Pentagon deceptions about 9/11 angered commission

Pentagon officials were so evasive on details surrounding its reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that some members of the 9/11 commission wanted to refer their actions to the Justice Department for possible criminal action.

The revelations from articles in both The Washington Post and Vanity Fair are sure to fuel conspiracy theories about government involvement in the attacks on both the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

At the very least, the concerns of the commission raise, once again, the ongoing issue of the Bush Administration’s failure to be honest with the American people.

Writes Dan Eggin in today’s Washington Post:

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 said.

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.

The new issue of Vanity Fair magazine, scheduled to hit newsstands today, also raises questions regarding the government reponse and accuracy of its admissions. The magazine has also devoted extensive coverage to the documentary, Loose Change, which suggests American government complicity in the attacks and claims, among other things, that the strikes on the World Trade Center were about money, not politics.