Some highlights from Condi Rice’s testimony:
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 of attacks.
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.
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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.
BEN-VENISTE: Final question, because my time has almost expired.
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KERREY: 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.
To summarize: they did not know al Qaeda was planning to attack within the United States, even though they knew there were al Qaeda cells within the United States and the title of the August 6 PDB a document prepared at the request of the President was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.” However, the document was apparently one of the most grossly misnamed reports in the history of governance, because, according to Rice’s testimony, it “did not warn of attacks inside the United States.” Except, of course, for the part where it talked about suspicious activity consistent with preparations for hijacking. And anyway there was nothing they could have done because they weren’t specifically told when and where the hijackers were going to strike, and it’s not like they could have hardened the cockpits in time even if they’d tried, which they didn’t.
Or so Condi Rice explains it, with the smug condescension of a precocious nine year old who fully expects that her answers will earn her one of those little sticky gold stars which, she will be the first to tell you, she richly deserves.