NY1 Looks Back At The Work Of The Federal 9/11 Commission
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The attack was unprecedented. So too was the investigation. Later this week, the federal commission investigating the September 11, 2001 terror attacks will release to the public its final report.
What questions will be answered? What recommendations made. NY1’s John Schium takes a look back at the commission's work the past year and a half.
One by one, they vowed to tell the truth. One by one, they vowed to find it. More than 1,000 interviews conducted, more than two million pages of documents read, more than $$15 million spent, all to learn what went wrong.
“Your government failed you, and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness," former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke testified in March.
With so many questions unanswered, and mounting pressure from victims families, Congress created the 10-member bi-partisan commission in November 2002. Its focus: intelligence failures leading up to the attacks, security failures the morning of, and ways to improve an emergency response in the future.
“We are expecting another attack, and if we can't make recommendations to make that attack less likely, and the response to any attack that does get through better, than we haven't done our job,” Commission Chair Thomas Kean said in May.
The "job" included questioning leaders at the CIA, the FBI, and top cabinet members from the Bush and Clinton administrations. Perhaps no moment was more dramatic than when National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice testified that no silver bullet could have prevented 9/11, despite acknowledging a classified briefing from the summer of 2001 titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."
“It was frustratingly vague,” Rice testified in April. “Let me read you some of the actual chatter: ÎUnbelievable news.’ ÎBig event - there will be a very, very big uproar.’ ÎThere will be attacks in the near future.’"
After initially declining to answer questions, the president and vice president eventually agreed to meet with the commission, but together, in private, and not under oath. Former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore met with the Commission in private as well.
Throughout the investigation, there were charges of partisan politics from both sides, a charge that later lost some steam after a Republican member of the commission slammed the city's Republican leadership in place the morning of 9/11.
“It's a scandal not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city," said commissioner John Lehman.
The commission asked for more time to complete its report, and after much debate, it received a two-month extension. Frustrated by a lack of cooperation at times, the commission issued several subpoenas to government agencies.
Its final report will expand on earlier findings that criticize the FBI and CIA for poor intelligence gathering, criticize New York's emergency plan for its command structure, and criticize NORAD and the FAA for a slow response the morning of the attack.
Perhaps more importantly, the 9/11 Commission will make recommendations. Will a National Intelligence Director bridge the divide between domestic and foreign intelligence? Will a revamping of the FBI better track the terror threat on U.S. soil? Will the nation’s air defense system improve, so as not to rest solely on civilians.
Perhaps most importantly, will the panel's recommendations even be implemented to prevent another 9/11?
- John Schiumo
Watch “New York Tonight” on NY1 at 8 p.m. Monday for special in-depth reports on the 9/11 commission’s investigation. NY1 will have live reports from Washington throughout the day Thursday as the panel releases its report.