9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon — Allegations Brought to Inspectors General

9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon
Allegations Brought to Inspectors General

By: Dan Eggen Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A03

Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concludedthat the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort tomislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of thefog of events on that day, according to sources involved in thedebate.Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, ina secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debatedreferring the matter to the Justice Department for criminalinvestigation, according to several commission sources. Staff membersand some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidenceprovided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviationofficials violated the law by making false statements to Congress andto the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to thehijackings, these sources said.In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over theallegations to the inspectors general for the Defense andTransportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if theybelieve they are warranted, officials said. »We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American AerospaceCommand] told us what they told us, » said Thomas H. Kean, the formerNew Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. « It was justso far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that nevergot tied. »Although the commission’s landmark report made it clear that theDefense Department’s early versions of events on the day of theattacks were inaccurate, the revelation that it considered criminalreferrals reveals how skeptically those reports were viewed by thepanel and provides a glimpse of the tension between it and the Bushadministration.A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general’soffice will soon release a report addressing whether testimonydelivered to the commission was « knowingly false. » A separate report,delivered secretly to Congress in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies inpart on problems with the way the Defense Department kept itsrecords, according to a summary released yesterday.A spokesman for the Transportation Department’s inspector general’soffice said its investigation is complete and that a final report isbeing drafted. Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal AviationAdministration, said she could not comment on the inspector general’sinquiry.In an article scheduled to be on newsstands today, Vanity Fairmagazine reports aspects of the commission debate — though it doesnot mention the possible criminal referrals — and publishes lengthyexcerpts from military audiotapes recorded on Sept. 11. ABC Newsaired excerpts last night.For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD andthe FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to thehijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggestedthat U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had beenscrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighterswere prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if itthreatened Washington.In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes fromNORAD’s Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly thatthe military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sightsand at one point chased a phantom aircraft — American AirlinesFlight 11 — long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission thatNORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commissiondetermined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later.The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashedin Pennsylvania.These and other discrepancies did not become clear until thecommission, forced to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAAand NORAD, officials said. The agencies’ reluctance to release thetapes — along with e-mails, erroneous public statements and otherevidence — led some of the panel’s staff members and commissionersto believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission and thepublic about what happened on Sept. 11. »I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it wasdescribed, » John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who ledthe staff inquiry into events on Sept. 11, said in a recentinterview. « The tapes told a radically different story from what hadbeen 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 thecommission in 2004 that he did not have all the information unearthedby the panel when he testified earlier. Other military officials alsodenied any intent to mislead the panel.John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navysecretary, said in a recent interview that he believed the panel mayhave been lied to but that he did not believe the evidence wassufficient to support a criminal referral. »My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog ofstupid bureaucracy, I don’t know, » Lehman said. « But in the order ofmagnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled thecommission didn’t seem to make sense to me. »

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