Do we need a new 9-11 Commission?
By Bogdan Dzakovic
The 9-11 attacks have already been written into the history books; but for some of us who played a behind the scenes role in this drama, the events of that day are still an open wound. In my case, I was one of the few government employees that actively tried to prevent the attacks. I testified in front of the 9-11 Commission on May 22, 2003 and am listed as a witness on page 441 of their bestselling book. However, you’ll find none of my testimony or any of my documentation mentioned or referenced in this tome.
In any type of investigation like this, there are three simple questions that must be asked: What did you know? When did you know it? And what did you do about it? These simple questions were not asked by the Commission.
Prior to 9-11, I spent most of my career working for the Security Division of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Roughly the first half of this time was as a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) and later as a Team Leader in the FAM program. The seven years immediately preceding 9-11 I was a Team Leader in the Red Team (terrorist team).
The following is a very brief synopsis of what I knew, when I knew it, and what I did about it. After the bombing of Pan Am 103 on December 21, 1988 which killed 270 people; the US Congress ordered the FAA to start a Red Team. Basically a Red Team is an adversary team designed to challenge friendly forces and give them an opportunity to find out how a potential enemy operates. It used to be a valuable training tool that our military used to train its ‘war fighters’ on enemy tactics and weapons. The movie Top Gun highlighted a rigorous training program that navy fighter pilots went through to hone their combat skills against their own Red Team.
The basic operating mission of the FAA’s Red Team was: One, to replicate the tactics and weapons that terrorists would use in the aviation environment; two, the Red Team reported directly to an Associate Administrator of FAA there-by by-passing all the bureaucratic influences and layers in-between. The purpose of which was to give the senior management team of FAA an up close and un-obfuscated un-bureaucratic view of how well its aviation security systems actually worked in deterring terrorism; and three, to project what the next most likely terrorist attack will be so that effective counter-measures can be taken.
The short version of this is that we accomplished all these mission directives including warning of a 9-11 style attack. The entire history of the Red Team documented extraordinarily poor security everywhere in the world that we assessed security – which terrorists could pretty much do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.
As early as 1998 I became sufficiently concerned about the probability of a 9-11 style attack that after exhausting all efforts to improve security by working through my established chain of command, and getting nowhere, I sent a report directly to the Administrator of FAA attempting to convince her of the dangerous culture of mismanagement within the Security Division of FAA and that this country, “…faces a potential tidal wave of terrorist attacks…”. The Administrator didn’t even have the courtesy to respond to my letter but I also sent a copy to the Secretary of Transportation. The Secretary copied me on a letter he sent back to the Administrator stating that she ought to look into my allegations, but there was no follow-up and she continued operating with her head stuck in the sand.
Several months later when I realized that neither the FAA Administrator nor the Secretary of Transportation were going to do anything, I started working with Steve Elson going through back channels trying to get somebody to force improvements in security. Elson was a former FAA Red Team leader and is a retired US Navy SEAL, and was the Executive Officer of their own Red Team. We went to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General trying to get them to do something about the mismanagement in FAA Security. They did nothing, so we went to the General Accounting Office (GAO) to try getting them to do something. The GAO stated that they don’t have the authority to do anything but some very good folks in that agency stated they will attempt to get their bosses (IE: the Congress) to look into this. We also visited a number of Congressional offices involved with the various [sub] committees that had oversight responsibilities of the FAA and aviation industry. In 2000 the Surveys and Investigations Unit of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives initiated a lengthy investigation into our allegations. In early 2001 they completed their investigation, corroborating what Steve and I had been saying for years. Yet still nothing was done. (Later Steve and I were joined by Brian Sullivan, a retired air force officer and FAA Security Specialist.)
Then, 9-11 happens. Everyone acted like this was a great big surprise. About two weeks after 9-11, I had two separate meetings on Capitol Hill, with some of the same staff members of both the House and Senate that we had previously dealt with (along with a few new senior folks). The gist of these meetings was that they acknowledged that we were right in our allegations and predictions, but ‘where do we go from here’. We provided some suggestions about focusing on security basics, reforming bureaucracies and warned against establishing any super-security agencies like TSA/DHS. At the end of both of these meetings I asked them when Congress is going to initiate an investigation into 9-11, and they said words to the effect, “Our bosses (meaning the Congressmen themselves) will do everything they can to prevent an investigation into 9-11 as it’s a big can of worms that they don’t want to open”. It was then that I decided to file a whistleblower case against the FAA. (An investigation was eventually forced on them (i.e.: the 9-11 Commission), but they still avoided opening the can of worms.)
A month after 9-11, I filed a Whistleblower disclosure with the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – this is a unique organization that reports directly to the President of the United States and a few members of the Senate and House Judiciary committees and reports on government whistleblower activities. Roughly a year later they completed their investigation into my allegations stating among other things that FAA Security executed its civil aviation security mission in a manner that, “…was a substantial and specific danger to public safety…” The OSC agreed with all of my allegations except one – which FAA engaged in a cover-up concerning its complicity in allowing 9-11 to happen so easily. I seriously doubt that anyone heard of the above (outside of my pen), and by inference the OSC itself was involved in this cover-up, as well as the Inspector General’s Office of the Transportation Department. I’m not even getting into the vast numbers of people that were rewarded for supporting this nonsense.
And so we had the 9-11 Commission. You will recall that the two most profound things the Commission Chairman had to say about all the failures of the federal government was that the government agencies suffered from a “lack of imagination” and “failed to connect the dots”. I submit that the dots were connected and presented a very vivid picture of what was going to happen (if little old me [along with a couple of colleagues] could figure this out; where were the intelligence, law enforcement and security agencies that received tens of billions of tax dollars?). The government had a lack of imagination? I submit that the government had too much imagination. All they had to do was pay attention to the facts and act upon them. Furthermore, there is nothing mentioned in the 9-11 report about what I described in the previous paragraphs: Exactly who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did about it. The 9-11 Commission didn’t even have to spend money investigating the aviation security situation that preceded 9-11. All they had to do was obtain the reports from the IG, the GAO, the OSCs investigation into my allegations and the report that was ordered by the House of Representatives. But none of these are even mentioned in their report. The only thing they had to investigate was the ‘Why’ question. I believe they totally circumvented this issue as it stabs at the heart of how our government operates. Money! Who gets how much? From whom? And what influence it has?
And then you factor in all the other government failures as reported by whistleblowers from the FBI, CIA, Army, Immigration and other agencies that had a stake in preventing 9-11 that I’ve since forgotten. The same bureaucratic mentality I witnessed in aviation security permeated every one of these agencies.
A few years back I had a discussion with Coleen Rowley (FBI whistleblower) regarding all these government failures and the growing allegations of some type of government conspiracy that kept the door open for the terrorists. She brilliantly described it as “a conspiracy of stupidity”. If this was the case, the situation hasn’t improved any in making the government smarter or more accountable to “We the people”. The government just made the situation worse.
The US Congress has effectively abrogated its Constitutional obligations to keep the Executive Branch in check. One component of this oversight was the establishment of the Office of Special Counsel and the laws pertaining to government whistleblowers. Since I became a government whistleblower I’ve witnessed the pitched “battle” to enhance the whistleblower laws. With rare individual exceptions, when the republicans were in charge the democrats promised to fully support whistleblowers, only to wither away this support when the political pendulum shifted. When the democrats were in charge, the republicans promised to support whistleblowers, only to wither away their support when the political winds shifted again.
The sad reality is that even eleven years after 9-11, most federal government whistleblowers are persecuted by the same government officials that were responsible for the massive amount of waste, fraud, abuse of authority and threats to public safety caused by government mismanagement. Most federal whistleblowers either lose their jobs or are relegated to the sidelines doing irrelevant or reduced work. Some are threatened with criminal prosecution for abiding by the whistleblower laws. Many have their lives ruined. If the whistleblower is lucky enough to have the resources or legal support; they can spend a third to half of their career fighting legal battles just to find some degree of balance to their lost wages and ruined careers. In a recent communication with Seibel Edmonds (FBI whistleblower, and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition), she stated in a poll she took of the members of the NSWBC that the vast majority of the members consider the situation of government whistleblowers to be worse now than it ever has been.
So, getting back to the original question: Do we need another 9-11 Commission? Absolutely not! It’s not worth the tax dollars to fund one. There is a more fundamental issue at stake here. There is a serious dearth of integrity in the federal government. The citizens of this country need to actually read the Constitution of the United States and hold their elected officials accountable when they stray off this course. These problems go well beyond tax payers funding bridges that go no-where, lives are at stake here, if not the very soul of this country and the principles it was founded on. Politicians and bureaucrats can do a lot of damage to this country when they have so much authority, with so much power, with virtually no accountability. A substantial improvement would be for the Congress to make decisive improvements in the whistleblower laws. What is it about waste, fraud, abuse of authority and threats to public safety caused by government mismanagement that Congress finds so appealing that they allow bureaucracies to persecute the same individuals that follow the existing laws and report these issues?
“We the people” need to wake up. Make this a presidential election issue. Enhancing the whistleblowers laws would, at a minimum, serve as a symbolic gesture to the citizens of this country that we are taking back our government. Persecuting government whistleblowers is a crime against society. Until this issue is satisfactorily resolved, it is pointless to engage in another 9-11 Commission or any future commission when the need may arise.
CEO Note: Bogdan Dzakovic is a colleague and fellow member of the Make It Safe Campaign & Coalition; ?page_id=2