Correcting the Record on Sept. 11, in Great Detail

Posted in United States | 26-Jul-04 | Author: Philip Shenon| Source: The New York Times

This article was reported by Philip Shenon, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston and written by Mr. Shenon.

WASHINGTON, July 24 — When the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States set to work early last year to prepare the definitive history of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it seemed that much of its hard work was already done, because so much of the horrifying story seemed to be known.

At the time, it was understood that all of the hijackers had entered the country legally and done nothing to draw attention to themselves; Osama bin Laden had underwritten the plot with his personal fortune but had left the details to others; American intelligence agencies had no warning that Al Qaeda was considering suicide missions using planes; President Bush had received a special intelligence briefing weeks before Sept. 11 that focused on past, not current, terrorist threats from Al Qaeda.

But 19 months later, the commission has released a final, unanimous book-length report that, in calling for a overhaul of the way the government collects and shares intelligence, showed that much of what had been common wisdom about the Sept. 11 attacks at the start of the panel's investigation was wrong.

In meticulous detail, the 567-page report, including 116 pages of footnotes in tiny, eye-straining type, rewrote the history of Sept. 11, 2001, correcting the historical record in ways large and small and shattering myths that might otherwise have been accepted as truth for generations.

The commission's report found that the hijackers had repeatedly broken the law in entering the United States, that Mr. bin Laden may have micromanaged the attacks but did not pay for them, that intelligence agencies had considered the threat of suicide hijackings, and that Mr. Bush received an August 2001 briefing on evidence of continuing domestic terrorist threats from Al Qaeda.

"Our work, we believe, is the definitive work on 9/11," said Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who was chairman of the commission, and whose consensus-building talents are credited by other commissioners as the reason the panel's report was unanimous.

If there are unanswered questions, Mr. Kean said, it is mostly because "the people who were at the heart of the plot are dead."