Tenet told 9/11 panel that he warned Rice of Al Qaeda
Former CIA head said she took threat seriously
WASHINGTON -- Former CIA director George Tenet told the 9/11 Commission that he had warned of an imminent threat from Al Qaeda in a July 2001 meeting with Condoleezza Rice, adding that he believed Rice took the warning seriously, according to a transcript of the interview and the recollection of a commissioner who was there.
Tenet's statements to the commission in January 2004 confirm the outlines of an event in a new book by Bob Woodward,
Rice angrily rejected those assertions yesterday, saying that it was ``incomprehensible" that she would have ignored such explicit intelligence from senior CIA officials and that she received no warning at the meeting of an attack within the United States.
Rice acknowledged that the White House was receiving a ``steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks" during that period, but said the targets were assumed to be in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, and Jordan.
``What I am quite certain of, however, is that I would remember if I was told -- as this account apparently says -- that there was about to be an attack in the United States," Rice said. ``The idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible."
The meeting has become the focus of a fierce and often confusing round of finger-pointing involving Rice, the White House, and the 9/11 Commission, all of whom dispatched staffers to the National Archives and other locations yesterday in attempts to sort out what had occurred.
Members of the commission, an independent bipartisan panel created by Congress to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, have said for days that they were not told about the July 10 meeting and were angry at being left out. As recently as yesterday afternoon, both commission chairman Thomas H. Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton said they believed the panel had not been told about the July 10 meeting.
But it turns out that the panel was, in fact, told about the meeting, according to the interview transcript and Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste, who sat in on the interview with Tenet. The meeting was not identified by the July 10 date in the commission's best-selling report.
Rice added to the confusion yesterday by strongly suggesting that the meeting may never have occurred at all, even though administration officials had conceded for several days that it had. A State Department spokesman said later that while the meeting definitely happened, Rice and Tenet disputed Woodward's characterization of her response.
``The briefing was a summary of the threat reporting from the previous weeks," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters traveling with Rice in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. ``There was nothing new."
Despite this, McCormack said, Rice asked that Tenet provide the same briefing to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-US Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. The two men received it by July 17, he said. McCormack was unable to explain why Rice felt the briefing should be repeated if it did not include new material.
Ashcroft said in an interview yesterday that he was never briefed by Tenet or Black about an imminent domestic threat.
``I didn't get called on by Black or Tenet if they were going around doing such briefings," Ashcroft said.