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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Berger Testifies Before 9/11 Commission
Aired March 24, 2004 - 11:21 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We go back live now to the nation's capital. Samuel Berger has just taken the oath and will testify before the 9/11 commission.
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SAMUEL BERGER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: ... families and friends, I'm pleased to be here today to share my reflections on the fight against terrorism, as well as my recommendations for the future.
We can never forget what we lost on September 11: more than 3,000 lives cut short. It was the beginning of the age of catastrophic terrorism.
The tragedy changed our perspectives and priorities as a nation, even as individuals. We have an obligation to explore the events that led up to that terrible morning.
For all the efforts of successive administrations, September 11 was not prevented. We were hit. We must learn the right lessons so that it never happens again.
At the same time, it is easier to see how puzzle pieces fit together if you have in hand the final picture. History is written through a rearview mirror, but it unfolds through a foggy windshield.
When President Clinton entered office in 1993, the intelligence community was primarily focused on the Soviet Union's collapse and the Cold War's end.
During the 1980s, nearly 500 Americans had been killed in terrorist attacks abroad, yet counterterrorism was not a priority of our government.
From the beginning of our administration, the NSC was responsible for policy formulation and for seeking to implement President Clinton's commitment to fight terrorism. We met frequently on terrorism at the Cabinet level. During times of acute crisis, such as during the millennium threat, we took on a more active management role.
The day-to-day interagency working group, the counterterrorism security group, reported to us. We provided stimulus to agencies across a broad counterterrorism strategy. BERGER: What were the elements of our counterterrorism strategy?
First, as our understanding of bin Laden evolved in the mid- 1990s, from one of many financiers of terrorist groups to a galvanizer of anti-American hatred, our focus on him and his network increased. We established a dedicated CIA cell for tracking his activities after the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, the first time we had established bin Laden's role in attacks against Americans. Getting bin Laden and stopping al Qaeda became a top priority.
It has been reported the president gave the CIA broad, lethal and unprecedented authorities regarding bin Laden and his lieutenants. The president's willingness to destroy Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants was made unmistakably clear in August 1998, the one time we had actionable intelligence as to bin Laden's whereabouts.
The president ordered a cruise missile attack against him. According to the intelligence community, at the time, 20 to 30 al Qaeda lieutenants were killed, but bin Laden was missed by a few hours.
For the rest of our term, we tried continually to obtain actionable intelligence on bin Laden and other top operatives. Unfortunately, such intelligence never emerged again. And it was our judgment that to attack primitive camps and fail to destroy bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders would strengthen al Qaeda and make us look weak.
President Clinton pressed often for special forces options to get bin Laden; boots on the ground. The military seriously considered such missions. But, before 9/11, with no regional support or bases, daunting operational obstacles, and no lead time intelligence on bin Laden's whereabouts, the military leadership concluded any such mission likely would fail.
Nonetheless, we continue to seek the whereabouts of bin Laden and his lieutenants, and we were ready to act if we could locate them.
Second, the CIA were closely working with liaison agencies worldwide to break up al Qaeda cells in more than 20 countries.
Third, the CIA, together with foreign intelligence services, tracked down and captured more than 50 terrorists abroad, including the mastermind of the '93 World Trade Center bombing.
Fourth, the intelligence and law enforcement communities prevented a number of bad things from happening: a plot against New York landmarks in 1993, a Manila-based plot to assassinate the pope and blow up 12 American airlines over the Pacific in 1995, and a 1998 plot to attack the U.S. embassy in Albania. We sent 100 Marines at that time.
In late '99, as we approached the millennium celebrations, the CIA warned us of five to 15 plots against American targets. BERGER: This was the most serious threat spike during our time in office. I convened national security principals at the White House virtually every day for a month. During this millennium period, plots were uncovered in Amman against the Radisson Hotel and religious sites and against the Los Angeles airport. Terror cells were broken up in Toronto, Boston, New York, and elsewhere.
Fifth, we exerted strong pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden. We withheld recognition of their regime. We imposed unilateral and then obtained multilateral economic sanctions. We froze assets and grounded their airline. We sought pressure on them from others. And we told the Taliban in January 2000 that we would hold them directly responsible for any future al Qaeda attacks on American interests. President Clinton felt so strongly that he traveled to Pakistan in 2000 against the adamant advice of the Secret Service to personally press General Musharraf.
Sixth, we sought to track and freeze al Qaeda assets, though this proved extremely difficult. Seventh, we worked with Congress to more than double counterterrorism budgets at the FBI and CIA and significantly increased counterterrorism funding for domestic security.
Eighth, we sought to achieve greater interagency coordination. We appointed an experienced senior official, Richard Clarke, to a new position of a White House-based national counterterrorism coordinator, energized the counterterrorism security group, designated lead agencies for each key counterterrorism function and elevated terrorism to a high priority level for the intelligence community.
Ninth, we've moved forward to develop a plan to protect critical infrastructure in the United States in coordination with the private sector, stepped up funding, training, and equipment for first responders and launched a $1.5 billion bioterrorism effort.
Finally, the administration, from President Clinton on down, repeatedly spoke to the American people about this threat. In 1995, President Clinton was the first world leader to bring the counterterrorism challenge before the United Nations. In 1996, he called terrorism the enemy of our generation. Over his eight years in office, he gave 10 major speeches devoted solely to terrorism, delivered more than 60 significant remarks on the subject, and raised the issue in public statements more than 200 times.
Both he and the vice president played a hands on role in shaping and executing our counterterrorism strategy here and abroad.
A few other things, Mr. Chairman. You asked me to address the attack on the USS Cole. We strongly suspected that al Qaeda was involved, but at the time President Clinton left office -- by the time he left office -- neither the CIA nor the FBI had reached firm conclusions that al Qaeda was responsible, something that is confirmed in your staff statement. I believe the president needed a confident judgment of responsibility upon which to base military action.
You also asked about Saudi Arabia. The president and vice president personally pressed Saudi officials to use their leverage against the Taliban. We know that a senior Saudi official went to Afghanistan to press the Taliban at our request. We know the Saudis cut back relations with the Taliban and cut off their funding. I cannot say that they used the full measure of their authority.
You also asked about the transition. When our administration ended, we alerted the incoming team to the terrorist threat and al Qaeda. During the transition, Bush administration officials received intensive briefings on this. As has been reported, I told my successor that she would be spending more time on terrorism and al Qaeda than any other issue. I did my best to emphasize the urgency I felt.
Members of the commission, looking back at our years in office, there were successes, disappointments and frustrations. Sixty-seven American live were lost to foreign terrorism during the Clinton administration. But fighting terrorism was a high and growing priority from the beginning of the Clinton administration to the end. For all of us, now, our challenge is to sharpen our ability to look forward.
I have a number of recommendations for the future, which I described in my written testimony. I hope you'll give me an opportunity to discuss them. For now, let me simply summarize by saying that I believe we need better integration in three areas: number one, policy integration to ensure greater seamlessness between agencies that have traditionally been either domestic or externally focused so that we never again have a situation in which, for example, the FAA or INS is disconnected from national security; two, intelligence integration to harmonize priorities and engage an ethic of jointness across the intelligence community, domestic and foreign; and, three, resource integration, with a single national security budget that includes all military, homeland security, diplomatic, and economic resources available to deal with the threats and challenges we face.
BERGER: I welcome the chance to elaborate further during our discussion.
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Berger.
Commissioner Ben-Veniste will now lead the questioning, followed by Commissioner Lehman.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Good morning, Mr. Berger.
BERGER: Good morning, Mr. Commissioner.
BEN-VENISTE: Our hearings today will be asymmetrical, in the sense that your counterpart, National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice, will not appear because the White House has refused to allow her to testify here.
As I pointed out yesterday, and I will point out in your presence, the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress looked at the issue of presidential advisers appearing before Congress, and even though we are not Congress ourselves, we are all out of government by the terms of the statute which creates us, I point out that you, on May the 3rd, 1994, as deputy assistant to the president for national security, appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, talking about our policy in Haiti, in open session, and you appeared as national security adviser before the Senate Committee on Government Affairs on September 11th -- coincidentally -- 1997.
This report also has numerous other entries, including the appearance of former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, on September 17th, 1980.
And may I say, without denigrating anybody, and the importance of their prior appearances, none of those appearances was as important as the 9/11 inquiry in which you are appearing today.
Now, with respect to the function of the national security adviser, your function is to coordinate and to relay to the president information both of a foreign and domestic nature, as it regards our national security. Is that correct?
BERGER: That's correct. Although the traditional focus of the National Security Council have been the traditional concerns of national security, which have been foreign threats. But that obviously has evolved over time.
BEN-VENISTE: And it certainly evolved during your service. Specifically, I point to the millennium threat, where the United States, as we have heard, had its highest levels, was on battle stations.
BEN-VENISTE: You convened meetings of the Cabinet to deal with that threat, did you not?
BERGER: Yes, I did.
BEN-VENISTE: And that was on an intense and frequent basis. Is that correct?
BERGER: It was on a daily basis, Mr. Commissioner, I think almost every day for a month.
BEN-VENISTE: And is it correct that although, again, the focus of the threat was supposedly against assets overseas, indeed, as you have related in your opening remarks, plots involving North America and sleeper cells in North America, including Los Angeles, Toronto, Boston, and others, were uncovered and thwarted by reason of the intensive efforts that were made during the millennium time frame.
BERGER: I do believe that we thwarted threats, and I do believe it was important to bring the principals together on a frequent basis, for a number of reasons. Things happen when the number one person is in the room. So Director Tenet would say, I've got a lead on so and so, and the attorney general would turn around to a person sitting behind her and say, can we get a FISA on this person?
And the answer is yes, attorney general. We got more FISAs in a shorter period of time than ever before in history. When the principal spends an hour a day at the White House or more, he goes back or she goes back to his agency or her agency and he or she shakes that agency for whatever it has.
So I believed that the threat was sufficiently serious that it had to be operated at that level. You can't operate at, obviously, the principals level as a routine matter, but this was not a routine situation.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me ask you this, because I have continued to press the question of offense versus defense, offensively going against bin Laden and his operation, wherever we could find them to disrupt them, to trace the funds they used to finance their operations and so forth. But defensively, equally important, and particularly important in connection with 9/11, to protect the United States. As our vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, said this morning, this is an area in which, obviously, we fail.
Now with respect to sleeper cells in the United States, did you have at the time you left government during the transition have any reason to believe that al Qaeda's efforts to position sleepers, operatives, in the United States, had terminated?
BERGER: No. We knew from the millennium experience that there were al Qaeda operatives -- people linked to al Qaeda that we busted up in Brooklyn, in Boston I believe, two or three other places.
BERGER: The FBI had generally taken the position that there was not a significant al Qaeda presence in the United States. And that was the position that they took, quite honestly, Mr. Commissioner, through the end of 2000 when we left, that there was not a substantial presence and what presence was here was a sense, "We have it covered."
But I certainly...
BEN-VENISTE: They had it covered?
BERGER: We had it covered. I certainly cannot say that we could say that there was no presence here.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, in a threat environment, which we have received very substantial information about during the summer, and, in fact, it's been called the "Summer of Threat," where there was the highest level of threat indicators perhaps in the modern history of intelligence-gathering, was there any reason in your view to discount the possibility of a domestic attack against the United States, given the fact that al Qaeda had attacked us -- or al Qaeda-related operatives had attacked us -- in 1993 at the World Trade Center, that you had broken up an attempt to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport and with respect to the other North American operations which were disrupted during your watch, is there any reason to think that the United States would be excluded from this potential huge operation that our intelligence agencies perceived would be coming? BERGER: Mr. Ben-Veniste, I had no access to the intelligence during this period so I can't make a judgment as to what it said or what it provided.
The fact is that the track record after '93 -- after the World Trade Center -- it was just a few months after we came into office -- was that we had blocked things in the United States. But I think there was no reason to feel sanguine that we were invulnerable in the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: Moreover, we have received information that suggests, ironically, on September 10th, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft axed $58 million from the FBI's counterterrorism budget. During your tenure, did you understand there to have been any specific requests for counterterrorism funding that was denied?
BERGER: I believe that during our period funding for counterterrorism at the FBI went up 350 percent. I believe actually that Director Freeh used that number in his press conference when he left office in July of '01.
BEN-VENISTE: With respect to the authorization for the use of force given to Director Tenet, he was reluctant to go into specifics but he did say that there was no request for authority that was denied by President Clinton. Could you shed light on that as well?
BERGER: I will try, Mr. Commissioner.
I've read some of these reports in the press and otherwise. Let me say, first of all, there could not have been any doubt about what President Clinton's intent was after he fired 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at bin Laden in August '98. I assure you they were not delivering an arrest warrant. The intent was to kill bin Laden.
Number one, his overall intent was manifest in August '98.
Number two, I believe the director understood and I think he reiterated it today that we wanted him to use the full measure of the CIA's capabilities. Only the CIA can judge what it's capabilities are, and that then defines the scope of the authorization. We gave the CIA every inch of authorization that it had asked for. If there was any confusion down the ranks it was never communicated to me nor to the president. And if any additional authority had been requested, I am convinced it would have been given immediately.
BEN-VENISTE: Yesterday, the secretary of defense indicated that missile attacks against al Qaeda in its location in Afghanistan would have been -- I think he used the term "bouncing the rubble." Did you regard the missile attack which you just described to be bouncing the rubble?
BERGER: The missile attack in August of '98 was attempting to be bouncing bin Laden into rubble. We had specific intelligence that a large gathering would be there, that probably bin Laden would be there. We struck with the intent of killing bin Laden and/or his operatives. I deeply regret that we did not succeed. For the next two years we tried to get that kind of actionable intelligence. The president ordered submarines in the Arabian Gulf to stay there for over a year so that we would be six hours away from any strike -- six hours from a go to a hit.
One of the reasons I was so -- and I'll say it in one more second, Mr. Ben-Veniste -- one of the reasons I was so pleased with the Predator, which was developed at the end of our administration, was not because I was thinking about it as armed with a hellfire missile, it was because our problem, as the director made very clear, was we often had one source of intelligence from tribals or others on the ground, and we learned after 9/11, as we all watched this war, how unreliable some of these people are and their own vendettas and their own agendas.
BERGER: And I'd get a call from George, and he'd say, you know we've been watching something here for 2 or 3 days, and we've got some information that we think bin Laden might be in such and such a place over the weekend.
And we'd all get ramped up. I'd call all the principals. I would brief the president. And in each of those instances, the director came back and said, "We just don't have it."
And the Predator -- as an intelligence platform, as a surveillance platform -- would have given us the second source. If we had that intelligence saying, he's going to be at Kandahar in this building, we could have put the Predator above him and then we would have known for damn sure where he was and we would have had put a cruise missile 6 hours away from that site.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, with respect to -- in all fairness -- the idea of putting a cruise missile there in 6 hours, you had events such as the standoff between the Pakistanis and the Indians, both armed with nuclear weapons. And the notion of sending a cruise missile over either of those countries during extraordinarily tense times was not something to be lightly done, correct?
BERGER: Correct, when we...
BEN-VENISTE: Moreover, let me just add, in doing so, it would be important -- would it not -- to advise these two countries that the missile that we were sending, for the purpose of eliminating bin Laden, was not coming from either of them against the other?
BERGER: It's a very important point you raise, Mr. Ben-Veniste. When we attacked in August, '98, we obviously did not want to give them advance notice, because we, quite honestly, didn't trust the Pakistani army to not be penetrated. The Pakistani army was the midwife of the Taliban. There were very close relationships.
We sent General Ralston to go have dinner, as I recall, with General Karamat, the head of the Pakistani military. And as those missiles were heading into Pakistani airspace, General Ralston said, by the way, General Karamat, at this moment missiles are coming over your airspace, so that the Pakistanis would not read those as incoming missiles from India with nuclear warheads and we'd start a nuclear war.
BEN-VENISTE: So, clearly this was a nuance question which any responsible person in your position would certainly want to factor in the possibility of the United States inadvertently triggering a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.
BERGER: That would certainly have to go into the planning. But I will tell you, had we had another opportunity to get bin Laden, we would have figured it out.
BEN-VENISTE: Do you have any reason to understand now whether or not bin Laden might have been warned back in '98 by Pakistani intelligence?
BERGER: There has been speculation to that effect, Mr. Ben- Veniste, that he was tipped off. I tend to doubt it for the simple reason that we also killed apparently a number of Pakistani intelligence officials who were at the camps at the same time. So one would think that had there been a tip, they would have gotten their own people out. So I have no reason to believe that's true.
BEN-VENISTE: My last question, I'll finish up on it. I see my time is over.
When you say that Pakistani military was behind the Taliban in its creation, this was a significant problem from a diplomacy standpoint to deal with. Not only was the Taliban in control in Afghanistan and protecting bin Laden, but the situation in Pakistan was not particularly conducive to assisting the United States and eliminating bin Laden, was it?
BERGER: I think that's a very important point, if I can take one minute on it. I believe we put as much pressure on Pakistan to put pressure on the Taliban, as we possibly could, through every means available to us.
We didn't have any sticks. Because of the nuclear weapon sanctions, because of the other sanctions, there was nothing we could say, "We'll take this away from you," because we weren't giving them anything. But we leaned on them very heavily. We had the Saudis lean on them very, very heavily. The only thing we could have done, I think, that we didn't do was cut off their access to IMF loans, which would have collapsed Pakistan, and we would have had a failed nuclear state in South Asia, which probably would not have been the best thing for the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Mr. Berger, and thank you for your service to the country.
BERGER: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Lehman?
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you.
Mr. Berger, as a fellow survivor of the NSC, I'm glad to see you're here. Please take my questions in the spirit of what the mission of this commission is all about.
LEHMAN: People may be forgiven sometimes for seeing it. Our real objective here is to come up with some real change recommendations drawing on your experience and those of your colleagues.
BERGER: I respect the responsibility that all of you have.
LEHMAN: So that's really the purpose. And we'll be spending more time with you to really get down to some hard proposals. And I know you've made some and we look forward to working with you on it.
But let me go to some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the U.S. government during the period of the Clinton administration. If you take the now famous Clarke book and related testimony that we've had and so forth, I would say the gist of the criticism tends to be not that the senior officials, and particularly the White House, did not recognize the threat and take it seriously, and, indeed, issue direction, but that very frequently, according to Clarke, that direction was ignored or subverted or simply not carried out.
So let me just start with some of the key milestones in the terror attacks as they developed against the United States, starting with the '93 attempt by Saddam to assassinate President Bush 41.
According to testimony that we've had, the response of President Clinton was to take very strong action. And indeed, a whole broad series of targets were selected and the direction was given to implement that retaliatory plan.
But, in fact, because Warren Christopher and some others argued strongly against that strong an attack, it ended up being reduced to a small cruise missile attack against the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in the middle of the night so nobody would be there.
Tell us about your impression and what went on and what happened with that particular crisis.
BERGER: Let me first comment on your windup and then your pitch.
BERGER: Your windup was Clarke said we didn't listen. I don't think there's anything -- I've not read Clarke's book.
LEHMAN: Nobody seems to.
BERGER: But at least -- I've not read the book.
But I can think of only two things that Dick recommended that we did not pursue, and we can come back to these. One was arming the Northern Alliance; the other was attacking the camps, whether we knew anybody was there or not. We'll come back to those two things. On every other matter -- you can ask Mr. Clarke this afternoon -- I believe the things he recommended and some of the things that we actually recommended to him -- it all wasn't just a one-way communication -- were undertaken.
With respect to the bombing of the intelligence headquarters, I don't believe that what your -- I don't believe it's accurate that those were scaled back because of Secretary Christopher's reservations. This was what the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Chairman Powell, and the other national security principals recommended it.
We took down their intelligence headquarters. It's like them taking down Langley. And I suspect if somebody took down Langley, we would not call that a pin prick. And we said at the same time to them that if they ever try terrorism again against the United States, the consequences will be severe. And as far as I know, from 1993 on, they never did.
LEHMAN: Let's talk about that '93 World Trade Center investigation.
We now know that three of the key planners and players were al Qaeda. And indeed, one of them was able to escape and was given safe haven in Baghdad right up until, as far as we know, the present day.
We have received many criticisms of the handling of that crisis at the time, in that it was handled as a criminal problem, and that the information gathered in the investigation that would have turned the light bulb on in the policy community as to the extent of the al Qaeda participation was never shared within the intelligence community until after the trial.
BERGER: Mr. Lehman, I think this is a -- I'm not attributing this to you, but I think this is a good example of reading history backwards.
In 1993, we had no notion of the linkage of Ramzi Yousef to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others who ultimately were tied to bin Laden.
BERGER: These were things that were learned in '97 and '98.
You know, when you turn the book upside down, and when you start with the last chapter and you read backwards, it's a hell of a lot easier...
LEHMAN: But that's my point. I mean the fact that, as this was all being developed and it was disseminated in '97, it would have been disseminated a lot earlier because a lot of it was developed during the investigation.
BERGER: There's no question we've learned since 9/11 -- I've learned since 9/11 that the mechanisms of information sharing within the FBI and between the FBI and the rest of the government were even worse than I thought they were. In 1993, my predecessor, Tony Lake, and I went over to meet with the attorney general and asked to sign a memorandum of understanding so we would agree what could be shared between law enforcement and national security.
There is some legitimate concern about politicizing law enforcement. That's not a frivolous concern. Americans don't want the White House manipulating law enforcement matters.
We couldn't get that done for eight years. And we've learned since 9/11 that not only did we not know what we didn't know, but the FBI didn't know what it did know.
And I think this is -- we haven't talked much about the FBI in the hearings that I've listened to yesterday and today. I hope that you'll look at this. I know you will because I think that there was a sclerosis here.
LEHMAN: I think that's a very good point.
BERGER: They're extraordinarily dedicated people who work at the FBI. Let me distinguish the institution from the individuals. I mean, these are people who put their lives on the line every day to save you and I and to protect us. And I'm not trying in any way to cast any aspersions on them. It was an institution, at least in my time, was not oriented toward this terrorism threat.
LEHMAN: Well, I agree with that. And I think most of the witnesses we've had to agree with it. But they also paint a picture, particularly Clarke, of an FBI that basically sent around nothing in writing and sharing of intelligence, and a Justice Department that was much more worried about getting convictions of caught terrorists than they were focused on spreading the information to prevent other terrorists.
And Clarke is particularly scathing about Janet Reno and the Justice Department and her unwillingness to fund more translators for the information that was gathered, and was very much leaning in the other direction of the president from covert operations and so forth.
BERGER: Let me say this in defense of Attorney General Reno: First of all, I reject the notion that we handled this as a law enforcement matter during the large portion of the Clinton administration. We were operating under the law of armed conflict, which you are very familiar with, Secretary Lehman, not under law enforcement principles. And the attorney general approved that.
We weren't reading Miranda warnings. We weren't going through legal channels. All of those MONs that we talked about this morning were all authorized under the law of armed conflict. And at no point did the attorney general interpose a legal objection to anything that we wanted to do. She may have disagreed as a personal matter on some things, but she never interposed a legal obstacle to anything we wanted to do.
LEHMAN: Well, but that's Clarke's point in way and of others of the thousand people that we've interviewed. Clarke calls those MONs Talmudic and written in such a way as to make it virtually impossible for the bureaucracy and their lawyers to approve the operations that were intended.
And there's no question, by the way, in the evidence that we've gathered that the president's intentions and your intentions were as you have stated them. But as perceived by the CIA and the Defense Department and their lawyers, the authorities would not have permitted -- and all I'm saying is this is not my view.
LEHMAN: I'm recounting testimony that we have under oath that it was the firm belief, particularly in CIA, but also in many areas of the JCS, that there could not be a kill without organizing an elaborate effort to capture.
And so, what I'm trying to get at is your view on this disconnect between testimony we have from out in the bureaucracy as the perception and what your intentions were.
BERGER: I think Director Tenet answered this question this morning. He said: "It all depends on what my capabilities were. If I have the capability to do a kill," he was implicitly saying, "I would have done a kill. I would have gone and asked for the authority to do a kill, straight out."
All of the authorities he got envisioned that there could be a kill and that the people we were working for would have been taken care of, dead or alive.
So I don't think they were Talmudic. I don't think there was any question.
Again, if there was confusion down the line in the CIA or out in the field, it was never communicated back to us. And somebody should have come to us and say, "You know, our guys are wringing their hands out here because they think they can do a lot more than they can do. Because you had a president who wanted to do everything possible to get this guy."
And I think George basically answered it this morning by saying we didn't have the capability to do anything more. And if we got that capability, I would have gone to the White House and I would have gotten the authority.
LEHMAN: Now, with regard to the Department of Defense, many of the witnesses have said that when the president wanted options, the famous black ninja kind of option, the only thing that he ever got out of the Pentagon was either a pinprick or lobbing some cruise missiles or the Normandy invasion. Those are Mr. Clarke's words.
BERGER: I don't think that's entirely fair.
On a number of occasions we went to the Pentagon and we said, "What are the military options here from commando-type operations to more robust operations?" They went back and looked at those options and would come back to us.
And basically there was a range of options. I remember one briefing I think there were 12 options or 13 options in their briefing.
All of them, however, suffered from the same problem -- they were not feasible.
BERGER: That is to say that, in the absence of Pakistan for basing; in the absence of any of the neighbors; having to stage 900 miles away without being able to put any kind of back up on the ground; going over those mountains; landing in terrain we'd never seen before; getting our people out of there at minimal cost to our own soldiers; and in the absence of actionable intelligence as to where he was, that these would fail or that it would likely fail.
So I don't think there was an unwillingness of the military to take on the mission if the conditions were different.
LEHMAN: Just a follow up on that question.
After the '98 bombing attacks, there essentially were no more military actions taken except in Iraq. I find it a little curious that we were bombing virtually every day in Iraq, but were reluctant to go after the conveyor belt that Clarke's talked about at the same time.
BERGER: Well, there were other military actions in Bosnia and Kosovo, but I'm sure you're not referring to those.
We discussed at various times, Mr. Secretary, whether serial bombing of the camps, intermittent bombing of the camps, two weeks of bombing of the camps, 17 days bombing of the camps was a sensible option. It was a subject of many discussions.
And I think the judgment that we reached -- that we came to -- was that to use military power in that way and not to get bin Laden, not to get any of his top lieutenants, but to use our military power to bomb the camps, kill a bunch of people, sure, knock down a bunch of jungle gyms -- as Hugh Shelton described them -- would actually have strengthened bin Laden and al Qaeda, glorified him and made us look weak.
And that's why we were constantly seeking intelligence with respect to leadership targets that would have enabled that to have some greater force.
LEHMAN: One last question and that is on the Cole.
Since Clarke used the word "Talmudic," frankly your response on waiting and you didn't really know about Cole sounds a little Talmudic. The time to retaliate for the Cole would have been the day after the Cole, because as you have rightly pointed out, the administration was basically at war with al Qaeda.
And there was certainly enough evidence -- although admittedly not to the satisfaction of the Justice Department, perhaps, and their evidentiary rules -- but it was certainly not the IRA that blew up the Cole, and you knew that there had been a previous al Qaeda attempt on the Sullivan in the same harbor. Why wasn't there enough action to retaliate -- I mean, enough evidence?
BERGER: I believe before the president uses military force in retaliation that he needs a clear judgment from his senior advisers that they're responsible.
BERGER: The day after Pan Am 103 we would have bombed Syria, Mr. Secretary.
LEHMAN: But you just told us...
BERGER: May I finish?
LEHMAN: Yes, go ahead.
BERGER: We thought TWA 800 was terrorism. It was not terrorism. People actually -- dozens of people saw the missile strike TWA 800 as it went up over Long Island.
LEHMAN: Yes, but you just told us...
BERGER: Preliminary judgments, I have come to learn, are not the same as judgments. And when the CIA was ready -- they were certainly not sitting on their hands, and when they were ready to come back and say, "It's our best judgment that this is al Qaeda," we should have acted. That did not happen on our watch, sir.
LEHMAN: But, in fact, it did happen on your watch. It happened in November and December.
BERGER: Your own staff, sir, says it didn't happen on our watch. Your own staff says...
LEHMAN: Now, wait a minute.
BERGER: ... it was a preliminary judgment.
LEHMAN: I differ with you on that, but the fact is...
BERGER: That's a true statement, sir.
LEHMAN: ... the reality is that you've already testified that if you'd found bin Laden out in the open you would have attacked him anyway, even without the Cole being hit.
LEHMAN: But you wouldn't attack him because of the Cole. That's a little...
BERGER: I don't follow you, sir.
But what I'm saying is I believe that when responsibility was ascribed for the Cole, I certainly would have recommended a strong response, including a response against the Taliban, because in January of 2000 we had warned the Taliban if there was any other attack by bin Laden and al Qaeda, we would hold them responsible.
So this turns on what's the threshold of action? And I think a preliminary judgment, which is what your staff's statement describes it as -- a preliminary judgment -- is not sufficient for the president to sustain -- to go to the world and saying, "I've gone to war with Afghanistan on the basis of a preliminary judgment or on the basis of, quite honestly, Dick Clarke's opinion."
When the CIA came back and said, "Sir, we believe this is al Qaeda," I believe I would have been in favor of acting. I don't think we were at that point and I'd seen enough situations in my eight years where preliminary judgments were wrong. The Egypt Air plane that went down was terrorism. Oklahoma City, sir, was foreign terrorism for quite some time until we found out that it wasn't foreign terrorism.
So I want to see the director of central intelligence at least, as the chief adviser to the president on intelligence, come to the president and say, "Mr. President, there's no certainties in this world. We can't be 100 percent sure. But we believe that this is an al Qaeda operation." And at that point, I think it would have been ripe for action.
LEHMAN: I've got one quick question just to follow up, really.
Have you read this book "Ghost Wars"?
BERGER: No. I just read the two excerpts, Governor, from The Washington Post.
LEHMAN: Yes. It's a good book. I mean, it confirms a lot of what we're finding out in this investigation. I'd recommend it.
But one of the things that it does detail similar to our findings is that there was a real disconnect between what you all believed was the policy in Washington from what was going on in Afghanistan, including the famous comment by Masood, when he was read an order on a legal opinion as to what could be done and couldn't be done with bin Laden.
And I guess my question is it seems a fact to me anyway, from the book and from our research, that there was this disconnect. You were meeting every day. I mean, you were meeting every week anyway, your principals and everything else. You had a clear understanding of what was going on. How could this occur? How could the...
BERGER: Perhaps that's a question you should ask the director of central intelligence because he -- there was no communication. -- or Cofer Black, who was in the White House twice a week and never took me aside and said, "Sandy, we got a real problem in the field because the instructions are confusing," or, "We've got a lot more capacity to act than you've given to us." Never. Never.
LEHMAN: Though somewhere, though, there was disconnect. It obviously affected policy.
BERGER: I would say -- one thing about that, though -- and I think Director Tenet mentioned it this morning -- got a lot of stovepipes in this government. And someone who is sitting down there at the sixth level or the seventh level or a soldier who's on a battleship or a CIA operative who's out in the field doesn't have 360- degree vision on what's going on. So all he knows or she knows is what she is ready to do and willing to do, and may not know about the whole picture. That's why you've got to channel this through an integrated system: one central person.
BEN-VENISTE: Mr. Chairman?
KEAN: Yes. Governor Thompson is next.
BEN-VENISTE: Yes, I understand.
There is a document which we have recently received from CIA. And I don't know how much about it we can discuss, but it would shed light on the issue of what CIA operatives in the field told Mr. Masood at the appropriate time.
And I will tell you, Mr. Chairman -- and I'm sure you have not yet seen that document -- that it removed ambiguity in terms of whether Mr. Masood would be rewarded whether or not bin Laden was killed or captured.
BERGER: Governor, the only last thing -- let me not say it. Let me let you proceed.
KEAN: Governor Thompson?
JAMES R. THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Berger, thank you for your testimony today and for your service to our country. And I will repeat something I said yesterday -- I don't know whether you heard it or not -- but that I was complimentary of the Clinton administration for its vigorous pursuit of terrorists, al Qaeda, OBL and all those things that you have testified to this morning.
On page three of your prepared remarks, there are two paragraphs that I think, in essence, you've discussed here today.
THOMPSON: I'll just highlight them.
"It was our judgment that to fire on primitive camps and failed to destroy bin Laden or key al Qaeda figures would have fortified bin Laden and made the U.S. look weak and feckless.
"And given the circumstances that prevailed at the time, including no support from Pakistan or other neighbors, no base near Afghanistan and no lead-time intelligence, the military leadership concluded that such a mission" -- that is boots on the ground in Afghanistan -- "would fail."
Those were the conclusions yesterday, as I understood the testimony, from Cohen, Albright, Powell, Rumsfeld, and this morning from Tenet, and so you associate yourself with those views from those five people?
When did you brief Condi Rice about terrorism?
BERGER: Well, as you, of course, recall, we had somewhat of a truncated transition, because we had an elongated election.
I think I met with Dr. Rice on three occasions. And then she received specific briefings from several members of my staff, an hour, two-hour briefings, along with her deputy and perhaps others.
In my first briefing with her, we talked about this issue. I wanted very much to convey to her...
THOMPSON: You discussed al Qaeda?
BERGER: Yes. I wanted very much to convey to her the sense of urgency that I felt, because they had been out of government for some time and the world had changed. And I said to her at that time, and she's acknowledged this publicly, that, "The number one issue that you're going to be dealing with is terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically."
Then she had a specific factual briefing, Governor, from, I believe, Mr. Clarke and his team, and I went to no other briefings that she went to, staff briefings, except that one. And I showed up at that briefing at the beginning and I said, "Condi, I'm here simply to emphasize how important this is. I'm not going to stay through the whole thing, but I just wanted to underscore how important I think this is."
So in every way that I knew how, Governor, I tried to convey that this was now our top priority as a country.
THOMPSON: So when Mr. Clarke says in this book that nobody will acknowledge they've read, except members of the commission...
BERGER: Well, I'm eager to read it.
THOMPSON: I'm sure you will be.
When he said that, in his meeting with the national security adviser, Ms. Rice, I'll quote, "As I briefed Rice on al Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before."
So since you discussed it with her, that impression of Mr. Clarke's would be erroneous, is that correct?
BERGER: I can't comment on that, Governor. I wasn't present. I don't know the circumstances of that. BERGER: I don't know what the sequence was, quite honestly, of my meeting with her and Dick's meeting with her. All I can tell you is what I said to her and what I did.
THOMPSON: OK. Going to page seven of your prepared remarks -- and I don't want to give the impression that I'm picking on this or poaching on my friend Kerrey's territory in discussing the Cole, but he's finally moved me to the point where I think I need to.
And your testimony this morning seems to be somewhat at odds with Director Tenet's testimony this morning. So I just wanted to get it clear in my own head.
You say on page 7 of your prepared statement, "By the time President Clinton left office, however, neither the CIA nor the FBI had reached firm conclusions that al Qaeda was responsible for that assault." That is, the Cole.
Director Tenet told us this morning, as I recall his testimony, that during December when the Clinton administration was still in office, the CIA had reached the judgment that al Qaeda was responsible because the assault was carried out by known al Qaeda operatives, I think was his phrase. They just couldn't conclude that Osama bin Laden had command and control over that operation.
Can you shed some light on this apparent difference?
BERGER: I'm reading now from your staff statement this morning, which says on the issue of the Cole the Bush administration received essentially the same quote, "preliminary judgment" that had been briefed to the Clinton administration in December.
And I listened to George this morning, and it was a little bit hard to track -- which he usually isn't. But all I can tell you is that what we were told was that -- the evidence pointed to al Qaeda for sure and the preliminary judgment was that it was al Qaeda.
I believe a very sharp response would have been called for after the Cole. I believe to have sustained that in the court of world opinion -- the president would have stood up and said, "Based on the preliminary judgment of my intelligence community today, I bombed Afghanistan." I just don't think that would cut it.
THOMPSON: But as I understand Director Tenet's testimony, he could have stood up and said, "We know that specific al Qaeda operatives bombed the Cole."
BERGER: Well, I can't comment on Director Tenet's testimony because I was not watching it without doing some other things at the same time, like finishing my own statement.
But I will tell you my own recollection, sir...
THOMPSON: Sure. BERGER: ... and what I think is the record, and that is that in December we were increasingly convinced that it was al Qaeda, that the CIA had reached a preliminary judgment to that effect, but they still had work to do and did not have a judgment, strike the word "preliminary."
BERGER: At that point I think we would have been faced with a policy decision. As Mr. Tenet made clear, that's not his decision, it's for the president ultimately of how to respond.
THOMPSON: One last point.
You made somewhat of a reference to the fact that you thought that Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda aside, the Taliban, Afghanistan, bore some responsibility in this as well. And you had specifically warned them that if this happened again, and this was pre-Cole, they would be held responsible as well.
I agree with that. And in all this sort of back and forth about whether there were suitable targets in Afghanistan and whether we should go bomb the camps one more time, whether there were people there or not, just to show our resolve, it is a fact, is it not, that there were targets in Afghanistan that belonged to the Taliban, to Afghanistan -- their civil seat of government, Mullah Omar's house, I'm sure we knew where that was
Would you, under the right circumstances, have concurred in a decision to take it out on the Taliban as well?
BERGER: I can only speak for myself personally, Governor.
BERGER: That would have been my personal recommendation given the warning that we gave in January of 2000, that we would have struck not just whatever al Qaeda targets were available, but we would have struck Taliban targets as well.
Now, we've since learned that the Taliban was prepared to be destroyed rather than give up bin Laden. So they were fused at the hip. I think that's a judgment that we reached, you know, in mid-1999 and early 2000, that it would be very difficult to break the Taliban from al Qaeda.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Berger.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
BOB KERREY, COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Berger, I noticed -- and I appreciate you're a private citizen now and I saw you back there working on your statement. So it may just be an oversight that you did not draw attention to the February 23rd, 1998, press conference that Osama bin Laden held in Khost, Afghanistan, and that he -- with a satellite telephone delivered to an Arabic-speaking newspaper in London.
This seems, as I read it, it reads like a declaration of war. I'm wondering if that's just an oversight or whether or not you don't believe that that's an important...
BERGER: Senator Kerrey, I've watched prior testimony yesterday and your statements on this subject.
I believe we were at war with al Qaeda. Number one, the president sounded the alarm. I have something for the record here.
KERREY: But just help me...
KERREY: No, actually, before you do that, because I get five minutes here, and I know where you're going.
Do you regard the 23rd February '98 declaration as strategically important?
BERGER: Absolutely. The fatwas were terribly important. The document I wanted to show you -- this is -- it's not like we weren't talking about the terrorism, the Taliban and Afghanistan. We sounded the alarm.
Number two, we used all the instruments that we had available to us, whether those were military or covert or otherwise. So I think we were at war with the Taliban, Senator.
KERREY: Sandy, I didn't have enough time to compliment you in the way that I would have liked to have done. But let's presume that I had 15 minutes to deliver compliments about all the things you're doing. I think you're a great strategic thinker.
But when you're statement doesn't include...
BERGER: Well, I only had 10 minutes for my statement.
KERREY: So you regard the 23rd of February press conference in Khost, Afghanistan, as a declaration of war against the United States?
BERGER: I regarded all of the fatwas -- I mean, there were several of them -- as a growing indication that this individual was a strategic, lethal threat to the United States.
KERREY: I just -- even doctor....
BERGER: There's more than that. Your case is stronger than you're making it. It's not just one press conference. He issued several fatwas.
KERREY: I know. Not just several fatwas. First of all, he declared his willingness and then demonstrated his capability to kill Americans, and he was in Afghanistan. And I keep scratching my head and wondering, even Dr. Rice, at the end of an eight-month planning process, comes up with a three-part plan. The first part is continued diplomacy to try to get Osama bin Laden released from the Taliban. That was part number one of the plan.
It seems to me, and it's reasonable, by the way -- it's not unreasonable to say under the circumstances, "We just didn't regard this as a strategic threat comparable, for example, to the problems that we were having between Pakistan and India," because it -- I just regard this as an enormously important strategic moment and I understand that I've got hindsight looking back on it and I see it that way perhaps a bit more than I did on the 23rd of February 1998.
But it seems as well -- if you regard it as a declaration of war, it would seem to dictate everything that follows afterwards. And it would seem to rule out any diplomacy with the Taliban to try to get the release of bin Laden.
BERGER: I consider -- I go back farther than that, Senator. I consider, from at least August 20, 1998, when he attacked our embassies and when we could establish that it was the responsibility of al Qaeda, that we were at war with al Qaeda, and that was one further piece of evidence as well as other fatwas.
KERREY: We only used military against a person who had declared war on us against whom we had declared war. We only used our military against him one time, the 20th of August 1998.
BERGER: There are three ways to use military, Senator, it seems to me. Number one...
KERREY: I want to go to the next.
BERGER: All right. We could have invaded Afghanistan.
BERGER: I do not believe -- and I know you may disagree with this -- I do not believe before September 11th that the American people or the international community would have supported an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan -- which already since 9/11 has gone on for 2.5 years -- before 9/11.
We could have used force by using special forces. We constantly went back to General Shelton and Secretary Cohen and said, "What are the options here?" The options were lousy.
We could have used force by bombing camps that were empty or that were jungle gyms and killed 25 or 30 or 40 al Qaeda operatives, and the next day, bin Laden would have had a press conference and he would have been sitting on top of that cruise missile waving at us in contempt.
So use force how?
I think before 9/11, the one way to use force to eliminate al Qaeda, it seems to me, and its sanctuary would be to invade Afghanistan. I do not believe that this country was ready to invade Afghanistan before September 11th, notwithstanding the fact we had a president who in 1996 said, "This is the challenge of our generation. This is the threat of our generation."
KERREY: I don't -- you persuaded the American people that military effort was necessary in Bosnia. You didn't have the House of Representatives with you; barely had a majority in the Senate. You persuaded the American people that war was necessary to get Slobodan Milosevic to stop his terror in Kosovo.
BERGER: And we also had 19 democracies in NATO, in both of those cases, that were standing with us together.
KERREY: But I'm saying, the point is only that if -- the argument that I find to be most unpersuasive is to say, "We couldn't have gotten it done because nobody would have been with us." Because there are several examples during the Clinton administration where you all wanted to do something, you believed it was important and you came to the American people over and over and over -- I thought heroically and correctly -- to get public opinion on your side. That's what it's all about.
If you'd've come to Congress and said, "We're at war. Somebody has just declared war on us," -- and I can understand not doing it until the 7th of August, but after the 7th of August, it seems to me that should have been the U.S. declaration. And every policy option that we had should have followed that and all diplomacy should have been abandoned.
BERGER: I think we were at war after the 7th of August using military, covert instruments, rolling back al Qaeda cells, trying to put as much economic and other pressure on the Taliban. What we did not do is invade Afghanistan. And we'll just have to disagree on this, Senator. I do not believe that that was conceivable before 9/11.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Mr. Berger. Thank you again for your service through the Clinton years in fighting terrorism. Thank you for your time today. And thank you for the thoughtful recommendations that you put in your statement. I hope we get a chance to discuss those a little bit since part of our mandate is to look forward and try to make the country safer.
Let me, without beating a dead horse or poking a dead horse or embalming a dead horse here, poke a little bit more on the USS Cole. In our staff statement, we say that there was an exchange between you and Mr. Tenet where Mr. Tenet ended up walking out of the room. Was that over the USS Cole?
BERGER: You know, I read that. And I do remember -- obviously, first of all, George Tenet is a good, close, cherished friend of mine. Passions run strong sometimes on issues such as this. And I do remember one episode where George left early. (LAUGHTER)
And suddenly. But I can't honestly say that I...
ROEMER: Was he in a good mood or bad mood when he left?
BERGER: He was not in a good mood at me. But I can't honestly remember exactly what the proximate cause of that was.
ROEMER: Do you remember the approximate date for his...
BERGER: No, I don't. It didn't happen often. It didn't happen more than that one...
ROEMER: There's a great deal of frustration, I think, for some of us in looking back, as you said, through the rearview mirror, which is easier to do, and we see some of these preliminary judgments put forward by the CIA, where they can't get command and control up to Osama bin Laden, but it was definitely operatives of al Qaeda.
And we have a tough time understanding then why we can't go forward and retaliate against al Qaeda generally.
Did you -- in your frustration, in your concern about this, did you try to push the president on a more forward-leaning aggressive approach to the guilt with respect to the USS Cole?
BERGER: I think that I believed that the CIA and the FBI was doing everything possible.
Now, we had some problems with the Yemenis during the Cole investigation. And they were restricting some access to some of our people. And the president of the United States called the president of Yemen, I believe, on two occasions, but certainly on one occasion.
ROEMER: This is on the Yemeni investigation, on FBI and the CIA and he's calling on the...
BERGER: And the president called the president of Yemen and said, "You've got to cooperate with our people. We're not going to put up with this." And that problem was resolved.
Obviously there were an awful lot of Americans suddenly swarming into Yemen after the Cole, so we were providing support to the CIA and the FBI as they conducted their investigation. I don't believe they were dragging their feet.
ROEMER: I know I'm putting you in a difficult position with both Mr. Tenet and the president, but back to my question: Do you recall trying to push the president a couple times to be more aggressive...
BERGER: I wasn't trying to be nonresponsive, Congressman. I don't believe there was, because I don't believe they were dragging their feet. I left out the first half of my sentence. I mean, I don't think that our perception was that they needed a kick in the rear end on this. My view was that the highest levels of the CIA felt the same.
BERGER: You know, George and I talked about this issue, you know, behind my closed door two or three times a week in 1999 and 2000 and I had no doubt in my mind that he felt the same sense of urgency that I did.
ROEMER: Back to the briefing...
KEAN: Last question, Congressman.
ROEMER: Back to the briefing that you gave to Dr. Rice, which you have said several times -- and I think that she's acknowledged -- did that briefing include any reference to sleeper cells in the United States?
I know the Clinton administration had done an after-action report on the millennium and found the presence of sleeper cells. Did you brief that or did Mr. Clarke or did anybody else brief administration officials on that particular aspect?
BERGER: There was two parts of my interaction with Dr. Rice. One was in my office in one of the two or three times that we had a chance to meet during the transition. She was still in California so she was commuting back and forth. And I've already reported on that conversation.
There was a detailed, specific, factual slide show briefing that she was given along with others, and that was conducted by Mr. Clarke. I came to the beginning of that in the situation room and said I wanted to show up to show up. I wanted to show up because I wanted to emphasize how important this was as far as I was concerned. And I stayed perhaps for the first five minutes and then I left.
So I don't know what the substance of that briefing was and whether specifically sleeper cells came up.
ROEMER: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman.
FRED F. FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Berger.
I'll just try to ask three brief things just to kind of fill in some blanks.
First of all, following up on Commissioner Roemer, you know, we're studying an event that is a colossal and tragic failure of our system. And there was one bright light as we're looking through this and that was the millennium plot and the success of the millennium plot in averting problems. And as I understand, there was commissioned and presented in March of 2000 an after-action report on that.
To your knowledge was that after-action report ever shared with the incoming administration?
BERGER: Well, let me put it in context.
First of all, I requested the after-action report. It was presented to me in February. We had a principals meeting on it on March 10th. There were 29 recommendations. They basically were accepted, subject in some cases to funding. A lot of them had to do with domestic security issues, and the president them submitted a $300 million supplemental to the Congress for additional money and reprogrammed $79 million within the CIA budget to counterterrorism.
Now, some of those recommendations were implemented. As we learned since 9/11, some of them were not. I do not know whether or not that was presented to Dr. Rice, but of course, the people who had originally drafted it were still at the White House.
FIELDING: OK, so we should look elsewhere for the answer to that?
FIELDING: OK, thank you.
Now, I thought I had the authorities issue nailed down until you said something.
BERGER: OK. I'm sorry if I confused you.
FIELDING: No, no.
But you said that in your interpretation what George Tenet was saying was that the capacity was the real issue, and that if he had the chance to do a kill he would have gone and gotten the authority to do it.
BERGER: I believe that to be the case, and I believe that to be the way I heard Mr. Tenet this morning.
But if that's the case -- that's what I thought, too -- but if that's the case, wouldn't the inference be that he didn't have the authority?
BERGER: No, he didn't have the capability.
But wouldn't it also be the inference -- these MONs, you know they're not -- I mean, Talmudic is one way to describe them...
BERGER: So I've heard.
FIELDING: But the instructions -- that was not your description.
(UNKNOWN): You can use Jesuitical if you'd rather.
FIELDING: Yes, I'm not going to offend 5.5 million people.
(UNKNOWN): Had some influence on Lehman in the interim...
(UNKNOWN): John, please move down here.
BERGER: They're drafted with the CIA -- often, usually, drafted initially at the CIA. The instructions to the field are drafted by the CIA. We don't draft them at the NSC.
So my view was some of these were strictly -- some of these authorities, and I'm on very thin ice here, the chairman will rule me out or order if I get too far -- some of these authorities explicitly involved killing.
BERGER: Some of these authorities were capture or kill.
We didn't open up the spider hole in Iraq and blow out Saddam Hussein's brains. Capturing has some value. If we could bring this guy back and shake him down, that would be a good thing.
But there was never any question in my mind that if capture was not possible, kill was acceptable, and that if they wanted more explicit authority, if that was ambiguous, if they thought that capture was a predicate to kill, attempt to capture -- and I imagine a confrontation with bin Laden in which there would be a lot of guns fired, and chances are he'd be killed.
Maybe if we were lucky we'd catch a convoy and somebody would be able to get his car, but no one is going to take -- none of the people we were dealing with were going to take a heck of a lot of risk to do that.
BERGER: So, you know, I anticipated he would be killed.
I also believed that if Director Tenet wanted more explicit authority, more specific authority, more targeted authority, he certainly understood that he could come back to the White House and he had a very sympathetic president and a very sympathetic national security adviser.
FIELDING: OK. Well, thank you.
Let me just -- one last thing because I've been trying to run something to ground and -- yes, Mr. Chairman.
But when we're talking about the three occasions between December '98 and mid-'99, I'm particularly trying to get a handle on who and why the so-called desert camp incident was aborted. And what happened there? Nobody seems to say, "Well, it was our decision." There seemed to be really good intelligence and it went for a period of days, and then suddenly, it was aborted. So anything you can shed...
BERGER: I cannot distinguish that incident from the two or three other incidents where I would get information either from Mr. Clarke or from Mr. Tenet that we had some opportunity, that we were watching this very, very carefully. Stay tuned. I would get then authorization from all of the principals and put the president on alert that something might be possible.
In each of those cases, the director of the CIA would come back to me and say, I do not believe we have reliable enough intelligence to recommend going forward. And we did discuss it, as he said this morning. It was interactive.
But there was never a situation -- there was never a situation in which we were presented information that bin Laden was here and we didn't take it, because of civilian casualties or any other reason.
The only other thing I would add is I've been told that a subsequent review of that episode suggests that bin Laden never was there. I don't know whether that's true or not. At the time, we were told -- the assessment was it was not reliable information.
And the judgment was that to fire a bunch of cruise missiles, or as President Bush has said, "$10 million cruise missiles to knock down a $10 tent," would have made bin Laden look stronger, glorified him in the Islamic world, created more terrorists and not made us look stronger or advanced the cause of fighting terrorism.
FIELDING: But there was an after-action report.
BERGER: I'm sure there was.
FIELDING: Thank you.
BERGER: No, excuse me. Let me correct the record.
I'm not sure there was.
I believe there was, Mr. Fielding. And I remember being told that and but I've never seen an after-action report.
FIELDING: Well, thank you, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Our last questioner before lunch will be Commissioner Gorelick.
JAMIE S. GORELICK, COMMISSION MEMBER: It's dangerous to stand between this commission's lunch. Very quick questions then.
First of all, as I understand it, you have now associated yourself with the comments of Secretaries Albright, Powell, Rumsfeld, Cohen echoing the testimony of Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz that it would have been impossible, both in terms of Pakistan's willingness to provide the necessary assistance and in terms of the Congress of the United States, to have invaded Afghanistan in the way that it would have been necessary to tear down the Taliban and get bin Laden prior to 9/11; is that correct?
BERGER: Yes. I think it would not have been feasible and it would not have been sustainable either domestically or internationally.
GORELICK: Second of all, while we cannot discuss -- we were not able to discuss the issue of covert authorities other than in vague generalities with Director Tenet, he did say that if he wanted more authority from you, if he wanted to clarify any ambiguity with you it is his view that it was his obligation to come to you. Is that your understanding as well?
BERGER: Yes, although it could have worked the other way as well. If I had something that I wanted him to think about, I'm sure he would have entertained it.
But generally, if he had more capability, he would have come back to us and say, "We need more authority."
GORELICK: Third, with respect to this issue of the Cole, just assume with me for the moment that on January 25th, when there was a new administration, the CIA's advice to that new administration was equally as hedged as it was when you left office, and that administration made no conclusion with regard to responsibility for the Cole until the president announced post-9/11 that it was the responsibility of al Qaeda.
Do you think that administration had an obligation until the advice was unhedged, if you will, to take action in retaliation for the Cole?
BERGER: Let me say this: This is not a static situation. This information is developing every day. Every day they're getting more information. The investigation gets farther, more conclusive.
As we left, it was a preliminary judgment. As they came in, it was a preliminary judgment. I think the point at which it no longer became a preliminary judgment and became a judgment there was a -- would have been a responsibility to make a decision with respect to how to respond.
GORELICK: I'll make two factual comments just as a commissioner here.
Number one, our staff has a view on whether the CIA's hedging was appropriate based upon the factual record that we have.
And number two, Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley has told us that his administration's response would come via this new policy that was in the works in the spring and summer of '01.
Thank you very much for your testimony and your service to the country.
KEAN: Thank you.
I have one last question -- we're through, but this question comes from some family members, so I wanted to make sure and ask it.
Prior to 9/11, did you have any intelligence that planes could be used as missiles?
BERGER: I saw no intelligence which, you know, drew our attention to that as any more likely than truck bombs, car bombs, assassinations at embassies.
BERGER: What I'm saying is there were hundreds of thousands of pieces of intelligence.
I take it from the Graham-Goss report there were a number of documents which talked about that.
But I do not recall ever being told that this was a modality that was likely -- any more likely than others. Indeed, I think the intelligence took us to other kinds of methods of terrorism rather than this one.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Berger. Thank you very much for your testimony and thank you for your service.
If we have additional questions later on, I hope we can get them to you.
I do have a note from the Capitol Police saying please do not leave unattended bags or packages on your chairs or seats or in the room or they may not be here when you get back.
We're going to have a brief lunch because we have to stay on time and I would ask the commission to be back at 1:30.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, the chairman of this commission, holding the second day of hearings. About four hours of testimony today from George Tenet, the CIA director, who spanned both the Clinton and the Bush administrations, as well as Samuel Berger, the national security adviser to President Clinton. Several key subjects on the agenda.
Let's bring in our national security correspondent, David Ensor. He's there on Capitol Hill. He's been following all of this.
I was fascinated by all of the discussion in the aftermath of the attack, David, on the USS Cole, the lack of response first from the Clinton administration, then during the first nine months of the Bush administration. But give me your thoughts.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed, there is a real discussion here as to whether the United States dropped the ball. The Clinton people insisting they didn't have enough evidence to hit anyone after that. The Bush people saying they didn't see any point in making the rebel bounce, as Secretary Rumsfeld put it yesterday.
But today, really, was George Tenet's day in the hot seat, after all those witnesses yesterday said, look, we would have done something but we didn't have "actionable intelligence." Well, why not, was the question. Here is part of our that was asked and how it was answered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the question we have to address -- and here I need some help from you -- is why were we unable to do it?
GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: Three layers of answers. We didn't steal the secret that told us what the plot was. We didn't recruit the right people or technically collect the data, notwithstanding enormous effort to do so.
Second issue, we didn't integrate all the data we had properly, and probably we had a lot of data that we didn't know about that if everybody would have known about, maybe we would have had a chance. I can't predict to you one way or another. But you also had systemically a wall that was in place between the criminal side and the intelligence side.
What's in a criminal case doesn't cross over that line. Ironclad regulations, so that even people in the criminal division and the intelligence divisions of the FBI couldn't talk to each other, let alone talk to us or us talk to them. Systemic issues like the Patriot Act absolutely essentials.
Three, visa policies, watch-list policies. We didn't watch-list them. The FBI didn't find them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ENSOR: Two quick things beyond that, Wolf, from the staff report that came out today on intelligence. First of all, they pointed to a clear disagreement. And we've heard more about it in the hearing today between the CIA and between the Clinton administration over whether the Clinton administration authorized the CIA to go and kill Osama bin Laden, point blank.
And they did clearly authorize them to go and try and capture him. And it was OK to kill him if they had to in the process. The question was, were the CIA authorized to kill bin Laden from a distance? Which is a lot easier than trying to go in close. And there is just a disagreement about that, and that was clear in the hearing today.
Secondly, the staff report noted that the United States, for some years, relied on proxies in Afghanistan. There weren't any CIA officers on the ground in Afghanistan. And the commission is really asking the question -- the staff, also -- why not?
I mean, that clearly wasn't working for quite some years. Why didn't either the Clinton or the Bush administrations come up with a better approach? Put some people on the ground; try to go after these people. So that's one of the questions the commission is really asking, and we'll probably see a lot on that in the report -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. David, we're going to be checking back with you obviously throughout the day. David Ensor, our national security correspondent.
Peter Bergen is here. He's our terrorism analyst, as well.
Peter, this dispute that David talks about, Tenet suggesting that, well, maybe the guys on the ground didn't have the authority to go out and kill Osama bin Laden, where Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, making it abundantly clear. He says there was no confusion whatsoever. They gave these guys the authority to kill them if they could.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Reading the stock report, it really seems that there was a confusion between the NSC on one side, who really felt that, yes, we had given the authority to kill bin Laden, and the CIA, on the other side, who there was some ambiguity here. And they felt the only way in which they could kill bin Laden is if it was in the middle of a capture operation that had sort of gone awry. But they couldn't just go out and try to kill him directly.
And, clearly, we know from Masud, the Afghan leader who was killed before 9/11, who, when he was described these rules, he himself was kind of confused. He was somebody we were trying to recruit to help us out to maybe capture or kill bin Laden. So, clearly, this ambiguity about whether or not it was right to assassinate bin Laden may have confused the issue on the ground.
BLITZER: This Masud being the leader of the Northern Alliance, who was opposed to Osama bin Laden, fought the Taliban, and he was assassinated, killed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda just days before 9/11. But he was a key player as far as the CIA was concerned in hoping to find and kill Osama bin Laden.
BERGEN: Definitely, yes.
BLITZER: Let's look ahead a little bit. We don't have a lot of time.
Later this afternoon, Richard Clarke will be testifying, the former counterterrorism adviser in both the Clinton and the Bush administrations, as well as Richard Armitage. Richard Armitage being the deputy secretary of state. He's testifying because Condoleezza Rice won't testify. Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, won't testify in open session under oath, although she did provide some four hours of closed-door testimony before these commissioners.
How significant -- what are you going to be listening for in this afternoon's session?
BERGEN: Well, I guess, you know, Dick Clarke is going to be under oath. And he's made some pretty serious charges about the Bush White House and their tendency to sort of blame Iraq for terrorism rather than focusing on al Qaeda. And, obviously, he's taken a lot of heat from the White House accusing him of various sorts of personal foibles.
But the fact is, he's going to be under oath in this. So what he says under oath is very different from what he may say in the book in terms of the credibility I think we can give it. So if what he says under oath is very similar to the charges that he makes in the book, I think that's a serious problem for the Bush administration.
BLITZER: And, clearly, the White House did not want Richard Clarke to have the last word. That's why Richard Armitage will be getting the last word in these testimonies to try to balance out what Richard Clarke presumably will say, the accusations that he'll make before these commissioners.
So we'll be checking back with you. Peter Bergen, thanks very much.
I'll be back later today, of course every weekday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, for "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS." Today, we'll have a complete wrap-up and complete analysis of this second day of the 9/11 Commission hearings.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien is up next.
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