Two years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the US Congress established the National Commission on Terrorist attacks upon the United States. This Commission was directed by law to “investigate the facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001” in order to provide a detailed analysis of the events associated with 9/11, the lapses on the part of the administrators and policymakers, the flaws in intelligence gathering and the kind of effort that needs to be made on a large scale to avert further disasters.
A bi-partisan panel comprising ten commissioners prepared a voluminous report after sifting through mounds of information and interviewing hundreds of people, in addition to taking the testimony of several prominent figures. What emerged at the end of this endeavor was a brilliant document that examines every aspect of 9/11, from the growth of Al-Qaeda and failure of law enforcement to a comprehensive administrative and global strategy that would assure national security.
The book opens with a minute-by-minute reconstruction of the plane hijackings and crashing. It would shock readers to learn of the opportunities missed. For instance, almost every hijacker had been identified by a pre-screening system as a security threat before boarding. The only consequence of that identification was that checked bags were loaded only after these persons boarded the respective flights.
A reader of the report is also struck at how the attacks were almost a foregone conclusion. The Al-Qaeda had more than a decade to assemble its men, plan the infrastructure and plant its people into most nations including a large part of the Western world. Although there is no finger pointing, the lapse on the part of the US intelligence machine is clear. Al-Qaeda operatives had filtered into American society and were even working as instructors in Defense schools. The bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the attacks on US targets in Kenya and Somalia clearly pointed to Bin Laden’s men; yet no large scale overhauling of the intelligence, military and foreign relations apparatus were forthcoming. Clearly the men in the echelons of power wanted to maintain status quo and keep the relations with Saudia and Afghanistan intact. Although the brunt of the failure is borne by the intelligence, security and emergency agencies of the country, a lot is left unsaid about the international policies of the successive governments. Moreover, the commission’s refusal to assign responsibility, in view of its bipartisan composition, is clearly a double-edged sword. While it does safeguard the institutions of state, it prevents the individuals responsible for the lapses to direct the investigations toward those higher up in the command chain who might have contributed by burying some potentially helpful information.
Written in a very crisp and clear style, The 9/11 Commission Report is a document that requires careful study. A detailed report of one of the most tragic events in the modern era, this is most certainly worth a good look. The report is also available online and can be downloaded from