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The White House Mole

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"But when Bass tried to impress the significance of what he had discovered upon the panel, he ran into what he thought was a roadblock -- his boss. Philip Zelikow, a respected University of Virginia historian hired to be the 9/11 Commission's executive director, had long been friendly with Rice. The two had coauthored a book. Rice had later placed him on a Bush transition team that reorganized the NSC (and ended up diminishing Clarke's role). At Rice's request, Zelikow had also anonymously drafted a new Bush national-security paper in September 2002 that laid out the case for preventive war.

"In commission staff meetings, Zelikow disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice, according to [Shenon's] new book. . . .

"Rove himself, according to Shenon, always feared that a report which laid the blame for 9/11 at the president's doorstep was the one development that could most jeopardize Bush's 2004 re-election. That's one reason why White House lawyers tried to stonewall the commission from the outset. When Clarke finally did testify about his warnings to Rice, Shenon reports, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and his aides feverishly drafted tough questions and phoned them in to GOP commissioners to undermine Clarke's credibility. Later, when Attorney General John Ashcroft unveiled a memo that seemed to cast the antiterror record of the Clinton Justice Department in an unflattering light, Gonzales and his aides high-fived each other."

Deja Vu All Over Again

This isn't the first time it's turned out that the 9/11 Commission wasn't getting the full picture. It's not even the second.

As I wrote in my Oct. 2, 2006 column, Bob Woodward disclosed in his book "State of Denial" that commission investigators weren't told about a July 2001 meeting, in which Rice waved off warnings that should have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.

In an excerpt from his book, Woodward wrote: "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."


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