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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Condoleezza Rice Holds Press Conference About Terrorism Warnings Prior to September 11; Some Democrats Say There is a Lack of Leadership in the Administration; Senator Shelby and Senator Graham Say Bush Acted Responsibly

Aired May 16, 2002 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to hold a briefing shortly. We will carry it live. She will face many questions about terror warnings received by the Bush administration before September 11.

The White House confirms that President Bush was warned during an intelligence briefing last summer, that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network might try to hijack a U.S. airliner. Spokesman Ari Fleischer says the information was vague and there was no indication that jets would be deliberately crashed. He says the White House took appropriate steps in response to that warning and others that surfaced last summer.

But many lawmakers of both parties want to know why this information wasn't revealed much earlier.

We have with us a cast of characters here to help sort through this story while we await the briefing. Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill. Jonathan, is that the main complaint on the Hill, that why wasn't this information put out there earlier?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly one of the main complaints up here, Candy. We've had Democrats come out right from the very beginning this morning, starting with Democratic leaders, Daschle and Gephardt, very critical of the president and the White House for not letting people know earlier that he had had some kind of warning about hijacking back in August.

And you even had Hillary Clinton come to the floor today and make some very pointed remarks, talking about a "New York Post" headline that you may have seen where it simply said, "He Knew,' referring to Bush. She wanted to know, well, what did Bush know? And of course, when did he know it?

But what's interesting is the president was up here today on Capitol Hill, Judy -- I'm sorry, Candy -- talking to Republicans. And he said that he senses -- quote -- "the sniff of politics in the air." That is what the president told the Republican senators up here, sensing his political opponents have sensed a political opportunity with this. And he's told them, in so many words, that he is the commander in chief. If he had any indication whatsoever that anything remotely like September 11 was going to happen, he would have used his full power as commander-in-chief to make sure it would not happen.

So there's a sense of what President Bush was saying behind closed doors up here in the Senate. Gives you a sense of what he might be saying when he comes out and addresses this publicly.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jon Karl. Stand by a second because I want to talk to you about the politics of this. But I want to move on and get a couple of the facts here from national security correspondent David Ensor, who's with me.

David, try to put this in some context for us. What did the president receive? Should he have known? How specific was it? What do you know about it?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Starting in May and on through the summer, the CIA was repeatedly telling the president, look, we have a lot of intelligence, a lot of information suggesting that al Qaeda may be planning a major attack against the U.S. or a U.S.-related target.

That information was kind of collated and put together in a more comprehensive form in the first week of August in a briefing that he received while he was down in Crawford, Texas. And at that briefing, along with a lot of other things, the CIA mentioned the possibility, the information that they felt they had, suggested to them that one of the things al Qaeda may try to do would be to hijack an airliner or airliners.

So that idea was raised with the president. But nothing was said about suicide bombers, planes into buildings.

CROWLEY: David, I want to bring in John King, who's standing by at the White House. We want to tell our viewers we have about a minute before this briefing starts.

John, I hope you can hear me. What has been the general view from the White House today? Are they stunned that this has taken on such a life? How are they handling it?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They think, Candy, it has been grossly exaggerated. But they themselves cannot answer the question as to why no administration official for eight months has mentioned the fact that there was a warning of -- at least a general warning -- of a possible al Qaeda hijacking plot.

We also know, Jonathan Karl mentioned, the president on Capitol Hill told fellow Republicans there was a -- quote -- "sniff of politics in the air." We know that the president is quite mad about this. And he does believe the Democrats are taking advantage of this moment, to suggest he knew something he should have passed on.

We're also told the president has not only told the Republicans on Capitol Hill, but other aides, that if he had any information that was specific in his view that he could have acted on, he would he have used the full force of the United States military if necessary.

So we have an angry president, as well as all these questions. And they decided that they needed to put out someone, a senior official like Dr. Rice, to answer these questions. Because they obviously realized this morning as this story was unfolding, that a lot of people were raising specific questions about exactly what the president knew, when did it come to his attention. What specific steps did the government take once there was the possibility of a hijack plot raised?

And so Dr. Rice will be here in the briefing room, we are told, in just a few seconds to answer those questions.

CROWLEY: John, I'm curious whether you've heard any kind of speculation over there about who in fact did leak this. Because we always know that there's a lot of politics behind leaks, not just in what the leaks are about.

KING: A lot of theories, Candy. No hard evidence at all. Certainly we know there are the investigations already under way. The joint intelligence committee investigation on Capitol Hill trying to look into other questions about possible intelligence failures, or possible failure of the FBI, for example, to share information with the CIA and vice versa throughout the government.

That information has been provided from various government agencies to Capitol Hill. So some believe it came off Capitol Hill. Others believe that the FBI and the CIA have had an ongoing turf rivalry and perhaps something in play there.

But it would be wrong for us to say exactly where it came from, since we don't know where it originated from. A lot of speculation, which is sort of a typical Washington subplot when something like this unfolds.

CROWLEY: David, let me come back to you and just ask you how the intelligence community is viewing this. Because they're taking a lot of hits as well.

ENSOR: Their view is that this is being way overplayed. They don't think it's fair to target the president at all with this. Obviously the CIA comes off looking, you know, doing its job, in effect -- having intelligence about possible hijackings and passing it on. But they're not pleased to see this getting all this attention.

I should just tell you that an official tells me that in the briefing that the president got in August, the possibility of hijacking came up in more than one context. I don't know, but both or all of them -- or one of them was some 1998 information from the British about a plot to hijack an aircraft and try to use it to gain freedom for the blind sheik, Abdel Rahman, who's being held in prison and sentenced in the first World Trade Center bombing.

So there was that plot. But that was fairly old information. And I gather there was at least one other piece of intelligence information suggesting there might be an aircraft hijacking.

CROWLEY: David, doesn't it point out, though, at very least, there was some information at the CIA and there was some information at the FBI, and there's all this talk about connecting dots. And that somehow, they didn't ever share this information and maybe had they, they might have been on to something?

ENSOR: Certainly in the case of the FBI. The information from the Minneapolis office of the FBI and again, from the Phoenix office, there were some pretty hard working agents out there. They had some interesting theories, based on what they knew. And it doesn't look like headquarters picked up on those in the way they really should have.

Now, there has been a lot of work done by director of the FBI since then to try and reorganize the way things are reacted to in the future. But nonetheless, there will still be a lot of questions about why that wasn't done better at the time.

CROWLEY: Jon Karl, what are you hearing about what anybody else on the Hill knew about this? We know that intelligence committees get the same briefings. What do you know about that?

KARL: Well, this is one of the great subplots up here, is what did Congress know and when did they know it. And I know that you had an interview, we'll hear about it on INSIDE POLITICS later, with Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the intelligence committee.

And he has been telling people that the intelligence committee got a briefing that, as far as he knows, is very similar to what the White House got. And a briefing that mentioned at least twice the possibility of hijacking in connection with al Qaeda back in August. So there's a question here of did the intelligence committee know exactly what the president did.

Now, Candy, the situation with this is that Democrats up here, to a person on the intelligence committee, say that in no way, no how did the intelligence committees get any indication that there was any possibility of hijacking from al Qaeda. Any briefings that they had before September 11 did not mention hijacking.

So you have a big dispute here. Some Republicans saying that yes, the intelligence committees up here got the same information the president did. And Democrats saying that that is absolutely not true. That's clearly something that will need to be sorted out.

But one thing that's interesting about that, Candy, is that even the Democrats acknowledge they, since September 11, have gotten information about the -- what was in that August briefing to the president. So some Democrats up here have told me that the intelligence committees did know that there was this warning previous to September 11.

The intelligence committees themselves didn't get it before September 11. But they knew about it. So that raises the question of, well, he Democrats saying why didn't the president come forward earlier. It's been eight months, why didn't the president come forth earlier and say he had this information?

The same question could be asked of the intelligence committees up here: why didn't they come forth earlier and say that they knew about this.

CROWLEY: Sounds like we have enough questions to keep us busy for several months. I want to bring in Bill Schneider. Bill, I want to talk about the politics of this. It does take some of the steam out of it, doesn't it, if some Democratic members of the intelligence committee or others were privy to the same information?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it would. And of course, that's why they're protesting loudly that they weren't privy to that information. But of course, the spotlight is on the president because he has the responsibility, even more than Congress, as commander in chief, for protecting the nation's security. And he was the one who gets the daily intelligence briefings.

CROWLEY: Bill, I know you also know lots and lots about history. Anything similar to this kind of thing that comes to mind, where a president sort of is under fire for what has happened in the intelligence community?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, Pearl Harbor. The Democrats have talked about that. They say the investigation into this matter has a historical precedent because after the Pearl Harbor attacks, which was the last time previous to September 11 when the United States was attacked.

In fact, during World War II there was a congressional investigation about the intelligence failures that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor. So they say there is precedent for this in history.

CROWLEY: David, let me bring you back in and ask you, when 9-11 first happened, it was the Bush administration's position that, look, we can't look into what went wrong here because we're way too busy trying to track down these terrorists. So does the same hold true now? Because now we're bound to have, not only private -- I'm sorry, we're going to hang on a second. Here's Condoleezza Rice.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good afternoon.

I'm going to give you a chronology of the events that occurred during the spring and summer of 2001, but I want to start with a little definitional work. When we talk about threats, they come in many varieties. Very often we have uncorroborated information. Sometimes we have corroborated but very general information. But I can tell you that it is almost never the case that we have information that is specific as to time, place or method of attack.

In the period starting in December 2000, the intelligence community started reporting increase in traffic concerning terrorist activities. In the April-May time frame, there was specific threat reporting about Al Qaeda attacks against U.S. targets or interests that might be in the works.

Now, there was a clear concern that something was up, that something was coming, but it was principally focused overseas.

The areas of most concern were the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. In the June time frame, arrests for the millennium plot -- there was testimony by the participants in the millennium plot that Abu Zubaydah had said that there might be interest in attacking the United States. And this comes out of testimony that was there as a result of the millennium plot.

And then on June 26, there was a threat spike, and as a result, again focusing overseas, the State Department issued a worldwide caution. Again, that was June 26, and you probably remember that caution.

Now, the FAA was also concerned of threats to U.S. citizens, such as airline hijackings, and therefore issued an information circular that -- and an information circular goes out to private carriers from law enforcement -- saying that we have a concern.

That was a June 22 information circular.

At the end of June, there was a status of threat and action meeting that the -- what we call the counterterrorism security group. It is a group that is inter agency, that meets under the direction of an NSC special assistant, Dick Clarke at that time. There was a meeting that and Dick Clarke reported to me that steps were being taken by the CSG.

On July 2, as a result of some of that work, the FBI released a message saying that, there are threats to be worried about overseas, but we cannot -- while we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out. This is an inlet. And again, an inlet goes out to law enforcement from the FBI.

On July 2, the FAA issued another IC saying that, Ressam -- again associated with the millennium plot -- said that there was an intention of using explosives in an airport terminal. This was a very specific IC.

On July 5, the threat reporting had become sufficiently robust, though, not, again, very specific, but sufficiently robust. There was a lot of chatter in the system. That in his morning meeting, the president asked me to go back and to see what was being done about all of the chatter that was there.

Andy Card and I met that afternoon with Dick Clarke, and Dick Clarke informed us that he had already had a meeting of the CSG Core Group, and that he was holding another meeting that afternoon that would be focused on threats and that would bring the domestic agencies into the CSG.

On July 6, the CSG core players met again, because there was concern about -- very high concern -- about potential attacks in past Turkey, Rome, and they acted to go so far as to suspend nonessential travel of U.S. counterterrorism staff. So this is a period in which, again, of potential attacks overseas were heightened enough that there was almost daily meeting now, sometimes twice a day, of either the CSG or it's subgroups. Contingency planning was done on how to deal with multiple simultaneous attacks around the world.

The period in mid-July was a point of another major threat spike. And it all related to the G-8 summit that was coming up. And in fact, there was specific threat information about the president. There was a lot of work done with liaison on services abroad. In fact, the CIA went on what I think you would call a full-court press to try and deal with these potential attacks and, indeed, managed, through these intelligence activities and liaison activities, to disrupt attacks in Paris, Turkey, and Rome.

On July 18, the FAA issued another IC saying that there were ongoing terrorist threats overseas, and that, although there were no specific threats directed at civil aviation, they told the airlines, "We urge you to use the highest level of caution."

On July 18, also, the FBI issued another inlet on the millennium plot conviction, reiterating its July 2 message, saying "We're concerned about threats as a result of the millennium plot conviction."

At the end of July, the FAA issued another IC which said, "There's no specific target, no credible info of attack to U.S. civil aviation interests, but terror groups are known to be planning and training for hijackings, and we ask you therefore to use caution."

Throughout July and August, several times a week, there were meetings of the CSG reviewing the information at hand. There was no specific new information that came in in that period of time, after the end of July and sort of in August, leading up to September.

But the agencies were still at a heightened state of alert, particularly overseas. I think, the military actually had dropped its state of alert. But everybody was still on a heightened state of alert.

On August 1, the FBI issued another inlet on the upcoming third East Africa bombing anniversary and, again, reiterated the message that had been in the July 2 inlet.

Now, on August 6, the president received a presidential daily briefing which was not a warning briefing but an analytic report.

This analytic report, which did not have warning information in it of the kind that said, "They are talking about an attack against so forth or so on," it was an analytic report that talked about UBL's methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.

It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense and, in a sense, said that the most important and most likely thing was that they would take over an airliner, holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives. And the blind sheik was mentioned by name, even though he's not an operative of Al Qaeda, but as somebody who might be bargained in this way.

I want to reiterate: It was not a warning. There was no specific time, place or method mentioned. What you have seen in the run-up that I've talked about is that the FAA was reacting to the same kind of generalized information about a potential hijacking as a method that Al Qaeda might employ, but no specific information saying that they were planning such an attack at a particular time.

There is one other FAA IC in this period issued on August 16, where the FAA issued an IC on disguised weapons. They were concerned about some reports that the terrorists had made breakthroughs in cell phones, key chains and pens as weapons.

There are a number of other ICs that were also issued. We don't think they were germane to this, but I'm sure you can get the full record of all of the ICs that were released from Transportation.

I want to reiterate that, during this time, the overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas. The State Department, the Defense Department were on very high states of alert.

The embassies have very clear protocols on how to button up. So does the military. That was done,

But at home, while there was much less reporting or chatter about something at home, people were thinking about the U.S. And the FBI was involved in a number of investigations of potential Al Qaeda personnel operating in the United States.

That's my opening, and I'll take questions.

QUESTION: Why didn't the American public know about these facts before they got on planes in the summer and the fall of last year?

RICE: It is always, as you've learned since September 11, a question of how good the information is and whether or not putting the information out is a responsible thing to do.

I've emphasized that this was the most generalized kind of information: There was no time, there was no place, there was no method of attack. It simply said, these are people who train and seem to talk possibly about hijackings.

That you would have risked shutting down the American civil aviation system with such generalized information, I think, you would have had to think five, six, seven times about that, very, very hard.

Steps were taken. And I'm sure security steps were taken. But you have to realize that when you're dealing with something this general, there's a limit to the amount that you can do.

Again, the FAA asked security personnel, ground personnel, to have a heightened state of alert, because there were tensions in the Middle East.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RICE: There were tensions that were leading to terrorists who had sympathies with those Middle East events.

There were various trials going on, and it was the association with all that was going on that said, "Look, these are people who talk from time-to-time about -- and train for hijacking, you should take a look at your security procedures and, you know, and try to respond." But this was very generalized information.

QUESTION: Specifically, after this August 6 analytic report briefing that the president had, what did he do, what did other people in the administration do? What did he make of it? What action was taken? And why didn't he ever tell the American people about it?

RICE: Well, the action was being taken. Because if you notice what is briefed to him in kind of a summary way -- and I should say, he had said to his briefer, "I'd like you from time to time to time to give me summaries of what you know about potential attacks." And this was an analytic piece that tried to bring together several threads -- "In 1997, they talked about this," "In 1998 they talked about that," "It's been known that maybe they want to try and release the blind sheik." I mean, that was the character of it.

And so the actions were being taken in response to the generalized information that was being reported here, too. And the president was aware that there were ongoing efforts that were being taken.

QUESTION: Any specific information just prior to August 6 that raised concerns about hijacking of U.S. planes?

RICE: Again, this was generalized information that put together the fact that there were terrorist groups who were unhappy things that were going on in the Middle East as well as Al Qaeda operatives, which we've been watching for a long time, that there was more chatter than usual and that we knew that they were people who might try a hijacking.

But, you know, again, that terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science.

QUESTION: Why shouldn't this be seen as an intelligence failure, that you were unable to predict something happening here?

RICE: I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.

All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking. You take a plane -- people were worried they might blow one up, but they were mostly worried that they might try to take a plane and use it for release of the blind sheik or some of their own people.

But I think that there is always a fine balance, but even in retrospect, even in hindsight, there was nothing in what was briefed to the president that would suggest that you would go out and say to the American people, "Look, I just read that terrorists might hijack an aircraft." They've been -- they talk about hijacking an aircraft once in a while but have no specifics about when, where, under what circumstances.

QUESTION: This analytic report that the president received, sounds like it wasn't his ordinary morning brief. Was it something that he had requested because of the various elements that had come up? Was it something you had requested?

And was the hijacking mentioned here based on any new intelligence that had been developed between these meetings that you mentioned in July 5-6 time frame? Or was it simply -- did it come out of the Philippines experience?

RICE: It was actually summarizing the kind of intelligence that they'd been acting on -- I mean, I think it's a little strong to actually call it intelligence -- the interpretation that was there that these were people who might try hijacking.

It was -- very often, as a part of his normal brief, he will get things that have been prepared for him because he's asked for a specific kind of document.

And as I said, he frequently says, "You know, I'd like to see everything you know about X, or "I'd like you to summarize," because as you can imagine you get intelligence in little snippets. It's helpful from time to time to put it together.

QUESTION: And does this also include then the unified FBI findings because, of course, the Phoenix Memo had been through the FBI in July. Did it include concerns about Moussaoui, and how much did this bring in the other agencies?

RICE: This did not include the issues that you've just talked about. It did not.

QUESTION: Was that a failure to your mind? Should it have?

RICE: Let me just speak to the Moussaoui and the so-called Phoenix memorandum. As you might imagine, a lot of things are prepared within agencies. They're distributed internally. They're worked internally.

It's unusual that anything like that would get to the president. He doesn't recall seeing anything. I don't recall seeing anything of this kind.

QUESTION: How about Phoenix or on Moussaoui?

RICE: On either -- prior to September 11. But I've asked George Tenet, and I've asked Bob Mueller, and I've asked my own people to spend some time really going in depth and seeing whether or not it was possible that it got to the president.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) had suggested that the information about hijackings was so vague and so general, that you could read it from the podium without any danger to sources and methods. Could you read us those couple of lines about hijackings?

RICE: I'm not going to read you the couple of lines, but I will tell that it was very vague. The one piece that had any texture at all was that it might be for the purpose of freeing an operative like the blind sheik. But again, most of what people were acting on was, these were terrorists groups that who were dissatisfied.

We had reasons to believe that there was more chatter, more talk of attacks. Hijackings seemed one possibility. They train and seem to be interested in that, but nothing more specific than that.

QUESTION: I've been led to believe that hijacking was actually a minor part of that briefing. You're suggesting it was an analytical look at all of the kinds of things that Al Qaeda was considering and working on.

RICE: I would say that most of it was actually historical. It was not a catalogue of "They might use this, they might use this, they might use this, they might use that." That was not the character.

But it was mostly historical, going back to things that happened in '97, things that happened in '98, kind of methods of operation in the embassy bombings, might they return to some of those methods. It was that kind of thing.

QUESTION: Two questions. No discussions at all then in this analytical briefing about either the information during the investigation in the Philippines about possibly flying a plane into the CIA building or the investigation overseas about possibly flying a plane into the Eiffel Tower? No analytical information discussing those operations at all?

And, B, you know that you would not be here today if it weren't eight months after the attack we hear for the first time that, even a general sense, the word "hijacking" and "Al Qaeda" was before the president prior to September 11. Why is it that in all the questioning of administration officials -- the president, the vice president, yourself and others -- did you have any hint, did you have any clue, that nobody simply said, "You know, we didn't. There was this general talk once of hijacking, but we looked into it, it had nothing to do with this, there was no connection."

RICE: This all came out as a result of our preparations to help the committees on the Hill that are getting ready to review the events. It wasn't, you know, frankly, it didn't pop to the front of people's minds, because it's one report among very, very many that you get. And so it's out of that review that it became clear that this was there.

I will say that, again, hijacking before 9-11 and hijacking after 9-11 do mean two very, very different things.

And so, you know, focusing on it before 9/11, perhaps it's clear that after 9/11 you would have looked at those differently, but certainly not before 9/11. QUESTION: And no discussion in this briefing or any others about the possibility of Al Qaeda hijacking? And the fact that there have been active investigations into the possibility of a CIA building plot or an Eiffel Tower plot never came up?

RICE: That did not come up.

QUESTION: Was that an intelligence failure, that nobody said, you know, there has been talk about doing this elsewhere?

RICE: We knew that there were discussions of hijacking. We knew that they had thought about hijackings in a number of places. But again, the information that was there in the PDV (ph), which is the reference point here, was not about those activities.

Yes?

QUESTION: When did the White House hear about the Phoenix memorandum (OFF-MIKE) before September 11. When did you finally hear about the Phoenix memorandum?

RICE: What I said -- let me be very clear, because we're going to be certain of our facts here. And as you might imagine, it takes a little time to make sure of the facts.

Neither the president nor I have recollection of ever hearing about the Phoenix memo in the time prior to September 11. We've asked FBI, CIA, our own people to go back and see whether or not it's possible that it somehow came to him. I personally became aware of it just recently.

QUESTION: And the second question, Dr. Rice, many members of Congress of both parties are expressing some anger or saying they weren't informed about these briefings or intelligence briefings or whatever was being held at the White House in August and September, (inaudible) July and August.

RICE: Well, the general threat information of the kind that I've been talking about -- heightened sense of alert, concerns that Al Qaeda might be plotting something particularly overseas -- it is my understanding that, on a regular basis, the Intelligence Committees were told about the concerns of the intelligence agencies about these kinds of activities.

Again, these were all principally pretty general, with the exception, I think, of the overseas threat which had to do with the G- 8, which was more specific than anything else that we had.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, can you tell us whether you had conversations with Mr. Clark expressly about what the potential impact on American commercial aviation would be in the event of a hijacking and the taking of hostages? When you said that -- you said earlier that the impact could have been extraordinary, could you elaborate? And what did you and Mr. Clark discuss as possible...

RICE: I'm sorry. That it could have been extraordinary? QUESTION: That you considered issuing a warning.

RICE: No, I didn't say that. I said you always have to consider whether or not, from such incredibly general information, you want to try and issue a warning, because this was very, very general information.

I don't think we ever thought a warning made sense, in this context. It was not like post-9/11 when, even then, you know, people have said, "Well, you issued a really general warning. What are people supposed to do?" In the pre-9/11 period, we really never even considered issuing a warning.

I was saying that if it had been considered, you would have had to consider very carefully what kind of impact you would have. But it was actually never considered.

What was done was to get the FAA in the room so that they could do the things that they thought appropriate under these circumstances.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Ms. Garvey?

RICE: I did not.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the August 6 briefing that you had? That's the very first time that the president hears both the term "hijacking" and UBL together? Did he respond at all?

And secondly, were those two linked in any way in briefings that he got after that until September 11?

RICE: Well, there are a couple of other times that "hijacking" and "terrorism" are mentioned in this -- I think a couple.

I mean, it doesn't feature prominently in the reporting. Because again, it was not based on information that they were planning a particular hijacking at a particular point in time. Certainly, nothing like we were looking at -- that there might be attacks against the G-8 leadership. There might be attacks against the president. It might be in Rome. A lot of chatter around Rome. Nothing like that. This was an analytic piece about methods that they had available to them.

QUESTION: As a follow-up to that, between August 6 and September 11, this was somehow kept on the president's plate, in front of the president a bit. Was it kept on your plate as well?

RICE: Certainly, what was, first of all, kept on the plate of the agencies was that a number of these IC's were still in force. So there was a continued alert level.

As I've said, the one place where I think we've determined that there was a lowering of alert level was that the military came down kind of one-half level. As you know, it's very hard for them to stay on extremely high alert. We continued to monitor and follow this. There are threat conferences, threat warning conferences, meetings of the CSG, (inaudible) as we call them, by teleconference, several times a week. And that continued in this period.

But there was no new information that suggested something more was afoot.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, there are a lot of widows and widowers and family members of the victims of September 11 who are listening to this and thinking today that the government let them down, that there were intelligence failures. As the person who is supposed to connect the dots with the NSC for the president, what would you like to say to them today?

RICE: This government did everything that it could in a period in which the information was very generalized, in which there was nothing specific to which to react, and had this president known of something more specific or known that a plane was going to be used as a missile, he would have acted on it.

But the fact is this in retrospect even looks hard to put together. At the time, we were looking at something very different. To the degree that hijacking was an issue, it was traditional hijacking.

The threats, Al Qaeda, you know, you did have the FBI actively pursuing leads and trying to run this down. You did get the disruption of attacks in Rome and Paris and in Turkey. But this president, who takes extremely seriously the security of the United States, was doing everything that he could in this period, as were the rest of the public servants in this government.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, I'd like to know a little bit more about the August 6 meeting. It was at the ranch. Were you there? And was the analytic report the only subject discussed in the briefing? Was it an oral presentation? Was it a document? How lengthy was the document? Was there only one mention of hijacking in that document?

RICE: It is a document. There were other things briefed that day. I don't actually know what they were. The president's daily briefing is usually several briefings on various subjects.

I was here in Washington, not in Crawford. I always talk to the president immediately after his briefings. The president and I talked all the time during this period of time about Al Qaeda.

He was particularly concerned, not just about threats -- that they might be threatening us, but how we went after them. And so there was a lot of work going on in this entire period also to try to put together a strategy to bring them down.

QUESTION: How long was the document and was there, in fact, only one sentence that mentioned hijacking?

RICE: The word hijacking is mentioned once in the specific way that I talked about and one other time kind of in summary. It's a page and a half document.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) all this came out as you prepared documents for upcoming committee hearings.

Was this a document that you had intended would get out in the public forum of a committee hearing or had you asked them to keep it classified?

RICE: We had not made any determination as to what documents were going forward, the nature of that. We're working with the committee right now to try to make sure that they have access to the information. I mean, after all, it is important that the full story get out there. The American people deserve that. The administration wants that. And we are working with the committee on these documents.

QUESTION: Had this document actually gone to Capitol Hill?

RICE: I don't know the answer to that. I don't think so. No, this document had not.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, when the information was passed on from the FAA to the airline carriers, did any of that information include specifically a reference to Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden? Because terrorists are terrorists, but this group obviously was viewed even by the government as a more serious threat. Did those warnings, were they specific enough to say not just worry about hijacks or worry about terrorist hijacking, but did they say bin Laden?

RICE: We were worried about Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda was clearly at the top of the heap. But there were other terrorist organizations that we were also worried about in this period of time; the EIJ, for instance, because the blind sheik's organization was that organization.

So I think that what you saw was that the concern about terrorism -- about terrorists was actually broader than just Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda was one organization that might use this particular method. So it said terrorists.

QUESTION: This page and a half document on August 6, I know you say it was nonspecific and I know you say it's a compendium and an analytic report, how can you say it wasn't a warning? Were you not telling the president that there is danger ahead?

RICE: No. There was nothing that said this is going to happen or this might happen. It said this is a method that these people might be considering. That was the nature of this.

And it was very nonspecific in the sense that, you know, going, again, comparing it to what we were seeing, for instance, on the G-8, this was an analytic piece that looked at methods that they might use. Everybody knew that terrorists and hijacking have been associated for time immemorial.

I mean, how many hijackings have there been by terrorists? In that sense, there was nothing really new here. And, in fact, since it was mentioned a couple of other times that there might be hijackings, again nonspecific, I think it would be very hard to characterize this as a warning.

QUESTION: Are you aware of the reports at the time that (inaudible) was in Washington on September 11. And on September 10, $100,000 was wired from Pakistan to these groups here in this area? And while he was here, was he meeting with you or anybody in the administration?

RICE: I have not seen that report, and he was certainly not meeting with me.

Yes?

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, on the issue of connecting the dots, we've talked about a number of things here -- the possibility of a CIA building, the Eiffel Tower, Moussaoui, Phoenix, all those other dots that are out there.

Where do you think those dots should have come together? Should the briefer who prepared the document for the president have known about all those things? Is there a place where this should have come together?

RICE: Well, I think that one of the important questions is how we go forward organizationally to deal with some seams. And I thought Director Mueller's testimony yesterday to this effect that called for reorganization that would cause greater fusion of intelligence from different sources, and particularly from domestic and foreign sources, is probably right.

But let me just say, we've already begun to make some of those changes. There is an Office of Homeland Security, and I think that's an important change.

Secondly, every day, now in the morning the president sits with the vice president, with Andy Card, with me, with George Tenet, with Bob Mueller and with Tom Ridge, and often with John Ashcroft, and there's a kind of fusion going on at the top.

And the challenge is going to be build down into the system that same kind of bringing together of information, and I think that's what Bob Mueller and George Tenet and others are looking at. And it's one reason that we have every reason to want to look at, fully, at what happened.

QUESTION: Can you just say something more about the G-8 part? Was that an airplane filled with explosives? Wasn't that the plane...

RICE: There were many different potential methods described concerning the G-8, many. The most troubling was not a specific method with a specific place, but specific targets, like the president.

QUESTION: That's what I wanted to ask about. Was there any link to bin Laden in those threats? And how serious did you take them? How specific were they...

RICE: We took the threats very seriously, because they were somewhat more specific. Again, when I say more specific, it didn't say on July, you know, this date, at this place, at this time, so and so will happen. But there was greater texture, there was certainly more information.

It's one reason that George Tenet went out of his way to, I would say, tell the agency to go to the ramparts out in the field to really stir up our liaison services. And I think it was successful, because there were several disruptions.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to the issue of hijacking. You said the FAA in July did issue a kind of warning or an alert of sorts to the airlines saying that terror groups are planning or training for hijacking. Did you know at the end of July (OFF-MIKE) taken us through the time line. I just want to be clear that, isn't it unusual that you would make the decision to bring the FAA into this, that there was enough concerns that hijackings would be a problem that you would say, "We need to let the airlines know"?

RICE: The FAA was only one of the domestic agencies brought in. Customs was brought in; INS was brought in. So this was an effort to bring in domestic agencies that might have potential vulnerabilities.

But again, let me read it, because it's extremely important, because, again, they were acting on general information, and therefore the IC is very general. And it says, "Target is not clear," -- this is July 31 -- "the target is not clear. The FAA has no credible info to attack U.S. civil aviation interests. Nevertheless, some of the current active groups are known to plan and train for hijackings. FAA encourages all U.S. carriers to exercise prudence and demonstrate a high degree of alertness."

So again, the operative words here that some of the current active groups are known to plan and train and for, not they're planning a particular hijacking.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) list of these. I mean, is it possible -- how do you get the airlines to pay attention to them if you're putting them out periodically? And if it is something general like this, what do you really expect them to do?

RICE: Well, the problem, as I was explaining when somebody asked me, you know, why didn't we go public with some of these alerts or some of this information, is that when you're dealing with very general information all you can do is tell people it's very general.

And you would have to refer to the Transportation Department and the FAA to get a better sense for what protocols are followed, how this is all done.

But the FAA issued these ICs that, again, were based on very general information and were intended just to alert people that these were organizations that were angry, there was a lot of threat reporting about them, and hijacking was considered to be one of their methods. And that was the extent of it.

Thank you.

QUESTION: What was the date of that IC (inaudible)

RICE: 31 July.

Thank you.

CROWLEY: That was National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. We want to go to Capitol Hill now because we have standing by Senator Bob Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Graham, thanks for sticking with us. I want to know, after hearing what you just heard, knowing what you know as a result of your chairmanship, did President Bush neglect protecting the country as a result of what he knew in August?

BOB GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR: Candy, I did not hear all of what Ms. Rice has just said, but the answer to the question is no. The president of the United States can't be expected to be an intelligence analyst and a case officer.

The people who are responsible for taking action are the same people who wrote the intelligence information that was submitted to the president.

CROWLEY: But should he have told them, you have got to do something about this based on what you know?

GRAHAM: Well, they ought to know and be in a position to assess the seriousness of the threat, the credibility of the information upon which the threat was based, and the range of options to respond to the threat.

Again, I don't think it is fair to ask the president of the United States, with all of the responsibilities that he has, to take on that operational role.

CROWLEY: And senator, let me clear something up here. These warnings that she's talking about, this analytic briefing that she is talking about -- were you privy to that kind of information in your chairmanship?

GRAHAM: Well, again, I did not hear Ms. Rice's full interview, but there are two virtually if not absolutely daily intelligence briefings which go out. One goes to maybe as many as 1,000 or more people. The second only goes to 20 people, the president and his closest advisers.

Our committees are one of the 1,000 people who receive the general information. What the president gets -- I have never seen the president's daily briefing so I'm not certain what is in there, but it has been explained to me that it typically works off this more general document, but is focused on those things that are considered to be the most important -- generally goes into somewhat greater detail, might to have a higher level of analysis than that which goes to 1,000 people.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you now, we've got a couple of memos that are out there in the public arena from the FBI that didn't make their way up the chain. We have these now information that it was known -- the hijacking threats. Could 9/11 have been prevented? Was somebody asleep at the switch?

GRAHAM: Well, Candy, nobody knows, but what we do know is that if all of these pieces of information had been collected and sent to the same analysts or the same group of analysts so that they were aware that there's been a report in July from phoenix, there's a report in August from Minnesota, there's other information.

Looking at all of this there appears to be a pattern here, and the pattern is that under Osama bin Laden's direction, people have been sent to the United States and they are training to fly commercial airlines, in some cases only to fly them, not to take off and land them.

Now that would send a signal that something unusual is going on, and that might then say what are the options to respond to that, such as alerting through the FAA American commercial airlines to this increased threat of hijackings so that their security levels might have been enhanced.

But you can't look in the rear-view mirror and tell what would have happened had pieces of history been a little different than in fact they were.

CROWLEY: Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, thank you for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: When we come back we'll hear from Senator Graham's Republican counterpart, but first Wolf joins us from Jerusalem with a look at what's coming up on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

WOLF BLITZER, HOST OF WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: Thank you very much, Candy.

We'll also follow up these intelligence reports. What did the White House know, when did the White House know it? We will also speak with two intelligence committee members, Senator John Edwards and Congressman Saxby Chambliss.

And I'll take our viewers on a special tour of Jerusalem, one tourists are not likely to take. All that and much more coming up at the top of the hour right after INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Earlier today, before National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave her briefing, I traveled to Capitol Hill to speak with the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby. I began by asking if he or anyone else on the Hill received the same information the White House received last August.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SHELBY, U.S. SENATOR: The intelligence committee, at least the four of us that were the senior people on the House and Senate committees, have reviewed today and we basically got the same information on August 7, if not before, that the president did.

Our staff has told us that and after going over what the daily intelligence brief was that day for the president, what they have told us it was, it was a rehash basically of things from '98 warnings, '99 and then I believe it was a June warning of possible use of explosives.

But in -- not in any of that -- those briefings were any specific threats mentioned of airliners blowing up buildings or anything. Now, there were mention of possible hijacking, but that goes back to '98.

CROWLEY: Were they ratcheting up? I mean, over that time from the Spring through the Summer, was there more intensity to these warnings? I don't know how they work, but did they go up?

SHELBY: Well, there were so many general warnings, I don't know how you could say they were ratcheted up. At times they were ratcheted up, but there was no smoking gun here.

There was no specific call by the intelligence community that they were going to try to use airliners to blow up buildings and stuff like this. We knew about the hijacking threats, you know, before. The FBI had...

CROWLEY: Attached to Osama bin Laden?

SHELBY: That's right.

CROWLEY: OK.

SHELBY: But at the same time I, in all fairness to the president, I do not believe that there was anything imminent in that briefing.

CROWLEY: So what upset you most about this, then? Does anything about it upset you?

SHELBY: Well, what upsets me overall is some of the work of the FBI recently, the Phoenix memo. I believe it did have a lot of content in it. July the 10th, August the 17th, the Minnesota deal, dealing with the schools. None of that information was really acted upon.

CROWLEY: And was any of that information given to you or to the president?

SHELBY: No, that was not given to the president then. The FBI basically kept this in. They should have given it to the president. They should have given it to the committee, but in reality, they sat on it.

CROWLEY: So who is supposed to connect those dots? I think if I get what you're saying it is look, if you put the totality of this information together, you may have had something. Who is supposed to do that?

SHELBY: Well, in -- as far as the memo from the FBI office in Phoenix to the office headquarters here, that was the FBI's job, but they didn't do it. They didn't do anything on it. If they did, it was meaningless.

Secondly, August the 17th they get the other call from the Minnesota FBI office. Nothing was done there, at least nothing substantive, until after September 11.

I believe the president could have been served better by the intelligence agencies, especially the FBI, and what else we will uncover we don't know.

CROWLEY: Do you still think Mr. Tenet ought to go?

SHELBY: I've always said that's a call of the president of the United States. He is satisfied with him. You know, that is his call. I think we could do better.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you this. You understand how politics goes, and I can tell you now that the Democrats feel that this warning in August that was not acted on, that was specifically the briefing the president got, and they warned some agencies in some way that we don't know -- they believe that this may well show a lack of leadership. This is what we are already beginning to hear. Was there a lack of leadership?

SHELBY: No. I don't believe that at all, and I don't think that's what the briefing would show. And if I were the president I would release that to the American people to see these are general warnings, there was nothing specific, and if there had been something specific, I believe he would have acted upon it immediately.

CROWLEY: Really quickly, you were upset about the delay, though, of getting this out in the public. Why? What was the harm?

SHELBY: I think it was leaked, probably, to protect somebody's back, but I don't know that.

CROWLEY: Senator Richard Shelby, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

CROWLEY: Stay with CNN tonight for a special report live from the White House -- 9/11 warnings, who knew? Our senior White House correspondent John King will host the special at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

CNN's coverage continues now with WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Judy will be back tomorrow. I am Candy Crowley. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



Warnings Prior to September 11; Some Democrats Say There is a Lack of Leadership in the Administration; Senator Shelby and Senator Graham Say Bush Acted Responsibly>


 
 
 
 


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