The Condoleeza Rice Testimony to the 9/11 Investigation Commission: A View from the Couch

It should have become apparent to the American people by now that we are not going to hear much truth in respect to the pre-9/11 anti-terrorism team and its approach to anti-terrorism from testimony before the Commission. Rice’s testimony makes it plain that there is no one, not even the commission, that is able, due to severe time restraints, or willing, due to the political risks, to ask the tough and relevant questions that might get serious answers for us. There also seems to be no one who is willing to give what we suspect are the true, and honest answers about the anti-terrorism approach taken pre-9/11, by the Clinton and Bush administrations outside of a court of law. Instead of being treated like a self-governing people, we, the American people are being treated like a bunch of idiots who have no right to the truth, and who wouldn’t recognize the truth if we heard it. At the high cost to the taxpayer of the commission, and the salary of the National ! Security Advisor, and the cost of the television time, and use of the public airways, we are again insulted by the reluctance of our public servants to take seriously our right to know, and our ability to understand the difference between question and answer and a scripted routine designed to sell us again, the Patriot Act, and acceptance of the idea that post 9/11, we should be less concerned with civil liberties, and more concerned with terrorism, even though government anti-terrorism experts were obviously not concerned with either. On every opportunity during her filibuster of the commission, disguised of course as testimony, Rice promoted the Patriot Act, while playing down the implication that there was possibly actionable intelligence provided by the FBI prior to the attacks that she and others ignored.

The Commission, obviously in awe of Rice’s position as National Security Advisor, and already aware of much of what she had to say, since they had interviewed her privately for hours previous to her public testimony, treated Rice with kid gloves. Too bad we couldn’t convene an independent non-partisan Commission, or a citizen’s Commission. Maybe we need the same Grand Inquisitors on the Commission who are presently trying and convicting previously naturalized Muslim American citizens for immigration fraud on minor infractions and deporting them to foreign countries. Even one such Inquisitor might be able, almost without effort or benefit of law, or ethics, to pin Rice to the ground, and make her submit to a plea by which she would be granted immunity for going back into the White House and finding out how we were attacked on 9/11 when the FBI had issued warnings that Arab immigrants, with questionable immigration status, were training at flight schools here ! in the United States possibly to carry-out hijackings. This is actionable information. We could have prevented the attacks, since these people could have been detained and prevented from carrying out their plans, even if no one knew exactly what the plans were. That we didn’t know that they would subsequently use the planes as weapons is inconsequential, since hijackings are arguably a serious enough offense to warrant an action on its own. In response to the Commission’s many “thank yous,” and accolades for her public service, Rice avoided all of the serious questions, while answering the ones that were set up by her partisans for further promotion of the Patriot Act. Over and over again Rice responded in her testimony that the failure of 9/11 was due to a structural failure of our intelligence agencies due to the wall separating the CIA from the FBI. Citing what she called a pre-9/11 public paranoia about domestic surveillance, Rice suggested that our intelligence agencies were ! not able to join heads, and connect the dots, and so failed to identify any impending or immanent threats. Yet, more than one of the Commissioners attempted to highlight the fact that in spite of our national distaste for government spying on the people of this country, and our suspicion of laws passed due to hysteria that erode civil rights, and wrongly empowers the government while weakening the people, the right intelligence bureau, the FBI had indeed raised the right concerns, and was ignored. What role the CIA would have played in making Rice and Card and the other members of the anti-terrorism, national security cabal respond to FBI warnings is another question that might have been, but was never asked. Other questions still waiting to be answered is why Rice and Andrew Card and others did not facilitate a requested meeting between Clarke and the President, which would have allowed Clarke to appeal directly to the President? How much does intra-agency squabbling and personality conflicts impact our public safety and what can be done to make sure that people have reasonable access to their Commander in Chief? This problem has raised its head in various ways related not only to 9/11, but also to the Iraq situation, where pertinent information did not reach the President, or he received faulty or wrong information.

Another neglected area of inquiry is the role that Wolfowitz and Perle and Feith played if any, in the decision to either ignore, or downplay Clarke’s and the FBI’s warnings. Rice never mentioned these gentlemen, yet Clarke emphasized the roles that these men played in getting Iraq on the agenda, and Al-Qadea off the agenda. Little has been said about how this was accomplished. If they began their campaign to get Iraq prior to 9/11, they may have also played a role in deflecting attention and resources to any domestic threat, instead focusing anti-terrorism attention almost exclusively on Iraq.

Aside from these major weaknesses in the Rice performance, there were some important points raised by the questioners that are worth noting. Rice is the National Security Advisor. Keep that word “Advisor” in mind when you consider that when she was asked if the President had ever been “advised ” of the FBI, or other warnings and information suggesting the possibility of an impending attack, Rice answered, “I don’t know.” Unfortunately the questioner did not follow up and ask why she didn’t know, and why, if she is in fact the President’s advisor, she knew, and the President didn’t, and why she would not make it her number priority to see that he knew. Other interesting points that should not escape us surround the PDB’s, or President’s Daily Briefings. Listening to Rice’s characterizations of these documents, what they contain and how they are presented, we are left to ask who actually writes these briefings, and if these briefings can be written in such a w! ay that they could minimize the notion of a real and gathering domestic threat pre 9/11, and if a PDB that was written to deliberately downplay a threat, would disable the possibility of an appropriate response. One can’t help but remember Clinton’s response to an attack on Iraq that occurred during his presidency while he slept, and without his permission. The Washington Times reported the following day that then President Clinton said, he had learned from this experience how easy it is for the President to be isolated by his own cabinet from pertinent information.

Rice, who was one of the unilateralists who pushed for a unilateral invasion of Iraq due to what she presented as an immanent threat posed by what she implied was an Iraqi nuclear program, enabled and ready for immediate use against the US, was strangely not alarmed by Clarke’s similar and previous warnings about an Al-Qadea attack. Many of us remember that she warned that we should not hesitate to attack Iraq for fear of waking up to, or being surprised by a “mushroom” cloud that would cause our immediate demise. This tactic, using fear to advance controversial policies, or incite military action is the real, yet unspoken threat to our national security. Just as Clarke failed to convince Rice and Andrew Card that there was indeed an immanent domestic threat to our safety that we should act against, so the warnings of Rice failed to get the response it deserved. We should have perhaps listened to Clarke, and ignored Rice. We knew even then, that her source of information was Israel, who was depending upon the Jewish community on the ground in Iraq for information. The problem with such intelligence is that even though Jewish Iraqis know the language and culture of Iraq, they are not trusted, and they are well-known and easily recognized because their community is small, with new faces seldom appearing. Secondly, they share an interest with Israel, which might be in conflict with the United State’s interest, and a motive to either create or distort facts.

Fear as a motivator for policy has failed us twice, yet Rice continues to use this tactic even today, suggesting repeatedly during her testimony that our intelligence structure caused intelligence failures and an inability to prevent domestic terrorist attacks. Again and again she promoted and advocated the Patriot Act as the only way to prevent another 9/11 when in fact, their was no intelligence failure, and the FBI had seemingly succeeded at identifying the threat and reporting that threat, making it quite clear that it was perhaps Rice, and the holdovers from the Clinton administration who were overseeing the US anti-terrorism effort who dropped the ball. If that is true, they should be held accountable.

There are two things that we might take immediately from Rice’s performance before the 9/11 Commission. They include the fact that there apparently was an actionable warning issued by the FBI, and that Rice and her colleague Andrew Card ignored the warning, and never advised the President that such a threat, or warning existed. There are also questions raised by the fact that other agencies who play key roles in protecting the United States were also not informed or advised of the FBI warning. The most regrettable portion of her testimony is her insistence that it was impossible for the Bush administration to go after Al-Qadea prior to 9/11 because they did not have time to adjust the Clinton approach to anti-terrorism, and US foreign policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Her words were more troubling, saying US policy “against” Afghanistan and Pakistan, two of our strongest allies in the region. One served us in the proxy war against the Soviet Union, and! the other sided with the US against the Taliban following 9/11, why would we have policy “against” either of them. Rice suggested that the US could not go after Al-Qadea for fear of de-stabilizing the region, yet she disabused herself of this same logic when she promoted the unilateral invasion of Iraq, contrary to international consensus against a unilateral approach. Also, both Clinton’s and Bush’s approaches to the Palestine/Israel conflict, and especially Ariel Sharon’s pre 9/11 provocation of the intifada, and his later post 9/11 military attack on the Jenin refugee camp where he claimed to be after Al-Qadea hiding in Jenin, and rumors of massacres carried out against Palestinian civilians by Israel, had already spoiled US relations with the people of that region. Regional stability was steadily under threat from Israel, and no one moved to end that threat. Rice did not speak to the fact that indeed the US was allowing the region to be destabilized by Israel, with l! ittle US condemnation, and so was apparently not concerned that with stability as it related to US at all. US credibility, and honor ahs been squandered in the Middle East by Israel’s behaviors against the Arab nations, and Muslim people, and our unconditional support of Israel. This should cause us to ask if instability and fear of no international cooperation was not the real reasons to ignore Al-Qadea, what are?