Condi Rice’s Testimony Before The 9/11 Commission In Quotes

The August 6th Memo

“On August 6, 2001, the president’s intelligence briefing included a response to questions that he had earlier raised about any Al Qaeda intentions to strike our homeland. The briefing team reviewed past intelligence reporting, mostly dating from the 1990s, regarding possible Al Qaeda plans to attack inside the United States. It referred to uncorroborated reporting that, from 1998, that a terrorist might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists who had participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information. And it did not raise the possibility that terrorists might use airplanes as missiles.”

“All that I can tell you is that it was not in the August 6th memo, using planes as a weapon.”

“I can also tell you that there was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C. There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how or where. This was not a threat report to the president or a threat report to me.”

“The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says bin Laden would like to attack the United States. I don’t think you, frankly, had to have that report to know that bin Laden would like to attack the United States.”

Before 9/11

“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….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.”

“At the beginning of the administration, President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of central intelligence almost every day in the Oval Office, meetings which I attended, along with the vice president and the chief of staff. At these meetings, the president received up-to-date intelligence and asked questions of his most senior intelligence officials.”

“We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to try and eliminate the Al Qaida network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to Al Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies. This new strategy was developed over the spring and summer of 2001 and was approved by the president’s senior national security officials on September 4th. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration — not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of Al Qaeda.”

“Within a month of taking office, President Bush sent a strong private message to President Musharraf, urging him to use his influence with the Taliban to bring bin Laden to justice and to close down Al Qaeda training camps. Secretary Powell actively urged the Pakistanis, including Musharraf himself, to abandon support for the Taliban.”

“While we were developing this new strategy to deal with Al Qaeda, we also made decisions on a number of specific anti-Al Qaeda initiatives that had been proposed by Dick Clarke to me in an early memorandum after we had taken office. Many of these ideas had been deferred by the last administration, and some had been on the table since 1998.We increased counterterrorism assistance to Uzbekistan. We bolstered the Treasury Department’s activities to track and seize terrorist assets. We increased funding for counterterrorism activities across several agencies. And we moved to arm Predator unmanned surveillance vehicles for action against Al Qaeda.”

“Well, I think that when I made the comment that the country was not on war footing, that didn’t just mean the executive branch was not on war footing. The fact is that many of the big changes, quite frankly, again, we were not going to be able to make in 233 days. Some of those big changes do require congressional action. The Congress cooperated after September 11th with the president to come up with the Patriot Act, which does give to the FBI and the CIA and other intelligence agencies the kind of ability, legal ability, to share between them that was simply not there before.”

“And on July 5th, Chief of Staff Andy Card and I met with Dick Clarke, and I asked Dick to make sure that domestic agencies were aware of the heightened threat period and were taking appropriate steps to respond, even though we did not have specific threats to the homeland. Later that same day, Clarke convened a special meeting of his CSG, as well as representatives from the FAA, the INS, Customs and the Coast Guard. At that meeting, these agencies were asked to take additional measures to increase security and surveillance.”

“The FAA issued at least five civil aviation security information circulars to all U.S. airlines and airport security personnel, including specific warnings about the possibility of hijacking.”

“(T)ragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on war footing.”

“The threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. Almost all of the reports focused on Al Qaeda activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorist operations overseas. Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer: “Unbelievable news coming in weeks,” said one. “Big event — there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.” “There will be attacks in the near future.”Troubling, yes. But they don’t tell us when; they don’t tell us where; they don’t tell us who; and they don’t tell us how.”

“But we did want to take the time to get in place a policy that was more strategic toward Al Qaeda, more robust. It takes some time to think about how to reorient your policy toward Pakistan. It takes some time to think about how to have a more effective policy toward Afghanistan. It particularly takes some time when you don’t get your people on board for several months. So I understand that there are those who have said they felt it wasn’t moving along fast enough. I talked to George Tenet about this at least every couple of weeks, sometimes more often. How can we move forward on the Predator? What do you want to do about the Northern Alliance? So I think we were putting the energy into it. And I should just make one other point, Mr. Hamilton, if you don’t mind, which is that we also moved forward on some of the specific ideas that Dick Clarke had put forward prior to completing the strategy review. We increased assistance to Uzbekistan, for instance, which had been one of the recommendations. We moved along the armed Predator, the development of the armed Predator. We increased counterterrorism funding.”

Richard Clarke

“The fact is that what Dick Clarke recommended to us, as he has said, would not have prevented 9/11. I actually would say that not only would it have not prevented 9/11, but if we had done everything on that list, we would have actually been off in the wrong direction about the importance that we needed to attach to a new policy for Afghanistan and a new policy for Pakistan. Because even though Dick is a very fine counterterrorism expert, he was not a specialist on Afghanistan. That’s why I brought somebody in who really understood Afghanistan. He was not a specialist on Pakistan. That’s why I brought somebody in to deal with Pakistan. He had some very good ideas. We acted on them.”

“I do not believe that it is a good analysis to go back and assume that somehow maybe we would have gotten lucky by, quote, “shaking the trees.” Dick Clarke was shaking the trees, director of central intelligence was shaking the trees, director of the FBI was shaking the trees. We had a structural problem in the United States”

“And after September 11th, Dick Clarke sent us the after-action report that had been done after the millennium plot and their assessment was that Ressam had been caught by chance — Ressam being the person who was entering the United States over the Canadian border with bomb-making materials in store. I think it actually wasn’t by chance, which was Washington’s view of it. It was because a very alert customs agent named Diana Dean and her colleagues sniffed something about Ressam. They saw that something was wrong. They tried to apprehend him. He tried to run. They then apprehended him, found that there was bomb- making material and a map of Los Angeles. Now, at that point, you have pretty clear indication that you’ve got a problem inside the United States. I don’t think it was shaking the trees that produced the breakthrough in the millennium plot. It was that you got a — Dick Clarke would say a “lucky break” — I would say you got an alert customs agent who got it right. And the interesting thing is that I’ve checked with Customs and according to their records, they weren’t actually on alert at that point.”


“The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on September 11, 2001. Long before that day, radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilized world. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of Al Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa bombings of 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans. The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late.”

“In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States — something made very difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”

“Now we have an opportunity and an obligation to move forward together. Bold and comprehensive changes are sometimes only possible in the wake of catastrophic events — events which create a new consensus that allows us to transcend old ways of thinking and acting. And just as World War II led to a fundamental reorganization of our national defense structure and the creation of the National Security Council, so has September 11th made possible sweeping changes in the ways we protect our homeland.”

“And let’s remember that those charged with protecting us from attack have to be right 100 percent of the time. To inflict devastation on a massive scale, the terrorists only have to succeed once. And we know that they are trying every day. That is why we must address the source of the problem. We must stay on the offensive to find and defeat the terrorists wherever they live, hide and plot around the world. If we learned anything from September 11th, it is that we cannot wait while dangers gather.”

“One of the most difficult problems in the Middle East is that the United States has been associated for a long time, decades, with a policy that looks the other way on the freedom deficit in the Middle East, that looks the other way at the absence of individual liberties in the Middle East. And I think that that has tended to alienate us from the populations of the Middle East.”

“…I think the question is, why, over all of these years, did we not address the structural problems that were there, with the FBI, with the CIA, the homeland departments being scattered among many different departments? And why, given all of the opportunities that we’d had to do it, had we not done it? And I think that the unfortunate — and I really do think it’s extremely tragic — fact is that sometimes until there is a catastrophic event that forces people to think differently, that forces people to overcome all customs and old culture and old fears about domestic intelligence and the relationship, that you don’t get that kind of change.”

“I will tell you that I get up every day concerned because I don’t think we’ve made it impossible for (Al-Qaeda). We’re safer, but we’re not safe. And as I said, they have to be right once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time.”

“I think there have been very important changes made between the CIA and FBI. Yes, everybody knew that they had trouble sharing, but in fact, we had legal restrictions to their sharing. And George Tenet and Louis Freeh and others have worked very hard at that. But until the Patriot Act, we couldn’t do what we needed to do.”

What We Need To Do Now

“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.”

“…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.”

“…(W)hat we should have learned from September 11th is that you have to be bold and you have to be decisive and you have to be on the offensive, because we’re never going to be able to completely defend.”

“We certainly understand fully that there are groups, networks that are operating out there. The only thing I would say is that they are much more effective when they can count on a state either to sponsor them or to protect them or to acquiesce in their activities. That’s why the policy that we developed was so insistent on sanctuaries being taken away from them. You do have to take away their territory. When they can get states to cooperate with them or when they can get states to acquiesce in their being on their territory, they’re much more effective.”

“Because we have enlisted countries around the world, saying that terrorism is terrorism is terrorism — in other words, you can’t fight Al Qaeda and hug Hezbollah or hug Hamas — that we’ve actually started to delegitimatize terrorism in a way that it was not before. We don’t make a distinction between different kinds of terrorism. And we’re, therefore, united with the countries of the world to fight all kinds of terrorism. Terrorism is never an appropriate or justified response just because of political difficulty.”

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