Half Great, Half Terrible–Griffin Reviews Shenon
by David Ray Griffin
“The Commission” by Philip Shenon has performed a great public service, letting the world know that there are good reasons to be suspicious of “The 9/11 Commission Report.” The main problem is the fact that the Commission was almost entirely under the control of Philip Zelikow, who was closely connected to the Bush White House. Although my book “Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11” revealed some of the facts about Zelikow that showed him to be one of the worst possible choices for the Commission’s executive director, Shenon has revealed even more facts.
It was already known that Zelikow had been on the National Security Council (NSC) with Condoleezza Rice during the administration of the first President Bush; that he wrote a book with her while the Republicans were out of power; that he helped her make the transition from the Clinton to the Bush NSC; and that he wrote at her request the 2002 version of “National Security Strategy of the United States of America” (NSS 2002), which enunciated a new doctrine of preemptive war that was used, in Shenon’s words, to “justify a preemptive strike on Iraq.”
But now Shenon reveals more: that in applying to Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, for the position of executive director, Zelikow failed to reveal some of his conflicts of interest, especially his authorship of NSS 2002 and his role on the transition team; that he continued, contrary to his promise, to be in touch with Karl Rove (who was very concerned about the Commission’s work), as well as Rice; that Zelikow largely prevented direct contact between the staff and the Commissioners (“If information gathered by the staff was to be passed to the commissioners, it would have to go through Zelikow”); and that Zelikow largely “controlled what the final report would say.”
Shenon also reveals that Zelikow, before the Commission’s work had begun, had written a detailed outline for the Commission’s report, complete with “chapter headings, subheadings, and sub-subheadings,” and that he and the Commission’s co-chairs agreed to keep this outline a secret from the Commission’s investigative staff. When the staff learned about this outline a year later, some of them circulated a parody called “The Warren Commission Report—Preemptive Outline,” one chapter of which was entitled “Single Bullet: We Haven’t Seen the Evidence Yet. But Really. We’re Sure.”
However, although all of this should have made Shenon suspicious that Zelikow might have used his power to cover up the truth about 9/11, it did not. Shenon believes that the falsehoods in the Commission’s report were limited to covering up White House incompetence (especially by Rice) and foreign funding of al-Qaeda (by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia).
Because Shenon simply presupposed the truth of the official story as fully as did the Commission, his book is terrible as well as great. It is terrible because Shenon, in mentioning the contention that 9/11 was an inside job, assures his readers that this contention has been debunked, while showing no sign of having studied any of the books that provide evidence for this contention. In his bibliography, for example, he mentions two defenses of the official account: “Debunking 9/11 Myths,” put out by Popular Mechanics, and “Without Precedent,” coauthored by Kean and Hamilton. But he does not mention my “Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory,” in which I responded at length to both of these books. Also, although one would expect his bibliography to include all major critiques of the 9/11 Commission, it does not include my book, “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions,” which has generally been considered the major critique of the Commission’s report.
Shenon’s ignorance of facts contained in this alternative literature is apparent in his assurances that all is well with the official account. For example, claiming that the evidence that al-Qaeda was responsible for 9/11 is “incontrovertible,” Shenon points to a videotape in which a bin Laden boasts about the attacks. Shenon is evidently unaware that bin Laden expert Bruce Lawrence called this videotape “bogus” and that FBI spokesman Rex Tomb admitted that “the FBI has no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.” Also, claiming that there is clear evidence that “nineteen young Arab men . . . were aboard the four planes,” Shenon is evidently unaware that, as I showed in “Debunking 9/11 Debunking” (updated edition), all this supposed evidence falls apart under scrutiny. For example, although we were told that the presence of hijackers on American Flight 77 was proved by Barbara Olson’s phone calls to her husband, Ted Olson, the evidence given to the Moussaoui trial in 2006 by the FBI said that no such calls occurred. This same report contradicted the widely held belief that cell phone calls from passengers on United 93 had reported the existence of hijackers.
Shenon could have remained neutral on the question of the truth of the official story. But because he chose to enter the fray, it was incumbent upon him as a journalist to study, and report, the arguments on both sides of the issue. He did not.
Shenon’s book is terrible not only because he endorses the official account without engaging any of the serious critiques of that account, but also because his complacent acceptance of that account leads him to ignore dozens of signs in the Commission’s report that Zelikow used his position as executive director to cover up far more than incompetence. In “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions,” I showed that it contains over 100 omissions and distortions of the type that would be expected if Zelikow had indeed used his position to cover up official complicity. Here are a few examples that Shenon fails to mention.
Believing that the claim “that the Twin Towers were brought down by preplaced explosives” had been debunked before the Commission began its work, Shenon does not mention the Commission’s silence about the fact that over a hundred members of the Fire Department of New York, in giving oral histories of that day—which were made publicly available by Shenon’s own New York Times—-spoke of apparent explosions in the towers. Shenon also fails to mention the Commission’s silence about evidence that steel in the buildings had melted and even evaporated—evidence that a New York Times article called the “deepest mystery uncovered in the investigation,” because the fires could not have come close to the temperature needed to produce such effects. Was Shenon unaware of these revelations provided by his own paper?
Shenon ignores the Commission’s failure even to mention the fact that WTC 7, which was not hit by a plane and had fires on only a few floors, also collapsed. Shenon perhaps considers this omission unimportant because there was no mystery. “[I]t was determined,” he says, “that a fire that . . . destroyed WTC 7 on September 11 was probably caused by the rupture of the building’s special diesel fuel tanks.” That is indeed the official theory. But the FEMA report—which is still the only official report on this building—suggested what it considered the most likely version of this theory but then admitted that it had “only a low probability of occurrence.”
Although Shenon mentions that Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta testified before the Commission, he does not mention Mineta’s report that Vice President Cheney was in the bunker under the White House by 9:20 AM, which contradicted the Zelikow-led Commission’s later claim that Cheney did not arrive there until almost 10:00.
Although Shenon mentions Cheney’s appearance on “Meet the Press” five days after 9/11, he does not mention Cheney’s statement that he learned about the attack on the Pentagon after (not before) he entered the bunker—which the Zelikow-led Commission later contradicted.
Although Shenon points out that Zelikow and Clarke hated each other, he does not point out that Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies, is not mentioned by the Zelikow-led Commission’s report and that it contradicted that report on several points, saying that Cheney was down in the bunker before 9:15, that Clarke received shootdown authorization from Cheney before 9:55 (not at 10:25), and that General Richard Myers was in the Pentagon between 9:00 and 9:45 AM (not on Capitol Hill).
Although Shenon points out that the Commission failed to ask Rudy Giuliani any tough questions, he does not mention the Commission’s failure to ask the toughest question that should have been asked: How did Giuliani know in advance that the Twin Towers were going to come down?
In sum: Whereas Shenon’s book has performed a great service by revealing things about the Zelikow-led Commission that should lead people to suspect that its account of 9/11 covered up the truth, it is also a terrible failure: Because of Shenon’s lack of journalistic skepticism with regard to the official account of 9/11, he failed to raise the most important question about the Commission’s report: Did it cover up complicity by forces within our own government? Although the Commission’s report contains dozens of signs that it did just this, Shenon’s book mentions not a single one.