9/11 Commission Report
The 9/11 Commission Report, formally named Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, is the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was prepared by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (informally sometimes known as the "9/11 Commission" or the "Kean/Hamilton Commission") at the request of United States president George W. Bush and Congress, and is available to the public for sale or free download.
The commission was established on November 27, 2002 (442 days after the attack) and their final report was issued on July 22, 2004. The report was originally scheduled for release on May 27, 2004, but a compromise agreed to by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert allowed a sixty-day extension through July 26.
The commission interviewed over 1,200 people in 10 countries and reviewed over two and a half million pages of documents, including some closely guarded classified national security documents. The commission also relied heavily on the FBI's PENTTBOM investigation. Before it was released by the commission, the final public report was screened for any potentially classified information and edited as necessary.
In addition to identifying intelligence failures occurring before the attacks, the report provided evidence of the following:
- Airport security footage of the hijackers as they passed through airport security
- Excerpts from the United Airlines Flight 93 cockpit voice recording, which recorded the sounds of the hijackers in the cockpit and the passengers' attempts to regain control
- Eyewitness testimony of passengers as they described their own final moments to family members and authorities on airphones and cellphones from the cabins of doomed airliners
The commission also concluded 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out the attacks were from Saudi Arabia, but the commission "found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization" to conspire in the attacks, or that it funded the attackers even though the "report identifies Saudi Arabia as the primary source of al-Qaeda funding". (A 28-page section of an earlier, different 9/11 report has been in the news lately (2016), one with claims of greater Saudi involvement that, it's claimed, "did not withstand deeper scrutiny" by the Commission.) Mohamed Atta, the leader of the attacks, was from Egypt. Two hijackers were from the United Arab Emirates, and one was from Lebanon. According to the commission, all 19 hijackers were members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization, led by Osama bin Laden. In addition, while meetings between al-Qaeda representatives and Iraqi government officials had taken place, the panel had no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein had assisted al-Qaeda in preparing or executing the 9/11 attacks.
The commission's final report also offered new evidence of increased contact between Iran and al-Qaeda. The report contains information about how several of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran, and indicates that officials in Iran did not place entry stamps in their passports. However, according to the report (Chapter 7), there is no evidence that Iran was aware of the actual 9/11 plot. Iran has since implemented several widely publicized efforts to shut down al-Qaeda cells operating within its country.
The commission report chose to place blame for failure to notify the military squarely upon the FAA. Ben Sliney, FAA operations manager at Herndon, Virginia, and Monte Belger, FAA Acting Deputy Administrator on 9/11 both stated to the commission that military liaisons were present and participating in Herndon's response as the events of 9/11 unfolded. Sliney stated that everyone who needed to be notified, including the military, was.
In addition to its findings, the report made extensive recommendations for changes that can be made to help prevent a similar attack. These include the creation of a National Intelligence Director over both the CIA and the FBI, and many changes in border security and immigration policy.
Public diplomacy and War on Terror
The 9/11 Commission Report states that "long-term success demands the use of all the elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy, and homeland defense." Quantitative numbers will not defeat the terrorists and insurgents; however the objectives of defeating the enemy need to be specific enough so that the public can determine whether the goals are being met. In order to defeat an insurgency one must promote a stronger ideology, value system, and security environment, than the opposition. The 9/11 Commission emphasizes the use of public diplomacy. Defeating insurgents and terrorists is not based on traditional war tactics; it encompasses a national strategic effort that employs all elements of national power.
In 2003, the U.S. government realized how important political and cultural support was to the counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. An Afghan regional official claimed that Afghanistan was on the right track for a stable government and begged the United States not to leave the theater, claiming that Afghanistan would lose progress if the U.S. withdrew their political support and local outreach to the public. The Afghan population is able to interact with U.S. presence in their country, allowing them to feel more secure and safe, thus countering the insurgent ideology. The ability of the United States to interact with the local Afghan population has been an essential tool to winning the counterinsurgency operations in the country.
According to the 9/11 Commission, conducting public diplomacy with the local population of Afghanistan is necessary for long-term success within the country. "A former Under Secretary of the State for Public Diplomacy and both chairmen of the 9/11 Commission expressed the view that public diplomacy tools are at least as important in the war on terrorism as military tools and should be given equal state and increased funding." Long-term public diplomacy efforts in Afghanistan will help show that the new Afghan government will be able to make their lives better and more secure than an insurgency controlled government.
The 9/11 Commission states that currently the United States envisions an eventual Afghan government that is able to build a national army, coordinate infrastructure, and coordinate public services in major provinces throughout the country. The 9/11 Commission also suggests an increased effort in the U.S. State Department and the international community to become involved with "the rule of law and contain rampant crime and narcotics trafficking" in the area. However, in order to carry out these long-term goals the U.S. should rely on civilian-military teams in order to reach out to the population and listen to their concerns and implement them with the Afghan government effectively.
Currently there is a strong realization that negative public opinion about the U.S. could directly relate to how friendly countries in the Middle East will be in the war on terror, mainly in Afghanistan. Recently American involvement in the Middle East has not been accepted well; support for the United States has plummeted. The 9/11 Commission shows that favorable ratings for the United States has fallen from 61% to 15% in Indonesia and from 71% to 38% among Muslims in Nigeria. It also states that many disgruntled views about the U.S. develop from uninformed minds about America and that are distorted by cartoon ideologies. Local newspapers in Middle Eastern countries that reinforce the Jihadist theme, portraying the U.S. as anti-Muslim, influence these fragile views. These ideas need to be effectively countered in order to win our counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan and our ideological war against Muslim extremism. More recently Congress and the Administration has sought ways to use these public diplomacy tactics to influence Arab populations to combat insurgents and terrorists.
Most Muslims are moderate and do not agree with violence; the commission claims that it is possible, through the use of public diplomacy, to drive a wedge between those moderate Muslims and the violent terrorists or insurgents. The U.S. also needs to stand for a better future and illustrate it to the local population in Afghanistan and to the Muslim community. The U.S. needs to take the moral leadership role in Afghanistan and throughout the world. For parents, insurgents in Afghanistan can only offer their children violence and death; the U.S. should utilize public diplomacy to counter the insurgent ideology.
American values and ideals are something that the Muslim population can connect to, agree with, and feel secure with. The 9/11 Commission advises that the U.S. stands up for its values and ideals to prevent the insurgents from distorting the ideology of liberty to persuade the Muslim world into the insurgent or terrorist ideology. Only through use of public diplomacy can the U.S. counter these political and ideological distortions. Explaining and making clear the U.S. stance on morality, freedom, and liberty to the local populations in the Middle East allows the U.S. to promote the American counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.
The 9/11 Commission elaborates on the example of humane treatment of prisoners of war. In order for the local populations of countries like Afghanistan, the U.S. and allies need to project a higher image of morality by the civil and humane treatment of terrorists that are captured. Accusations that the U.S. abuses its prisoners make it more difficult to win political, social, and diplomatic relations in our civilian-military operations in Afghanistan. Without careful prevention of derogatory use of information by the enemy, the United States will become a victim of the enemy's use of public diplomacy in war.
The 9/11 Commission believes that public diplomacy should be viewed as a dialogue with Arab populations, to enable a greater understanding between cultures and societies and to build those long-term relationships and trust that is needed to be successful at counterinsurgency warfare. "If we don't have long-term relationships with Muslim populations, we cannot have trust. Without trust, public diplomacy is ineffective."
The plain, sad reality — I report this following four full days studying the work — is that The 9/11 Commission Report, despite the vast quantity of labor behind it, is a cheat and a fraud. It stands as a series of evasive maneuvers that infantilize the audience, transform candor into iniquity, and conceal realities that demand immediate inspection and confrontation. Because it is continuously engaged in scotching all attempts to distinguish better from worse leadership responses, the Commission can't discharge its duty to educate the audience about the habits of mind and temperament essential in those chosen to discharge command responsibility during crises.
Other sources have criticized the commission for not digging deep enough to get to the core of the issues. In a 2004 interview with Bernard Gwertzman, of the Council on Foreign Relations, Anthony H. Cordesman (of the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington) stated of the report:
Again, one of the great problems in the commission report is that it looked at exactly one issue — counterterrorism — and none of the others. But [U.S.] intelligence users consist of more than one million people, many of them in uniform, and when you talk about budgeting and programming authority, you have to consider that. . . . Many of these conclusions are probably very valuable. But this is a 13-chapter report. Eleven chapters are a masterful description of what happened and what went wrong that led to the 9/11 attack. There is no chapter that explains what people did after 9/11. There is no chapter that qualifies that this is only one of many problems in intelligence and intelligence reform."
FAA counter-terrorism expert Bogdan Dzakovic believes that the security failures at airports that allowed the hijackers to board the planes were not due to the failures in the system that the report identified. Furthermore, he stated that "Many of the FAA bureaucrats that actively thwarted improvements in security prior to 9/11 have been promoted by FAA or the Transportation Security Administration." The report did not mention his name, despite Dzakovic giving the following testimony to the commission regarding his undercover checks on airport security prior to 9/11:
We breached security up to 90 percent of the time. The FAA suppressed these warnings. Instead, we were ordered not to write up our reports and not to retest airports where we found particularly egregious vulnerabilities, to see if the problems had been fixed. Finally, the agency started providing advance notification of when we would be conducting our 'undercover' tests and what we would be 'checking.' . . . What happened on 9/11 was not a failure in the system. Our airports are not safer now than before 9/11. The main difference between then and now is that life is now more miserable for passengers.
The report has been accused of not giving the whole story about the warnings the U.S. received prior to the attacks. While the report did describe that "the system was blinking red" and that an al Qaeda attack was imminent, it did not include the testimony of former CIA director George Tenet to the commission in January 2004, in which he claimed to have given a specific warning to the Administration in a July 2001 meeting with Condoleezza Rice. Commission members Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton stated that they had not been told about the meeting. But the Boston Globe reported that "it turns out that the panel was, in fact, told about the meeting, according to the interview transcript and Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, who sat in on the interview with Tenet."
The report garnered praise in some quarters for its literary qualities. Richard Posner, writing for The New York Times, praised it as "uncommonly lucid, even riveting" and called it "an improbable literary triumph". The report rose to the top of several bestseller lists, and became one of the best-selling government reports of all time. The National Book Foundation named the report a finalist in its 2004 National Book Awards' non-fiction category.
In 2006, The 9/11 Commission Report, a straight to DVD movie, was released by The Asylum. It is based on the findings of the original 9/11 Commission Reports, although it does fictionalize some elements.
The report inspired a controversial television miniseries, The Path to 9/11. Dramatizing many specific scenes in the report, it is a synthesis of multiple (and in some cases partisan) sources in addition to the report itself.
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- The 9/11 Commission Report at 9-11commission.gov (7.2 MB PDF)
- The 9/11 Commission Report public domain audiobook at LibriVox
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- Video of 9/11 events (split screen) supplemented with text from Commission Report findings
- Slate's The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón
- The Shea Memorandum to the 9/11 Commission
- CRS Report: U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and the 9/11 Commission Recommendations
- Kindle-formatted version of the Complete 9/11 Commission Report