9/11 Commission, ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ PDB – Additions to the 9/11 Timeline as of January 11, 2009

Most of this week's additions to the 9/11 Timeline focus on the 9/11 Commission, in particular its treatment of the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, allegedly pressured one of the CIA analysts who wrote the PDB to accept the White House's interpretation of what it said, but this conversation was overheard by a staffer, who reported it through a back-channel network used to monitor Zelikow's behaviour. Zelikow tried to prevent a formal interview of the CIA analysts who wrote the PDB item, but was unsuccessful and they told the commission the PDB was neither "historical" nor ordered by Bush.

By May 2004 the commission's staff had found that New York's was ill-prepared for a terrorist attack, but realised this information needed to be handled sensitively at public hearings in New York. However, a row between commissioner John Lehman and former New York officials on the first of two days of hearings completely derailed the commission's approach.

FBI director Robert Mueller conducted a charm offensive against the commission, leading to a public hearing at which the commission showered him with praise instead of asking hard questions.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft was not very interested in terrorism in his very first briefing from Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard, but issued a vague terror alert in October 2001 and claimed the US was "victorious" in the "opening battle of the war on terrorism" shortly afterwards.

Historians questioned President George Bush's failure to return to Washington start of the attacks, but Bush later proposed a volunteer civil-defense service and a docudrama later portrayed him as an "action movie superhero."

Finally, a special forces commander was appointed FAA security chief in late 2000 and on September 12 the Wall Street Journal called for attacks on Syria, Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Egypt.

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May 18, 2004: Row between Commissioner and Giuliani Subordinates

May 18, 2004: Row between Commissioner and Giuliani Subordinates Derails 9/11 Commission Hearings

The first of two days of 9/11 Commission hearings in New York is overshadowed by a row between commissioner John Lehman and two subordinates of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen. Despite Giuliani’s hero status after the attacks, the Commission’s staff discovered serious errors in New York’s preparations for a potential terrorist attack before 9/11 (see Before May 17, 2004), but realized the commissioners had to be sensitive in how these errors were handled in public (see May 17, 2004).
Aggressive Beginning - When Lehman has his turn to put questions to a panel, he makes an aggressive beginning, saying that New York’s police, fire, and Port Authority police departments are the finest in the world but also “the proudest,” and adds, “But pride runneth before the fall.” He then calls the command, control, and communications “a scandal,” and says the emergency response system was “not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city.” This draws some applause from the crowd and Lehman adds: “I think it’s a scandal that the fire commissioner has no line authority. It’s a scandal that there’s nobody that has clear line authority and accountability for a crisis of the magnitude that we’re going to have to deal with in the years ahead. It’s a scandal that after laboring for eight years, the city comes up with a plan for incident management that simply puts in concrete this clearly dysfunctional system.”
Counterattack - Kerik and Von Essen, both now partners in Giuliani’s consulting firm, push back. Von Essen says: “I couldn’t disagree with you more. I think that one of the criticisms of this committee has been statements like you just made, talking about scandalous procedures and scandalous operations and rules and everything else. There’s nothing scandalous about the way that New York City handles its emergencies.… You make it sound like everything was wrong about September 11th or the way we function. I think it’s outrageous that you make a statement like that.” Kerik and Von Essen also make similar comments for the press after the hearing, when Von Essen calls Lehman’s questioning “despicable” and adds, “If I had the opportunity, I probably would have choked him because that’s what he deserved.”
Chance to Meaningfully Question Giuliani Lost - The commissioners and the Commission’s staff immediately realize Lehman has destroyed any chance the Commission had of getting to the bottom of why things went badly with the emergency response in New York on 9/11. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “Any hope of forcing Giuliani to answer hard questions the next day had evaporated. The dynamic would now turn in Giuliani’s favor.”
Lehman Claims He Was Set Up - According to Shenon: “[Lehman] was certain he had been set up by Kerik and Von Essen on behalf of Giuliani. He suspected they had come to the hearing with a script. They were waiting for the right question from one of the commissioners that would allow them to launch a pre-scripted fusillade of insults back at the Commission, turning the hearing into an us-versus-them fight that the city’s tabloids would devour.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 351-354]