[Big update below.]
I’d hate to be George Tenet or Cofer Black right now. I’m betting the full weight of the White House is bearing down on them now to watch what they say.
At issue is the truth about the meeting of July 10, 2001, in which (Bob Woodward says) Condi Rice brushed off warnings of an imminent terrorist attack in the U.S.
Just now on Countdown, Roger Cressey told Keith Olbermann that he had seen the same Tenet-Black presentation that was shown to Condi Rice on July 10, and Cressey confirmed that the presentation was mostly an explicit warning that al Qaeda was about to carry out a major terrorist attack in the U.S. In 2001 Cressey was the National Security Council staff director.
[Update: Here’s the transcript from Monday’s show. Just a snip:
OLBERMANN: My first question, youâ€˜re now consulting within a firm with Richard Clarke, who was at that meeting on July 10, on the central question of whether Rice was warned then of an attack on the U.S. Do we know whoâ€˜s right here, Woodward or Secretary Rice?
CRESSEY: Yes, she was warned. I mean, there was a meeting. It was George Tenet, Dick Clarke, another individual from the agency, Cofer Black, and Steve Hadley. And what it was, Keith, was a briefing for Dr. Rice that was similar to a briefing the CIA gave to us in the situation room about a week before, laying out the information, the intelligence, laying out the sense of urgency. And it was pretty much given to Dr. Rice and Steve Hadley in pretty stark terms.
Cressey also said the transcript of the July 10 meeting are part of the 9/11 Commission collection in the National Archives. If so, could someone dig it out so we can all have a look at it? Or is access restricted?]
If the omniscient narrator of Woodward’s book is to be believed, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice waved off warnings that should by any reasonable standard have put the government on high alert for an al-Qaeda attack.
And in what looks like a potential administration cover-up, Rice and the other participants in that meeting apparently never mentioned it to anyone, including investigators for the 9/11 Commission.
Condi Rice denies she was told about a critical threat. Froomkin continues,
Speaking for Rice, Bartlett said: “I spoke to her this morning. She believes this is a very grossly mis-accurate characterization of the meeting they had.”
Stephanopoulos: “So this didn’t happen?”
And here’s the money quote from Bartlett: “That’s Secretary Rice’s view, that that type of urgent request to go after bin Laden, as the book alleges, in her mind, didn’t happen.”
Get that? In her mind, it didn’t happen.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Sunday vehemently denied that she ever received a special CIA warning about an imminent terrorist attack on the United States, angrily rebutting new allegations about her culpability in U.S. policy failures before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al Qaeda.
I guess the August 6, 2001, memo titled “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States” doesn’t count, either.
She said it was “incomprehensible” that she would have ignored such explicit intelligence or appeals by senior CIA officials.
I have to agree with her on that. It is incomprehensible. Yet, apparently, that’s what happened.
At TPM Muckracker, Justin Rood points out that Time magazine reported on the July 10 meeting back in 2002. This is from Time:
In mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. “George briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack,” says an official; another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart (“They always have wall charts”) with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.
Roger Cressey, however, said tonight that the meeting did focus on possible strikes within the U.S.
Cressey said Andrea Mitchell reported today that the 9/11 Commission was, in fact, briefed on the July 10 meeting, even though none of the members seem to remember it now. I can’t find details on this on the web, but it’s mentioned in this Andrea Mitchell interview of Bob Woodward. Cressey believes not including the meeting in the final 9/11 Commission report was an “oversight.” Maybe.
In any event, a great deal rides on whether Tenet and Black confirm or deny the Woodward story. If they shoot the story down, it will no doubt negate everything else Woodward says in his book that the Right doesn’t like. However …
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Hmm, and in July 2001, John Ashcroft began to avoid commercial flights in favor of chartered government jets.
The State Department’s disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.
One official who helped to prepare the briefing, which included a PowerPoint presentation, described it as a “10 on a scale of 1 to 10” that “connected the dots” in earlier intelligence reports to present a stark warning that al-Qaida, which had already killed Americans in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and East Africa, was poised to strike again.
Apparently there’s been a crack in the facade:
Ashcroft, who resigned as attorney general on Nov. 9, 2004, told the Associated Press on Monday that it was “disappointing” that he never received the briefing, either.
But on Monday evening, Rice’s spokesman Sean McCormack issued a statement confirming that she’d received the CIA briefing “on or around July 10” and had asked that it be given to Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.
“The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks,” McCormack said. “After this meeting, Dr. Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft. That briefing took place by July 17.”
Just how many warnings did Condi get, anyway?
The CIA briefing didn’t provide the exact timing or nature of a possible attack, nor did it predict whether it was likely to take place in the United States or overseas, said three former senior intelligence officials.
They spoke on condition of anonymity because the report remains highly classified.
The briefing “didn’t say within the United States,” said one former senior intelligence official. “It said on the United States, which could mean a ship, an embassy or inside the United States.”
Yet in July Ashcroft was avoiding commercial flights. Domestic commercial flights.
And on August 6, this information was followed up by a memo titled … all together, now … â€œBin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.â€
But after the July 10 meeting, Condi sprang into action and called a Principal’s Meeting for September 4 … oh, wait …