POST-COLD WAR

2000s

Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

22 July 2004

Initial Reportage and Reviews

 

The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Official Government Edition, dated 22 July 2004, is available at: http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/index.htm; and at: http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/911comm.html. It is also available in print from the Government Printing Office and commercially from W.W. Norton & Co.

The New York Times offers "complete coverage" of the 9/11 Report, including video and audio of some of the public testimony to the Commission, at: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/world/worldspecial5/.

A new version of the commission's report was released on 13 September 2005. This version includes "recently declassified information." Leslie Miller, "Revised Sept. 11 Panel Report Released," Associated Press, 13 Sep. 2005.

Materials arranged chronologically.

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: Norton, 2004. [pb]

Ignatius, Washington Post, 1 Aug. 2004, finds that "in its meticulous compilation of fact, the report makes the horrors of 9/11 even more shocking.... The strength of the report is ... in its narrative power; by telling all the little stories, it reveals the big story in a different way... [T]his book has a comprehensiveness that seems likely to stand the test of time.... The report's tone is evenhanded and nonpartisan, but the facts gathered here are devastating for the Bush administration.... [T]he report is at its weakest when it leaves the narrative behind and offers two final chapters on 'What to Do' and 'How to Do It'.... [I]ts recommendations are questionable -- and ignore some of the lessons of the report itself."

In a tightly written and superbly argued review, Judge Richard A. Posner, "The 9/11 Report: A Dissent," New York Times, 29 Aug. 2004, finds that "the 9/11 commission report is an uncommonly lucid, even riveting, narrative of the attacks, their background and the response to them.... The prose is free from bureaucratese and, for a consensus statement, the report is remarkably forthright. Though there could not have been a single author, the style is uniform.... However, the commission's analysis and recommendations are unimpressive....

"Combining an investigation of the attacks with proposals for preventing future attacks is the same mistake as combining intelligence with policy.... [W]ith the aid of hindsight it is easy to identify missed opportunities ... to have prevented the attacks, and tempting to leap from that observation to the conclusion that the failure to prevent them was the result ... of systemic failures in the nation's intelligence and security apparatus that can be corrected by changing the apparatus. That is the leap the commission makes, and it is not sustained by the report's narrative....

"The commission's contention that 'the terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government' is overblown.... The commission's statement that Clinton and Bush had been offered only a 'narrow and unimaginative menu of options for action' is hindsight wisdom at its most fatuous. The options considered were varied and imaginative.... But for political or operational reasons, none was feasible....

"So what to do? One possibility would be to appoint as director a hard-nosed, thick-skinned manager with a clear mandate for change.... Another would be to acknowledge the F.B.I.'s deep-rooted incapacity to deal effectively with terrorism, and create a separate domestic intelligence agency on the model of Britain's Security Service (M.I.5)....

"The report's main proposal ... is for the appointment of a national intelligence director.... [T]o layer another official on top of the director of central intelligence, one who would be in a constant turf war with the secretary of defense, is not an appealing solution. Since all executive power emanates from the White House, the national security adviser and his or her staff should be able to do the necessary coordinating of the intelligence agencies. That is the traditional pattern, and it is unlikely to be bettered by a radically new table of organization....

"When the nation experiences a surprise attack, our instinctive reaction is not that we were surprised by a clever adversary but that we had the wrong strategies or structure and let's change them and then we'll be safe. Actually, the strategies and structure weren't so bad; they've been improved; further improvements are likely to have only a marginal effect; and greater dangers may be gathering of which we are unaware and haven't a clue as to how to prevent."

For Krause, Air & Space Power Journal 18.4 (Winter 2004), "the commission and its report took the form of a hybrid mix of politics and policy, research and drama.... A strength of the report is its great detail concerning the execution of the attacks." Nevertheless, "[w]ithout the proper context and background, the information presented as fact and the recommendations presented as essential are insufficient to guide America's defense policy and international affairs."

Mazzafro, I&NS 20.4 (Dec. 2005), notes that only time will tell whether what the 9/11 Commission recommended (and did not recommend) will result in improvements in the way America conducts its intelligence activities. Nonetheless, the Report "established a new benchmark of cogency and readability for government reports of national ... importance." To Clemens, Military Intelligence 31.1 (Jan.-Mar. 2005), "[t]he Commission prepared a monumental yet readable document that serves not only to help the current U.S. population work through the tragedy of 9/11, but future generations as well."

Eggen, Dan. "9/11 Panel Chronicles U.S. Failures: Final Report Faults Two Administrations and Calls for Broad Reforms." Washington Post, 23 Jul 2004, A1. [http://www.washingtonpost.com]

The 567-page final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, released on 22 July 2004, concludes that the "U.S. government was utterly unprepared on Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the American people from al Qaeda terrorists, who outwitted and outmaneuvered a bureaucracy that had never seriously addressed them as a threat and had never fathomed the possibility of such a calamitous assault on U.S. soil.... Although it stops short of blaming President Bush or former president Bill Clinton for the attacks, the document concludes that both administrations were lackluster in their efforts to combat Islamic terrorism and derides congressional oversight of the issue as 'dysfunctional.'...

"The 10-member bipartisan panel recommends forming a new Cabinet-level office of national intelligence and creating a terrorism center that would not only analyze intelligence but also run its own counterterrorism operations at home and abroad. The commission wants Congress to completely change the way it governs the intelligence community as well." See also, Dana Priest and Walter Pincus, "CIA-Like Counterterror Center Urged: New Command Would Report to Intelligence Chief," Washington Post, 23 Jul. 2004, A21.

Johnston, David, and Douglas Jehl. "Report Cites Lapses Across Government and 2 Presidencies." New York Times, 23 Jul. 2004. [http://www.nytimes.com]

The report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, released on 22 July 2004 says that the "Clinton and Bush administrations failed to grasp the gravity of the threat from Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and left counterterrorism efforts to a disparate collection of uncoordinated, underfinanced and dysfunctional government agencies." According to the report, "[t]errorism was not the overriding national security concern for the U.S. government under either the Clinton or the pre 9/11 Bush administration."

Purdom, Todd S. "Swift Action on Advice From the 9/11 Commission Is Unlikely." New York Times, 23 Jul. 2004. [http://www.nytimes.com]

Achieving consensus on adopting the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States will not be easy. "The partisan wrangling of a presidential election and the capital's entrenched resistance to change make swift action unlikely.... The Pentagon and the C.I.A., Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and some in Congress already oppose the commission's call for a new national intelligence director to supplant some of the functions of the director of central intelligence."

Shane, Scott. "Excessive Caution Kept NSA Passive." Baltimore Sun, 23 Jul. 2004. [http://www.baltimoresun.com]

"The 9/11 Commission Report portrays the National Security Agency before the terrorist attacks as 'almost obsessive' in protecting its intelligence-gathering methods, passive in following up on clues and excessively cautious about sharing communications intercepts with other agencies."

Shenon, Philip. "9/11 Report Calls for a Sweeping Overhaul of Intelligence." New York Times, 23 Jul. 2004. [http://www.nytimes.com]

The report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, released on 22 July 2004 "warned that without a historic restructuring of the nation's intelligence agencies and a new emphasis on diplomacy, the United States would leave itself open to an even more catastrophic attack.... [T]he 10-member panel offered a detailed proposal for reorganizing the way the country gathers and shares intelligence."

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