Skip to comments.OH REALLY, MR. KOJM?...Q & A with Christopher Kojm, Deputy Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission
Posted on 08/11/2005 2:00:11 PM PDT by Bronc1
"...It was a deeply rewarding experience to work with highly capable colleagues and for such distinguished and thoughtful commissioners. Our commission sessions had long and occasionally heated discussion, but it was always productive and the commissioners themselves were devoted to achieving bipartisanship and unanimity. They understood very well that their impact would be greatest if they were unanimous..."
(Excerpt) Read more at wws.princeton.edu ...
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission), an independent, bipartisan commission created by congressional legislation, was chartered to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission was also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks. The Commission reviewed 2.5 million pages of documents, and interviewed over 1,200 individuals including experts and officials, past and present. The 9/11 Commission released its Final Report on July 22, 2004, and officially closed August 21, 2004.
Christopher Kojm (MPA '79) most recently was Deputy Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, and this fall will be John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor with the rank of Lecturer of Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. In late August he talked with the School about his work with the 9/11 Commission.
WWS: In the 9/11 Commission's Final Report, the Commission states that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were "a shock, not a surprise." What was meant by this?
Christopher Kojm (CK): The actual event of four airliners being hijacked simultaneously and attacking U.S. targets of course came as a great shock to everyone. But it was not a surprise in that the U.S. had been attacked by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda numerous times during the 1990s with increasingly lethal means; indeed there were fatwas issued by bin Laden and others associated with al-Qaeda calling on Muslims around the world to kill Americans wherever they found them; and that it was their intent to kill as many Americans as they could, be they members of the U.S. military or civilians.
Bin Laden's intent and his capability were not a surprise. What was shocking is that we didn't understand that al-Qaeda could reach inside the U.S. in such a devastating way as they did on 9/11.
WWS: In the report the Commission notes that before 9/11 the U.S. government tried to solve "the al-Qaeda problem" with the capabilities it had used in the last stages of the Cold War, and that these capabilities were insufficient to fight this new global terrorist threat. Where were the most serious weaknesses? And today, have these weaknesses been properly addressed?
(CK): The weaknesses were profound across every aspect of U.S. government behavior relating to the 9/11 plot. Both presidents [Bill Clinton and George W. Bush] complained to us that they lacked military options against the al-Qaeda threat. Our covert action capability was weak; for example prior to 9/11we relied on proxy forces in Afghanistan and we lacked confidence that they could get the job done.
In addition, all nineteen of the hijackers got visas to enter the U.S. - Mohammed Atta and others repeatedly entered and exited the U.S. under their true names. False statements were made by the hijackers on their visa applications, and up to fifteen had fraudulent or suspicious markings on their passports.
Our transportation/aviation security systems had no effective defense against the hijackers. The sole layer that the hijackers had to penetrate was airport checkpoint screenings, and they knew that knives of four inches or less were permissible on commercial aircraft. The CAPPS screening system identified eight of the nineteen hijackers as requiring additional scrutiny. Airline officials identified two more for scrutiny at check-in on 9/11, but the net effect of this additional screening was matching baggage to passengers and making sure that the passengers boarded the planes before their luggage.
And importantly, there were repeated failures of U.S. government agencies sharing information, not just between but also within agencies. These are just a few examples of many missed opportunities to disrupt the 9/11 plot.
WWS: The Final Report also highlights major problems within the U.S. intelligence community, and the Commission's recommendation to unify the intelligence community with a National Intelligence Director who would oversee the spending and personnel issues of all U.S. intelligence agencies has caused great debate among policy makers and the media. In late August President Bush signed executive orders expanding the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence. Do you see this as a first step by the White House towards adopting the Commission's recommendations, or as a gesture that falls decidedly short?
(CK): It's a first step and a constructive step. Creating a National Intelligence Director will require changes in U.S. law and can not be done by executive order alone. However, the creation of a National Intelligence Director, and also of the National Counterterrorism Center, for example, are just two of thirty-seven recommendations made by the Commission. Just to carry out these two recommendations doesn't solve the problem. The Commission has presented a comprehensive approach, and believes all of its recommendations - or better ones from the U.S. Congress or the President - need to be adopted. The broader point here is that there a fascination in Washington with moving boxes around and with who has power; simply rearranging power within the executive branch will not address the threat of transnational Islamic terrorism.
WWS: Also in late August, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) proposed dismantling the CIA and removing other intelligence agencies from the Pentagon. What are your thoughts on this?
(CK): A key U.S. senator has put forward a comprehensive, ambitious proposal. There are common elements in our proposals, such as the creation of a National Intelligence Director with strong authority, and a National Counterterrorism Center. The Commission looks forward to working with Senator Roberts in the coming weeks.
WWS: From the outset the Commission has stressed its independence and bipartisan nature. What was it like working with Commission members and staff?
(CK): It was a deeply rewarding experience to work with highly capable colleagues and for such distinguished and thoughtful commissioners. Our commission sessions had long and occasionally heated discussion, but it was always productive and the commissioners themselves were devoted to achieving bipartisanship and unanimity. They understood very well that their impact would be greatest if they were unanimous.
WWS: As America is in the midst of an election year in which the electorate is in some cases bitterly divided on major policy issues, do you worry that the Commission's findings will be politicized? Do you see this happening now?
(CK): No, I don't worry about that. First, the Commission has already been through twenty months and withstood partisanship. Second, the commissioners are dedicated to the recommendations they have made and frequently appear together as Republicans and Democrats, whether giving testimony or as part of their public speaking.
We've also had a very productive dynamic in the form of keen interest from the President as well as presidential candidate John Kerry.
WWS: The Commission presented thirty-seven major recommendations in its report, many of which have far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign and domestic policy, such as "strengthen[ing] long-term U.S. and international commitments to the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan," and implementing "a comprehensive screening system" that includes introducing biometric identifiers at America's borders and international airports, to protect the U.S. by preventing terrorists' travel into the country. How can such major recommendations be implemented quickly and effectively?
(CK): In the report we outline that succesfully implementing the Commission's recommendations will require a government better organized than the one we have today, which currently has institutions designed to win the Cold War. And importantly, the recommendations are designed to fit together in five key areas: the creation of a National Counterterrorism Center; the creation of a National Intelligence Director; better information sharing across government agencies; increased Congressional oversight; and a better organization of America's defenses at home.
The foreign policy question you asked relates less to the structure of the U.S. government and more to the important question of sustaining U.S. commitments abroad. The U.S. has long had a tendency to intensely focus on specific parts of the world, and in a few years that interest wanes. The issues we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan assuredly will continue for many years to come, and as a nation we must not lose focus on them. It was precisely the lack of attention to Afghanistan that enabled that country to become an incubator for al-Qaeda.
I'd like to highlight two truly central recommendations. The first is information sharing across the U.S. government. Only the president can properly address this, to shape, for example, IT systems and protocols, and security regulations and procedures. Another central recommendation is Congressional oversight, and Congress has to reform its own institutions to meet our new national security challenges. That's a hard recommendation for Congress to carry out, because that means realigning power and responsibility within those intuitions. For example, with the creation of a Permanent Standing Committee on Homeland Security in both the House and Senate, some Congressional committees would have to give up a piece of their jurisdiction to make that happen.
WWS: On September 8 and 9, you will be taking part in two WWS panels on U.S. policy post-9/11, here at the School and as part of the WWS Washington Seminar Series in the nation's capital: is your participation in these panels part of the Commission's efforts to educate the country about the Final Report and its recommendations?
(CK): Yes, it's part of the Commission's outreach and public education efforts to speak to interested and knowledgeable audiences. Also, I enjoy coming back to and working with Princeton.
WWS: Ultimately, do you believe that the country is safer today than it was three years ago?
(CK): Yes. The Commission believes we are safer, as do I. A lot of good steps have been taken by the government. At the same time, the Commission believes a lot more steps need to be taken, and there are serious deficiencies; hence our recommendations.
WWS: As an alumnus of the School, did WWS help prepare you for your work during your career with the State Department, Congress, and with the Commission?
(CK): Absolutely. The M.P.A. program's Field I [International Relations] courses proved very helpful in my future career. And the School's Office of Graduate Career Services gave me my first start in public life as an internship at the Foreign Policy Association, a non-profit, which led to my first full-time job. From the FPA, I worked for thirteen years in various capacities on the Democratic staff of the House International Relations Committee under Lee Hamilton. Before my recent work with the Commission I worked for almost five years in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. In the absence of those first steps provided by Career Services, there wouldn't have been any other steps.
WWS: This year you will be John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor with the rank of Lecturer of Public and International Affairs. What courses will you teach?
(CK): I'll be teaching a policy seminar on terrorism in the fall, and a course on the U.S. intelligence community in the spring. I'm very excited to be back at Princeton and the Wilson School.
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