National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

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The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was created on November 27, 2002 to investigate the facts and circumstances of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. by members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. It consisted of ten members, five Republicans and five Democrats. The Commission's mandate included intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, diplomacy, immigration issues and border control, the flow of assets to terrorist organizations, commercial aviation, and Congressional oversight.

After the attacks, the Bush administration fiercely resisted any outside investigation into the tragedy; however, they eventually relented in the face of continuing public outrage. The campaign to create this Commission was led by the victim's families, especially the Jersey Girls - four women who lost their husbands in the attacks.


Incredibly, the President's first choice to head the Commission was Henry Kissinger, but his long history of war crimes and coverups made him unacceptable, and he withdrew after a couple of weeks. Throughout the course of the investigation, the President withheld sensitive intelligence documents, including the Presidential Daily Brief from August 6, 2001, which was entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The Commission only received these documents after it threatened to subpeona them. The Commission also had trouble hearing testimony from senior administration officials. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice initially refused to testify, and President Bush and Vice-President Cheney only agreed to appear in a secret session, and only if they were together. These delays caused the commission's hearings to extend past its original deadline, and once again, the administration opposed any extension until public pressure became unbearable.

The Commission heard particularly compelling testimony from CIA Director George Tenet and former National Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke. Tenet said that in the weeks preceeding the attack, "the system was blinking red". While Clarke gave a devasting portrait of an administration that simply refused to believe that terrorism was a threat, in spite of mounting evidence. Clarke also said that President Bush directed him to look specifically for evidence linking Iraq to the attacks, even though suspicion was already centered on Al-Qaeda.

CIA Obstruction

Late in 2007, the CIA admitted that it had destroyed tapes showing the interrogation of suspected terrorists. However, it never showed these tapes to the commission, despite repeated requests. (The tapes showed the torture technique of waterboarding.) Both commision chairmen say that the CIA deliberately obstructed their investigation. (Sources: CIA withheld al Qaeda tapes: paper, and "9/11 Panel Study Finds that CIA Withheld Tapes", by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, Dec. 22, 2007.)


  • There were some meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Laden's aides, but "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." (Chapter 2, Section 2.5)
  • Vice-President Cheney ordered the Air Force to shootdown a passenger aircraft, based on a phone call between himself and the President; however, the commission found "there is no documentary evidence for this call." President Bush did confirm the order later. (Chapter 1, Section 1.3)
  • Of the 19 hijackers, 15 came from Saudi Arabia, 2 came from the United Arab Emirates, 1 came from Egypt, and 1 came from Lebannon. None of the hijackers were from either Iraq or Iran.


The Commission made many recommendations regarding foreign policy, border control, emergency response, and the organization of the executive branch. Its most important recommendation was the Struggle of Ideas. They said "We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. America and Muslim friends can agree on respect for human dignity and opportunity."

Their recommendations were not listed as bullet points, but as paragraphs supported by lengthy discussion. Here is a summary and paraphrase of their recommendations, organized into two groups:

Global Strategy

  • Shut down actual or possible terrorist sanctuaries.
    • Pakistan - Make a long term commitment to the Musharraf government.
    • Afghanistan - rebuild the country.
    • Saudi Arabia - develop an open relationship based on shared goals, not just oil.
  • Set an example of moral leadership in the world.
  • Avoid short term alliances with brutal governments.
  • Live up to our ideals - the US defended Muslim civilians in Bosnia and Kosovo.
  • Support education in the Middle East.
  • Encourage economic development and open societies.
  • Create an international coalition against Islamic terrorism.
  • Prevent the proliferation of WMD.
  • Shut down terrorist financial networks.
  • Interdict terrorst travel.
  • Integrate US border security into a nationwide network.
  • The DHS should create a biometric entry system and passports.
  • Exchange information with allies.
  • The federal government should set standards for identification documents such as birth certificates and driver's licenses.
  • The US should protect its highest risk transportation assets.
  • Improve screening of air travellers.
  • Detect explosives on air travellers.
  • Safeguard individual privacy when sharing information between government agencies.
  • There must be guidelines and oversight for new government powers.
  • There should be an executive branch oversight board to protect civil liberties.
  • Homeland security funding should be based on risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Emergency response agencies should adopt the Incident Command System.
  • Assign more radio spectrum for public safety.
  • The private sector should follow the ANSI standard for preparedness.

Government Organization

  • Establish a National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
  • Create the position of Director of National Intelligence.
  • Reform the CIA.
  • The Defense Department should lead clandestine and covert paramilitary operations.
  • There should be a separate and open appropriations budget for intelligence.
  • Information procedures should provide an incentive for sharing.
  • Create a "trusted information network".
  • Congress should create a single committee in the House and Senate with authorizing and appropriating authority for intelligence.
  • Congress should create a single committee in each branch for oversight and review of homeland security.
  • Accelerate the process for national security appointments.
  • The FBI should establish an integrated national security workforce including agents, analysts and linguists.
  • The Defense Department should plan for military attacks against the US.
  • The DHS should assess threats to the US, and progress in defending against them.

Members of the Commission

Staff of the Commission

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