April 9, 2004
Condoleezza Rice went into the four-corners offense when she testified before the 9/11 commission. She tried to hold on to the microphone for as long as possible so as to deny her opponents much time to challenge her.
Did she really have to go back to the sinking of the Lusitania?
Still, she committed several turnovers.
Baffling it was to see Rice admit that Bush got a Presidential Briefing on August 6 with a memo entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." More baffling still was her contention that this memo "did not warn of attacks inside the United States."
How is that again?
She must have used the term "structural" obstacles more than two dozen times to excuse the fact that she and Bush failed to respond adequately to the warnings. It was much easier for her to blame structural problems than to hold particular individuals--including herself--responsible for screwing up.
Nowhere did she come close to owning any share of the responsibility.
Instead, she talked about how the Administration had been in power only 233 days--a figure she cited at least three times.
And she talked about how the Administration had other things on its mind ("One doesn't have the luxury of dealing only with one issue if you are the United States of America.")
On top of that, she added, there was no "silver bullet"--a phrase she used at least twice.
But she did reveal some of the intelligence she was receiving, which should have made her jump up and down. She read from one: "Unbelievable news coming in weeks. Big event. There will be a very, very, very, very big uproar. There will be attacks in the near future."
Her response to that? "Troubling, yes, but they [the threat reporting and "chatter"] 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 wasn't that her job to find out?
And those reports, by the way, were a little more than "troubling." When your kid gets a D in a class, that's "troubling."
Rice also said if she or the President had known that Al Qaeda was going to attack Washington and New York on September 11, they would have moved heaven and earth to prevent it.
Of course they would have. But that's not the point. No enemy gives you the exact moment of attack. What was Rice waiting for? The departure times of the planes?
Rice partially retracted her embarrassing statement of May 2002 when she had said, "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another and slam it into the Pentagon. That they would try to use an airplane as a missile? A hijacked airplane as a missile?"
In her testimony, she said, "I probably should have said, 'I could have not imagined.' Because within two days, people started to come to me and say, "Oh, but there were these reports in 1998 and 1999. . . . To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us."
That's an embarrassing confession for a National Security Adviser to make.
And a false one.
As David Sirota of the Center for American Progress notes, "Condoleezza Rice was the top National Security official with President Bush at the July 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa. There, 'U.S. officials were warned that Islamic terrorists might attempt to crash an airliner' into the summit, prompting officials to 'close the airspace over Genoa and station anti-aircraft guns at the city's airport,' [the Los Angeles Times reported]."
Rice's testimony was a clumsy attempt to deflect blame from herself and from her boss.
The undeniable fact remains that Bush was receiving the most dire warnings of an imminent attack against the United States, yet he and Condoleezza Rice did not respond with enough vigor to get anywhere near the bottom of the plot. Hell, they didn't even get to the top of it.
For his part, the commander in chief was content to take a month's vacation in Crawford, even as the threats mounted.