The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11

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Overview

As senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, John Farmer led the team charged with reconstructing the tragedies of 9/11 and assisted in writing The 9/11 Commission Report. But many of the relevant records remained classified when the report was written, and the "ground truth" of the day was further obscured by the fundamentally false version of events that the government presented to Congress, the commission, and the media.

Now, drawing on records that have only recently been ...

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Overview

As senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, John Farmer led the team charged with reconstructing the tragedies of 9/11 and assisted in writing The 9/11 Commission Report. But many of the relevant records remained classified when the report was written, and the "ground truth" of the day was further obscured by the fundamentally false version of events that the government presented to Congress, the commission, and the media.

Now, drawing on records that have only recently been released, Farmer has written a definitive account that captures the full suspense and ultimate tragedy of 9/11 and enlarges—and breathtakingly revises—our understanding. He tells the story in shrinking units of time, plotting the progress of the "planes conspiracy" as the U.S. government had years, then months, then weeks, days, and finally, excruciating minutes and seconds to interdict or disrupt the attacks. This approach casts key moments in a new and startling light; the frantic efforts of air traffic controllers and fighter pilots to foil the attacks on 9/11 are revealed not as isolated acts of desperation but as the trailing, inevitable consequence of years of policy debates and failed post–Cold War attempts to "reinvent government." And as he leads us through the aftermath of the attacks, Farmer makes the inescapable case that "at some level of the government, at some point in time...there was a decision not to tell the truth about what happened."

What emerges is a portrait of a government that has institutionalized failure and rewarded deception. Executive departments fight for turf then deflect responsibility. Top officials, who set policy, are radically estranged from the career professionals who carry it out. The result has proven, quite literally, catastrophic—in the face of the surprise attacks of 9/11 and, as Farmer explores, in response to a long-anticipated natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, as well. He shows powerfully that until we undertake the genuine, from-the-ground-up reinvention of government that the ground truth of 9/11 demands, we remain terrifyingly unprepared for the next time catastrophe strikes.

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Editorial Reviews

Jacob Heilbrunn
Now that numerous transcripts and tapes have been declassified…Farmer draws on them to assail the government's official depiction of 9/11 as so much public relations flimflam. Perhaps nothing perturbs Farmer more than the contention that high-ranking officials responded quickly and effectively to the revelation that Qaeda attacks were taking place. Nothing, Farmer indicates, could be further from the truth…Farmer's accomplishment is to throw 9/11 into fresh relief. A precise and reliable accounting of what happened has been absent until now. This is it.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, updates the commission's report in this thorough and bipartisan analysis. Drawing on newly declassified records and recent investigative reports from the departments of defense and transportation, the author concludes that the failure to detect and prevent the attack “lay in the [bureaucratic] nature of modern government.” Most significantly, “rules proscribing information-sharing” within and among agencies meant that no one had complete access to all available intelligence or information—typical “bureaucratic inertia” that presaged the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. Farmer faults the disconnect between decision-makers and operational employees, concluding that “leadership was irrelevant on 9/11” and the official version of events “was almost entirely, and inexplicably, untrue.” Farmer's conclusion that bureaucratic government “does not adapt fast enough to changing missions to be effective” is not original, but in his careful exegesis of the events of 9/11, he transcends easy generalizations to expose the fault lines in contemporary governance and point the way to fundamental reform. (Sept.)
Douglas Brinkley
"All Americans should read John Farmer's The Ground Truth. With keen analytical insight, Farmer rips the lid off of many mysteries pertaining to both the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina. A highly recommended historical curative for our times."--(Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge)
Library Journal
What we think we know about 9/11 and what really happened are two different things, according to this new book by the former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. As someone who helped write the best-selling 9/11 Commission Report, Farmer now asserts that not only was the official version put forth by the government inaccurate but also that it conveyed a false sense of security. Using recently declassified and released sources, Farmer blends legal and political expertise to paint a startling revised picture of 9/11. Telling the story in successively decreasing units of time, he builds suspense and creates a compelling albeit disturbing narrative. The "ground truth" about what really happened should help us realize a second, more far-reaching truth: unless we correct serious systemic failures in our governmental organizations and operations, we will be doomed to repeat errors in future human-made (or natural) disasters. VERDICT This book sheds new light on the events surrounding 9/11 and the role of government in handling crises and also serves as a rallying cry for change. Essential. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/09.]—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews
Senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission Farmer presents a dismaying catalogue of incompetence and dissembling before and after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The author makes excellent use of declassified primary-source documents from 9/11-including transcriptions of frantic last-minute phone calls of air-traffic controllers-to demonstrate how a massively funded national-security system, a relic of the Cold War, failed to counter a small band of terrorists. Bipartisan in assigning blame, Farmer believes that failure resulted from a bureaucracy-laden government. Information sharing was not only undercut by the constitutional separation of powers, but by boundaries between the CIA and FBI, even by limiting intra-agency recipients only to those on a "need-to-know" basis. He shows that the Clinton administration never sufficiently applied its pledge to warring national-security and law-enforcement players to "reinvent government," and that the Bush administration ridiculously claimed that by the end of the morning of Sept. 11, military and aviation officials were effectively coordinating responses. Communication on 9/11 was atrocious, the author notes, making all the more ironic the contentions of people like Richard Clarke "that their actions in those critical moments made a difference." The Department of Homeland Security merely widened the gulf between policy-makers and those on the ground struggling with crises-a fatal flaw underscored by the egregiously poor response to Hurricane Katrina. An important systematic brief on how an elaborately constructed national-defense system was penetrated, and why lessons of that day for disaster response remain dimly understood.
From the Publisher
"A startling revised picture of 9/11.... [Farmer] builds suspense and creates a compelling albeit disturbing narrative." —-Library Journal Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594286851
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • Publication date: 9/8/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


John Farmer, senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and coauthor of The 9/11 Commission Report, now serves as dean of the Rutgers University Law School in Newark.

An AudioFile Earphones Award winner and Audie Award finalist, Patrick Lawlor is also an accomplished stage actor.

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