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9/11 Commission’s Forum Shows How DC ‘Works’

By [email protected] (Andrew Kreig)

James Clapper (Andrew Kreig Photo)

Members of 9/11 Commission this week leveraged the 10th anniversary of their report to announce a dozen recommendations focused primarily on improving the nation’s security against terrorists.

The former commissioners called for strong spending on counter-terrorism intelligence and more centralized oversight by fewer congressional committees.

Speakers minimized divisive issues regarding past mysteries, and presented the proposals as reforms. News coverage reflected that positive interpretation.

“Many Americans think that the terrorist threat is waning — that, as a country, we can begin turning back to other concerns. They are wrong,” said the commissioners’ new report, which was unveiled during a July 22 forum at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center. “The threat remains grave and the trend lines in many parts of the world are pointing in the wrong direction.”

The eloquent, personable and well-credentialed experts from the top ranks of both major parties stressed at the forum and in congressional statements later in the week that the public should fear terrorism and support the recommendations for vigorous counter-terrorism measures.

This column explores the financial and career incentives that shaped that message, as well as the commission’s procedures to determine the facts of the 9/11 terror attacks.

As a featured segment in the forum, the Obama Administration’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged the audience — including those watching via five video crews — to fight for strong spending against threats of terrorism. My photo above shows Clapper from a vantage point a few feet from the podium. Clapper, who joined the Army in 1963, has headed White House intelligence operations for nearly four years.

Michael McCaulClapper’s message was reiterated by a bipartisan solid front that included eight of the 10 former commission members, and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, right. McCaulis Republican representing Texans in a 10th district stretching from Austin to the Houston suburbs.

The positioning is a rare achievement in Washington these days. Partisan fights are stagnating action through much of the capital. As a finale to the forum, commission leaders shared their tips for success.

Left unspoken but a necessary part of this story, however, is that money, power and media savvy influence are pivotal to such Washington outcomes.

The commission’s leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, and most commission members have strong ties to the intelligence community — and to the federal contractors, Wall Street financial houses and other institutions that prosper from counter-terrorism spending and related efforts. Naturally, the beneficiaries cycle back part of their revenue from taxpayers to supportive lawmakers, thought leaders, and their organizations.

President Bush and advisor Andy CardThus, the former commissioners’ recommendations raise the possibility of self-interest along with civic service. Furthermore, because the commission abstains from the challenging task of addressing lingering mysteries surrounding the 9/11 tragedy the question remains whether any other group in congress or elsewhere dares seek answers.

The drama and mystery of these issues was captured in part, for example, by a photo showing White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informing the president at 9:04 a.m. that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center and “America is under attack.”

At the time, Bush and several of his top aides including Karl Rove were in a second-grade classroom in Florida where the president was reading the children’s story “My Pet Goat” while military personnel were scrambling defenses against three other hijacked planes. However, a presidential order was and is required to shoot down civilian aircraft.

The details in the investigation’s history have been forgotten for the most part, but are worth recalling at least on anniversaries.

President Bush and his aides opposed the 9/11 probe, attempted to stack it with loyalists, and vigorously fought its requests for information both from White House staff and from relevant agencies.

In response, commission members maintained a near-unanimous public front of accommodation for the most part. These days, the inside story regarding conflicts receives scant attention. Below, we start with the news and move to the background.


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