Live-Blogging Rice’s Testimony

8:07 — Rice is giving her opening statement. She appropriately places the 9/11 attacks in historical context, going back to the 1980’s. She says that administrations of both parties failed to respond adequately to the threat.
8:09 — She’s moving straight into the briefings the incoming administration received.
8:10 — She “took the unusual step of retaining Dick Clarke and his staff” to provide continuity in anti-terror efforts. No good deed goes unpunished.
8:12 — President Bush told her he was “tired of swatting flies” and wanted a plan to eliminate al Qaeda. This was the first national security directive of the Bush administration. It ordered the relevant agencies to make al Qaeda’s elimination a high priority. It gave specific directions to various agencies and departments. One specific directive was to aid anti-Taliban groups in Afghanistan. Another was to direct the Secretary of Defense to take various actions in Afghanistan. This was a change from the prior strategic policy, which directed bringing terrorists to the U.S. for trial.
8:15 — Within a month of taking office, President Bush sent a message to Musharraf urging him to abandon Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Other administration officials pursued the same effort. “America’s al Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan problem wasn’t working, and our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working.”
8:17 — How is she doing? OK. She looks nervous, is talking too fast and stumbles over occasional words. But she seems sincere and conveys a sense of urgency. She’s relating concrete anti-terror efforts now, after the administration took office.
8:19 — Those who are looking for lots of bureaucratic detail will be impressed. Now she’s talking about the threat reports in the summer of 2001. The reports were not specific; where specific, they related to overseas threats. She is now reading “chatter” that was picked up–obviously not specific enough to do anything with. She addresses a briefing of President Bush in August. It included a 1998 reference to the possibility of a hijacking. This was not prompted by any new information, and did not refer to the possibility of using airplanes as missiles.
8:22 — She met with Dick Clarke and asked Clarke to make sure that all domestic agencies were taking appropriate measures against possible domestic attack. Heh heh.
8:24 — She is finally making a very important point: The thing that would have been most helpful in preventing 9/11 is better intelligence about domestic threats, but legal obstacles to sharing information were a significant problem.
8:28 — She’s talking about the administration’s post 9/11 actions, including Iraq and Libya. President Bush chose to pursue a broad global strategy to bring about peace, not just attempt a narrow victory. Her opening statement is done.
8:30 — Softball question about the introductory briefings, good answer. The importance of al Qaeda was on the radar screen of everyone in the national security field. Heightened sense from the Clintonites’ briefing. But there were other priorities emphasized in these briefings. Don’t have the luxury of dealing with only one issue. But we all thought this was a very crucial issue; the question is what do you do about it. We decided, first of all, to continue doing everything the prior administration was doing. Kept Tenet and Clarke. And tried to craft a better strategy.
8:33 — Did you ever see a memo about using planes as bombs? She recalls her statement that “no one could have imagined” such an attack. She should have said “I couldn’t have imagined.” This subject was never briefed to us. I can’t say that there was never a report that reached somebody. There are thousands of pieces of information. Have to depend on intelligence agencies to sort it. But it was not in the Aug. 6 memo, using planes as weapons, and she recalls to such warning. Not a great answer, way too long, too ambiguous.
8:37 — Too much focus on Iraq? Was reasonable to ask whether Iraq may have been behind 9/11. Bush also wondered whether Iran was involved because of sophistication of attack. At Camp David, what was rolled out was a map of Afghanistan. That was a daunting challenge. Rumsfeld raised question of Iraq, also Wolfowitz. Should we look at doing something in Iraq, given that it’s a global war? Not a single principal adviser recommended doing anything against Iraq, all Afghanistan. The President told her, afterward, that he wanted contingency plans vs. Iraq should they act against our interests. Or in case we find that they were behind 9/11. But the broader discussion of Iraq came later. President Bush never pushed anyone to twist the facts.
8:41 — Lee Hamilton is now putting the case on behalf of the Democrats. He refers to Woodward’s book and Bush’s “admission,” along with a number of references to witnesses who said we weren’t going fast enough pre 9/11. Some 100 meetings of NSC principals before first meeting on terrorism on 9/4. Shelton says terrorism pushed to back burner.
8:45 — She starts by dealing with the Woodward quote. She has the transcript of the Woodward interview and reads a longer quote. Good context, but again her answers tend to be long, wordy, not aggressive enough. She goes back to saying that what Bush wanted was a plan to eliminate al Qaeda. Priority was continuing the prior efforts while developing a new plan. She disagrees with the data on NSC meetings, but not very effectively. Was it moving fast enough? There were parallel tracks. We continued everything Clinton was doing. She admits Clinton gave terrorism a high priority. Odd, I think. She is not trying to frame the administration’s efforts in context of the Clinton administration’s ineffectiveness. She also says that they implemented some of Clarke’s recommendations without waiting for strategic plan. She says the memos from anti-terrorism people (Clarke) might have taken us off course, because they were much too focused on the Northern Alliance.
8:49 — No single thing would have prevented 9/11, but the “absence of light,” i.e. intelligence, was really structural. Key was legal impediment to the FBI and CIA functioning together. Freeh and Tenet tried hard to bridge the gap. But this country had an allergy to the notion of domestic intelligence. Good changes since 9/11. Patriot Act now allows intelligence sharing between agencies.
8:53 — Hamilton asks about root causes; she points to our long-standing tolerance of the “freedom deficit” in the Middle East. She refers to the President’s Whitehall speech which announced a reversal of this policy and called for freedom in the Arab world. Building a democracy is tough–it took us a while here. Good, subtle reference to our own civil rights struggles. We have to stand for values of freedom. Over the long run, we will change the Middle East, especially if there are successful examples. This is why Iraq is so important.
8:57 — Democratic attack dog Richard Ben-Veniste is questioning now. Asking about the August 6 Presidential briefing. Giving a long speech, actually. Clarke told her that al Qaeda cells were in the U.S. Did she tell the President that? The crowd is pro-Democrat, anti-Rice. He cuts her off and demands she answer his question. Crowd applauds. FBI was pursuing terrorist cells, she can’t remember whether she discussed this with President, but Bush was aware there were issues inside U.S. No new threat information in the August briefing. Didn’t that memo say that there were signs consistent with an airplane hijacking? She is combative, not deferential, but not as effective as I’d like to see. At least she isn’t taking his attacks lying down.
9:05 — Nothing in Aug. 6 memo suggested an attack on New York or Washington, nothing in memo related to specific threat information. FAA had warned of possible hijackings, FBI had increased activity. We’d taken steps that we could given absence of threat reporting. Did Bush do something based on info in PDB? Bush was told this is historical information. Nothing actionable in it. Bush knew FBI was pursuing, CIA was pursuing. No new threat information. If President had issued a directive to CIA to make sure that all info collected was transmitted to FBI, might Pres. have gotten info re fact that two al Qaeda operatives involved in 9/11 were in U.S.? And Clarke never even made aware of Moussaui. Long speech by Ben-Veniste. Rice: We had a structural problem — didn’t share domestic and foreign intelligence for legal and cultural reasons.
9:15 — Fred Fielding is questioning now; again, more like a speech. He talks about her Oct. 2000 speech re need for better intelligence and bin Laden. What steps were taken in first several months to address the structural problem? Asked CIA to review its intelligence gathering activities; study was in progress. Not enough time to make structural changes. She keeps talking about the systemic problem, but isn’t making it clear that a key part of the problem was that Congress had made sharing information illegal. Now says the administration made the changes “almost immediately after 9/11.” Seems like a damaging admission, and certainly not true insofar as passage of the Patriot Act was required.
9:22 — Fielding is going on and on in a boring fashion, so I’ll take a moment for an overall impression. I’d say Rice is doing OK. Her answers are long and detailed, somewhat defensive. My guess is that to supporters she’s coming across as encyclopedic in her knowledge; to enemies she’s coming across as evasive. She isn’t criticizing Clarke or the Democrats, which I think may be a mistake. I think anyone in the middle would view her pretty positively; she is obviously knowledgeable and sincere, and while she didn’t duel with Ben-Veniste very skillfully, she did at least stand up to him.
9:30 — They’re talking about bureaucratic stuff now (Jamie Gorelick); Rice can go on about bureaucratic arrangements all day, but I doubt that anyone watching finds this very compelling one way or another. The Democratic criticism here is that the top-level people weren’t meeting together on terrorism. Gorelick thinks the FBI’s warnings were inadequate; she refers to Colleen Rowley; the audience applauds. Rice says one of the problems is that the specific information was all overseas: Genoa, Middle East, Israel. Her answers are long and somewhat rambling.
9:35 — Rice: We were in office 233 days. Question is, why didn’t we address structural issues over a period of years? Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to cause people to think differently and overcome old fears.
9:39 — Gorelick says no decision had been made to put U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan. True. Gorelick says Clinton administration had a plan to do exactly what the new administration’s policy was on al Qaeda. Was there really a difference? Rice: Were significant differences. But she can’t coherently explain what they were. The Democrats’ relief is palpable; I think they expected her to be better and feared that she would explicitly criticize the Clinton administration.
10:00 — Bob Kerrey is going off on Iraq. He supported Iraq war, but says our military tactics are now very bad. He cuts off audience applause, “Please don’t do that.”
10:01 — Kerrey is getting away with blaming the Bush administration for not responding to the USS Cole attack! Unbelievable. Rice responds by praising a “brilliant” speech by Kerrey on strategic response, not tactical, to terrorism. She goes on and on about the Cole without mentioning that the attack occurred during the Clinton administration.
10:04 — Rice and Kerrey are arguing about whether the administration was “presented with a plan.” Kerrey accuses her of “filibustering” him. She says they were presented with a set of ideas and the “Delinda” plan which was considered in 1998 and never adopted. We decided to pursue a different, more strategic approach.
10:08 — Kerrey is blasting Rice about the Moussaui affair. She repeats reference to legal obstacles, but without elaborating. Most viewers have no idea what she’s talking about. Kerrey keeps saying everyone knows the FBI and CIA don’t talk. Kerrey keeps calling her Dr. Clarke; she finally corrects him. Kerrey reads from Aug. 6 memo, just declassified, that says there are preparations going on, consistent with hijacking. Rice says the FAA sent out warnings, but there wasn’t time to take action like hardening cockpits. The important structural changes needed to be made a long time ago, not during 2001. But there were a lot of impediments before 9/11 happened.
10:20 — John Lehman is pointing out that all of the key people were carryovers from the Clinton administration. Bush essentially had the same government in place. He’s struck by continuity of the policies, not differences. Rice says she wasn’t told about the number of young Arab males in flight training. Lehman walks through a number of issues that she was not made aware of until after 9/11. Immigration policies, among others. She didn’t know that airlines get fined if they are questioning more than two young Arab males at a time. He’s now giving her an opportunity to expound on the difference between law enforcement and war. Instead of hitting the slow pitch, she goes off an analysis of bureaucratic issues. Finally, she gets to his question: Bush doesn’t think this is law enforcement, he thinks it’s war. For all of the war rhetoric before 9/11 we were not at war. We were focused on law enforcement. No sustained effort to destroy al Qaeda or deal with those who harbored al Qaeda. Bush put states on notice after 9/11.
10:30 — Dem. Congressman Roemer asks whether people shouldn’t have been fired after 9/11. The people who attacked us are the responsible parties. She’s interrupted; Dick Clarke is the “consummate expert” on terrorism. Why didn’t Clarke ever get to brief the President? The President was meeting with the head of the CIA. Rice says Clarke was a “very fine terrorism expert, which is why we kept him on.” She repeats Clarke’s statement that implementing his recommendations would not have prevented 9/11. She adds that doing what he wanted would have led us off in the wrong direction. She says Clarke never asked to brief the President on counter-terrorism. It would have happened if he’d asked.
10:40 — She’s being harangued about why the principals didn’t meet on terrorism. She disputes Roemer’s characterizations of the Aug. 6 briefing report. Roemer says the FBI field offices didn’t get any notice of a threat. Dick Clarke’s Sept. 4 memo was not a premonition or a warning. She was going into principals’ meeting to approve new policy. Clarke’s memo was about how the bureaucracy would impede implementation of the NSPD. They will purport to sign on, but they need to be pushed.
10:48 — Former Illinois Governor James Thompson is now finishing up, trying to put some “lame horses” out of their misery. Rice is addressing the supposed “plan” from Dick Clarke. There was a series of ideas, and we acted on them. The Delinda plan dated from 1998 but was never pursued by the Clinton administration. Bush wanted a more aggressive approach. Rice says there was plenty of high-level attention to terrorism, including from the President.
10:51 — Rice’s comments on the Cole bombing are bizarre. She is defending doing nothing; responding “tit for tat” with inadequate military options would be inappropriate. In effect, she is justifying the Clinton administration’s years of inaction. Most viewers probably have no idea that it was the Clinton administration that failed to respond to the Cole bombing.
CONCLUSION: How did she do? Reasonably well, I think, but not great. Her answers were long, sometimes rambling and non-responsive, and prone to slide into bureaucratic jargon and detail. Her important points often seemed to be lost in the shuffle. But she was vigorous in defending herself and the administration, she came across as highly knowledgeable, and I don’t know how anyone watching her testimony could view her as anything but sincere. I doubt that she changed any minds. Dick Clarke is now enshrined as an unimpeachable expert; no effort was made to undermine his credibility. And little was done to shift the focus from what the Bush administration didn’t do in eight months, to what Clinton didn’t do in eight years.
Democratic co-chairman Lee Hamilton is now praising Rice’s performance, and especially her tone. Maybe that means she did better than I thought; maybe it reflects the Democrats’ relief that she didn’t point a finger at the Clinton administration, or take stronger issue with Dick Clarke.
The transcript of Rice’s testimony is here.
UPDATE: Captain Ed Morissey has posted his observations; he is slightly disappointed with Rice, far more disappointed with the Commission.


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