Kojm Offers Behind the Scenes Look At Workings of the 9/11 Commission
How does one turn one of the darkest days in American history into a clearly written, comprehensive document?
For Christopher Kojm, deputy executive director of the staff of the 9/11 Commission, it was a careful handling of thousands of pages of classified details that could be translated for the benefit of millions of people who were anxious to know who or what caused 9/11, and how such a tragedy could happen to our country.
"We needed to write a report that the American people could read," Mr. Kojm, a visiting professor of public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, said last Wednesday at the Princeton Public Library. Sponsored by the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, his lecture offered insights into how he and his staff members worked with the ten 9/11 commissioners to produce a volume attempting to explain a national event that will be part of the national discourse for years to come.
But it was not just the boiling down of facts and details. The report, Mr. Kojm said, would only be effective if people actually read it.
"This wasn't some kind of abstract civics exercise. The commissioners' point was that only when people read the report and agree with the recommendations will something happen, will change take place.
"If you have a report that's written by experts and for experts, on the day of its release, you might have a news story for a day, and then it disappears, and then it's a future dust collector on a book shelf."
Mr. Kojm was strikingly candid as he offered a glimpse into how he and his Kojm and his staff members dealt with that tragedy for the last three-and-a-half years that allowed for the accessibility of the 9/11 Commission Report, which has been lauded as surprisingly compelling read.
The attributes for which the report is celebrated, were thanks to the leadership of the Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and co-Chairman Lee Hamilton, Mr. Kojm said, adding that from the outset, the two men were determined that this significant slice of American history would not "be a doorstop."
According to Mr. Kojm, Mr. Kean, the former New Jersey governor, had prepared himself for his role on the commission by reading past governmental analyses like The Hart-Rudman Commission Report and that of the Gore Commission on Aviation and Security; and while Mr. Kojm said his boss on the commission found the reports to be well-researched and well-received by the experts, "nothing happened."
So the members of the 9/11 Commission decided to handle things differently.
"It's really an endeavour to reach the American people, thereby to gain their interest, their attention, and support for change and reform."
So, how do you take this huge investigation and information from over 1,200 past and present government officials and turn it into a report?
"In the spring of last year, the staff director assigned 35 pieces of the report and assembled them into 10 chapters for a basic draft," Mr. Kojm said. That step, he added put into motion a "very elaborate" editorial process. The commissioners would then read those basic drafts "religiously and carefully" and offer input, which would then be integrated into the drafts, leading the way to a second round of drafts.
"Every chapter, went through three rounds of commissioner draft and revision," Mr. Kojm said, adding that some of those chapters that addressed more political issues would be subjected to even further scrutiny. "Those chapters went through many, many revisions."
"In a sense, the commissioners came to their own view that the best way to tell the story is to stick as closely to facts as you can, because that way you can get 10 commissioners to agree and you can leave it to the American public to make the judgements about who did well and who did poorly."
The mandate of the commission, Mr. Kojm said, is two-fold: "It's to tell the story of 9/11, and to make recommendations. The commission has no mandate to assess guilt or to assess blame. The commission had a very heavy mandate to look toward: What can we recommend to make this country safer and more secure?"
But ultimately, Mr. Kojm said, the commissioners had to start with the "story of the planes," not with "bin Laden in some fatwa, but with what happened on that beautiful Tuesday morning; to tell the story of the day."
Mr. Kojm attributed much of the success of the report to the transparency of the entire process. Who can forget the reluctant then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice standing with her right hand raised before an explosion of flashbulbs as she was sworn in before the commission. Or images of Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar in both the Clinton and Bush presidencies, as he condemned administration officials for allegedly not taking intelligence threats seriously.
Even President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared before all 10 commissioners in private for their testimonial, "were very forthcoming."
"And the end of the day, the commission got all that it wanted to de-classify, got all the documents it wanted, got all the witnesses it needed, but it took a long time to get there."