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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Condoleezza Rice Answers Critics; Interview with Richard Ben- Veniste; Did Americans get the truth today; 9/11 victims' families have mixed reaction to testimony
Aired April 8, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Paula Zahn.
It is Thursday, April 8, 2004, a day of historic and riveting testimony and heated words between Condoleezza Rice and the 9/11 Commission.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION: If you could just answer that question.
RICE: We're safer, but we're not safe.
ZAHN (voice-over): But did all that heat shine any light on 9/11 and the warnings some say were ignored? We will ask commission member Richard Ben-Veniste and see whether he thinks the American public got the truth today. Plus, I'll have an exclusive interview with former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Also, he said/she said. How do Rice's words square with Richard Clarke?
And why did two 9/11 widows have such different reactions to today's testimony. One stands behind Rice. The other thinks she didn't tell the whole truth.
ZAHN: All that is just ahead in this special hour tonight.
Plus, what was known and what should have been known before 9/11? We're going to take a look into intelligence failures. "CROSSFIRE"'s Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala will be along to debate the impact of the testimony we heard today. And then we will get perspective from American voters, who they believe is really telling the truth.
First, though, here's what you need to know right now.
Today, the coalition reported that six more U.S. soldiers died in combat over the past two days; 50 American troops have been killed in fighting since the brutal deaths of four U.S. civilians March 31. It is the second deadliest stretch since the war in Iraq began.
A scare on the rails in Paris. Police halted evening traffic on one of the city's commuter lines after the U.S. warned the French of a bomb threat. Inspectors found nothing suspicious and rail service got back under way.
And former President Clinton testified today before the 9/11 Commission. The closed-door session lasted more than three hours. In a statement, the commission says Clinton was -- quote -- "forthcoming and responsive to its questions."
"In Focus" tonight, three hours of public testimony from the president's national security adviser on what the White House knew before the 9/11 attacks. Condoleezza Rice was in the hot seat before that commission. And there was immediate reaction from critics, commission members and the White House. We cover all the bases for you tonight.
First, Jeanne Meserve reports on Rice's firm, confident, but sometimes contentious testimony.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was nothing the 233-day-old Bush administration could have done to prevent September 11, Condoleezza Rice told the commission.
RICE: There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.
MESERVE: Rice quoted previously classified intelligence intercepts from the summer of 2001, indicating something was afoot.
RICE: Unbelievable news coming in weeks, said one. Big event, there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar. There will be attacks in the near future.
MESERVE: But there were no specifics, she said. Rice testified the administration believed attacks would take place overseas, despite the title of the intelligence briefing the president got on August 6.
RICE: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Now, the...
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
RICE: No, Mr. Ben-Veniste...
BEN-VENISTE: I will get into the...
RICE: I would like to finish my point here.
BEN-VENISTE: I didn't know there was a point. RICE: Given that -- you asked me whether or not it warned of attacks.
BEN-VENISTE: I asked you what the title was.
RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks. It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information.
MESERVE: But Rice disclosed, the brief mentioned 70 FBI investigations into al Qaeda cells in the U.S. and the possibility of hijacking.
BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: That the FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States, consistent with preparations for hijacking. That's the language of the memo that was briefed to the president on the 6th of August.
RICE: And that was checked out. And steps were taken through FAA circulars to warn of hijackings.
MESERVE: But Rice said she had never been briefed on the use of planes as missiles, though intelligence agencies had warned of the danger as early as 1995.
Rice denied claims by her former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke that the Bush administration under-reacted to al Qaeda the summer before 9/11.
(on camera): Rice refuted claims by Clarke and others that after the attacks, President Bush tried to pin the blame on Iraq. She says he never pushed anyone to twist the facts.
Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.
ZAHN: Time to find out how the White House is playing the day's events.
Let's turn to White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, who joins us from Crawford, Texas, where the president is this evening.
Good evening, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, well, first and foremost, the White House is working with the 9/11 Commission this evening to try to declassify that brief that was in Jeanne's piece, that controversial brief, and Dr. Rice said that there was nothing that said there was imminent threat inside that brief. This is the one that the president received just a month before the 9/11 attacks. It is not clear just how much of this brief that they're actually going to declassify, if it's a portion from the testimony or beyond that.
Now, President Bush we are told did watch all of the testimony, three hours, today. He called to congratulate Rice. He was in his pickup truck. We understand he called by cell phone, couldn't get through the first time. She called back. He said that she did a terrific job, that they were very pleased, that she made the administration's case very well. We expect to see Rice here at the Crawford ranch in the next couple of days. That's where she's going to be celebrating the Easter holiday with the first family -- Paula.
ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much for the update.
Aside from high marks she got from her boss, Condoleezza Rice encountered some resistance to her style of answering questions, particularly from commission member Richard Ben-Veniste.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN-VENISTE: Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Richard Ben-Veniste joins us tonight from Washington.
Good of you to join us, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
ZAHN: Is it your belief that Condoleezza Rice told the truth today?
BEN-VENISTE: I think she gave her recollections as best she could.
The difficulty was, in the format, we just didn't have enough time to go into long answers and get our questions addressed. So there was some back and forth about that. But as I said to Dr. Rice following her testimony, and I think she appreciated it, we had our job to do and we did it best we could, trying to get answers to the important questions that the 9/11 Commission must answer.
ZAHN: What didn't get answered today that you think is critical to the understanding of whether or not 9/11 could have been prevented?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, our position, and our chairman has talked about this extensively, is that we had a lot of intelligence prior to 9/11. We knew that two al Qaeda operatives who ultimately participated in the 9/11 disaster were in the United States. We didn't find them.
We knew that Moussaoui had been in flight school trying to learn to fly an airplane, a commercial jetliner. And yet, he had no prior experience in flying a plane. He couldn't explain his bank account. And he couldn't explain why he was in the United States. All of this should have raised some suspicions. It did with certain FBI agents. But they could never get their information pushed up to where it could make a difference.
ZAHN: Are you suggesting tonight, though, that the Bush administration had enough actionable intelligence, based on some of what you've just said, that they actually could have prevented September 11 from happening?
BEN-VENISTE: The real question was, here we had this information, Bin Laden intends to strike in the United States. We knew they had struck before in 1993 at the World Trade Center in the first bombing of the trade center. We knew that, in the millennium, in late '99, they had attempted to blow up LAX. We knew they had been rolled up in Brooklyn and in Boston.
So we knew their intentions were to strike in the United States. We also knew from other sources of dozens of examples of where the notion of using planes as weapons was discussed. And today, Dr. Rice acknowledged that, while she didn't know about it and she couldn't conceive of it, it was well known in the intelligence community that this was one of the methods al Qaeda had been discussing.
So the question was, after the August 6 briefing, and this information is provided, which was not entirely historical, it took us right up to August 6 in terms of the number of FBI investigations ongoing, the fact that the activity consistent with planning a hijacking was being observed, that bin Laden intended to strike Washington, D.C. in particular. All of these things were available.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, what happened in the interim between August 6 and September 11? Those are the questions we have to ask. We need to ask the hard questions. And we'll get the answers. And then we will come to some conclusion.
ZAHN: But Condoleezza Rice said today that the threat reports were, in her words, frustratingly vague. Let's repeat what she had to say earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERREY: Why didn't we respond to the Cole? Why didn't we swat that fly?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Actually, the part of the testimony I want to refer to is basically, she says, 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. And even your colleague Bob Kerrey says he doesn't know if he would have done anything differently than President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, surely if we had had specific information and we screwed that up, that would have been a disaster of incredible proportion.
Our point is this. We had intelligence information regarding al Qaeda operatives. We knew about planes as missiles. The question is, if we had butted heads together, because we knew the FBI wouldn't talk to the CIA. The CIA wouldn't talk to the FBI. This is a leadership issue to butt heads together and shake the trees and get the information that was in the system into the hands of individuals who could make a difference. We didn't do anything to protect our airports.
There were CYA missives going out, yes, there's a potential for hijacking. But nobody did anything different.
ZAHN: All right sir, we have to leave it there this evening. Thank you for joining us at the end of a very long day for you, Richard Ben-Veniste.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you. Thank you very much.
ZAHN: We're going to move on to the Republican view of events, an exclusive interview with the man Condoleezza Rice has called her model for the job of national security adviser. Brent Scowcroft served in that post under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and he recommended Dr. Rice for her first White House job under the first President Bush.
Thank you very much for being with us tonight, sir.
BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Nice to be with you, Paula.
ZAHN: I don't know how much of Mr. Ben-Veniste you just heard, but he basically said that, at the time -- by August 6, that we had a pretty good idea that there were al Qaeda cells in the country, and the possibility that planes could be used as missiles was discussed. And the criticism he has of the administration is that they should have butted heads and, as he said, shake the trees a little, and maybe they could have done something to prevent 9/11. Do you believe that?
SCOWCROFT: No, I don't really believe it at that particular point in time.
I think there are two kinds of things here that we have involved. The first is the president and the decision-making process. And presidents receive their -- first of all, they deal with dozens of different issues at the same time. They're overwhelmed with problems that need to be addressed and so on. They have to make judgments about what their priorities are, how much time on this, how much time on that.
And looking back, it seems easy, if this were the only issue that they had to face. So that's the first thing. The second thing is the system that they have to work with. And we have a very complicated intelligence apparatus. And it is very further complicated by the fact that our intelligence structure is split right down the middle between foreign intelligence, which is a CIA responsibility, and domestic intelligence, which is an FBI responsibility.
And many of the items that Mr. Ben-Veniste and the panel has discussed are a result of that split, if you will. And those are the kinds of things it seems to me the panel needs to be working at, because those are the things we can fix, and the panel ought to be looking, what can we do to prevent a further event, rather than, well, did the president spend 15 minutes today on it or 20 minutes tomorrow or so on?
ZAHN: Mr. Scowcroft, we're going to moving on now to some more of what Ms. Rice was pressed on. One of the things she talked about was about her being briefed about the possibility of planes being used as weapons.
Let's listen to that part of her testimony now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: I do not remember any reports to us, a kind of strategic warning, that planes might be used as weapons. In fact, there were some reports done in '98 and '99. I was certainly not aware of them at the time that I spoke.
THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: You didn't see any memos to you or any documents to you?
RICE: No. No, I did not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: How surprising is it to you that she would not have been aware of those reports, or at a minimum at least have been briefed on them at some point?
SCOWCROFT: Well, again, that's not particularly surprising, when you think of the thousands of intelligence reports there are that come every day.
Each one is looked at, culled, the sources looked at and so on. And, for whatever reason, and there probably is a reason that it did not get up to the White House, it did not. And you know, most of the things -- most of the issues about aircraft were about hijackings, which has been a terrible problem for us ever since the early days when they were hijacked to Cuba.
It's a very difficult issue to deal with. And therefore, when you look at hijackings, you automatically think of hijacking an airplane to do something, blackmail, or to get prisoners released, or something like that, not about using it as a weapon.
ZAHN: She also said during her testimony that she didn't remember prior to 9/11 if she had told the president that there were active al Qaeda cells in the United States. Isn't that something she should have done?
SCOWCROFT: Well, I don't know. I don't know what the intelligence said about al Qaeda cells in the United States. I would have assumed that there were some al Qaeda cells in the United States. There was some evidence, even at that time, about the '93 bombing that al Qaeda may have been associated.
So -- but what would the president have done if he knew it? I would think he would assume it. What would he have done? Would he have changed what he did because there were al Qaeda cells in the United States? I doubt it.
ZAHN: And, finally, I know you have said that you wish this commission would really address the problems you think that can be fixed, and maybe not spend so much time looking back about how many times the president spent in a specific meeting. In the end, do you think anything useful has come out of this, from your perspective?
SCOWCROFT: Oh, I think something useful will come out of it. And I think one of the things that will come out is a look at the structure, how these things get processed, how a report, for example, about using an aircraft as a weapon did or did not work its way up, how information is passed back and forth between the FBI and the CIA.
All of those things can be fixed. And I think that's what the commission is likely to come up with, which will be very valuable for the future.
ZAHN: Brent Scowcroft, we appreciate your time this evening. Thanks so much for dropping by.
SCOWCROFT: Nice to be with you, Paula.
ZAHN: My pleasure.
He also swore to tell the truth about the administration's battle against terrorism. We'll put Richard Clarke's words up against those of Condoleezza Rice.
And what did 9/11 family members think about today's testimony? I'm going to ask two women who lost their husbands. Both have wildly different views.
And the voters who watched history being made, did today's events change their minds?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: And let's remember that those charged with protecting us from attack have to be right 100 percent of the time.
To inflict devastation on a massive scale, the terrorists only have to succeed once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TIMOTHY ROEMER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY: You say, I think, immediately it was a terrorist attack; get Dick Clarke, the terrorist guy. Even before you mentioned Tenet and Rumsfeld's names, get Dick Clarke.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Well, it in fact was the testimony of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke that helped pressure the White House to allow Condoleezza Rice to testify today. So how does what Rice said compare to Clarke's testimony?
Here's national correspondent Bob Franken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole truth and nothing but the truth.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While Condoleezza Rice's former deputy was not present in the room, Richard Clarke was definitely a presence.
RICE: Well, I have to say -- I have to say, Mr. Roemer, to my recollection...
ROEMER: You say he didn't.
RICE: ... Dick Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.
FRANKEN: Committee Democrats say that contradicted his testimony. Clarke told ABC he felt Rice did a very good job, but insisted he had asked many times.
RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: I asked for a series of briefings on the issues in my portfolio, including counterterrorism and cybersecurity.
FRANKEN: Clarke not only charges a weak response to terrorism, but right after 9/11, an unwarranted focus on Iraq.
CLARKE: This was the president in a very intimidating way, finger in my face, saying, I want a paper on Iraq and this attack. FRANKEN: A reasonable request, said Rice, quickly set aside.
RICE: Not one of his principal advisers advised doing anything against Iraq. It was all to Afghanistan.
FRANKEN (on camera): Rice insists the administration did everything it could in the battle against Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, her appearance designed to cope with charges the White House should have done more.
Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.
ZAHN: Condoleezza Rice testified today that just one month before 9/11, President Bush received a daily intelligence briefing whose headline was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Just what did the White House know about bin Laden, and when? And how damning will this part of Rice's testimony be?
Joining us from Washington, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."
Hi, Peter. How are you this evening?
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Hi, Paula.
ZAHN: Let's talk about a piece of testimony some people were quite surprised by, when she said that she became aware of the existence of al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: 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 6 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: With 70 investigations going on, shouldn't that have been a red flag?
BERGEN: I think in the context of this enormous threat environment in the summer of 2001, I think any normal person learning that there were 70 full field investigations by the FBI of alleged al Qaeda members in the United States, would want to know more.
We don't know exactly what those investigations were. Were they investigations of being running falafel stands? Or were they investigating Mohamed Atta? We may find out more when this thing is declassified. But I think that's a pretty astonishing number. ZAHN: But it really would not have been possible to act on every single one of these threats. You're not saying that?
BERGEN: No, but I'm just saying that it would say that there would seem to be a lot of activity of al Qaeda inside the United States in the summer 2001. Let's find out more.
ZAHN: What did we learn about how the lack of response today to the USS Cole explosion had on the ultimate strategy of approaching Osama bin Laden?
BERGEN: Well, Dr. Rice said, we didn't want to just kick up the rocks in Afghanistan, do a sort of -- just a tactical hit. We wanted a big strategy to deal with al Qaeda.
But the fact is, we didn't respond to Cole. And I think that we know from detainees interviews that this kind of empowered al Qaeda. They felt they could act with impunity. We just really -- it sort of spoke for itself. This was an act of war; 17 American sailors were killed and the Cole nearly sunk, and yet we did nothing. That was also in the Clinton administration for three months and seven and a half months of the Bush administration.
ZAHN: Quick final closing thought on what was the most surprising thing that you learned. You study this stuff around the clock.
BERGEN: I think this presidential daily brief is the most interesting thing, because it actually had some news about these FBI investigations and apparently the FBI also investigating perhaps hijacking attempts inside the United States. I think we need to know more about the content of that. And hopefully that will be coming soon.
ZAHN: Peter Bergen, thank so much for your insights tonight. Appreciate it.
BERGEN: Thank you.
ZAHN: So what kind of effect will today have on the presidential campaign? We'll ask voters on the left, right, and in the middle.
And questions of security. There have been many changes since 9/11. But are we any better prepared for an attack?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COHEN: I will tell you that I get up everyday concerned because I don't think we've made it impossible for them. We're safer, but we're not safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: Well, how Condoleezza Rice's testimony will play with voters is, of course, an important question. And we gathered a diverse group of Americans together today to watch her testify and to tell us what they think.
Jason Carroll reports.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All eyes were on the national security adviser as she publicly testified in front of the 9/11 Commission. Here in our studio, more were watching, a cross- section of people, a teacher, a student, a Democrat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think she should have apologized.
CARROLL: And Republican.
MYCHAL MASSIE, COLUMNIST: What was she going to apologize about?
CARROLL: All with ideas on how Condoleezza Rice did.
(on camera): Just a show of hands. Did she do well? Who said she did well? Show of hands.
LARRY HERRMANN, LAWYER: In what sense, doing well? I think she had an agenda of trying to protect the administration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the strongest point was that she supported the administration and their policy very dynamically.
CARROLL: The group agreed Rice did well in presenting her point of view. But that does not mean they agreed with what she said.
DANIELLE TUMINARO, TEACHER: just think that she could have done more. There was more information that she could have provided and she failed to do that.
BARBARA NELSON, COLLEGE STUDENT: I believe that she was speaking truthfully And from the heart and from all of the intelligence that she had.
SCOWCROFT: Take weather the administration did enough to prevent 9/11. Rice says there was no silver bullet.
MASSIE: I think she's exactly right. There was no silver bullet available.
HERRMANN: If the '93 attempt to blow up the World Trade Center isn't a silver bullet in her terminology, I don't know what the hell is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There isn't one single thing that could have been changed that would have stopped this. You know, it...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does everyone agree? I see a lot of heads nodding.
RON CALDWELL, UNIVERSITY INSTRUCTOR, DEMOCRAT: I would hold accountable the Clinton administration as much or more than the Bush administration.
CARROLL: The group split on whether classified documents about al Qaeda threats prior to 9/11 should be made public and on who was more credible, former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clarke.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clarke.
CARROLL: ...or Rice.
MASSIE: Obviously, I believe Dr. Rice.
CARROLL: Believability, credibility, at least with this group, may depend on your politics - Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: Coming up, we're going to see how some 9/11 families are reacting to today's testimony from Condoleezza Rice. Also, more on how today will affect the presidential campaign. We'll wade into the political crossfire on that one.
And tomorrow, former Defense Secretary William Cohen will give us his view on the war of terror and the resurgence of violence in Iraq.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Mr. Roemer, by definition, we didn't have enough information, we didn't have enough protection, because the attack happened - by definition. And I think we've all asked ourselves what more could have been done.
ZAHN: Our special on Condoleezza Rice's testimony continues. Ahead in this half hour, how today's testimony will play out politically, with "CROSSFIRE'S" Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala.
And we're going to have reaction from 9/11 victims' relatives.
And also, changes in thinking since 9/11 - are we better prepared for an attack today?
First though, here's what you need to know right now. Iraqi insurgents have captured three Japanese nationals and are threatening to burn them alive. A video of the captives was handed over to the Arab network Al Jazeera with a note saying, they will die if Japan doesn't withdraw its troops within three days.
Nine other foreign nationals were kidnapped in Iraq today. Seven of them have been released.
Radio chain Clear Channel has kicked talk jock Howard Stern off the air after receiving a $495,000 indecency fine from the FCC. Stern is now accusing the FCC of a McCarthy-type witch hunt. Only six Clear Channel stations actually carried Stern's show.
Today, Pope John Paul II celebrated the first of many services leading up to Easter Sunday. The 83-year-old pontiff presided at two masses commemorating Jesus' last supper.
Time to go back to Condoleezza Rice and her testimony and how it may affect the political landscape. For that, we turn to "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
And I started off by asking Paul if he thought the American people got the truth today.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: They certainly got closer to it. I think it's always good when top administration officials make themselves' available, put themselves under oath.
I do think that she had a couple of major missteps. There's this memo from August 6, 2001, the president's daily brief. She dismissed it as just an historical document.
Well, now we learn - and, in fact, the headline of it was bin Laden intends to attack America, inside America or something like that, a very dramatic and threatening title.
She said it wasn't a threat at all, but a historical document. That just doesn't square.
So I think people are going to parse this. And there were a lot of times I think the commissioners were quite testy with her because they felt like she wasn't being completely accurate.
ZAHN: What is the significance of this memo, and how damaging is it, Tucker?
TUCKER CARLSON, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, I think politically it could be damaging to the extent it makes the administration look secretive. The administration is actually pretty secretive, unfortunately, sometimes when it doesn't need to be.
And to the extent that it adds to the perception they're covering up, I don't think it's good.
But the idea - if you isolate the idea behind it, that is the administration somehow knew about 9/11 or had enough information to act on but didn't, that's ludicrous. Most people don't buy it.
Look, we knew Osama bin Laden was targeting the United States. He said so on CNN. Peter Bergen went to Afghanistan and interviewed him a number of years before September 11, working for us, CNN, and bin Laden said, you know, I'm going to attack the United States. We knew that.
The question is, what do you do about it? I don't think there's been any evidence that's come out that the administration ignored specific, credible threats. Maybe it will.
ZAHN: What about Condoleezza Rice's answer to Ben-Veniste's very specific question, did you brief the president, after she was in receipt of this memo of August 6, about a very direct threat posed by al Qaeda to the United States?
BEGALA: She said she didn't remember. And this is a woman who quoted from memory a speech Bob Kerrey had given four years earlier. She had memorized that speech and held it in her mind four years, but somehow tells us she couldn't remember if she had discussed with the president of the United States about sleeper cells hiding in America wanting to attack us.
This looks - nobody thinks they caused it. Nobody thinks they - but just tell the truth. And I was really frustrated at watching her. I can't imagine why, but she just doesn't want to sort of admit the obvious, which is there were other priorities; we wish we'd had different priorities; we missed it on this date, but we're doing better now.
CARLSON: I think it's...
ZAHN: Was that an acceptable answer, Tucker, today?
CARLSON: Wait, look...
ZAHN: ...when she said she couldn't remember if she had briefed the president on it or not?
CARLSON: First, let me clarify something. It's untrue to say that no Democrat believes the administration allowed 9/11 to happen. Many believe it. It's all over the internet. A 9/11 widow today said, on television, as many Democrats have said previously, John Ashcroft knew not to fly commercially. He was flying private planes before 9/11. There you go.
The implication of a lot of what was said today on Capitol Hill was this administration is responsible for 9/11. It's a complete dodge to pretend that's not what they're saying. That's what they're saying.
I do think that Condoleezza Rice, you know, should have testified earlier. The White House does itself no favors by appearing to stonewall and in some cases by stonewalling.
But let's just be very clear about what the allegation is, certainly what the implication is, because it's out there; it's obvious.
ZAHN: Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala - it's always good to see both of you.
BEGALA: Thanks, Paula.
ZAHN: The men from "CROSSFIRE."
We're going to hear from the 9/11 families on what they thought of Condoleezza Rice's testimony. And we will ask a terrorism expert to assess how safe the U.S. is now and tell us where he thinks the biggest gaps are in security.
ZAHN: Every day, they experience the horror of 9/11 through the loss of a loved one. And today, some of the victims' relatives were sitting not too far away from National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as she gave her testimony.
The families may be united in grief, but as they sat and listened, they made some of their differences quite clear.
Kelly Wallace explains.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The only sound as Condoleezza Rice entered the packed hearing room, cameras capturing her every move. Families who lost loved ones listened intently, some not hiding their frustration. And then...
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Did you tell the president?
RICE: But it's important - it's important that I also address...
WALLACE: ...a handful of eruptions of applause from families who say they wanted more answers, like Henry and Elaine Hughes, whose son Chris worked in the World Trade Center.
ELAINE HUGHES, MOTHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: To say she's - they're the new kids on the block, they were only there for 233 days, that was the poorest excuse that I've ever heard.
WALLACE: Like the Hugheses, Mary Fetchet lost her son in New York and wanted to hear Rice take responsibility.
MARY FETCHET, MOTHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: She wasn't willing to admit that she had failed. I think it was shocking. Of course, every government agency failed.
WALLACE: But Rice had her supporters, like Hamilton Peterson, whose father and stepmother were on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.
HAMILTON PETERSON, SON OF 9/11 VICTIM: It was evident that she truly was doing her best, at least to me, to tell the truth. WALLACE: After Rice finished, families surrounded her, a few, like Peterson, thanking her for coming; others sending a very different message.
HUGHES: To tell her that her government wasn't doing enough, didn't do enough, and she didn't have a response.
WALLACE: For some, many questions still unanswered - Kelly Wallace, CNN, Washington.
ZAHN: Condoleezza Rice says we made progress in protecting ourselves from terrorist attack. We are going to ask an expert on security in terror about that.
And the debate over a memo about al Qaeda - was it a warning of the terror to come or not? Senior Political Analyst Jeff Greenfield takes it on.
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RICE: Bold and comprehensive changes are sometimes only possible in the wake of catastrophic events, events which create a new consensus that allows us to transcend old ways of thinking and acting.
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ZAHN: It has been two-and-a-half years since 9/11, and the question remains, what have we learned? Did America really change its thinking after that catastrophic event? Are we ready for another possible attack?
Terrorism expert, Jim Walsh, joins us now from Boston where he's a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Always good to see you. Welcome, sir.
JIM WALSH, PROFESSOR, HARVARD UNIV. JFK SCHOOL OF GOV.: Good to see you, Paula.
ZAHN: Thank you. So Condoleezza Rice pointed to a failure in the intelligence community, and a number of our guests tonight pretty much reinforced that train of thought. Has much changed since September 11 on that front?
WALSH: Well, some things have changed, and, my gosh, we're now two-and-a-half years after the fact. If things hadn't changed, that would be a bad story indeed.
But I think the question isn't so much, have things changed for the better, but have they changed as much as they should have? In some areas we have made progress. But I think in some important areas, whether it's weapons of mass destruction or coordinating in communication with intelligence, we still have a long, long way to go. We are not where we should be.
ZAHN: What needs to be done?
WALSH: well, on weapons of mass destruction, for example, the president said this is our No. 1 priority, that if we were attacked by al Qaeda, with a nuclear weapon, this would be the worst event in history.
And yet we still have tons and tons of nuclear material, in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, that is left unsecure, vulnerable to theft by al Qaeda.
And at our current pace, we're not going to have that material secured for another 13 years. Let's hope that al Qaeda is very, very slow, slower than we are, or we're going to have problems.
And I think the other area is in the area of communications. We had a Republican commissioner today, Mr. Fielding say or ask Condoleezza Rice, have we solved the problems with intelligence and communication? Her answer, no we haven't.
Moreover, as I think Tucker Carlson pointed out earlier in this broadcast, there's sort of a penchant for secrecy in this administration, and I think that emphasis on secrecy is inhibiting communication between the parts of government so that they can coordinate and prevent the next attack.
ZAHN: Where is the weakness, then, the continuing weakness in the communication among these various intelligence agencies?
WALSH: Well, I think there are a variety of problems, and I think Condoleezza Rice was correct in saying that part of it is legal, part of it is structural, and that's starting to be addressed. But again, it should have been addressed a lot sooner than now.
Part of it is turf battles. Folks don't like to share information. In Washington, D.C., information is the coin of the realm, and you like to hold on to it and husband it and not share it with others. And I think that's a cultural problem.
But there's also, as I say, a problem with secrecy. The Bush administration understandably doesn't want to put out information that would help terrorists. We all agree with that.
But when you have reports that are automatically classified, that means there are other pieces of the government that are not getting that information when they should be getting that information...
ZAHN: All right.
WALSH: ...if we're going to be able to do what we need to do to stop terrorism. ZAHN: Is there anything you can tell us tonight that might make some Americans sleep a little better, knowing about their sense of personal security?
WALSH: Sure, absolutely. Again, I think there have been improvements. And the surprise would be if we had no improvements.
But I think the biggest, most important improvement is the securing of cockpit doors. If you don't let a terrorist get access to a cockpit, then they can't use a plane as a missile.
I think that was very, very important, and I think we have made progress in that area.
ZAHN: Jim Walsh, thank you for spending some time with us this evening.
WALSH: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: Some final thoughts ahead from Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield on this historic day of testimony.
RICE: We know that the building of democracy is tough. It doesn't come easily. We have our own history. You know, when our founding fathers said "we the people," they didn't mean me.
ZAHN: It has been an historic day of testimony. One of the interesting things was how events rested, not just on facts, but on the interpretation of facts.
Let's turn to Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield, who's here to explain -- Jeff.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Hello, Paula. Yes, what was interesting to me is on - time after time in these hearings today, you heard Condoleezza Rice and commissioners arguing, not simply about what happened, although that did happen, but about the meaning of what happened.
And one of the best examples is what you've already been talking about with Peter Bergen and some other guests, this August 6 presidential daily briefing and what it meant.
And when you listen to the exchange between a couple of commissioners and Condoleezza Rice, you'll see what I mean. Let's just take a listen here.
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TIMOTHY ROEMER, (D) 9/11 COMMISSIONER: You just said that the intelligence coming in indicated a big, big, big threat. Something was going to happen very soon and be potentially catastrophic.
I don't understand, given the big threat, why the big principals don't get together.
RICE: Mr. Roemer, threat reporting - threat reporting is we believe that something is going to happen here, at this time, under these circumstances. This was not threat reporting. Now why...
ROEMER: Well, actionable intelligence, Dr. Rice, is when you have the place, time and date. The threat reporting saying the United States is going to be attacked, should trigger the principals getting together...
RICE: With all - Mr. Roemer...
ROEMER: ...to say we're going to do something about it. At least I would think.
RICE: Mr. Roemer, let's be very clear. The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says bin Laden would like to attack the United States. I don't think you, frankly, had to have that report to know bin Laden would like to attack the United States.
ROEMER: So why aren't you doing...
RICE: The threat report...
ROEMER: ...something about that earlier than August 6 then?
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