An outline of the 9/11 Commission’s report apparently drafted in the spring of 2003, about 16 months before the commission reported, has been found in the National Archives by History Commons contributor paxvector and posted to the 9/11 Document Archive at Scribd. The outline, which consists of chapter headings and sub-headings, was mentioned first in Without Precedent, the official account of the commission by its chair and vice-chair Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, and then in Philip Shenon’s The Commission. Three versions of the document were found (here, here and here).
The documents in the archives are undated, although according to Shenon the first such outline was drafted in March 2003 by Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, and Ernest May, a consultant to the commission who helped write its final report. In their book, Kean and Hamilton recall seeing the outlines in July 2003.
The similarity between the outline and the report is striking. The main difference is that the number of dry chapters containing policy recommendations at the end was drastically reduced from six in the proposal to just two in the final report. The other more noticeable changes are that the chapter on the air defence on the day of 9/11 was moved from the middle of the report to the front, and the chapter on the period immediately before the attacks, number six in the proposal, was broken up into two chapters in the final report, numbers seven and eight.
Several of the chapter headings in the outline were used in the final report, including “Counterterrorism Evolves,” “Responses to Al-Qaeda’s Initial Assaults,” “Al-Qaeda Aims at the American Homeland,” “From Threat to Threat,” “The Attack Looms,” “Heroism and Horror” and “Wartime.”
Many of the sub-headings for the various chapters are also the same. For example the sub-headings for chapter 2 in the outline are:
2.1 From the old terrorism to the new: The case of WTC I
2.2 Adaptation – or non-adaptation – in the law enforcement community
2.3 … the intelligence community
2.4 … the departments and the Congress
2.5 … the White House
In the final report this becomes:
3.1 From the Old Terrorism to the New: The First World Trade Center Bombing
3.2 Adaptation–and Nonadaptation–in the Law Enforcement Community
3.3 … and in the Federal Aviation Administration
3.4 … and in the Intelligence Community
3.5 … and in the State Department and the Defense Department
3.6 … and in the White House
3.7 … and in the Congress
The situation with some of the other chapters is similar.
The document was not shared with the rest of the commission’s staff for some months, causing controversy on the commission. This is Shenon’s telling:
He [Zelikow] and May proposed a sixteen-chapter report that would open with a history of al-Qaeda, beginning with bin Laden’s fatwa against the United States in 1998. That would lead to chapters about the history of American counterterrorism policy. The White House response to the flood of terrorist threats in the spring and summer of 2001 were left to the sixth chapter; the events of September 11 were left to the seventh chapter. Zelikow and May proposed that the tenth chapter be entitled “Problems of Foresight–and Hindsight,” with a subchapter on “the blinding effects of hindsight.”
Zelikow shared the document with Kean and Hamilton, who were impressed by their executive director’s early diligence but worried that the outline would be seen as evidence that they–and Zelikow–had predetermined the report’s outcome. It should be kept secret from the rest of the staff, they all decided. May said that he and Zelikow agreed that the outline should be “treated as if it were the most classified document the commission possessed.” Zelikow came up with his own internal classification system for the outline. He labelled it “Commission Sensitive,” putting those words at the top and bottom of each page.
Kean and Hamilton were right to be wary. When it was later disclosed that Zelikow had prepared a detailed outline of the commission’s final report at the very start of the investigation, many of the staff’s investigators were alarmed. They were finally given copies of the outline in April 2004. They saw that Zelikow was proposing that the findings about the Bush administration’s actions before 9/11 would be pushed to the middle of the report, which meant that readers would have to go searching for them past long chapters of al-Qaeda history. Many assumed the worst when they saw that Zelikow had proposed a portion of the report entitled “The Blinding Effects of Hindsight.” When “blinding hindsight”? They assumed Zelikow was trying to dismiss the value of hindsight regarding the Bush administration’s pre-9/11 performance. A few staffers began circulating a two-page parody of Zelikow’s effort entitled “The Warren Commission Report—Preemptive Outline.” The parody’s authorship was never determined conclusively. The chapter headings included “Single Bullet. We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet. But Really. We’re Sure.”
That’s from pages 388-389 of Shenon’s book, the outline is dealt with on pages 270-271 of Without Precedent and in the Shenon-Zelikow correspondence (main section starts on page 118).
The main issue here is clear: did the outline predetermine the report’s outcome in any way? And, if so, to what extent?