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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Powell Testifies Before 9/11 Commission
Aired March 23, 2004 - 11:07 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we continue our coverage now. You see the live picture from Capitol Hill. Current Secretary of State Colin Powell taking the oath as he's about to testify before the 9/11 Commission. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. It's a great pleasure to be before the commission today. And I thank you for the opportunity to appear before you before you regarding the events leading up to and following the murderous terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is my hope, as I know it is yours, that through the hard work of this commission, our country can improve the way we wage the war on terror and, particular, better protect our homeland and the American people.
I'm pleased to have, of course, with me today Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage. Secretary Armitage was sworn in on March 26th of 2001, two months into the administration. And he's been intimately involved in the interagency deliberations on our counterterrorism policies. And of course, he also participated in what are known as principals as well as National Security Council meetings whenever I was on travel or otherwise unavailable.
Mr. Chairman, members of the commission, I leave Washington this evening to represent President Bush and the American people at the memorial service in Madrid, Spain, honoring the over 200 victims of the terrorists attacks of 3/11, March 11, 2004. With deep sympathy and solidarity, our heart goes out to their loved ones and to the people of Spain.
And just last Thursday, in the garden of our embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, I presided at a memorial service in honor of two State Department family members, Barbara Green and her daughter Kristen Wormsley, who were killed two years ago by terrorists while they worshipped in a church on a bright, beautiful spring morning.
I know that the families and friends of the victims of 9/11, some of whom are listening and watching today, grieve just as the Spanish are grieving and just as we at the Department of State did and still do for Barbara and Kristen.
Mr. Chairman, I am no newcomer to the horrors of terrorism. In 1983, Secretary Armitage and I were working for Secretary of Defense Cap Weinberger, as was Secretary Lehman at that time, when 243 wonderful, brave Marines and Navy corpsmen were killed in Beirut, Lebanon.
POWELL: I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993 when the first bombing of the World Trade Center took place. In 1996, I may have been out of government, but I followed closely the events surrounding the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
Khobar and all the other terrorist attacks over the years were very much part of my consciousness as I prepared to assume the office of secretary of state under President George Bush.
I was well aware of the fact that I was going to be sworn into office just three months after the USS Cole was struck in the harbor at Aden, Yemen, taking the lives of 17 sailors and wounding 30 others.
I was well aware -- very well aware that our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been blown up in 1998, injuring some 4,000 people and killing 220, 12 of them Americans; the highest number of casualties in a single incident in the State Department's history.
As the new chief executive officer of the Department of State, I was acutely aware that I would be responsible to President Bush -- he made this clear that this was my responsibility -- for the safety of men and women serving at our posts overseas, as well as for the safety and welfare of private American citizens traveling and living abroad.
The 1999 Crowe commission report on embassy security became our blueprint for upgrading the security of all our facilities. Admiral Crowe had done an extensive review and made some scathing criticisms on how lax our country was in protecting our personnel who were serving abroad from terrorist attacks.
One of my first actions was to ask retired Major General Chuck Williams of the Army Corps of Engineers to come into the department and head our building operation. We wanted him to move aggressively to implement the Crowe recommendations and to protect our people and our installations, and he has done a tremendous job of that.
At the beginning of this administration, we are building one new secure embassy a year. Today we are building 10 new secure embassies every single year.
As the president's principal foreign policy adviser, I was well aware, as was the president and all the members of the new national security team, that communism and fascism, our old foes of the past century, have been replaced by a new kind of enemy, terrorism.
We were well aware that no nation is immune to terrorism. We were well aware that this adversary is not necessarily a state, and that it often has no clear return address. We knew that this monster is hydra-headed, many tentacled. We knew that its evil leaders and followers espoused many false causes, but have one purpose: to murder innocent people.
Mr. Chairman, President Bush and all of us on his team knew that terrorism would be a major concern for us, as it has been for the past several administrations.
During the transition from the Clinton to the Bush administration, we were pleased to receive the briefings and information that Secretary Albright and her staff provided us on President Clinton's counterterrorism policies and what they had done for the previous eight years before we came into office.
POWELL: Indeed, on December 20th, four days after President Bush announced that I would be the next secretary of state, I asked for and got a briefing on our worldwide terrorism actions and policies from President Clinton's counterterrorism security group headed by Mr. Dick Clarke.
In addition to Mr. Clarke, at this briefing -- my very first briefing during the transition -- also present were the CIA's counterterrorism director, Mr. Cofer Black, from the FBI, Dale Watson. Also present were representatives from the Department of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and from within the State Department, representatives of our own Bureau of Intelligence and Research, as well as our acting coordinator for counterterrorism.
A major component of this briefing was al Qaeda's growing threat to the United States, our interests around the world, and Afghanistan's role as a safe haven for al Qaeda.
As a matter of fact, that part of the briefing got my attention. So much so that later I asked Mr. Armitage -- when he got sworn in -- to get directly involved in all of these issues, and he did.
In addition, in my transition book that was provided to me by Secretary Albright, there was a paper from Mike Sheehan, Secretary Albright's counterterrorism coordinator, and I read it very carefully.
That transition paper, under the rubric Ongoing Threat Environment, stated that, quote, "In close coordination with the intelligence community, we must ensure that all precautions are taken to strengthen our security posture, warn U.S. citizens abroad, and maintain a high level of readiness to respond to additional incidents that might come along."
The paper informed me that, quote, "The joint U.S.-Yemeni investigation of the USS Cole bombing continues to develop new information and leads, but that it is still too early to definitively link the attack to a sponsor, i.e. Osama bin Laden."
And under Taliban, the paper records that, "We must continue to rally international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions, including an arms embargo against the Taliban."
The paper further stated: "We should maintain the momentum of getting others, such as the G-8, Russia, India, the Caucasus states, Central Asia, to isolate and pressure the Taliban."
It continued: "If the Cole investigation leads back to Afghanistan, we should use it to mobilize the international support needed for further pressures on the Taliban." Let me emphasize that the paper covered a range of terrorism- related concerns, and not just al Qaeda and the Taliban.
So the outgoing administration provided me and others in the incoming administration with transition papers, as well as briefings based on their eight years of experience that reinforced our awareness of the worldwide threat from terrorism.
POWELL: All of us on the Bush national security team, beginning with President Bush, knew we needed continuity in counterterrorism policy. We did not want terrorists to see the early months of a new administration as a time of opportunity.
And for continuity, President Bush retained Director Tenet at the CIA.
Director Tenet's counterterrorism center remained under the leadership of Cofer Black. He was kept on there until he joined the State Department last year to become my assistant secretary for counterterrorism.
Dick Clarke was retained at the National Security Council.
I retained Ambassador Edmund Hull as acting coordinator for counterterrorism until I was able to bring a new team in a little bit later in the year under the leadership of former Brigadier General Frank Taylor of the United States Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. He was Cofer Black's immediate predecessor.
I also retained David Carpenter as assistant secretary for diplomatic security and kept Tom Fingar on as acting assistant secretary for intelligence and research.
Christopher Kojm, now a staff member of your commission, was a political appointee from the prior administration, and we kept him on, as well, in order to show continuity during this period.
And, of course, FBI Director Louis Freeh provided continuity on the domestic side.
Early on, we made clear to the Congress and to the American people that we understood the scope and compelling nature of the threat from terrorism.
For example, on February 7th, 2001 -- just a few weeks into the administration -- my acting assistant secretary for intelligence, Tom Fingar, who had served in the same capacity in the previous administration, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding threats to the United States.
In the first part of his testimony, he highlighted the threat from unconventional sources, saying, "The magnitude of each individual threat is small. But in aggregate, unconventional threats probably pose a more immediate danger to Americans than do foreign armies, nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, or the proliferation even of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems." Mr. Fingar then went on to single out Osama bin Laden, saying that, "Plausible, if not always credible, threats linked to his organizations target Americans and America's friends or interests on almost every continent."
Mr. Chairman, members of the commission, the Department of State was well aware of the terrorist threat.
The new Bush administration, as had the Clinton administration, created counterterrorism and regional interagency committees to study the counterterrorism issue in a comprehensive way.
The committees, in turn, reported to a deputies committee chaired by Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, on which Mr. Armitage was my representative.
POWELL: The deputies, in turn, reported to Cabinet-level principals committees, which answered to the National Security Council, chaired by the president.
These committees, however, were not by any means the sum and substance of our interagency discussions on counterterrorism nor do they represent all that was happening in the administration on a day- to-day basis.
In order to keep in constant touch on counterterrorism issues, as well as all of the other items on our agenda, Secretary Rumsfeld, Dr. Rice and I held a daily coordination phone call meeting on every morning that we were in town at 7:15.
In addition to our regular and frequent meetings at the State Department every morning at 8:30, I met with my staff and immediately had available at 8:30, information from my I&R section, my intelligence people as well as my counterterrorism coordinator, as well as the assistant secretary in charge of diplomatic security.
We formalized regular luncheons with Dr. Rice, myself, the vice president and Secretary Rumsfeld in order to make sure that we stayed in closest touch with each other, not only on terrorism but on all issues.
Above all, from the start, the president by word and deed made clear his interest and his intense desire to protect the nation from terrorism. He frequently asked and prodded us to do more. He decided early on that we needed to be more aggressive in going after terrorists and especially al Qaeda.
As he said in early spring, as we were developing our new comprehensive strategy, quote, "I'm tired of swatting flies." He wanted a thorough, comprehensive diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement and financial strategy to go after al Qaeda.
It was a demanding order, but it was a necessary one.
There were many other compelling issues that were on our agenda that a new administration has to take into account -- a Middle East policy that had just collapsed; the sanctions on Iraq had been unraveling steadily since 1998; relations with Russia and China were complicated by the need to expel Russian spies in February; and the plane collision with a Chinese fighter in April.
There were many foreign leaders who were coming to the United States or wanted us to visit them to get engaged with the new administration.
Yes, we had to deal with all of these pressing matters and more, but we also were confident that we had an experienced counterterrorism team in place.
President Bush and his entire national security team understood that terrorism had to be among our highest priorities -- and it was.
Now, what did we do to act on that priority?
Our counterterrorism planning developed very rapidly considering the challenges of transition and of a new administration. We were not given a counterterrorism action plan by the previous administration.
As I mentioned, we were given good briefings on what they had been doing with respect to al Qaeda and with respect to the Taliban.
POWELL: The briefers, as well as the principals, conveyed to us the gravity of the threat posed by al Qaeda. But we noted early on that the actions that the previous administration had taken had not succeeded in eliminating the threat.
As a result, Dr. Rice directed a thorough policy review aimed at developing a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al Qaeda threat, and this was in her first week in her new position as national security adviser. This decision did not await any deputies or principals committee review; she knew what we had to do and she put us to the task of doing it.
We wanted the new policy to go well beyond tit-for-tat retaliation. We felt that lethal strikes that largely missed the terrorists if you don't have accurate targeting information, such as the cruise missile strikes in 1998, might lead al Qaeda to believe that we lacked resolve. These strikes had obviously not deterred al Qaeda from subsequently attacking the USS Cole.
We wanted to move beyond the roll-back policy of containment, criminal prosecution and limited retaliation for specific terrorist attacks. We wanted to destroy al Qaeda.
We understood that Pakistan was critical to the success of our long-term strategy. To get at al Qaeda, we had to end Pakistan's support for the Taliban so we had to recast our relations with that country.
But nuclear sanctions caused by Pakistan's nuclear weapons test, and the nature of the new regime, the way President Musharraf took office, made it difficult for us to work with Pakistan. We knew, however, that achieving sustainable relations with Pakistan meant moving more aggressively to strengthen and shape our relations with India as well. So we began this rather more complex diplomatic approach very quickly upon assuming office, even as we were putting the strategy on paper, and deciding its other more complicated elements.
For example, in February of 2001, Presidents Bush and Musharraf exchanged letters.
Let me quote a few lines from President Bush's February 16th letter to President Musharraf of Pakistan. This is just a few weeks after coming in to office. Quote, the president said to President Musharraf, "Pakistan is an important member of the community of nations and one with which I hope to build better relations, particularly as you move ahead to return to civilian constitutional government.
"We have concerns of which you are aware, but I am hopeful that we can work together on our differences in the years ahead. We should work together," the president continued, "to address Afghanistan's many problems. The most pressing of these is terrorism, and it inhibits progress in all other issues.
"The continued presence of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization is a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must be addressed.
"I believe al Qaeda also threatens Pakistan's long-term interests. We join the United Nations in passing additional sanctions against the Taliban, to bring bin Laden to justice, and to close the network of terrorist camps and their territory."
The president concluded, "I urge you to use your influence with the Taliban to bring this about."
President Bush was very concerned about al Qaeda and about the safe haven given them by the Taliban, but he knew that implementing the diplomatic road map we envisioned would be difficult. The deputies went to work, reviewing all of these complex regional issues.
Early on, we realized that a serious effort to remove al Qaeda's safe haven in Afghanistan might well require introducing military force, especially ground forces. This, without the cooperation of Pakistan, would be out of the question.
POWELL: Pakistan had vital interests in Afghanistan and was deeply suspicious of India's intentions. Pakistan's and India's mutual fears and suspicion threatened to boil over into nuclear conflict as the administration got into the early months of its existence.
To put it mildly, the situation was delicate and dangerous. Any effort to effect change had to be calibrated very carefully to avoid misperception and miscalculation. Under the leadership of Steve Hadley, deputy national security adviser, the deputies met a number of times during the spring and summer to craft a strategy for eliminating the al Qaeda threat and dealing with the complex implications for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
So we began to develop this more aggressive and more comprehensive strategy. And while we did so, we continued activities that had been going on in the previous administration aimed at al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including intelligence activities.
For example, during the summer of 2001, the CIA succeeded in a number of disruption activities against terrorist groups. These are activities where our agents create turmoil among those groups they know to be associated with terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot assemble, cannot communicate, can't effectively plan, receive any support or money, and are generally unable to act in a coordinated fashion.
You will hear more about these activities from Director Tenet tomorrow. But I want to emphasize that, notwithstanding all these intelligence activities that were under way, at no time during the early months of our administration were we presented with a vetted, viable, operational proposal which would have led to an opportunity to kill, capture or otherwise neutralize Osama bin Laden; never received any targetable information.
Let me return now to our diplomatic efforts. From early 2001 onward, we pressed the Taliban directly and sought the assistance of the government of Pakistan and other neighboring states to put additional pressure on the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan and shut down al Qaeda.
On February 8th, 2001, less than three weeks into the administration, we closed the Taliban office in New York, implementing the U.N. resolutions passed the previous month -- I must say with the strong support and the dedicated efforts of Secretary Albright and Undersecretary Pickering.
In March, we repeated the warning to the Taliban that they would be held responsible for any al Qaeda attack against our interests.
In April, 2001, senior departmental officials traveled to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, to lay out our key concerns, including about terrorism and Afghanistan.
We asked these Central Asian nations to coordinate their efforts with the various Afghan players who were opposed to the Taliban. We also used what we call the Bonn Group of concerned countries, to bring together Germany, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, the United States to build a common approach to Afghanistan.
At the same time, we encouraged and supported the Rome group of expatriate Afghans to explore alternatives to the Taliban.
In May, Deputy Secretary Armitage met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov of the Russian Federation to renew the work of the U.S.-Russia working group in Afghanistan. These discussions had previously been conducted at a lower level. We focused specifically on what we could do together about Afghanistan and about the Taliban.
This, incidentally, laid the groundwork for obtaining Russian cooperation on liberating Afghanistan immediately after 9/11.
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Mr. Secretary, we are going to run out of time...
POWELL: Yes, I will get shorter.
KEAN: Thank you, sir.
POWELL: I just wanted to make the point that in June, in July and August we took every effort that was available to us to put pressure on Pakistan to cut its losses with the Taliban and to take every effort possible to make sure that Pakistan understood the need to bring Afghanistan around to eliminating the threat provided by al Qaeda and its presence in Afghanistan.
POWELL: We also put into play a number of other options that were available to us.
As we know, during this period, we looked at some of the ideas that Mr. Clarke's team had presented that had not been tried in the previous administration. These activities fit the long-term time frame of our new strategy and were presented to us that way by Mr. Clarke.
In other words, these were long-term actions that he had in mind and not immediate actions that would produce immediate results. If these ideas made sense, we explored them. If they looked workable, we adopted them.
For example, we provided new counterterrorism aid to Uzbekistan because we knew al Qaeda was sponsoring a terrorist effort in that country led by the Islamic movement.
We looked at the Predator. The Predator at that time in early 2001 was not an armed weapon that they used to go after anyone. And Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Tenet will talk more about this. But by the end of that summer period, as we entered September and October, it was a weapon that was usable and it was used extensively and effectively after 9/11 when it was ready.
Other ideas such as arming the Northern Alliance with significant weaponry or giving them an added capability did not seem to be a practical thing to do at that time for the same sorts of reasons that Secretary Albright discussed earlier.
The basic elements of our new strategy, which came together during these early months of the administration, first and foremost, eliminate al Qaeda. It was no longer to roll it back or reduce its effectiveness; our goal was to destroy it. The strategy would call for ending all sanctuaries given to al Qaeda. We would try to do this first through diplomacy, but if diplomacy failed and there was a call for additional measures including military operations, we would be prepared to do it. And military action would be more than just launching cruise missiles at already warned targets.
In fact, the strategy called for attacking al Qaeda and the Taliban's leadership, their command and control, their ground forces and other targets.
The strategy would recognize the need for significant aid, not only for the Northern Alliance, but to other tribal groups that might help us with this.
It would also include greatly expanding intelligence and authorities, capabilities and funding.
While all this was taking place, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, we did everything we could to protect the lives of American citizens around the world.
As you know, the threat information that we were receiving from the CIA and other sources suggested that we were increasingly at risk and the risk was -- looked to be mostly overseas.
POWELL: And, while that is my responsibility, others in our administration were looking at the threat within the United States.
But in response to these overseas threats, we issued threat warnings constantly. Every time the threat level went up, we would respond with appropriate threat warnings to our embassies, to our citizens around the world who were traveling or living on foreign countries, warning them of the nature of the threat and encouraging them to take the necessary caution.
So, it is not as if we weren't responding to the threat. We were responding to the threat in the way that we could respond to the threat: with warnings, with emergency action committee meetings in our embassies to make sure that we were buttoning down and buttoning up.
Mr. Chairman, this all continued throughout the summer. It reached a conclusion in early September, when all the pieces of our strategy came together: the intelligence part, the diplomatic part, military components of it, law enforcement, the nature of the challenge we had before us which was to eliminate al Qaeda. It all came together on the 4th of September, at a principals meeting, where we concluded our work on the national security directive that would be telling everybody in the administration what we were going to do as we moved forward.
It took us roughly eight months to get to that point, but it was a solid eight months of dedicated work to bring us to that point.
And then, as we all know, 9/11 hit and we had to accelerate all of our efforts and go onto a different kind of footing altogether.
I just might point out that, with respect to Pakistan, consistent with the decisions that we had made in early September, after 9/11, within two days, Mr. Armitage had contacted the Pakistani intelligence chiefs who happened to be in the United States and laid out what we now needed from Pakistan. The time for diplomacy and discussions were over; we needed immediate action.
And Mr. Armitage laid out seven specific steps for Pakistan to take to join us in this effort.
POWELL: We gave them 24, 48 hours to consider it and then I called President Musharraf and said, "We need your answer now. We need you as part of this campaign, this crusade."
And President Musharraf made a historic and strategic decision that evening when I spoke to him and changed his policy and became a partner in this effort as opposed to a hindrance to the effort.
Mr. Chairman, I have to also say that we were successful during this period in rounding up international support.
The OAS, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the United Nations, NATO, the entire international community rallied to our effort.
To summarize all of this, Mr. Chairman, I might say that this administration came in fully recognizing the threat presented to the United States and its interests and allies around the world by terrorism.
We went to work on it immediately. The president made it clear that it was a high priority. The interagency group was working. We had continuity in our counterterrorism institutions and organizations. We kept demarching as was done in the previous administration.
But while we were demarching and while we were doing intelligence activities to disrupt, we were putting in place a comprehensive strategy that pulled all of these things together in a more aggressive way and in a way that would go after this threat in order to destroy it and not just keep demarching it.
We had eight or so months to do that, and in early September, that strategy came together. And when 9/11 hit us and brought us to that terrible day that none of us will ever forget, that strategy was ready and it was the basis upon which we went forward and we could accelerate all of our efforts.
While I was warning embassies and taking cover in our embassies in response to the threats, Secretary Rumsfeld was doing the same thing with military forces. Director Tenet was doing the same thing with his assets around the world. And our domestic agencies, the FBI, the FAA were also looking at what they needed to protect the nation.
Most of us still thought that the principal threat was outside of the country. We didn't know while we were going through this procedure and through these policies in putting together this comprehensive strategy that those who were going to perpetrate 9/11 were already in the country, had been in the country for some time, and were hard at work.
Anything we might have done against al Qaeda during this period, against Osama bin Laden may or may not have any influence on these people who were already in the country, already had their instructions, had already burrowed in and were getting ready to commit the crimes that we saw on 9/11.
Nevertheless, we knew that al Qaeda was ultimately the source of this kind of terror and we determined to go after it.
POWELL: As Secretary Albright said earlier, we have many other things we have to do in the months and the years ahead. We have to get our message out. We have to do more with public diplomacy. We have to do more with our allies and with our partners around the world.
We are working on all of these issues.
But al Qaeda no longer has a safe haven in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are on their way to democracy. I was there last week.
There are going to be no more weapons of mass destruction or safe havens in Iraq. The people of Iraq have been liberated and they're on their way to a democracy.
And so, I think we're trying to create conditions where we will bring the whole civilized world together against the threat of terrorism.
Mr. Chairman, I will end at this point and my entire statement is available for your record.
KEAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your testimony.
We'll begin this round of questioning with Commissioner Thompson, followed by Commissioner Gorelick.
JAMES R. THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Secretary, your testimony delivered here this morning in written form has come close to this issue, but let me ask you directly.
In the seven months between the time the Bush administration took office and September 11th, to your knowledge did Mr. Clarke ever present to the Bush administration a new plan for dealing with al Qaeda? Or was he, along with the rest of the NSC staff and the counterterrorism group working on the NSPD that was eventually produced in September without any complaint that things had to be done before that time?
POWELL: To the best of my knowledge -- and I'll ask Deputy Secretary Armitage to comment on this because he was so intimately involved -- is that in the early part of the seven-month period and then coming to sort of a climax in April, we started to pull together the various threads of a new policy. But I'm not aware of a specific new plan that had been put forward.
Dr. Rice had asked for a comprehensive study to be done of everything that we were doing up to that point from the previous administration, any new ideas that would come along. But I'm not aware of a specific new plan that was presented for consideration by the principals for action by the National Security Council.
RICHARD ARMITAGE, U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: I did not see a plan either.
But it's quite clear, Governor, that Dick Clarke, who participated in most of the DCs -- deputies committee meetings in which I participated, was quite impatient and was pushing the process quite well.
THOMPSON: Mr. Secretary, taking into account both your military background and your present diplomatic position, in your opinion would military aid to the Northern Alliance during the period February, 1991, to September, 1991, have prevented 9/11?
THOMPSON: Would more frequent principals meetings in that period or more small group meetings in that period have prevented 9/11?
POWELL: No, and I'm not quite sure I followed the rationale between more meetings and preventing 9/11. We met constantly. It wasn't always at principals level. But there was no lack of communication between the principals. There was no lack of exchange of information and data.
I was briefed every morning by my intelligence people. So were all of the other principals. The president got daily briefings from the director of Central Intelligence, and we consulted with each other about all of these issues. So I don't think it was a lack of meetings that resulted in 9/11, if that's the suggestion.
THOMPSON: In your opinion, would an invasion of Afghanistan, between February of '91, and September of '91, prevented 9/11?
POWELL: I can't answer that, but I can say that those who were perpetrators of 9/11, who were actually going to conduct the attacks of 9/11, already had their instructions, had their plans in place, and they were in the process of infiltrating themselves into the United States, or they were already here.
And invading Afghanistan and cutting off the head, if you succeeded in getting Osama bin Laden and disrupting al Qaeda at that point, I have no reason to believe that would have caused them to abort their plans.
THOMPSON: In fact, NATO is in Afghanistan today, and yet everyone who has testified before this commission or been interviewed by this commission still fears that we may yet suffer another attack on our own soil. Is that not correct?
POWELL: That's correct. Al Qaeda has tentacles in many different parts of the world. We've been very successful. We've eliminated a significant portion of the senior leadership that we knew about. This does not eliminate the entire organization, and it is not the only organization that means us ill.
THOMPSON: Let me take you back to the time you took office, early in 1991. Would you give us a summary version of the most pressing foreign policy issues that the nation, in your opinion, faced -- how you rank them, and where counterterrorism fit into this order of priority.
POWELL: There's no question that counterterrorism was in the top tier on this list. It's very difficult to rank order them because they just come rushing at you, and you have to deal with them as they come. I would say the Middle East peace problem was right there, one of the top ones.
The discussions that President Clinton and Ms. Albright, Dr. Albright, were having with the Palestinians and Israelis had essentially fallen apart just before inauguration. In fact, President Clinton and I spoke about it on his last day in his office that afternoon of January 19th and expressed his disappointment that it didn't work. So that was a top one.
Sanctions were falling apart with respect to Iraq, and we had to arrest that collapse of the sanctions policy. We're interested in a new relationship, what our relationship would be with Russia, with China.
And so lots of things press in, and you have to deal with all of them. But there's no doubt that counterterrorism and terrorism was high on that list. The very reason the very first briefing I got was on terrorism, and Dr. Albright, Secretary Albright, certainly made clear that she thought it was a high priority. I was announced on Saturday the 16th and the very next day Sunday the 17th, I met with Dr. Albright at her home for the first time to start talking about these issues.
THOMPSON: In May of 1991, you testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and you said: In my first three months, I'm very satisfied with the level of interagency coordination and cooperation. And you made specific reference to the FBI and the CIA.
Now, I realize you're only on the job three months at that time. But in light what we've all heard since that time about the difficulties in getting the FBI and the CIA together on the issue of al Qaeda, do you think you were being a little optimistic about the degree of coordination?
POWELL: I was getting a steady stream of information from Director Tenet. I read the same thing the president ready every morning, and the PDD, as its known and you're well familiar with it. And the PDD regularly talked about terrorist activities. My own intelligence operation, I&R, fed me with a steady stream. I met on a regular basis -- occasional basis -- regular basis with Director Freeh, had access to FBI information. So I didn't feel that there was a lack of coordination or a lack of communications and interchange between the principals.
THOMPSON: All of us, I'm sure, have the strong desire to prevent another Afghanistan. And there are places in the world, are there not, Mr. Secretary, either in Africa or Southeast Asia that present that threat?
THOMPSON: Would you tell us, please, what the administration and you are doing both diplomatically and militarily to head off this threat of another Afghanistan?
POWELL: Right after 9/11, even before 9/11, we started to work with the countries of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, we knew, would be an important nation in this regard. And after 9/11, we put a full court press on all of the nations of Central Asia not only for access for our troops to do their work in Afghanistan, but to create new relations with them.
And all of them have expressed a desire to have a friendly relationship and, in some cases, a partnership with the United States. And we did this very sensitive to Russia's concerns about the United States being in that part of the world. But we were able to persuade the Russians, over time, that we had a common enemy in terrorism, and they should not fear the United States having these kinds of relations with Central Asian nations.
We also looked at some of the nations in Africa; for example, Somalia, which was without a government. Secretary Rumsfeld, I'm sure he'll testify to this, has been looking at our footprint around the world to see how best we can deploy our forces to deal with those nations of the world and those regions of the world that have the potential as serving as safe havens for terrorist activities.
For example, we have a presence in Djibouti now that we didn't have previously, because we're concerned about the possibility of terrorists finding safe havens in that part of the world. And so I think we have, through our diplomatic efforts, our intelligence efforts and our military footprinting, been very sensitive to the need to get ahead of the terrorists and to dry up these fertile places. Part of our public diplomacy effort goes to this effort as well.
THOMPSON: One last question...
ARMITAGE: If I may...
THOMPSON: Yes, go ahead, Mr. Armitage.
ARMITAGE: There's one other element that the Secretary has made a big part of our policy at the Department of State. And that is that a big portion of our assistance programs for almost every country is in good governance and democracy, because you're not going to have a failed state, we feel, if you have good, transparent governance and democracy. It's not that it's new. I think the amount of attention, the amount of money going to it is new and it's raised.
THOMPSON: Prior to September 11th, would it have been possible either for the Clinton administration or the Bush administration to say to either the Saudis or the Pakistanis, as the President did after September 11th: You're either with us or against us.
POWELL: It's not clear how you would have communicated such a message and under what set of circumstances. What would you have been saying to the Pakistanis at that point that would have persuaded them that it was a choice they had to make?
After 9/11, it was clear to the Pakistanis that we were going to take action against al Qaeda. And if that included taking action against the Taliban, if that included going into Afghanistan and removing that regime, we were going to do it.
POWELL: And what we were essentially saying at that point: You've got to be with us. And I think without that kind of imperative, 9/11 plus the fact that we were determined to invade a country if that's what it took to get rid of this threat, I'm not sure you would have gotten the kind of response from the Pakistanis that we got on the 14th of September.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
KEAN: Commissioner Gorelick?
JAMIE S. GORELICK, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Secretary Powell and Secretary Armitage for being here today.
Secretary Powell, it has been my pleasure over 25 years to have worked with you in two Democratic administrations. Just to protect you, I will note for the record you were in uniform.
So it's my pleasure to have the opportunity to question you today.
I'd like to return to some questions Governor Thompson asked you at the outset. And they have to do with the appropriate role of the National Security Council in an area like terrorism and particularly whether it is mostly a policy-making body as it seems to have been in the policy-making process leading up to NSPD-9 directed to counterterrorism or whether it has an operational role as well. And you have been, I would say candidly dismissive of the notion that more meetings would have been helpful.
But I would note that by putting off until the perfect policy was in place a decision on flying the Predator, a decision on arming the Northern Alliance, a decision on a response to the Cole, there were operational implications to this, in fairness, prolonged policy-making process. There are gaps of six weeks between deputies committee meetings as this process unfolds.
And then during what has been called the summer of threat where you have the CIA director running around with his hair on fire, you all, the Cabinet, was never summoned to the White House to talk.
Now, as I take it, your view is it wouldn't have made a difference. And Dick Clarke has said, well actually during the millennium process, it did make a difference.
So I'd like to ask you were you aware, for example, that within your department, visas were being issued to the plotters of 9/11 when these individuals in your consulate had no information from the CIA or the FBI that these were bad actors? Were you aware that your tip-off list, which had lists of terrorists who should be prevented from coming into this country, were not being given to the FAA so that the same people wouldn't fly on our aircraft.
Did you sit at a meeting with the attorney general and say to him, "Have you turned over every rock in your FBI so that I know how to respond as secretary of state to these threats?"
POWELL: I wasn't being dismissive of meetings as not being useful. I was saying that there are many ways to communicate besides just having principals meetings. I could see the need for an almost daily meeting when I think of the Y2K situation just before New Years Eve when the whole world was sort of abuzz as to what was going to happen. That truly was a time that made me want to meet every single day.
But we were not dismissive and did not fail to deal with issues like Predator or Northern Alliance. The Predator was not ready as a weapon during the early months of 2001.
Toward the latter part of that 7-month period, more information became available as to the capacity and the capabilities of the Predator as an armed weapon, and we all became more involved in it. And it was moved along at very, very rapid speed through the development process, almost through a Skunkworks process. And it was used as soon as it was available.
So having lots of principals meetings about whether the Predator was or was not armed wouldn't have served any particular purpose, because that isn't the mechanism by which the Predator was being examined for use. The best...
GORELICK: Let me follow up...
POWELL: ... if I just may, Ms. Gorelick. The NSC is principally a coordinating body, coordinating the development of policy. And in a crisis atmosphere the NSC system also becomes somewhat operational as it pulls people together to deal with a crisis.
GORELICK: Well, I would note that it was operational, but only at the CSG level which is, in most institutions and most organizations in the government, 2, 3, 4 levels down. Let me just follow up very quickly on the Predator. The Predator had been used as a surveillance technique -- well it hadn't been used, it had been tested up until the end of the Clinton administration. And then it literally was sat on the ground until it could be armed. Did you consider using it, as it had been used in Kosovo, to survey and then cue laser guided missiles or other arms not on the Predator?
POWELL: You'll have to direct the question to Secretary Rumsfeld and Mr. Tenet, but my understanding is that it was used for reconnaissance purposes in the fall of 2000. And then during the winter season, it was brought back to the United States for work and to start to determine its capability to handle a weapon.
POWELL: There was a time lag between the ability of the Predator to find something on the ground and then to deliver an ordnance from somewhere far away like a cruise missile from one of the submarines or ships at sea. So there wasn't a direct action link in real time between: There's a target; hit it. That's what the Hellfire did. It gave you an immediate response. And it was not available until the fall of 2001.
GORELICK: I will direct that question to later witnesses.
POWELL: On the Northern Alliance, since you raised it, the opinion of our group in whatever form it took this opinion was that the Northern Alliance only controlled a small portion of Afghanistan at this point. It had been pretty beaten up. It was involved in some activities that we had some serious reservations about. And we did not feel that at that time during that period, it was ready for a massive infusion of American assistance and what it would have done with such a massive infusion.
We didn't think it had the capability to march on Kabul or to take down the Taliban. And that was a judgment. It wasn't a judgment deferred. It was a judgment made at that time. Things changed after 9/11 when were actually going to put people in with the Northern Alliance to give them the kind of capability that they ultimately acquired with our people.
GORELICK: And in that regard...
POWELL: On visas, the 19 individuals who got into the United States, it was nothing in the databases until the summer of 2001 when two of them were identified to us and we immediately took action against the visas that had allowed them into the country.
But otherwise, these individuals would not have tripped anyone's database. There were discrepancies on the forms they filled out. They were not the kinds of discrepancies that said to you, "This is a terrorist." And they easily corrected those errors on the application forms and resubmitted them. And there was nothing in our consolidated database that would have said, "Don't let these individuals in the country because they're terrorists."
GORELICK: And it's just those, sort of, gaps that I personally believe can be addressed by having all the relevant parties in the room in a state where there is an emergency. I do want to go on, though.
I was struck by your candid, very candid statement of the degree to which you were apprised of the terrorist risk when you took office and really seized with it. But as I go back and I look at what President Bush listed as his priorities for your department, I think on the day actually that your selection was announced, there were Russia, NATO, China, alliances in the Far East, our hemisphere, the Middle East and Iraq.
And then when I look at Condi Rice's piece in foreign affairs describing essentially the Bush campaign's view of the world, it barely mentions terrorism. So I guess my question is: Are you saying that your personal priorities were different from that of the administration's?
POWELL: No, I think the terrorism threat and counterterrorism was a priority of the president. If you look at his Citadel speech, while he was still a candidate, in the campaign he touched on it. And throughout the early months and increasingly as got to the end of the year, he focused more and more on the intelligence information that he was being provided by Director Tenet. I think you'll hear from Director Tenet that a significant percentage of the items in the daily PDD dealt with terrorism.
GORELICK: What percentage of your time do you think you've spent on terrorism before 9/11?
POWELL: I really don't know that I can make such a calculation. It was embedded in almost everything we were doing, but I don't know that I could tell you what percentage of time I spent on that one issue and probably couldn't tell you what percentage of time I spent on any other issue you ask me about.
GORELICK: I know it's a difficult question.
Our staff statement notes that the national intelligence estimate described our enemy, in terms of terrorism, as "Islamic extremists angry at the United States."
And so I was struck by the fact that the national strategy for combating terrorism, which was issued last February of '03, doesn't have a single word -- a single word -- about jihadists or Islamic extremists. And it looks at terrorism as the enemy, but terrorism is a tool. It is not an enemy in itself; it's a tool. And really, our enemy is quite distinguishable.
And you have been in this business, the national security business, for your entire life. So my question to you is: Doesn't a strategy which blinks a reality like that doom us to failure? Don't we have to be focused on who the enemy is and have a strategy focused on getting that enemy?
POWELL: The enemy is not terrorism; it's terrorists. They're individuals, real, live people out there who mean us ill.
And we have studied them, we've designated them, put them on foreign terrorist lists, we've gone after them. We have gone after those countries diplomatically and militarily that support these kinds of terrorist organizations.
So I think we have a clear understanding of what we are going after, whether it's Abu Sayyaf, whether it's Hezbollah, whether it is al Qaeda.
We have been working with friends around the world who are participating in this campaign against terrorism, whether it's President Uribe, who is here today, and the terrorist organizations he is fighting, or whether it's with President Arroyo and the terrorist organizations she is fighting in the Philippines.
And so, it is not some esoteric term "terrorism." It's people we're after, terrorists, and they are the enemy.
GORELICK: And would you agree that our principal adversary right now is Islamic extremists and jihadists?
POWELL: I would say that they are the source of most of the terrorist threats that we are facing.
POWELL: They fuel those individuals and organizations such as al Qaeda and Hezbollah. But principally al Qaeda right now, I would say, continues to be the number one organization we have to concern ourselves with.
GORELICK: Your predecessor, who testified a few minutes ago, said that she issued a demarche, a threat, to the Taliban before the Cole, saying: If you permit people within your borders to do us harm, you will face very serious consequences. By which, she indicated she meant at least to consider military responses.
And yet, after the Cole, all we did was issue another demarche. Weren't you afraid that we would be viewed as having issued an empty threat?
POWELL: We, also, issued demarches to the Taliban. One has to be careful on issuing such threats, but one also has to be mindful that it's one thing to issue a threat, but if you don't have something targetable to go after -- and it was not the plan in the previous administration, it was not part of our early plans, to go after the entire Taliban regime. We were focusing on al Qaeda and Taliban support of al Qaeda. We wanted to go after al Qaeda.
And so yes one has to be careful about issuing demarches and threats that you don't have the ability to follow up on with a full range of actions.
That's one of the reasons that, as we went through this process of strategy developed throughout that 7-month period, we came to the conclusion that the answer had to be the elimination of al Qaeda and the threat posed by al Qaeda. But every...
GORELICK: But you had the -- pardon me, I'm sorry. You had the Cole hanging out there. They had dome grievous harm to us, and we had previously threatened them with a response. And yet there was no response. Did you consider what to do in that intervening period to respond to the Cole?
POWELL: We did not take under advisement, or take into account, during that period, the kinds of actions we were prepared to take after 9/11, because we knew that al Qaeda was responsible, but it wasn't clear how we could get at al Qaeda in a way that would destroy al Qaeda. And we had not yet reached the point of saying we're going to have to take down the Taliban regime. That came later.
GORELICK: One question. I was struck by your emphasis on the continuity from the Clinton administration and the number of people you carried forward and, frankly, the number of policies that you carried forward up until September 11th.
And I found it to be -- and I'd just ask you for a comment on this -- a marked contrast to the rather pointed criticisms from Condoleezza Rice of the Clinton administration policies.
GORELICK: She has given speeches. She has been on the airwaves essentially saying that the policies that she inherited and that you inherited were bankrupt, that they were feckless, that there was no response.
And yet, you have made, I think, a singular point here this morning of saying that up until September 11th, most of them were continued at least until you completed this policy review and then in my observation, the policies that you, indeed, adopted as a principals committee on September 4th were actually following the trajectory of where the Clinton administration had been. Would you care to comment on that?
POWELL: We took advantage of the expertise that existed with the individuals I listed to include Dick Clarke. But, in fact, the policy of the previous administration had not eliminated al Qaeda. It's a tough, tough target as Dr. Albright said earlier.
And so we came in, kept many of these people in place. Over time as we gained from their expertise and realized it was time to make a change, we brought in new people in diplomatic security, brought in a new director of I&R, brought in new people in our counterterrorism branch and in other parts of the administration.
So we eventually brought in our people. And I think that the policy that we came to and which was decided upon at that September 4th principals meeting does take us to a new level of engagement and then a new level of determination to eliminate this threat. And it reflected the kinds of discussions and judgments that were made by the deputies and the crisis group, the counterterrorism group, early in the year. And it did take us to a new level that said not just rollback but eliminate. And there is a clear distinction between what was going on at the end of the previous administration and what we are now prepared to do on the 4th of September.
GORELICK: Well, if I had more time, I would pursue that with you, but I thank you for your testimony today. KEAN: Just one brief question. You've been around government a long time and a number of administrations. Based on that experience, the period from March to August 2001, was that an exceptionally long time to develop a new policy of the kind of complexity of the president's policy on al Qaeda?
POWELL: Not really. It was a complex issue, and it's not as if we were not doing anything but sitting around working on NSPD. We were reaching out to Uzbekistan. We were continuing to work with Pakistan. We were engaged diplomatically. We were following up on various U.N. actions that had been taken.
And so there was work going on. Ms. Gorelick made reference to visas. We were in the process of reviewing our visa policy. We had the tip-off system, but it was not really serving the full intended purpose. It was going to be the basis of the Terrorist Threat Information Center that came later.
POWELL: And so there were many things that were going on and not just everybody standing still waiting for an NSPD to be finished.
Keep in mind that we dealt with the issue of what's the status of the Predator, what's the status of the Northern Alliance.
And you may want to add a word to that, Rich.
ARMITAGE: Thank you.
The development of this, what we consider to be a comprehensive policy, was one that the members who are sitting on the commission who served on Capitol Hill will recognize the complexities of.
Some of the things we had to do in order to move forward with Pakistan involved removing an unbelievable number of sanctions, which are put on by people with very strong views on Capitol Hill. We were already in the process of working that out. That does not happen in a week. The same is true of India, who are under sanctions.
So as the secretary said, we weren't just sitting around.
Now, the question of the Northern Alliance has come up several times, and people wonder why it was so hard to come to a decision. Well, beyond the drug dealing that they did, well, that caused us some trouble. Beyond the human rights tragedy that they inflicted in the 1996 time period, that took us a little time to get over.
It's not sufficient to be the enemy of our enemy to be our friend. To be our friend you have to share or be willing to at least embrace to some extent our values, and that's why the question of the Northern Alliance wasn't an easy one. It was a tough one.
KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Secretary Powell, for your testimony here today and for your dedicated service to our country. As you know, I have long been a personal admirer of yours, and thank you again for your commitment in service.
Secretary Armitage, the administration has asked that you be allowed to testify tomorrow in place of Condoleezza Rice. No one could suggest that her role is not central to our inquiry and that her knowledge is different from yours, as she was a direct liaison between the president and the CIA and the FBI on issues directly relevant to our inquiry.
That is why the commission unanimously requested that Dr. Rice appear. The only reason the administration has advanced for refusing to make Dr. Rice available is a separation of powers argument, that presidential advisers ought not have to appear before the Congress.
I would call to your attention a report by the Congressional Research Service dated April 5th, 2002, well before the controversy arose about Dr. Rice's appearance.
BEN-VENISTE: In that report, there are many precedents involving presidential advisers. Lloyd Cutler, counsel to President Carter, testified, came up to Congress to answer questions. Zbigniew Brzezinski, assistant to the president for national security affairs, appeared in 1980. Samuel Berger appeared to the president as a deputy assistant to the president for national security in May of 1994. He reappeared in his function as national security adviser in September of 1997. John Podesta, chief of staff to President Clinton, and several others in the Clinton administration, have appeared before congressional committees. And I may add that after this report was prepared, Governor Ridge appeared before two committees of the Congress.
So I would ask, Mr. Armitage, without any disparagement of your service or of your knowledge, that when you leave here today, you advise the administration of this report. I've got an extra copy for you to take with you.
We ask again in all seriousness that Dr. Rice appear.
Secretary Powell, let me ask you this, I'd like to turn your attention to the immediate events after 9/11. You were in Peru on that day. You flew back. It must have been a dreadfully painful experience on several levels, not the least of which was your inability to communicate during that long trip back.
Thereafter, you met with members of the Cabinet and the president at Camp David. And my friend, Secretary Lehman, has brought up the subject of Iraq with Secretary Albright.
You and I met with other members of the commission on the 21st of January of this year. On that occasion, you advised us of a full-day meeting on Saturday, September 15th, in which the question of striking Iraq was discussed. You advised us that the deputy secretary of defense advanced the argument that Iraq was the source of the problem and that the United States should launch an attack on Iraq forthwith. You advised us that Secretary Wolfowitz was unable to justify that position.
Have I accurately described your recollection of what occurred?
POWELL: There was a meeting of the National Security Council that Mr. Wolfowitz also attended on that day at Camp David, as you describe. There was a full day of discussions on the situation that we found ourselves in, who was responsible for it.
And as part of that full day of discussion, Iraq was discussed. And Secretary Wolfowitz raised the issue of whether or not Iraq should be considered for action during this time.
And after fully discussing all sides of the issue, as I think it is appropriate for such a group to do, the president made a tentative decision that afternoon -- I would call it a tentative decision -- that we ought to focus on Afghanistan because it was clear to us at that point that al Qaeda was responsible, the Taliban was harboring al Qaeda and that that should be the objective of any action we were to take.
He did not dismiss Iraq as a problem. But he said: First things first, we will examine all of the sources of terrorism directed against the United States and the civilized world, but we'll start with Afghanistan.
Now, he confirmed that over the next couple of days in meetings we had with him. And when he came back down from Camp David and we met on Monday, he made it a firm decision and gave us all instructions as to how to proceed. And then he announced that to the nation later in the week.
And so he heard arguments, as he should, from all members of his administration on the different alternatives. I think this is what a president would expect us to do, and he decided on Afghanistan.
BEN-VENISTE: Excuse me, you have characterized Secretary Wolfowitz...
KEAN: Last question.
BEN-VENISTE: ... Secretary Wolfowitz's position as whether or not we ought to attack Iraq. Is it not the case that he advocated for an attack on Iraq?
POWELL: He presented the case for Iraq and whether or not it should be considered along with Afghanistan at this time. I can't recall whether he said "instead of Afghanistan." We all knew that Afghanistan was where al Qaeda was.
BEN-VENISTE: Was there any concrete basis upon which that recommendation was founded, in your view, to attack Iraq for 9/11? POWELL: Secretary Wolfowitz was deeply concerned about Iraq being a source of terrorist activity. You will have a chance to talk to him directly about...
BEN-VENISTE: I've asked for your view, with all due respect, Secretary Powell.
POWELL: With all due respect, I don't think I should characterize what Mr. Wolfowitz's view were.
BEN-VENISTE: No, I asked for your view. In your view, was there a basis?
POWELL: My view was that we listened to all the arguments at Camp David that day, and Mr. Wolfowitz felt that Iraq should be considered as part of this problem having to do with terrorism. And he wanted us to consider whether or not it should be part of any military action that we were getting ready to take.
We all heard the argument fully. We asked questions back and forth. And where the president came down was that Afghanistan was the place that we had to attack because the world and the American people would not understand if we didn't go after the source of the 9/11 terrorists.
BEN-VENISTE: I'm out of time. And I'm just going to listen to my chairman.
BOB KERREY, COMMISSION MEMBER: Well, Mr. Secretary, to both of you and Secretary Armitage, I would prefer that Dr. Rice would be here tomorrow, but Dick you would be a fabulous national security adviser. You would be a dynamite one.
So that said, let me say that, with great respect, I'm having difficulty with, you know, we spent eight months developing a plan because I don't think that's the central problem here. And my recollection of the presidential campaign, and by the way, my history, my actions in presidential campaigns were kept intact in 2000. I supported the loser in the primary so my memory may not be very good.
But I don't recall terrorism being much if even an issue at all in the 2000 campaign, in part, even though it was on the policy- maker's minds, they were aware of the threat, they were aware of what's going on, but I just don't recall it being a driving force in either one of the campaigns.
Maybe I've got that wrong, but I don't think so.
And I think the central problem, Mr. Secretary, is something that all three of us have dealt with from time to time and that was the use of military force in dealing with al Qaeda.
I said earlier to Secretary Albright, I think it was one of the big mistakes of the Clinton administration. In fact, I think it was also a fault of the Bush administration. Although I'm sympathetic that the secretary of defense was not a primary actor in the war on terrorism. Indeed, striking, his recollection of the briefings on al Qaeda were considerably different than yours. His recollection may be different when he's testifying.
But it wasn't as clear and shouldn't be because under presidential directive 62, which was signed by President Clinton in '98, that presidential directive didn't give the Department of Defense a primary role in the war on terrorism. It just didn't in counterterrorism activity.
And I've read the cautionary concern that General Zinni had, who was CINC of CENTCOM at the time and other military leaders. I've had, in twelve years experience in the United States Senate, many times I walk out wondering if I voted the right way. And among those moments was Desert Storm I, where I'm relatively certain today that I did vote the wrong way.
But it came from a concern for bodybags coming home and would we be able to sustain the political effort. And I was likewise concerned about Bosnia, ended up supporting the effort in Bosnia and Kosovo.
But those who say we shouldn't be skeptical or concerned about use of military force, I think have got it wrong. We should be. We should, it seems to me, always wonder.
But I wonder if you see it that way. I mean I wonder if you see that if you look at from '93 when World Trade Center I was hit the first time and through September of 2001, al Qaeda never suffered a military response from us, never -- other than on August 20th, which was a relatively small military attack, a very limited military attack with absolutely no anticipation of boots on the ground of being involved.
And I'm just wondering, I appreciate that I'm asking a question as if you were secretary of defense, secretary of state, national security adviser and perhaps even president, not just secretary of state.
But I wonder if you see it that way, as well, that our reluctance to give the secretary of defense and the military a more prominent role in counterterrorism efforts contributed to our lack of preparation.
KERREY: The bottom line for me is it just pains me to have to say that on the 11th of September that 19 men and less a half a million dollars defeated every single defensive mechanism we had in place -- utterly. It wasn't even a close call. They defeated everything we had in place on 11 September, with hardly, it seems to me, any doubt about their chance of success.
And I'll just stop there and give you a chance to tell me what you think went wrong.
POWELL: Let me speak to our administration, and I'll speak more generally to get to the heart of the question. I think, in our deliberations and our meetings -- and Mr. Armitage may wish to speak to this -- the Pentagon was starting to develop plans. It was looking at contingencies that it might have to deal with. And you can pursue this with Secretary Rumsfeld this afternoon.
But in this whole period, to say that use military force to get al Qaeda when it wasn't going to be a surgical strike -- anybody who thinks that Osama bin Laden might just be laying around somewhere and you can go pick him up; well, maybe. Good luck. But that's a wish, not a strategy or not a military action.
So you would have had, really, to go after al Qaeda by going after the Taliban, and that meant invading another country. And it meant invading another country without the support of any of the surrounding countries where you would need some access to get there.
And so I don't know that in this period from '93 through the summer of 2001 you had a sufficient political base and sufficient political understanding, both here and in the international community, that would have given you a basis for saying that we know enough about al Qaeda, we know enough about the Taliban, that we are going in to invade this country and remove this threat.
KERREY: Can I respond to that?
KEAN: Just a minute response.
KERREY: Yes, just a minute response -- because Secretary Albright said the same thing. And I was there in '91 when you and former President Bush and Secretary Cheney went to the world and persuaded the world that we needed to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.
Public opinion wasn't on your side either when you began. Public opinion wasn't on the side of President Clinton when he suggested that we needed to intervene in Bosnia. It wasn't on the side of the administration when they decided to intervene in Kosovo.
It's rare that public opinion is on the side of a president or political leader when it comes to using military force, except after the fact.
So, it does seem to me to be in many ways sort of a straw man position to say: Gee it would have been exceptionally difficult. Yes, it would have been exceptionally difficult. But, history's replete of examples where political leaders made a decision in spite of public opinion being on the other side, and saying, "I've got the persuade people because I see it being an urgent necessity."
POWELL: I don't think that, in the case of al Qaeda and Afghanistan during this period, it rose to that level of urgent necessity, that the people thought that we've got to go do this now, even if it includes major invasion of a country without the support of any of the surrounding countries.
Do we have a sufficient cause and justification to undertake such action? And previous administration can speak for itself. They've spoken for themselves, they said they didn't see it. And frankly in our first 7 months in office, as we looked at this we realized that it might come to that. That's the realization that we come to. And you come to these kinds of realizations after a great deal of study and debate. You don't walk in on the first day and say we have decided this is what has to be done.
So we discussed it with all of the experts who were in the previous administration and stayed over. We then brought in our new people. Mr. Armitage came in after 2 months. General Taylor came over after a while. A lot of people came in, and we put together a more comprehensive policy and we reached the conclusion in early September that it might come to that and we have to understand that we might have to go in and take this kind of large-scale military action if that was the only way to eliminate this threat.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer -- I'm sorry.
ARMITAGE: The record I have of our discussions in the deputies, in the July time frame where we began to discuss actually using military measures if all the rest was not successful, that's a long way from having a plan, a military plan, but these were things that as the secretaries indicated, we talked about, we debated, and we realized eventually we were going to have to have in our quiver.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to both of you, Secretary Powell and Secretary Armitage, thank you again for your service and your time.
I join in the wide chorus of praise for you, Mr. Secretary, and your career, both in public service, but also in the private sector when you were trying to get the American people more engaged in volunteer service.
Let me pick somebody else who joins in that praise of you that is widely condemning almost everybody else in the Bush administration for not acting quickly enough on terrorism.
Richard Clarke in his new book, on page 228, says, "Colin Powell took the unusual steps, during the transition, of asking to meet with the CSG, the Counterterrorism Security Group, took notes, and was surprised at the unanimity of the recommendations and the threat of al Qaeda. He paid careful attention and asked Mr. Armitage to follow up on it." Very blunt, very praiseworthy, very complimentary of your understanding the problem.
In that PowerPoint presentation that he made to you, he in fact said, they're here. One of the slides said that al Qaeda was in the United States.
Doesn't that in fact say two things: one, that nine months is too long to act. You have to take some immediate steps. And two, if you're going to go from a rollback strategy to an elimination strategy, if you're going to go from swatting flies to exterminating the flies, you've got to have something to exterminate them with, whether it's Predator, Northern Alliance, aid to Uzbekistan, covert operations -- you have to be taking some of these actions. ROEMER: The USS Cole, why didn't we take at least some of those actions in the meantime as this nine-month bottom-up review took place?
POWELL: I don't remember the specific PowerPoint slide. I didn't turn to Mr. Armitage because he wasn't there yet. He didn't show up for another two months.
And if Mr. Clarke was aware...
ROEMER: Well, just to clear the record, he later asked Rich Armitage to...
POWELL: Thank you. Yes.
ROEMER: ... to get involved.
POWELL: But there were others working for me at the time that I asked. And the time that he gave me the briefing, I was not the secretary of state. This administration was not in office.
And if, according to this slide, Mr. Clarke and the members of the previous administration who were briefing me that day -- this was the 20th of December, a month before inauguration -- if they were aware that al Qaeda representatives were already in the country running around and knew that, and knew that these 19 -- if that's the reference in that passage -- they were running around inside the country, the obligation frankly is on them, not why didn't we do something beginning a month later.
Why hadn't they done something while they were preparing the PowerPoint presentation?
And so I haven't read that section of the book.
ROEMER: That's certainly in our questions to Mr. Clarke tomorrow. Because he's a sworn participant tomorrow for over two hours, we intend to ask him many of those questions.
Today, as the Bush administration moved forward from January on, why not exercise some of these options?
POWELL: The options were not options. There was no option for an armed Predator. The armed Predator did not exist.
ROEMER: Recon Predator.
POWELL: The recon Predator -- it was analyzed very carefully -- and I think Director Tenet will be speaking about this -- that it was a waste of the asset at that point to have it fly around and become identified and its pattern of operation, method of operation become known to those on the ground who it was looking for. And the Taliban did have some aircraft that might have been capable of going up and taking the Predator down.
A judgment was made that since we couldn't use the reconnaissance information from the Predator to immediately target that which the Predator found, let's not give away its signature and other aspects of its operational capability until we could do that.
POWELL: And it was a crash effort all during 2001, the first seven months of this administration, to get it armed. And it was armed in September. And as soon as it was armed, as soon as it was tested, we knew what it could do, it was used. And it was used effectively, and it was used repeatedly.
The Northern Alliance question we've answered. This was not a force that had the capability to take down the Taliban or to remove al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan. And as Secretary Armitage just described, we had significant issues that we had to work our way through. And it took time to work our way through these issues and to do it in a way that did not offend other tribes or other groups within Afghanistan, that might have taken a dim view of what we were doing with the Northern Alliance.
ROEMER: But, Mr. Secretary, then this elimination of al Qaeda was a three- or five-year process. It was not anything that was going to take place anytime soon.
POWELL: I think Mr. Clarke says that he saw it as a three- to five-year process. It was not a matter of, okay, fine, I want to eliminate al Qaeda, so tomorrow morning I'm going to go do it.
al Qaeda does not quite present that kind of a target to you. You have to work diplomatically, politically, law enforcement, get inside the financing of al Qaeda and similar organizations, ultimately to bring them down and to put them on the run.
ROEMER: Thank you Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman. Senator Gorton.
SLADE GORTON, COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Secretary, you weren't able to read your entire statement, but I think your conclusion, which was both thoughtful and frightening, deserves to be on the oral record as well as in the written record, and it does lead to my one question.
You say, "the fundamental is this: Sometimes you can do almost everything right, and still suffer grievous losses from terrorist attacks. The recent train bombings in Spain demonstrate this tragic but inescapable fact. Spanish authorities were well prepared. Spain's highly capable security forces were on high alert, and security had been increased across the country. In fact, several weeks earlier, they had apprehended terrorists with a truck load of explosives. Nonetheless, and despite all their best efforts and precautions, Spain still suffered these horrific attacks that produced such terrible casualties. Before this war is won, there will be more such attacks."
Now, the fact that we don't like to talk about, in public, for fear of what consequences it might have, is the fact that we have now gone for 2.5 years in the United States without an Islamic extremist successful terrorist attack here. We have prevented some, but in a sense, nothing has happened. I'd like you to give me your opinion, to the extent that you feel able to do so, of the reasons for that.
How much of it is blind luck? How much of it is the fact that we've hardened targets? How much of it is the fact or the proposition that we have more effective intelligence and prevention than we did before 9/11? How much is due to the fact that we have attacked the sources, the physical sources? And how much of it is due to the fact that all of these things together may simply not have ended terrorism, obviously it did not, but simply displaced it, to Indonesia, to Morocco, to Turkey, to Saudi Arabia, to Spain, to places in which the targets are easier and softer?
POWELL: Sir, we are still vulnerable, and we should accept that, and we'll always be vulnerable as long as we are a free and open society.
But we have done a number of things that I hope have deterred attacks, made it harder for people to plot against the United States and have perhaps scared them into thinking, "Well, we wouldn't be as successful as we might have been a couple of years ago": the creation of the Department of Homeland Security; the manner in which we took the tip-off database that Ms. Gorelick spoke about and have now used it to create a much larger database, and we're pulling all the FBI, CIA, State Department databases into one system; the fact that we have changed our visa policies significantly -- we're now starting to fingerprint people coming into the country and getting a better ID on them; the fact that we have done a lot of work on our borders; the fact that we have the Transportation Security Administration, does a better job of looking at who's coming into the country at our airports and other places of entry and points of entry.
So I hope that these defensive measures we have taken are deterring attacks and are giving people who might come after us pause, "Is there not a better place that we can go and conduct one of these terrible attacks and make the same point to the world about our philosophy and our evil intent." And maybe that's why they have gone elsewhere.
I think it also illustrates why nobody is immune and we all have to work together.
And so I hope that as a result of the attack in Spain, the attack in Bali, the attack in Riyadh the attack in so many other places in the world will pull the civilized world together and cause us to do a better job of sharing intelligence information, law enforcement information, financial cooperation and direct action against terrorist organizations.
But I can't give you a measure for each one of these steps, Mr. Gorton. It's just not possible.
And we're still vulnerable. A nation as large as ours, fairly open. And we can't shut down our openness. We cannot be so afraid that we don't let anybody into our country. It's costing now. We don't let students come to our universities because we're concerned, or they don't want to come to our universities because they are afraid of the difficulty of getting a visa even if they're fully qualified for a visa, or the harassment they sometimes feel at our airports.
So we have to secure the homeland, but we also have to remain a open nation, or the terrorists win.
But I hope that all of the efforts the president has taken over the last couple of years have contributed to our deterrent effect against terrorist activity.
GORTON: So you feel that to a certain extent there has been genuine deterrence, a reduction in it, but also a significant degree of displacement.
POWELL: Well, deterrence for sure. We have made it a lot harder to people to come and move freely about our country. And they knew we're looking for them, and we know that the policies the president has put in place are for the purpose of finding these folks before they get us.
With respect to displacement, we know we have pretty much crippled their ability to work in Afghanistan.
POWELL: I can't say that we've gotten them all. There may be some remnants left.
We also know they're trying to re-create themselves elsewhere. That's why what Secretary Rumsfeld is doing with his footprint of our military forces and what Director Tenet is doing and will speak to you about are so important. We got to chase them and find them wherever they surface in these other places in the world.
ARMITAGE: Probably the best deterrent, Senator, in addition to those that the secretary has mentioned, is about the 500 al Qaeda that have been wrapped up by Pakistan and the dozens who have been killed and arrested by the Saudis, particularly after the May 12th bombings. That's part of deterrence, too. You've got to have the sharp edge or the pointy edge of the spear.
POWELL: Just to put a P.S. on that, some of these organizations, particularly al Qaeda, thought they were getting a free ride in certain places. They have now discovered there's no free ride in Saudi Arabia. And you see what President Musharraf has been doing in recent days in that battle that's taking place up in the tribal areas.
They know they're going to be engaged. And you can be sure they're going to be engaged by Spanish authorities. And so they know there's no longer any impunity associated with their actions. The world, hopefully, is coming together. We must not let the success of some of these actions, such as the Spanish disaster, cause us to back away from the campaign against terrorism. It should cause us to redouble our efforts.
KEAN: Thank you very much Secretary Powell, Deputy Secretary Armitage. Thank you for being with us. We would like to submit you a few more questions for the record. And we look forward to your reply on those.
We're now going to adjourn until 1:30.
I would ask the audience, by the way, before you leave, the Capitol Police have asked us to announce that as people leave the room for lunch, please do not leave bags, packages, unattached things in the room because the Capitol police may take them away and they won't be here when you get back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The chairman of the commission, Thomas Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, wrapping up this opening session, two days of hearings, before the National Commission on Terrorists Attacks Against the United States.
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