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Commission Report Weathers Test of Time

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 commission, has written a new afterword to the report for an edition marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

“Combining an investigation of the attacks with proposals for preventing future attacks is the same mistake as combining intelligence with policy. The way a problem is described is bound to influence the choice of how to solve it. The commission’s contention that our intelligence structure is unsound predisposed it to blame the structure for the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks, whether it did or not,” Posner wrote in 2004.

In “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,” Times reporter Philip Shenon criticized Zelikow for supposedly being too close to the George W. Bush administration.

Kean and Hamilton spent considerable space in their own book on the investigation, “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission,” detailing the difficulties they encountered trying to get information from the administration and time and money from Congress and how those problems shortchanged the probe.

And there apparently is no silencing those, mostly on the political left, who continue to insist that the attacks were an “inside job” conducted with the foreknowledge of the Bush administration, probably in cahoots with the Israelis and possibly with an assist from a few extraterrestrials. No report, however definitive, would be capable of swaying minds such as these.

But on the whole, the 9/11 Commission Report has withstood the critics and the test of time. It helped establish the historical narrative of the attacks and, for good and ill, has driven our response to them.

In an interview with Roll Call, Kean noted three key areas where the legislative response to the attacks has come up short.

Interoperable communications for first responders remains an unsolved problem. “Ten years after Sept. 11 — if we had another event, people in the air would have problems talking to the people on the ground, and lives would be lost,” he said. “That’s embarrassing.”

The Civil Liberties Oversight Board recommended by the commission was created, but Kean considers it a cypher.

“We think there should be a lot of activism, but there isn’t,” he said. “We’d think that with a presumably liberal administration that would be a priority.”

And the lack of consolidation of Congressional jurisdiction over homeland security continues to be a problem, with dozens of committees and subcommittees claiming oversight responsibility.

“As far as Congressional reform, that can only be done with the joint leadership, but it just hasn’t been on their agenda,” Kean said.

But the fact that some of the report’s recommendations have been left unfulfilled doesn’t diminish its authority.

There are certain satisfactions in reading the report, to see that we have indeed learned from our mistakes in some cases. But it would be incorrect to say that the report is a satisfying read. On the contrary, it is often infuriating.

To reread it today is to revive that sense of outrage at those who launched the attacks in the first place, as well as the sense of disappointment — in our government and in ourselves — that we failed to “connect the dots” to ensure its prevention.

Janie Lorber contributed to this report.

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