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8, 2004 Testimony of Dr. Condoleezza Rice Before the 9/11 Commission
Pertaining to The President's Daily Brief of August 6, 2001
member Richard Ben-Veniste
BEN-VENISTE: I want to ask you some questions about
the August 6, 2001, PDB. We had been advised in writing by CIA on
March 19, 2004, that the August 6th PDB was prepared and self-generated
by a CIA employee. Following Director Tenet's testimony on March 26th
before us, the CIA clarified its version of events, saying that questions
by the president prompted them to prepare the August 6th PDB. Now,
you have said to us in our meeting together earlier in February, that
the president directed the CIA to prepare the August 6th PDB. The
extraordinary high terrorist attack threat level in the summer of
2001 is well-documented. And Richard Clarke's testimony about the
possibility of an attack against the United States homeland was repeatedly
discussed from May to August within the intelligence community, and
that is well-documented. You acknowledged to us in your interview
of February 7, 2004, that Richard Clarke told you that Al Qaida cells
were in the United States. Did you tell the president, at any time
prior to August 6th, of the existence of Al Qaida cells in the United
RICE: First, let me just make certain...
BEN-VENISTE: If you could just answer that question,
because I only have a very limited...
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but it's important...
BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president...
RICE: ... that I also address... (APPLAUSE) It's also
important that, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that
you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you'll just give
me a moment.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, my only question to you is whether
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but I will...
BEN-VENISTE: ... told the president.
RICE: If you'll just give me a moment, I will address
fully the questions that you've asked. First of all, yes, the August
6th PDB was in response to questions of the president -- and that
since he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report.
And there was historical information in there about various aspects
of Al Qaida's operations. Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum
-- I remember it as being only a line or two -- that there were Al
Qaida cells in the United States. Now, the question is, what did we
need to do about that? And I also understood that that was what the
FBI was doing, that the FBI was pursuing these Al Qaida cells. I believe
in the August 6th memorandum it says that there were 70 full field
investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation
that we do something about this; the FBI was pursuing it. I really
don't remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
RICE: I remember very well that the president was aware
that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people
about this. But I don't remember the Al Qaida cells as being something
that we were told we needed to do something about.
BEN-VENISTE: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August
6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask
you whether you recall the title of that PDB?
RICE: I believe the title was, Bin Laden Determined
to Attack Inside the United States. Now, the ...
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
RICE: No, Mr. Ben-Veniste ...
BEN-VENISTE: I will get into the ...
RICE: I would like to finish my point here.
BEN-VENISTE: I didn't know there was a point.
RICE: Given that - you asked me whether or not it warned
BEN-VENISTE: I asked you what the title was.
RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks. It did not
warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information
based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it
did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, you knew by August 2001 of al-Qaida
involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing, is that correct?
You knew that in 1999, late '99, in the millennium threat period,
that we had thwarted an al-Qaida attempt to blow up Los Angeles International
Airport and thwarted cells operating in Brooklyn, New York, and Boston,
Massachusetts. As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that al-Qaida
members have resided or traveled to the United States for years and
maintained a support system in the United States. And you learned
that FBI information since the 1998 blind sheik warning of hijackings
to free the blind sheik indicated a pattern of suspicious activity
in the country up until August 6th consistent with preparation for
hijackings. Isn't that so?
RICE: Do you have other questions that you want me to
answer as a part of the sequence?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, did you not -- you have indicated
here that this was some historical document. And I am asking you whether
it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th
that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparations
-- not historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full field
investigations against Al Qaida cells, that preparations were being
made consistent with hijackings within the United States?
RICE: What the August 6th PDB said, and perhaps I should
read it to you...
BEN-VENISTE: We would be happy to have it declassified
in full at this time, including its title. (APPLAUSE)
RICE: I believe, Mr. Ben-Veniste, that you've had access
to this PDB. But let me just...
BEN-VENISTE: But we have not had it declassified so
that it can be shown publicly, as you know.
RICE: I believe you've had access to this PDB -- exceptional
access. But let me address your question.
BEN-VENISTE: Nor could we, prior to today, reveal the
title of that PDB.
RICE: May I address the question, sir? The fact is that
this August 6th PDB was in response to the president's questions about
whether or not something might happen or something might be planned
by Al Qaida inside the United States. He asked because all of the
threat reporting or the threat reporting that was actionable was about
the threats abroad, not about the United States. This particular PDB
had a long section on what bin Laden had wanted to do -- speculative,
much of it -- in '97, '98; that he had, in fact, liked the results
of the 1993 bombing.
RICE: It had a number of discussions of -- it had a
discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free
a prisoner who was being held in the United States -- Ressam. It reported
that the FBI had full field investigations under way. And we checked
on the issue of whether or not there was something going on with surveillance
of buildings, and we were told, I believe, that the issue was the
courthouse in which this might take place. Commissioner, this was
not a warning. This was a historic memo -- historical memo prepared
by the agency because the president was asking questions about what
we knew about the inside.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, if you are willing...
RICE: Now, we had already taken...
BEN-VENISTE: If you are willing to declassify that document, then
others can make up their minds about it. Let me ask you a general
matter, beyond the fact that this memorandum provided information,
not speculative, but based on intelligence information, that bin Laden
had threatened to attack the United States and specifically Washington,
D.C. There was nothing reassuring, was there, in that PDB?
RICE: Certainly not. There was nothing reassuring. But 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.
BEN-VENISTE: We agree that there were no specifics. Let me move on,
if I may.
RICE: There were no specifics, and, in fact, the country had already
taken steps through the FAA to warn of potential hijackings. The country
had already taken steps through the FBI to task their 56 field offices
to increase their activity. The country had taken the steps that it
could given that there was no threat reporting about what might happen
inside the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: We have explored that and we will continue to with respect
to the muscularity and the specifics of those efforts. The president
was in Crawford, Texas, at the time he received the PDB, you were
not with him, correct?
RICE: That is correct.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, was the president, in words or substance, alarmed
or in any way motivated to take any action, such as meeting with the
director of the FBI, meeting with the attorney general, as a result
of receiving the information contained in the PDB?
RICE: I want to repeat that when this document was presented, it
was presented as, yes, there were some frightening things -- and by
the way, I was not at Crawford, but the president and I were in contact
and I might have even been, though I can't remember, with him by video
link during that time. The president was told this is historical information.
I'm told he was told this is historical information and there was
nothing actionable in this. The president knew that the FBI was pursuing
this issue. The president knew that the director of central intelligence
was pursuing this issue. And there was no new threat information in
this document to pursue.
member Robert Kerrey
KERREY: Actually it won't be a question. In the spirit of further
declassification, this is what the August 6th memo said to the president:
that the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United
States consistent with preparations for hijacking. That's the language
of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August.
RICE: And that was checked out and steps were taken through FAA circulars
to warn of hijackings. But when you cannot tell people where a hijacking
might occur, under what circumstances -- I can tell you that I think
the best antidote to what happened in that regard would have been
many years before to think about what you could do for instance to
harden cockpits. That would have made a difference. We weren't going
to harden cockpits in the three months that we had a threat spike.
The really difficult thing for all of us, and I'm sure for those who
came before us as well as for those of us who are here, is that the
structural and systematic changes that needed to be made -- not on
July 5th or not on June 25th or not on January 1st -- those structures
and those changes needed to be made a long time ago so that the country
was in fact hardened against the kind of threat that we faced on September
11th. The problem was that for a country that had not been attacked
on its territory in a major way in almost 200 years, there were a
lot of structural impediments to those kinds of attacks.
RICE: Those changes should have been made over a long period of time.
I fully agree with you that, in hindsight, now looking back, there
are many things structurally that were out of kilter. And one reason
that we're here is to look at what was out of kilter structurally,
to look at needed to be done, to look at what we already have done,
and to see what more we need to do. But I think it is really quite
unfair to suggest that something that was a threat spike in June or
July gave you the kind of opportunity to make the changes in air security
that could have been -- that needed to be made.
member Timothy Roemer
ROEMER: Let me ask you a question. You just said that the intelligence
coming in indicated a big, big, big threat. Something was going to
happen very soon and be potentially catastrophic. I don't understand,
given the big threat, why the big principals don't get together. The
principals meet 33 times in seven months, on Iraq, on the Middle East,
on missile defense, China, on Russia. Not once do the principals ever
sit down -- you, in your job description as the national security
advisor, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the president
of the United States -- and meet solely on terrorism to discuss in
the spring and the summer, when these threats are coming in, when
you've known since the transition that Al Qaida cells are in the United
States, when, as the PDB said on August, bin Laden determined to attack
the United States. Why don't the principals at that point say, Let's
all talk about this, let's get the biggest people together in our
government and discuss what this threat is and try to get our bureaucracies
responding to it?
RICE: Once again, on the August 6th memorandum to the president,
this was not threat-reporting about what was about to happen. This
was an analytic piece that stood back and answered questions from
the president. But as to the principals meetings...
ROEMER: It has six or seven things in it, Dr. Rice, including the
Ressam case when he attacked the United States in the millennium.
RICE: Yes, these are his...
ROEMER: Has the FBI saying that they think that there are conditions.
RICE: No, it does not have the FBI saying that they think that there
are conditions. It has the FBI saying that they observed some suspicious
activity. That was checked out with the FBI.
ROEMER: That is equal to what might be...
ROEMER: ... conditions for an attack.
RICE: Mr. Roemer, Mr. Roemer, threat reporting...
ROEMER: Would you say, Dr. Rice, that we should make that PDB a public
RICE: Mr. Roemer...
ROEMER: ... so we can have this conversation? RICE: Mr. Roemer, threat
reporting is: We believe that something is going to happen here and
at this time, under these circumstances. This was not threat reporting.
ROEMER: Well, actionable intelligence, Dr. Rice, is when you have
the place, time and date. The threat reporting saying the United States
is going to be attacked should trigger the principals getting together
to say we're going to do something about this, I would think.
RICE: Mr. Roemer, let's be very clear. 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.
ROEMER: So why aren't you doing something about that earlier than
August 6th? (APPLAUSE) RICE: The threat reporting to which we could
respond was in June and July about threats abroad. What we tried to
do for -- just because people said you cannot rule out an attack on
the United States, was to have the domestic agencies and the FBI together
to just pulse them and have them be on alert.
ROEMER: I agree with that.
RICE: But there was nothing that suggested there was going to be
ROEMER: I agree with that.
RICE: ... to the United States.
ROEMER: I agree with that. So, Dr. Rice, let's say that the FBI is
the key here. You say that the FBI was tasked with trying to find
out what the domestic threat was. We have done thousands of interviews
here at the 9/11 Commission. We've gone through literally millions
of pieces of paper. To date, we have found nobody -- nobody at the
FBI who knows anything about a tasking of field offices. We have talked
to the director at the time of the FBI during this threat period,
Mr. Pickard. He says he did not tell the field offices to do this.
And we have talked to the special agents in charge. They don't have
any recollection of receiving a notice of threat. Nothing went down
the chain to the FBI field offices on spiking of information, on knowledge
of Al Qaida in the country, and still, the FBI doesn't do anything.
Isn't that some of the responsibility of the national security advisor?
RICE: The responsibility for the FBI to do what it was asked was
the FBI's responsibility. Now, I...
ROEMER: You don't think there's any responsibility back to the advisor
to the president... RICE: I believe that the responsibility -- again,
the crisis management here was done by the CSG. They tasked these
things. If there was any reason to believe that I needed to do something
or that Andy Card needed to do something, I would have been expected
to be asked to do it. We were not asked to do it. In fact, as I've...
ROEMER: But don't you ask somebody to do it? You're not asking somebody
to do it. Why wouldn't you initiate that?
RICE: Mr. Roemer, I was responding to the threat spike and to where
the information was. The information was about what might happen in
the Persian Gulf, what might happen in Israel, what might happen in
North Africa. We responded to that, and we responded vigorously. Now,
ROEMER: Dr. Rice, let me ask you...
RICE: ... of the FBI, you will get into next week.
ROEMER: You've been helpful to us on that -- on your recommendation.
KEAN: Last question, Congressman.
ROEMER: Last question, Dr. Rice, talking about responses. Mr. Clarke
writes you a memo on September the 4th, where he lays out his frustration
that the military is not doing enough, that the CIA is not pushing
as hard enough in their agency. And he says we should not wait until
the day that hundreds of Americans lay dead in the streets due to
a terrorist attack and we think there could have been something more
we could do.
ROEMER: Seven days prior to September the 11th, he writes this to
you. What's your reaction to that at the time, and what's your response
to that at the time?
RICE: Just one final point I didn't quite complete. I, of course,
did understand that the attorney general needed to know what was going
on, and I asked that he take the briefing and then ask that he be
briefed. Because, again, there was nothing demonstrating or showing
that something was coming in the United States. If there had been
something, we would have acted on it.
ROEMER: I think we should make this document public, Dr. Rice. Would
you support making the August 6th PDB public?
RICE: The August 6th PDB has been available to you. You are describing
it. And the August 6th PDB was a response to questions asked by the
president, not a warning document.
ROEMER: Why wouldn't it be made public then?
RICE: Now, as to -- I think you know the sensitivity of presidential
decision memoranda. And I think you know the great lengths to which
we have gone to make it possible for this commission to view documents
that are not generally -- I don't know if they've ever been -- made
available in quite this way. Now, as to what Dick Clarke said on September
4th, that was not a premonition, nor a warning. What that memorandum
was, as I was getting ready to go into the September 4th principals
meeting to review the NSPD and to approve the new NSPD, what it was
a warning to me that the bureaucracies would try to undermine it.
Dick goes into great and emotional detail about the long history of
how DOD has never been responsive, how the CIA has never been responsive,
about how the Predator has gotten hung up because the CIA doesn't
really want to fly it. And he says, if you don't fight through this
bureaucracy -- he says, at one point, They're going to all sign on
to this NSPD because they won't want to be associated -- they won't
want to say they don't want to eliminate the threat of Al Qaida. He
says, But, in effect, you have to go in there and push them, because
we'll all wonder about the day when thousands of Americans and so
forth and so on.
So that's what this document is. It's not a warning document. It's
not a -- all of us had this fear. I think that the chairman mentioned
that I said this in an interview, that we would hope not to get to
that day. But it would not be appropriate or correct to characterize
what Dick wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending
attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up, so that
when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard
against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of
ROEMER: What is a warning, if August 6th isn't and September 4th
isn't, to you?
RICE: Well, August 6th is most certainly an historical document that
says, Here's how you might think about Al Qaida. A warning is when
you have something that suggests that an attack is impending. And
we did not have, on the United States, threat information that was,
in any way, specific enough to suggest that something was coming in
the United States. The September 4th memo, as I've said to you, was
a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a
warning about September 11th.
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