Condoleezza Rice on Homeland Security
Secretary of State
In the past, though, NSC staff had sometimes gotten too involved in carrying out the nation's foreign policy. The Iran-Contra affair in the mid-1980s had been one such case, in which the NSC staff had secretly cooked up a plan to divert funds from covert Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan resistance (the Contras)--apparently without the knowledge of the secretary of state, let alone Congress. The fallout was disastrous; the affair almost brought down the Reagan presidency.
The Cuban Missile Crisis had occurred in October 1962 when Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet Union was building secret missile bases in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis scared Condi. Even at 8 years old she knew enough to realize that she and her family lived in range of the missiles. As many families did on that occasion the Rices prayed for a peaceful resolution.
A: This is being worked out between the U.S. government and the British government. Britain is a friend, and so we’re going to be open and transparent with Britain about what’s going on here. I think we have to remember, these people were picked up for terrorism and so that has to be kept in mind. But both the treatment of them, which is in accordance with the standards of the Geneva Convention, and also the very careful process that the military commission sets up to try to deal with, and balance the concerns of national security with due process, those are being discussed with the British government and I’m sure will be fine.
We cannot afford a 50 year commitment in the Balkans. We cannot afford a 20 year commitment in the Balkans. And so finding ways to deal with those issues [is an important area of discussion with Europe and NATO]. And it is not just West Europe, by the way, I mean the Australians stepped up to the plate in East Timor. But we had to give them a lot of help.
I knew at the time that the steps we took, particularly the CIA's interrogation program, would be controversial and second-guessed as the memories of 9/11 faded. Three different CIA directors would continue to recommend it as necessary, and three different attorneys general would assess and affirm its legality. Yet looking back at those days of sheer horror in the aftermath of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I do not regret the decisions we made. I would never have engaged in--or encouraged the President to undertake--activities that I thought to be illegal. I was not enthusiastic about all that was being done, but I accepted the DCI's recommendation that it was necessary.
Oh, really? What about the intelligence briefing Bush received on August 6, 2001, that was headed "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." and even mentioned possible hijackings. Or Condi Rice being warned about al-Qaeda's plotting by then-CIA Director George Tenet on July 10, 2001, but brushing him off. The 9/11 Commission was aware of this, but decided to leave it out of their report.
These were far from the only warnings. Israel sent two senior agents of the Mossad to Washington in August 2001 to "alert the CIA and FBI of a big operation." French intelligence warned the US in nine different reports about "Airplane Hijacking Plans by Radical Islamists" connected to bin Laden and the Taliban.
Rice's answer was another way of saying [Bush's] watch had not really started. Rice kept steering the testimony back to the previous administration. "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." By definition, then, no one in the administration made a mistake on domestic security in the 9 months leading up to Sep. 11. The structure was wrong, not the people in charge of it. Her subtext was: "if only a previous administration had put the right structural reforms in place."
In fact, Condi Rice was scheduled to give a speech on this very topic on September 11, 2001, at Johns Hopkins University. As the Washington Post reported on April 1, 2004, Rice's speech was intended to address "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday." But the text of the speech, which was never delivered, contained not one word about the actual threat of "today," which, as became clear that day, was al Qaeda. Here's the Post: "The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former US officials who have seen the text."
A: We got a list of policy initiatives from the Clinton administration; we acted on those policy initiatives We felt that we were not in a position to have a comprehensive strategy that would not just roll back al Qaeda--which had been the policy of the Clinton administration--but we needed a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda. And we put that work into motion. And, in fact, that produced a comprehensive strategy several weeks before 9/11. The fact is that the country was not on war footing about al Qaeda and terrorism until after September 11th.
Q: But do you think that you or the administration made any mistakes, any misjudgments between the inauguration and 9/11?
A: We were discussing the threat spike that took place between June and July, to try and figure out how to respond. But everything pointed to an attack abroad.
A: We are still safer today because we have an umbrella of intelligence and law enforcement worldwide. So we are safer, but not yet safe. And we’re going t have to continue to pursue this war aggressively. The one thing that we have to be very careful about as a country is to not lose sight of one of the things that hurt us most, was not knowing and not having light on what was going on inside the country with al Qaeda. There’s been a lot written about the fact that the CIA and the FBI were not sharing information. Well, in large part, they were by tradition and culture and legally not able to share and collect intelligence information in the way that might have helped to keep us safe. The Patriot Act, which the President has now gotten through Congress, is doing precisely that. So we’ve a lot more tools now than we had before. But no one should think that this war on terrorism is by any means over.
Rice looked skeptical. She focused on the fact that my office staff was large by NSC standards (12 people) and did operational things, including domestic security issues. She said, “The NSC looks just as it did when I worked here a few years ago, except for your operation. It’s all new. It does domestic things, and it is not just doing policy. I’m not sure we want to keep all of this in the NSC.”
I was under the impression that the president had decided against a public apology, and was therefore surprised a few days later when National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the White House press pool, "We wouldn't have put it in the speech if we had known what we know now." The result was the conflagration I had predicted. Rice realized sometime later that she had made a major mistake by issuing a public apology. She came into my office, sat down in the chair next to my desk, and tearfully admitted I had been right. Unfortunately, the damage was done.
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