Clarke vs. Rice: Excerpts from testimony
Condoleezza Rice and Richard Clarke, in testimony before the 9/11 commission, gave differing views of events leading up to September 11, 2001.
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(CNN) -- Fifteen days after former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke testified before the 9/11 commission, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice made her case before the panel.
Here are excerpts from their testimony on several key issues before the commission.
What did Bush know and what did he do?
CLARKE: President Bush was regularly told by the director of Central Intelligence that there was an urgent threat. ... On one of those occasions, he asked for a strategy to deal with the threat. ...
[Rice's] looking into it and the president asking for it did not change the pace at which it was considered. And as far as I know, the president never asked again.
[The threat level in summer 2001] exceeded anything that [CIA director] George Tenet or I had ever seen.
RICE: From January 20  through September 10 , the president received at [daily intelligence briefings] more than 40 briefing items on al Qaeda, and 13 of those were in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.
The threat-reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. Almost all of the reports focused on al Qaeda activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorist operations overseas.
Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague.
How high a priority was terrorism?
CLARKE: George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. And there was a process under way to address al Qaeda.
But although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way. My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, didn't either believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem.
RICE: President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies. ...
One doesn't have the luxury of dealing only with one issue if you are the United States of America. There are many urgent and important issues. But we all had a strong sense that this was a very crucial issue.
How did the Clinton and Bush administrations' approaches differ?
CLARKE: My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly no higher priority. There were priorities probably of equal importance such as the Middle East peace process, but I certainly don't know of one that was any higher in the priority of that administration.
I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue.
RICE: The decision that we made was to, first of all, have no drop-off in what the Clinton administration was doing, because clearly they had done a lot of work to deal with this very important priority. ...
On an operational level, therefore, we decided immediately to continue to pursue the Clinton administration's covert action authority and other efforts to fight the network. ... We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to try and eliminate the al Qaeda network.
How does the war in Iraq fit into the war on terror?
CLARKE: The war in Iraq was not necessary. Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States. And by going to war with Iraq, we have greatly reduced our possibility to prosecute the war on terrorism.
RICE: I believe we will change the nature of the Middle East, particularly if there are examples that this can work in the Middle East. And this is why Iraq is so important.
The Iraqi people are struggling to find a way to create a multiethnic democracy that works. ... When they succeed, I think we will have made a big change -- they will have made a big change in the middle of the Arab world, and we will be on our way to addressing the source [of terrorism].
Could more have been done to prevent 9/11?
CLARKE: Let me compare 9/11 and the period immediately before it to the millennium rollover and the period immediately before that. ... Every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information.
Contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the president ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.
RICE: There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States -- something made very difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Why didn't Bush respond to the USS Cole bombing?
CLARKE: I suggested, beginning in January of 2001, that ... there was an open issue which should be decided about whether or not the Bush administration should retaliate for the Cole attack [which occurred in October 2000].
Unfortunately, there was no interest, no acceptance of that proposition. And I was told on a couple of occasions, "Well, you know, that happened on the Clinton administration's watch."
I didn't think it made any difference. I thought the Bush administration, now that it had the CIA saying it was al Qaeda, should have responded.
RICE: I do not believe to this day that it would have been a good thing to respond to the Cole, given the kinds of options that we were going to have. ... We really thought that the Cole incident was passed, that you didn't want to respond tit-for-tat. ...
Just responding to another attack in an insufficient way we thought would actually probably embolden the terrorists -- they had been emboldened by everything else that had been done to them -- and that the best course was to look ahead to a more aggressive strategy against them.
Did the decision-making process delay action against terrorism?
CLARKE: In the Bush administration I ... and my committee, the counterterrorism security group, report to the deputies committee, which is a sub-cabinet level committee. ...
It slowed [the process] down enormously, by months.
RICE: I just don't believe that bringing the principals over to the White House every day and having their counterterrorism people have to come with them and be pulled away from what they were doing to disrupt was a good way to go about this. It wasn't an efficient way to go about it.