The 9/11 Commission has done a superb job of pulling together an extraordinary amount of information to provide the American people a detailed account of the events surrounding the terrorist attacks upon the United States on September 11, 2001. This non-partisan report is even handed and does not cast individual blame for failures leading to the success of the attacks. Instead it talks about systemic problems within our government, especially the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, that hampered our ability to thwart these attacks. For once I don't feel a cheated as a taxpayer. This Commission did a fine job.
The narrative provided by the Commission is also superb. They have taken a copious amount of information and provided a concise and very readable account of the event, and in many cases very cogent, sound arguments for what went wrong. And they cover a lot of ground: mini-histories of Al Qaeda, it's principle players, and how it is structured and financed; the role of states like the Pakistan and Afghanistan; previous attacks on the US like the Cole bombing; pre-9/11 intelligence and law enforcement activities against Al Qaeda; presidential and executive level policy and decision making; detailed accounts of the events themselves, including rescue efforts; and recommendations for addressing the things that went wrong.
While it would take a much longer review to cover every important topic in the report, several items stand out to me as interesting and important points.
First, it is hard to cast blame for the attacks on either the Clinton or Bush administrations. They appear to have done their best under difficult circumstances with the knowledge and resources at hand. Instead, the failure almost entirely lies within the way our intelligence and law enforcement agencies are structured. There was not enough sharing of information across agencies and within agencies. As a result key information that could have connected the dots were dispersed throughout the bureaucracy and not brought together. Interestingly, part of this difficulty was not just turf wars across agencies but that the agents and agencies were trying to follow the letter of the law - or follow the rules - that protect the rights of American citizens. It's hard to fault them for this vigilance.
Another problem within the intelligence community was twofold. One could be called a Cold War mentality hangover. It appears that the mindset at agencies were still geared toward threats from large states like the Russia and they had not quite shifted gears to the more loosely organized, wily, and mobile terrorist organizations. The exception to this would be the interagency organization specifically created to combat terrorism. But it doesn't appear that the resources existed to do the job right, as evidenced by the lack of Arab language analysts. A second problem, as noted above, was poor coordination between the branches of the intelligence community and between the intelligence community and the FBI. This lack of coordination left large gaps in information any one agency had.
The FBI also had difficulties internally both in sharing information across lines, partially for legal reasons. Additionally, the FBI was more focused on it's law enforcement mandate more so than internal intelligence on possible terrorists. This also resulted in lost opportunities to thwart the plot.
A second key theme is the structure of Al Qaeda makes it difficult to combat. It's international scope, it's ability to use technology like the Internet and electronic funds transfers to communicate and fund plots, and that it is loosely organized where terrorists cells can operate somewhat independently, make it a decentralized but well funded organization. Our intelligence agencies are structured to ferret out state sponsored terrorism - not to combat an amorphous organization like Al Qaeda. Like any far flung collection of organizations they were slow to adapt to this new reality. In fact, the intelligence community had not adapted to the new reality of 21st century terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, they were a step behind the times.
Many of the recommendations of the commission are essentially designed to centralize our intelligence organizations so that information is centralized so analysts can connect the dots and actions against terrorist can be coordinated properly. Too many times under the present structure the government didn't know what it knew and the right hand didn't know what the left was doing. I disagree with many who have criticized the Commission's recommendations. I think their recommendations are sound. Reform and restructuring is necessary to terrorism.
Third, and on a completely different topic, is the truly horrific scene the World Trade Center must have been on September 11, 2001. The first firefighter who died on the scene was killed by a person jumping from the fiery inferno of the building. And there were so many people jumping that others escaping the building were killed by them. It was so bad that people on the outside of the building acted as spotters so those evacuating the building could be told when it was safe to leave to avoid being killed by a jumper or other debris falling from the building. What a horrid and tragic event it truly was.
Finally, lets not forget all the heroes - firefighters, policemen, and citizens. Most especially those on United Airlines Flight 93 who, upon hearing about the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center via their cell phones, fought back and brought the plane down. Who knows what would have happened otherwise, but they liked saved a lot of other lives on the ground, assuming they were shot down before reaching Washington, D.C.
While fighting terrorism is obviously very important let's not forget one thing. No matter how much we fear terrorism we should not sacrifice our personal freedoms to fear. My one political statement in this review is that we should be ever vigilant that our government does not use terrorism as an excuse to impose measures that take away the personal liberties we enjoy as individuals. To do so would be conceding defeat.
Critically important and a duty to read, but woefully inadequate as an explanation of the event. Also, many of the authors have been linked to special interests that cast doubt on their objectivity or motivation.
Amazon.com Review The result of months of intensive investigations and inquiries by a specially appointed bipartisan panel, The 9/11 Commission Report is one of the most important historical documents of the modern era. And while that fact alone makes it worth owning, it is also a chilling and valuable piece of nonfiction: a comprehensive and alarming look at one of the biggest intelligence failures in history and the events that led up to it. The commission traces the roots of al-Qaeda's strategies along with the emergence of the 19 hijackers and how they entered the United States and boarded airplanes. It details the missed opportunities of law enforcement officials to avert disaster. Using transcripts of cockpit voice recordings, the report describes events on board the planes along with the chaotic reaction on the ground from nearly every level of government. Going forward, the commission calls for a comprehensive overhaul of what it sees as a deeply flawed and disjointed intelligence-gathering operation. The creation of a post for a single National Security Director is recommended, along with the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center. The report finds fault with the approaches of both the Clinton and Bush administrations but, because they were a bipartisan panel and the problems described are so systemic and far-reaching, they stop short of assigning blame to any particular person or group. Credit must be given to how readable the report is. At more than 500 ...