Rice: I don't recall alert about attack
ANNE GEARAN / AP | October 2 2006
SHANNON, Ireland — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she cannot recall then-CIA chief George Tenet warning her of an impending al-Qaida attack in the United States, as a new book claims he did two months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible," Rice said.
Rice was President Bush's national security adviser in 2001, when Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial" outlines a July 10 meeting among Rice, Tenet and the CIA's top counterterror officer.
"I don't know that this meeting took place, but what I really don't know, what I'm quite certain of, is that it was not a meeting in which I was told there was an impending attack and I refused to respond," Rice said.
Speaking to reporters en route to Saudi Arabia and other stops in the Middle East, Rice said she met with Tenet daily at that point, and has no memory of the wake-up call from Tenet described in the book.
"It kind of doesn't ring true that you have to shock me into something I was very involved in," Rice said.
There was near constant discussion of possible attacks overseas, and high alarm, Rice said.
Meanwhile, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday that he should have been notified of any such report dealing with a pending attack on the United States. "It just occurred to me how disappointing it was that they didn't come to me with this type of information," Ashcroft said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The FBI is responsible for domestic terrorism," Ashcroft said. He said both Tenet and Cofer Black of the CIA should have been aware that he had pressed for a more aggressive policy in going after bin Laden and his followers in the United States and should have briefed him as well. Rice knew of this advocacy, he suggested.
"There was no covert action to kill him and we needed one," Ashcroft said.
The meeting between Tenet, Rice and Black was not mentioned in the reports from several investigations of the Sept. 11 attacks, but Woodward wrote that it stood out in the minds of Tenet and Black as the "starkest warning they had given the White House" on al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his network.
Tenet asked for the meeting after receiving a disturbing briefing from Black, according to the book.
But though Tenet and Black warned Rice in the starkest terms of the prospects for attack, she brushed them off, Woodward reiterated Monday. He told NBC's "Today" show that Black told him the two men were so emphatic, it amounted to "holding a gun to her head" and doing everything except pulling the trigger.
Black reportedly laid out secret intercepts and other data "showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaida would soon attack the United States." Tenet was so worried that he called Rice from his car and asked to see her right away, the book said.
"Tenet and Black felt they were not getting through to Rice," Woodward wrote of the session. "She was polite, but they felt the brush-off."
Rice referred to the session as "the supposed meeting" and noted that it is not part of the independent Sept. 11 Commission's report.
"I remember that George was very worried and he expressed that," Rice told reporters. "We were all very worried because the threat reporting was quite intense. The problem was that it was also quite nebulous."
Rice, who was promoted to secretary of state in Bush's second term, also said she never argued that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should be fired. The book's suggestion that Rumsfeld would not take her calls is "ludicrous," Rice said.
Rumsfeld and Rice are not close, and he is often considered her rival in administration decision making. Woodward wrote that then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card twice tried to get Bush to sack Rumsfeld and replace him with Bush family counselor James A. Baker III, and that both then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and Rice backed the plan.
Woodward interviewed Rice for his new book.
Rice's latest Middle East trip is focused on strengthening support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other moderate Arab leaders after a series of setbacks for democratic and moderate forces in the region.
Her trip includes visits to allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt and a meeting of other friendly nations that ring the Persian Gulf, before visits to Israel and the West Bank.
Rice is looking for new ways to improve Abbas' standing in his standoff with Hamas radicals trounced Abbas' secular Fatah Party in Palestinian elections in January. Abbas was elected separately and retains his position, but he has been hamstrung by the divided government and a cutoff of Western aid.
The Bush administration and Israel are increasingly convinced Hamas will crumble, and look to Abbas to capitalize. Rice may ask other countries to do more to bolster Abbas' security forces, and she hopes to breathe life into stalled agreements and talks that would help Palestinians move more freely across their borders with Israel.
Iran's nuclear ambitions will also be part of Rice's discussions, as an unofficial deadline passes this week for Iran to heed a U.N. Security Council demand to shelve disputed nuclear activities.
Rice said Sunday she may close her trip Friday with a meeting of world powers in Europe to look at what to do next. The United States wants to press for U.N. Security Council sanctions, but it is not clear she has full support from other permanent members of the council.
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