9/11 Commission's Credibility at Stake

On September 11, 2001, America was shaken out of its peaceful slumber. The first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 were all warnings, and to be sure, the intelligence community took the information and began to piece together the puzzle of Usama bin Laden and al Qaeda. However, the events of 9/11 showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that America was not prepared for the terrorism that befell it.

What went wrong? How can future attacks be prevented? These are the two burning questions that the congressional 9/11 Commission is tasked with answering. The commission’s charge is important, to say the least, and their findings could be a most useful tool in better preparing America to fight the war on terror. However, recent actions by commission members are painting a partisan picture that could discredit the findings of the commission in the eyes of the intelligence community, and, more importantly, the American public.

Despite initial protests by the White House, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the national security advisor to President George W. Bush, testified publicly and under oath recently before the 9/11 Commission. This testimony came despite Dr. Rice previously providing commission members with over 4 hours of private testimony. Why was Dr. Rice asked to testify publicly when she already provided information to the commission? Was it because commissioners wanted to dig deeper into the first eight months of the Bush administration to see if real mistakes were made? Or, perhaps it was simply an opportunity to make a partisan attack against Bush via one of his most trusted and able advisors?

During her public testimony, Dr. Rice was asked by Democrat commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste about the title of a Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) dated August 6, 2001. The PDB is a classified document prepared for the president of the United States which focuses on important intelligence issues of the day.

“Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country?” Ben-Veniste questioned. “And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?”

Rice responded by saying, “I believe the title was, ‘Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.'”

With that reply, Rice answered Ben-Veniste’s second question, but when she attempted to answer the first question, she was repeatedly cut off by the Democrat commissioner. Perhaps, as it so obviously appeared, Ben-Veniste was more interested in the shock value of the brief’s title than the actual contents. Rice explained that the brief was “not a warning” of a specific impending attack, but rather a “historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew.”

“But I can also tell you that there was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C.,” Rice said. “There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how or where. This was not a threat report to the president or a threat report to me.”

Despite implications by Ben-Veniste that the PDB contained the “smoking gun” that Bush knew of specific impending attacks and did not act to prevent them, the White House declassified the PDB and released it to the public, showing, as Dr. Rice asserted, that the administration was indeed aware of bin Laden’s desires but did not have information of specific attacks. The PDB also shows that, at the time, the FBI was “conducting approximately 70 full field investigations through-out the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related.”

In addition to Ben-Veniste, former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey is also showing his partisan stripes. In an April 11 editorial in the New York Times, Kerrey writes that President Bush’s vision for the war on terror is “wrong.”

Kerrey says that America should swallow its pride and “appeal to the United Nations for help in Iraq.” Last time I checked, the United States has reached out repeatedly to the U.N. for assistance in Iraq, and it’s been the U.N. who has run for cover at the first signs of trouble. Kerrey also criticized the Bush administration for not having the “urgent follow-up” on intelligence matters in the summer of 2001.

“I have not found evidence that federal agencies were directed clearly, forcefully and unambiguously to tell the president everything they were doing to eliminate Qaeda cells in the United States,” Kerrey writes in his New York Times op-ed.

Aren’t comments like this precisely what the commission is tasked to discover, evaluate, and document in their final report which is due in July? If so, then why is a sitting commissioner engaging in public criticism of President Bush while the commission is still at work? These types of activities are most inappropriate and taint the work the commission with partisan poison.

Discovering and correcting the intelligence failures that led to the attacks of September 11, 2001, is something that is vitally important to me and all Americans. As someone who saw al Qaeda’s work first hand when Flight 77 exploded in front of my eyes into the Pentagon, I was hoping that the 9/11 Commission could put partisan differences aside and come up with analysis and recommendations that could help prevent future attacks. If the actions of the commissioners degenerate into blatantly partisan attacks for cheap political gain, then not only are the recommendations called into question, but America will not be as safe as it could be.

The future safety of the American people should be of paramount importance to the members of the 9/11 Commission. It’s time to put partisanship aside and focus on what matters.