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Saturday, September 13, 2003

9/11, the Warren Commission and Government Transparency

A great deal of my academic work concerns transparency, which one colleague calls simply "the opposite of secrecy." The logic of transparency resonates widely, whether applied to governments, markets, or businesses. Citizens, investors and consumers ought to be able to make informed decisions about the large and powerful institutions that have a great impact on their lives.

Governmental transparency, which in the US is embedded in the Freedom of Information Act, helps promote democratic accountability.

For example, there is great demand for a more detailed and public investigation of 9/11. This is not to say that wild-eyed conspiracy theorists should be embraced. Rather, without much greater disclosure of the intelligence failings and other mistakes that helped cause the tragic events of that day, the conspiracy theorists are far better positioned to peddle their nonsense.

Interestingly, a number of widows of 9/11 are among the most ardent supporters of greater governmental transparency surrounding this issue. They are quite dissatisfied with the results that have made public to date. Of course, a bipartisan collection of US Senators and House members also supports the release of more information about 9/11. The Saudi connection, apparently, still remains largely hidden.

As readers might know, the US relatively quickly and thoroughly investigated the events leading to Pearl Harbor more than half a century ago. Leaders wanted to avoid making the same mistakes -- even if some individuals or institutions might be embarrassed by the findings.

That's the kind of real national security work that is needed in this case.

Then again, given how often government officials have lied in the recent past (and often gotten away with it), many US citizens will distrust even authoritative findings. For example, there are still fairly serious people who doubt the Warren Commission's report about the assassination of JFK.

Barr McClellan, a lawyer and father of current White House press secretary Scott McClellan and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan has written a new conspiracy-theory book about the Kennedy murder.

Barr's theory (purportedly supported by new evidence) is apparent from the title: Blood, Money and Power: How LBJ killed JFK.

Given that 9/11 is now more than 2 years behind us, it may already be too late to put this kind of wild theorizing to rest. Imagine the decades of conspiracy theories that may lie ahead surrounding 9/11. Already, the range is mind-boggling.

The same problem may well pervade the war against Iraq -- especially if WMD are never found. As readers may know, the Johnson administration clearly trumped up the Gulf of Tonkin incident that directly resulted in escalation of the war in Vietnam.

Less well known is the private and non-American intelligence evidence suggesting that Iraq was NOT, in fact, preparing to attack Saudi Arabia before the first Gulf War. Peter D. Zimmerman, a physicist and former science advisor on arms control for the state Department, recently wrote about this lie in the Washington Post and linked it to more recent questions about the evidence for attacking Iraq in 2003.

I'm not sure how to conclude other than with a call for greater transparency -- and specifically, more thorough and public reporting about 9/11, Iraqi WMD and its alleged connections to international terrorism.

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