Rice's Testimony Begins To Unravel
Frankly I admit that I had expected the media to follow the White House script and talking points in the aftermath of Condi “it was a historical document only” Rice’s appearance and conclude that her presentation had put the matter of the Administration’s negligence pre- 9/11 to rest once and for all. Sure, the initial media accounts were glowingly favorable as our GOP commenters have noted with glee. But I have been pleasantly surprised that the two biggest papers as well as others have actually paid attention to what she said about the FBI being “tasked” to chase down Al Qaeda in the summer of 2001 and her assertion that the August 6, 2001 PDB was only a historical document. And the more the media takes a close look at Rice’s assertions here, the more they find that she lied.
First, with regards to her claims that the administration tasked the FBI or warned anyone else about domestic Al Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001, and stayed on top of the situation, we find now that no such directive to shake the trees and make this a top priority came from the FBI to its field offices, nor did Attorney General John Ashcroft apparently take a break from denying antiterrorism funding requests and chasing down crime and pornography to stay on top of the Bureau to chase down these known sleeper cells. Remember the difference between the Bush Administration’s lack of follow-through and accountability here and what the Clinton Administration did with the LAX/Millennium incident. Naturally the Bushies will use this to blame the Bureau, but it remains to be seen what directive, if any, actually came from Ashcroft to interim director Thomas Pickard or Louis Freeh. Pickard will tell the commission this week that Ashcroft had little interest in terrorism. Stay tuned.
Second, several media accounts have directly challenged Rice’s assertion that the August 6, 2001 PDB was a historical document only. The Post’s Walter Pincus (with help no doubt from contacts at the Agency and on the commission itself) and Dan Eggen make it clear in today’s edition that contrary to what Rice said, the PDB did contain “information about ongoing al Qaeda activities within the United States, including signs of a terror support network, indications of hijacking preparations and plans for domestic attacks using explosives.” As Pincus states:
The information on current threats in the briefing, titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," stands in contrast to repeated assertions by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other Bush administration officials as recently as this week that the document is primarily historical and includes no warning or threat information.
Some of Pincus’s source material for this is prior Post stories on the contents of the PDB, written by none other than Bob Woodward, whose own book comes out in two weeks. The New York Times and the AP today also point out that Rice’s testimony is contrary to what the commission already knew about the PDB, from reading it themselves and from the joint congressional inquiry. According to the Times, Bush was warned in the PDB of a possible attack in the US. Keep in mind that the White House only allowed the commissioners to see the PDB, and not even take notes from what they saw. Now the White House says they may release the PDB next week, after they’ve cleared it, which knowing these guys could mean that they are taking the time to doctor the document knowing that no one has notes or a copy of the document itself. Even the Washington Post editors, in a surprise, said that Rice’s was unconvincing in her defense that the Bushies did all that they could do with what they had. Since Woodward writes some of the editorials, this shift by the Post makes the next two weeks all the more interesting.
Some things at least remain the same no matter what the facts are. Dick Cheney still lies about a Saddam connection to terrorism and 9/11. And it is a laugh for him to talk positively about Afghanistan as we let the country be taken over once again by the drug trade.
But for an administration that went to war and killed thousands over uncorroborated and knowingly-bogus WMD intelligence to say that they didn’t want to protect the homeland until they had more detailed intelligence makes a good argument for impeachment in my mind.