The private watchdog group formed by the former members of the 9-11 Commission is closing up shop. The announcement of its last media event—a December 5 briefing where the 9-11 Discourse Project “will issue its final assessment of progress on all 9/11 Commission recommendations”—came today. This is no surprise: The project (funded by entities like the Carnegie Corporation, the Drexel Family Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund) was intended to last for just a year after the commission expired in August 2004, its mission to “educate the public on the issue of terrorism and what can be done to make the country safer.” But even if this end was long planned, it doesn’t mean everyone thinks the job is finished.
“I think it’s really ironic that they are closing up shop at a time when their credibility is being called into question because of Able Danger,” says Debra Burlingame, whose brother was pilot of the plane that hijackers flew into the Pentagon.
Able Danger is the secret military intelligence unit featured in stories published this summer in which military officers claimed that they had information about lead hijacker Mohammed Atta a year before the 9-11 attack. What’s more, the sources of the story claim they told the 9-11 commission about it, but that information was left out of the final report. The 9-11 commissioners have dismissed the story as overblown, claiming in an op-ed piece just this week that their staff checked out the story and found no evidence it was true.
Able Danger isn’t the only question that people keep asking. People who lost firefighters sons, husbands, and brothers still want answers regarding the issues of command & control and radio communication. “The questions that remain unanswered are the whole stuff of chapter 9,” says Sally Regenhard, founder of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, who lost her firefighter son in the towers. “What happened to New York?” Others feel the commission played politics with its finding that Iraq and al Qaeda had no meaningful connections. And Burlingame feels the commission was never disposed to really examine what damage was done by the legal “wall” separating intelligence and criminal investigations at the FBI, since one of the commissioners, Jamie Gorelick, played a role in interpreting that rule during her Justice Department stint under Bill Clinton. Other commission members had similar conflicts on other issues, leading to a lot of recusals.
“There has never been any explanation regarding the timelines between the FAA and NORAD about who notified whom and when,” says Colleen Kelly, who lost her brother at the WTC (Kelly was speaking for herself but serves as the New York coordinator for Peaceful Tomorrows). “There was conflicting testimony between when (former FAA administrator) Jane Garvey appeared and (NORAD commander Gen. Ralph) Eberhardt did. Their timelines don’t match. They’re off by about 20 minutes.”
Questions—some legitimate and others of the far-out-conspiracy-theory type—also linger over the collapse of the buildings at ground zero, even though NIST has released its final report on the twin towers. This spring, NIST plan to close the final phase of its investigation, which covers WTC7. That will apparently be the final word of any government-sanctioned probe of the deadliest terrorist attack in history.
“My real concern is that if this is wrapping up the work, what’s next? Because obviously we’re not at the truth. That seems pretty clearm” Kelly says. “My grave concern is, now what?”
In the vaccum left by incomplete official inquiries, questions linger, valid and otherwise: Forty-two years after Lee Harvey’s lucky shot, people still wonder if LBJ had JFK eliminated.
“I think that we have to look at these alternative groups and these alternative people who are continuing to make films and bring their research to the public,” says Regenhard. “Maybe people thought they were fringe groups or crazy but these are the only people left.” She also hopes to set up an academic department for 9-11 studies somewhere in New York.