My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


More on Dr. Rice's Thursday

I just finished the transcript of Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission. Much good analysis has been written about this, so I won't go too deep on that point. But I would like to bring out a few of the things that have not gotten play in the mainstream media.

Dr. Rice: there was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. . .
And indeed, in the briefings with the Clinton administration, they emphasized other priorities: North Korea, the Middle East, the Balkans. . .

Subtle, maybe too subtle, but important to point out. And let's keep in mind that one of those priorities was going to hell on the Clinton watch (the Middle East) and the other two, it turns out, were only ephemeral successes that have since been exposed as going to hell.

Dr. Rice: We were in office 233 days. And the kinds of structural changes that have been needed by this country for some time did not get made in that period of time . . .
But structural reform is hard, and in seven months we didn't have time to make the changes that were necessary

Again, you have to start thinking back to the work of the Church Commission and wonder why the Clinton administration didn't start the process of breaking down these barriers after 1993 when it became clear that the homeland was not safe.

Dr. Rice: And after September 11th, Dick Clarke sent us the after-action report that had been done after the millennium plot and their assessment was that Ressam had been caught by chance. . .
I don't think it was shaking the trees that produced the breakthrough in the millennium plot

Never underestimate the value of being lucky. Coming in to 9-11, clearly, we were not lucky, and the system was working against us being capable.

Com. Gorelick: Now, you say that -- and I think quite rightly -- that the big problem was systemic, that the FBI could not function as it should, and it didn't have the right methods of communicating with the CIA and vice versa.
But I think the question is, why, over all of these years, did we not address the structural problems that were there, with the FBI, with the CIA, the homeland departments being scattered among many different departments? And why, given all of the opportunities that we'd had to do it, had we not done it?

Umm . . . yeah. Duh.

Com. Gorelick (D): Were you briefed on Operation Infinite Resolve that was put in place in '98 and updated in the year 2000?
Because as I read Infinite Resolve, and as our staff reads Infinite Resolve, it was a plan that had been tasked by the Clinton administration to the Defense Department to develop precisely analogous plans. And it was extant at the time.
And what is quite clear from that paper is that, from the time of Presidential Directive 62, which keeps the Defense Department focused on force protection and rendition of terrorists and so forth, all the way up through the period when we take office, this issue of military plans and how to use military power with counterterrorism objectives just doesn't get addressed . . .

And, again, commissioner, what were the dates on those plans? And who would have been responsible for addressing those. . .

Sen. Kerrey(D): You've used the phrase a number of times, and I'm hoping with my question to disabuse you of using it in the future.
You said the president was tired of swatting flies.
Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda prior to 9/11?
RICE: I think what the president was speaking to was...
KERREY: No, no. What fly had he swatted?

Well, I think, Mr. Senator, that when the President of the United States speaks in first person possessive it often refers to the office and to the country. So when he says he's tired, he means he thinks that the approach of his predecessors was inadequate to the task and had shown a remarkable lack of accomplishment.

Sen. Kerrey: Please don't filibuster me. It's not fair. It is not fair. I have been polite. I have been courteous. It is not fair to me. We've all heard that clip, with it's applause, but what you may not have heard is what the Senator said just ten seconds later:

Let me ask you another question. Here's the problem that I have as I -- again, it's hindsight. I appreciate that. But here's the problem that a lot of people are having with this July 5th meeting.
You and Andy Card meet with Dick Clarke in the morning. You say you have a meeting, he meets in the afternoon. It's July 5th.
Kristen Breitweiser, who's a part of the families group, testified at the Joint Committee. She brings very painful testimony, I must say.
But here's what Agent Kenneth Williams said five days later. He said that the FBI should investigate whether al Qaeda operatives are training at U.S. flight schools. He posited that Osama bin Laden followers might be trying to infiltrate the civil aviation system as pilots, security guards and other personnel. He recommended a national program to track suspicious flight schools.
Now, one of the first things that I learned when I came into this town was the FBI and the CIA don't talk. I mean, I don't need a catastrophic event to know that the CIA and the FBI don't do a very good job of communicating.
And the problem we've got with this and the Moussaoui facts, which were revealed on the 15th of August, all it had to do was to be put on Intelink. All it had to do is go out on Intelink, and the game's over. It ends. This conspiracy would have been rolled up.
And so I...

Huh?? What was that. . .oh, I see. He needed the camera to stay on him for a little while, and, as he learned in the Senate, the best way to accomplish that is to . . . wait for it. . . filibuster.

Com. Roemer (D): So why aren't you doing something about that earlier than August 6th?
We have talked to the director at the time of the FBI during this threat period, Mr. Pickard. He says he did not tell the field offices to do this.
And we have talked to the special agents in charge. They don't have any recollection of receiving a notice of threat.
Nothing went down the chain to the FBI field offices on spiking of information, on knowledge of al Qaeda in the country, and still, the FBI doesn't do anything.
Isn't that some of the responsibility of the national security advisor?

Dr. Rice: The responsibility for the FBI to do what it was asked was the FBI's responsibility

While that seems self-evident to everybody outside the beltway, it's remarkable that this question was asked of Condi Rice and not the then-head of the FBI. What else is becoming self-evident as this process proceeds is what an enormous mistake it was to keep the Clinton holdovers in their positions when this administration took office.

Com. Thompson (R): I'll tell you what I find remarkable. One word that hasn't been mentioned once today -- yet we've talked about structural changes to the FBI and the CIA and cooperation -- "Congress."
Congress has to change the structure of the FBI. The Congress has to appropriate funds to fight terrorism. Where was the Congress?

Hmm. Wonder why that little clip never made it to the nightly news.

Dr. Rice Because the real lesson of September 11th is that the country was not properly structured to deal with the threats that had been gathering for a long period of time.

Let's hope the commission can keep its eye on the ball long enough to recognize this lesson, and to advocate a continuation of systemic changes (such as the Patriot Act) that make it easier for the country to recognize threats, coordinate responses, and protect American citizens.

What do you suppose the odds of that are?

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