Alexander's Column

On the Inadequacies of the 9/11 Commission Report

Mark Alexander · Sep. 3, 2004

This position paper in its original form was prepared by a retired Counterintelligence Agent for The Patriot Post. We offer it to our readers as part of our commemoration of the events of September 11, 2001.

The 9/11 Commission report, released on 16 June 2004 at more than six hundred pages in length, details the history behind the September 11, 2001 attacks, the attacks themselves, failures of response and preemption, and recommendations for change. The Commission’s conclusion, expectedly: “The nation was unprepared.” While the White House remained elusive, voices from the Pentagon, CIA, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and members of Congress were prompt in opposing the report’s call for a cabinet-level, uber-bureaucracy to coordinate and direct national intelligence. President Bush called the report “very constructive.”

A summary of the full report can be viewed at – http://wid.ap.org/documents/911/040616staff15.pdf

At least one high-ranking CIA source decries one of the report’s central tenants, which blames the CIA for not sharing information with the FBI and other agencies that could have prevented the terrorist attacks. The real problem, the source says, is not that the CIA didn’t share the information, but that it didn’t adequately comprehend the information it had in order to then pass it along to other agencies.

Concerning the failure to comprehend, the Commission’s report places an emphasis upon “missed opportunities” under the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as a lack of “imagination” in the intelligence and security communities: “Since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them. What we can say with confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the U.S. government from 1998 to 2001 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al-Qa'ida plot. Across the government, there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.”

Some intelligence analysis of the report may be useful, to determine the validity and value of this report in making additional decisions as matters of policy. The remainder of this paper, concise and written for the general public, is designed to offer such an intelligence analysis:

On page 3, the report states: “With al-Qa'ida as its foundation, bin Laden sought to build a broader Islamic army that also included terrorist groups from Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Oman, Tunisia, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, and Eritrea.” The primary objection to this statement is that it gives an impression of being complete and exhaustive, in that there is no open-endedness as there might be had it said, “etc.,” “among others,” or even “as well as from other nations listed elsewhere in this report.” Conspicuous by their absence, in alphabetical order, where al-Qa'ida has been known to recruit operatives (even if the attacks were interdicted before being executed) are:

Afghanistan (should that omission be embarrassing?), Albania, Argentina and the tri-border area, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Croatia, Dagestan, Georgia, India/Kashmir, Indonesia, Iran (described as having special ties that transcended traditional Sunni-Shia rivalry, yet not included in the above list), Lebanon, Mauritania, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sudan (described as a base of operations later on page 3, but not included in the list compilation by the Commission), Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen (remember the USS Cole?).

There are other less well known areas and nations where operatives exist(-ed) and operate(-d), either for money laundering, training, recruitment, or other functions, but this list should suffice to show the incompleteness of the list given by the Commission.

Rarely is one afforded the opportunity to see precisely how politically-charged intelligence can be; perhaps not since the Zimmermann telegram has intelligence been such an obvious and overt tool of politicians.

The report did not list the support given by the previous regime in Iraq to international terrorist organizations, such as the Abu Nidal Organization, headed by Sabri al-Banna, even though his murder by Iraqi security forces once he became a liability was widely reported. Using a simple Google search, and entering the key words “Abu Nidal murder Baghdad,” one will uncover (English language specified) approximately 3,890 links.

(NOTE: The Iraqi claim that Sabri al-Banna committed suicide became questionable once it was discovered that he had four bullet holes in his head.)

Given the report’s failure to list approximately a decade of state-supported terrorism that is publicly available information, one can only wonder at the level of information that was not in the public domain that the Commission also failed to evaluate.

On page 5, the report states: “Bin Laden also explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to Hussein’s secular regime. Bin Laden had in fact at one time sponsored anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Sudanese, to protect their own ties with Iraq, reportedly persuaded bin Laden to cease this support and arranged for contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida. A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded. There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” And yet, immediately after this statement, the report goes on to say: “Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al-Qa'ida and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qa'ida cooperated on attacks against the United States.” The fact that a murderous terrorist’s associates would deny a connection should hardly be a surprise to anyone; that the Commission would apparently accept those denials should come as a shock to any thinking person.

In a theater of the absurdly macabre, in pages 5-6, the Commission’s report goes on to question whether Ramzi Yousef, key agent of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and principle actor for the interdicted Bojinka affair, was actually an al-Qa'ida operative. This, after admitting that Yousef was trained in al-Qa'ida camps funded by bin Laden in Afghanistan; and after admitting that his partner later “officially” joined al-Qa'ida. But the focus seems to be that at the specific moment of the attack, neither Yousef nor his partner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were at the time “officially” members of al-Qa'ida. The really interesting part is how early in the report, on pages 1-3, the report discusses how al-Qa'ida metamorphosed, and even states on page 3, “This organizational structure should not be read as defining a hierarchical chain of command for specific terrorist operations.” So while understanding that several things were associated with and essentially belonged to al-Qa'ida, the Commission stridently maintains that Yousef’s activities were not those of an agent of al-Qa'ida. Of course, the Commission also ignores:

Yousef’s connection with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ)
Sheik Omar Abd al-Raman’s (various spellings include Omar Abdel Raman, etc.) association with the EIJ and Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG)
The long standing connections between both the EIJ and the EIG, to the extent that the former operations officer of the EIJ, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, later became the head of terrorist operations for al-Qa'ida. (Incidentally, both the EIJ and the EIG signed the 1998 fatwah issued by bin Laden.)
The fact that al-Raman was convicted of his involvement in the attack, and is still serving a life sentence in US prison to this day.
The connections between Iraqi intelligence and the actual actors in the bombing. (NOTE: It is also interesting that Yousef flew to New York in 1991 on an Iraqi passport.)
The investigative lead that at least one of the conspirators, Abdul Ramen Yasin, fled to Iraq after the bombing. (NOTE: The Iraqi government was willing to hand him over later for military concessions.)

An objective review would find that Ramzi Yousef was, indeed, an al-Qa'ida operative, and that he was also supported by Iraq; and those facts suggest a more than passing relationship.

The report then went on to discredit al-Qa'ida involvement in two of the failed millennial attacks in the U.S. and Jordan. Simultaneous to this, the Commission ignores the connection between Ould Salahi (AKA Slahi), the son-in-law to Abu Hafs, the Mauritanian (a key bomb-maker for bin Laden), the operational cells interdicted in Canada, and Ressam.

The Commission stated on page 9: “Both Ressam and the Jordanian cell took what they needed from al-Qa'ida-associated camps and personnel, but did not follow the traditional al-Qa'ida top-down planning and approval model.” The presuppositions revealed by this statement are endemic of the flawed reasoning throughout the report:

The Commission presumes that there is only one way to do a thing.
That an organization as adaptive and creative as al-Qa'ida is incapable of operating in more than one way at a time.
The Commission had in their minds the idea that there are “independent operators” and then there are “official attacks” by al-Qa'ida. It appears that the 1996 and 1998 declarations of war against the United States, the call for spontaneous uprisings by all Muslim believers everywhere, and similar acts are, to the Commission, mere rhetoric. It further appears that anything that does not meet the Commission’s view of how a terrorist attack “should” be conducted is not “viable.” Despite its own apparent lack of “imagination” the Commission’s report is promulgated, replete with such obvious and glaring errors of logic.

On page 10, however, the absurdities increase. Here, the Commission writes: “No persuasive evidence exists that al-Qa'ida relied on the drug trade as an important source of revenue, or funded itself through trafficking in diamonds from African states engaged in civil wars.”

It is with a dark sense of humor, indeed, then, that one reads the words from the Afghani ambassador specifically stated: “We must…prevent extremists from high-jacking the democracy and the nation-building process for personal gain or factional agendas,” Mr. Jawad said. “Cultivation and trafficking of narcotics go hand-in-hand with terrorism and warlordism.”

Clearly, this is in response to some historical issue.

In fact, Afghanistan’s involvement with heroin exists as a problem still to this day. But the history is not difficult to discover. And entertainingly, to make the preposterous statement they did, the Commission had to ignore the Drug Enforcement Agency’s own reports. There are numerous other citations to read; another cursory Google search of the words “Afghanistan Taliban drug smuggling al-Qa'ida” resulted in approximately 7,570 hits.

Likewise, by changing the parameters to “al-Qa'ida diamond smuggling” one can find approximately 2,480 hits. Diamond trafficking as a source of al-Qa'ida income is baldly refuted by the Council on Foreign Relations itself.

It would be interesting, indeed, to have an explanation from the investigating council as to what constitutes “persuasive evidence.”

For its part, the 9/11 Commission proposes a broad, three-prong strategy for confronting the threat of Islamist terrorism: “(1) attack terrorists and their organizations, (2) prevent the continued growth of Islamist terrorism, and (3) protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks.”

For Congress’s part, few seem eager to quickly pursue the Commission’s finding, preferring instead to leave questions of national security in limbo until more “pressing” business – namely the November elections – are behind us.