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on November 30, 2009
In recent public opinion surveys, roughly half the country believes the official account of what occurred on 9/11/2001 to be substantially true, and half is skeptical. Apparently John Farmer, the man who penned the official 9-11 Commission Report in 2003, is in the latter group. Farmer has written a book as paradoxical as the Government testimony which he picks to pieces: He details one incident after another, meticulously documenting the lies that high government officials told in testimony before his commission. But even after leaving our mouths agape at the mendacity and deception of the Administration (the word `perjury' appears nowhere in the book), he reports unskeptically other parts of the story for which this same Administration was the only source, as if he has no choice but to believe them.

On the surface, the book is a scathing indictment of lethal government incompetence, and of the Bush Administration in particular. It charges ineptitude and a kind of blindness to reality at the highest levels of government. But, to turn a phrase, the book may be praising the Administration with faint damnation. As Senior Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Farmer was in as good a position as anyone on the planet to pursue a competent and thorough investigation, to get to the "Ground Truth" behind the terror attacks and the government's response. And yet he chose to play softball, to settle for the testimony that he was offered, and base his conclusions on a partial and contradictory record. The Commission made no use of Congressional subpoena power or the Capitol Police. They did not recall witnesses whose testimony had been discredited. Every forensic investigator from the local police sergeant to the Special Prosecutor knows that if you jail the underling who is lying to protect his boss, he will often break under pressure and tell the truth that passes responsibility up the chain. And yet, empaneled to investigate this greatest crime of the nation's history, the 9/11 Commission forswore such tactics, sat back and scratched their heads when offered contradictory testimony.

The book climaxes in a chapter titled, "Whisky Tango Foxtrot", which, Farmer explains, was the Commissioners' constant refrain as the misleading testimony unfolded.

"The official version first put forward by Paul Wolfowitz had attained the status of national myth... This official version departed from the facts of the day in four critical respects. First, the official version indicated that the Langley fighters were scrambled in response to American 77, and thus omitted completely the pivotal report of the morning and the source of the Langley scramble: the report that American 11, the first hijack, was still airborne and heading for Washington. Second, the administration version insisted that the military was tracking United 93 and, as a consequence, was positioned to intercept the flight if it approached Washington. This was untrue; the military could not locate the flight to track it because it had crashed by the time of notification. Third, the official version insited that PresidentBush had issued an authorization to shoot down hijacked commercial flights, and that the order had been processed through the chain of command and passed to the fighters. This was untrue.

"Fourth, the administration version implied, where it did not state explicitly, that the chain of command had been functioning on 9/11, and that the critical decisions had been made by the appropriate top officials. Thus the presideent issued the shoot-down order; top FAA Headquarters officials coordinated closely with the military; Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta issued the order to land all airplanes; NORAD Commanding General Eberhart monitored closely the decisions taken at NEADS and CONR; and so on. None of this captures how things actually unfolded on the day."

Farmer goes on to theorize that the false testimony had been offered to cover up bureaucratic incompetence, especially in the military, and a criminal failure to prepare for the new dangers of a post-Cold-War world. His thesis is that the chain of command is too slow to function in a crisis, and that local officials must be trained and empowered to act quickly on their own initiative when extraordinary circumstances demand it. This, Farmer says, requires a fundamental rethinking of the way in which government operates.
The conclusion strikes me as good general advice, an extension of the warning that Dilbert and Laurence Peter before him have offered us for decades. But the recommendations look small compared to the ways in which 9/11 transformed our world - ushering in a never-ending war, sharp curtailment of civil and political liberties in the Land of the Free, a cloak of secrecy for the most criminal Administration in US history, and a centralization of power in the Presidency (OpEd News book review) that continues a year after Bush has left office.
9/11 reporting has been divided between those on the fringe who charge a massive government cover-up, and those in the mainstream who decry the former as `conspiracy theorists', maintaining that any such widespread deception would require too broad a network of cooperation to be plausible. The odd thing about this book is the way it breaches this divide. On the one hand, Farmer is the establishment. He was a Republican US Attorney, then Attorney General of New Jersey, before being tapped by the Kean Commission in 2002. In his capacity as Senior Council to the Commission, he wrote the 600-page 9-11 Commission Report that defines the official government version. On the other hand, Farmer tells us that the Report was falsified in some crucial respects. He charges a cover-up of exactly the kind that the mainstream has said is implausible on its face.

But then he tries to close Pandora's box without addressing the larger questions that loom in the realm of conspiracy theorists: How could fires cause three steel-framed buildings to collapse straight down in free-fall time, looking to every Youtube viewer like a classic example of controlled demolition? How could a jetliner with a 150-foot wing span have disappeared inside a 20-foot hole in the Pentagon? And how could four planes vaporize, black box and all, leaving nothing behind but a few paper passports that conveniently floated through the air into the hands of the waiting FBI?

How could cell phones have functioned at 30,000 feet, far outside the range of the broadcast towers which are designed with a horizontal beam? (And how lucky we were that the recipients of these calls had their tape recorders turned on at the crucial moment!) Remember that all we know about the drama within those four planes -- the stories of brown-skinned men with box-cutters speaking broken English, the murder of stewardesses, the storming of the cockpits and the heroism of passengers on Flight 93 -- our only source for all this is transcripts of these cell phone conversations which could not have occurred in the way they were reported.

The 9/11 Commission swallowed these camels without a hiccup.
Reading Farmer's book, I was struck by the vast gulf in documentary standards between the book's first and last chapters. In the last chapter, the story of the military response to 9/11 is detailed, and compared with FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina four years later. Documentation is meticulous. Testimony is cited verbatim, right down to the words that were lost in noise and could not be transcribed from the FAA radio tapes. In the opening, Farmer tells the story of Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, plotting revenge on the Great Satan from his cave in Afghanistan. Quotes are offered as if Farmer had been there himself, witnessing the meetings. No sources are given, and there is no indication why Farmer believes the story he was told.

I am left wondering why Farmer does not question the Administration witnesses who were presumably the source of the background connection to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, even after he has documented for us the fact that these same Administration officials concocted a story to cover their asses.

Since `9/11 changes everything' don't we deserve to know what really happened on 9/11? Last year, writing on the Op Ed page of the New York Times, the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission, Kean and Hamilton warned us that the Commission's report was tainted. Now the attorney who actually composed the report tells us he was propagating lies.

Still, we continue to `look forward, not back', and somehow that means we must press on with two wars conceived in mendacity, and that Constitutional liberties borrowed from us on false pretenses will not be restored any time soon.

President Obama had it exactly wrong. The only way to move forward is to re-evaluate the choices made by the Bush Administration. A new, open and unimpeded investigation of the events of 9/11 is exactly the way to begin.
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on September 23, 2009
Most of the reviews of John Farmer's book miss its importance.
Farmer has no way of knowing what happened on 9/11 or who did it.
What he does know and has figured out is that the 9/11 Commission
was lied to by people who were supposed to be helping the Commission
deliver the truth to the public.
Whether the lies were big or little, whether the lies were told to coverup
a false flag operation or to cover the butts of agencies that had failed
in their responsibilities, whether Farmer's explanations for the lies are
correct or incorrect, the fact remains that the Commission was misled.
The conclusion to be drawn is that the Commission's report is unreliable
and, therefore, that we do not have the truth about 9/11.
That this conclusion comes from the legal counsel to the Commission is
compelling evidence that a new investigation is required.
Paul Craig Roberts
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on September 13, 2009
If you are a student of 9/11 history, you will want this book. John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission calls into question the honesty of many of the participants engaged in the events surrounding 9/11: NSA advisor Sandy Berger shredding documents; CIA destroying interrogation tapes; General Eberhart, Colonel Marr, General Winfield, and General Arnold all lying about NORAD's timeline; Condi Rice lying about who gave the authority to shoot down a civilian plane; FAA lying about when they gave notice to NORAD and destroying tapes; Richard Clarke lying about the importance of his White House video conference; the "not credible" conclusions of the Department of Transportation Inspector General's report which reviewed the FAA's false accounts and the "frighteningly incompetent" Department of Defense Inspector General's Report on the false statements by the military. It seems almost every person involved in the story of 9/11 lied about the events of that day, according to Farmer.

Well since everyone was promoted and not one person reprimanded, I say, bravo, Mr. Farmer. I appreciate such candor. But don't get too excited, because that is where the candor ends. You will not find in this book any mention of a connection between war games and our inability to defend our airspace. On page 280, Farmer says that the FAA's failure to notify the military for nearly 30 minutes of flight 93 is the greatest institutional failure of 9/11. But where is the discussion of the FAA's false radar blips from war games? Where is the information of who was running war games and how that may have caused our East coast to be defenseless? None of that story is in the book.

Farmer also doesn't address how the Towers or WTC7 fell, but on page 28 he remarks that the Towers were "fragile at [their] core".

The new and most insightful information in this book is Farmer's explanation for why the military lied about NORAD's timeline-found on page 287. Farmer says that the military lied "to avoid acknowledging that it scrambled the Langley fighters based on mistaken information, that it had never followed United 93 on its radarscopes, that it never received the shoot down order from the President until 93 had crashed, and it never passed the [shoot down] authorization to the pilots". All of these lies, according to Farmer, were to present an image to the public that "the national command authority had asserted itself and was prepared to take action against the final hijacking".

Interesting, but do those seem like legitimate reasons for generals to repeatedly lie to the 9/11 Commission? Understand this one point and you will know more than most 9/11 conspiracy theorists: Farmer (and Hamilton and Kean in "Without Precedent") want us to believe that the military did not have time to respond to any of the hijacked airliners. We are being told that the military lied by saying they did have time to respond to hijacked planes!?!?! If you wanted to cover your behind, wouldn't you lie in a manner that would make you appear less inept? Farmer says the tapes prove NORAD couldn't have had time to engage any of the airliners. He says they knew those facts, they had the tapes and they purposefully lied about it, repeatedly, and why?...because of the weak reasons listed above. To that, Mr. Farmer, I would like to borrow one of your expressions from the book: "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot"!
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on October 19, 2009
Farmer's book is a critical review of the bureaucratic structure of Washington, relating to the events of 9/11 and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The book has five chapters: 1) focuses on intelligence data collected up to 2001; 2) discusses the interaction of various defense related departments; 3) integrates the collection of intelligence data in the months/days preceding 9/11, 4) discusses the bureaucratic climax to 9/11, and 5) focuses on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Farmer ties these chapters together by analyzing the failure of our bureaucracy to communicate freely among and within departments, and he emphasizes the desire of the Clinton administration to ""change the culture of our national bureaucracy away from complacency and entitlement toward initiative and empowerment"" that went "tragically unrealized in the years, months, weeks, and days leading to 9/11." An Appendix contains a time-line of the hijackers' movements: 1991-2002.

Farmer frequently references The 9/11 Commission, on which he served as Senior Counsel. He stresses the difficulty the Commission had in obtaining information from various defense related agencies, notwithstanding the administration itself, however, he does not object to the "official" explanation of 9/11. Hence, truth can sometimes be misleading when what is reported is documented but fails to include all aspecs of that truth.

A few omissions include: conflict of interests within The 9/11 Commission, the resignation of Congressman McClellan, key testimony from FBI personnel, and reference to the collapse of Building #7. Farmer does not distinguish between the disintegration of Flight 77 and forensic testing that identified all passengers on that flight from DNA analyses! Curiously, his list of hijackers is compatible with that of the administration, which fails to account for those hijackers missing on flight manifests, notwithstanding those named hijackers discovered to be residing citizens of Saudi Arabia.
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on February 28, 2010
This book was for me both revealing and confirming. Revealing because it exhaustively details the second-by-second actions of the FAA and the military that day relying on ever present FAA and Pentegon recordings which cannot be easily altered and which tell a tale much different from the original CYA version of events released by those agencies which led to the establishment of the 9/11 Commission in the first place. And, confirming in that my long held belief that by it's very nature, government doesn't do very many things well and huge government, the type we in America have had since the 1930's, does almost nothing well. Government's failure leading up to and then reacting the events of 9/11 was very nearly total. Individuals scattered throughout the venues that day, acting largely on their own authority, prevented a much larger disaster.

Farmer begins his story with the first meeting between Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (perhaps better known today as "KSM"), the man whose plan it was to use the airliners as weapons inside the United States. He compresses the story from the years it took to bring the idea to fruition, through the months the attackers spent in the United States in final preparations for the day, through the weeks leading up the event and then to the hours, minutes and seconds preceding the calamity.

The events of September 11,2001 were the culmination of a systematic and generalized failure of the U.S. government in its most fundamental role dating back to the early 1990's (and even earlier). Though hundreds of billions of dollars had been spent and millions of man hours invested, the most sophisticated defense apparatus in the world failed to see the plot though evidence of its existance was all around. Territorial imperatives, bureaucratic ineptness and just plain old fashioned laziness combined to allow 19 zealots to change our national future. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of opportunities to stop the plot before it could be carried out came and went without appropriate action being taken to stop it.

While Farmer acknowledges these failures, he makes the error of postulating that some procedural changes could prevent another such event. I think he is wrong. Nevertheless, Farmer's book demonstrates how, regardless of who sits in the White House, runs the FBI, or heads the CIA, the ability of government to interdict such events as 9/11 are, predictably, self-limited. It's not soothing and it's not comforting but it is reality.

And the easily documented attempt to cover up the inadequacies? It's laid out in this book. It is sometimes plodding and the second-by-second replay of FAA and Pentagon recordings of their every communication during the attacks is sometimes painfully slow; however, their inclusion was necessary in that they clearly demonstrate that the government's first official report (the 9/11 Commission's report is NOW the government's official stand on the matter) of how it reacted to the attacks of 9/11 where designed to cover up its myriad failures.

This book is not a casual read and Farmer's decision to throw the government failures in preparing for and reacting to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 (unlike the 9/11 attacks, an event that had been predicted for decades) and to compare and contrast that with the 9/11 failures really serves no purpose other than to confirm government's ineptness to react properly to large disasters whether they are man-made or natural.

Rick Rescorla, the Vice President of Security for Morgan-Stanley/Dean-Witter, the largest tenant in the World Trade Center, had been predicting just such an attack on the twin towers for nearly a decade. His preparations, approved and sanctioned by his employer, were simple, well thought out and required procedures be followed by all Morgan Stanley employees in the building. These procedures were credited with saving the lives of more than 2700 Morgan Stanley employees that day (tragically, Rescorla was one of the few MS-DW employees to die in the towers when he returned to find any Morgan Stanley stragglers). James B. Stewart's biography of Rescorla: "Heart of A Soldier," is a must read for anyone interested in the events of that day.

The Ground Truth is worth your time, especially for anyone who wants to get a truncated understanding of the 9/11 Commission's findings.

And just in passing........a slap at the terrible bit of editing as the book (in this case, the CD audio version) repeatedly refers the "Mode 3" transponder beacons of the various aircraft involved that day. It isn't "Mode 3," it's MODE "C," a descrete code required to be used by any civil aircraft (and most military planes) operating in the nation's busiest airspaces. As a pilot of many years, this error, committed dozens of times in the narration, was fingernails on a chalk board each time I heard it. An extremely sloppy job of editing.
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VINE VOICEon October 14, 2011
Don't assume that the negative reviews of this book have anything to do with the book itself. Mostly they criticize it for what it is NOT about -- all the 9/11 theories that say the government or part of it orchestrated 9/11, not ObL or al Qaeda. To those reviewers --Hello, it's not appropriate to downgrade the book for subjects not within its scope. Farmer made no attempt to address who was responsible for 9/11.

Farmer wrote, instead, a very tightly focused analysis of how the story of actions of the FAA, the military, and government officials on 9/11 itself that was offered over and over to the public as the true narrative of events was created after the fact and is highly inaccurate. Mr. Farmer demonstrates that inaccuracy not from assumption or argument, but by presenting the reader with the actual content of logs and recordings that were made by different officials during the actual hijackings. He does not attempt anything more.

Why bother, you say? Mr. Farmer's thesis is that it was clear well before 9/11 that the various government agencies and departments were not functioning well, and that although some persons realized this, they had not succeeded in changing the the way things worked. The failure to re-focus Cold War goals and procedures to deal with the threat of terrorism, and the failure to coordinate new procedures among agencies contributed to a failure by the relevant authorities (principally the FAA) to handle the emergency well. For example, at one point someone explains to the 9/11 Commission is that his organization delayed informing the military of the first hijackings because he and his colleagues just couldn't believe it was happening. If it HAD been handled well on that day (setting aside all the prior intelligence failures that made it possible), the actual events of 9/11 would probably have ended no differently, but that is not Farmer's point. His point is that the collective ineptitude is another illustration of how poorly prepared the various players are, and of the seemingly universal predilection of all involved to rewrite the narrative to hide these inadequacies. By hiding the problem, the need for change is also hidden from the public.

The book's one lack is a proposal for how to fix this, and I understand why. Frustrating as it is, this kind of behaviour seems to be impossible to change, particularly in institutions.
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on May 30, 2010
Farmer's book relies heavily on transcripts of live recordings of the comminications at the FAA and NEADS (Northeast Air Defense Sector) of the events as they unfolded. In doing so, he dispels a lot of nonsense put forth by conspiracy theorists (e.g., "Loose Change") and undermines what appears to be "spin" by the respondents, from Bush & DoD down to the FAA, motivated to portray themselves as being more compenent and on top of things than they actually were at the time.

I confess I had long held the suspicion that Flight United 93 (the fourth plane, which crashed in Shanksville, PA) MIGHT have been shot down, but am now utterly convinced of the heroism of the flight's passengers. There is compelling evidence that NEADS, NORAD and DoD were not even aware of this flight until several minutes after its crash, and that there were no fighters in its immediate vicinity, contrary to the claims of Wolfowitz. Rather, the attention of the responders was focused on mistaken and confused reports such as that Flight 11 (the first plane to crash into the WTC) was en route to Washington DC and that Delta Flight 1989 might also be an active threat.

It's all there in the transcripts, and I urge people to read it for themselves rather than bypass this book on the say-so of David Griffen or various "Truthers".

Most importantly, this book is about the difficulty inherent in responding to a crisis by any large organization, with excellent suggestions for addressing these problems. It is quite an eye-opener and a tremendous civics lesson. I wholly recommend it.
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on September 18, 2009
Beyond the fact that most of the book is garbled air-traffic and military communications (would be a pamphlet without the filler), it completely ignores the unanswered questions of that day:

1. Why were standard operating procedures for dealing with hijacked airliners not followed that day?

2. Why were the extensive missile batteries and air defenses reportedly deployed around the Pentagon not
activated during the attack? And not a single foot of video from an incident occurring where tens of thousands of tourists daily shoot pictures and video? Compared to how many vantages shot of the Trade Center collisions?

3. Why did the Secret Service allow Bush to complete his elementary school visit, apparently unconcerned
about his safety or that of the schoolchildren? If they knew he was safe there, how DID they know?

4. Why hasn't a single person been fired, penalized, or reprimanded for the gross incompetence we
witnessed that day? Why is it that the 9/11 commission budget was far less than the budget allotted to
the Challenger Disaster or even the Monika Lewinsky affair?

5. Why haven't authorities in the U.S. and abroad published the results of multiple investigations into
trading that strongly suggested foreknowledge of specific details of the 9/11 attacks, resulting in tens of
millions of dollars of traceable gains?

There are many more, but for now, I'd settle for the answers to those.
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on October 31, 2010
Farmer's personal history put him in a place where he is
able to bring a depth to his work that couldn't be achieved by
many reporters. How many slips between good intentions and final
results as our government trundles on are indeed up for serious
review, as he makes clear. It will cost us a lot if we don't pay
attention to what falls by the wayside because communication between government officials is poor or nonexistant. Farmer tends
to be a bit redundant, but it is worth sticking with him to the end. I have already loaned my copy to a local office holder.
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on March 17, 2015
Excellent synopsis of what went on, shame Joe public will never read it
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