This time, Condi directly stood in the way of preventing 9/11. The burden of guilt she must feel makes her stuttering performances on the topic during 2003 and 2004 more understandable. I remember thinking a number of times that she seemed on the verge of an emotional moment. Were I her, I certainly couldn't have withstood questioning after the role she played in this episode, described in Woodward's new book:
It describes how, on July 10, 2001, CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters "to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Black laid out the case, consisting of communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. The mass of fragments made a compelling case, so compelling to Tenet that he decided he and Black should go to the White House immediately."They were warned by the Clinton Administration, and they were warned by their own Director of Central Intelligence - then the chief of all the USA's intelligence resources. They were strongly warned, and they didn't even have a meeting about bin Laden because Bush didn't want to "swat at flies." It's that same aversion to Clintonian "small bore initiatives" that I've mentioned before.
Tenet called Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser. "For months," Woodward writes, "Tenet had been pressing Rice to set a clear counterterrorism policy... that would give the CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden.... Tenet and Black hoped to convey the depth of their anxiety and get Rice to kick-start the government into immediate action.
"Tenet had been losing sleep over the recent intelligence. There was no conclusive, smoking-gun intelligence, but there was such a huge volume of data that an intelligence officer's instinct strongly suggested that something was coming....
"But Tenet had been having difficulty getting traction on an immediate bin Laden action plan, in part because Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had questioned all the intelligence, asking: Could it all be a grand deception? "
Woodward describes the meeting, and the two officials' plea that the U.S. "needed to take action that moment -- covert, military, whatever -- to thwart bin Laden."
The result? "Tenet and Black felt they were not getting though to Rice. She was polite, but they felt the brush-off. President Bush had said he didn't want to swat at flies."
"Tenet left the meeting feeling frustrated. Though Rice had given them a fair hearing, no immediate action meant great risk. Black felt the decision to just keep planning was a sustained policy failure. Rice and the Bush team had been in hibernation too long....
Clinton tried to get bin Laden. They had 8 months, strenuous warnings, and they did not try. At that time, Bush thought that his most serious duty, to protect the American people - a duty he's been reiterating over and over these past months - meant building a grand missile defense shield to protect us from a threat that does not exist. On the morning of September 11th, Condi was going to give a speech on the national security importance of the Ballistic Missile Defense Shield... needless to say, it was cancelled.
They did not try.