Allegations Brought to Inspectors General
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
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.
"We to this day don't know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command]
told us what they told us," said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey
Republican governor who led the commission. "It was just so far from the
truth. . . . It's one of those loose ends that never got tied."
Although the commission's landmark report made it clear that the Defense Department's
early versions of events on the day of the attacks were inaccurate, the revelation
that it considered criminal referrals reveals how skeptically those reports
were viewed by the panel and provides a glimpse of the tension between it and
the Bush administration.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general's office will
soon release a report addressing whether testimony delivered to the commission
was "knowingly false." A separate report, delivered secretly to Congress
in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies in part on problems with the way the Defense
Department kept its records, according to a summary released yesterday.
A spokesman for the Transportation Department's inspector general's office
said its investigation is complete and that a final report is being drafted.
Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she
could not comment on the inspector general's inquiry.
In an article scheduled to be on newsstands today, Vanity Fair magazine reports
aspects of the commission debate -- though it does not mention the possible
criminal referrals -- and publishes lengthy excerpts from military audiotapes
recorded on Sept. 11. ABC News aired excerpts last night.
For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA
provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony
and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted
quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings
and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it
In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD's Northeast
headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any
of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft
-- American Airlines Flight 11 -- long after it had crashed into the World Trade
Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that
NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined
that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military
was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.
These and other discrepancies did not become clear until the commission, forced
to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAA and NORAD, officials said.
The agencies' reluctance to release the tapes -- along with e-mails, erroneous
public statements and other evidence -- led some of the panel's staff members
and commissioners to believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission
and the public about what happened on Sept. 11.
"I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described,"
John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led the staff inquiry
into events on Sept. 11, said in a recent interview. "The tapes told a
radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two
years. . . . This is not spin. This is not true."
Arnold, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, told the commission
in 2004 that he did not have all the information unearthed by the panel when
he testified earlier. Other military officials also denied any intent to mislead
John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navy secretary, said
in a recent interview that he believed the panel may have been lied to but that
he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal referral.
"My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid
bureaucracy, I don't know," Lehman said. "But in the order of magnitude
of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn't
seem to make sense to me."
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