History Commons Groups

May 24, 2009

Zelikow Weighs In; Says Reply to Question about Sitting on Memo was Actually about Something Else

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline,Document Collection — kevinfenton @ 1:29 am

Following my post a couple of days ago about 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow and a false statement he made to author Philip Shenon about his lack of knowledge about a dispute on the commission, a person representing himself to be Zelikow has posted a comment on the blog. The comment says that I misinterpreted his statement to Shenon and that it was about events different to the ones I thought it was. Unsurprisingly, I don’t buy it. I gave Zelikow’s words their natural meaning in the context, interpreting them as a direct reply to the question Shenon had just asked. Zelikow, however, gets full marks for novelty of approach.

This is the comment in full:

I noticed this particular blog comment. My statement to Shenon was accurate. The trip I referenced in my message to him took place in March 2004 (while my children were on spring break), as commission records should show. Just as I told Shenon, I became deeply involved in the arguments going on inside the staff on my return from that trip and actually was involved in preparation of the April 2004 interim report, which I discussed at that time with Kean and Hamilton. I worked on the April 2004 interim report and agreed with it. You have uncovered another, later round of the issue, in the phase that led to full commission discussion of what to do (with Farmer helping to present the issue to the Commission) and the Commission’s final decision on how to handle this. Having confused this later phase of the issue with the earlier one, you then make the various mistaken assumptions, and assumptions on the assumptions, personal accusations, etc.

Obviously, this is the internet and just because a person signs himself Philip Zelikow, does not mean he is Philip Zelikow. However, the e-mail address associated with this user is one that appears to be linked with Zelikow. For the moment, I will assume that it really is Zelikow, although that might not be the case. I have to say I was pretty amazed to get a comment from Zelikow, who gave high-profile testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about torture in the middle of the month.

To understand this better, we need to take a look at the history. Briefly, some commission investigators formed the opinion that NORAD and FAA officials had lied to them deliberately about the air defense response on 9/11. They then drafted a memo (a.k.a. interim report) on it. The report was for the commissioners, but didn’t get to them, although a later memo with similar information did. By this time, however, it was towards the end of the commission’s term, and the commissioners simply passed the matter on to the Pentagon and Department of Transportation inspectors general, which, in the end, did not find serious wrongdoing (surprise, surprise).

Shenon, who wrote a book about the commission, did not interview Zelikow face-to-face, but had a series of e-mail exchanges with him about various issues. One of the exchanges was about Zelikow’s interactions with the team investigating the air defenses, covering a subpoena that the commission issued to the Pentagon and the interim report the team’s leader, John Farmer, drafted on the misstatements on 6 April 2004. Shenon raised a number of points with Zelikow in his e-mail. The first was about the subpoena, the second was about the interim report. This is the full text of Shenon’s point about the interim report:

He [Azzarello] says that Farmer drafted a memo (in March 2004?) that outlined the conflicting accounts provided by Norad officials about the events of the morning of Sept. 11 and urged that something be done – possibility a referral to DOJ. The memo was intended to be passed onto the commissioners.

But Azzarello says that the front office “sat” on the memo and refused to turn it over to the commissioners. Azzrello says he and the team confronted you, and your response was that the question of the truthfulessness (perjury/false statements) of Norad and FAA officials went beyond the “mandate” of the commission.

He says that in the face of this protest, you eventually agreed to provide a watered-down version of Farmer’s memo to the commissioners, albeit buried in the larger briefing book ahead of the final Norad hearing.

Zelikow prefaced his answer by writing “I’ll answer all of these together,” then followed that with two paragraphs on the subpoena, which was Shenon’s first point.

Then he wrote:

On the later [2004] question of a later criminal or IG referral of NORAD and FAA, there was indeed a dispute on how to handle these issues between the team and Dan & Steve. So they [the team] did have a dispute with “the front office.” [Marcus & Dunne were part of the ‘front office’] I later deduced that this dispute had been percolating for a while, building up some tension and perhaps also some misunderstanding.

The issue was them bumped up to me, hitting me for the first time as I returned to DC from a trip out of town. I well remember being startled when I came back and read a message on this, addressed or cc’d to me for the first time, in which emotions were already riding pretty high and people were mistakenly assuming that I’d been involved in this seemingly long-running dispute all along. So I quickly tried to collect everyone, clear the air, and start working this.

Zelikow then goes on to discuss the “mandate” issue and talk about his interactions with Farmer.

The memo was drafted on 6 April and Shenon is clearly asking about trouble between the team and the front office after this date. As far as I know, there is no way that an official or officials can sit on a memo (i.e. withhold it from his/her superiors or other relevant officials) before the memo in question has actually been drafted. At the start of this section of his reply Zelikow writes, “there was indeed a dispute on how to handle these issues between the team and Dan & Steve. So they [the team] did have a dispute with ‘the front office.’” In his blog comment he is claiming that when he wrote those words what he meant is that there was a dispute between the team and others in the front office before the memo was drafted, not a dispute about sitting on the memo.

Obviously, I have no way of seeing inside Zelikow’s head–nor would I want to–and I cannot know what he was thinking about when he wrote them. Possibly, there was a dispute between the team and Marcus + Dunne before the memo was drafted; there certainly was one between the team and Marcus afterwards. I have seen no evidence of this prior dispute, but we’ll continue to look for it. Perhaps Zelikow or one of the other actors will produce it. Quite possibly, there may be another emotional e-mail addressed to him, who knows?

However, the claims Zelikow makes in his blog comment (if true) make his situation worse, not better. The underlying allegation in all this is that Zelikow tried to kick the criminal referral into touch, possibly as a favour to his friends at the Pentagon. Whether this is true, I don’t know. Azzarello claimed it he “just buried that memo” and Farmer came out in support of him. On the other hand, Marcus supported Zelikow.

When I read the relevant part in Shenon’s book and the relevant e-mail exchange between him and Zelikow, I came away with the impression that Zelikow did not know of the memo at the time it was drafted and only found out about it later. Then I read the e-mail chain (scroll down) which was the subject of the first blog post and made two claims: (a) Zelikow had known about the memo since shortly after it was written, attending a meeting about it on 22 April, and (b) he had made a false statement about it to Shenon. In the blog comment, Zelikow admits the first charge, going even further and saying he knew of the issue before the memo was finalized. However, he denies the second, without which the first allegation is defanged–if Zelikow made a false statement about the referral, then that could be taken as evidence he maneuvered against it, but him simply knowing of the discussions from an early stage cannot be taken as evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

Whichever way you cut it, Shenon asked about the front office sitting on the memo and Zelikow replied (repeat quote, coz’ it’s important):

… there was indeed a dispute on how to handle these issues between the team and Dan & Steve. So they [the team] did have a dispute with “the front office.” [Marcus & Dunne were part of the ‘front office’] I later deduced that this dispute had been percolating for a while, building up some tension and perhaps also some misunderstanding.

The issue was them bumped up to me, hitting me for the first time as I returned to DC from a trip out of town. I well remember being startled when I came back and read a message on this, addressed or cc’d to me for the first time, in which emotions were already riding pretty high and people were mistakenly assuming that I’d been involved in this seemingly long-running dispute all along. So I quickly tried to collect everyone, clear the air, and start working this.

We are all agreed that this is not an accurate description of what happened after the memo was drafted. Zelikow is simply claiming it is an accurate description, but of events before the ones Shenon wanted to know about. At this point I stop and wonder why, instead of simply answering Shenon’s question (about a dispute over what to do with the memo), he discussed something else (an alleged dispute that preceded the memo’s drafting)? My puzzlement is enhanced by the fact it appears that Shenon knew nothing of this previous dispute–it is not referenced in the relevant section of Shenon’s book or his questions to Zelikow, although both do mention the memo-burying allegation.

I believe it is reasonable to consider words spoken or written by an interviewee following a question asked by an interviewer as a response to that actual question. The reasonability of this presumption is enhanced when the interviewee states up front that he is now answering the question the questioner has just put, and it is doubly enhanced when the interviewee references the language the interviewer used in the question, in this case “front office.” Therefore, I scratch my head at Zelikow’s claim he was writing about a dispute before the memo was drafted, not after it.

In addition, I cannot but point out that what Zelikow wrote works perfectly well as a direct reply to the question which it followed. There are no areas where the reply differs from one that could be expected to a request Zelikow tell Shenon about the memo-burying allegation. Neither can I stop myself from pointing out that at no point does Zelikow expressly flag that he is writing about a dispute that preceded the memo’s completion, rather than the one Shenon asked about. Nowhere do we find a “this dispute began even before the memo was completed,” although adding such phrase would have been a simple matter.

What’s more, neither should we overlook that what Zelikow wrote had the happy consequence of absolving him of all blame in the memo-burying department. If one takes his response to be a reply to the actual question asked, then one leaves with the impression that Zelikow could not have been sitting on the memo, as he was unaware of it. And we are asked to believe this is all a coincidence…

Having thought about it, my view is that what Zelikow wrote about the memo-burying allegation is, at the very best, open to misinterpretation. At worst, it’s designed to be deliberatively deceptive with the aim of giving the reader the false impression that Zelikow knew nothing of the memo for some time, and therefore could not have buried it.


I have one more point to discuss. In his response to Shenon, Zelikow writes that there was a dispute “between the team and Dan [Marcus] & Steve [Dunne].” While there is initial bad feeling towards Zelikow, this is only because team members “mistakenly assume” he is involved in this dispute. After Zelikow calls them all together, the picture he paints is one of the commission skipping forward in happy harmony. Consider this passage:

I had a great deal of respect for Farmer’s judgment. He was quite concerned. So I got quite concerned. With Farmer’s patient help, I took a lot of time to walk through the evidence of possible wrongdoing. I later tried to master it by working it through in writing, again with Farmer’s help.

However, this is another mischaracterization of what happened. It is clear from the e-mail chain that the dispute was not just between the team on the one hand and Marcus and Dunne on the other, but that Zelikow was deeply involved. Consider this passage from an e-mail sent by some of the team’s investigators on 4 June:

Philip states below that his “sense of the group” was “…that any further decision about whether to refer at all should be postponed until after the hearing.” We disagree with the characterization that postponing the decision such was the “sense of the group.” Again, our position was, and remains, that this is a serious matter and should be addressed by the Commissioners. The April 6th memo was, in fact, an interim report to the “Commissioners and Front Office.” We did not express any agreement with postponing the referral decision until after our hearing.

There’s no hint of this in Zelikow’s response to Shenon, and neither does he mention he did absolutely nothing on the issue between 22 April and 1 June, which is, when we get down to the nitty-gritty, rather relevant when discussing the issue of sitting on a memo.


  1. Let’s Digg this:


    You’ll need to create a Digg account if you don’t already have one.

    Comment by Max — May 24, 2009 @ 9:56 am | Reply

  2. Actually, that Digg link is for the earlier blog post immediately preceding this one. I’m Digging this post as well:


    Comment by Max — May 24, 2009 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  3. Okay, I’m officially stirring this for all it’s worth.


    Comment by Max — May 24, 2009 @ 10:49 am | Reply

  4. I’m not surprised to see Zelikow commenting here. He must be a very nervous man these days, and he clearly thinks the best form of defense is attack.

    Zelikow made an odd appearance on Democracy Now! a while back to refute various allegations of misconduct. He refused to flatly deny his former secretary’s claims that he called her into his office and told her not to keep logs of his phone calls, instead insisting that nobody on the Commission kept phone logs. He said Max Cleland resigned for “very personal reasons” and deflected further enquiries to “either Max or Tom Daschle or the commissioners involved”. And he more or less denied everything else in Sheldon’s book with a standard line: “Go ask the people who were on the commission.””

    Zelikow’s new-found fame as a hero of the anti-torture movement is also very odd. Zelikow told the Annual Lecture, Houston Journal of International Law, on April 26, 2007, that “good intelligence can be gained by physically tormenting captives”.

    He said improved interrogation methods had been developed through “a process of painful trial and error”! He said it was ” tempting for some local governments to let the Americans do the distasteful things that protect their people too.” He called for such governments to abandon the rule of “traditional” law. And he argued in favour of “the quite defensible policy of renditions”.

    Zelikow accused “Gonzales, George Tenet and Don Rumsfeld” of flatly refusing to let his 911 Commission talk with prisoners, but said they promised to get specific answers to specific questions if needed. He then used this information to write his report. In fact, NBC analysis showed a quarter of all footnotes in the 9/11 Commission Report refer to torture techniques!

    As Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said:

    “Think about it. If the Bhutto assassination — if the government of Pakistan issued a report, and we knew it came out of torture, would any of us be sitting at this table believing it? Would we believe that about the assassination of Kennedy, if it came out of tortured people? No, we wouldn’t. Why are we accepting this?”

    If you really care about truth and honour, Phillip, (I know you are reading this) why don’t you call for President Obama to launch a new 911 Commission, one based on FACTS, not lies extracted by torture?

    Comment by gandhi — May 24, 2009 @ 11:12 pm | Reply

  5. Oh, and let’s not forget the revelation that he was on the phone to Rove all the time he was working on the Commission. Here’s how Zelikow explained it:

    “Rove and I didn’t really know each other. I don’t recall ever having an extended conversation with him, and certainly not about politics or the commission.”

    So he doesn’t know Rove, they are not talking politics, and it’s nothing personal. WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU TALKING ABOUT THEN, PHIL?

    Or what about this bit from Sheldon’s book:

    “The book says that in early 2004, Zelikow allegedly sought to add to an initial staff report wording that linked al-Qaida to Iraq. The wording would have said the terrorist network repeatedly tried to communicate with the government of Saddam Hussein, a claim of cooperation the administration had cited to justify the war in Iraq. After a staff protest, Zelikow backed down; the final report said there was no “collaborative relationship” between Saddam and al-Qaida. Zelikow has said that he simply wanted the panel to keep an open mind on the issue.”

    Hmmn, pressuring people to link Saddam and Al Quaeda, exactly what the torturers were doing! Coincidence, Phil???

    Or what about that July 10, 2001 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice, which commission members were never told about?

    Or what about Zelikow’s role during Condi’s 2000-2001 NSC transition, where he was personally responsible for demoting Richard Clarke and his counter-terrorism team???

    Care to answer any of THEM questions, Phil???

    Comment by gandhi — May 24, 2009 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

  6. […] May 24 – Zelikow Weighs In; Says Reply to Question about Sitting on Memo was Actually about Something Else  […]

    Pingback by Zelikow and the 9/11 Commission’s Record – 3 Articles by Kevin Fenton « 9/11 Reports — May 30, 2009 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

  7. Aw, Phil – no reply??? Why am I NOT surprised.

    Comment by gandhi — May 31, 2009 @ 6:39 am | Reply

  8. […] Zelikow Weighs In; Says Reply to Question about Sitting on Memo Was Actually about Something Else […]

    Pingback by 9/11 Commission Documents Masterlist « History Commons Groups — June 26, 2009 @ 9:38 am | Reply

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