Sworn statement to commission

April 09, 2004

Text of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's statement, as prepared for delivery yesterday to the Sept. 11 commission. The text was provided by the White House.

The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on September 11th, 2001. Long before that day, radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilized world. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of al-Qaida and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans. ...

Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late. Despite the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and continued German harassment of American shipping, the United States did not enter the First World War until two years later. Despite Nazi Germany's repeated violations of the Versailles Treaty and its string of provocations throughout the mid-1930s, the Western democracies did not take action until 1939. ... And, tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on a war footing.

Since then, America has been at war. And under President Bush's leadership, we will remain at war until the terrorist threat to our nation is ended. ...

After President Bush was elected, we were briefed by the Clinton administration on many national security issues during the transition. The president-elect and I were briefed by [CIA director] George Tenet on terrorism and on the al-Qaida network. Members of Sandy Berger's NSC [National Security Council] staff briefed me, along with other members of the new national security team, on counterterrorism and al-Qaida. ...

Because of these briefings and because we had watched the rise of al-Qaida over the years, we understood that the network posed a serious threat to the United States. ... On an operational level, we decided immediately to continue pursuing the Clinton administration's covert action authorities and other efforts to fight the network. President Bush retained George Tenet as director of central intelligence, and Louis Freeh remained the director of the FBI.

I took the unusual step of retaining Dick Clarke and the entire Clinton administration's counterterrorism team on the NSC staff. I knew Dick to be an expert in his field, as well as an experienced crisis manager.

Our goal was to ensure continuity of operations while we developed new and more aggressive policies. ...

We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al-Qaida terrorist network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies."

This new strategy was developed over the spring and summer of 2001, and was approved by the president's senior national security officials on September 4. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration - not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaida.

Although this National Security Presidential Directive was originally a highly classified document, we arranged for portions to be declassified to help the commission in its work, and I will describe some of those today. The strategy set as its goal the elimination of the al-Qaida network. It ordered the leadership of relevant U.S. departments and agencies to make the elimination of al-Qaida a high priority and to use all aspects of our national power - intelligence, financial, diplomatic, and military - to meet this goal. And it gave Cabinet secretaries and department heads specific responsibilities. For instance:

It directed the secretary of state to work with other countries to end all sanctuaries given to al-Qaida.

It directed the secretaries of the treasury and state to work with foreign governments to seize or freeze assets and holdings of al-Qaida and its benefactors.

It directed the director of central intelligence to prepare an aggressive program of covert activities to disrupt al-Qaida and provide assistance to anti-Taliban groups operating against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. ...

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