TRUTH, LIES AND CONSPIRACY
August 21, 2006
News: Sunday's Evan Solomon interviews Lee
Commission co-chair and co-author of the book "Without
Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission".
Evan Solomon: Tell
me why you felt the need, with Thomas Kean, to write this
book "Without Precedent"?
Lee Hamilton: We felt
we had an important story to tell, 9/11 was a traumatic event
in our history, every adult in America will remember exactly
where they were on that day when they heard the news. We felt
that the Commission’s work gave a lot of insights into
how government works, and particularly how government in the
national security area works. We had hundreds of people tell
us, or ask us, how the Commission did its work, and so we
responded by writing the book and tried to let people know
the story, the inside story of the 9/11 Commission.
Solomon: Do you consider the 9/11 Commission
to have been a success, and if so, under what ways do you
measure that success? How do you call it a success?
Hamilton: The 9/11 Commission was created by
statute. We had two responsibilities - first, tell the story
of 9/11; I think we've done that reasonably well. We worked
very hard at it; I don’t know that we’ve told
the definitive story of 9/11, but surely anybody in the future
who tackles that job will begin with the 9/11 Commission Report.
I think we’ve been reasonably successful in telling
the story. It became a best seller in this country and people
showed a lot of interest in it.
Our second task was to make recommendations;
thus far, about half of our recommendations have been enacted
into law, the other half have not been enacted. So we've got
a ways to go. In a quantitative sense, we’ve had about
50% success there. In a qualitative sense, you could judge
it many different ways. But we still have some very important
recommendations that we think have not yet been enacted that
Solomon: Now, one of the stipulations, you write
in the book, one of the ways that you thought that this ought
to be successful, this report, the Commission Report, is on
page 23, you said if the American people would accept the
results as authoritative, and the recommendations.
And when I measure that against a Zogby poll
done in May, that says now 42% of Americans say that "the
U.S. government, and its 9/11 Commission, concealed or refused
to investigate critical evidence that contradicts the official
explanation of September 11th, saying there's a cover-up"
- 42%, Mr. Hamilton - what does that say to you about the
efficacy of the Commission's report?
Hamilton: Well, it’s dispiriting, it’s
an unusually high number, but if you look at polls judging
government reports in the past - the Warren Commission, the
reports on Kennedy assassination, even the reports on Abraham
Lincoln’s assassination - you find a very high level
of people who are skeptical. And you have that in this case.
When you conduct a major investigation, you
cannot possibly answer every question, you just do the best
you can. But for every question you leave unanswered, you
create an opening to a conspiracy theory, and a good many
of them have popped up here.
The only thing I ask in the future is that the
conspiracy theory people do not apply a double standard. That
is to say, they want us to make an airtight case for any assertion
we make. On the other hand, when they make an assertion they
do it often on very flimsy evidence.
But conspirators are always going to exist in
this country. Tom Kean and I got a flavour of this everytime
we'd walk through an audience - they would hand us notes,
hand us papers, hand us books, hand us tapes, telling us to
investigate this, that or the other. You cannot possibly answer
all these questions, you just do the best you can.
Solomon: Some of the families have joined that
chorus. We’ve talked to one father who says, 'my son
was killed by George W. Bush', as if the government had foreknowledge
of the attacks. What would you say to someone like him and
other family members who have been dissatisfied with the explanation?
Hamilton: Many families supported the report
- very strongly - and have been instrumental in helping us
on the implementation stage. A lot of the people that have
doubts about the report - not all of them - are strongly anti-Bush,
for a variety of reasons. Many of them are just anti-government,
in other words, they don't believe anything the government
All I ask of these people is: give me your
evidence. If you thought George Bush or Lee Hamilton or Tom Kean blew up those buildings, let’s see the evidence.
Solomon: I wouldn't mind just.. there's a few
things, but I want to know, interestingly enough, if you've
seen a film that’s so popular now on the internet, ten
million people apparently have seen a film called Loose Change,
which makes some startling allegations. It's a film made by
three very young students out of a New York University. Have
you seen that movie, and if so, what are your thoughts on
Hamilton: I have not seen it.
Solomon: Yeah... 10 million people, I mean,
some of them.. now, and it's interesting that you write in
one of your chapters, I think it's Chapter 12, deals specifically
with conspiracy theories. One of them, as you know - probably
one of the most persistent - is that the buildings were brought
down by controlled explosion, controlled demolition. One of
the bits of evidence that is often cited is the collapse of
World Trade Center Building Number 7, which was not hit by
any plane. One question that people have is: why didn’t
the Commission deal with the collapse Building 7, which some
call the smoking gun? Why did this collapse at all?
Hamilton: Well, of course, we did deal with
it. The charge that dynamite, or whatever, brought down the
World Trade Towers, we of course looked at very carefully
- we find no evidence of that. We find all kinds of evidence
that it was the airplanes that did it.
Don’t take our word on that: the engineers
and the architects have studied this thing in extraordinary
detail, and they can tell you precisely what caused the collapse
of those buildings. What caused the collapse of the buildings,
to summarize it, was that the super-heated jet fuel melted
the steel super-structure of these buildings and caused their
collapse. There’s a powerful lot of evidence to sustain
that point of view, including the pictures of the airplanes
flying into the building.
Now, with regard to Building 7, we believe that
it was the aftershocks of these two huge buildings in the
very near vicinity collapsing. And in the Building 7 case,
we think that it was a case of flames setting off a fuel container,
which started the fire in Building 7, and that was our theory
on Building 7.
Now we’re not the experts on this, we
talked to the engineers and the architects about this at some
length, and that's the conclusion we reached.
Solomon: Let me just ask you one more question
on that. One counter-argument - or there's two, I guess -
one is that that fire very rarely, and has never, forced buildings
constructed like the World Trade Centers to ever collapse,
because steel doesn’t melt at temperatures that can
be reached through a hydro-carbon fire, and that there's other..
in other words, there are countless cases of other buildings
that have been on fire that have not collapsed.
Hamilton: - but not on fire through jet fuel,
I don’t think you have any evidence of that. But here
again, I’m not the expert on it. We relied on the experts,
and they’re the engineers and the architects who examined
this in very great detail.
Solomon: A question which has remained: Why
did the debris of World Trade Center 7, of which nobody died
there, so there was no real urgency to move the debris away,
and that there have been questions: why wasn't it examined
closer? Why was essentially evidence from what could have
been a crime scene - or was a crime scene - removed very quickly
Hamilton: You can’t answer every question
when you conduct an investigation. Look, you've to got to
remember that on this day, chaos and confusion were the mark,
and peoples’ overwhelming concern was to try to save
as many lives as possible, not to explain why a particular
building collapsed. So it’s not unusual to me that we,
and the Commission - and anybody else, for that matter - cannot
answer every question. I go back to what I say earlier: whenever
you conduct an investigation, you cannot answer every question.
Solomon: But should the Commission have .. I
guess the question some people keep asking, should the Commission
have asked more questions about the removal of the debris?
Hamilton: Look, you can say that about almost
every phase of our investigation, 'you should have asked this,
you should have asked that, you should have spent more time'
- you’re conducting an investigation, you have a time
limit, you don’t have unlimited time, you have a budget
limit, you cannot go down every track, you cannot answer conclusively
The members of the families that you referred
to a minute ago submitted 150 questions to us - we answered
a good many of them, we didn’t answer them all. You
come to a point in an investigation where you have to say to
yourself, 'what’s our responsibility, given the resources
we have, how much can we do?' And you end up with a lot of
questions unanswered. Look, I 've got a lot of unanswered
questions in my mind.
Solomon: What are yours? What are your unanswered
Hamilton: Well, at the top of my list happens
to be a personal one, and that is, I could never figure out
why these 19 fellas did what they did. We looked into their
backgrounds. In one or two cases, they were apparently happy,
well-adjusted, not particularly religious - in one case quite
well-to-do, had a girlfriend. We just couldn’t figure
out why he did it. I still don’t know. And I think one
of the great unanswered questions - a good topic for investigative
reporters - would be: why did these 19 do what they did? We
speculated in the report about why the enemy hates us, but
we simply weren’t able to answer the questions about
Solomon: You know, just on that point, and again,
there are so many of these questions about the 19. There have
been some questions about - and I'm talking about sources
here like the London Times and Le Figaro, sort of major newspapers
- that some of these guys, some of these hijackers were still
alive after the day of the event, that there are reports of
their whereabouts. What did the Commission make of those kind
Hamilton: (Laughs) What’s the evidence?
Look, I had a woman come up to me who said she was a lover
of Mohammed Atta. And I said, 'do you know that he’s
dead?' And she said, 'I’m his lover.' .. (raises eyebrows)
You get all kinds of comments like this, you
can’t trace everything down.
Solomon: Where there any notion there was...
The NTSB recently released the flight path of United Flight
93 in the past two weeks. One of the interesting things that
that showed was, during the flight path, and I think the flight
path of that, I think that plane crashed, according to the
Report, at 10:03 am.
And one of the interesting things it showed
- this is just recently declassified - that it flew well over
10,000 feet - 30,000, 40,000 feet - from about 9:30 onward.
Now, a lot of the cell phone calls that were made from that
plane, that ended up being in the movie, were from, you know,
people phoning from the plane. And one allegation that's recently
come out since the release of that is: cell phones don’t
work above 10,000 feet, so how could people get on their cell
phone on a plane and phone their relatives?
Hamilton: I’m no expert on that. I’ve
been told cell phones work - sometimes - above 10,000 feet,
and as high as 30,000 feet. So it may have been that some
of the calls went through and some didn’t, I just don’t
Solomon: Let me ask you another thing.
I'm just asking because, you know, in the wake of this, there's
lots of these questions.
Hamilton: There surely are.
Solomon: The Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory
at Columbia University, which is about 20 odd miles away from
New York, they released a report on seismic data coming from
Manhattan on that day. And they released a spike in seismic
data at 8:46:26, and they thought that was the moment of impact
of the plane on the first World Trade Center, of American
Airlines 11. But the plane didn’t hit until 8:46:40,
and there are several of the same kind of early seismic spikes
for the second flight. I guess the question is: how do we
explain those discrepancies? When the public looks at that,
how can we explain that kind of thing?
Hamilton: I haven’t seen that report.
I don’t know the answer to your question. They didn’t
come forward with that evidence while we were at the Commission
- so far as I know. Now, staff filtered a lot of these things,
so not necessarily would I know. I don't know what happened
with regard to the.... What did they conclude? I don't know
what they concluded.
Solomon: They had no conclusion; the evidence
is sitting out there. You write about, in Chapter 12 of the
book - and again it's one of those allegations that have come
up - about who had foreknowledge of it? One piece of evidence
that many critics have said is: 'well, there is lots of 'puts'
- which is a form of financial stock trading. In other words,
people are buying up stock, hoping that the airline stock
would plunge, and there was an unusually large number of puts
on American Airlines and United stock, and therefore people
profited from this. What did you make of that theory?
Hamilton: That’s one we did investigate.
We looked at that pretty carefully, and all I can indicate
at this point is that we do not think anybody profited from
manipulation of airline stock prior to 9/11, there’s
no evidence of that, I don't think.
Solomon: Even though there’s unusual,
Hamilton: That’s correct. It’s not
unusual in the stock market to have a lot of activity in a
given stock, or industry, as you did here. The question is:
did any of them have foreknowledge and profit from it? We
don’t think so; we looked at it pretty carefully.
Solomon: There’s also allegations that
the Pakistani Secret Service, called the ISI, the head of
which met here in the United States right before 9/11, and
there’s some allegations and evidence to show that they
paid Mohammed Atta $100,000. The reason this is important
is: who funded the people who conducted the attacks, the terrorist
attacks? What did the Commission make of payment from the
ISI to Mohammed Atta of $100,000?
Hamilton: I don’t know anything about
Solomon: Was there any connection between..
Did the Commission investigate any connection between ISI,
Pakistani intelligence, and..
Hamilton: They may have; I do not recall us
writing anything about it in the report. We may have but I
don’t recall it. We did estimate that Osama bin Laden
spent about $500,000 for the 9/11 attacks. We did not identify
all the sources of that money.
Solomon: And how it got to the …
Hamilton: That's right, you simply can’t
trace it, so far as I know, because $500,000 in international
financial markets is not even a blip on the radar screen.
So we do not know precisely where that money came from.
Solomon: Questions about foreknowledge, especially
as to when Vice President Dick Cheney knew when he went down
to the protective bunker: there was some suggestion that the
Secretary of Transport Mineta testified in front of the Commission
that he in fact talked to Dick Cheney at 9:20 am. Cheney claims
he hadn’t been there.. gotten down there until close
to 10 am. That was eventually omitted from the final report,.
Can you tell us a bit about about what Secretary of Transport
Mineta told the Commission about where Dick Cheney was prior
to 10 am?
Hamilton: I do not recall.
Solomon: And we don’t know exactly where
Hamilton: Well, we think that Vice President
Cheney entered the bunker shortly before 10 o’clock.
And there is a gap of several minutes there, where we do not
really know what the Vice President really did. There is the
famous phone call between the President and the Vice President.
We could find no documentary evidence of that phone call.
Both the President and the Vice President said that the phone
call was made, and in that phone call, the order was supposedly
was given, allegedly given, to shoot down an airliner - if
Now, there are a lot of things not answered
about that period of time. The order never got to the pilots
and when it did get to the pilots, it didn't get to them in
time, and when it did get to them, they claimed it was not
an order to shoot it down, but to identify and track an airliner,
not to shoot it down.
What you had on this day, of course, was a
lot of confusion, and a lot of confusion in communications,
at the very highest levels. When the President went from the
school in Sarasota to Air Force One, he was trying to get
communications with the White House, he used a cell phone,
in part. When he got to Air Force One, the communications
didn’t work all that well. Well, this is all very disturbing,
and I'm told has now been corrected.
Solomon: Disturbing in what way?
Hamilton: Well, disturbing that, at this particular
time, the Commander in Chief lost communications with the
White House, and with his chief aides there, right in the
middle of a crisis - that's very disturbing. I hope that’s
been corrected, I’ve been told that it has been. But
the fact of the matter is, if you look at 9/11, all the way
through, FAA communications, NORAD communications, White House
communications, there was just a lot of confusion, and a lot
Solomon: So, just in terms of Mineta, just because
I think that's sort of interesting, when Secretary Mineta
made at your Commission hearing, I think he did this May 23rd,
that he arrived and talked to Dick Cheney at 9:20 - that would
show that Mr. Cheney had had some earlier knowledge that planes
had been hijacked and they wanted to take action. That was
Hamilton: What did the Secretary say at that
time to the Vice President?
Solomon: They talked about a plane being hijacked,
according to the testimony that I’ve seen, according
to the Mineta report. But there’s another one, in Richard
Clarke’s book, "Against All Enemies", and
I know Richard Clarke took the stand very famously - not the
stand, but testified before the Commission very famously -
he says he received authorization from Dick Cheney to shoot
down Flight 93 at about 9:50 am. In the Commission's Report,
it said the authorization didn't come from Dick Cheney until
10:25, and Richard Clarke’s testimony that he and his
book, isn’t mentioned in the Commission’s .. Why
didn't you mention that?
Hamilton: Look, you’ve obviously gone
through the report with a fine-toothed comb, you're raising
a lot of questions - I can do the same thing...
Hamilton: ..all I want from you is evidence.
You’re just citing a lot of things, without any evidence
to back them up, as far as I can see.
Solomon: No, I'm just asking why they weren't
Hamilton: I don’t know the answer to your
Solomon: I guess part of the reason is..
Hamilton: I cannot answer every question with
regard to 9/11. I can answer a good many of them, but I can't
answer them all.
Solomon: I guess, Mr. Hamilton, I don’t
think anyone expects you to have all the answers...
Hamilton: Well, you apparently do, because you
have asked me questions of enormous detail from a great variety
of sources. You want me to answer them all - I can’t
do it (laughs)
Solomon: I guess part of the reason is I want
to know, not necessarily what the answer is, but if the Commission
considered, you know, what made it into the report, in terms
of the discussion. And of course, what we're trying to understand
is, if the commission simply said 'you know, those kinds...
there was huge amounts of data, and we couldn't put everything
So I guess, you know, in questions about what
happened on 9/11 as we approach the fifth anniversary of that
day, and this being the kind of most extensive document that
the public has, there are questions as to what made it in
and what you heard, and what you didn’t. And that, I
think, those are the nature of the questions.
Hamilton: Yeah. A lot of things that came to
the attention of staff did not come to the attention of the
Commission. Some of the things did come to the attention of
the Commission, and we didn't put 'em in, or at least we put
'em in at a lower level. But many of the things did not come
directly to my attention.
Solomon: Part of what you write in the book
is that one of the key goals here was to be as transparent
and as open as possible, because you say 'without light, the
conspiracy theorists jump in.'
Hamilton: That's right.
Solomon: Now, one place that you shed a lot
of light on - and you write about it in this book ["Without
Precedent"] as well - is a place where conspiracy theorists,
as you call them, have jumped in, which is the plane that
hit the Pentagon. As you and I both know, there's a number
of publications that [say] the hole in the Pentagon was too
small to accomodate a plane of that, you know, 125 foot wingspan,
40 feet high, and that it was a missile. What did you make
- what did the Commission, when it heard all those kind of
ideas, how did you consider those, and what investigation
went on around those?
Hamilton: Well, we said an airplane went into
the Pentagon. And we said that jet fuel there too caused an
awful lot of the damage and the injury. We had one member
of the staff who had been badly, badly burned by jet fuel,
and as you know, jet fuel causes specific kinds of burns,
and these burns were from jet fuel. So all of our evidence
indicated a plane went in, and that’s what the eyewitnesses
said that we saw.
Solomon: And you know, this notion - and this
is maybe one of the most popular theories, and you see it
all over - is that reports initially came back from the Pentagon
that there was no debris at all, that the plane simply disintegrated
inside the Pentagon. To those people, those of us who have
seen aviation accidents, that sounded in some ways difficult
to believe, because there was such a huge plane, and the maneuvre
that it would require the pilot to make would have been, you
know, to fly into it seemed so astonishing. What did the commission
make of the debate, such as it is, that surrounds that?
Hamilton: We thought it was an airplane
Solomon: Straight up?
Hamilton: Straight up.
Solomon: Was there any debris?
Hamilton: My recollection is, the answer's yes.
Was there a lot of debris? I don't think so. To say that there
was no debris strains my recollection, I didn't remember it
that way, I thought there was some debris. But you know, you
have relatively little experience with planes highly loaded
with jet fuel crashing, (chuckles) and reconstructing exactly
what happened on the basis of the crash. We did the best we
could on it. We thought it was an airplane.
There were a number of eyewitnesses, of course,
who saw the plane go into the Pentagon, a number of people,
for example, who were driving on the roadway - I forget the
number of it right now - who had the airplane fly over their
cars into the building, and they stopped their car, and saw
the plane going into the Pentagon - that was not one, that
was a number of eyewitnesses. We relied upon that, of course.
Solomon: And you know, when you.. You've spoken
with many of the witnesses, your Commission heard testimony
from all sorts of different people. So when you hear these
kind of ongoing allegations that there was conflicting reports
of the witnesses; that the FBI confiscated tapes from the
gas station across the road, that supposedly saw it within
a day of it; that some of those witnesses disappeared.. what
do you make of those kind of...
Hamilton: I don’t believe for a minute
that we got everything right. We wrote a first draft of history.
We wrote it under a lot of time pressure, and we sorted through
the evidence as best we could.
Now, it would be really rather remarkable if
we got everything right. So far, of the things that have been
brought up challenging the report, to my knowledge, we have
more credibility than the challenger. But I would not for
a moment want to suggest that that’s always true, either
in the past or in the future. People will be investigating
9/11 for the next hundred years in this country, and they’re
going to find out some things that we missed here.
So I don’t automatically reject all the
evidence you cite. It may be we missed it, it may be we ignored
it when we shouldn’t have - I don’t think we did,
but it's possible.
Solomon: You write.. the first chapter of the
book is 'the Commission was set up to fail.' - my goodness,
for the critics - who suggest that it was indeed set up to
fail as some kind of obfuscation - you certainly dangled a
juicy piece of bait out there in the river. Why do you think
you were set up to fail?
Hamilton: Well, for a number of reasons: Tom
Kean and I were substitutes - Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell
were the first choices; we got started late; we had a very
short time frame - indeed, we had to get it extended; we did
not have enough money - 3 million dollars to conduct an extensive
investigation. We needed more, we got more, but it took us
a while to get it.
We had a lot of skeptics out there, who really
did not want the Commission formed. Politicians don’t
like somebody looking back to see if they made a mistake.
The Commission had to report right, just a few days before
the Democratic National Convention met, in other words, right
in the middle of a political campaign. We had a lot of people
strongly opposed to what we did. We had a lot of trouble getting
access to documents and to people. We knew the history of
commissions; the history of commissions were they.. nobody
paid much attention to 'em.
So there were all kinds of reasons we thought
we were set up to fail. We decided that if we were going to
have any success, we had to have a unanimous report, otherwise
the Commission report would simply be filed.
Solomon: I guess the question is, you know,
if forty odd million dollars were spent investigating President
Bill Clinton’s sexual infidelities, why did the American
people and the world have to wait 441 days for a commission
that was originally budgeted for 3 million dollars and given
barely a year, and as you write in the book and document so
well, was... had to fight to get access to even use its subpoena
power very judiciously, for fear that there'd be a backlash
against the Commission. I mean, an event as cataclysmic as
9/11, it begs the question: why was the administration so
unwilling to budget this thing, and then Congress so unwilling
to give money and let you guys go whole hog to do more?
Hamilton: (Laughs) I think basically it’s
because they were afraid we were going to hang somebody, that
we would point the finger, right in the middle of a presidential
campaign - 'Mr. Bush, this was your fault' - or even Mr. Clinton.
President Clinton was wary about this report too.
Now I want to say, eventurally both presidents
cooperated, but it took a while. And it’s not too unusual
for me to understand that they were skeptical. A commission
that is created does not have automatic credibility - we had
to work at that, we had to produce a lot of reports which
were recognized, fortunately, to be professionally done, seriously
done - and not out to hang anybody.
Solomon: Sorry, but why not out to hang anybody?
This idea, 'they didn't want to point fingers', that you weren’t
out to 'hang anybody'.. Good God, I thought the families were
saying, 'let's find out not just what happened, but who is
accountable' - you know, that famous testimony of Richard
Clarke, in front of your commission, when he said, “I
failed you.” Weren’t people wanting you to point
fingers and make someone accountable?
Hamilton: Yes I think they were. And we say,
in the book, that there was a thirst for accountability. Now,
part of that thirst was just to tell the story. This traumatic
event occurs and they wanted to understand why it occurred,
and we tried to tell that as best we could.
Government’s not very good at looking
back and criticizing itself, and one of the things that impressed
us over and over again, as we talked to one agency after the
other, is: they had not really met and turned this over in
their mind; government is always operating on the Inbox, and
we were critical of almost every agency, in not looking back
and asking what went wrong. So I think that’s a powerful
factor in government, and...
Solomon: It does also suggest - I mean, there
is that factor - but you know, what the public often.. now,
and again, I talk about the 9/11 families, who were so instrumental
in getting the Commission going..
Hamilton: That's correct.
Solomon: They said, 'listen, is one of the reasons
they’re not getting funded, and it’s so late,
is that someone’s got something to hide.
Hamilton: There is... well, a lot of people
have things to hide.
Solomon: Well who in this case?
Hamilton: Look, you can go down the list and
probably identify a hundred people who made mistakes that
t he ticket-taker at the Boston Logan airport; the customs
official who let these fellows in, not one but many times,
right up to Bill Clinton or George Bush.
Solomon: What were their errors?
Hamilton: They didn’t pay enough attention
to terrorism. They didn’t treat it with enough urgency.
They didn’t really anticipate this, even though there
were many voices, you mentioned Richard Clarke a few times,
who were clearly urging them 'do it' - he served both presidents.
What we decided was two things: the mandate
did not ask us to identify people or even did not use the
word 'accountability'. We did not want to go beyond our mandate.
Secondly, what we thought was really important
in all of this was not so much that a particular person failed
in their responsibility, whatever that responsibility might
be, but that there were systemic problems in the government
that we really thought need to be identified and corrected.
We believe that, had we gone into the question
of identifying a hundred people here who goofed up on
9/11, or prior to 9/11, and did not do their job responsibly,
we would have gone outside the mandate of the Commission,
we would absolutely have destroyed any opportunity for unanimity
of view, because the Commission would have bogged down with
whether Jim Smith or Sally Jones had done their job right,
and that's an unending task.
Solomon: In retrospect, one of the criticisms
that you level in this book "Without Precedent"
is aimed at both the FAA and NORAD, both of whom representatives
testified before the Commission, and both of whom gave what
to me - and I'm allowed to be much more impolite than you
- sounded to me like lies. They told you testimony that simply...
the tapes that were subsequently.. that have subsequently
been revealed, were simply not true.
Hamilton: That's correct.
Solomon: And it wasn't just lies by ommission,
in some senses lies of commission, they told you things that
basically didn’t happen. What do you make of that?
Hamilton: Well, I think you’re right.
They gave us inaccurate information. We asked for a lot of
material and a lot of documentation. They did not supply it
all. They gave us a few things. We sent some staff into their
headquarters. We identified a lot more documents and tapes,
they eventually gave them to us, we had to issue a subpoena
to get them.
Eventually they told us we had the story right,
they had it wrong, it took a while to get to that point, but
we eventually got here. Did they lie to us or was it inadvertent?
We are not a law enforcement agency, we did not have that
kind of authority, going back to the mandate again. All of
us had our suspicions here, but we simply did not have the
staff and we were right up against the deadline when this
came out, that we didn’t have the time to say that these
officials had willfully and intentionally lied.
So we punted - and we said, 'we can’t
do this, we don’t have the statutory authority, we don’t
have the staff', we don’t have the time'. We will tell
the story as we understood it - they did mislead us. Was it
wilful? We don’t know. We'll turn it over to the authorities,
and that's what we did.
Solomon: And they’re investigating?
Hamilton: They are now still investigating.
Solomon: The recently released transcripts of
what happened at NEADS, which is the Northeast Air Defence,
paints a startling picture of confusion.
Hamilton: I think that’s the right word:
enormous confusion, two of these airplanes that crashed were
never identified. At one point, they had the American military
jets chasing a phantom jet out in the Atlantic Ocean - in
other words, going in the wrong direction.
The military had very little warning, I think,
2 minutes on one plane and 11 minutes on the other, if my
recollection serves me right, and the disappointing thing
here is that our, in a sense, first line of defense didn’t
Solomon: So is the story - and again, and I
talk about those polls, 42% of Americans - your report very
much... and subsequent things that have been released, subsequent
tapes from places like NORAD, the air defence systems, suggest
a mass failure of the first line of defense, which is incompetence
and confusion which led to the lack of prevention of this.
Solomon: Now what happens when you get on to
these [talk radio] shows, and you talk about that, and you
get every - because you understand that the landscape is now
littered with that stuff. What do you say to all these reports
that are coming in - constantly?
Hamilton: I think people do not sufficiently
understand how complicated conducting a major investigation
is, and how difficult it is, in an event of this kind, to
chase down every answer to every question, and... Look, I
can go before any audience in America today and I can raise
so many questions about 9/11 - raise questions, not answer
questions, raise questions - about the investigation. And
everbody in the audience will walk out saying 'the government
misled us or lied to us.' It’s a very easy thing to
do! I can raise questions about our own report!
Solomon: Like what? What would you raise?
Hamilton: Well, like I just said, about the
19 hijackers, we didn’t answer that question.
We had to tell that story as best we could,
and we did, and we made a lot of judgments about the credibility
of evidence. Were we right in every case? I suspect not. Were
we right in most cases? I think so.
I do not know at this point of any factual error in our report,
that I would absolutely say 'we just plain missed it.' Now,
maybe I need to review it more carefully, but I cannot recall
right now at this instance any fact that we just plain missed.
Solomon: Not that you got wrong, but the fact
that was omitted?
Hamilton: Well, I know there were a lot of questions
that we could not answer, with regard to FAA and NORAD and
White House activity, and a lot of other things, we just can’t
Solomon: Is there anything in retrospect.. I
mean, your deadline was so tight, and you say that forced
you to make some very tough decisions as to how far ranging
the investigation could be. In retrospect, if you'd had more
time, what would you have investigated more thoroughly?
Hamilton: I would have, I think we spent -
if I were critiquing the work of the Commission - I think
we spent too much time on the question of access. And I would
have liked to have gotten that over with, say, in the first
half of the Commission's work, so that we could have spent
more time in putting the story together, maybe trying to answer
some of the questions you raise that I can’t answer
- and polishing the recommendations.
But you don’t... everything doesn’t
go like you want it to go, and we were fighting the question
of access right up to the end of the Commission's work.
Solomon: One last thing before we go: you had,
of course, Vice President Dick Cheney and President George
Bush testify together - not under oath, with no transcript
that would be made to the public. For a lot of the family
members, and a lot of the public, they thought 'so many other
people testified under oath, so many other people had public
testimony - why not the President and the Vice President?'
That again looked as though they were trying to obfuscate
or hide something - what's your view on that?
Hamilton: I don’t remember any time that
a President of the United States, on a non-criminal matter,
testified under oath. I do recall when President Johnson was
asked to testify to the Warren Commission, he just flat out
told him, 'I am not going to do it. Presidents of the United
States don't do that sort of thing.'
Solomon: He wrote a 3 page letter.
Hamilton: He wrote a letter. Now, we asked President
Bush and Vice President Cheney to testify, they said no. We
went back to it, we said, 'look, we will have no credibility
as a commission if we do not hear from you.'
They considered that. They came back to us and
said, 'we will talk to you - Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton - but
not the other commissioners.' We said that was not satisfactory,
'you had to talk to all ten of the Commission.' I go into
this detail just to tell you there was a long course of negotiation
Eventually they said they would both testify
- not testify but meet with us - all ten commissioners - in
the White House. There would be note takers, but no transcript
taken. Tom and I asked the question, 'can we get the information
we need under this arrangement? We answered that 'yes'.
In the actual appearance with the President
and the Vice President, they were exceedingly co-operative.
The president sat there for four hours and responded to questions.
At one point, Tom Kean interrupted one of the
Commissioners, Richard Ben-Veniste, as I think we tell in
the book, and said, 'Richard, we have got to respect the President’s
time.' And the President said, 'look, I’m in charge
here, I'll take the time, and let Richard ask his questions.'
We felt like we got a very extended long period
of time with the president. He was completely candid. He did
almost all the talking. Vice President Cheney talked only
with reference to what happened at the White House on 9/11,
because the President was not in the White House then, and
took any question we had, and we had a lot of questions.
Solomon: Do you wish there was a public transcript
Hamilton: If we had our preference, would there
be a public transcript? It's fine with me. But it was a White
Solomon: I just want to clarify something that
you said earlier. You said that the Commission Report did
mention World Trade Center Building 7 in it, what happened.
It did mention it or it didn't?
Hamilton: The Commission reviewed the question
of the Building 7 collapse. I don’t know specifically
if it’s in the Report, I can’t recall that it
is, but it, uh..
Solomon: I don’t think it was in the report.
Hamilton: OK, then I'll accept your word for
Solomon: There was a decision not to put it
in the report?
Hamilton: I do not recall that was a specific
discussion in the Commission and we rejected the idea of putting
Building 7 in, I don't recall that. So I presume that the
report was written without reference to Building 7 at all,
because all of the attention, of course, was on the Trade
Solomon: And the black boxes on the planes:
one bit of evidence I just got asked about, if it came up,
was: the last 3 minutes of the black box on Flight 93 has
not been made public or is missing, or I don't know what's
happening. Was there any discussion as to what happened to
those last three minutes?
Hamilton: I do not recall any reference to the
Solomon: Were they all found?
Hamilton: I do not know, off hand, I do not
Solomon: Mr. Hamilton, I want to thank you so
much for taking the time..
Hamilton: Yes, sir.
Solomon: ..and for discussing the book. What's
the reaction, by the way, from the families to this book?
Hamilton: Well, the families are a lot of different
people. And many of them have been very enthusiastic. I understand
there is a book coming out which will be quite critical of
the work of the 9/11 Commission.
You had all kinds of reactions among the families:
some people would just want to forget the whole thing and
move on with their lives - people react differently to tragedy.
Others, as you know, were enormously supportive of the Commission.
Some began very supportive of the Commission, and became critical
of what we did, and and they ended up not liking our recommendations
- I don’t know that they criticized the report itself
so much. But everybody has a... When you say 'the families',
it includes a lot of different attitudes and viewpoints.
Solomon: What keeps you up at night about 9/11
Hamilton: Not very much, I’ve turned my
attention now to homeland security, and a lot of things bother
Solomon: Thanks a lot.