Skip to Content

The 9/11 Report: A dissent

Judge Richard A. Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit published a stunning indictment of the 9/11 final report in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. You can read it online, for free, for a week…

Judge Richard A. Posner of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit published a stunning indictment of the 9/11 final report in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. You can read it online, for free, for a week or so.

Posner’s main points:

1. That by seeing unanimity — a report without dissent — the commission probably watered down some of its findings and recommendations. “Pressure for unanimity encourages just the kind of herd thinking now being blamed for that other recent intelligence failure — the belief that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.”

2. That the very act of including recommendations in the report damages its credibility. “Combining an investigation of the attacks with proposals for preventing future attacks is the same mistake as combining intelligence with policy.”

3. That one reason that Bush was initially uninterested in the threat poses by Al Qaeda “is that a new administration is predisposed to reject the priorities set by the one it is succeeding.” Richard Clarke makes the same point in his book (which is excellent, by the way).

4. That we probably need a domestic intelligence agency, because the FBI just can’t do a good job on counter-terrorism. “Critics who say that an American equivalent to M.I.5 would be a Gestapo understand neither M.I.5 nor the Gestapo.

5. That the “the 90 pages of analysis and recommendations that conclude the comission’s report — come to very little. Even the prose sags, as the reader is treated to a barrage of bromides. “

6. That the report’s finding that we should be fighting Islamist terrorism in particular, rather than terrorism in general, is wrong. “Who knows? The menace of bin Laden was not widely recognized until just a few years before the 9/11 attacks. For all anyone knows, a terrorist threat unrelated to Islam is brewing somewhere (maybe right here at home — remember the Oklahoma City bombers and the Unabomber and the anthrax attack of October 2001).”

7. Proving Posner’s point, the comission largely ignores unanticipated threats. It even ignores bioterrorism and cyberterrorism.

8. “The commission thinks the reason the bits of information that might have been assembled into a mosaic spelling 9/11 never came together in one place is that no one person was in charge of intelligence. This is not the reason. The reason, or rather, the reasons are, first, that the volume of information is so vast that even with the continued rapid advances in data processing it cannot be collected, stored, retrieved and analyzed in a single database or even network of linked databases.” Other reasons include concerns about privacy and the fact that power comes from hoarding information.

9. “The Soviet Union operated against the US and our allies mainly through subversion and sponsored insurgency, and it is not obvious why the apparatus developed [to fight the Cold war] should be thought maladapted for dealing with our new enemy.”

10. Surprise attacks are going to happen. There probably is less reform to do than others might imagine.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses.

Human-plus-AI solutions mitigate security threats

With the right human oversight, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help keep business and customer data secure

Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation

From million-dollar slide shows to Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone, a bit of show business never hurt plain old business.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.