Who Is Philip Zelikow?
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Historians may identify Philip Zelikow as a scholar of the Kennedy administration and author of Germany Unified and Europe Transformed (with Condoleezza Rice). Since 1998 he has served as the director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, which focuses on presidential recordings. But recently he has popped up in the news in connection with the 9-11 Commission. Zelikow is the executive director of the the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, more commonly known as the 9-11 Commission. Since his January 2003 appointment to the independent commission investigating the events of September 11th, Zelikow has been both praised by the Bush administration for his wide knowledge of the terrorism issue at hand and criticized by outside groups for his close ties to the administration and personal involvement in national security activities. A personal friend and academic collaborator of current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and a former member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Zelikow was part of the transition team between the Clinton and Bush administrations. During this period he briefed incoming security advisors, including Dr. Rice, on issues such as Iraq and al-Qaeda. According to Bush Advisor Karen Hughes, "Mr. Zelikow was recruited by the administration to brief us during the transition because he was one of the foremost experts in the world on al-Qaeda." The bulk of Zelikow's academic research, however, has been concentrated on the Cuban Missile Crisis and the American presidency and he has not published any articles or books directly relating to al-Qaeda or Middle Eastern terrorism.
Al-Qaeda expert or no, many outside groups feel Zelikow's extensive connections with the current administration endanger the integrity of the commission. Although he has officially recused himself from taking part in those parts of the investigation that deal with the time he was on the Bush transition team, the 9-11 Family Steering Committee and 9-11 Citizens Watch, two separate public interest groups that have been lobbying for a fair and transparent investigation, don't consider that enough. These groups have called for his immediate resignation due to a conflict of interests.
Before heading up the 9-11 Commission, Zelikow was the Executive Director of the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age (2002-2003). This task force investigated ways of developing an information network to prevent terrorism while protecting citizens' civil liberties. He also served as Executive Director of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform (2001-2002), co-chaired by former presidents Carter and Ford, and directed the Aspen Strategy Group, a foreign-policy think tank. Former Republican Senator and current 9-11 commissioner Slade Gorton worked with Zelikow on both the Markle Foundation Task Force and the National Commission on Federal Election Reform. In addition, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and (Deputy Secretary of Defense) Paul Wolfowitz were all members of his Aspen Strategy Group.
In addition to having been involved in the events under investigation by the commission, Zelikow's behavior since assuming leadership of the commission has also been called into question. He supported the administration's decision to release only edited versions of the president's daily briefings (PDBs), saying, "The notion that the commission should want to read PDB articles that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda would be a novel suggestion." However, Zelikow also put pressure on the administration to allow Rice to testify in public, faxing a 1945 photo of the presidential chief of staff testifying before the Pearl Harbor congressional panel. He apparently threatened to release the photo to the public if Rice wasn't allowed to testify.
His participation on the 9/11 Commission is also not the first time Zelikow has been involved in professional controversy. Director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, Zelikow is also a general editor of the Center's Presidential Recordings Program, which transcribes presidential telephone conversations and meetings recorded during the fifties, sixties and seventies. The transcriptions, however, have been found by former Kennedy Library historian Sheldon Stern to have at least 100 key errors, none of which have yet been updated in the publicly available transcripts. Zelikow has attributed the delay in these important updates to his work on the 9/11 Commission.
Zelikow has also been alleged to have made the controversial claim during his stint on the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that the real Iraqi threat was not to America: "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat [is] and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel." These remarks were supposedly made at the University of Virginia on September 10, 2002, while Zelikow was speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts discussing 9/11 and the War on Terror.
Zelikow was a member of the National Security Council during the administration of President Bush's father and a member of the State Department, posted in Washington DC and Vienna, during the 1980's. Before joining the State Department he served as an Adjunct Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and practiced law in his home state of Texas. He is currently a Professor of History at the University of Virginia.