[FOR AN UPDATE ON THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION’S RELEASE OF THE CONTROVERSIAL PRESIDENTIAL DAILY BRIEFING OF AUGUST 6, 2001, SCROLL DOWN TEN PARAGRAPHS.]
Condoleezza Rice is fortunate that she only has to speak under oath when she appears before the 9/11 commission.
Her much-anticipated testimony to the panel investigating the 9/11 attacks overall was predictable. She vigorously defended herself, her administration and her boss from the charge that they had not assigned the al Qaeda threat sufficient importance prior to September 11. She could not bring herself to utter what Commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator, called “the m-word”–that is, “mistake.” Instead, she only would note that “America’s response [to the growing al Qaeda threat] across several administrations of both parties was insufficient,” and she blamed that on the general tendency of democratic societies to be slow in reacting to “gathering threats.” (To prove her point, she cited the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania.) She repeatedly referred to “structural problems” that had long existed in the national security community as the primary reason for the failures–another word she did not mention once in her opening statement–that occurred on and before 9/11. As could be expected, the Republican-appointed commissioners tossed her easy questions, and the Democrats tried to zing her but were hampered by tight time restrictions. Still, the hearing produced information indicating that she and the Bush administration have not been straight with the public as they have attempted to convince America they were fully vigilant in the fight against al Qaeda prior to September 11.
This was particularly true of one of the main issues covered at the hearing: the Presidential Daily Briefing George W. Bush received on August 6, 2001, which included information on Osama bin Laden and hijackings. (PDBs are highly sensitive memos prepared by the intelligence community for the chief executive.) Rice’s handling of this dicey topic undermines her credibility. In May 2002, the White House, responding to a CBS News report, acknowledged that Bush had received this PDB and that the briefing had noted that bin Laden was interested in hijacking aircraft. This news caused a brief media and political frenzy. Had Bush ignored a warning that 9/11-like attacks were coming? The White House insisted (correctly) that the PDB did not state that al Qaeda was looking to hijack airliners and turn them into weapons. But Rice bent the truth to downplay the significance of this politically inconvenient PDB. The day the story was on the front pages, she held an on-the-record briefing at the White House. The August 6 PDB, she maintained, was “not a warning” but an “analytic report that talked about [bin Laden’s] methods of operations, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, 1998. It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense, and in a sense said that the most important and likely thing was they would take over an airliner holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives.”