Excerpts from Rice's testimony

April 09, 2004

Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste: Did you tell the president, at any time prior to August 6, of the existence of al-Qaida cells in the United States?

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice: First, let me just make certain ...

Ben-Veniste: If you could just answer that question because I only have a very limited ...

Rice: I understand, commissioner, but it's important ...

Ben-Veniste: Did you tell the president ...

Rice: ... that I also address ...

(Applause)

It's also important that, commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised. So I will do it quickly, but if you'll just give me a moment.

Ben-Veniste: Well, my only question to you is whether you ...

Rice: I understand, commissioner, but I will ...

Ben-Veniste: ... told the president.

Rice: If you'll just give me a moment, I will address fully the questions that you've asked.

First of all, yes, the August 6th PDB [presidential daily brief] was in response to questions of the president - and that since he asked that this be done. It was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al-Qaida's operations.

Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum - I remember it as being only a line or two - that there were al-Qaida cells in the United States.

Now, the question is, what did we need to do about that?

And I also understood that that was what the FBI was doing, that the FBI was pursuing these al-Qaida cells. I believe in the August 6th memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this; the FBI was pursuing it.

I really don't remember, commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president.

Ben-Veniste: Thank you.

Rice: I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States. He talked to people about this. But I don't remember the al-Qaida cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about.

Ben-Veniste: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB?

Rice: I believe the title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

Now, the ...

Ben-Veniste: Thank you.

Rice: No, Mr. Ben-Veniste ...

Ben-Veniste: I will get into the ...

Rice: I would like to finish my point here.

Ben-Veniste: I didn't know there was a point.

Rice: Given that - you asked me whether or not it warned of attacks.

Ben-Veniste: I asked you what the title was.

Rice: You said, did it not warn of attacks? It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.

Ben-Veniste: Now, you knew by August 2001 of al-Qaida involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing, is that correct?

You knew that in 1999, late '99, in the millennium threat period, that we had thwarted an al-Qaida attempt to blow up Los Angeles International Airport and thwarted cells operating in Brooklyn, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts.

As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that al-Qaida members have resided or traveled to the United States for years and maintained a support system in the United States.

And you learned that FBI information since the 1998 blind sheik warning of hijackings to free the blind sheik indicated a pattern of suspicious activity in the country up until August 6th consistent with preparation for hijackings. Isn't that so? ...

Rice: It had a number of discussions of - it had a discussion of whether or not they might use hijacking to try and free a prisoner who was being held in the United States. ... It reported that the FBI had full field investigations under way. ...

Commissioner, this was not a warning. This was a historic memo - historical memo prepared by the agency because the president was asking questions about what we knew about the inside. ...

`Swatting flies'

Commission member Bob Kerrey: 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-Qaida prior to 9/11?

Rice: I think what the president was speaking to was ...

Kerrey: No, no. What fly had he swatted?

Rice: Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on ...

Kerrey: We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?

Rice: We swatted at - I think he felt that what the agency was doing was going after individual terrorists here and there, and that's what he meant by swatting flies. It was simply a figure of speech.

Lack of Clarke briefing

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