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Rice: Does anyone really believe I'd ignore terror warning?

Ron Brynaert
Published: Thursday October 12, 2006

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Early Thursday morning, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that she gave the "brush-off" to an "impending terrorist attack" warning by former C.I.A. director George J. Tenet and his counterterrorism coordinator in July of 2001 two months before the September 11 attacks as first reported by Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward in hiss latest book, State of Denial.

The former National Security Adviser, interviewed on Detroit's Paul Smith Show on WJRI Radio, said that the "assertion that [she] would hear about a specific attack and not do anything" is "obviously just not true."

"On July 10, 2001, the book says, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, met with Ms. Rice at the White House to impress upon her the seriousness of the intelligence the agency was collecting about an impending attack," David E. Sanger reported for the New York Times in September. "But both men came away from the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had not taken the warnings seriously."

On the radio, Rice asked rhetorically, "Does anybody really believe that somebody would have walked into my office and said, oh, by the way, there's a chance of a major attack against the United States and I would have said, well, I'm really not interested in that information?"

"I mean, it's just ridiculous," said Rice.

"Of course we knew that there were grave threats that were being that were in the intelligence during that period of time," Rice continued. "We were actively working with the FAA, working with other domestic agencies."

Rice claimed that "even though it appeared that this attack was likely to take place overseas, we were putting our forces on alert, we moved our ships out of port."

"We had a very active program to deal with what were nebulous threats but quite serious threats in this period," Rice said. "So the charge is just ridiculous."

Excerpts from Rice's radio interview, as released by the State Department:

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MR. SMITH: I want to move on to a couple of other notes very quickly. We have with us, and we appreciate greatly the time of Dr. Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, here on The Paul W. Smith show at WJR. It's 7:40 on this Thursday morning.

You were National Security Advisor in 2001, certainly aware now of Bob Woodward's claims in State of Denial about you being offered information about al Qaeda and finding that you tried to deflect it; that you didn't take it seriously. I can't imagine for a moment that anybody gave you specific information about an attack on the United States of America, by al Qaeda or anyone else, and you would have looked the other way.

Let me add to that a caveat: It was this radio station and from an interview on this radio station many years ago that in fact you talked about al Qaeda, and this is after the last book that came out that said he claimed that he spoke with you about al Qaeda and the look on your face indicated you never heard of them, when you had talked about them on our radio station. And we were happy to feed that to the rest of the world to prove that that guy was wrong and now talk about this guy, Bob Woodward, with that assertion that you would hear about a specific attack and not do anything.

SEC. RICE: No, I mean, it's obviously just not true. First of all, the 9/11 Commission has really stated that they talked to George Tenet about this meeting. And of course George Tenet said nothing of the kind that I didn't take it seriously. Does anybody really believe that somebody would have walked into my office and said, oh, by the way, there's a chance of a major attack against the United States and I would have said, well, I'm really not interested in that information. I mean, it's just ridiculous. Of course we knew that there were grave threats that were being that were in the intelligence during that period of time. We were actively working with the FAA, working with other domestic agencies. Even though it appeared that this attack was likely to take place overseas, we were putting our forces on alert, we moved our ships out of port. We had a very active program to deal with what were nebulous threats but quite serious threats in this period. So the charge is just ridiculous.

And I'd make one other point, what we lacked in 9/11 was information about what was going on inside the country. That's why the President had a after 9/11 a surveillance program of terrorist conversations and terrorist communications, so that we could link up what terrorists outside the country were saying with what terrorists inside the country was saying.

That was the missing link before September 11th. And so really people should be focusing on what we have done since 9/11 and making sure that the President and future presidents have the tools that they need to fight terrorists.

MR. SMITH: And noting that we have not had another major terrorist attack in these United States since then. We will put Richard Clark and Bob Woodward together. Luckily we had the great David Newman in 1999 with that interview with you to give proof. I'm sure more information will come out as time goes by to dispel what Bob Woodward is saying.

Finally, Dr. Rice, a report coming out in the last couple of days from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health claiming that the Iraqi total of dead people from this war, since 2003, could be 600,000. Do you have an official comment on that?

SEC. RICE: Yeah. We just don't see how that number is credible. The number is just outsized and just not credible. Now, it is true that too many Iraqis have died and they're dying at the hands of violent people who want to keep them from progressing to a modern, democratic and stable state. And it is true that Iraqi political leaders have to take some difficult decisions in order to stop the violence. But I think that number is just not credible.

MR. SMITH: Do you think that the number of civilians, Iraqi civilians dead would fall between the margin of error from that report which was 426,000 to 793,000 or well below the 426,000?

SEC. RICE: Well, I think we don't know. But I believe anything that's in the high hundreds of thousands just doesn't make sense.

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