A 9/11 question for Condoleezza Rice

By Tim Grieve

Published February 10, 2005 1:53PM (EST)

No one could have predicted it.

Thats what Condoleezza Rice said about 9/11. Yes, George W. Bush received a Presidential Daily Brief on Aug. 6, 2001, and yes, that brief was headlined, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." But Rice and other administration officials have long maintained that no one could have predicted that terrorists would hijack a plane and try to use it as a weapon. "I don't think anybody could have predicted . . . that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," Rice said at a press briefing in May 2002.

Well, that's not quite true. Someone could have predicted it, and someone actually did. As we mentioned last night, today's New York Times brings news of a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 Commission. According to the Times, the report says that the Federal Aviation Administration "had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon," and that it actually warned U.S. airports in 2001 that terrorists might hijack an airplane in order to "commit suicide in a spectacular explosion."

Rice didn't see fit to mention any of this in her sworn public testimony before the 9/11 Commission last year. Asked about her pronouncement about the unpredictability of a planes-as-missiles scheme, Rice backtracked a bit, saying that the idea actually had been raised in reports within the "intelligence community" in 1998 and 1999. She didn't mention that the FAA had issued a warning about such an attack in the spring of 2001, just months before 9/11.

The Times says that the Bush administration "blocked" the public release of the newly disclosed 9/11 Commission for "more than five months" -- against the wishes of 9/11 Commissioner members -- but finally "provided both the classified report and a declassified, 120-page version to the National Archives two weeks ago."

Two weeks ago? Two weeks ago would be 'round about Jan. 27, and Jan. 27 would be the day after the U.S. Senate confirmed Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. Maybe the timing is a coincidence, and we certainly wouldn't want to suggest otherwise. That might amount to "impugning" Rice's "integrity" and "credibility." And that would be wrong, wouldn't it?

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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