"History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency, when constitutional rights seem too extravagant to endure."
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April 10, 2004
Full Transcript: Condoleezza Rice's Sworn Testimony Before the 9/11 Commission, 4/8/04Raw Data: Full Hearing Transcript (4/9/04 - FoxNews.com)
KEAN: Good morning. As chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, I hereby convene this hearing. This is a continuation of the commission's previous hearings on the formulation and conduct of US counterterrorism policy. The record of that hearing, by the way, including staff statements, is available on our Web site, www.911commission.gov.
We will hear from only one witness this morning, the distinguished Dr. Rice, Condoleezza Rice, assistant to the president for national security affairs.
Dr. Rice, we bid you a most cordial welcome to the commission.
Before I call on Dr. Rice, I would like to turn to our vice chair for brief opening remarks.
HAMILTON: Good morning.
Good morning, Dr. Rice. We're very pleased to have you with us this morning.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to make a statement. I will be very brief.
The purpose of our hearing this morning is very straightforward. We want to get information, and we wanted to get it out into the public record. If we are going to fulfill our mandate, a comprehensive and sweeping mandate, then we will have to provide a full and complete accounting of the events of 9/11. And that means that we are going to ask some searching and difficult questions.
HAMILTON: Our purpose is not to embarrass, it is not to put any witness on the spot. Our purpose is to understand and to inform.
Questions do not represent opinions. Our views will follow later after reflection on answers.
We want to be thorough this morning, and as you will see in a few minutes, the commissioners will show that they have mastered their briefs. But we also want to be fair.
Most of us on this commission have been in the policymaking world at some time in our careers. Policymakers face terrible dilemmas: information is incomplete; the inbox is huge; resources are limited; there are only so many hours in the day. The choices are tough, and none is tougher than deciding what is a priority and what is not. We will want to explore with Dr. Rice, as we have with other witnesses, the choices that were made.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
Dr. Rice, would you please rise and raise your right hand?
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
RICE: I do.
KEAN: Thank you.
I understand, Dr. Rice, that you have an opening statement. Your prepared statement will be entered into the record in full, and we look forward to it. If it's a summary statement, that's fine.
RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I thank the commission for arranging this special session.
RICE: I thank you for helping us to find a way to meet the nation's need to learn all we can about the September 11th attacks, while preserving important constitutional principles.
The commission, and those who appear before it, have a vital charge. We owe it to those that we lost and to their loved ones and to our country, to learn all that we can about that tragic day and the events that led to it.
Many families of the victims are here today, and I want to thank them for their contributions to the commission's work.
The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on September 11, 2001. Long before that day, radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilized world. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of Al Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa bombings of 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 -- these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans.
The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late.
Despite the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and continued German harassment of American shipping, the United States did not enter the First World War until two years later.
RICE: Despite Nazi Germany's repeated violations of the Versailles treaty and provocations throughout the mid 1930s, the western democracies did not take action until 1939. The US government did not act against the growing threat from imperial Japan until it became all too evident at Pearl Harbor. And tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on war footing.
Since then, America has been at war and under President Bush's leadership, we will remain at war until the terrorist threat to our nation has ended. The world has changed so much that it is hard remember what our lives were like before that day. But I do want to describe some of the actions that were taken by the administration prior to September 11th.
After President Bush was elected, we were briefed by the Clinton administration on many national security issues during the transition. The president-elect and I were briefed by George Tenet on terrorism and on the Al Qaeda network.
Members of Sandy Berger's NSC staff briefed me, along with other members of the national security team, on counterterrorism and Al Qaeda. This briefing lasted for about an hour, and it reviewed the Clinton administration's counterterrorism approach and the various counterterrorism activities then under way.
Sandy and I personally discussed a variety of other topics, including North Korea, Iraq, the Middle East and the Balkans.
Because of these briefings, and because we had watched the rise of Al Qaeda over many years, we understood that the network posed a serious threat to the United States. We wanted to ensure that there was no respite in the fight against Al Qaeda.
RICE: On an operational level, therefore, we decided immediately to continue to pursue the Clinton administration's covert action authority and other efforts to fight the network.
President Bush retained George Tenet as direction of central intelligence, and Louis Freeh remained the director of the FBI. And I took the unusual step of retaining Dick Clarke and the entire Clinton administration's counterterrorism team on the NSC staff.
I knew Dick Clarke to be an expert in his field, as well as an experienced crisis manager. Our goal was to ensure continuity of operations while we developed new policies.
At the beginning of the administration, President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of central intelligence almost every day in the Oval Office, meetings which I attended, along with the vice president and the chief of staff. At these meetings, the president received up-to-date intelligence and asked questions of his most senior intelligence officials.
From January 20th through September 10th, the president received at these daily meetings more than 40 briefing items on Al Qaeda, and 13 of those were in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.
In addition to seeing DCI Tenet almost every morning, I generally spoke by telephone to coordinate policy at 7:15 with Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld on a variety of topics, and I also met and spoke regularly with the DCI about Al Qaeda and terrorism.
Of course, we did have other responsibilities. President Bush had set a broad foreign policy agenda. We were determined to confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
RICE: We were improving America's relations with the world's great powers. We had to change an Iraq policy that was making no progress against a hostile regime which regularly shot at US planes enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions. And we had to deal with the occasional crisis, for instance, when the crew of a Navy plane was detained in China for 11 days.
We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to try and eliminate the Al Qaida network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to Al Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies.
This new strategy was developed over the spring and summer of 2001 and was approved by the president's senior national security officials on September 4th. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration -- not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of Al Qaeda.
Although this national security presidential directive was originally a highly classified document, we've arranged for portions to be declassified to help the commission in its work, and I will describe some of it today.
The strategy set as a goal the elimination of the Al Qaeda network and threat and ordered the leadership of relevant US departments and agencies to make the elimination of Al Qaeda a high priority and to use all aspects of our national power -- intelligence, financial, diplomatic and military -- to meet that goal.
RICE: And it gave Cabinet secretaries and department heads specific responsibilities. For instance, it directed the secretary of state to work with other countries to end all sanctuaries given to Al Qaeda.
It directed the secretaries of the treasury and state to work with foreign governments to seize or freeze assets and holdings of Al Qaeda and its benefactors.
It directed the director of central intelligence to prepare an aggressive program of covert activities to disrupt Al Qaeda and provide assistance to anti-Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan.
It tasked the director of OMB with ensuring that sufficient funds were available in budgets over the next five years to meet the goals laid out in the strategy.
And it directed the secretary of defense to, and I quote, "ensure that contingency planning processes include plans against Al Qaeda and associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan, including leadership, command/control and communications, training, and logistics facilities, and against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command/control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics; and to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups may acquire or manufacture, including those stored in underground bunkers."
This was a change from the prior strategy -- Presidential Decision Directive 62, signed in 1998 -- which ordered the secretary of defense to provide transportation to bring individual terrorists to the US for trial, to protect DOD forces overseas, and to be prepared to respond to terrorist and weapons-of-mass-destruction incidents.
More importantly, we recognized that no counterterrorism strategy could succeed in isolation. As you know from the Pakistan and Afghanistan strategy documents that we have made available to the commission, our counterterrorism strategy was a part of a broader package of strategies that addressed the complexities of the region.
RICE: Integrating our counterterrorism and regional strategies was the most difficult and the most important aspect of the new strategy to get right.
Al Qaeda was both a client of and a patron to the Taliban, which, in turn, was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided Al Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever that. This was not easy.
Not that we hadn't tried. Within a month of taking office, President Bush sent a strong private message to President Musharraf, urging him to use his influence with the Taliban to bring bin Laden to justice and to close down Al Qaeda training camps. Secretary Powell actively urged the Pakistanis, including Musharraf himself, to abandon support for the Taliban.
I remember well meeting with the Pakistani foreign minister -- and I think I referred to this meeting in my private meeting with you -- in my office on June of 2001, and I delivered what I considered to be a very tough message. He met that message with a rote answer and with an expressionless response.
America's Al Qaeda policy wasn't working because our Afghanistan policy wasn't working, and our Afghanistan policy wasn't working because our Pakistan policy wasn't working.
We recognized that America's counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and to our overall foreign policies.
To address these problems, I had to make sure that key regional experts were involved, not just counterterrorism experts.
I brought in Zalmay Khalilzad, an expert on Afghanistan, who, as a senior diplomat in the 1980s, had worked closely with the Afghan mujahedeen, helping them to turn back the Soviet invasion.
RICE: I also ensured the participation of the NSC experts on South Asia, as well as the secretary of state and his regional specialists.
Together, we developed a new strategic approach to Afghanistan. Instead of the intense focus on the Northern Alliance, we emphasized the importance of the south, the social and political heartland of the country.
Our new approach to Pakistan combined the use of carrots and sticks to persuade Pakistan to drop its support for the Taliban. And we began to change our approach to India to preserve stability on the continent.
While we were developing this new strategy to deal with Al Qaeda, we also made decisions on a number of specific anti-Al Qaeda initiatives that had been proposed by Dick Clarke to me in an early memorandum after we had taken office.
Many of these ideas had been deferred by the last administration, and some had been on the table since 1998.
We increased counterterrorism assistance to Uzbekistan. We bolstered the Treasury Department's activities to track and seize terrorist assets. We increased funding for counterterrorism activities across several agencies. And we moved to arm Predator unmanned surveillance vehicles for action against Al Qaeda.
When threat reporting increased during the spring and summer of 2001, we moved the US government at all levels to a high state of alert and activity.
Let me clear up any confusion about the relationship between the development of our new strategy and the actions that we took to respond to the threats of the summer.
Policy development and crisis management require different approaches. Throughout this period, we did both simultaneously.
RICE: For the essential crisis-management task, we depended on the Counterterrorism Security Group, chaired by Dick Clarke, to be the interagency nerve center. The CSG consisted of senior counterterrorism experts from the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Defense Department -- including the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the State Department and the Secret Service.
The CSG had met regularly for many years, and its members had worked through numerous periods of heightened threat activity. As threat information increased, the CSG met more frequently, sometimes daily, to review and analyze the threat reporting and to coordinate actions in response.
CSG members also had ready access to their Cabinet secretaries and could raise any concerns that they had at the highest levels.
The threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. Almost all of the reports focused on Al Qaeda activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorist operations overseas.
Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer:
"Unbelievable news coming in weeks," said one.
"Big event -- there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar."
"There will be attacks in the near future."
Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how.
RICE: In this context, I want to address in some detail one of the briefing items that we did receive, since its content has been frequently mischaracterized.
On August 6, 2001, the president's intelligence briefing included a response to questions that he had earlier raised about any Al Qaeda intentions to strike our homeland.
The briefing team reviewed past intelligence reporting, mostly dating from the 1990s, regarding possible Al Qaeda plans to attack inside the United States. It referred to uncorroborated reporting that, from 1998, that a terrorist might attempt to hijack a US aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists who had participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information. And it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of the threat information we received was focused overseas, I was concerned about possible threats inside the United States.
And on July 5th, Chief of Staff Andy Card and I met with Dick Clarke, and I asked Dick to make sure that domestic agencies were aware of the heightened threat period and were taking appropriate steps to respond, even though we did not have specific threats to the homeland.
Later that same day, Clarke convened a special meeting of his CSG, as well as representatives from the FAA, the INS, Customs and the Coast Guard. At that meeting, these agencies were asked to take additional measures to increase security and surveillance.
Throughout the period of heightened threat information, we worked hard on multiple fronts to detect, protect against and disrupt any terrorist plans or operations that might lead to an attack.
RICE: For instance, the Department of Defense issued at least five urgent warnings to US military forces that Al Qaeda might be planning a near-term attack and placed our military forces in certain regions on heightened alert.
The State Department issued at least four urgent security advisers and public worldwide cautions on terrorist threats, enhanced security measures at certain embassies, and warned the Taliban that they would be held responsible for any Al Qaeda attack on US interests.
The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state and law enforcement agencies and specifically stated that, although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out.
The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspects of terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.
The FAA issued at least five civil aviation security information circulars to all US airlines and airport security personnel, including specific warnings about the possibility of hijacking.
The CIA worked around the clock to disrupt threats worldwide. Agency officials launched a wide-ranging disruption effort against Al Qaeda in more than 20 countries.
And during this period, the vice president, Director Tenet and members of my staff called senior foreign officials, requesting that they increase their intelligence assistance and report to us any relevant threat information.
This is a brief sample of our intense activity in the high threat period of the summer of 2001. Yet, as your hearings have shown, there was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States -- something made very difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
So the attacks came. A band of vicious terrorists tried to decapitate our government, destroy our financial system and break the spirit of America. And as an officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger that I felt, nor will I forget the courage and resilience of the American people, nor the leadership of the president that day.
Now we have an opportunity and an obligation to move forward together. Bold and comprehensive changes are sometimes only possible in the wake of catastrophic events -- events which create a new consensus that allows us to transcend old ways of thinking and acting.
And just as World War II led to a fundamental reorganization of our national defense structure and the creation of the National Security Council, so has September 11th made possible sweeping changes in the ways we protect our homeland.
President Bush is leading the country during this time of crisis and change. He has unified and streamlined our efforts to secure the American homeland by creating the Department of Homeland Security; established a new center to integrate and analyze terrorist threat information; directed the transformation of the FBI into an agency dedicated to fighting terror; broken down the bureaucratic walls and legal barriers that prevent the sharing of vital information between our domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies; and, working with the Congress, given officials new tools, such as the Patriot Act, to find and stop terrorists.
And he has done this in a way that is consistent with protecting America's cherished civil liberties and with preserving our character as a free and open society.
But the president recognizes that our work is far from complete. More structural reform will likely be necessary. Our intelligence gathering and analysis have improved dramatically in the last two years, but they must be stronger still.
The president and all of us in his administration welcome new ideas and fresh thinking. We are eager to do whatever it is that will help to protect the American people. And we look forward to receiving this commission's recommendations.
We are at war, and our security as a nation depends on winning that war. We must, and we will, do everything we can to harden terrorist targets within the United States.
Dedicated law enforcement and security professionals continue to risk their lives every day to make us all safer, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
And let's remember that those charged with protecting us from attack have to be right 100 percent of the time.
To inflict devastation on a massive scale, the terrorists only have to succeed once. And we know that they are trying every day.
That is why we must address the source of the problem. We must stay on the offensive to find and defeat the terrorists wherever they live, hide and plot around the world. If we learned anything from September 11th, it is that we cannot wait while dangers gather.
After the September 11th attacks, our nation faced hard choices: We could fight a narrow war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or we could fight a broad war against a global menace. We could seek a narrow victory, or we could work for a lasting peace and a better world.
President Bush has chosen the bolder course.
He recognizes that the war on terror is a broad war. Under his leadership, the United States and our allies are disrupting terrorist operations, cutting off their funding and hunting down terrorists one by one. Their world is getting smaller. The terrorists have lost a homebase and training camps in Afghanistan. The governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia now pursue them with energy and force.
We are confronting the nexus between terror and weapons of mass destruction. We are working to stop the spread of deadly weapons and to prevent then from getting into the hands of terrorists, seizing dangerous materials in transit, where necessary.
Because we acted in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will never again use weapons of mass destruction against his people or his neighbors, and we have convinced Libya to give up all its weapons-of-mass-destruction-related programs and materials.
And as we attack the threat at its source, we are also addressing its roots. Thanks to the bravery and skill of our men and women in uniform, we have removed from power two of the world's most brutal regimes -- sources of violence and fear and instability in the world's most dangerous region.
Today, along with many allies, we are helping the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to build free societies. And we are working with the people of the Middle East to spread the blessings of liberty and democracy as alternatives to instability and hatred and terror.
This work is hard and it is dangerous, yet it is worthy of our effort and sacrifice. The defeat of terror and the success of freedom in those nations will serve the interests of our nation and inspire hope and encourage reform throughout the greater Middle East.
In the aftermath of September 11th, those were the right choices for America to make -- the only choices that can ensure the safety of our nation for decades to come.
Thank you very much. And now I'm happy to take your questions.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Dr. Rice. I appreciate your statement, your attendance and your service.
I have a couple of questions. As we understand it, when you first came into office, you just been through a very difficult campaign. In that campaign, neither the president nor the opponent, to the best of my knowledge, ever mentioned Al Qaeda. There had been almost no congressional action or hearings about Al Qaeda, very little bit in the newspapers.
And yet, you walk in and Dick Clarke is talking about Al Qaeda should be our number-one on that than anything else.
What did you think, and what did you tell the president, as you get that kind of, I suppose, new information for you?
RICE: Well, in fact, Mr. Chairman, it was not new information. I think we all knew about the 1998 bombings. We knew that there was speculation that the 2000 Cole attack was Al Qaeda. There had been, I think, documentaries about Usama bin Laden.
I, myself, had written for an introduction to a volume on bioterrorism done at Stanford that I thought that we wanted not to wake up one day and find that Usama bin Laden had succeeded on our soil.
It was on the radar screen of any person who studied or worked in the international security field.
But there is no doubt that I think the briefing by Dick Clarke, the earlier briefing during the transition by Director Tenet, and of course what we talked with about Sandy Berger, it gave you a heightened sense of the problem and a sense that this was something that the United States had to deal with.
I have to say that of course there were other priorities. And indeed, in the briefings with the Clinton administration, they emphasized other priorities: North Korea, the Middle East, the Balkans.
One doesn't have the luxury of dealing only with one issue if you are the United States of America. There are many urgent and important issues.
But we all had a strong sense that this was a very crucial issue. The question was, what do you then do about it?
And the decision that we made was to, first of all, have no drop- off in what the Clinton administration was doing, because clearly they had done a lot of work to deal with this very important priority.
And so we kept the counterterrorism team on board. We knew George Tenet was there. We had the comfort of knowing that Louis Freeh was there.
And then we set out -- I talked to Dick Clarke almost immediately after his -- or, I should say, shortly after his memo to me saying that Al Qaeda was a major threat, we set out to try and craft a better strategy.
But we were quite cognizant of this group, of the fact that something had to be done.
I do think, early on in these discussions, we asked a lot of questions about whether Usama bin Laden himself ought to be so much the target of interest, or whether what was that going to do to the organization if, in fact, he was put out of commission. And I remember very well the director saying to President Bush, "Well, it would help, but it would not stop attacks by Al Qaeda, nor destroy the network."
KEAN: I've got a question now I'd like to ask you. It was given to me by a number of members of the families.
Did you ever see or hear from the FBI, from the CIA, from any other intelligence agency, any memos or discussions or anything else between the time you got into office and 9/11 that talked about using planes as bombs?
RICE: Let me address this question because it has been on the table.
I think that concern about what I might have known or we might have known was provoked by some statements that I made in a press conference. I was in a press conference to try and describe the August 6th memo, which I've talked about here in my opening remarks and which I talked about with you in the private session.
And I said, at one point, that this was a historical memo, that it was -- it was not based on new threat information. And I said, "No one could have imagined them taking a plane, slamming it into the Pentagon' about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.
I cannot tell you that there might not have been a report here or a report there that reached somebody in our midst.
Part of the problem is -- and I think Sandy Berger made this point when he was asked the same question -- that you have thousands of pieces of information -- car bombs and this method and that method -- and you have to depend to a certain degree on the intelligence agencies to sort to tell you what is actually relevant, what is actually based on sound sources, what is speculative.
And I can only assume or believe that perhaps the intelligence agencies thought that the sourcing was speculative.
All that I can tell you is that it was not in the August 6th memo, using planes as a weapon. And I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning, that planes might be used as weapons. In fact, there were some reports done in '98 and '99. I was certainly not aware of them at the time that I spoke.
KEAN: You didn't see any memos to you or any documents to you?
RICE: No, I did not.
KEAN: Some Americans have wondered whether you or (disruption in transcription) ... Al Qaeda.
We know that at the Camp David meeting on the weekend of September 15th and 16th, the president rejected the idea of immediate action against Iraq. Others have told that the president decided Afghanistan had to come first.
We also know that, even after those Camp David meetings, the administration was still readying plans for possible action against Iraq.
So can you help us understand where, in those early days after 9/11, the administration placed Iraq in the strategy for responding to the attack?
RICE: Certainly. Let me start with the period in which you're trying to figure out who did this to you.
And I think, given our exceedingly hostile relationship with Iraq at the time -- this is, after all, a place that tried to assassinate an American president, was still shooting at our planes in the no-fly zone -- it was a reasonable question to ask whether, indeed, Iraq might have been behind this.
RICE: I remember, later on, in a conversation with Prime Minister Blair, President Bush also said that he wondered could it have been Iran, because the attack was so sophisticatuld we get Wall Street back up and running, because he didn't want them to have succeeded against nistan, mostly recently the Soviet Union and, of course, the British before that.
There was a discussion of Iraq. I think it was raised by Don Rumsfeld. It was pressed a bit by Paul Wolfowitz (disruption in transcription) ... that when he went around the table and asked his advisers what he should do, not a single one of his principal advisers advised doing anything against Iraq. It was all to Afghanistan.
RICE: When I got back to the White House with the president, he laid out for me what he wanted to do. And one of the points, after a long list of things about Afghanistan, a long list of things about protecting the homeland, the president said that he wanted contingency plans against Iraq should Iraq act against our interests.
There was a kind of concern that they might try and take advantage of us in that period. They were still -- we were still flying no-fly zones. And there was also, he said, in case we find that they were behind 9/11, we should have contingency plans.
But this was not along the lines of what later was discussed about Iraq, which was how to deal with Iraq on a grand scale. This was really about -- we went to planning Afghanistan, you can look at what we did. From that time on, this was about Afghanistan.
KEAN: So when Mr. Clarke writes that the president pushed him to find a link between Iraq and the attack, is that right? Was the president trying to twist the facts for an Iraqi war, or was he just puzzled about what was behind this attack?
RICE: I don't remember the discussion that Dick Clarke relates. Initially, he said that the president was wandering the situation room -- this is in the book, I gather -- looking for something to do, and they had a conversation. Later on, he said that he was pulled aside. So I don't know the context of the discussion. I don't personally remember it.
But it's not surprising that the president would say, "What about Iraq," given our hostile relationship with Iraq. And I'm quite certain that the president never pushed anybody to twist the facts.
KEAN: Congressman Hamilton?
HAMILTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Rice, you've given us a very strong statement, with regard to the actions taken by the administration in this pre-9/11 period, and we appreciate that very much for the record.
I want to call to your attention some comments and some events on the other side of that question and give you an opportunity to respond.
You know very well that the commission is focusing on this whole question of, what priority did the Clinton administration and the Bush administration give to terrorism?
The president told Bob Woodward that he did not feel that sense of urgency. I think that's a quote from his book, or roughly a quote from Woodward's book.
The deputy director for Central Intelligence, Mr. McLaughlin, told us that he was concerned about the pace of policymaking in the summer of 2001, given the urgency of the threat.
The deputy secretary of state, Mr. Armitage, was here and expressed his concerns about the speed of the process. And if I recall, his comment is that, "We weren't going fast enough." I think that's a direct quote.
There was no response to the Cole attack in the Clinton administration and none in the Bush administration.
Your public statements focused largely on China and Russia and missile defense. You did make comments on terrorism, but they were connected -- the link between terrorism and the rogue regimes, like North Korea and Iran and Iraq.
HAMILTON: And by our count here, there were some 100 meetings by the national security principals before the first meeting was held on terrorism, September 4th. And General Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that terrorism had been pushed farther to the back burner.
Now, this is what we're trying to assess. We have your statements. We have these other statements. And I know, as I indicated in my opening comments, how difficult the role of the policymaker is and how many things press upon you.
But I did want to give you an opportunity to comment on some of these other matters.
RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin with the Woodward quote, because that has gotten a lot of press. And I actually think that the quote, put in context, gives a very different picture.
The question that the president was asked by Mr. Woodward was, "Did you want to have bin Laden killed before September 11th?" That was the question.
The president said, "Well, I hadn't seen a plan to do that. I knew that we needed to -- I think the appropriate word is 'bring him to justice.' And, of course, this is something of a trick question in that notion of self-defense which is appropriate for..."
I think you can see here a president struggling with whether he ought to be talking about pre-9/11 attempts to kill bin Laden. And so, that is the context for this quote.
And, quite frankly, I remember the director sitting here and saying he didn't want to talk about authorities on assassination. I think you can understand the discomfort of the president.
The president goes on. When Bob Woodward says, "Well, I don't mean it as a trick question; I'm just trying to your state of mind," the president says, "Let me put it this way. I was not -- there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11th. I was not on point, but I knew he was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible. We felt he was responsible for bombings that had killed Americans. And I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice and would have given the order to do just that.
"I have no hesitancy about going after him, but I didn't feel that sense of urgency and my blood was not nearly as boiling. Whose blood was nearly as boiling prior to September 11th?"
And I think the context helps here.
It is also the case that the president had been told by the director of central intelligence that it was not going to be a silver bullet to kill bin Laden, that you had to do much more.
And, in fact, I think that some of us felt that the focus, so much focus, on what you did with bin Laden, not what you did with the network, not what you did with the regional circumstances, might, in fact, have been misplaced.
So I think the president is responding to go a specific set of questions.
All that I can tell you is that what the president wanted was a plan to eliminate Al Qaeda so he could stop swatting at flies. He knew that we had in place the same crisis-management mechanism, indeed the same personnel, that the Clinton administration, which clearly thought it a very high priority, had in place.
And so, I think that he saw the priority as continuing the current operations and then getting a plan in place.
Now, as to the number of PCs. I'm sorry, there is some difference in our records here.
We show 33 Principals Committee meetings during this period of time, not 100. We show that three of those dealt at least partially with issues of terrorism not related to Al Qaeda. And so we can check the numbers, but we have looked at our files and we show 33, not 100.
The quotes by others about how the process is moving, again, it's important to realize that had parallel tracks here. We were continuing to do what the Clinton administration had been doing under all the same authorities that were operating. George Tenet was continuing to try to disrupt Al Qaeda. We were continuing the diplomatic efforts.
But we did want to take the time to get in place a policy that was more strategic toward Al Qaeda, more robust. It takes some time to think about how to reorient your policy toward Pakistan. It takes some time to think about how to have a more effective policy toward Afghanistan. It particularly takes some time when you don't get your people on board for several months.
So I understand that there are those who have said they felt it wasn't moving along fast enough. I talked to George Tenet about this at least every couple of weeks, sometimes more often. How can we move forward on the Predator? What do you want to do about the Northern Alliance? So I think we were putting the energy into it.
And I should just make one other point, Mr. Hamilton, if you don't mind, which is that we also moved forward on some of the specific ideas that Dick Clarke had put forward prior to completing the strategy review. We increased assistance to Uzbekistan, for instance, which had been one of the recommendations. We moved along the armed Predator, the development of the armed Predator. We increased counterterrorism funding.
But there were a couple of things that we did not want to do.
I'm now convinced that, while nothing that in this strategy would have done anything about 9/11, if we had, in fact, moved on the things that were in the original memos that we got from our counterterrorism people, we might have even gone off course, because it was very Northern Alliance-focused. That was going to cause a huge problem with Pakistan. It was not going to put us in the center of action in Afghanistan, which is the south.
And so, we simply had (disruption in transcription)
HAMILTON: ... thank you for a careful answer.
Another question. At the end of the day, of course, we were unable to protect our people. And you suggest in your statement -- and I want you to elaborate on this, if you want to -- that in hindsight it would have been -- better information about the threats would have been the single -- the single most important thing for us to have done, from your point of view, prior to 9/11, would have been better intelligence, better information about the threats.
Is that right? Are there other things that you think stand out?
RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I took an oath of office on the day that I took this job to protect and defend. And like most government officials, I take it very seriously. And so, as you might imagine, I've asked myself a thousand times what more we could have done.
I know that, had we thought that there was an attack coming in Washington or New York, we would have moved heaven and earth to try and stop it. And I know that there was no single thing that might have prevented that attack.
In looking back, I believe that the absence of light, so to speak, on what was going on inside the country, the inability to connect the dots, was really structural. We couldn't be dependent on chance that something might come together.
And the legal impediments and the bureaucratic impediments -- but I want to emphasize the legal impediments. To keep the FBI and the CIA from functioning really as one, so that there was no seam between domestic and foreign intelligence, was probably the greatest one.
The director of central intelligence and I think Director Freeh had an excellent relationship. They were trying hard to bridge that seam. I know that Louis Freeh had developed legal attaches abroad to try to help bridge that.
But when it came right down to it, this country, for reasons of history and culture and therefore law, had an allergy to the notion of domestic intelligence, and we were organized on that basis. And it just made it very hard to have all of the pieces come together.
We've made good changes since then. I think that having a Homeland Security Department that can bring together the FAA and the INS and Customs and all of the various agencies is a very important step.
I think that the creation of the terrorism threat information center, which brings together all of the intelligence from various aspects, is a very important step forward.
Clearly, the Patriot Act, which has allowed the kind of sharing, indeed demands the kind of sharing between intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, is a very big step forward.
I think one thing that we will learn from you is whether the structural work is done.
HAMILTON: Final question would be: One of your sentences kind of jumped out at me in your statement, and that was on page 9, where you said, "We must address the source of the problem."
I'm very concerned about that. I was pleased to see it in your statement. And I'm very worried about the threat of terrorism, as I know you are, over a very long period of time -- a generation or more.
There are a lot of very, very fine -- 2 billion Muslims. Most of them, we know, are very fine people. Some don't like us; they hate us. They don't like what modernization does to their culture. They don't like the fact that economic prosperity has passed them by. They don't like some of the policies of the United States government. They don't like the way their own governments treat them.
And I'd like you to elaborate a little bit, if you would, on how we get at the source of the problem. How do we get at this discontent, this dislocation, if you would, across a big swathe of the Islamic world?
RICE: I believe very strongly, and the president believes very strongly, that this is really the generational challenge. The kinds of issues that you are addressing have to be addressed, but we're not going to see success on our watch.
We will see some small victories on our watch. One of the most difficult problems in the Middle East is that the United States has been associated for a long time, decades, with a policy that looks the other way on the freedom deficit in the Middle East, that looks the other way at the absence of individual liberties in the Middle East.
And I think that that has tended to alienate us from the populations of the Middle East.
And when the president, at White Hall in London, said that that was no longer going to be the stance of the United States, we were expecting more from our friends, we were going to try and engage those in those in those countries who wanted to have a different kind of Middle East, I believe that he was resonating with trends that are there in the Middle East. There are reformist trends in places like Bahrain and Jordan. And recently there was a marvelous conference in Alexandria in Egypt, where reform was actually was on the agenda.
So it's going to be a slow process.ple," they didn't mean me. It's taken us a while to get to a multiethnic democracy that works.
But if America is avowedly values-centered in its foreign policy, we do better than when we do not stand up for those values.
So I think that it's going to be very hard. It's going to take time.
One of the things that we've been very interested, for instance, in is issues of educational reform in some of these countries. As you know, the madrassas are a big difficulty. I've met, myself, personally two or three times with the Pakistani -- a wonderful woman who's the Pakistani education minister.
We can't do it for them. They have to have it for themselves, but we have to stand for those values.
And over the long run, we will change -- I believe we will change the nature of the Middle East, particularly if there are examples that this can work in the Middle East.
And this is why Iraq is so important. The Iraqi people are struggling to find a way to create a multiethnic democracy that works. And it's going to be hard.
And if we stay with them, and when they succeed, I think we will have made a big change -- they will have made a big change in the middle of the Arab world, and we will be on our way to addressing the source.
HAMILTON: Thank you, Dr. Rice.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
BEN-VENISTE: Good morning, Dr. Rice.
RICE: Good morning.
BEN-VENISTE: Nice to see you again.
RICE: Nice to see you.
BEN-VENISTE: I want to ask you some questions about the August 6th PDB was prepared and self-generated by a CIA employee. Following Director Tenet's testimony on March 26th before us, the CIA clarified its version of events, saying that questions by the president prompted them to prepare the August 6th PDB.
Now, you have said to us in our meeting together earlier in February, that the president directed the CIA to prepare the August 6th PDB.
The extraordinary high terrorist attack threat level in the summer of 2001 is well-documented. And Richard Clarke's testimony about the possibility of an attack against the United States homeland was repeatedly discussed from May to August within the intelligence community, and that is well-documented.
You acknowledged to us in your interview of February 7, 2004, that Richard Clarke told you that Al Qaeda cells were in the United States.
Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6th, of the existence of Al Qaeda cells in the United States?
RICE: First, let me just make certain...
BEN-VENISTE: If you could just answer that question, because I only have a very limited...
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but it's important...
BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president...
RICE: ... that I also address...
It's also important that, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you'll just give me a moment.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, my only question to you is whether you...
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but I will...
BEN-VENISTE: ... told the president.
RICE: If you'll just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you've asked.
First of all, yes, the August 6th PDB was in response to questions of the president -- and that since he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of Al Qaeda's operations.
Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum -- I remember it as being only a line or two -- that there were Al Qaeda cells in the United States.
Now, the question is, what did we need to do about that?
And I also understood that that was what the FBI was doing, that the FBI was pursuing these Al Qaeda cells. I believe in the August 6th memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this; the FBI was pursuing it.
I really don't remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
RICE: I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this. But I don't remember the Al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.
BEN-VENISTE: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?
RICE: I believe the title was, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
RICE: No, Mr. Ben-Veniste...
BEN-VENISTE: I will get into the...
RICE: I would like to finish my point here.
BEN-VENISTE: I didn't know there was a point.
RICE: Given that -- you asked me whether or not it warned of attacks.
BEN-VENISTE: I asked you what the title was.
RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks. It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, you knew by August 2001 of Al Qaeda involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing, is that correct?
You knew that in 1999, late '99, in the millennium threat period, that we had thwarted an Al Qaeda attempt to blow up Los Angeles International Airport and thwarted cells operating in Brooklyn, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts.
As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that Al Qaeda members have resided or travelled to the United States for years and maintained a support system in the United States.
And you learned that FBI information since the 1998 blind sheikh warning of hijackings to free the blind sheikh indicated a pattern of suspicious activity in the country up until August 6th consistent with preparation for hijackings. Isn't that so?
RICE: Do you have other questions that you want me to answer as a part of the sequence?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, did you not -- you have indicated here that this was some historical document. And I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations -- not historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full field investigations against Al Qaeda cells, that preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States?
RICE: What the August 6th PDB said, and perhaps I should read to you...
BEN-VENISTE: We would be happy to have it declassified in full at this time, including its title.
RICE: I believe, Mr. Ben-Veniste, that you've had access to this PDB. But let me just...
BEN-VENISTE: But we have not had it declassified so that it can be shown publicly, as you know.
RICE: I believe you've had access to this PDB -- exceptional access. But let me address your question.
BEN-VENISTE: Nor could we, prior to today, reveal the title of that PDB.
RICE: May I address the question, sir?
The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the president's questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by Al Qaeda inside the United States. He asked because all of the threat reporting or the threat reporting that was actionable was about the threats abroad, not about the United States.
This particular PDB had a long section on what bin Laden had wanted to do -- speculative, much of it -- in '97, '98; that he had, in fact, liked the results of the 1993 bombing.
It had a number of discussions of -- it had a discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free a prisoner who was being held in the United States -- Ressam. It reported that the FBI had full field investigations under way.
And we checked on the issue of whether or not there was something going on with surveillance of buildings, and we were told, I believe, that the issue was the courthouse in which this might take place.
Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo -- historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew ...
BEN-VENISTE: If you are willing to declassify that document, then others can make up their minds about it.
Let me ask you a general matter, beyond the fact that this memorandum provided information, not speculative, but based on intelligence information, that bin Laden had threatened to attack the United States and specifically Washington, D.C.
There was nothing reassuring, was there, in that PDB?
RICE: Certainly not. There was nothing reassuring.
But I can also tell you that there was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C. There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how or where. This was not a threat report to the president or a threat report to me.
BEN-VENISTE: We agree that there were no specifics. Let me move on, if I may.
RICE: There were no specifics, and, in fact, the country had already taken steps through the FAA to warn of potential hijackings. The country had already taken steps through the FBI to task their 56 field offices to increase their activity. The country had taken the steps that it could given that there was no threat reporting about what might happen inside the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: We have explored that and we will continue to with respect to the muscularity and the specifics of those efforts.
The president was in Crawford, Texas, at the time he received the PDB, you were not with him, correct?
RICE: That is correct.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, was the president, in words or substance, alarmed or in any way motivated to take any action, such as meeting with the director of the FBI, meeting with the attorney general, as a result of receiving the information contained in the PDB?
RICE: I want to repeat that when this document was presented, it was presented as, yes, there were some frightening things -- and by the way, I was not at Crawford, but the president and I were in contact and I might have even been, though I can't remember, with him by video link during that time.
The president was told this is historical information. I'm told he was told this is historical information and there was nothing actionable in this. The president knew that the FBI was pursuing this issue. The president knew that the director of central intelligence was pursuing this issue. And there was no new threat information in this document to pursue.
BEN-VENISTE: Final question, because my time has almost expired.
Do you believe that, had the president taken action to issue a directive to the director of CIA to ensure that the FBI had pulsed the agency, to make sure that any information which we know now had been collected was transmitted to the director, that the president might have been able to receive information from CIA with respect to the fact that two Al Qaeda operatives who took part in the 9/11 catastrophe were in the United States -- Al-Hajmi (ph) and Minhar (ph); and that Moussaoui, who Dick Clarke was never even made aware of, who had jihadist connections, who the FBI had arrested, and who had been in a flight school in Minnesota trying to learn the avionics of a commercial jetliner despite the fact that he had no training previously, had no explanation for the funds in his bank account, and no explanation for why he was in the United States -- would that have possibly, in your view, in hindsight, made a difference in the ability to collect this information, shake the trees, as Richard Clarke had said, and possibly, possibly interrupt the plotters?
RICE: My view, Commissioner Ben-Veniste, as I said to Chairman Kean, is that, first of all, the director of central intelligence and the director of the FBI, given the level of threat, were doing what they thought they could do to deal with the threat that we faced.
There was no threat reporting of any substance about an attack coming in the United States.
RICE: And the director of the FBI and the director of the CIA, had they received information, I am quite certain -- given that the director of the CIA met frequently face to face with the president of the United States -- that he would have made that available to the president or to me.
I do not believe that it is a good analysis to go back and assume that somehow maybe we would have gotten lucky by, quote, "shaking the trees." Dick Clarke was shaking the trees, director of central intelligence was shaking the trees, director of the FBI was shaking the trees. We had a structural problem in the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: Did the president meet with the director of the FBI?
RICE: We had a structural problem in the United States, and that structural problem was that we did not share domestic and foreign intelligence in a way to make a product for policymakers, for good reasons -- for legal reasons, for cultural reasons -- a product that people could depend upon.
BEN-VENISTE: Did the president meet with the director of...
KEAN: Commissioner, we got to move on...
BEN-VENISTE: ... the FBI between August 6th and September 11th?
KEAN: ... to Commissioner Fielding.
RICE: I will have to get back to you on that. I am not certain.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FIELDING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Rice, good morning.
RICE: Good morning.
FIELDING: Thank you for being here, and thank you for all your service presently and in the past to your country.
RICE: Thank you.
FIELDING: As you know, our task is to assemble facts in order to inform ourselves and then ultimately to inform the American public of the cause of this horrible event, and also to make recommendations to mitigate against the possibility that there will ever be another terrorist triumph on our homeland or against our people.
And as we do this with the aid of testimony of people like yourself, of course there will be some discrepancies, as there always will, and we will have to try as best we can to resolve those discrepancies. And obviously that's an important thing for us to do.
But as important as that ultimately might be, it also is our responsibility to really come up with ways, and valid ways, to prevent another intelligence failure like we suffered. And I don't think anybody will kid ourselves that we didn't suffer one.
So we must try to look at the systems and the policies that were in place and to evaluate them and to see -- getting a view of the landscape, and I know it's difficult to do it through a pre-9/11 lens, but we must try to do that, so that we can do better the next time.
And I'd like to follow up with a couple of areas with that sort of specificity, and one is the one that you were just discussing with Commissioner Ben-Veniste.
We've all heard over the years the problem between the CIA, the FBI, coordination, et cetera. And you made reference to an introduction you'd done to a book, but you also, in October 2000, while you were a part of the campaign team for candidate Bush, you told a radio station, WJR, which is in Detroit, you're talking about the threat and how to deal with Al Qaeda.
And if I may quote, you said, "Usama bin Laden, the first is you really have to get intelligence agencies better organized to deal with the terrorist threat to the United States itself. One of the problems that we have is kind of a split responsibility, of course, between the CIA and foreign intelligence and the FBI and domestic intelligence. There needs to be better cooperation, because we don't want to wake up one day and find that Usama bin Laden has been successful on our territory," end of your quote.
Well, in fact, sadly, we did wake up and that did happen.
FIELDING: And obviously, there is a systemic problem.
And what I'd really like you to address right now is what steps were taken by you and the administration, to your knowledge, in the first several months of the administration to assess and address this problem?
RICE: Well, thank you.
We did have a structural problem, and structural problems take some time to address.
We did have a national security policy directive asking the CIA, through the foreign intelligence board, headed by Brent Scowcroft, to review its intelligence activities, the way that it gathered intelligence. And that was a study that was to be completed.
The vice president was, a little later in, I think, in May, tasked by the president to put together a group to look at all of the recommendations that had been made about domestic preparedness and all of the questions associated with that; to take the Gilmore report and the Hart-Rudman report and so forth and to try to make recommendations about what might have been done.
We were in office 233 days. And the kinds of structural changes that have been needed by this country for some time did not get made in that period of time.
I'm told that after the millennium plot was discovered, that there was an after-action report done and that some steps were taken. To my recollection, that was not briefed to us during the transition period or during the threat spike.
But clearly, what needed to be done was that we needed systems in place that would bring all of this together. It is not enough to leave this to chance.
If you look at this period, I think you see that everybody -- the director of the CIA -- Louis Freeh had left, but the key counterterrorism person was a part of Dick Clarke's group.
And with meeting with him and, I'm sure, shaking the trees and doing all of the things that you would want people to do, we were being given reports all the time that they were doing everything they could. But there was a systemic problem in getting that kind of shared intelligence.
One of the first things that Bob Mueller did post-9/11 was to recognize that the issue of prevention meant that you had to break down some of the walls between criminal and counterterrorism, between criminal and intelligence.
RICE: The way that we went about this was to have individual cases where you were trying to build a criminal case, individual offices with responsibility for those cases. Much was not coming to the FBI in a way that it could then engage the policymakers.
So these were big structural reforms. We did some things to try and get the CIA reforming. We did some things to try and get a better sense of how to put all of this together.
But structural reform is hard, and in seven months we didn't have time to make the changes that were necessary. We made them almost immediately after September 11th.
Posted Sat 04/10/2004
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