Armed Hostilities

9/11 Commission Report’s Critical Thinking Analysis


After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a special commission was formed to investigate the details of this tragedy. The commission began a comprehensive inquiry that required it to use critical thinking. The published report is extensive, describing the events, identifying key questions, defining components, presenting evidence, and discussing implications and recommendations (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004). This paper will seek to implement the Elder and Paul model of critical thinking with the 8 elements of thought to the 9/11 commission report and analyze it.

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The purpose of this report, as stated, was to put political differences aside and determine the events and causes leading up to and during the terrorist attacks. Furthermore, it was necessary to define who was responsible and which systematic failures occurred that allowed for the attack, leading to implications and recommendations as to what changes need to be made. The commission was created with the purpose of providing “a complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” as well as to investigate counterterrorism policies leading up to the date (CNN Library, 2018, par. 1). Therefore, this report and the investigative commission had a direct and set purpose, although broad in the amount of information that had to be considered.

Point of View

The Commission, which authored the report, was a bipartisan effort to investigate the attacks independently, without intervention or pressure. The report states and implies that the authors condemn the attacks and, similar to the rest of the nation, are devastated. However, they understand their duty to provide a report without dissent and the need to understand the events. Therefore, the point of view can be identified in several contexts. First, from the point of view of executive leadership, which created this commission. Second, the professional standpoint since security officials and politicians involved in security committees were either interviewed or actively participated in the creation of this report. Finally, it represents the viewpoint of the American public which demanded answers and a change in policy to prevent this from happening again.


The commission operated on several fundamental assumptions which guided its investigation and findings. First, it was assumed that these were terrorist attacks conducted by a Middle Eastern terrorist organization al-Qaeda which took responsibility, and its operatives were identified as the hijackers. Second, it was presumed that the security and counterterrorism measures and policies which existed were ineffective and failed in one way or another. Furthermore, the tragic events shifted the mindset and assumptions of many Americans in aspects which the commission could not ignore. This includes such aspects as the safety of the United States from attacks, the viability of openness of immigration, and the vulnerability of air travel. Driven by security concerns and social regulation psychology, the 9/11 attacks began a new chapter in American history where assumptions were continuously shifting (Janoff-Bulman & Usoof-Thowfeek, 2009).


There are far-reaching implications that resulted as a consequence of the 9/11 attacks and the commission report. The report notes the drastic changes which need to be made in policy, security measures, threat identification, infrastructure protection, and intelligence interagency cooperation. It could be assumed that the commission, with its purpose, understood the extent of the implications of the truths that they would uncover in the investigation. Therefore, it was a consideration that was strongly implied in the discussion and underlying the validity of the document. Historically, it is now known that the implications of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent investigations had a profound impact on national security policy. The government began to value national security greatly, implementing a range of policies to finance, guide, and identify any protection measures necessary. It changed the dynamics and procedures for conducting national security prevention methods in a more adaptable and thorough manner (Gibson, 2016).


The report does not go into detail regarding the information gathering process or specific evidence which was used in the investigation. However, it can be assumed that there were provided much information regarding the attacks, intelligence operations, and policy as supporting evidence. The presentation of events and the arguments of the commission are factually based, using rhetoric that is supported by proper findings. The fact that this is a government report, which possibly underwent revisions and reductions with insight from professionals in the field of policy and intelligence, suggests that the information is accurate. Evidence collection was difficult, considering the lack of technology and level of destruction at the time. However, the FBI handled significant amounts of data collection and information gathering, which was then provided to such investigative commissions (Office of the Inspector General, 2004).


Inferences are certainly present in the report as the commission draws its tentative conclusions on the events and causes which led up to the 9/11 attacks. It was found that missed security operational opportunities and general policy failures created gaps in national security, which no one would have imagined could be exploited until the terrorists found a way to do so. There were no capabilities or direct engagement against al Qaeda leading up to the attacks, and incompetent mismanagement in intelligence agencies, buried in bureaucracy and lack of information sharing, led to the attacks (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004). These are some inferences which the commission made, and it was based on critical analysis and thought demonstrated by research and evidence.

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The report dedicates a significant amount of words and resources to define critical concepts in the context of homeland security and terrorist attacks. Definitions on terms regarding military, national security, policy procedures are defined and explained throughout the report when relevant. This is beneficial to building a critical thought, a narration of events, and presenting conclusions since it allows developing a more solid argument. Concepts are important to identify and define, particularly in sensitive reports such as this one, to ensure that the reader, whoever may be, clearly understands the discussed points. It helps to prevent readers from drawing conclusions based on understandings that are popularized in jargon or media rather than the technical meanings meant for policymakers and the intelligence community in this report.


Finally, the key question for this report is complex. The primary focus of this report can be summarized by “who was responsible?” There are a number of sub-questions that are considered and investigated as well. These include sub focuses on domestic policy, foreign security procedures, and lapses, and counterterrorism measures in place, and which changes need to be made. Some other key questions which the commission asks and attempts to answer include “which is the enemy?” and “are we safe?” (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004). These were addressed greatly in response to public sentiments and a need to answer the immediate demands from the people and legislators.


It is evident the 9/11 commission report comprehensively addressed all 8 thought elements of the Elder and Paul model. This suggests that a thorough critical thinking process was utilized to arrive at the conclusions. Critical thinking is vital in homeland security as it ensures a high level of professionalism, validity, and foresight needed to address potential threats. The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the lessons learned as identified by the commission are vital historical reminders of the importance of this process.


CNN Library. (2018). September 11 commission fast facts. CNN. Web.

Gibson, K. (2016). 15 years after 9/11, how has national security changed? Web.

Janoff-Bulman, R., & Usoof-Thowfeek, R. (2009). Shifting moralities: Post-9/11 responses to shattered national assumptions. In M.J. Morgan (ed.), The impact of 9/11 on psychology and education. The day that changed everything? (pp.81-96). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (2004). 9/11 commission report. Web.

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Office of the Inspector General. (2004). A review of the FBI’s handling of intelligence information related to the September 11 attacks. Web.

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