Note: Max is posting this on behalf of Kevin, who’s away from his keyboard at the moment. It’s Kevin’s work, not Max’s!
The 9/11 Timeline has a dedicated category for 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow, because of the key role he played in the investigation and the numerous problems with which he has been linked. The category is not yet complete, but additional material will be added progressively and this summary will be reposted.
Links to Condoleezza Rice
One of the main sources of controversy was Zelikow’s links to National Security Adviser Condolleeza Rice. She was one of the officials whose performance the 9/11 Commission would investigate, but she co-authored a book about statecraft with Zelikow in 1995. Between writing this book and his hiring by the Bush administration transition team, Zelikow directed a project to study the possible consequences of catastrophic terrorism and, together with future 9/11 Commission Report author Ernest May, wrote a severely criticized book and John F. Kennedy.
On the Bush transition team, Zelikow worked with National Security Adviser-to-be Condoleezza Rice, and became involved in the downgrading of terrorism as a priority for the administration, but was not offered a position in the administration and returned to university to teach. These links to Rice were a primary reason behind a 2004 statement by victims’ relatives saying that he was compromised as the commission’s executive director and should resign.
In 2002, he made a speech that later became controversial about the Iraqi threat to Israel and also worked for the administration on a document advocating pre-emptive war that was later used to justify the invasion of Iraq.
“The Fix Is In”
Zelikow was hired by the commission in late January 2003, although there are some questions marks over whether Zelikow provided full disclosure of his ties to Rice. Zelikow’s appointment was an unpleasant surprise for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who, upon learning of it, said aloud, “The fix is in.” It was also unpopular with some of the Democratic Commissioners (Zelikow was a Republican), who thought the arrangements for the commission’s staff would give Zelikow too much control.
Zelikow’s early actions at the commission include arguments with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and the CIA, although he managed to appoint a serving CIA officer to head the commission’s investigation of the agency.
In contrast to the CIA, the commission showed little interest in the NSA, even though it had been intercepting the hijackers’ calls for years before 9/11.
This interest did not improve even when the NSA granted the commission enhanced access to its files, only a portion of which were read, mostly by a single commission staffer acting on her own initiative. When a scandal erupted in early 2008 about these intercepts, Zelikow professed ignorance.
Consolidation of Power
Zelikow also firmed up his control of the investigation by assuming responsibility for hiring the commission’s staff, closely supervising one of the key investigation teams, and acquiring a veto over the final text of the commission’s report.
Zelikow even tried to cut off access by the commissioners, who were not allowed to have offices in the commission’s staff building, to the staff members who were doing the investigating, as well as their access to material from the Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11.
The Iraq Issue
Early on in the investigation, Zelikow arranged public testimony by leading Neoconservative Laurie Mylroie, who claimed that Iraq was behind 9/11, although her claims were attacked by victims’ relatives.
The issue of Iraq flared up later when Zelikow, who often rewrote the commission’s staff statements to improve them stylistically, rewrote the facts of one statement, by the key team he supervised closely, to imply a non-existent connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The staff was appalled by the rewrite and forced Zelikow to back down. Zelikow later accepted the lack of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Able Danger, Detainee Abuse
In the autumn of 2003, Zelikow travelled abroad on commission business, meeting representatives from Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency and, in Afghanistan, a member of the army’s Able Danger team, which apparently had been tracking some of the 9/11 hijackers. This evidence was left out of the commission’s final report, although the team member tried contacting the commission again in 2004.
Although much of the commission’s final report was based on statements by detainees–thought to be questionable because of the harsh methods used to extract them–Zelikow and other members of the commission later confirmed they suspected the methods were being used while they were conducting the investigation.
“We Just Didn’t Believe Him”
One aspect left out of the commission’s final report was its conflicts with CIA Director George Tenet. When being interviewed by the commission, Tenet often claimed to suffer from memory losses, which the commission thought were just too convenient. Zelikow eventually commented, “We just didn’t believe him”. A particular bone of contention was Tenet’s professed ignorance of an authorisation from President Clinton to assassinate bin Laden, a key memo of which Tenet claimed to remember nothing. Around this time, Zelikow was investigated at the CIA’s behest for mishandling classified information, which Zelikow later claimed was retaliation for his attempts to declassify CIA documents.
One thing that Tenet did recall in discussions with the commission though was a meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at which the CIA warned her of the threat from al-Qaeda in stark terms. The meeting, which put Rice’s inaction in a bad light, was left out of the final report and, when it was revealed years later, Zelikow and the commissioners falsely claimed never to have heard of it. After being made secretary of state, Rice hired Zelikow as a special adviser and it was his ties to the White House that prompted the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to call for a new 9/11 inquiry in 2008.