Losing to Bacteria
Open Letter to Philip Zelikow and The
by Nicholas Levis
a high-level national security adviser to both Bush administrations,
acknowledges that America faces a new infectious disease: lack of
faith in the U.S. government's 9/11 Commission report.
As executive director of the freshly retired Kean Commission, Zelikow
was a principal author of the 567-page document, which purports to
explain everything that matters about September 11, 2001.
Sales of the 9/11 report have far outpaced those of his earlier study
in statecraft, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed. He co-wrote
that book in 1999 together with one of his closest associates from
the original Bush White House, Condoleeza Rice.
Despite blockbuster sales for the 9/11 report, Zelikow tells The
Washington Post he is alarmed by the concurrent spread of "conspiracy
theories" about the attacks, which he describes as pathogens:
"Our worry is when things become infectious, as happened with
the (John F. Kennedy) assassination," Zelikow says. "Then
this stuff can be deeply corrosive to public understanding. You can
get where the bacteria can sicken the larger body." (1)
It's too late, Dr. Zelikow. The "bacteria" are winning,
and your own work is to blame.
Perhaps the disease would have slowed if you had showed the courage
to step down as executive director last March when your resignation
was demanded by the same Sept. 11 families who had fought the White
House for 14 months to gain a 9/11 Commission in the first place.
They saw a grave conflict of interest in your having
participated in White House briefings on al-Qaeda in 2000 and 2001.
You did so on behalf of the incoming Bush administration, along with
Dr. Rice, Richard Clarke and Sandy Berger, all of who later testified
to the Kean Commission.
"It is apparent that Dr. Zelikow should never have been permitted
to be Executive Staff Director of the Commission," the Family
Steering Committee wrote.
They asked you to resign, and to take your rightful
place on the other side of the table, as a witness to be questioned
in the investigation, in public and under oath. (2)
Perhaps this might have restored some credibility to a Commission
badly damaged a few months earlier when its most outspoken member,
Max Cleland, resigned after condemning it as a whitewash. (3)
But you ignored the families and stayed on, undeterred. You continued
to steer the Commission and its agenda.
You stayed on as one of only two staff members or commissioners with
relatively unrestricted access to
White House documents. (The other was Jamie Gorelick,
a former high official in the Clinton administration and close associate
of George Tenet. Small world.)
A few weeks later, we were treated to a star turn at the hearings
by your co-author, Dr. Rice, as one of the most important witnesses
before the Commission, even as you conducted behind the scenes. And
now you worry that people won't buy what you have to say about 9/11.
Guess what? They don't.
A representative poll of eight hundred New York State residents by
Zogby International found less than 40 percent of them say they believe
the 9/11 Commission report answered all of the important questions
about Sept. 11. (4)
Sixty-six percent of New York City residents are therefore calling
on the state attorney general to open a new criminal investigation,
one based on the 383 questions of the Family Steering Committee, most
of which the 9/11 Commission report simply ignores. The same poll
found that 41 percent of state residents believe high officials knew
about 9/11 in advance, and "consciously" allowed the attacks
to proceed. That view is shared by one-half of New York City residents
the very people who would have the most reason to be well informed
about Sept. 11.
But 41 percent of the good people in upstate New York, a microcosm
of Middle America, also believe there was foreknowledge, as do 30
percent of the state's registered Republicans.
What would the same poll questions reveal if they were posed to residents
of the entire United States?
Or to a sampling of the world population?
Isn't this big news? Half the people in the city where the worst attacks
occurred believe their own government may have been involved. Why
wasn't it in the papers, alongside the Bush-Kerry polling numbers?
Shouldn't the papers be examining the unanswered questions that make
people think this way?
What have the papers given us instead?
Zelikow's worry about the spread of heretical ideas is apparently
shared by The Washington Post, which published his comments
in a pop-psychology piece by Carol Morello, analyzing the souls who
have fallen prey to "conspiracy theories" about 9/11.
Morello's first step is to define what the "conspiracy theorists"
think in the narrowest possible way. She focuses on a single notion
that the crash of a Boeing 767 does not explain the pattern
of damage at the Pentagon. Her article pretends that this is the central
hypothesis for all who question the official story of 9/11, which
Before the Pentagon anomaly first arose as an issue among American
researchers of 9/11 (in Nov. 2001), a broad case for doubting the
government's claims had already been built. It was based in ample
evidence of foreknowledge on the part of high U.S. officials, contradictions
in investigators' statements about the alleged hijackers, and many
other indications of complicity in the attacks by elements other than
the Bin Ladin networks.
This constantly growing body of evidence caused Sept. 11 families
and advocates for disclosure to lobby for an independent investigation.
It ultimately became the basis for a vibrant "9/11 truth movement."
But Morello's presumption that uncertainty about what happened
at the Pentagon is the sole issue of concern allows her to
ignore all that. All that really matters to her is what makes these
conspiracy theorists tick, and whether they can be cured.
As Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch pointed out,
Morello is merely knocking down her own strawman. In a college debate,
she would lose the point. (6)
If we must psychologize rather than argue, as Morello does, then I
daresay she is in avoidance. Taking on the facts of 9/11 with an open
mind would perhaps force her, in Zelikow's words, "to repudiate
much of (her) life identity," which relies on rejecting ideas
that her society characterizes as outlandish, as "conspiracy
But what is "conspiracy theory? Morello rounds up the usual
suspects among experts who treat disbelief in official stories as
Michael Barkun, author of A Culture of Conspiracy
and much-cited in these matters, wisely informs us that "conspiracy
theories are one way to make sense of what happened and regain a sense
of control. Of course, they're usually wrong, but they're psychologically
"Usually wrong"? Why does Prof. Barkun hedge his bets?
We need to unpack our terms. "Conspiracy theory"
describes the official 9/11 report as well as it does the alternative
views. The events of Sept. 11 obviously were not the product of a
single perpetrator but of a criminal conspiracy.
Criminal conspiracy is treated in countless volumes of what prosecutors
call conspiracy law or racketeering statutes. Another word for it
is organized crime. Any attempt to explain a criminal conspiracy constitutes
a theory. Prosecutors devise theories based on initial clues, and
then try to see which of them best fit the evidence overall. Convictions
Morello, and Zelikow are not concerned about "conspiracy theories"
per se. They are applying the term selectively to include only hypotheses
in which elements of the U.S. government were themselves involved
in the attacks for political and financial gain.
If Cheney says Saddam Hussein backed the 9/11 attacks,
as the vice-president did on many occasions despite his recent protestations
to the contrary, this is not called a conspiracy theory, although
it obviously involves a theoretical conspiracy. Yet this is the most
important 9/11 conspiracy theory to date, because it was used to justify
the invasion of Iraq.
If Zelikow tells us that 19 men agreed to hijack four
planes and fly them into buildings and evaded all detection (although
those identified as the ringleaders had been under observation by
U.S. and allied agencies for years beforehand) this is not labeled
conspiracy theory, although it describes a conspiracy.
The only theories branded as "conspiracies," and thus subject
to ridicule and dismissal without examination, are those that suspect
wrongdoing from the U.S. government which did its best to hide
and destroy evidence, and then sent out a top adviser to both Bush
administrations, Zelikow, to investigate what happened.
In the case of the Pentagon, the government has suppressed videotapes
of the attack taken from a nearby hotel, a gas station, highway surveillance
cameras and the Pentagon's own cameras. At a press conference following
the Kean Commission hearings of Dec. 8, 2003, the chair and co-chair
promised that this evidence would be released to help dispel speculation.
That evidence has not been released and Zelikow suggests to the Post
that there is no need: "Asked if there were unreleased photographs
of the attack that would convince the doubters, Zelikow, of the 9/11
commission, said, 'No.'"
Is it any wonder that people don't believe Dr. Zelikow?
First the government suppresses evidence. Then its chief investigator
of 9/11 justifies this by saying it would be pointless to release
the evidence, and shifts the blame to the "conspiracy theorists,"
which are pathologically incapable of believing the truth.
The New Yorkers who are unsatisfied with the 9/11 Commission report
are not supposed to get answers; they are remanded to the nearest
For three years, The Washington Post has joined America's other
major press organs in ignoring the unanswered questions that cause
so many people to reject the official conspiracy theory of the 9/11
attacks. You would think the Zogby poll results, which were at least
mentioned on www.washingtonpost.com
if not in the newspaper itself, would finally move the Post to file
some real stories.
This isn't the place to go into every item the Post has failed to
report about Sept. 11 one might start by reading the book mentioned
in Morello's article, The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin
but I submit that DC journalists would normally want to explore
the following question:
What about the reports that the Pakistani secret service ISI wired
$100,000 to Mohamed Atta? The ISI is often credited as the creator
of the Taliban, and its operatives have been linked to the Bin Ladin
networks. ISI is also linked to CIA as historically close allies.
The ISI director, Mahmud Ahmed, was on a two-week visit
to Washington and met for breakfast at the Capitol on the morning
of Sept. 11, 2001 with the heads of the congressional intelligence
committees, Bob Graham and Porter Goss. A month later, when Pakistani
strongman Pervez Musharraf reshuffled his cabinet on the eve of the
Afghanistan invasion, he forced Ahmed to resign, acting on a request
from the FBI. (7)
After 9/11, Graham and Goss oversaw the 858-page report of the congressional
joint inquiry into 9/11. The term ISI never occurs in their report,
at least not in the 75 percent of the text published after "redactions."
In all of The Washington Post coverage of Goss's
recent confirmation hearings as director of the CIA, wasn't his breakfast
with the ISI chief worth an article?
The 9/11 Commission report fails to mention reports of a Pakistani
connection, not even to explain them away, but at least it offers
this gem: "To date, the U.S. government has not been able to
determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately
the question is of little practical significance... Similarly, we
have seen no evidence that any foreign government or foreign
government official supplied any funding." (p. 172)
So who financed the attacks is of little significance.
Now we know the first rule of the Kean Commission: Don't follow the
Does The Washington Post agree?
The Kean Commission "discussed the theories,"
Zelikow tells the Post. "When we wrote the report, we
were also careful not to answer all the theories. It's like playing
Whack-A-Mole. You're never going to whack them all."
Now we know the second rule of the Kean Commission: Don't test theories.
Just whack them if you can, and otherwise do your best to ignore them.
We shall conclude with two more of the "moles" that Zelikow
and the Commission refused to whack.
First: The owner of World Trade Center Building 7, Larry Silverstein,
interviewed for a PBS documentary of 2002 (America Rebuilds), seems
to reveal that this building's little-reported collapse on the afternoon
of Sept. 11 was the result of a decision to intentionally demolish
Isn't this worthy of a follow-up call to Mr. Silverstein's offices?
Is it possible to wire a 47-story skyscraper for a controlled demolition
within a few hours? If not, what does this imply?
Second: The 9/11 Commission report revised the older NORAD and FAA
timelines of air defense response on Sept. 11. For more than two years,
these two agencies presented a series of conflicting chronologies
to explain the failure of standard operating procedure, under which
the errant flights of Sept. 11 should have been intercepted by jet
fighters as a routine matter of reconnaissance.
Last June, the Kean Commission issued a staff statement
that radically contradicted all accounts upheld until then by either
NORAD or FAA, establishing an entirely new timeline. This is now Chapter
1 of the 9/11 Commission report.
It exonerates everyone of blame for the failures of 9/11, in keeping
with the dictum of Kean's vice-chairman, Lee Hamilton: "Were
not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that
part of the commissions responsibility."
Given the complexity of this issue, it may be asking too much of The
Washington Post to figure out if the new timeline holds water
- it most assuredly does not. (8) But if the Commission's version
is right, then officials at NORAD and the FAA were issuing false accounts
for more than two years. Isn't that, at least, an issue?
Are none of our taxpayer-financed public officials going to be held
accountable for what they say and do? Can the official story of 9/11
be changed every few months without consequence?
Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota doesn't think so. At hearings on the
9/11 Commission report, Dayton said NORAD officials "lied to
the American people, they lied to Congress and they lied to your 9/11
commission to create a false impression of competence, communication
and protection of the American people." (9)
This, at least, made the Minneapolis Tribune.
But where is the follow-up? Isn't the reality that either NORAD or
the 9/11 Commission (or both) must be lying about what happened on
Sept. 11 worthy of coverage in the newspaper that was once synonymous
with investigative reporting?
Or is the Post too busy making fun of "conspiracy theory"?
Nicholas Levis is with 9/11truth.org.
(1) Re: "Conspiracy Theories Flourish on the Internet,"
Carol Morello, The Washington Post, Oct. 7, 2004
(2) "Statement of the Family Steering Committee for The 9/11
Independent Commission," March 20, 2004.
(3) On the history of the Commission and its conflicts of interest,
see my earlier article "The Rice/Zelikow Connection," May
15, 2004 at http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=20040527201054793
(4) "Poll: 50% of NYC Says U.S. Govt Knew," press release.
(5) As portals to the kingdom of 9/11 research and truth movement
sites, the author recommends 911Truth.org,
the New York activist site ny911truth.org, and his own collection
(6) "Putting on our tin-foil thinking cap," William Bunch,
(7) Timeline of reports on allegations that ISI Director Mahmood Ahmed
ordered a $100,000 wire transfer to Mohamed Atta in the weeks prior
to Sept. 11. http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/essay.jsp?article=mahmoodahmed
(8) "Analyzing the 9/11 Report, Chapter 1" by Michael Kane
(9) "Senator Dayton: NORAD lied about 9/11," following up
Star-Tribune, July 31, 2004 http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=20040731213239607
For a series of links that makes clear how the official timelines
of air defense response have changed over time, see The Emperor's
New Timelines" at http://summeroftruth.org/#timelines