"Frustratingly vague"


Geraldine Sealey
April 8, 2004 6:14PM (UTC)

Condoleezza Rice gave a 20-minute opening statement to the 9/11 panel which can be read here. In her opening remarks, Rice defended Bush's counterterrorism policy, and said the administration kept the Clinton team in place when it came into office, including CIA chief George Tenet, FBI Director Louis Freeh and counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. Rice didn't go after Clarke in her opening statement, really. Clarke's testimony before the panel two weeks ago raised serious questions about whether the Bush administration ignored the al-Qaida threat before 9/11 and misdirected efforts toward Iraq instead of al-Qaida after 9/11.

Instead, Rice made the failure to identify the al-Qaida threat a shared responsibility of the Bush and Clinton administrations, and one that mirrors previous failures. "Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late," she said.

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About the summer of 2001, when critics of the administration say the White House did not take the al-Qaida threat seriously enough, Rice says the threats coming in about pending attacks were "frustratingly vague," and did not suggest that al-Qaida was plotting to hit the U.S. mainland. Rice quoted "chatter" from the weeks and months before 9/11:

"The threat reporting that we received in the Spring and Summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. Almost all of the reports focused on al-Qaida activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorist operations overseas. More often, it was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that we picked up that Spring and Summer:

-- "Unbelievable news in coming weeks"
-- "Big event ... there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar"
-- "There will be attacks in the near future"

"Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how," Rice said.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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