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Context of 'September 30-October 3, 2006: 9/11 Commissioners Claim to Be Furious They Were Not Told of July 2001 Warning, When In Fact They Were'

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Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House on October 8, 2001.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House on October 8, 2001. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet and two other senior CIA officials give a briefing at the White House in which they present National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials with information indicating an al-Qaeda attack, possibly in the United States, is imminent. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-153; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186-187] Earlier today, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, went to Cofer Black, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, with compelling evidence that al-Qaeda will attack the United States in the near future, and the two men then presented this information to Tenet. Realizing its significance, Tenet called Rice and arranged to meet her right away (see July 10, 2001). [Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015; WBUR, 10/13/2020]
Briefing Is the CIA's 'Starkest Warning' about Al-Qaeda - After arriving at the White House, Tenet, Blee, and Black meet Rice in her office. Also present are Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief. To emphasize the urgency of the information they are going to present, the three CIA officials sit at the conference table instead of on the couch. “I thought the more formal setting and stiff-backed chairs were appropriate for what was about to be said,” Tenet will later comment. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186] The meeting that ensues will stand out “in the minds of both Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on [Osama] bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” according to journalist and author Bob Woodward. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 52]
'Spectacular' Attacks against the US Are Expected - Blee hands out briefing packages to the White House officials. He then begins with a PowerPoint presentation. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186] Rice will recall that it includes “the threat information that we had been reviewing daily along with some new intelligence.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 67] Blee describes the threat facing the nation, saying: “There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al-Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States. This is an attack that is intended to cause thousands of American casualties somewhere.” He notes, however, that the location where any attack will occur is unknown. “We cannot say it will be New York City or the United States, but it is geared toward US citizens,” he says. It is also impossible to determine when an attack might occur. “We know from past attacks that [bin Laden] is not beholden to attacks on particular dates” and will act “when he believes the attack will be successful,” he explains.
Recent Statements Suggest an Imminent Attack - Blee then lays out the signs of an impending attack that have been observed. He says Ibn Khattab, a Chechen rebel leader, has promised some “very big news” to his troops (see (July 9, 2001)). He shows a chart that depicts seven pieces of evidence gathered over the last 24 hours that suggest an attack is imminent. These include an increase in the number of Islamic extremists that have been traveling to Afghanistan and significant departures of extremist families from Yemen. He then shows another chart that lists some of the most chilling statements the CIA has compiled through its intelligence work. These include a statement made by bin Laden to trainees in mid-June that there will be an attack in the near future; information from late June that referred to an imminent “big event”; information that mentioned moving toward decisive acts; and two pieces of information received just days earlier in which people were predicting “a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-152; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186-187]
Threats Are Serious, Blee Maintains - Rice, Clarke, and Hadley are told that all the intelligence, from human and technical sources, is consistent and while some of it is uncertain, this kind of information is often the best indicator. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 51; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Blee also asserts that bin Laden’s threats are serious. “Throughout the Arab world, [bin Laden’s] threats are known to the public,” he says. There would therefore be “a loss of face, funds, and popularity” if the threatened attacks were not carried out.
America 'Must Take the Battle' to Bin Laden - Blee summarizes efforts that have been made to disrupt specific targets tied to bin Laden. One goal of these actions was to prompt the targets to spread the word that bin Laden’s plans have been compromised, in the hope that this might cause bin Laden to delay any planned attacks. Blee then says immediate consideration should be given to moving from a defensive to an offensive posture. “We must consider a proactive instead of a reactive approach to [bin Laden],” he says, adding, “Attacking him again with cruise missiles after this new terrorist attack will only play to his strategy.” He says the US “must take the battle to [bin Laden] in Afghanistan. We must take advantage of increasing dissatisfaction of some Afghan tribes with the Taliban. We must take advantage of the Afghan armed opposition.”
US Needs to Go on a 'War Footing' - After Blee has finished his briefing, Rice turns to Clarke and asks him: “Dick, do you agree? Is this true?” “Clarke put his elbows on his knees and his head fell into his hands, and he gave an exasperated yes,” Tenet will recall. She then asks Black, “What should we do now?” In response, he slams his fist on the table and declares, “This country needs to go on a war footing now!” Rice asks what can be done to go on the offensive right away against al-Qaeda. “We need to re-create the authorities that we had previously submitted in March,” she is told (see Early March 2001). Tenet reminds her that before these authorities can be approved, President Bush will need to align his policy with the new reality. Rice assures him that this will happen. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152-154; Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] She also asks him if there is more the CIA could do to capture Abu Zubaida, whom the government believes to be al-Qaeda’s chief facilitator and therefore someone who might know the details of the plot. [Rice, 2011, pp. 67]
Black and Blee Think the Meeting Was a Success - There will be contradictory accounts of how the CIA officials feel about the meeting after it ends. Blee and Black will say they felt they had gotten their message across. As they walk across the West Wing parking lot, they high-five each other. “We thought we’d finally gotten through to these people,” Black will recall, adding, “We had executed our responsibilities.” Blee will recall them telling each other: “Boom! We hit a home run. She got it.” [Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] But according to Woodward, Black, along with Tenet, feels that “they were not getting through to Rice” and Tenet leaves the meeting “feeling frustrated.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 51; Washington Post, 10/1/2006]
Tenet Will Say He Was Happy with Rice's Response - Woodward’s account will be disputed, though. “[B]oth current and former officials, including allies of Mr. Tenet, took issue with Mr. Woodward’s account that [Tenet] and his aides had left the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had ignored them,” the New York Times will report. And members of the 9/11 Commission who interview Tenet in 2004 will say the CIA director “never indicated he had left the White House with the impression that he had been ignored” when he discussed today’s meeting with them. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] When Daniel Marcus, the 9/11 Commission’s general counsel, asks Tenet how Rice reacted to his message about the dangers of al-Qaeda, Tenet will answer: “She got it. She agreed. We were all working on it.” [Newsweek, 4/29/2007]
'Nothing Happened' after the Briefing, Blee Will Say - Black and Blee will be disappointed at what they see as the White House’s lack of action following the briefing. Blee’s assessment will be, “From July to September, nothing happened.” [Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] “To me it remains incomprehensible,” Black will complain. “How is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened?” he will ask. [Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015] Tenet will come to regard today’s meeting as “a tremendous lost opportunity to prevent or disrupt the 9/11 attacks,” according to Woodward. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 79] However, according to the New York Times, records will show that “far from ignoring Mr. Tenet’s warnings,” Rice “acted on the intelligence” and asked Tenet to make the same presentation he gave today to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001).
Rice Will Have a Poor Recollection of the Meeting - Controversy will arise when the existence of today’s meeting comes to light in 2006 and details of the meeting will be disputed (see September 29, 2006 and September 30-October 3, 2006). Rice will initially tell reporters she does not recall this specific meeting and note that she met Tenet numerous times this summer to discuss terrorist threats (see October 1-2, 2006). [Washington Post, 9/30/2006; New York Times, 10/2/2006; New York Times, 10/2/2006] However, in her memoir, published in 2011, she will simply write that her “recollection of the meeting is not very crisp” because she and Tenet “were discussing the [terrorist] threat every day.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 67] Furthermore, although Tenet discusses the meeting when he testifies before the 9/11 Commission, there will be no mention of it in the Commission’s final report. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 153; Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Richard Blee, Ibn Khattab, Stephen J. Hadley, Cofer Black, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An article in Time magazine briefly mentions a key meeting between the CIA and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, where top CIA officials warned Rice of an impending attack (see July 10, 2001). The meeting will be left out of the 9/11 Commission report, although CIA Director George Tenet will tell the Commission about it (see January 28, 2004). Time writes: “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… with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.” [Time, 8/4/2002] According to a transcript of Tenet’s testimony to the 9/11 Commission, he told Rice there could be an al-Qaeda attack in weeks or perhaps months, that there would be multiple, simultaneous attacks causing major human casualties, and that the focus would be US targets, facilities, or interests. As Time reports, Tenet says the intelligence focuses on an overseas attack, but a domestic attack could not be ruled out. [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] News of the meeting will emerge in 2006 (see September 29, 2006), but the 9/11 Commission members will deny they were told about it. After the transcript is shared with reporters, they will reverse their denials (see September 30-October 3, 2006). Rice will also deny the meeting took place, only to reverse her position as well (see October 1-2, 2006).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 78]

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Philip Zelikow, White House, Cofer Black, Central Intelligence Agency, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow.Philip Zelikow. [Source: Miller Center]The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. [New York Times, 3/20/2004; United Press International, 3/23/2004] 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” [NBC, 4/4/2004] Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 263] However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. [Salon, 4/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Richard A. Clarke, Lee Hamilton, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Citizens Watch, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Family Steering Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right).Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right). [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Philip Zelikow, formerly the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will serve as a senior adviser for Condoleezza Rice in her new position as secretary of state. His position, counselor of the United States Department of State, is considered equal to undersecretary of state. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/28/2005] Rice says: “Philip and I have worked together for years. I value his counsel and expertise. I appreciate his willingness to take on this assignment.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow tells his new colleagues at the State Department that it is “the sort of job he had always wanted.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 418] 9/11 victims’ relatives groups had demanded Zelikow’s resignation from the 9/11 Commission, claiming conflict of interest, including being too close to Rice (see March 21, 2004).

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Original cover to Woodward’s ‘State of Denial.’Original cover to Woodward’s ‘State of Denial.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble]Journalist Bob Woodward’s new book State of Denial is released. While the book focuses mainly on politics regarding the Iraq war, it also describes an urgent warning that then-CIA Director George Tenet gave to Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser at the time, and other White House officials on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). [New York Times, 9/29/2006; New York Daily News, 9/29/2006; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] This warning had been mentioned in passing in a 2002 Time magazine article, but it had escaped widespread attention until Woodward’s book. [Time, 8/4/2002] The meeting is particularly controversial because neither the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry nor the 9/11 Commission mentioned in it in their final reports. The 9/11 Commission had learned about it from Tenet in early 2004 (see January 28, 2004). Rice and a number of 9/11 Commissioners deny knowing about the July meeting for several days, until documentation surfaces in the media detailing the meeting and Tenet’s testimony to the commission (see October 1-2, 2006 and September 30-October 3, 2006). Details about the July meeting and surrounding controversies are reported on by the mainstream media for about a week, but there are no articles on it in any prominent newspaper after October 3, 2006. On October 5, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) formally asks Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for hearings about the revelations in Woodward’s book, including controversies surrounding the July meeting. Kerry says in a letter to Lugar, “It is necessary to understand the mistakes of the past in order to ensure they are not repeated, and having testimony from the parties under oath will help to sharpen recollections and clarify the exact nature of this important meeting.” However, no hearings take place. [Kerry, 10/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Condoleezza Rice, Bob Kerry, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In late September 2006, a new book by Bob Woodward reveals that CIA Director Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave National Security Adviser Rice their most urgent warning about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001 and September 29, 2006). Tenet detailed this meeting to the 9/11 Commission in early 2004 (see January 28, 2004), but it was not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report later that year. According to the Washington Post, “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] The 9/11 Commissioners initially vigorously deny that they were not told about the meeting. For instance, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she checked with commission staff who told her they were never told about a meeting on that date. She says, “We didn’t know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.” [Washington Post, 9/30/2006] Commissioner Tim Roemer says, “None of this was shared with us in hours of private interviews, including interviews under oath, nor do we have any paper on this. I’m deeply disturbed by this. I’m furious.” Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says the meeting “was never mentioned to us.” Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, says the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing in their private interviews with Tenet and Black to suggest that they made such a dire presentation to Rice. “If we had heard something that drew our attention to this meeting, it would have been a huge thing.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] However, on October 3, 2006, a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony to the 9/11 Commission is leaked to reporters and clearly shows that Tenet did warn Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda threat on July 10, 2001. Ben-Veniste, who attended the meeting along with Zelikow and other staff members, now confirms the meeting did take place and claims to recall details of it, even though he, Zelikow, and other 9/11 Commissioners had denied the existence of the meeting as recently as the day before. In the transcript, Tenet says “the system was blinking red” at the time. This statement becomes a chapter title in the 9/11 Commission’s final report but the report, which normally has detailed footnotes, does not make it clear when Tenet said it. [Washington Post, 10/3/2006] Zelikow had close ties to Rice before joining the 9/11 Commission, having co-written a book with her (see March 21, 2004), and became one of her key aides after the commission disbanded (see February 28, 2005). Zelikow does not respond to requests for comments after Tenet’s transcript surfaces. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Washington Post, 10/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Tim Roemer, Jamie Gorelick, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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