Condi Rice, 9/11 and Another Nest of Lies
Monday 02 October 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have committed perjury in her testimony before the 9/11 Commission in May of 2004. At a minimum, her testimony was a convenient mishmash of half-truths and omissions which served to paint the White House as innocent bystanders as the attacks of 9/11 unfolded. Certainly, her testimony omitted the fact that the two most senior intelligence officials in the nation delivered a stern warning regarding an impending terror attack two full months before 9/11.
Sunday's edition of the Washington Post carried a story titled "Two Months Before 9/11, an Urgent Warning to Rice." The story described a desperate attempt by CIA chief George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black to draw Rice's attention to the looming threat of an al-Qaeda strike against the United States. Tenet and Black insisted on a meeting with Rice on July 10, 2001. This meeting was first reported by Bob Woodward in his new book, "State of Denial."
"Tenet had the NSA review all the intercepts," read the Post story, "and the agency concluded they were of genuine al-Qaeda communications. On June 30, a top-secret senior executive intelligence brief contained an article headlined 'Bin Laden Threats Are Real.' 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 ... 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."
The meeting, according to Tenet and Black, went nowhere. "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 Post story reported. "Rice seemed focused on other administration priorities, especially the ballistic missile defense system that Bush had campaigned on. She was in a different place."
"Tenet left the meeting feeling frustrated," continued the Post story. "Though Rice had given them a fair hearing, no immediate action meant great risk. Black felt the decision to just keep planning was a sustained policy failure. Rice and the Bush team had been in hibernation too long. Afterward, Tenet looked back on the meeting with Rice as a tremendous lost opportunity to prevent or disrupt the Sept. 11 attacks. Black later said, 'The only thing we didn't do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.'"
The Post story concluded with a remarkable Editor's Note: "How much effort the Bush administration made in going after Osama bin Laden before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, became an issue last week after former president Bill Clinton accused President Bush's 'neocons' and other Republicans of ignoring bin Laden until the attacks. Rice responded in an interview that 'what we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years.'"
This comment suggests the entire Post story was inspired by former President Clinton's remarkable denunciation of the Bush administration's efforts to thwart bin Laden in a recent Fox News interview. The seriousness of this meeting, however, goes far beyond political sniping and gamesmanship.
Peter Rundlet served as counsel to the 9/11 Commission, and has accused the White House of hiding the meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice from the commission. Rundlet practiced at the influential law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and was formerly associate counsel to the president and a White House Fellow, serving in the Office of Chief of Staff to the President, before joining the commission.
Writing for the online news magazine Think Progress, Rundlet stated, "Many, many questions need to be asked and answered about this revelation, questions that the 9/11 Commission would have asked, had the commission been told about this significant meeting. Suspiciously, the commissioners and the staff investigating the administration's actions prior to 9/11 were never informed of the meeting. As Commissioner Jamie Gorelick pointed out, 'We didn't know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.'"
This is a remarkable revelation in and of itself. The head of CIA and the head of CIA's counterterrorism branch delivered a warning in the strongest possible terms to Ms. Rice two months before the attack, yet this meeting was not revealed to the 9/11 Commission. It may well have remained a historical non-event had Woodward not written about it.
Which brings us to Ms. Rice's sworn testimony in May 2004 before the commission.
At one point in this hearing, Commission Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton directly asked Rice about the so-called intelligence failures leading up to 9/11: "At the end of the day, of course, we were unable to protect our people. And you suggest in your statement - and I want you to elaborate on this, if you want to - that in hindsight it would have been - better information about the threats would have been the single - the single most important thing for us to have done, from your point of view, prior to 9/11, would have been better intelligence, better information about the threats. Is that right? Are there other things that you think stand out?"
Rice responded, "Well, Mr. Chairman, I took an oath of office on the day that I took this job to protect and defend. And like most government officials, I take it very seriously. And so, as you might imagine, I've asked myself a thousand times what more we could have done. I know that, had we thought that there was an attack coming in Washington or New York, we would have moved heaven and earth to try and stop it. And I know that there was no single thing that might have prevented that attack."
Not only did Rice fail to mention the dramatic warnings given to her by Tenet and Black, she goes on to flatly state that neither she nor the administration had a clue that an attack was coming. Further, she claims that "no single thing could have prevented that attack."
"The July 10 meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice went unmentioned in the various reports of investigations into the Sept. 11 attacks," read the Post report on Sunday, "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."
Combined with the August 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing delivered to Bush, which explicitly stated that bin Laden intended to attack the United States, the revelation of this meeting between Tenet, Black and Rice indicates that the Bush White House should have and could have made a far greater effort at thwarting the 9/11 attacks. Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission on the matter may rise to the level of perjury. At a minimum, it exposes yet another nest of lies delivered by a member of this administration.
"A mixture of shock, anger, and sadness overcame me," wrote Peter Rundlet in his Think Progress article, "when I read about revelations in Bob Woodward's new book about a special surprise visit that George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black made to Condi Rice, also on July 10, 2001. If true, it is shocking that the administration failed to heed such an overwhelming alert from the two officials in the best position to know."
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.