Monday, December 13, 2004

AMERICA AFTER 9/11 Remarks by the Hon. John F. Lehman

Foreign Policy Research Institute WIRE
A Catalyst for Ideas
Volume 12, Number 3
December 2004

Dr. Lehman was a member of the National Commission on
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11
Commission). He also served as Secretary of the Navy, staff
member to Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council,
and delegate to the Force Reductions Negotiations in Vienna,
Deputy Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament
Agency. His books include On Seas of Glory (2001), Command
of the Seas (1989), Making War (1994), and, with Harvey
Sicherman, America the Vulnerable: Our Military Problems and
How To Fix Them (FPRI, 2002). A trustee of FPRI (and former
staff member), he is chairman of J. F. Lehman & Company, a
private equity investment firm. This document is an edited
transcript of his remarks to FPRI's Annual Dinner in his
honor at the Four Seasons Hotel. For a copy of the 2004
Dinner Booklet/Annual Report, visit:


Remarks by the Hon. John F. Lehman

FPRI Annual Dinner, November 9, 2004

Tonight I shall address the good news and the bad news
coming out of our 9/11 Commission investigations. Just to
give a quick summary, this investigation started almost
exactly two years ago. We interviewed 1250 people, from
Presidents Clinton and Bush down to desk officers, CIA
operatives, and everyone in between, in sworn testimony,
thousands upon thousands of hours of interviews and
discussions and interrogations. We had access to all the
interrogations from Guantanamo and elsewhere, all of the
people including the top Al Qaeda leaders, such as Khalid
Sheik Mohammed, who had been captured. We obtained 2.5
million top-secret and above documents, we had access to
virtually every single piece of information and every person
we knew who had bearing on 9-11.

When we were down in Washington this last summer, Harvey
[Sicherman] asked me what were the most shocking things to
emerge from this investigation. Of course, one of the
criticisms leveled against our commission was that we were
not elder statesmen above the fray, that we were partisan
Republicans and Democrats. We had all spent time inside the
Beltway. We'd been around the track a number of times.
Frankly, it's a little hard to shock people like us who have
spent time in the belly of the beast. Yet we were shocked.

The things that shocked me the most may not be the things
you might expect. After being out of the government since
1987, the greatest shock was the tremendous growth of
legalism and lawyers at every level of the policy process.
This was a new thing. There were plenty of lawyers back in
the Reagan administration, but the dominance of the
legalistic approach to every policy issue was totally new
and, frankly, debilitating to the policy process.

The second most shocking thing to me was the utter failure
of the government, our media, and our academicians to grasp
the nature of our enemy. Everyone was throwing off terms and
talking about terrorism and the threat of terrorism and so
forth, but they utterly missed what was going on. They
utterly failed to understand the nature of this Islamist
terrorist movement. This is not a war against terror, that
would be like FDR saying this is a war against kamikazes.
Terrorism is a weapon, it's a method that the Islamist
extremists have learned works against free democracies.
We've utterly failed to grasp the breadth, spread, and depth
of the enemy that we allowed to develop around the globe
over some 30 years. And it wasn't because there weren't
warnings. Any traveler, many of you, going out to Southeast
Asia or traveling through Egypt or in Pakistan could see,
and perceptive people wrote about, twenty or twenty-five
years ago, the phenomenon of the puritanical, missionary
zeal that was taking over the Salafist religious
establishment in much of the Islamic world and preaching an
aberrant and extremist-form interpretation of Islam that was
built on hatred, that was calling on all Muslims to rise up
and to join the war against the infidels, led by the United
States. And for 30 years we ignored it.

We ignored also the growth of terrorism in the hands of
these Islamists. In 1983 we lost 241 Marines. Our president,
who was--obviously as a devotee of President Reagan I
believe he's--one of the greatest presidents we've ever had.
Yet his reaction was "We will bring these terrorists to
justice." Let the police handle it. And while he wanted to
retaliate, his government did not. So we did nothing. And
Osama bin Laden later wrote a fatwa saying: Look at this,
the Americans lose 241 of their sons and what do they do?
They pack up and run home and leave defeated. They do not
retaliate, they turn over Lebanon to the Syrians. Time after
time, as the Islamists learned that terrorism worked, that
if you killed Americans abroad, whether diplomats in Lebanon
or soldiers in Saudi barracks or diplomats in African
embassies, you could count on one thing. The Americans would
say "We will bring these terrorists to justice" and then do

As we studied these documents, the internal papers, the
recommendations of the top advisers to presidents, we were
shocked at the failure to grasp the extent of evil that was
stalking us. So that was the second-most shocking thing. The
third most shocking thing was a culture that had evolved in
our government of total non-accountability. Nobody's
responsible. After the greatest failure, the greatest
disaster in American history of civilians being targeted and
successfully attacked, the enemy, defeating every single
defense that we had arrayed against them with confidence,
with brazenness, so sure that they didn't even bother to
have a back-up plan.

We were shocked at the gross negligence in our State
Department's granting visas in a sloppy and negligent way.
In our Immigration and Naturalization Service's paying no
attention to people coming in with grossly forged passports,
visa applications that were not even filled out, stories
that were ridiculous. The terrorists when they came in, when
asked by the immigration officers, "Where are you going to
school?" "Somewhere in the west." "How are you going to
support yourself?" "I'll find some way." "OK, go ahead."

We were shocked at an FAA so grossly incompetent that, if
you will recall, if you read the Report, that your blood
boiled at reading the incompetence, the negligence, the
lackadaisical attitude that some in our FAA had in carrying
out the simple security procedures like air marshals,
locking cockpit doors, that had been learned as lessons
after the 1988 Lockerbie disaster. These measures were
quietly dropped because the airlines didn't want them, they
were expensive, all tucked in the memory hole so that by 9-
11 Al Qaeda's planners knew, didn't just hope, that they
could cut through our air security without the slightest
doubt. That they could carry 4"-knives, mace, teargas, and
be so sure that they didn't even have to have a back-up

We were shocked to learn that not one person has been
disciplined since that disaster. Incompetence in the FBI
that would make your shoelaces dance in terror if you could
read the classified material. CIA incompetence and careerism
and bureaucratic narrowness that would make you grind your
teeth. Not one person disciplined. Not a single person since
that attack has been fired or disciplined or even had a
letter put in their file. What kind of culture have we
evolved in our government that says "No one is responsible"?
That to me was shocking.

So there were many shocking things that sobered us greatly
as we went through the process of talking to people,
studying the documents. It was shocking to find the
brilliance, the tactical brilliance, the judgment, the cool
risk assessment, of the Al Qaeda leadership. These were not
ignorant desert Arabs. These were not people who were wild-
eyed fanatics. These were cold, smart, educated, calculating
planners who understood how to do disciplined risk
assessment, who understood how to analyze the security in
Philadelphia compared to Boston and select Boston because it
had a totally incompetent regime in the Boston airport.
Comparing one airport to another, one airline's set of
procedures with another. Taking practice runs up and down
the Hudson to calculate the best angles of attack for the
WTC. Taking practice flights around the Washington area,
seeing how hard it was to pick out the White House. Coldly,
calmly, effectively planning. Using computer analyses to do
regression analyses to see the probabilities of using 12
airplanes, which they started their plan with, and finally
through analytical procedures coming down to limiting it to
four as the optimum number that would likely not fall prey
to the inevitable failures. These are very effective, smart
people. It was shocking to find that such a broad and
pervasive movement of people around the world had come to
know one another, help one another, fund one another, all
targeted on killing American civilians in the maximum
numbers possible.

That is why we said, in our first finding, that the greatest
failure of 9-11 was a failure of imagination, a failure of
all of us, of American political leaders, of commentators,
of media people, Congressmen, presidents, a failure to
imagine the broad nature of this evil and its effectiveness
and its concentrated targeting on the United States and its
people. So there were many shocking things.

There were other things that, frankly, did not surprise us.
The total incompetence of our intelligence establishment.
Those of us who had been in government knew that we had
evolved an intelligence community--and community is the very
wrong word to use--that had developed so many stovepipes and
so many horizontal layers of bureaucracy, that it was
impossible for common sense and good intelligence to exist.
And the reason was that Congress did not want an
intelligence establishment that was effective. After
Watergate, after Iran contra, Congress passed layer upon
layer of restrictions and legislation building these
stovepipes, so that you would have FBI agents in Phoenix
with top-secret clearances writing memos saying "Hey, there
are all these young Arab males learning to fly, shouldn't we
start investigating them?" and simultaneously analysts at
Langley with top-secret clearances writing memos saying
"We've been analyzing the communications among Al Qaeda
people and they keep talking about using aircraft as
missiles," and these analysts were not allowed, would have
been fired, if they had talked to the agents. Because
Congress prohibited it. They did not have a need to know,
you can't have people sharing that kind of information, it
could lead to abuse. And so the dots were never connected
because Congress did not want them connected. They were much
more concerned with looking through the rearview mirror,
looking at the abuses of people's rights to privacy twenty
years ago, and absolutizing that at the expense of any
competence in our intelligence capability.

That did not shock us. Those of us who had served in the
government knew that you could pretty well count on our
intelligence community to be wrong in assessing many
potential threats. But, nevertheless, we felt that was a
fundamental problem which had to be fixed. We could no
longer live in a world in which the rights of aliens to
privacy and freedom from search, such as Mr. Moussaoui,
could override the right to have good intelligence about
what our enemies were seeking to do to attack us. So there
are a large number of things that were very bad, very
disturbing, shocking to the uninitiated, not so shocking to
us, and many things that shocked even us. You'll read them
all in the report.

But I come away from this experience as an optimist. I think
there is an awful lot of good news, and I want to talk about
it. First, I think there is the good news of the example we
set in the Commission itself. We were five Republicans
appointed by partisan Republican leadership, appointed
because we were Republicans, we were known to have strong
views and to have a certain element of combativeness. Five
Democrats who were picked by the Democratic leadership in
Congress for the same reason. Richard Ben-Veniste, who was
the prosecutor in Watergate and President Clinton's
impeachment proceedings. Jamie Gorelick, Tim Roemer, Jim
Thompson, yours truly -- people who were well known as
partisan combatants.

So the auguries were not so good when we started that we
would ever reach agreement on what really happened, as the
law required us to do; what lessons to draw, as the law
required us to do; and most important of all, what we should
do about it, to fix our vulnerability. And when we had our
first meetings we were very far apart. All of us on the
Republican side were sure that the findings would be that
President Clinton's fecklessness in not attacking Osama and
not taking more proactive measures was responsible; all of
the Democrats were sure that President Bush's fixation on
Iraq and on missile defense and his total unawareness of the
seriousness of the threat was really responsible. So we all
in the first few meetings set about thinking about how we
were going to be writing our dissenting views and how we
would handle the inevitable splits and disagreements.

But as we proceeded and went through all these interviews
and spent time immersed in the documents and talking to all
of the players past and present, gradually a fact pattern
filled out that left less and less area for disagreement and
for policy arguments among us. Because the facts laid out a
dramatic picture in every area. And by early June 2004 it
was very clear to us that we had no disagreements on the
findings. We didn't have any dissenting views to put in
brilliant dissents. We had no footnotes to add, even, to
disagree with anything in the Report. We were all in
agreement, and yet we had not set out to reach a consensus.
None of us intended or even thought it particularly
desirable that we be unanimous. But that's where we ended
up. We ended up unanimous on everything, on all of the
findings, all of the lessons about what went wrong and what
was really dysfunctional, and all 41 of the recommendations
on what to do to fix it.

So to me the good news is that if you get people who are
serious about it, who are of a certain experience level, who
are serious professionals in the policy world, you can on
the most important issues make bipartisan, nonpartisan
policy and govern in a bipartisan way. All of us have
remained totally united on trying to get the reforms through
that we all agree are essential. And I think that has helped
in Congress, because they kind of felt like if we could do
it, they should be able to do it, as well. That is why both
houses have now passed a bill--in the House and Senate,
bills are somewhat different, but the House is maybe 90% of
our 41 recommendations and the Senate 95%--so we will get a
bill. We will have the kind of reforms that we have called
for in the Report. That is bipartisan support in both

That's good news. Because a lot of people were becoming very
cynical about our government process, thinking maybe it was
so broken, so bitter, so partisan that it was impossible to
carry out sound governance going forward with these kinds of
divisions. I think we've shown that that's not necessarily
the case and that, indeed, in matters of national security
the most partisan Republicans and Democrats can come
together and make very good, not mushy consensus --sharp,
biting policy recommendations -- and execute them. I think
we're going to see that in intelligence reform, in the
reforms of aviation safety, the reforms of our immigration
and border security, and even in areas that are less
exciting but for those of us that have to work in highrises,
maybe more important, things like fire codes and emergency
preparedness, which are some of our more important

So I remain very optimistic after this experience of the
9/11 Commission. I find an awareness at every level of the
government at the cutting edge, not necessarily at the high
policy levels of the assistant secretaries and policy
councils, but you go out to the frontlines, to the cutting
edge, and you talk to the immigration officers that are
working JFK airport and the border security people out at
the crossings, you talk to the Coast Guard guys working the
security problem in New York and Philadelphia harbors, you
have a much more educated, much more enthused and motivated
person. They get it. Even if the bureaucracy doesn't get it
in some areas, they get it.

And we have I think a growing understanding of the nature of
this threat. It is Islamist terrorism that has been allowed
to grow throughout the world with a huge flow of primarily
Saudi and other Gulf oil money that has fueled the building
of these schools and the sending of these Wahhabi clerics to
man the mosques and chaplaincies in our army and many other
armies around the world with us paying no attention. Now
people are aware of it, now people see the problem. People
are now addressing the issues, putting pressure on the
Saudis to stanch this flow, to stop subsidizing the
preaching of hatred and jihad with government money and with
Saudi charitable money.

It's beginning to have effect. It's going to be a long and
difficult haul, because we have allowed generations of young
Muslims to be raised before they're 7 years old to know one
thing for certain: that to kill Americans is a holy and
uplifting thing. That's a terrible, terrible thing that
we've allowed to have happen. As Don Rumsfeld has said, the
madrassas, may be growing new terrorists faster than the
United States can kill or capture them. That is beginning
to turn around.

Our recommendations are very clear and precise on what we
believe on a totally unanimous basis has to be done. First
we have to go and kill them where they are. I'm talking
about the trained, committed terrorists, the teams that are
organized, that are operating, that are doing their best to
obtain nuclear weapons and WMD from the former Soviet Union
or from rogue scientists or whatever. Their top objective is
to set off a nuclear weapon in Grand Central Station or
somewhere like that to kill the maximum number of innocent
Americans. That is their top objective. And we can't sit by
and hope we can stop them at our borders, we have got to go
kill them first. We've got to stop them from getting those
weapons. We've got to deny them the sanctuaries that we've
permitted them in Sudan, in Afghanistan. We've got to
preempt, we've got to be proactive, we've got to go get
them. We can't let them take advantage of the fact that
there are so many areas of the world where no one's writ

And there are many other diplomatic initiatives. We have to
work carefully with the Egyptians and with the Saudis and
with the Pakistanis. It would feel good to give them an
ultimatum, to say "Either you deny bin Laden sanctuary in
the northwest territories or we'll come in and get him
ourselves." But what that would do would be to bring about
Mr. Musharraf's fall and the certain raising up of a Taliban
regime in Pakistan, that would be a Taliban regime with 200
nuclear weapons. So the solutions are not as simple as what
we might in our frustration feel we need to do. But there
are a great many of the so-called softer options that are
just as important.

Militarily, we have to operate proactively, preemptively,
and violently against the organized terrorists where they
are today. But we also have to deal with the source. We have
to spend money on working with the governments of Egypt,
Pakistan, Indonesia, and other Muslim states to build
schools. Today in most of the poor areas of the Islamic
world, if parents want a better life for their children, to
get them to learn to read and write, they have only one
choice, to send them to the Salafist madrassas to learn to
read and write and simultaneously to hate Americans. That's
the only option. A tiny bit of money could do so much in
these areas, working with these governments, to build
networks of schools that would teach reading, writing, and
arithmetic to these kids, provide an option different than
learning jihad, which is now their only option.

Yet year after year Congress cut out all the money that was
requested for these kinds of educational assistance
programs. Economic assistance, the whole Arab world has a
GDP less than that of Portugal. How, if we don't provide
some change of direction so that there's some beginnings of
growth, so that jobs will be created, so that there are
options for kids in these areas to find a job--there are no
jobs. It's a separate serious sociological issue of what
went wrong in Islam that this is the case. But it doesn't
have to be the case. We can take a proactive role in
providing the support that we did for instance with the
Asian Tigers in setting up a regional Middle Eastern
economic cooperation zone like ASEAN that created the
environment that led to this explosive growth in an equally
backward area. There's no reason, there's no inevitability
why the Islamic world can't do economic activity. We've got
to provide the catalyst. We can't just depend on military
defenses. We have been abandoning the battle of ideas. This
is a quasi-religious war, a war of ideas. A war in which
ideas have consequences. And we have not fought that war.
The numbers of hours that we have funded broadcasting in
Pashtun, in the different Arabic dialects, in Farsi, in
Urdu, is miniscule. The average Muslim takes his view of
what America and American values are like from reruns of
Baywatch and from Al Jazeera. We have virtually nothing
going on comparatively in international broadcasting,
providing a truthful--not a propagandizing, just an
objective--source of reporting of facts about what's going
on in the world, in the languages of these areas. It's
criminal the amount of money, it's so small, that it would
take - one F-22 fighter would fund 3x what our whole
international broadcasting budget is. We've got to make sure
that this money is spent, we've got to take just as vigorous
and as proactive a role in the war of ideas as we are in the
military war against the Islamist terrorists.

So these are the recommendations that we've made. The ones
that you're all reading about, the legislation creating a
national intelligence directorate etc., yes, they're
important, but they're very secondary. The most important is
to first recognize the nature of our enemy and the sources
of their hatred and to recognize that there are things we
can and must do to deal with it. First militarily and
simultaneously to stop the source of this hatred by fighting
and winning the war on ideas.

So it's for these reasons that all of us on the Commission
came away from a fairly sobering two years of immersion in
these issues as optimists. There isn't one of us who doesn't
believe confidently that we can win this war against
Islamist terrorism and make a hugely different world in the
years ahead. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be
quick, but we will win it, and I think the reactions of
people to our report and the implementation of much of it,
particularly out at the cutting edge, is proof positive that
we are right. We are not being Panglossian. Our optimism
is grounded on a confidence that the American people will
inevitably do what needs to be done.

Thank you.

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