I recently found an interesting 9/11 Commission document about the NSA in the National Archives. The handwritten note from one of the commission’s staffers, Gordon Lederman, shows that one of his acquaintances had lunch with NSA Director Michael Hayden on May 7, 2003. Before the lunch, the acquaintance called Lederman and asked him whether he had any questions he wanted put to Hayden. According to the note, Lederman’s reply was, “I suggested that [the acquaintance] ask what the 9/11 Comm could do in its investigation that would be most useful to DirNSA [Hayden].”
The note was written the next day by Lederman and sent to his boss, Kevin Scheid, the leader of the commission’s team that investigated the US intelligence community. It was found in the National Archives by History Commons contributor paxvector and posted to the 9/11 Document Archive at Scribd.
Although the commission had subsidiary tasks such as commenting on the structure of the US intelligence community, its main job was to document the 9/11 plot and work out why the US failed to prevent it, despite the numerous opportunities. The NSA intercepted calls to and from the hijackers for years, including calls made when the hijackers were in the US that the NSA could have used to trace their location. The calls were intercepted because they were made to al-Qaeda’s global operations center in Yemen, which fell under NSA surveillance in 1996.
Contradictory explanations have been offered as to why the NSA failed, but the commission had little to say about the issue in its final report. The calls between the hijackers in the US and the operations centre in Yemen were mentioned, but they commission did not point out the NSA was intercepting them.
Hayden’s reply to the lunch query was to indicate “that he would rather the 9/11 Comm not exist.” Given the commission’s apparent lack of interest in the NSA–it did not take public testimony from any high-ranking NSA officials, and the agency only rated a few dozen mentions in the commission’s final report–it seems that whatever Hayden was worried about did not come to pass. Exactly what he was worried about, and why the commission outwardly showed little interest in the agency is still to be explained.
Philip Shenon’s 2008 book The Commission gave the impression that the commission simply lacked interest in the NSA, implying that Executive Director Philip Zelikow’s greater enthusiasm for the CIA part of the investigation contributed to this. However, there are several documents in the commission’s files about the NSA, hinting that the issue may be more complex.
Full text of the note:
To: KS [Kevin Scheid]
From: GL [Gordon Lederman]
Re: Bruce & DirNSA
Bruce called me yesterday to ask me whether I had any questions Bruce should ask DirNSA [Hayden] at today’s lunch. I suggested that Bruce ask what the 9/11 Comm could do in its investigation that would be most useful to DirNSA. Bruce agreed.
Bruce called me today to report on his lunch. He said that DirNSA indicated that he would rather the 9/11 Comm not exist and that he took issue with Philip’s [Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director] charge that NSA did not completely co-operate with the JI [Joint Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 failings]. DirNSA said he supported a DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. I asked Bruce why NSA supports a DNI – Bruce responded it is because NSA thinks the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] is controlled by CIA & DO [the CIA’s Directorate of Operations]. I asked whether NSA thought a DNI would compete with SecDef [Secretary of Defense]– Bruce said that issue did not come up and that we should discuss it.
Additionally, Zelikow’s apparent charge that the NSA did not completely co-operate with the Joint Inquiry is interesting. I wonder what was meant by that?