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***The 9/11 Commission Report

The Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Reviewed December 20, 2004.
W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2004.   567 pages.

I hadn’t planned to read this book when it came in, thinking it would be of interest only to a few people concerned about the dry details of government and legislation.  However, just glancing through it to process it, I found the book absorbing reading.  Later, named the book as one of the top books of the year, so I wasn’t alone in finding this book interesting and important.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was formed of five Republicans and five Democrats.  In the Preface, the commission members explain their purpose:

“Our mandate was sweeping.  The law directed us to investigate ‘facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,’ including those relating to intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, diplomacy, immigration issues and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist organizations, commercial aviation, the role of congressional oversight and resource allocation, and other areas determined relevant by the Commission.

“In pursuing our mandate, we have reviewed more than 2.5 million pages of documents and interviewed more than 1,200 individuals in ten countries.  This included nearly every senior official from the current and previous administrations who had responsibility for topics covered in our mandate.

“We have sought to be independent, impartial, thorough, and nonpartisan.  From the outset, we have been committed to share as much of our investigation as we can with the American people.  To that end, we held 19 days of hearings and took public testimony from 160 witnesses.

“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.”

It’s refreshing to read a well-informed, nonpartisan account of the recent history of terrorism.  With the recent election, so much I had read or heard lately had been aimed at blaming either the present or the previous administration.  This account looks at what’s known and what isn’t known and shows how we as a nation fell short of being prepared.  It also helps us understand the reasons we weren’t prepared and ways we can improve in the future, adapting our strategy to face this new enemy, so different from the enemy we faced during the Cold War.

I did find the commission’s analysis of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida to be interesting.  They summed up, “The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides’ hatred of the United States.  But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.  Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States.”

This book covers a large amount of territory.  Naturally, it covers the events of September 11th in detail, from the terrorists’ movements, to the response of the fire and police departments and the military defenses and FAA response.  It also covers the rise of the new terrorism in the last two decades and the evolution of our counterterrorism response.  It covers the movements of the al Qaeda plotters before September 11th and what kept us from stopping them.

The last two chapters present recommendations for a global strategy for better preventing terrorist attacks, as well as recommendations as to how to carry it out.  As I was reading this section, I heard on the news that Congress had just approved the new position of a National Intelligence Director recommended in this report.  I was glad I was reading this report and knew what that meant.

Besides being a good book for keeping you well-informed, this is fascinating reading, getting as close to the truth of what happened as we can reasonably hope to get.

Copyright © 2004 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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