get this done right.”

“This isn’t goodbye,” said the president, signing autographs and posing for pictures before leaving for his next appointment, “this is hello.” His national security staff would have an open-door policy.

Believe … feel … hope.

We’d been had.

Binyam Mohamed — the al Qaeda operative selected by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) for a catastrophic post-9/11 attack with co-conspirator Jose Padilla — was released 17 days later. In a follow-up conference call, the White House liaison to 9/11 and Cole families refused to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding the decision to repatriate Mohamed, including whether he would be freed in Great Britain.

The phrase “swift and certain justice” had been used by top presidential adviser David Axelrod in an interview prior to our meeting with the president. “Swift and certain justice” figured prominently in the White House press release issued before we had time to surrender our White House security passes. “At best, he manipulated the families,” Kirk Lippold, commanding officer of the USS Cole at the time of the attack and the leader of the Cole families group, told me recently. “At worst, he misrepresented his true intentions.”

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder told German reporters that 30 detainees had been cleared for release. This includes 17 Chinese fundamentalist Muslims, the Uighurs, some of whom admit to having been trained in al Qaeda and Taliban camps and being associated with the East Turkistan Islamic Party. This party is led by Abdul Haq, who threatened attacks on the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing and was recently added [April 20, 2009] to the Treasury Department’s terrorist list. The Obama administration is considering releasing the Uighurs on U.S. soil, and it has suggested that taxpayers may have to provide them with welfare support. In a Senate hearing yesterday, Mr. Holder sidestepped lawmakers’ questions about releasing detainees into the U.S. who have received terrorist training.

What about the terrorists who may actually be tried? The Justice Department’s recent plea agreement with Ali Saleh al-Marri should be of grave concern to those who believe the Obama administration will vigorously prosecute terrorists in the federal court system.

Al-Marri was sent to the U.S. on Sept. 10, 2001, by KSM to carry out cyanide bomb attacks. He pled guilty to one count of “material support,” a charge reserved for facilitators rather than hard-core terrorists. He faces up to a 15-year sentence, but will be allowed to argue that the sentence should be satisfied by the seven years he has been in custody. This is the kind of thin “rule of law” victory that will invigorate rather than deter our enemies.

Given all the developments since our meeting with the president, it is now evident that his words to us bore no relation to his intended actions on national security policy and detainee issues. But the narrative about Mr. Obama’s successful meeting with 9/11 and Cole families has been written, and the press has moved on.

The Obama team has established a pattern that should be plain for all to see. When controversy erupts or legitimate policy differences are presented by well-meaning people, send out the celebrity president to flatter and charm.

Most recently, Mr. Obama appeared at the CIA after demoralizing the agency with the declassification and release of memos containing sensitive information on CIA interrogations. He appealed to moral vanity by saying that fighting a war against fanatic barbarians “with one hand tied behind your back” is being on “the better side of history,” even though innocent lives are put at risk. He promised the assembled staff and analysts that if they keep applying themselves, they won’t be personally marked for career-destroying sanctions or criminal prosecutions, even as disbelieving counterterrorism professionals — the field operatives and their foreign partners — shut down critical operations for fear of public disclosure and political retribution in the never-ending Beltway soap opera called Capitol Hill.

It worked: On television, his speech looked like a campaign rally, with people jumping up and down, cheering. Meanwhile, the media have moved on, even as they continue to recklessly and irresponsibly use the word “torture” in their stories.

I asked Cmdr. Kirk Lippold why some of the Cole families declined the invitation to meet with Barack Obama at the White House.

“They saw it for what it was.”

—— Editor’s notes ——

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the National September 11 Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. “Chic” Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America.

This commentary by her appeared today on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. The supporting links and video only appear here.

May 9, 2009: See additional (98 so far) comments here. A sample:

Fri May 08, 2009 10:15 ‘Red Fred‘ said: “Mr. Obama responded flatly, ‘I’m the one who sees that intelligence. I don’t want them to have it, either. We don’t have to give it to them.’ Well case closed. He can withhold whatever information from defense he darn well pleases. Mr. Constitutional scholar strikes again.”

Evidence that Eric Holder twiced perjured himself before Senate Judiciary Committee

On February 14, 2001, former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding President Clinton’s last day in office pardon of Marc Rich. In part, Mr. Holder stated:

I would like to briefly go through a chronology of the relevant events so as to explain the Department’s involvement in this matter. I think my first contact with the Rich case came in late 1999 when Jack Quinn, the former White House counsel, called me and asked me to facilitate a meeting with the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York concerning a client of his named Marc Rich. This was not an unusual request. Over the years other prominent members of the bar and former colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, had asked me to arrange similar meetings with other offices around the country — Mr. Rich’s name was unfamiliar to me.[emphasis added mine]
I gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case. … [the link is to a copy of Eric Holder’s testimony as filed with the Federal Clearing House]

Yet, as Andrew McCarthy reported today on the National Review Online, Eric Holder filed a complaint against Clarendon Ltd in 1995:

On April 13, 1995, the Wall Street Journal reported Holder’s announcement that his office had obtained a settlement from a Swiss trading company called Clarendon Ltd. Rich had maintained a significant ownership interest in Clarendon, but the company had falsely represented to the government that none of its principals was disqualified from federal contracts. By concealing its link to Rich, Clarendon had induced the government to purchase its wares — coinage metal for the U.S. mint. When Holder’s office found out about Rich’s chicanery, it filed civil charges. The settlement of those charges, Holder told the Journal, ended a broader investigation his office had been conducting into Rich’s business interests.

On-air today, WOR talk-radio host Steve Malzberg discussed this with Debra Burlingame. During his nomination hearings last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Eric Holder again cited a lack of familarity with Marc Rich and the underlying facts of the case as what caused his “mistakes”:

Here is the complaint against Clarendon, beginning with the top of the first page:

Click to enlarge

On page 2 of the complaint, Marc Rich was specifically named:

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Then U.S. Attorney Eric Holder signed the complaint:

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Click here to download a pdf (2.7MB) of the full complaint.