Rice Testifies Before 9/11 Commission - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

4/8/04

Rice Testifies Before 9/11 Commission

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified Thursday "there was no silver bullet that could have prevented" the worst terror strike in the nation's history, adding that the United States "simply was not on a war footing" at the time of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient," Rice told the commission delving into the attacks that killed more than 3,000, destroyed the twin World Trade Center towers in New York and blasted a hole in the Pentagon.

In widely anticipated testimony, Rice offered no apology for the failure to prevent the attacks -- as did former anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke two weeks ago. Instead, she said, "as an
officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger I felt."

Rice's testimony, under oath and on live national television, came after weeks of White House resistance. President Bush yielded in response to repeated public requests from members of the commission -- as well as quiet proddings of Republicans in Congress -- that an on-the-record rebuttal was needed in response to Clarke's explosive charges.

The former White House aide testified last month that the Bush administration gave a lower priority to combatting terrorism than had former President Clinton, and that the decision to invade Iraq undermined the war on terror. In addition to raising questions about administration attention to the threat of terrorism, his remarks implicitly challenged a key underpinning of Bush's campaign for re-election.

In her prepared testimony, Rice neither criticized Clarke nor offered a point by point rebuttal of his appearance.

She said she made the unusual decision to retain him when the new administration came into office, saying, he was an "expert in his field, as well as an experienced crisis manager."

She said confronting terrorists competed with other foreign policy concerns when the president came into office, but added that the administration's top national security advisers completed work on the first major national security policy directive of the administration on Sept. 4. The subject, she said, was "not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaida."

Bush, she said, "understood the threat, and he understood its importance," she said.

"He made clear to me that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was 'tired of swatting flies'," Rice told the commission.

Rice slid into the witness chair before an audience that included relatives of victims of the attacks, in which terrorists flew hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth plane -- presumably on course for the Capitol or another high-profile target in Washington -- crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers engaged in a struggle with the hijackers.

Commission chairman Thomas Kean extended a welcome to Rice, and the panel's co-chairman, former Indiana Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, promised "some searching and some difficult questions."

With that, Rice stood and swore to tell the truth as Kean, a Republican and former New Jersey governor, commenced the hearing.

She sat alone at a witness table draped in red cloth, an American flag pin on the lapel of her gray jacket. In front of her sat the members of the commission. Behind her, in the front rows of the cavernous hearing room, sat relatives of some of the victims of the attacks. Bush was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and aides declined to say in advance whether he intended to watch an event with so much meaning for his political future.

Rice was emphatic on one point -- that the threat of terrorism had been building for years.

"For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient," she said.

"In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States, something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies," she said.

Rice read some of the "chatter" that the United States picked up during the spring and summer that raised alarms about a possible attack: "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," Rice said. "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."

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