Today’s Washington Post reports that the 9/11 Commission got so frustrated with inaccurate testimony from military and aviation officials regarding the immediate response on 9/11 that they considered referrals to the Department of Justice for perjury:
Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.
Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.
In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.
The commission complained early about the spin coming from the Department of Defense and from aviation officials in reconstructing the events of the day. DoD officials blamed sketchy records of the day’s events for the confusion on timing. For instance, testimony indicated that the Air Force had tracked United 93 and would have shot the plane down had it approached Washington, but tapes subpoenaed by the Commission later revealed that the military had no idea about United 93 until it had crashed.
The tapes told a much different story than the witnesses, and the Commission was understandably upset that these witnesses gave them demonstrably false information two years or more after the events in question. The DoD could have reviewed the tapes themselves and figured out the facts. Commissioners felt that it approached perjury and wanted to have them prosecuted after they finallly got the tapes through the hostile manuever of subpoenas.
In the end, they allowed the DoD and DoT inspectors general to review the matter. Reports from both are expected shortly as to whether the testimony given was knowingly false. If so, the DoJ should consider prosecution.
However, we should also keep in mind the balls-up that the Commission became. While their recreation of the day’s events was excellent work, the rest of their effort produced nothing but the bureaucratic spin of which they accuse the DoD. The inclusion on Jamie Gorelick even after her role promoting the extralegal separation of law enforcement and intelligence units became clear skewed the panel’s point of view. She should have been a witness, not a panel member, as she was too much of a participant in the activities that led to the intelligence failures of 9/11.
The Commission also failed to follow up on important information in their haste to blame 9/11 on intelligence operations. They completely missed the ABLE DANGER program that had identified Mohammed Atta and his core of operatives as potential terrorists, and that was not because of DoD intransigence. Multiple members of that team tried to get their interest, and the panel refused to follow up on the leads. Even after these people went public with the information, panel members like Thomas Kean — quoted heavily in this story — mocked them and discounted their honor.
The panel of bureaucrats had too much at stake to allow bureaucracy to get the blame for 9/11, and so they concluded that the operations end of intelligence had to get it instead. They proposed a massive increase in intelligence bureaucracy, supposedly to make intelligence gathering and analysis more efficient. Instead, they created a behemoth of a bureaucracy in the Directorate of National Intelligence, so much so that Congress threatened to cut off its funding to keep its empire-building to a dull roar. It now employs almost a thousand people, almost none of whom develop or gather intel in the field, but instead look at it and push the paper up another level.
If anyone knowingly provided false information to a Congressional panel, then that person should face trial for perjury. However, the Omission Commission is the last group of people whose complaints about fair play and honesty interest me.