9-11: NSA; setting the record straight


Today, Sep 10, 2010, my Google alerts surfaced a post by Phil Shenon in “The Daily Beast” titled, “The Secret Files 9/11 Investigators Missed.”  Here Shenon extends an argument he first made in his book The Commission, the uncensored history of the 9/11 investigation. His reference is to the National Security Agency (NSA).

I was interviewed by Shenon, I don’t recall us discussing  the subject of his “secret files,” the NSA.  Retrospectively, I wish we had shared more fully his NSA agenda; I could have put this issue in perspective for him and for his reading public.

The Congressional Joint Inquiry

Shenon doesn’t mention the fact that the Joint Inquiry staff had a team dedicated to NSA; it lived and worked at NSA headquarters during the course of the Inquiry.  That team thoroughly explored the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) holdings concerning the reporting leading up to the events of 9-11.

The Staff Director, Eleanor Hill, discussed the SIGINT issue fully in her final report.  As reported by Hill and by the 9-11 Commission, the only three individuals linked to the events of 9-11 in the SIGINT reporting were Khalid al-Midhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Salem al-Hazmi.

The NSA provided a “SIGINT Retrospective” and an “Addendum” to the Inquiry Staff.  Those document resides in the paper files of the Congressional Joint Inquiry.  The Retrospective and Addendum included every relevant SIGINT report published and unpublished, unilateral and third-party, concerning the intelligence leading up to the attacks.

I, personally, spent hours sifting through the Retrospective.  I was not directly involved in the writing of the final report and had time to do a thorough analysis of the SIGINT reporting.

I created a work paper that included the text from every one of the SIGINT messages, some three dozen or so, in total.  I then integrated in time sequence all information concerning what the government knew, what government actions had been taken, and what was known about the activities of the 19 hijackers, apart from the SIGINT information.  That work paper resides in the Inquiry files in three variations.  I printed out iterative paper copies.  There are companion electronic files to the paper copies.  I copied all my substantive work files, including my work on the Retrospective, to compact discs.

The Commission

One task of the Commission was to build on the work of the Congressional Joint Inquiry.  In addition to NSA the Joint Inquiry had teams dedicated to and working at CIA and the FBI.  My team, the Other Agency Team, had offices at DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and at NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency).

The Commission knew about and did build upon the prior work of the Joint Inquiry.

Updating Shenon

In his blog Shenon wrote: the Commission “failed to conduct a thorough inspection of the government’s most important library of raw intelligence on al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot.  And nobody appears to have inspected that intelligence since.”  And, “There is no sign that anyone from Capitol Hill or elsewhere in the government has attempted to get back into the NSA to review its pre-9/11 terrorism archives…”

Capitol Hill did thoroughly investigate and review the pre-9/11 terrorism archives of the NSA.  That information was shared with the Commission.  I personally examined the SIGINT holdings in detail and archived that work.

The 9-11 Compendium

All researchers and historians know–and Shenon knows this–that the public body of investigative knowledge about 9-11 includes the Commission Report, the Joint Inquiry Report, the records of hearings by both entities, the multiple staff statements by both Staff Directors, and, in the case of the Commission, the separately published monographs.  It also includes the Commission’s referral to the Inspectors General of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense and the formal reports by both.

To focus on a single component of that body of knowledge and extrapolate a narrow conclusion is misleading, incomplete, and counter-productive to the public’s understanding of the events of the day.

Chatted with Phil Shenon

This morning, I sent a quick email to the “Daily Beast” for forwarding to Shenon.  He called me as I was finishing up this article.  He is aware I am posting this article and he raised the issue of Iran.

I reviewed the Commission Report (the search engine link is invaluable) and Shenon’s treatment of the issue.  My recall of the SIGINT files and the additional work of the Inquiry NSA team is that this issue has been substantively addressed; there is no smoking gun.