If there are unanswered questions, Mr. Kean said, it is mostly because "the people who were at the heart of the plot are dead."--NY Times
I bought a copy of the 9/11 Commission report yesterday, and have just started reading it (starting with Chapter 8, which someone on Atrios suggested does a pretty good job of pointing the finger at Bush and Rice). I figure, given that the Commission was half Republican plus the Quisling Democrat co-chairman Lee Hamilton, and that Bush has already praised their work, that pretty much everything in the report critical of the Bushies is probably mostly true, and also just the tip of the iceberg. So I'll try to read most of it--it actually seems much more readable than I expected. (The full report is available online, as well as in bookstores for $7.)
But before I got far reading the report, I glanced at the NY Times online and saw an article attempting to explain the report, so I read that first. I came across the quote from Chairman Kean--"the people who were at the heart of the plot are dead." Now, while I would take issue with his contention that there are unanswered questions because of this (surely, the intelligence "failures" which allowed 9/11 to happen and opened the door for W's crusade in Iraq, along with lots of stonewalling and covering up and disinformation campaigns, have contributed mightily to keeping the full truth from coming out), I think Kean is spot on when he says that the people at the heart of the plot are dead.
I was actually surprised by how many people thought that the 9/11 attacks were brilliant, requiring some super-intelligent diabolical mastermind to direct them. Despite what Condi Rice may have thought, the idea of flying airplanes into buildings was not new, and neither was hijacking. I can easily imagine Mohammed Atta and his friends sitting in their Hamburg apartment several years ago, discussing Tom Clancy's novel "Debt of Honor," which ends with a 747 being intentionally crashed into the U.S. Capitol while the President is speaking to Congress. They wonder how they could ever get a real airline pilot to intentionally crash a plane into an occupied target building, and realize that, especially once the pilot realized that death was imminent anyway, he or she would almost certainly choose to crash in a location causing the fewest casualties (the Hudson River, say, instead of the WTC towers). They would quick come to the conclusion that they couldn't rely on commercial airline pilots to steer their planes into buildings--the hijackers would have to take over the controls themselves. "But we don't know how to fly airliners!", would be the objection. "So we'll learn," would be the reply. And the plot was born.
Assuming they had a few hundred thousand dollars available to rent apartments in the US and take flying lessons, the rest of the plot really wasn't that ingenious. It seems as though these guys were flying all over the world regularly, so they were probably well-acquainted with online reservation systems. Finding four flights leaving at about the same time would be easy; even finding ones that were mostly empty wouldn't be hard (fewer passengers meant less potential trouble).
No, the main problem the hijackers faced wasn't coming up with a devastating multi-pronged attack. The main problem would have been keeping it secret. To this end, I have to believe that there were very few people anywhere, maybe even nobody aside from the hijackers, who knew the details of their plan. Osama and his al Qaeda minnions may have provided Atta and the others with funding and connected them with the "muscle" for the job, but I doubt if even they knew when or where the attack would happen.
I forget how many supposed "masterminds" of 9/11 the Bushies claim to have captured or killed in the past nearly three years, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan or the Yemeni desert. But I'm pretty sure that the real masterminds of 9/11 all died on 9/11, and that of the tens of thousands of people who have been killed in the "war on terror" since October 2001, probably only one or two hundred had any real connection to it (training or funding the hijackers), and probably at most ten (likely much less, including maybe zero) actually knew about the plan or took part in it. The U.S. reacted to the killing of innocent civilians by killing innocent civilians; the perpetrators of the crime killed themselves.
Of course, maybe I should read a little more of the report! But it is interesting to see Kean suggest that the hijackers themselves planned the mission.