WASHINGTON, DC—According to key members of the Bush Administration, the tragic proceedings of the 9/11 commission, which devastated the political lives of numerous government officials, could have been averted with preventive action in 2002 and 2003.
"A few adept legislative maneuvers could have saved the reputations of hundreds," President Bush's counterterrorism chief Fran Townsend told reporters Monday. "Had we foreseen the dangers of the commission's deceptively simple requests, we could have spared dozens of victims from the shocking, public mangling of their careers."
"It's tragic," Townsend added. "All those political futures snuffed out as millions of Americans watched on television. And to think there was a remote chance that they could've gotten our president."
Although there were only 10 commission members, they worked with shocking efficiency, and served to carry out the decisions made with the help of a much larger network of government employees.
"The frighteningly resolute faces of commission chair Thomas H. Kean and vice-chair Lee H. Hamilton are familiar after several weeks of frenzied media coverage, but the commission's roots run deeper," Townsend said. "The thing that keeps me awake at night is the number of advisors who are still out there today, secretly evaluating our policies. We have no way of knowing who might be called forth by a panel in the future."
"You see the vast scope of the problem," Townsend added. "We're fighting a whole new type of enemy—one that hides among its victims."
National security advisor Condoleezza Rice said that her office did not receive any intelligence regarding the commission's scope until it was already in place, and therefore was unable to implement a strategy to thwart its efforts.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) agreed.
"Nobody saw this coming," Lieberman said. "With 20/20 hindsight, of course, we know that if [House Speaker Dennis] Hastert hadn't let Public Law 107-306 come to the floor in November of 2002, we could have saved many of our colleagues from their sad fates."
But Lieberman said that government officials should not look to place blame in the wake of the panel.
"Yes, if various departments had communicated certain intelligence, many of our colleagues would not have found themselves trapped under mounds of paperwork," Lieberman said. "But, as tempting as it is to point fingers, we need to move forward and look at how we can prevent another 9/11 commission from happening."
George Tenet, who recently resigned as director of the CIA, was among the high-profile casualties of the commission's investigation of key government agencies. According to Alan Fenton, Tenet's public-relations-crisis manager, Washington "seriously underestimated" the commission's power.
"Everybody thought, 'Ten guys, sitting together in some room somewhere, armed with only the power of subpoena—who could they hurt?'" Fenton said. "No one guessed that a commission this small could inflict so much political damage."
Defense lawyer Mark Agara, who has provided legal counsel for many of the commission's victims, blamed party insiders' short-sightedness on what he termed a "pre-9/11-commission mindset."
"A panel criticizing the actions that the administration took in response to the most devastating terrorist attack in history?" Agara asked. "People never considered the possibility. But now, here we stand—whole departments ripped apart, agencies in ruin, and, worst of all, the job security that government employees once took for granted gone forever."
Capitol Hill, ground zero for the investigation, is still reeling in the wake of the 9/11 commission. Americans from across the country continue to offer prayers and assemble candlelight vigils outside federal buildings that contain the offices of the fallen-in-stature.
"Think not only of these poor politicians, but of their families and their staffs," said Gerald Davis, spokesman for Stop The Panels, a group of advocates for the unseen victims of investigations. "Anyone who works for an important Washington politician has been touched by this tragedy."