Thoughts from Linda:
The 9/11 Commission Report
Final Report of the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks upon the United States
Thomas H. Kean and Lee Hamilton
July 22, 2004
Many of us remember exactly where we were on September 11, 2001, and the moments of that day. For those old enough to remember, this was a 'Pearl Harbor' kind of moment. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this terrible series of events. We selected this report as one of our notable reads for September in partnership with the other book, The Looming Tower, for three reasons:
It is the 20th anniversary of something that we should never forget but should also learn from, and this report has great validity today, even though it was first published July 22, 2004. Taken together with The Looming Tower, these two books provide a very complete and thorough background and contextual understanding of the events.
The recent events as America pulls out of Afghanistan, after 20 years there, tragically illustrate the complexity and global threats that still exist today, having morphed, and evolved over these past two decades. This report will aid the understanding of the dynamics at play.
Finally, with the partisan divides we all experience today, it is good to see what an actual, bi-partisan report from a Congressionally chartered Committee looks like. As the authors said, "We have come together with a unity of purpose because our nation demands it. September 11, 2001, was a day of unprecedented shock and suffering in the history of the United States. The nation was unprepared. How did this happen, and how can we avoid such tragedy again? … Our mandate was sweeping. In pursuing it, we have reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries. We held 19 days of public hearings and took public testimony from 160 individuals."
I so appreciate the spirit and the output from this amazing Committee, and you will too if you have never read this document or are re-reading it now. It is available as a pdf online and via Amazon in printed form.
It is refreshing, in our tribal politics of 2021, to read, "Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned." The ten Commissioners completely agreed upon this report with no dissenting opinions. It is an example of what collaboration in the spirit of the common good can look like.
They go on to say, "We learned about an enemy who is sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal. The enemy rallies broad support in the Arab and Muslim world by demanding redress of political grievances, but its hostility toward us and our values is limitless. Its purpose is to rid the world of religious and political pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women."
Kean served as Governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. He was appointed to lead the Commission by President George Bush. Henry Kissinger had earlier been appointed to lead the Commission but resigned due to numerous conflicts of interest with his role as a global business consultant. Kean proved to be an outstanding leader of the Commission, receiving many kudos for his work. He spoke about the results of the study often, noting in December of 2003:
"As to bin Laden…we had him!"
Kean said that the September 11 attacks could have been prevented, stating: "As you read the report, you're going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn't done and what should have been done. This was not something that had to happen."
On April 4, 2004, Kean again stated that the September 11 attacks could have been prevented. The United States government should have acted sooner to dismantle al-Qaeda and responded more quickly to other terrorist threats. "When we actually saw bin Laden on the ground, using the Predator or other means, did we have...actionable intelligence? Should we have sent a cruise missile into a site where he was at that point? I think those early opportunities are clear. We had him. We saw him. I think maybe we could have done something about it."
On July 22, 2004, the Commission issued its final report, which concluded that the CIA and the FBI had ill-served President Bush and the American people in failing to predict or prevent the September 11 attacks, which the report concluded was preventable.
Kean was assisted in his leadership by the Vice-Chair, Lee Hamilton of Indiana. Hamilton was a 34-year member of the House of Representatives, having served from 1965 to 1998, and a distinguished expert in foreign affairs. After leaving government service, he went on to be the Director of the Woodrow Wilson Institute Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.
I was at the headquarters of American Airlines on the morning of September 11, 2001, getting ready to lead a seminar on 'tools of collaboration' for the Human Resources leadership group.
The day is vivid in my memory, as I suspect anyone reading this far into this review. I had worked previously for AMR, the parent of American Airlines, and I have tremendous respect for the organization and the very dedicated employees. My husband and I are multi-million-mile fliers on American even today.
I well remember Carol Wright, one of the senior leaders, getting up to take a phone call prior to our start-up of the session. Like the early perceptions of so many others, she came back into our room and reported to the group that something had happened in the air space around the World Trade Center in NYC. Carol noted that it appeared to have been a private aircraft incident. Within two more minutes, she again left the room to take a call. (This was before everyone had a personal phone with them 24/7.) She returned and told everyone to go to the large television screen in the foyer. There, looking up at the television and standing next to a friend, Tommy Tompkins, a long-time American Airlines leader, I watched the replay of both planes striking the towers. Tommy turned to me and said, "Linda, there is NO WAY that an American Airlines pilot would have done that."
This group of Human Resource leaders immediately boarded a special flight to NYC as they were assigned to assist as first responders to any American Airlines crash. Within a short period, the entire DFW airport was shut down. The awful day had begun.
As we experience and re-live the day on this 20th anniversary, it serves us well to take in the words of the Commission.
The authors of the report note in their conclusion to the Preface:
"We emerge from this investigation with enormous sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, and with the enhanced respect for the American people. We recognize the formidable challenges that lie ahead. We also approach the task of recommendations with humility. We have made a limited number of them. We decided consciously to focus on recommendations we believe to be the most important, whose implementation an make the greatest difference. We came into this process with strong opinions about what would work.
All of us have had to pause, reflect, and sometimes change our minds as we studied these problems and considered the views of others. We hope our report will encourage our fellow citizens to study, reflect—and act."
In addition to continuing to extend our collective national sympathies for the victims and their loved ones, there are other profound insights with 20 years of hindsight.
These are such words of wisdom for us in 2021---for the topic of terrorism, to be sure, but also for so many other issues that confront us as well.
Just think how our world could be if we could come together for the common good and "pause, reflect and sometimes change our minds as (we) study problems and considered the views of others."
We join with all Americans in remembering and in the National Day of Mourning on September 11.