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Inside Politics

Rice forcefully rebuts Clarke testimony

Releases e-mail she says contradicts his charges

From John King
CNN

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Rice says Clarke's own words and actions prove false his "scurrilous allegation."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that administration records -- including former White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke's own words and actions -- prove false his "scurrilous allegation that somehow the president of the United States was not attentive to the terrorist threat."

Forcefully rebutting Clarke's testimony Wednesday to the 9/11 commission, Rice called reporters to her West Wing office and said that on July 5, 2001 -- two months before the terrorist attacks -- she personally ordered Clarke to alert domestic agencies that they needed to be on alert for the possibility of a terror strike.

Rice said she did so because of a "threat spike" in U.S. intelligence. While the intelligence suggested al Qaeda attacks in the Persian Gulf region or Israel, Rice said she and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card decided to ask Clarke to take some precautions domestically.

Clarke testified Wednesday that the administration did little in the spring and summer of 2001 to prepare for possible attacks in the United States. To rebut that charge, Rice released unclassified portions of an e-mail Clarke sent to her on September 15, 2001, four days after the attacks.

"When the era of national unity cracks in the near future, it is possible that some will start asking questions like did the White House do a good job of making sure that intelligence about terrorist threats got to FAA and other domestic law enforcement authorities," Clark wrote.

He then went on to detail the steps he said were taken to put the nation on a higher alert footing:

  • In late June, an interagency counterterrorism security group, which Clarke chaired, warned of an upcoming "spectacular" al Qaeda attack that would be "qualitatively different."
  • On July 5, representatives of federal law enforcement agencies were summoned for a meeting at which they were warned "that we thought a spectacular al Qaeda terrorist attack was coming in the near future," Clark wrote. Among the agencies represented were the FBI, Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, Customs Service, Coast Guard, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  • "We asked that they take special measures to increase security and surveillance," he wrote.

    Summarizing his thoughts to Rice, Clarke wrote, "Thus, the White House did insure that domestic law enforcement (including FAA) knew that the [counterterrorism security group] believed that a major al Qaeda attack was coming and it could be in the U.S. ... and did ask that special measures be taken."

    Clarke's initials -- "rac" -- are typed at the end of the e-mail.

    Rice told reporters she and Card decided to ask Clarke to take domestic precautions even though "all the intelligence pointed to overseas attacks," including the Persian Gulf region, Israel and at the G-8 summit of major industrialized nations that summer in Genoa, Italy.

    She said administration officials felt, as a precaution, they could not rule out an attack in the United States, but that if Clarke had any specific information suggesting attacks in the United States, "he never communicated that to anyone."

    Rice said she called reporters to her office after Clarke's testimony on Wednesday because "the American people need to have an answer to the scurrilous allegation that somehow the president of the United States was not attentive to the terrorist threat."

    Of Clarke's book, Rice said, "That book is 180 degrees from everything else he said, and you just can't have it both ways."

    Senior administration officials have offered an array of possibilities when asked why Clarke would present such a scathing portrayal of the president and his top aides.

    In an assessment backed by several of Clarke's colleagues in the Clinton administration, he is described by some in the Bush White House as a "my-way-or-the-highway type," who can become irritable and difficult to work with if he does not believe his views are being heeded.

    At the same time, officials in both administrations describe Clarke as extremely dedicated and knowledgeable and said he was among the earliest in government to warn of the mounting cybersecurity threat.

    Several senior Bush administration officials said he made no secret of his displeasure with an operational change in the Bush White House that gave him far less access to the president than he enjoyed in the Clinton White House.

    Clinton preferred his daily intelligence briefing on paper; Bush decided early on to meet almost daily with CIA Director George Tenet and get the briefing in person. Thus, Tenet became the regular conduit of intelligence to the president.

    But Rice said her deputies were all told that if they believed they had information that warranted a direct briefing to the president, they should tell her. Clarke asked once, and the briefing he delivered was on cybersecurity, she said.

    A senior official also said Rice twice complained directly to Clarke about his rare appearances at her senior staff meetings. In one e-mail, Clarke responded he was "too busy" and that after he missed another meeting Rice responded that he would have a "problem" if he did not start attending.

    Rice said Clarke did once mention in an early 2001 memo the possibility of al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States. But she said he made "no recommendation about what to do about them."

    In his testimony, Clarke also referred to information about possible al Qaeda activity in the United States that the Clinton administration learned in thwarting so-called "millennium" plots around January 1, 2000.

    Rice said the Clinton administration prepared a detailed "after action" report on its activities, but incoming Bush administration officials were not briefed on its findings during the presidential transition. She also said Clarke did not mention it in a January 25, 2001, memo offering recommendations on dealing with al Qaeda overseas.

    Rice said the Bush administration became aware of the report on September 17, 2001 -- nearly a week after the attacks.

    Rice also responded angrily to Clarke's characterization in his book, that, when he first briefed Rice on al Qaeda, she appeared to him to be unfamiliar with the terrorist network.

    "Arrogance at its extreme," she said of that suggestion. "I'd heard of a few things before I met Dick Clarke."

    Rice was a specialist on Soviet affairs in the first Bush administration and continued writing and lecturing on international affairs while at Stanford University during the Clinton presidency.


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