The Covered-Up Meeting

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, October 2, 2006; 1:12 PM

The "State of Denial" in the title of Bob Woodward's new book describes President Bush's ongoing refusal to see the true consequences of the war he launched in Iraq.

But one of the book's most notable revelations suggests that the Bush White House was in another state of denial more than five years ago, this one about the threat of terrorism before September 11, 2001.

If the omniscient narrator of Woodward's book is to be believed, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice waved off warnings that should by any reasonable standard have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.

And in what looks like a potential administration cover-up, Rice and the other participants in that meeting apparently never mentioned it to anyone, including investigators for the 9/11 Commission.

In a short excerpt from his book in Sunday's Washington Post, Woodward writes: "On July 10, 2001, two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Black laid out the case, consisting of communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. It was a mass of fragments and dots that nonetheless made a compelling case, so compelling to Tenet that he decided he and Black should go to the White House immediately.

"Tenet called Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, from the car and said he needed to see her right away. . . .

"He and Black hoped to convey the depth of their anxiety and get Rice to kick-start the government into immediate action. . . .

"Tenet hoped his abrupt request for an immediate meeting would shake Rice. He and Black, a veteran covert operator, had two main points when they met with her. First, al-Qaeda was going to attack American interests, possibly in the United States itself. Black emphasized that this amounted to a strategic warning, meaning the problem was so serious that it required an overall plan and strategy. Second, this was a major foreign policy problem that needed to be addressed immediately. They needed to take action that moment -- covert, military, whatever -- to thwart bin Laden. . . .

"Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice. She was polite, but they felt the brush-off. President Bush had said he didn't want to swat at flies. . . .

"The July 10 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice went unmentioned in the various reports of investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks, but it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn't want to know about.

"Philip D. Zelikow, the aggressive executive director of the Sept. 11 commission and a University of Virginia professor who had co-authored a book with Rice on Germany, knew something about the July 10 meeting, but it was not clear to him what immediate action really would have meant. In 2005 Rice hired Zelikow as a top aide at the State Department."

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "Members of the Sept. 11 commission said Sunday they were alarmed that they were told nothing about a July 2001 White House meeting at which George J. Tenet, then director of central intelligence, is reported to have warned Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, about an imminent attack by al-Qaeda and failed to persuade her to take action. . . .

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