Transcript: Rice's Testimony on 9/11
It worries me. And I wanted to make that declaration. You needn't comment on it, but as I said, I'm not going to have an opportunity to talk to you this closely.
And I wanted to tell you that I think the military operations are dangerously off track. And it's largely a U.S. Army -- 125,000 out of 145,000 -- largely a Christian army in a Muslim nation. So I take that on board for what it's worth.
Let me ask you, first of all, a question that's been a concern for me from the first day I came on the commission, and that is the relationship of our executive director to you.
Let me just ask you directly, and you can just give me -- keep it relatively short, but I wanted to get it on the record.
Since he was an expert on terrorism, did you ask Philip Zelikow any questions about terrorism during transition, since he was the second person carded in the national security office and had considerable expertise?
RICE: Philip and I had numerous conversations about the issues that we were facing. Philip, as you know, had worked in the campaign and helped with the transition plans, so yes.
KERREY: Yes, you did talk to him about terrorism?
RICE: We talked -- Philip and I over a period of -- you know, we had worked closely together as academics...
KERREY: During the transition, did you instruct him to do anything on terrorism?
RICE: Oh, to do anything on terrorism?
RICE: To help us think about the structure of the terrorism -- Dick Clarke's operations, yes.
KERREY: You've used the phrase a number of times, and I'm hoping with my question to disabuse you of using it in the future.
You said the president was tired of swatting flies.
Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda prior to 9/11?
RICE: I think what the president was speaking to was...
KERREY: No, no. What fly had he swatted?
RICE: Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on...
KERREY: No, no...
RICE: ... when the CIA would go after Abu Zubaydah...
KERREY: He hadn't swatted...
RICE: ... or go after this guy...
KERREY: Dr. Rice, we didn't...
RICE: That was what was meant.
KERREY: We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?
RICE: We swatted at -- I think he felt that what the agency was doing was going after individual terrorists here and there, and that's what he meant by swatting flies. It was simply a figure of speech.
KERREY: Well, I think it's an unfortunate figure of speech because I think, especially after the attack on the Cole on the 12th of October, 2000, it would not have been swatting a fly. It would not have been -- we did not need to wait to get a strategic plan.
Dick Clarke had in his memo on the 20th of January overt military operations. He turned that memo around in 24 hours, Dr. Clarke. There were a lot of plans in place in the Clinton administration -- military plans in the Clinton administration.
In fact, since we're in the mood to declassify stuff, there was -- he included in his January 25th memo two appendices -- Appendix A: "Strategy for the elimination of the jihadist threat of al Qaeda," Appendix B: "Political military plan for al Qaeda."
So I just -- why didn't we respond to the Cole?
RICE: Well, we...
KERREY: Why didn't we swat that fly?
RICE: I believe that there's a question of whether or not you respond in a tactical sense or whether you respond in a strategic sense; whether or not you decide that you're going to respond to every attack with minimal use of military force and go after every -- on a kind of tit-for-tat basis.
By the way, in that memo, Dick Clarke talks about not doing this tit-for-tat, doing this on the time of our choosing.
I'm aware, Mr. Kerrey, of a speech that you gave at that time that said that perhaps the best thing that we could do to respond to the Cole and to the memories was to do something about the threat of Saddam Hussein.
That's a strategic view...
And we took a strategic view. We didn't take a tactical view. I mean, it was really -- quite frankly, I was blown away when I read the speech, because it's a brilliant speech. It talks about really...
... an asymmetric...
KERREY: I presume you read it in the last few days?
RICE: Oh no, I read it quite a bit before that. It's an asymmetric approach.
Now, you can decide that every time al Qaeda...
KERREY: So you're saying that you didn't have a military response against the Cole because of my speech?
RICE: I'm saying, I'm saying...
KERREY: That had I not given that speech you would have attacked them?
RICE: No, I'm just saying that I think it was a brilliant way to think about it.
KERREY: I think it's...
RICE: It was a way of thinking about it strategically, not tactically. But if I may answer the question that you've asked me.
The issue of whether to respond -- or how to respond to the Cole -- I think Don Rumsfeld has also talked about this.
Yes, the Cole had happened. We received, I think on January 25th, the same assessment -- or roughly the same assessment -- of who was responsible for the Cole that Sandy Berger talked to you about.
It was preliminary. It was not clear. But that was not the reason that we felt that we did not want to, quote, "respond to the Cole."
We knew that the options that had been employed by the Clinton administration had been standoff options. The president had -- meaning missile strikes or perhaps bombers would have been possible, long-range bombers. Although getting in place the apparatus to use long-range bombers is even a matter of whether you have basing in the region.
RICE: We knew that Osama Bin Laden had been, in something that was provided to me, bragging that he was going to withstand any response and then he was going to emerge and come out stronger.
KERREY: But you're figuring this out. You've got to give a very long answer.
RICE: We simply believed that the best approach was to put in place a plan that was going to eliminate this threat, not respond to an attack.
KERREY: Let me say, I think you would have come in there if you said, "We screwed up. We made a lot of mistakes." You obviously don't want to use the M-word in here. And I would say fine, it's game, set, match. I understand that.
But this strategic and tactical, I mean, I just -- it sounds like something from a seminar. It doesn't...
RICE: I do not believe to this day that it would have been a good thing to respond to the Cole, given the kinds of options that we were going to have.
And with all due respect to Dick Clarke, if you're speaking about the Delenda plan, my understanding is that it was, A, never adopted, and that Dick Clarke himself has said that the military portion of this was not taken up by the Clinton administration.
KERREY: Let me move into another area.
RICE: So we were not presented -- I just want to be very clear on this, because it's been a source of controversy -- we were not presented with a plan.
KERREY: Well, that's not true. It is not...
RICE: We were not presented. We were presented with...
KERREY: I've heard you say that, Dr. Clarke, that 25 January, 2001, memo was declassified, I don't believe...
RICE: That January 25 memo has a series of actionable items having to do with Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance.
KERREY: Let me move to another area.
RICE: May I finish answering your question, though, because this is an important...
KERREY: I know it's important. Everything that's going on here is important. But I get 10 minutes.
RICE: But since we have a point of disagreement, I'd like to have a chance to address it.
KERREY: Well, no, no, actually, we have many points of disagreement, Dr. Clarke, but we'll have a chance to do in closed session. Please don't filibuster me. It's not fair. It is not fair. I have been polite. I have been courteous. It is not fair to me.
I understand that we have a disagreement.
RICE: Commissioner, I am here to answer questions. And you've asked me a question, and I'd like to have an opportunity to answer it.
The fact is that what we were presented on January the 25th was a set of ideas and a paper, most of which was about what the Clinton administration had done and something called the Delenda plan which had been considered in 1998 and never adopted. We decided to take a different track.
We decided to put together a strategic approach to this that would get the regional powers -- the problem wasn't that you didn't have a good counterterrorism person.
The problem was you didn't have an approach against al Qaeda because you didn't have an approach against Afghanistan. And you didn't have an approach against Afghanistan because you didn't have an approach against Pakistan. And until we could get that right, we didn't have a policy.
KERREY: Thank you for answering my question.
RICE: You're welcome.
KERREY: Let me ask you another question. Here's the problem that I have as I -- again, it's hindsight. I appreciate that. But here's the problem that a lot of people are having with this July 5th meeting.
You and Andy Card meet with Dick Clarke in the morning. You say you have a meeting, he meets in the afternoon. It's July 5th.
Kristen Breitweiser, who's a part of the families group, testified at the Joint Committee. She brings very painful testimony, I must say.
But here's what Agent Kenneth Williams said five days later. He said that the FBI should investigate whether al Qaeda operatives are training at U.S. flight schools. He posited that Osama bin Laden followers might be trying to infiltrate the civil aviation system as pilots, security guards and other personnel. He recommended a national program to track suspicious flight schools.
Now, one of the first things that I learned when I came into this town was the FBI and the CIA don't talk. I mean, I don't need a catastrophic event to know that the CIA and the FBI don't do a very good job of communicating.
And the problem we've got with this and the Moussaoui facts, which were revealed on the 15th of August, all it had to do was to be put on Intelink. All it had to do is go out on Intelink, and the game's over. It ends. This conspiracy would have been rolled up.
KERREY: And so I...
RICE: Commissioner, with all due respect, I don't agree that we know that we had somehow a silver bullet here that was going to work.
What we do know is that we did have a systemic problem, a structural problem between the FBI and the CIA. It was a long time in coming into being. It was there because there were legal impediments, as well as bureaucratic impediments. Those needed to be overcome.
Obviously, the structure of the FBI that did not get information from the field offices up to FBI Central, in a way that FBI Central could react to the whole range of information reports, was a problem..
KERREY: But, Dr. Rice, everybody...
RICE: But the structure of the FBI, the restructuring of the FBI, was not going to be done in the 233 days in which we were in office...
KERREY: Dr. Rice, everybody who does national security in this town knows the FBI and the CIA don't talk. So if you have a meeting on the 5th of July, where you're trying to make certain that your domestic agencies are preparing a defense against a possible attack, you knew al Qaeda cells were in the United States, you've got to follow up.
And the question is, what was your follow-up? What's the paper trail that shows that you and Andy Card followed up from this meeting, and...
RICE: I followed...
KERREY: ... made certain that the FBI and the CIA were talking?
RICE: I followed up with Dick Clarke, who had in his group, and with him, the key counterterrorism person for the FBI. You have to remember that Louis Freeh was, by this time, gone. And so, the chief counterterrorism person was the second -- Louis Freeh had left in late June. And so the chief counterterrorism person for the FBI was working these issues, was working with Dick Clarke. I talked to Dick Clarke about this all the time.
RICE: But let's be very clear, the threat information that we were dealing with -- and when you have something that says, "something very big may happen," you have no time, you have no place, you have no how, the ability to somehow respond to that threat is just not there.
Now, you said...
KERREY: Dr. Clarke, in the spirit of further declassification...
RICE: Sir, with all...
KERREY: The spirit...
RICE: I don't think I look like Dick Clarke, but...
KERREY: Dr. Rice, excuse me.
RICE: Thank you.
KEAN: This is the last question, Senator.
KERREY: Actually it won't be a question.
In the spirit of further declassification, this is what the August 6th memo said to the president: that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking.
That's the language of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August.
RICE: And that was checked out and steps were taken through FAA circulars to warn of hijackings.
But when you cannot tell people where a hijacking might occur, under what circumstances -- I can tell you that I think the best antidote to what happened in that regard would have been many years before to think about what you could do for instance to harden cockpits.
That would have made a difference. We weren't going to harden cockpits in the three months that we had a threat spike.
The really difficult thing for all of us, and I'm sure for those who came before us as well as for those of us who are here, is that the structural and systematic changes that needed to be made -- not on July 5th or not on June 25th or not on January 1st -- those structures and those changes needed to be made a long time ago so that the country was in fact hardened against the kind of threat that we faced on September 11th.
The problem was that for a country that had not been attacked on its territory in a major way in almost 200 years, there were a lot of structural impediments to those kinds of attacks.
RICE: Those changes should have been made over a long period of time.
I fully agree with you that, in hindsight, now looking back, there are many things structurally that were out of kilter. And one reason that we're here is to look at what was out of kilter structurally, to look at needed to be done, to look at what we already have done, and to see what more we need to do.
But I think it is really quite unfair to suggest that something that was a threat spike in June or July gave you the kind of opportunity to make the changes in air security that could have been -- that needed to be made.
KEAN: Secretary Lehman?
LEHMAN: Thank you.
Dr. Rice, I'd like to ask you whether you agree with the testimony we had from Mr. Clarke that, when asked whether if all of his recommendations during the transition or during the period when his, quote, "hair was on fire," had been followed immediately, would it have prevented 9/11, he said no. Do you agree with that?
RICE: I agree completely with that.
LEHMAN: In a way, one of the criticisms that has been made -- or one of the, perhaps, excuses for an inefficient hand-off of power at the change, the transition, is, indeed, something we're going to be looking into in depth.
Because of the circumstances of the election, it was the shortest handover in memory. But in many ways, really, it was the longest handover, certainly in my memory. Because while the Cabinet changed, virtually all of the national and domestic security agencies and executive action agencies remained the same -- combination of political appointees from the previous administration and career appointees -- CIA, FBI, JCS, the CTC, the Counter-Terrorism Center, the DIA, the NSA, the director of operations in CIA, the director of intelligence.
So you really up almost until, with the exception of the INS head leaving and there be an acting, and Louis Freeh leaving in June, you essentially had the same government.
Now, that raises two questions in my mind.
One, a whole series of questions. What were you told by this short transition from Mr. Berger and associates and the long transition leading up to 9/11 by those officials about a number of key issues?
And I'd like to ask them quickly in turn.
And the other is, I'm struck by the continuity of the policies rather than the differences.
And both of these sets of questions are really directed toward what I think is the real purpose of this commission.
While it's certainly a lot more fun to be doing the, "Who struck John?" and pointing fingers as which policy was more urgent or more important, so forth, the real business of this commission is to learn the lessons and to find the ways to fix those dysfunctions. And that's why we have unanimity and true nonpartisanship on this commission. So that's what's behind the rhetoric that's behind the questioning that we have.
First, during the short or long transition, were you told before the summer that there were functioning al Qaeda cells in the United States?
RICE: In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on January 25th, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them. And the FBI was pursuing them.
And usually when things come to me, it's because I'm supposed to do something about it, and there was no indication that the FBI was not adequately pursuing the sleeper cells.
LEHMAN: Were you told that there were numerous young Arab males in flight training, had taken flight training, were in flight training?
RICE: I was not. And I'm not sure that that was known at the center.
LEHMAN: Were you told that the U.S. Marshal program had been changed to drop any U.S. marshals on domestic flights?
RICE: I was not told that.
LEHMAN: Were you told that the red team in FAA -- the red teams for 10 years had reported their hard data that the U.S. airport security system never got higher than 20 percent effective and was usually down around 10 percent for 10 straight years?
RICE: To the best of my recollection, I was not told that.
LEHMAN: Were you aware that INS had been lobbying for years to get the airlines to drop the transit without visa loophole that enabled terrorists and illegals to simply buy a ticket through the transit-without- visa-waiver and pay the airlines extra money and come in?
RICE: I learned about that after September 11th.
LEHMAN: Were you aware that the INS had quietly, internally, halved its internal security enforcement budget?
RICE: I was not made aware of that. I don't remember being made aware of that, no.
LEHMAN: Were you aware that it was the U.S. government established policy not to question or oppose the sanctuary policies of New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, San Diego for political reasons, which policy in those cities prohibited the local police from cooperating at all with federal immigration authorities?
RICE: I do not believe I was aware of that.
LEHMAN: Were you aware -- to shift a little bit to Saudi Arabia -- were you aware of the program that was well established that allowed Saudi citizens to get visas without interviews?
RICE: I learned of that after 9/11.
LEHMAN: Were you aware of the activities of the Saudi ministry of religious affairs here in the United States during that transition?
RICE: I believe that only after September 11th did the full extent of what was going on with the ministry of religious affairs became evident.
LEHMAN: Were you aware of the extensive activities of the Saudi government in supporting over 300 radical teaching schools and mosques around the country, including right here in the United States?
RICE: I believe we've learned a great deal more about this and addressed it with the Saudi government since 9/11.
LEHMAN: Were you aware at the time of the fact that Saudi Arabia had and were you told that they had in their custody the CFO and the closest confidant of al Qaeda -- of Osama bin Laden, and refused direct access to the United States?
RICE: I don't remember anything of that kind.
LEHMAN: Were you aware that they would not cooperate and give us access to the perpetrators of the Khobar Towers attack?
RICE: I was very involved in issues concerning Khobar Towers and our relations with several governments concerning Khobar Towers.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
Were you aware -- and it disturbs me a bit, and again, let me shift to the continuity issues here.
Were you aware that it was the policy of the Justice Department -- and I'd like you to comment as to whether these continuities are still in place -- before I go to Justice, were you aware that it was the policy and I believe remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory?
RICE: No, I have to say that the kind of inside arrangements for the FAA are not really in my...
LEHMAN: Well, these are not so inside.
Were you aware that the FAA up until 9/11 thought it was perfectly permissible to allow four-inch knife blades aboard?
RICE: I was not aware.
Back to Justice. I was disturbed to hear you say on the continuity line that President Bush's first reaction to 9/11 and the question of al Qaeda's involvement was we must bring him to justice, because we have had dozens and dozens of interviewees and witnesses say that a fundamental problem of the dysfunction between CIA and Justice was the criminal -- the attitude that law enforcement was what terrorism was all about and not prevention and foreign policy.
I think that there was at the time a very strictly enforced wall in the Justice Department between law enforcement and intelligence and that repeatedly, there are many statements from presidents and attorneys general and so forth that say that the first priority is bring these people to justice, protect the evidence, seal the evidence and so forth.
LEHMAN: Do you believe this has changed?
RICE: I certainly believe that that has changed, Commissioner Lehman.
Let me just go back for one second, though, on the long list of questions that you asked.
I think another structural problem for the United States is that we really didn't have anyone trying to put together all of the kinds of issues that you raised, about what we were doing with INS, what we were doing with borders, what we were doing with visas, what we were doing with airport security. And that's the reason that, first, the Homeland Security Council, and then Tom Ridge's initial job, and then the Homeland Security Department is so important, because you can then look at the whole spectrum of protecting our borders from all kinds of threats and say, what kinds of policies make sense and what kinds of policies don't?
And they now actually have someone who looks at critical infrastructure protection, looks at airport security, understands in greater detail than I think the national security adviser could ever understand all of the practices of what is going on in transportation security. That's why it is important that we made the change that we did.
As to some of the questions concerning the Saudis: I think that we have had, really, very good cooperation with Saudi Arabia since 9/11, and since the May 12th attacks on Riyadh even greater cooperation, because Saudi Arabia is I think fully enlisted in the war on terrorism. And we need to understand that there were certain things that we didn't even understand were going on inside the United States.
RICE: It's not terribly surprising that the Saudis didn't understand some of the things that were going on in their country.
As to your last question, though, I think that that's actually where we've had the biggest change. The president doesn't think of this as law enforcement. He thinks of this as war.
And for all of the rhetoric of war prior to 9/11 -- people who said we're at war with the jihadist network, people who said that they've declared war on us and we're at war with them -- we weren't at war. We weren't on war footing. We weren't behaving in that way.
We were still very focused on rendition of terrorists, on law enforcement. And, yes, from time to time we did military plans, or use the cruise missile strike here or there, but we did not have a sustained systematic effort to destroy al Qaeda, to deal with those who harbored al Qaeda.
One of the points that the president made in his very first speech on the night of September 11th was that it's not just the terrorists, it's those who harbor them, too. And he put states on notice that they were going to be responsible if they sponsor terrorists or if they acquiesced in terrorists being there.
And when he said, "I want to bring them to justice," again, I think there was a little bit of nervousness about talking about exactly what that means.
But I don't think there's anyone in America who doesn't understand that this president believes that we're at war, it's a war we have to win, and that it is a war that cannot be fought on the defensive. It's a war that has to be fought on the offense.
LEHMAN: Thank you. Are you sure that the...
KEAN: Last question, Secretary.
LEHMAN: As a last question, tell us what you really recommend we should address our attentions to to fix this as the highest priority. Not just moving boxes around, but what can you tell us in public here that we could do, since we are outside the legislature and outside the executive branch and can bring the focus of attention for change? Tell us what you recommend we do.
RICE: My greatest concern is that, as September 11th recedes from memory, that we will begin to unlearn the lessons of what we've learned.
© 2004 FDCH E-Media