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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
9/11 Hearings Draw to a Close
Aired March 24, 2004 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And that's the end of two days of hearings here on Capitol Hill before the 9/11 Commission. Governor, former governor of New Jersey Tom Kean chairing this commission hearing. Two days of intensive questioning of both Clinton and Bush administration officials, wrapping up the testimony today with the highlight, of course, being Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser to both former President Clinton and President Bush. We just heard Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state responding on behalf of the Bush administration. A complete wrap-up of this and all the day's news follows now on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
Welcome to our special coverage, happening now, this face-off up on Capitol Hill. It's been a dramatic day of questioning and answering by official -- by witnesses from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Unprecedented developments in the course of trying to understand were there opportunities that were missed in the lead-up to 9/11, in the years, the final years of both the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration?
Let's bring in our CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen who's been watching all of these hearings all day long. There were some very dramatic moments in terms of missed opportunities and the criticism rather evenhanded going against Clinton administration officials and against Bush administration officials. What's your bottom line thought of what you learned over these past two days?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it seems that one of the best opportunities to get bin Laden was in early '99 when he was in a hunting party in Afghanistan, where they had him in their sights. He was there for some period of time, several days, there was debate about whether we might actually kill members of the United Arab Emirate royal family with whom he was also hunting and also some uncertainty if he was in the camp at any given moment, this particular hunting camp.
But that seemed a moment when there was a pretty clean shot. Of the three opportunities that the hearings have talked about why there was an opportunity to get bin Laden, that seems the cleanest shot. Also I think in these hearings, one thing that's really struck me is the extent to which the lack of response to the USS Cole attack in October 2000, either by the Clinton administration or the Bush administration, is something that this Commission has been talking about, obviously, people responded, we really had no good options, we didn't want to just send another ineffective cruise missile strike. But the fact is we didn't respond to the USS Cole, and I think it's pretty fair that that empowered al Qaeda, made them feel they had impunity from American reaction.
BLITZER: I should just point out to our viewers, we're standing by to hear from the commissioners, they're coming to the microphones soon, the chairman, the vice chairman, we'll have comments of their thoughts wrapping up two days as well. This has been a dramatic moment in the sense that there was confusion throughout much of this time. And what exactly was the policy on all of these developments, confusion as to how far the CIA, for example, could go in going after al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, in particular, it's been a highly charged atmosphere, stinging new accusations across the board. As this panel attempted to determine what exactly happened in the days and weeks leading up to 9/11?
BLITZER (voice-over): It was a damning indictment of the Bush administration's pre-9/11 strategy in the war on terror.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You swear or affirm to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I do.
BLITZER: Shortly after being sworn in, former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke who served under both Presidents Bush and Clinton offered this contrasting assessment.
CLARKE: Fighting terrorism in general and fighting al Qaeda in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration, certainly no higher priority. I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue.
BLITZER: On this second day of public hearings on Capitol Hill, Clarke minced no words in charging that President Bush and his top national security advisers simply dropped the ball after taking office on January 20, 2001, until the 9/11 hijackings. He suggested this lack of urgency resulted in the failure to bring to the attention of top officials the presence in the United States of two of the 9/11 hijackers. Something, he said, that might have begun to unravel the terror plot. Clarke has come under sharp criticism from the White House which has aggressively rejected his accusations, one Republican commission member, former Navy secretary John Lehman suggested Clarke was simply trying to sell his new book.
JOHN LEHMAN (R), 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: ...And I've published books, and I must say I'm green with envy.
BLITZER: But the Clinton administration's handling of terrorism threats also came in for more sharp criticism from the commission staff. Among other things they concluded that CIA officials never believed they had the clear-cut authority to kill Osama bin Laden, something National Security Adviser Samuel Berger sharply disputed.
SAMUEL BERGER, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I imagine a confrontation with bin Laden, in which there would be a lot of guns fired, and chances are he'd be killed.
BLITZER: The questions were numerous, there were many answers as well. Once again, let's bring in Peter Bergen, our CNN terrorism analyst. Why the confusion that these CIA operatives apparently had on the ground, whether or not they had the authority to go ahead and kill Osama bin Laden?
BERGEN: I think that's sort of a cultural question in a sense, you know, ever since the Ford administration made an executive order against assassination, even though bin Laden doesn't really fit into that exactly. The CIA was very -- they wanted to have an unambiguous authority to go ahead and assassinate bin Laden. They didn't feel like they had it. The NSC, as you indicated in the piece, Sandy Berger saying that they felt that they had (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the authority to kill bin Laden. It seem the CIA operatives on the ground felt that they were really doing a capture operation in which it might have been possible bin Laden was going to be killed. But they shouldn't go and do an actual operation to kill him directly. If you're confused by that, you can see why people on the ground in Afghanistan might have been confused by that.
BLITZER: Very damning indictment, as I said, from Richard Clarke of the Bush administration at least the first nine months of the Bush administration, when he said you know what? This was not an urgent top priority, the war on terrorism, in contrast to what he thought was the case during the Clinton administration. He did have -- the White House did have supporters among the commission members who sought to rebut that?
BERGER: I think some of the couple of Republican members of the commission got some pretty good hits in on Clarke, on the basis of the fact he's made other public statements, in fact, on background to the press in 2002, that seemed very in conflict with what he's been saying in the book and what he's been saying publicly recently. So I think he tried to deal with that by saying, look, I was just giving you a background briefing, I was putting a certain kind of spin on it. That's not a particularly convincing message when there is a disconnect between the book and something you've been saying to the press on background in terms of how well the Bush administration is conducting the war on terrorism. And I think that they made a couple of effective points against Clarke.
BLITZER: Clarke also said that there were mid-level or low-level FBI, law enforcement types who knew that these two 9/11 hijackers were in the United States before 9/11 but that information never filtered up to the top. He said had it filtered up to the top, they would have put these guys' pictures all over the place, on "America's Most Wanted," he said, they would have gotten the pictures out and perhaps things could have begun to unravel. Do you buy that?
BERGEN: Well, I think that was one of the strongest things he said. He used the word incomprehensible that this information didn't filter up to the top levels of the government. The fact there were senior al Qaeda in the United States should have been something that was widely disseminated, instead it was sort of stovepiped within a certain part of the FBI, it didn't make it to Clarke.
BLITZER: That was a very damning indictment. What did you learn after these two days, and you, like me, watched all of it, listened to all of it. What did you learn that you didn't know before?
BERGEN: I don't think there was a huge amount. It's all been out there. It was interesting to hear the people directly involved, their discussions about how to respond to the USS Cole or what was al Qaeda responsible for the USS Cole. That was very interesting. The thing you touched on in the piece that we just saw, this question of this confusion about the legality whether or not to kill bin Laden. That is new material. I would say that's -- that confusion seems to be perhaps the central problem from a bureaucratic perspective in terms of the policy to go and get bin Laden.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is over at the White House, like everyone else at least in Washington. She's been following these dramatic developments. Any immediate reaction, Dana, from the White House?
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what's been extraordinary today is that they have continued, the counteroffensive we've seen all week against Richard Clarke and the assertions that he made in his book essentially that the president didn't pay enough attention to the al Qaeda threat. The beginning of his administration didn't have adequate strategy. Today as Clarke sat down before the committee, Bush officials were trying to essentially to use his own words from when he worked here at the White House against him, even talking a little bit about it with Peter. The White House highlighted them and the Bush campaign actually distributed some excerpts from a briefing that he gave to reporters in August of 2002 where he talked at and even defended the president's strategy and a quote from CNN's report at the time
He said, "what we ended up with was a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda so the president recognizes very early on that you don't want to roll back al Qaeda over this long period of time, you want to eliminate al Qaeda on a much more accelerated timetable." Clarke also in this briefing went through seven points on how he said the administration is pushing forward, accelerating the strategy to go after al Qaeda, including increasing the CIA budget by five fold. At the hearing today, one of the commissioners James Thompson held up a transcript of this briefing, held up a copy of his book and asked Clarke which one is true?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION: Are you saying to me that you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and the public and that you went ahead and did it?
CLARKE: No, sir. Not untrue. Not an untrue case. I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing, I've done it for several presidents. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: You heard Clarke essentially saying that he was acting as a loyal staffer. At the White House all day today officials said this goes to a question of Clarke's credibility.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dick Clarke, in his own words, provides a point-by-point rebuttal of what he now asserts. This shatters the cornerstone of Mr. Clarke's assertions.
BASH: It's important to note, Wolf, this August 2002 briefing was given to reporters as a senior administration official. Those are the ground rules given by the White House, the White House changed rules and said we could give the identity of Richard Clarke as the source of the person defending the administration's plans to go after al Qaeda -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana, this being a political year, an election coming up in November. How worried are White House officials behind the scenes over these allegations made by Richard Clarke?
BASH: I guess the best way to answer that is to look at their actions and to look at what they have done, not only here at the White House but over the campaign. It was not very long until the transcript came to light that the campaign sent out excerpts from it. They are making sure not to let anything go unanswered and try to question not only the substance what Dick Clarke is saying but also essentially what Scott McClellan said today, the credibility of what he said when he was working here and what he's saying now.
BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House, thank you very much.
You think this White House, Peter Bergen, is going to have trouble rebutting over the course of these weeks and months assuming these allegations continue. The heart of the debate right now. Did the president of the United States, after taking office on January 20, 2001, did he devote enough attention to the terror threat from al Qaeda moving forward to 9/11?
BERGEN: Well, you know, Clarke's book tries to make that case, unfortunately this background briefing he gave seems to make the opposite case, and no matter how -- even if you say he was putting a positive spin on the administration policy which is his defense of this background briefing. There's still, there must have been some truth to it. You can't make these things up out of thin air. That part of Clarke's criticism of the Bush administration, you know, is now rather muddled. But I would add one thing, he was asked, Clarke was asked about this whole question about did the Iraq war distract from the war on terrorism. That probably still remains a reasonably good point that a lot of people, counterterrorism intelligence professionals agree that the war on Iraq was a distraction from the wider war on terrorism.
BLITZER: Peter Bergen, thank you very much for that. And to our viewers, this important note, Richard Clarke will be a guest tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." "Larry King Live" airs tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Richard Clarke will be among Larry's guests. We're going to continue to follow this story. We're standing by for a news conference, the commission members expected to emerge very soon, speak to reporters and to the American public, explain their conclusions what they learned over the past few days, but we're also going to check in on other important news we're following including Kobe Bryant. He's facing his accuser, they met face to face for the first time since this summer. We'll go live to Eagle, Colorado with details on this first courtroom encounter.
Do two words in the pledge of allegiance violate the U.S. constitution? The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case, we'll have details.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have any animosity toward the Iraqi people.
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BLITZER: Life after imprisonment. They were captured in Iraq a year ago. Hear from former P.O.W.s David Williams and Ron Young, all that coming up on this special edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
BLITZER: A dramatic day of testimony, day two of the special testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Up on Capitol Hill, we're standing by, the formal testimony is wrapped up, we're standing by to hear from the commissioners. We'll go there live, once they emerge.
In the meantime, let's check other news we're following today including Kobe Bryant and the woman who accuses him of rape. They saw each other face to face today in a Colorado courtroom for the first time since the alleged attack.
Our national correspondent Gary Tuchman is in Eagle, Colorado, he's following all the details of today's dramatic developments.
Gary, update our viewers what happened today?
GARY TUCHMAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kobe Bryant arrived for the pretrial hearing 8:15 Mountain time this morning. 25 minutes later, the woman who accused him of rape entered the courtroom also. As you said, for the first time in nine months they've seen each other in person. They acknowledge they were at the Cordillera Lodge and Spa on June 30th, 2003, when they had sex. That's where their tales diverge, Kobe Bryant said it was consensual, the woman has accused him of rape. The woman came in wearing profession business suit, had a serious expression on her face. Reporters were not allowed inside during testimony about her sexual past. She immediately went to the stand. Glanced in Kobe Bryant's direction, and the Los Angeles Laker guard glanced in her direction. The reason the hearing is held, Kobe Bryant's attorneys say injury, the woman said she suffered at the hotel, might have come from another sexual partner that she had in the days preceding the incident with Kobe Bryant or the day afterwards. Her attorneys are saying there is no evidence whatsoever, it's a lie she had sex with anyone the day after. The judge is allowing the testimony and will ultimately decide if parts of her sexual past would be allowed in the trial.
A trial date hasn't been scheduled yet, but legal analysts have told us they imagine the testimony inside would have been very, very graphic at times. It lasted 3 1/2 hours. The woman left the courtroom a short time ago. Now taking the stand are some of her friends and another man she allegedly had sex with. We can tell you Kobe Bryant has an important game with the Los Angeles Lakers against the Sacramento Kings in Los Angeles, and we are told despite the fact this hearing will continue tomorrow and Kobe Bryant has to be here tomorrow, he is planning to fly out tonight to Los Angeles to at least make the second half of that game, and then fly back afterwards for the continuation of the hearing tomorrow.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Gary, I know you're speaking to attorneys on both sides and other experts who follow these kinds of cases in the past.
How extraordinary is this closed door hearing today, where this woman was forced to come forward and testify, if you will, even though behind closed doors about her sexual past?
TUCHMAN: Well, Colorado has a rape shield law that basically says that details a woman's sexual past are irrelevant to a rape case. But exceptions are made. So therefore, it is not that out of ordinary for defense attorneys to ask the judge for permission. Have a special hearing before a trial to allow some evidence to be admitted. So that fact isn't that unusual. What is unusual about the case, Wolf, is this alleged crime happened in June, almost nine months ago. It is going slowly because of the amount of hearings and because the amount of closed-door hearings that the celebrity brings upon this case.
BLITZER: Gary Tuchman in Eagle, Colorado. Gary, we'll be checking back with you. Thank you very much for that update.
Here in Washington, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Pledge of Allegiance violates the separation of church and state.
Our national correspondent Bob Franken is joining us in the studio. He's been following this hearing. This is an important decision that the justice of the Supreme Court are going to have to come up with.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe. They could, in fact, bypass the important constitutional decision, and in effect, determine whether the plaintiff, who is Michael Newdow wants "under god" taken out of Pledge of Allegiance has the right to take the case, because there is a custody question, the mother of the daughter who he is saying is injured by the testimony. The mother of the daughter does not oppose "under god." And there is question whether he has adequate custody in their split, to be the custodial parent who has the right to make the case.
And there was a bit of discussion about that relatively mundane feature and they got to the constitutional questions with the solicitor general of the United States, Ted Olson reporting the administration saying the term under god is not that unconstitutional, it really is patriotic ceremony. But Newdow said his child and he are injured. He is he's an atheist. I don't believe in god, Newdow said before the justices. And my daughter is told to stand up, hand on heart, and force say the pledge and told that her father is wrong. Of course there is another side of this, the school board's attorneys said they are complying with the law, she's not even forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance to which Newdow replied in court, "not pledged, but because of peer pressure in effect, coerced. He was peppered by questions, Chief Justice William Rehnquist for instances asked what if the school child asked the child to sing "God Bless America." And Newdow really didn't have an answer to that. Justice Kennedy was talking about whether the child was required to say this, he emphasized that.
Of course, Newdow said it's not a question of being required. There is question from Justice Souter, he was saying this is so tepid, using his words, so diluted that it's far from being a prayer, far below what he called the constitutional radar. Now one thing that was very interesting was the performance of, Newdow. Newdow, is somebody who has never practiced before the supreme court. He is a doctor with a law degree. The Supreme Court decided it would allow him to practice, by all accounts he did a very good job. The question becomes did he do a good enough job to prevail and keep the words "under god" out of pledge.
BLITZER: Lets get back to the original issues that you raised, who has comfort girl in the parents are divorced?
Is there joint custody?
Did the mother have primary custody?
Is that the question being raised on the jurisdiction of the issue?
FRANKEN: They were actually never married. The answer is at the moment, and this is still an issue that is under discussion in California. At the moment, the mother has primary custody. So one of the issues that was raised before the Supreme Court was whether this was really just a custody matter and that he didn't have standing to bring the case. The justices made it clear on such questions they usually defer to the lower courts. Nevertheless, it took up an awful lot of time before the court before they got to the questions that the Supreme Court is usually there to answer. BLITZER: I know you've covered a lot of Supreme Court hearings along these lines before. This is very dangerous territory that I'm going to ask you a question about. But based on the questions you were hearing from the justices, could you get a sense which direction the majority seemed to be moving toward?
FRANKEN: It's important to point out as you did, it's dangerous territory, because oftentimes the justices just want to protect the record by asking skeptical questions about their position. The justices were very skeptical. They just peppered as I pointed out, peppered Newdow with questions. By the way, one of the justices did not appear. And this is interesting. He decided not to be in the case. The term is recused himself. That was Judge Antonin Scalia, who had publicly ridiculed Newdow's position during a rally a year or so ago. So, at Newdow's request, he pulled out of the case.
What's so interesting about that is that, in another case the court is going to hear, the Cheney case that's coming up later this year, Scalia says he will not recuse himself.
BLITZER: All right, Bob Franken reporting on this potentially, potentially, historic decision the Supreme Court justices may have to make. We'll be watching that very closely. Thank, Bob, very much.
We're standing by to hear from the commissioners, the 9/11 commissioners. They've been meeting for two days with administration witnesses, former administration witnesses. We'll get to their news conference. That's coming up.
We're also checking other stories, including Israelis. They stopped a Palestinian teenager today, and they're stunned by what they found in his possession, a surprising story that you will want to see. We'll have a report from the Middle East. That's coming up.
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CWO DAVID WILLIAMS, U.S. ARMY: I don't think anything in the world can prepare you for the separation from your family, your fellow troops and so forth.
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BLITZER: Reflections of war and imprisonment in Iraq one year after their capture. Hear from former POWs David Williams and Ron Young, that coming up.
BLITZER: If you were watching CNN today, you saw dramatic testimony, sworn testimony by Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism adviser to President Bush, as well as former President Clinton. He made the argument that this administration, the Bush administration, in the nine months leading up to 9/11, never really put terrorism, the war on terrorism, very high on its agenda. Our senior White House correspondent, John King, is standing by. He's just had a briefing -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Just moments ago, I was part of a briefing in the office of the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and she is angry, to say the least.
She called scurrilous, her word, the allegations raised by Richard Clarke, her former deputy, that President Bush was somehow not aware of the al Qaeda threat or that he underestimated the al Qaeda threat in the days leading up to the September 11 attack. And as part of the White House counteroffensive, Dr. Rice herself read from an e- mail from Mr. Clarke.
Here's how the story played out. Dr. Rice said that last July -- excuse me -- July 2001, before the September 11 attacks, after a briefing in which the president was told al Qaeda was planning attacks overseas, that she, Dr. Rice and the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, decided to call Dick Clarke into her office and instruct him that even though the threats were overseas based on all that intelligence, that he should get all of the domestic agencies, the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, other domestic agencies together, and tell them just in case to take extra precautions against a terrorist strike here in the United States.
Mr. Clarke, of course, has said the administration did not do enough before September 11. Condi Rice also read the unclassified portion of an e-mail that Richard Clarke sent her on September 15, just four days after the September 11 terrorist attacks in this country, in which Mr. Clarke said he was worried that sometime down the road after the spirit of national unity perhaps had been broken, that some might question whether the White House had done enough to try to head off terrorist attacks in this country.
And in that e-mail to Dr. Rice, Mr. Clarke listed the steps he had taken to put the FBI, the FAA and other agencies on alert. So Dr. Rice saying that the Richard Clarke she is hearing testify now is not the Richard Clarke who was part of the administration's preparations, and once again, the administration using his own words to say that he was very much involved in trying to put this country on higher alert.
One more point I'd like to make, Wolf. Mr. Clarke suggests in his book that when he first met with Dr. Rice early in the Bush administration -- he was of course a holdover from the Clinton administration -- that she did not know or she appeared not to know what al Qaeda was, Condoleezza Rice getting very hot at that. She said it was -- quote -- "arrogant in the extreme."
Dr. Rice, of course, was on the National Security Council in the first Bush administration. She was the provost at Stanford University, known around the world as an international scholar. She said -- quote -- "I'd heard of a few things before I met Dick Clarke." The national security adviser, Wolf, Very angry in her office today.
BLITZER: Well, John, I get the sense not only what Dr. Rice just said to you and other reporters at the White House, but what administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn't get a certain promotion. He's got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don't know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.
Is that the sense that you're getting, speaking to a wide range of officials?
KING: None of the senior officials I have spoken to here talked about Mr. Clarke's personal life in any way. But they offer a very mixed picture. They say that he was a very dedicated, a very smart member of the senior White House staff, that he was held over because of his expertise in the Clinton administration on terrorism issues and the Bush administration, these officials say, wanted a smooth transition.
They also say, and many top Clinton administration officials support this, that Richard Clarke could be irritable. He could sometimes get angry at those who did not agree with him. That is an opinion shared in both administrations. And, in the end, of course, he did not get the No. 2 job at the Department of Homeland Security and he decided to move on.
But Condoleezza Rice talking in her office just moments ago about a lunch she had with Richard Clarke just a month or two before the war in Iraq began when he came back to see her. She said even in that meeting, after he had left the governor, he raised none of the concerns he raised in his book or in his testimony today, none of his concerns either about what the administration did before September 11 or the concerns he makes now that a war in Iraq in his view has undermined the global war on terrorism.
BLITZER: The whole nature, though, of this attack was predicted by Richard Clarke himself in that "60 Minutes" interview with Lesley Stahl that aired Sunday night. He said: I fully expect the attack dogs -- I don't know if that was the exact, but something along those lines -- to be directed against him and to try to diminish him and to weaken him.
This is a man who did have three decades of experience as a federal civil servant in which he was highly regarded. So this does underscore the degree of anger, but also politically speaking, John, the fear within the Bush administration and the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign that the charges he's making could resonate.
KING: They certainly could, Wolf.
Let's look at it first just from a personal standpoint of the president and his senior aides. They say that Richard Clarke is out there saying that perhaps George W. Bush could have stopped 3,000 people from dying if he had done more. The White House says flatly that is not the case. That is why Condoleezza Rice calls them scurrilous allegations, in her view. They believe the administration did all it could based on what it knew.
Yes, there needed to be better communication between the FBI and the CIA. Perhaps if there had been institutionally, more cooperation, they might have known more. But they take Mr. Clarke's charge that perhaps September 11 could have been avoided if the president did more, they take that as heresy here at the Bush White House.
But politically of course, this is a president in his own campaign ads, the tag line is steady leadership in changing times. Mr. Bush is trying to convince the American people, do not change the commander in chief midway through or in the middle anyway of a global war on terrorism. If it is somehow punctured, the idea that this president was a firm, decisive leader, if Dick Clarke's assessment that the president was asleep at the switch if you will leading up to September 11, if that takes hold, this president is in political trouble, no doubt about it.
BLITZER: Speaking of politics, the other charge that has been leveled against Richard Clarke, by Republican,s Bush administration supporters, is that, well, maybe he's a Democrat. Maybe he wants John Kerry to be elected and maybe -- one of his best friends is Rand Beers, who used to work for the Clinton administration as the national security adviser and is now the chief national security adviser to Senator John Kerry, the whole political motivation, if you will, that's coming to the fore.
Did Condoleezza Rice get into any of that during her briefing with you and your colleagues just a little while ago?
KING: She did not. Other White House officials have pointed out the close relation between Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, a top foreign policy adviser to Senator Kerry.
Mr. Clarke himself of course today said under oath that he would not take a job in any Kerry administration. I will tell you some White House officials believe that is a possibility, somehow some affinity for the Kerry campaign. Most take it, though, the other side of coin, if you will, that for some reason Mr. Clarke has decided that he now opposes this president. Some officials say that perhaps he has a grudge or sour grapes, because he does not believe he was treated well given the status or stature that he thought he deserved on the Bush National Security Council or he thought he was mistreated in not getting the No. 2 job at the Department of Homeland Security.
Others say perhaps now that he's out of government, Wolf, he simply wants to make money by selling his book.
BLITZER: You and I covered the Clinton administration. So you remember all those days as vividly as I'm sure I do as well.
But I remember Richard Clarke was one of the handful of intelligence officials before the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, August 1, 1990, there were only two or three or four intelligence analysts who accurately predicted that invasion. Pat Lang, who is often seen as CNN, at the Defense Intelligence Agency, was one. Ken Pollack, our CNN terrorism analyst, over at the CIA was another. Richard Clarke was the third, going against the grain of many other -- the overwhelming majority of the intelligence community, predicting that Saddam Hussein was not bluffing, would invade Kuwait, and that propelled his career, that accurate assessment by Richard Clarke.
Just to be on the record, he had an outstanding reputation going into the Bush administration.
KING: And that is one of the reasons we're told by Dr. Rice and other senior officials that she decided to keep him. A senior official the other day saying that there were some recommendations from the Clinton National Security Council and others that said that this man is a bit of a character.
Some even senior Clinton administration officials would say he sometimes had a my-way-or-the-highway-approach, but that he did have a talent, that he was very forward-looking. You mentioned the first Persian Gulf War. He also was one of the early advocates of the government taking a much more aggressive posture on the whole issue of cybersecurity, whether it be for the sensitive Defense Department and CIA computer networks, but also just for the general network in terms of the possibility of the economic impact of an attack on cybersecurity.
So he is known by some as very smart. Some even call him brilliant. He is also known by many of those who would call him brilliant in one breath do call him sometimes irritable in the next.
BLITZER: All right, this story is clearly not ending anytime soon.
CNN senior White House correspondent John King at the White House.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. Commissioners are speaking to the press, Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman, the former member of Congress.
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LEE HAMILTON, VICE-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: ... conclusion at this point. And I think it's one of the key questions that the commission will have to address.
I think as Dick Clarke, who said that the Bush administration looked at the counterterrorism policy as important, but not urgent, if I recall his language. And I remember thinking to myself, that's something we really got to come to a conclusion on.
This is the toughest problem of government: ranking of priorities. And it is one that it's very, very hard to pin a policy- maker down on because it is so tough. And yet, it's so critically important that they do it because you don't have resources to do everything and you don't have the time to do everything.
So that's a roundabout way of saying that that question is still very active in my mind.
QUESTION: Of the systemic failures that, some of the four systems that Director Tenet talked about in this testimony today (OFF- MIKE)
THOMAS H. KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Well, that's a tough question, and one I'm not sure I'm ready to answer. We're looking at those things. And we're getting testimony from a number of areas on the various systems that were in place on 9/11 and the changes that have been made now, both the CIA and FBI and a number of other agencies. But I'm not sure I'm ready to make a conclusion at this point.
HAMILTON: I don't have any doubt that the administration officials are trying very hard to reduce the so-called systemic failures or the connecting of the dots problem. And I basically found myself nodding in agreement as Director Tenet talked about these systemic failures.
Now, the difficulty with this is it is such a huge task. The government receives at any given point in time literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of bytes of data. And the problem is to get the right information to the right person at the right time.
And a lot of that data comes to you in languages other than English.
So the director is correct, I think. We have to see what can be done to improve the management, if you would, of an enormous amount of data. I mean, unbelievable amounts of data. You just cannot imagine, unless you've seen it, how much data we can produce in a matter of seconds with this technological capability that we have. And 99.999 percent of it is totally irrelevant and has nothing to do with what you're interested in.
But whatever the percentage is left there becomes absolutely crucial to you when it is connected -- maybe not by itself, but when it is connected to other bits of data. So you've got to extract that, you've got to put it together and you've got then to get it to the right person.
It doesn't do you a bit of good if the president of the United States knows the information and the commander in the field at the barracks, the Marine barracks in Lebanon, did not have the information.
I'm not suggesting that was the case there, but you see the illustration. If the commander doesn't have the information, it doesn't help you.
QUESTION: When do you intend to meet with President Bush and Vice President Cheney (OFF-MIKE)
KEAN: We haven't got the Bush-Cheney meetings on schedule as yet. We're still hoping that he'll meet with the whole commission. The whole commission wants very much to meet with him. But at this point, it's the chairman and the vice chairman and a member of the staff. But we're still pushing on, making our request.
HAMILTON: Thank you very much gentlemen, ladies.
BLITZER: Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, he is the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, the vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, the former Democratic congressman from Indiana wrapping up two days of testimony, important testimony, dare I say historic testimony, on the events leading up to 9/11 during the final years of the Clinton administration and other first nine months of the Bush administration.
We'll continue to monitor this story, obviously, here on CNN.
We're also following other news today, including a nation in mourning. Leaders from around the world pay their respects to the victims of the Spain terror attacks. We'll have details.
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RET. CWO RON YOUNG JR., U.S. ARMY: Imagine going through 23 days of something like we did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now one year later, you'll hear from two former American POWs in Iraq. I'll speak with Ron Young and David Williams. They'll update us on how they're doing in the United States one year later.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Here are some of the stories we're following right now.
In Madrid, a state funeral for the 190 victims of the March 11 terror attacks on crowded commuter trains. The prime ministers of 14 countries were among the hundreds of people who attended; 11 people have now been charge in the bombings, which were the deadliest terror attacks on a Western nation since 9/11.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission is condemning Monday's assassination of the Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin by Israeli forces; 31 countries voted in favor of the resolution; 18 abstained. Only the United States and Australia voted against it. Yassin's death has sparked a new round of violence in the Middle East, and Hamas is vowing revenge.
In the Middle East today, Israeli troops stopped a Palestinian teenager at a checkpoint in the West Bank, and they were stunned by what they found. The boy was wearing a bomb belt. The discovery came just a week after another child was caught with explosives in a bag.
More now from CNN's Paula Hancocks in Jerusalem.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 14-year-old Palestinian with eight kilograms of explosives strapped to his body. The boy was stopped at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus. When soldiers asked him to lift his shirt, they saw the explosives.
CAPT. SHARON FEINGOLD, IDF SPOKESWOMAN: He was frightened by the sharp and quick reaction of the soldiers who pointed the guns and stopped him. And he raised his hands. At that time, we grabbed him and persuaded him to assist us to dismantle him of the suicide vest that he was wearing.
HANCOCKS: The boy told the soldiers he didn't want to die. He didn't want to blow up. Explosive experts used a remote control robot to pass the boy scissors so he could cut the belt from his body. He struggled with the straps before removing the vest and showing soldiers he had no more explosives.
The IDF blew up the vest. Shortly afterwards, the boy was shown to reporters. No questions allowed. The boy was then taken for interrogation to find out exactly who sent him and if he was coerced.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.
BLITZER: Shocking story indeed.
Army helicopter pilots Ron Young and David Williams were shot down in Iraq and became prisoners of war. Recently, they talked with me about their experience and its impact on their lives.
BLITZER: Ron Young, David Williams, thanks to both of you for joining us.
Ron, let me begin with you.
It's exactly one year since that Apache helicopter went down. What has this year been like for you?
YOUNG: Really, Wolf, it's been a whirlwind. We've done really all types of things. I'm out of the service now and trying to get back into civilian life and make money as a normal civilian. And it's been a transition not having people tell you what to do all the time. But it's been a good one and I think it's what I needed, and hopefully I'll get back into the National Guard and continue serving my country at some point.
BLITZER: David, what about for you? WILLIAMS: Well, sir, I've been pretty busy. The Army's kept me busy for sure. I've been doing a lot of traveling speaking to different units prior to them deploying on lessons learned, as well as helping the Army develop a new personnel recovery program to teach soldiers how to survive the unthinkable that I hey went through.
BLITZER: Well, what's the most important lesson that you would want to share with others who might someday be POWs?
WILLIAMS: Always keep the faith, sir.
BLITZER: That's easier said than done. You've got to be more specific.
WILLIAMS: Well, it's not easy, there's no doubt about it. And I don't think anything in the world can prepare you for the separation from your family, your fellow troops and so forth. But, as hard as it sounds, you have to keep positive and you have to keep the faith knowing that the soldiers are always fighting, trying to get you, mission No. 1.
BLITZER: Ron, did you ever lose faith?
YOUNG: No, sir. I never lost faith.
I actually prayed a lot, and I felt honestly like the lord was telling me that I was going to be all right through my experience and that one day I'd make it home. So I actually had a peace while I was in prison and felt like that every day those guys were out there and they were battling to find us, and I knew that people were out there looking for us and that eventually we would make it home to our families.
BLITZER: Ron, have you suffered from any kind of -- I guess the scientific term is some sort of syndrome? As you look back on those days that you were a POW, has it affected your life today?
YOUNG: Well, I don't think can you go through a circumstance like that without it affecting your life. People have horrible car wrecks and it affects their life for a long time. So imagine going through 23 days of something like we did and people beating you in interrogations, throwing you in a prison and being bombed.
That definitely bothers you. And sometimes you dream about it, and sometimes you feel like you're running all night long. But it's something that you have to remember is just a part of you now, and you can deal with it fairly successful. I think I've been very successful in dealing with the situation.
BLITZER: David, what about you? Do you have like nightmares thinking about those days?
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir, I do.
As Ron was saying, I don't think you go through that experience -- now my bad days are far and few between. However, I still have nightmares periodically, but I've learned a lot about myself, and as well as helping the soldiers out in the services.
BLITZER: David, I know that the No. 1 advice, I remember when I was a Pentagon correspondent, speaking to former POWs, is, don't be ashamed to go for counseling, some psychological help in the aftermath of what clearly is a traumatic experience. Have both of you -- let me begin with you, David.
Have both of you had significant counseling?
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir. We had an incredible staff of psychologists who helped us through this duration. And still, to this day, as a matter of fact, we're going to do a follow-up here in May on all the POWs.
And, you know, most of the seven or the eight, we still see them today.
BLITZER: Ron, what about you?
YOUNG: Well, like he said, we did have a good staff that helped us that the Army provided to us. The guys, they've been really great to us. They call us every now and then just to make sure our minds are OK, if we have any problems, to talk to them, to make sure that none of us are going through something that would be overbearing for each one of us.
And, of course, we keep in contact between each other, because we're really the only people that understand what each other went through. And I think that provides us a significant amount of support for one another.
BLITZER: Ron Young and David Williams, thank God they're back home safe and sound in the United States a year after they were POWs in Iraq.
A reminder, you can always catch "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern. I'm also on the air weekdays noon Eastern.
Until then -- that would be tomorrow -- thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
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