Monday, November 15, 2004

Failing Upward

by Tom Bozzo

At the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler reports that President Bush intends to name National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to succeed Colin Powell as Secretary of State.

Recall for a moment this excerpt from Dr. Rice's April 8, 2004 testimony before the September 11 Commission, ending in what turns out to be at best a deliberate mischaracterization and at worst a massive ass-covering lie. That this qualifies her to be Secretary of State cements the bad-CEO model of the Administration in my view.

BEN-VENISTE. I want to ask you some questions about the Aug. 6, 2001, P.D.B. We had been advised in writing by the C.I.A. on March 19, 2004, that the Aug. 6 P.D.B. was prepared and self-generated by a C.I.A. employee. Following Director Tenet's testimony on March 26 before us, the C.I.A. clarified its version of events saying that questions by the president prompted them to prepare the Aug. 6 P.D.B. You have said to us in our meeting together earlier, in February, that the president directed the C.I.A. to prepare the Aug. 6 P.D.B. 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 Feb. 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 Aug. 6, 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. Well, first - I understand, Commissioner.

BEN-VENISTE. Did you tell the president?

RICE. But it's important that I also address - It's also important, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that you've raised. So I will do it quickly. But if you'll just give me moment.

BEN-VENISTE. Well, my only question to you is whether you told the president -

RICE. I understand, Commissioner, but I will, if you'll just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you've asked.

First of all, yes, the Aug. 6 P.D.B. was in response to questions of the president. In that sense, he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about - 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 F.B.I. was doing, that the F.B.I. was pursuing these al Qaeda cells. I believe in the Aug. 6 memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations underway of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this - the F.B.I. 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'd 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 Aug. 6 P.D.B. warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that P.D.B.

RICE. I believe the title was Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States. Now, the P.D.B. -

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, N.Y. and Boston, Mass. as of the Aug. 6 briefing. You learned that al Qaeda members have resided or traveled to the United States for years and maintained a support system in the United States. And you learned that F.B.I. information since the 1998 blind sheik warning of hijackings to free the blind sheik indicated a pattern of suspicious activity in the country up until Aug. 6 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 P.D.B. memo of Aug. 6 that the F.B.I. 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 Aug. 6 P.D.B. said - and perhaps I should read it to you.

BEN-VENISTE. We would be happy to have it declassified in full at this time, including its title.

RICE. I believe - I believe, Mr. Ben-Veniste, that you've had access to this P.D.B.

BEN-VENISTE. But we have not had it declassified so that it can be shown publicly, as you know.

RICE. But let me just - I believe you've had access to this P.D.B. - exceptional access. But let me address your question.

BEN-VENISTE. Nor could we, prior to today, reveal the title of that P.D.B.

RICE. May I - may I address the question, sir? The fact is that this Aug. 6 P.D.B. 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 P.D.B. 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 - Rassam. It reported that the F.B.I. had full field investigations underway. 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 about the inside...
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