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Philip D. Zelikow
Executive Director, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9-11 Commission)
"The Road From 9-11"
October 14, 2004

What I’d like to talk about today in this forum is really the second part of a two-part presentation. Many of you heard the first part which was “The Road to 9/11”; it was the historical side of the report. The large majority of the report is devoted to the road to 9/11 because we have this primary duty to get that factual record straight and that’s very important. The second part that I left for this forum as I promised then is “The Road from 9/11” - the bridge from past, to present, and onward unto the future”. The commission spent relatively little time in the report writing about that. When you write about these sorts of policy issues, it very quickly become mockish; it doesn’t have a narrative drive and so it’s harder to write about in an interesting way. People are interested in the bottom lines and the recommendations, but then when they get into the details about government organization, their interest rapidly diminishes.

The commission basically divided its recommendations for the future into two parts: what to do and how to do it. What to do amounts to a global strategy; substance of what we should be doing. And the second part - the How to do it part is how should we reorganize our government so that we actually have institutions capable of carrying out such an ambitious strategy? The press has given 95% of its time to the government reorganization issues. There has been very little notice to the strategy parts of the commission recommendation even though they were the first half of the recommendation. In other words we weren’t all about process. Actually, we put substance first and its substance is where I want to begin.

I’d like you to think a little bit and reflect about the period of history we’re in now. Since 9/11, general federal spending on national security, broadly defined, has increased in constant dollars from about three hundred fifty billion dollars before 9/11 to today, approaching five hundred fifty billion dollars. So that’s an increase of well over 50% in federal spending on national security in three years. That’s an enormous surge. When was the last time that happened in American history? A comparable surge, a comparable spike on the graph in national security spending. You would have to go back to the Korean War. That’s the kind of historical moment we’re in now. You’ve had this mobilization, as with any mobilization, like an enormous flood, it has transformed the landscape. After the mobilization has happened, you catch your breath, you take stock – what’s working, what’s not working, you figure out how much money you can really afford to spend for the long haul, what institutions are working, and you get a strategy in place that will be sustainable. That’s the historical moment we’re in today. The commission then has perhaps then been a vehicle, a catalyst, in helping to define the agenda for that historical moment.

What is the threat anyway? What the commission said is that we’re in a new era of world politics; possibly the most important change in world politics in centuries. But certainly in a hundred years. That is a fundamental notion of world politics as about international rivalries between blocks of states orienting around global balance of power in which you’re trying to maintain a balance of the great industrial heartlands of the world. That kind of thinking about geopolitics has basically passed with the end of the Cold War, which was really the end of the great climatic struggle of the twentieth century over how to organize industrial societies politically, socially, and economically.

That means that we live in a world where conflicts and struggles tend to be defined more as transnational problems than as international problems. They’re conflicts that cut across societies. They’re internal within societies as well as external to them. So for instance, if you look at a problem like terrorism, that’s a transnational problem that we face, the Russians face, the British face, the French face, the Moroccans face. Or environmental degradation, climate change. Or HIV/AIDs and infectious diseases; these are transnational problems or even problems of poverty and alienation or of a variety of cultural and social issues arising from the telecommunications revolution. These are transnational issues. And fundamentally, the conflicts of this new era tend to be along those battle lines which are much more complex.

Islam as terrorism is especially important as a longstanding transnational challenge because Islam’s terrorism arises out of a profound crisis in the Arab and Muslim world. That crisis did not arise overnight and will not be solved overnight. It involves a billion people. It involves the coming to terms with modernity of an important fraction of the world’s population, which has not really evolved in a way that has allowed them to develop political, social, and economic systems that fully come to grips with modern life. And that process’ adaptation has ended up spinning off a distinctively Islamic form of transnational terrorism that can pose a usually great threat to us because of another feature of the new world politics: dangers can be posed by relatively small organizations or groups. In the twentieth century, dangers were defined by weight and mass. Literally almost in some ways, how much steel they could produce. sLarge conscript armies built over time, armed over time, deployed - you could see them being gathered, see them being built, respond to travel. We now live in an age where America can suffer enormous devastating damage from a group of individuals smaller than an army platoon spending five hundred thousand dollars to launch their attacks.

What we said too in the report is that is it correct, as the Bush administration has said, to call this struggle a war. But we called it more than a war. It is a crisis and a conflict that also is political, social, and economic as well as involving military and intelligence assets. And so in some ways, the vocabulary of war is limiting. When in fact it is a broader struggle, as the Cold War was.

And the final observation I’ll make as an introductory point is about how to measure success. The terrorist enemy is concrete, it is beatable, they have real organizations, their capabilities can be degraded. Yes they are resilient and adaptable, but the 9/11 story shows they’re also fragile and brittle. You can do things that make catastrophic terrorism less likely. You can set concrete operational objectives and government should not be let off so easily. I believe actually that Presidents can level with the American people. They can say to them very straight “I can’t guarantee that we will prevent every act of terrorism. Here’s what I can do. I can say we’ll do the very best we can. And by doing the very best we can, I say we will intend to accomplish the following concrete things and we will run our government in the following concrete ways and yes, we may miss something, we may get it wrong. But you should judge me by my ability to met these concrete targets which are realistic and good targets and if we do these things we will be running our government about as well as a government like us can be run against this problem”. And if the government is being reasonably well-led and reasonably well-run, I think people will understand that does not mean that you achieve perfection. Now the three pillars of the global strategy we recommended: attack terrorists and their organizations, prevent the continued growth of Islamic terrorism, and protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks; in other words offense, prevention, defense. In way to think about it in very simple terms, it is the way you combat a malaria epidemic or in the old days, yellow fever. You want to kill mosquitoes, you want to dry up the swamps, and you want to give people anti-malaria medication in fact to harden the targets.

Attack terrorists and their organizations. First is big lesson from the 9/11 story– no sanctuaries. The 9/11 story tells you what happens if you just leave the terrorists alone with base areas to train, recruit, vet, plan at their leisure. Extremely bad things can happen. Now here is why this policy is so hard: Where do they go to hide? Where do they choose as their sanctuaries? Do they challenge us to extend our power to the furthest reaches of the known world? That is an extraordinary challenge to any country. Chase us into the slums of Karachi. Chase us into the desert of North Yemen. Chase us into the horn of Africa or into Sub-Saharan West Africa. See if your power extends there. And of course, no one country’s power can extend to all these places.

The second thing we say is that you have to keep them on the run; keep them hiding. It is hard to plan and launch complex international operations when you’re running from cave to cave or from hideout to hideout. This has particular importance for some specific countries and we spent a little but of time, especially on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. On Pakistan, we basically said problematical country, but if it’s leaders are willing to put their lives on the line in working with us, then we need to step up reciprocally and respond to that. President Masharf, who has a very checkered past when it cones to these issues has made these kind of commitments. On Afghanistan, we swallowed really hard and said we need to step up to the problem of securing Afghanistan, a heavy load – one which we should not shoulder alone. And third on Saudi Arabia, we basically said this is a policy that’s has existed behind closed doors. This kind of deal of oil for security. And what happens is that no American politician will defend the relationship in public and no Saudi politician will defend the relationship in public, and such a relationship will not long flourish. Therefore you have to put the relationship on a basis that politicians in both countries are prepared to defend in public. That means it has to be about something more than simply an oil, security tradeoff. It has to mean that America is committed to a better future for Saudi Arabia and the Saudi leadership is also committed to a better and more viable future.

The second pillar of the global strategy is to prevent the continued growth of Islamic terrorism. Here we touched on at least six important ideas, which I’ll just flag briefly. First, you have to engage in the struggle of ideas; you have to have a vision for the future. Second, you have to have an agenda of opportunity. How can your society in the Arab and Muslim world adapt to modernity and thrive? You have to have an agenda for that.

Third, you need to turn a national counterterrorism strategy into a coalition strategy. They have networks of bilateral relationships in every possible direction among almost every major federal agency. Because of these transnational problems, you have border agency to border agency, police agency to police agency, intelligence agency to intelligence agency, including of course the usual diplomats and soldiers. So there is a lot of foreign activity; that does not mean you have a coalition strategy. It does not mean you have institutions for managing a coalition strategy. So in other words, all these bilateral relationships need to be regularized into regular habits of multilateral cooperation, which have not yet been developed and need to be developed. We are articulating national strategies; we have not yet joined with our key partners, including Muslim partners to articulate coalition strategies and one of the elements of articulating a coalition strategy is an agreed approach on how to handled captured terrorists and detainees where our unilateral national approach has manifested failures.

Fourth. We need to act on weapons of mass destruction and proliferation vigorously. Fifth is terrorist money. One of the big lessons we learned about terrorist money is that you can’t dry up terrorist access to money. It’s like trying to catch fish by drying up the ocean. What you can however do is look at terrorist money as a critical intelligence tool. If you follow the money, you can get insides that allow you to attack terrorist organizations in powerful ways. And that’s something that has turned out to be very effective. Let me stop there on the second pillar of prevention and turn to the third pillar of protection.

First, you have to protect yourself by thinking hard about how people travel. One of the major revelations of the 9/11 report was to spotlight the importance of terrorist travel, which we said is more important than terrorist money. You will get more powerful results by targeting their travel than you will by targeting their money because they spend an enormous amount of tine working on their travel proems because for them, they are like the submariner for when the travel, that is the moment in which they surface and sail right in front of the navel base before they can submerge again into the open ocean. They have to actually get out of their hideouts, present themselves to government officials face to face repeatedly, showing them identification, until they can get through all those little channels they have to run through and then can submerge again. It’s a period of extraordinary vulnerability for them and they know it and that’s why they devout so much energy to gaming and working travel proems; to work internationally, you’ve got to travel. In fact, the more we attack their communications, the more they have to travel to communicate using couriers for example; actually using couriers to transmit money. So terrorist travel is very powerful and there is a lot more we could do in targeting terrorist travel, which we articulate in the report. For instance, turn passports into twenty-first century documents that are released as well protected as credit cards as opposed to the eighteenth and nineteenth century documents that fundamentally, they still are.

Second: under protection. That means we need a whole different architecture for screening people. One of the things about a risky society is that you get screened and checked when you do things. When you go into a nuclear reactor facility, when you board an airplane, when you apply for a Visa. You’re being screened and checked and what’s happening is that all that screening, all those checkpoints are being done on their own; each agency is inventing it’s own procedures for doing this instead of seeing this as a system in which people flow through the system and you develop an architecture of systems. That is at what point will we demand what kind of identification, which will be checked against what kind of reference database with what kinds of procedures for what we do if there is a hid? And then how do you get off those lists too? Because the answers those questions are not the same at every point at that checkpoint. The time you can take in someone for processing someone when they apply for a Visa is totally different from the time you can take in processing them when they’re standing, drumming their fingers at the airport gate.

Third under protection: aviation and transportation security. To give you an example, since 9/11 we’ve devoted billions of dollars to problems of aviation and transportation security, overwhelming focused on winning the last war. 90-95% of all TSA spending is on aviation security and actually, the overwhelmingly majority of that is on passenger aviation security. But what about general aviation security, cargo aviation security? What about rail security? Maritime security? Not enough being done there. And actually there were some problems in aviation security even though there have been significant improvements.

Fourth: civil liberties. We call for a lot of efforts to think comprehensively about how people are screened, about how their documents are obtained, about the quality of their personal identification. This implies a greater presence of government in people’s lives in a day-to-day sense. Therefore, you have to offset that with conscious attention to civil liberties and with checks and balances that offset those increments in governmental power. And finally we call for a different approach to emergency preparedness and first response both from the public and private sector in variety of specific ways informed by our analysis of the New York story, especially.

Let me finally and briefly now turn to the second half of our approach to our recommendations, which are government organization. The fundamental theme in all of our recommendations for government organization is this: unity of effort. We have a big government. We are spending about as much money, in a broad sense, on national security probably as the country can afford to spend. What’s needed above all right now is to coordinate and get the synergies of all that expenditure, that five hundred fifty billion dollars; that requires unity of effort. First to unify intelligence and planning against terrorism across the foreign domestic divide. The failure to fuse intelligence, the failure to jointly plan operations, has to be addressed. That’s why we called for creation of a National Counterterrorism Center. It’s effectively a prototype for changing the way our government works. Our government is organized according to the finest management principles of 1950. We have these large vertically integrated industrial bohemias and what they have done in the private sector now for a generation is adopt matrix organization concepts for large organizations. A matrix organization basically has thin horizontal integration across in front office across the operating divisions in order to get some synergy there. The government hasn’t picked up on this all with the one partial exception of actually the American military which has military departments that organize, train, and equip units for combat, but then those same units when they go into combat are commanded by unified or specified commands; a different chain of command. And then there is a joint staff that runs across all the services and all the unified commands that does joint intelligence and operational planning in both those chains– both the unified command and the military departments – but, its not part of the chain of command of either. If that sounds complex, it is. But it works. It sure works better than what they had before Goldwater Nichols. And what they had before they created the Secretary of Defense after World War II. I don’t find anyone longingly calling for a return of the Armed Forces to the good organization they had in the 1970s. We call in effect, this National Counterterrorism Center a joint intelligence and a joint operational planning staff that cuts across the executive departments. Nothing exists like this in the federal government. The National Security Council, which is relied on now to get agencies to cooperate with each other is like in a way asking the Board of Directors to solve the joint operational planning issues of General Electric. The National Security Council is supposed to work on advising the President on big policy; it’s not designed to do day-to-day operational management across the operating divisions and it doesn’t do it very well, although it too has increased enormously in size. So the first big thing about unity of effort is to unify intelligence in planning against counterterrorism, which has stressed our government like no other problem has. Second we need to unify management of the intelligence community with a new national intelligence director; mastering the intelligence community is more or less analogous to the historians who are masters of the 17th century Haspern Empire. You know the people who are really experts on how the Holy Roman Empire worked; they’re very proud of that knowledge once they’ve acquired it. Very few people can acquire it. And intelligence community experts are like that. I speak from experience; it’s kind of a jealous pride. Don’t restructure the Holy Roman Empire - I got it. I can work it. It needs fixing. There has been a lot of argument about this. I won’t get into all of it. The big misunderstanding about this recommendation is fundamentally it’s an enabler. There are forty different things that need to be done within CIA, within NSA, increasing collection of human intelligence, adapting the way we do singles intelligence, changing the way we do intelligence analysis, and so on and so on. Rather than trying to micro-manage the community by getting into every one of those things they should do, hey let’s first of all restructure it that so at least it can be managed because right now the people who are in charge of managing it cannot hire and fire the heads of their operating divisions and they don’t have control over 85% of the intelligence community budget. Now which of you as managers in the private sector would accept serious management responsibilities for an organization of which you have neither personnel nor budgetary authority?

Third: unity of effort in sharing information. We have a government that fundamentally handles information on a hub-and-spoke mainframe concept. These are concepts that would be familiar to any of you from your experience in say1965. What we have of course now outside of government is a world of distributed network capacity where the real power of the network is at the edges of the network. It’s the power of distributed PC’s and not the power of your mainframe. We haven’t harnessed that kind of power in our government yet. To build those network capabilities is something no one agency can do, of course. No one member of the network can build the network. That’s why it requires a national effort and it hasn’t happened yet and that’s something that needs to be done.

Briefly the others are unity of effort in the Congress, where we found congressional oversight and its policy guidance was profoundly dysfunctional. Fifth, on the FBI, we called for trying to institutionalize the reforms that are currently underway in the FBI. Importantly, we did not call for scrapping the FBI’s role; we did not call for creation of a new domestic intelligence agency. A lot of people were pressing that on us and we looked hard at it and decided in fact, it was a bad idea. That the FBI has the capabilities can do this job if it can properly been transformed. You don’t want to have to reinvent those organizational capacities from scratch.

Sixth, we talked about presidential transitions in the personnel process because in this modern age we don’t think an administration should be effectively headless for five or six months while Congress works through its processes of trying to give the senior people in place some subordinance to work with, which is what happened in early 2001. Basically most of the senior officials in the government weren’t in place for the first six months, which turned out in retrospect to be an important time.

And seventh and finally, to rationalize the way we think about homeland defense. We are in a situation now where we have new roles for federal government in defending the homeland. The Department of Homeland Security is now deeply involved interacting with local communities and state authorities. The Department of Defense now has created a new unified command for defending the homeland from attack in ways that would only be familiar to Thomas Jefferson, but not familiar to any recent presidents. We need to think hard about what is the role of the Department of Defense inside America and how does that relate to the role of the Department of Homeland Security.

This is an ambitious agenda if you think about it as a whole. Some of it is directly congruent to the 9/11 story, some of it is not. Some one was asking me, “Can you show me exactly how each one of these ideas would have prevented 9/11?” And I said well that’s not really the approach we took. After investigating Pearl Harbor, you would then have a recommendation saying “Recommendation number three: do not group your airplanes on Hickem field anymore”. And that’s great so when the Japanese attack you again in 1950, you’re ready. So you’ve protected America against another Pearl Harbor attack expect that the next attack probably won’ be nineteen hijackers on those four flights. In other words, you can’t fall into recommendations that simply are how do I protect Hickem filed next time. You have to think harder and deeper about what are the fundamental systemic weaknesses of a government that fundamentally was built and designed to win the Cold War and to win World War II and then in its full development to win the Cold War and is now in a different world. The greatest generation changed our government institutions and made radical fixes to adapt to the world they lived in and the challenges they faced. The challenges now of this generation are to change the government we have and adopt new strategies on an equal scale of magnitude to adapt to a world they will face.

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