WASHINGTONAt this mornings hearings before the 9-11 commission, the Bush administration, acting through Condoleezza Rice, revealed that the President had asked for and received from the CIA in the summer of 2001before 9-11an intelligence report entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."
Insisting it was a "historic" document which contained no warning of what was to come, she nonetheless refused requests by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste to declassify it.
With few exceptions the hearing was plunged into the murky world of Rice-speak, repeated references to "historic" documents (i.e., reports that in her view were old hat) and "structural" problems among the spy agencies that just can't be fixed because the domestic spies in the FBI don't talk to the international spies in the CIA.
She spoke of an "absence of light" among the spook bureaus, and talked gobbledegook like: "We did not share domestic and foreign intelligence to make a product for policy makers that people could depend upon."
The woman whom the press dotingly refers to as a "warrior princess" and "a sort of second wife" to Bush, took pains not to directly slime Richard Clarke, whom she hinted was pretty much of a dim bulb, and to commiserate with commissioners who were trying to figure out what the bureaucrats were doing, how hard it was to make them change their ways, how "frustratingly vague" their reports were, and so on.
She told how the President himself was just sick and tired of "swatting flies"sending off a cruise missile here and there à la Clinton. When asked to name one fly he had swatted, she, in addition to things like al Qaeda, said she had to think of places like North Korea, which as we all know, are in one hell of a mess.
And as predicted, when things got a little too hot, Rice just couldn't remember. Here is an exchange between her and Commissioner Ben-Veniste:
BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6th, of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the United States?
RICE: First, let me just make certain. . .
BEN-VENISTE: If you could just answer that question, because I only have a very limited . . .
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but it's important . . .
BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president . . .
RICE: . . . that I also address ...
It's also important that, Commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you'll just give me a moment.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, my only question to you is whether you . . .
RICE: I understand, Commissioner, but I will . . .
BEN-VENISTE:. . . told the president.
RICE: If you'll just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you've asked.
Finally Rice answered the question by claiming that the P.D.B. [Presidential Daily Briefing] was in response to questions asked by the President and "was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al Qaeda's operations." She added, "Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandumI remember it as being only a line or twothat there were al Qaeda cells in the United States."
"What did we need to do about that?" she asked him. "And I also understood that that was what the FBI was doing, that the FBI was pursuing these al Qaeda cells. I believe in the August 6th memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this: the FBI was pursuing it. I really don't remember, Commissioner, whether I discussed this with the President."
She added: "But I don't remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about."
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