Condi Rice's mystery meeting

If George Tenet's pre-9/11 briefing was old news, why did she ask him to repeat it for Rumsfeld and Ashcroft?

Published October 3, 2006 1:25PM (EDT)

That pre-9/11 meeting with George Tenet that Condoleezza Rice couldn't seem to remember Monday? It turns out that there was such a meeting, that it did include dire warnings about impending attacks on U.S. interests, and that the 9/11 Commission was told about it during the course of its investigation.

Bob Woodward says in his new book, "State of Denial," that Tenet and his top counterterrorism deputy held an urgent meeting with Rice on July 10, 2001, to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence they were seeing. Woodward says Tenet and his deputy left the meeting feeling that Rice had blown off their concerns.

Rice said Monday that it was "incomprehensible" that she would have ignored warnings about an attack on U.S. soil and suggested that no such meeting had even occurred.

But as the Washington Post reports, White House records show that the meeting did, in fact, occur, and 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste now says that Tenet did, in fact, tell the commission about the meeting during a 2004 interview in his office in Langley, Va.

The remaining question: Did Tenet and his deputy really feel that Rice had blown them off? "Tenet never told us that he was brushed off," Ben-Veniste tells the New York Times. "We certainly would have followed that up." Other, unidentified "current and former officials" also "took issue with Mr. Woodwards account that he and his aides had left the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had ignored them," the Times says.

OK, but why didn't Rice remember the meeting? According to the Post, a State Department spokesman traveling with Rice in the Middle East said the meeting was nothing more than "a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks," and that there was "nothing new" conveyed in it. At the same time, however, the spokesman claimed that Rice urged Tenet and his deputy to provide the same briefing to Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft. As the Post notes, the spokesman was "unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material."

By Tim Grieve

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

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