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Context of 'March 23, 2001: National Security Adviser Rice Is Warned about Al-Qaeda Cells in US'

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The US government is considering reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, which had been closed because of security concerns. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice that terrorists could easily drive a truck bomb, which he calls their “weapon of choice,” right into the White House. While discussing this, Clarke tells Rice that he thinks there are terrorist cells within the US, including al-Qaeda cells. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. [Newsweek, 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke, who was counterterrorism “tsar” in the run-up to 9/11, briefs the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about counterterrorism before the attacks.
Clarke's Status - Normally, a White House official such as Clarke would not be allowed to testify before Congress, but the administration makes an exception for him, although the testimony is behind closed doors and is classified. In addition, Clarke is not placed under oath and is not even considered a witness before the inquiry, just a briefer. Clarke’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will not testify before the inquiry, and it is unable to obtain access to National Security Council files, which are privileged as they relate to advice given to the president.
Content of Briefing - House Intelligence Committee member Tim Roemer will say that Clarke is riveting during the six-hour briefing. According to author Philip Shenon, Roemer thinks that Clarke is “intelligent, articulate, seemingly candid in discussing his own failings as White House counterterrorism [‘tsar’].” Clarke will later be extremely critical of President George Bush and Rice (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but now he is “coy about certain questions—especially about President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.” Shenon will add: “[I]f anyone knew whether Bush and Rice had reacted appropriately to the threats reaching the Oval office before 9/11, it was Clarke. Yet in front of these lawmakers, Clarke seemed unwilling to make any judgments about the president and Rice. He was certainly volunteering little about his bosses. He was still on the [National Security Council’s] payroll. Perhaps it was understandable that Clarke would want to hold his tongue for now.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 195-196]
Later Positive Briefing about Administration's Record - Two months later, Clarke will give journalists a positive briefing about the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon, Tim Roemer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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