Rice: 'No specific time, place or method mentioned'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, one of President Bush's closest confidantes, addressed the press Thursday about the administration's recent admission it knew of a possible al Qaeda hijacking plot last summer -- before the September 11 terrorist attacks. This is an edited transcript of her remarks:
I'm going to give you a chronology of the events that occurred during the spring and summer of 2001, but I want to start with a little definitional work. When we talk about threats, they come in many varieties. Very often we have uncorroborated information. Sometimes we have corroborated but very general information. But I can tell you that it is almost never the case that we have information that is specific as to time, place or method of attack.
In the period starting in December 2000, the intelligence community started reporting increase in traffic concerning terrorist activities. In the April-May time frame, there was specific threat reporting about al Qaeda attacks against U.S. targets or interests that might be in the works.
Now, there was a clear concern that something was up, that something was coming, but it was principally focused overseas. The areas of most concern were the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Europe.
In the June time frame, arrests for the millennium plot -- there was testimony by the participants in the millennium plot that Abu Zubaydah had said that there might be interest in attacking the United States. And this comes out of testimony that was there as a result of the millennium plot.
And then on June 26, there was a threat spike. And as a result, again focusing overseas, the State Department issued a worldwide caution. Again, that was June 26, and you probably remember that caution.
Now, the Federal Aviation Administration was also concerned of threats to U.S. citizens, such as airline hijackings, and therefore issued an information circular ... to private carriers from law enforcement saying that we have a concern.
At the end of June, there was a status of threat and action meeting [of] what we call the Counterterrorism Security Group. It is a group that is interagency, that meets under the direction of an National Security Council special assistant, Dick Clarke, at that time. There was a meeting and Dick Clarke reported to me that steps were being taken by the CSG.
On July 2, as a result of some of that work, the FBI released a message saying that there are threats to be worried about overseas but ... while we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out. This is an inlet. And again, an inlet goes out to law enforcement from the FBI.
On July 2, the FAA issued another [communication] saying that, Ressam -- again associated with the millennium plot -- said that there was an intention of using explosives in an airport terminal. This was a very specific [communication].
On July 5, the threat reporting had become sufficiently robust, though, not, again, very specific, but sufficiently robust. There was a lot of chatter in the system. That in his morning meeting, the president asked me to go back and to see what was being done about all of the chatter that was there. On July 18, also, the FBI issued another inlet on the millennium plot conviction, reiterating its July 2 message, saying "We're concerned about threats as a result of the millennium plot conviction."
At the end of July, the FAA issued another [communication] which said, "There's no specific target, no credible info of attack to U.S. civil aviation interests, but terror groups are known to be planning and training for hijackings, and we ask you therefore to use caution."
Throughout July and August, several times a week, there were meetings of the CSG reviewing the information at hand. There was no specific new information that came in, in that period of time -- after the end of July and sort of in August -- leading up to September.
But the agencies were still at a heightened state of alert, particularly overseas. I think, the military actually had dropped its state of alert. But everybody was still on a heightened state of alert.
On August 1, the FBI issued another inlet on the upcoming third East Africa bombing anniversary and, again, reiterated the message that had been in the July 2 inlet.
Now, on August 6, the president received a presidential daily briefing. [This] was not a warning briefing, but an analytic report.
This ... report ... did not have warning information in it of the kind that said, "They are talking about an attack against so forth or so on." It was an analytic report that talked about [Osama bin Laden's] methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.
It mentioned hijacking, but hijacking in the traditional sense and, in a sense, said that the most important and most likely thing was that they would take over an airliner, holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives. And the blind sheik [Omar Abdel Rahman, serving a life sentence for ordering a foiled plot to bomb New York landmarks] was mentioned by name -- even though he's not an operative of al Qaeda -- but as somebody who might be bargained in this way.
I want to reiterate: It was not a warning. There was no specific time, place or method mentioned. What you have seen in the run-up that I've talked about is that the FAA was reacting to the same kind of generalized information about a potential hijacking as a method that al Qaeda might employ, but no specific information saying that they were planning such an attack at a particular time.
There is one other FAA [communication] in this period issued on August 16, where the FAA issued a [communication] on disguised weapons. They were concerned about some reports that the terrorists had made breakthroughs in cell phones, key chains and pens as weapons.
There are a number of other [communications] that were also issued. We don't think they were germane to this, but I'm sure you can get the full record of all of the [communications] that were released from transportation.
I want to reiterate that during this time the overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas. The State Department, the Defense Department were on very high states of alert. The embassies have very clear protocols on how to button up. So does the military. That was done,
But at home, while there was much less reporting or chatter about something at home, people were thinking about the U.S. And the FBI was involved in a number of investigations of potential al Qaeda personnel operating in the United States.