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9/11 Testimony of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice

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Did she offer convincing evidence that the White House took the threat of terrorism seriously enough prior to 9/11?

  • The president told Bob Woodward that, when it came to terrorism: "I was not on point… I didn't feel that sense of urgency." Up until the day of the attacks – as the speech she was scheduled to deliver on 9/11 reveals – Rice and the president made missile defense their number one priority. In a database search of all of her public statements and writings made before the 9/11 attacks, she never once mentioned al Qaeda and made only one mention of Osama bin Laden in a radio interview.
  • Top counterterrorism and national security officials have independently concluded that the Bush administration failed to follow through on the Clinton administration's strong counterterrorism policy. Former top counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, National Security Council's Gen. Donald Kerrick, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton, and other former officials who served in the Bush administration are on the record saying that America's counterterrorism policy got lost in the Clinton-Bush transition.
  • Clarke says that he sent a memo to Rice on Jan. 25, 2001, seeking a Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, and attached plans developed in the Clinton administration to eliminate al Qaeda. Out of the hundred or so meetings of the principals or cabinet level officials in the Bush administration, only one was about terrorism. Instead, the White House said it would have Vice President Dick Cheney head up a task force to analyze the threat himself. The administration waited five months to create the task force, which then never met.
  • Also in January 2001, the U.S. Government's Commission on National Security, led by former Sens. Warren Rudman (R-NH) and Gary Hart (D-CO), gave the White House a bipartisan report that warned of an attack on the homeland and urged the new administration to implement its specific "recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism." The administration rejected the Rudman-Hart Commission's report, "preferring to put aside the recommendations."
  • Despite eight months of repeated warnings on the urgency of the terrorist threat, the administration delayed arming the unmanned Predator drone and never responded to the USS Cole attack. Furthermore, Attorney General John Ashcroft moved to cut funding for counterterrorism and shift DoJ's mission away from fighting terrorism.

Did she explain misleading public statements made regarding 9/11?

  • In 2002, Rice said, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that those people could take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile." But when presented with overwhelming evidence that the administration had been warned about such a plot, she admitted privately to the 9/11 Commission that she "misspoke." Yet, even after this admission, she proceeded to repeat the same claim, writing in a recent Washington Post op-ed, "we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles."
  • According to 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer, "in the '96 Olympics in Atlanta, we looked at the possibility of planes going into Olympic venues. We had 12 reports going to the intelligence communities about planes being used in some capacity by terrorists."
  • On Aug. 6, 2001, the president personally received a briefing from the CIA advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the United States, and that could include the hijacking of an American airplane for a terrorist attack. According to 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, in Rice's private meeting with the commission, she said that the Aug. 6 briefing was prepared at the request of the president when in fact it was prepared by the CIA independent of any presidential request.

Did she explain why the administration's counterterrorism plan wasn't in place to attack the Taliban on Sept. 12, 2001?

  • According to Rice's recent Washington Post op-ed, "Our plan called for military options to attack al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy where he lived." According to testimony by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage before the 9/11 Commission, there was no actual military or invasion plan within that national security strategy.
  • In the report from the Congressional 9/11 committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testified that "contingency planning for using the military for counterterrorism was in the very most primitive stages before September 11th."
  • Last week, the White House disclosed the contents of a national security strategy prepared before 9/11 that directed the secretary of defense to plan for actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan and for plans against al Qaeda and associated terror facilities in that country – that document wasn't adopted until a month after the 9/11 attacks.

Did she accept any responsibility or admit any mistakes?

  • The Bush administration opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission, fought its extended deadline, and stifled its access to people and papers. The deal struck by the White House to allow Rice to testify requires the Commission to "agree in writing that it would not seek additional public testimony from Rice or any other White House aide" – so the commission will not have the opportunity to ask any follow-up questions should they arise after the session.
  • To date, administration officials have offered no admission that things could have been done better and have refused to consider accepting responsibility. When asked on This Week whether the president should take responsibility and apologize, Secretary Rumsfeld responded, "Oh, it's not for me to say what others ought to do. Seems to me that anyone involved in government over past decades has to just – their heart goes out to the families and the friends and loved ones of those that were killed and the lives not lived, the suffering, the grieving that goes on."
  • When offered the opportunity on "60 Minutes" to take responsibility in a similar manner done by Clarke, Rice declined, "The families, I think, have heard from this president that, and from me, and from me personally in some cases, in that field in Pennsylvania, at the World Trade Center, how deeply sorry everyone is for the loss that they endured… We do need to stay focused on what happened to us that day, and the best thing that we can do for the memory of the victims, the best thing that we can do for the future of this country is to focus on those who did this to us."

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, poverty, Half in Ten Education Fund)
202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org

Print: Anne Shoup (foreign policy and national security, energy, LGBT issues, health care, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7146 or ashoup@americanprogress.org

Print: Crystal Patterson (immigration)
202.478.6350 or cpatterson@americanprogress.org

Print: Madeline Meth (women's issues, Legal Progress, higher education)
202.741.6277 or mmeth@americanprogress.org

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Tanya Arditi
202.741.6258 or tarditi@americanprogress.org

TV: Lindsay Hamilton
202.483.2675 or lhamilton@americanprogress.org

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or ckiene@americanprogress.org