Counter Terrorism: Rice v. Clarke

CONDOLEEZZA RICE
The national security adviser appeared before the commission on April 8 after political pressure forced President Bush to reverse his initial refusal to allow her to testify in public.

RICHARD A. CLARKE
The former counterterrorism chief under both Clinton and Bush testified on March 24 that the Bush administration gave fighting terrorism low priority before the 9/11 attacks.

On the administration's sense of urgency in tackling terrorism:

RICE
We understood that [al Qaeda] posed a serious threat to the United States. ...[W]e decided immediately to continue pursuing the Clinton administration's covert action authorities and other efforts ... I took the unusual step of retaining Dick Clarke and the entire counterterrorism team. ... Our goal was to ensure continuity of operations while we developed new and more aggressive policies.

CLARKE
I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue. George Tenet and I tried to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al Qaeda threat were given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way.

On forming a strategy to fight al Qaeda:

RICE
We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al Qaeda terrorist network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies." ... [O]ur counterterrorism strategy was part of a broader package of strategies that addressed the complexities of the region. ... America's al Qaeda policy wasn't working because our Afghanistan policy wasn't working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn't working because our Pakistan policy wasn't working. We recognized that America's counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and to our overall foreign policy.

CLARKE
... [T]he deputies committee didn't meet urgently in January or February. Then, when the deputies committee did meet, it took the issue of al Qaeda as part of a cluster of policy issues, including nuclear proliferation in South Asia, democratization in Pakistan, how to treat the problems, the various problems, including narcotics and other problems in Afghanistan, and, launched on a series of deputies meetings extending over several months to address al Qaeda in the context of all of those interrelated issues. ... The deputies committee ... thought that all these issues were sufficiently interrelated, that they should be taken up as a set of issues, and pieces of them should not be broken off.

On Iraq within the larger strategy of the terrorism war:

RICE
... [O]ver the long run ... we will change the nature of the Middle East, particularly if there are examples that this can work in the Middle East. And this is why Iraq is so important. The Iraqi people are struggling to find a way to create a multiethnic democracy that works. And it's going to be hard. And if we stay with them - and when they succeed - I think we will have made a big change - they will have made a big change in the middle of the Arab world, and we will be on our way to addressing the source.

CLARKE
... [T]he reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq - something I was not asked about by the commission, but something I chose to write about a lot in the book - by invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.

On briefing the president directly on counterterrorism:

RICE
Dick Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism. He did brief the president later on cybersecurity, in July, but he, to my recollection, never asked. And my senior directors have an open door to come and say, I think the president needs to do this. I think the president needs to do that. He needs to make this phone call. He needs to hear this briefing. It's not hard to get done.

CLARKE
I asked for a series of briefings on the issues in my portfolio, including counterterrorism and cyber-security. ... I was given a briefing opportunity to brief on cybersecurity in June. I was told I could brief the president on terrorism after this policy-development process was complete. And we had a principals meeting and a draft national security policy decision that had been approved by the deputies committee.

On the heightened alert in the summer of 2001:

RICE
...[O]ne of the problems here was there really was nothing that looked like it was going to happen inside the United States. The ... specific threat reporting was about external threats: about the Persian Gulf, about Israel, about perhaps the Genoa events. It is just not the case that the Aug. 6 memorandum did anything but put together what the CIA decided that they wanted to put together about historical knowledge about what was going on, and a few things about what the FBI might be doing. And so the light was shining abroad. ... I was in constant contact to make sure that those things were getting done with the relevant agencies, with State, with Defense and so forth.

CLARKE
President Bush was regularly told by the director of Central Intelligence that there was an urgent threat. On one occasion, he was told this dozens of times in the morning briefings that George Tenet gave him. On one of those occasions, he asked for a strategy to deal with the threat. Condi Rice came back from that meeting, called me and relayed what the president had requested. And I said, "Well, you know, we've had this strategy ready since before you were inaugurated. I showed it to you. You have the paperwork. We can have a meeting on the strategy any time you want." She said she would look into it. Her looking into it and the president asking for it did not change the pace at which it was considered. And as far as I know, the president never asked again.

On the response to the USS Cole bombing:

RICE
We really thought that the Cole incident was past, that you didn't want to respond tit for tat. As I've said, there is strategic response and there's tactical response. And just responding to another attack in an insufficient way, we thought, would actually probably embolden the terrorists - they'd been emboldened by everything else that had been done to them - and that the best course was to look ahead to a more aggressive strategy against them. I still believe to this day that the al Qaeda were prepared for a response to the Cole and that, as some of the intelligence suggested, bin Laden was intending to show that he'd yet survived another one, and that it might have been counterproductive.

CLARKE
I suggested, beginning in January of 2001, that the Cole case was still out there and that by now, in January of 2001, CIA had finally gotten around to saying it was an al Qaeda attack and that, therefore, there was an open issue, which should be decided, about whether or not the Bush administration should retaliate for the Cole attack. Unfortunately, there was no interest, no acceptance of that proposition, and I was told on a couple of occasions, well, that - you know - that happened on the Clinton administration's watch. I didn't think it made any difference. I thought the Bush administration, now that it had the CIA saying it was al Qaeda, should have responded.