Although then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote a March 22, 2004 column in The Washington Post that "No al-Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration," a newly declassified document [image below the fold] tells the story.
U.S. media haven't got this yet, but Australian papers have:
EIGHT months before the September 11 attacks the White House's then counterterrorism adviser urged then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to hold a high-level meeting on the al-Qaeda network, according to a memo made public today.
"We urgently need such a principals-level review on the al-Qaeda network," ... Richard Clarke wrote in the January 25, 2001 memo.
Mr Clarke, who left the White House in 2003, made headlines in the heat of the US presidential campaign ... when he accused the Bush White House of having ignored al-Qaeda's threats before September 11.
Mr Clarke testified before inquiry panels and in a book that Rice ... had been warned of the threat.
CONDI LIED :: CONDI LIED :: CONDI LIED
Ninth Public Hearing
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Testimony of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice:
MR. BOB KERREY, Committee Member: Well, I think it's an unfortunate figure of speech because I think -- especially after the attack on the Cole on the 12th of August -- October 2000. It would have been a swatting a fly. It would not have been -- we did not need to wait to get a strategic plan. Dick Clarke had in his memo on the 20th of January overt military operations as a -- he turned that memo around in 24 hours, Dr. Clarke. There were a lot of plans in place in the Clinton administration, military plans in the Clinton administration. In fact, just since we're in the mood to declassify stuff, he included in his January 25th memo two appendixes: ...
So I just -- why didn't we respond to the Cole? Why didn't we swat that fly?
MS. RICE: I believe that there is a question of whether or not you respond in a tactical sense or whether you respond in a strategic sense, whether or not you decide that you are going to respond to every attack with minimal use of military force and go after every -- on a kind of tit-for-tat basis. By the way, in that memo, Dick Clarke talks about not doing this tit for tat, doing this on a time of our choosing.
Yes, the Cole had happened. We received, I think, on January 25th the same assessment or roughly the same assessment of who was responsible for the Cole that Sandy Berger talked to you about. It was preliminary. It was not clear. But that was not the reason that we felt that we did not want to, quote, "respond to the Cole."
We knew that the options that had been employed by the Clinton administration had been standoff options. The President had -- meaning missile strikes, or perhaps bombers would have been possible, long-range bombers, although getting in place the apparatus to use long-range bombers is even a matter of whether you have basing in the region.
[WHAT IN THE HELL DOES THIS MEAN?] We knew that Osama bin Laden had been, in something that was provided to me, bragging that he was going to withstand any response, and then he was going to emerge and come out stronger. We --
...We simply believed that the best approach was to put in place a plan that was going to eliminate this threat, not respond to it, tit-for-tat.
MS. RICE: The fact is that what we were presented on January the 25th was a set of ideas -- and a paper, most of which was about what the Clinton administration had done, and something called the Delenda plan, which had been considered in 1998 and never adopted.
We decided to take a different track. We decided to put together a strategic approach to this that would get the regional powers -- the problem wasn't that you didn't have ...
In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on January 25th, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them. ...
From The National Security Archive, a number of salient quotes:
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 147
Edited by Barbara Elias
February 10, 2005
Washington, D.C., February 10, 2005 - The National Security Archive today posted the widely-debated, but previously unavailable, January 25, 2001, memo from counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice - the first terrorism strategy paper of the Bush administration. The document was central to debates in the 9/11 hearings over the Bush administration's policies and actions on terrorism before September 11, 2001. Clarke's memo requests an immediate meeting of the National Security Council's Principals Committee to discuss broad strategies for combating al-Qaeda by giving counterterrorism aid to the Northern Alliance and Uzbekistan, expanding the counterterrorism budget and responding to the U.S.S. Cole attack. Despite Clarke's request, there was no Principals Committee meeting on al-Qaeda until September 4, 2001.
The January 25, 2001, memo, recently released to the National Security Archive by the National Security Council, bears a declassification stamp of April 7, 2004, one day prior to Rice's testimony before the 9/11 Commission on April 8, 2004. Responding to claims that she ignored the al-Qaeda threat before September 11, Rice stated in a March 22, 2004 Washington Post op-ed, "No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration."
Two days after Rice's March 22 op-ed, Clarke told the 9/11 Commission, "there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options -- but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February."
Also attached to the original Clarke memo are two Clinton-era documents relating to al-Qaeda. The first, "Tab A December 2000 Paper: Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al-Qida: Status and Prospects," was released to the National Security Archive along with the Clarke memo. "Tab B, September 1998 Paper: Pol-Mil Plan for al-Qida," also known as the Delenda Plan, was attached to the original memo, but was not released to the Archive and remains under request with the National Security Council.
Below are additional references to the January 25, 2001, memo from congressional debates and the 9/11 Commission testimonies of Richard Clarke and Condoleezza Rice. The National Security Archive
Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission:
TIMOTHY ROEMER, Commission Member: On January 25th, we've seen a memo that you've written to Dr. Rice urgently asking for a principals' review of Al Qaida. You include helping the Northern Alliance, covert aid, significant new '02 budget authority to help fight Al Qaida and a response to the USS Cole. You attach to this document both the Delenda Plan of 1998 and a strategy paper from December 2000.
Do you get a response to this urgent request for a principals meeting on these? And how does this affect your time frame for dealing with these important issues?
CLARKE: I did get a response, and the response was that in the Bush administration I should, and my committee, counterterrorism security group, should report to the deputies committee, which is a sub-Cabinet level committee, and not to the principals and that, therefore, it was inappropriate for me to be asking for a principals' meeting. Instead, there would be a deputies meeting.
ROEMER: So does this slow the process down to go to the deputies rather than to the principals or a small group as you had previously done?
CLARKE: It slowed it down enormously, by months. First of all, the deputies committee didn't meet urgently in January or February. Then when the deputies committee did meet, it took the issue of Al Qaida as part of a cluster of policy issues. ...
ROEMER: You then wrote a memo on September 4th to Dr. Rice expressing some of these frustrations several months later, if you say the time frame is May or June when you decided to resign. A memo comes out that we have seen on September the 4th. You are blunt in blasting DOD for not willingly using the force and the power. You blast the CIA for blocking Predator. You urge policy-makers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home or abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on September the 4th, seven days before September 11th.
CLARKE: That's right.
ROEMER: What else could have been done, Mr. Clarke?
CLARKE: Well, all of the things that we recommended in the plan or strategy -- there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options -- but all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February.
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Having served on the joint inquiry, the only person of this 9/11 panel to have served on the inquiry, I can say in open session to some of Mr. Fielding's inquiries that as the joint inquiry asked for information on the National Security Council and we requested that the National Security Adviser Dr. Rice come before the joint inquiry and answer those questions. She refused. And she didn't come. She didn't come before the 9/11 commission. And when we asked for some questions to be answered, Mr. Hadley answered those questions in a written form. So I think part of the answer might be that we didn't have access to the January 25th memo. We didn't have access to the September 4th memo. We didn't have access to many of the documents and the e-mails. We're not only talking about Mr. Clarke being before the 9/11 commission for more than 15 hours, but I think in talking to the staff, we have hundreds of documents and e-mails that we didn't previously have, which hopefully informs us to ask Mr. Clarke and ask Dr. Rice the tough questions. The National Security Archive
The slings and arrows of the GOP towards Richard Clarke:
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [DOCID:cr25mr04-92]
Excerpt from the Senate floor on March 26, 2004, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY):
Also in this August 2002 interview, Clarke noted the Bush administration, in mid-January of 2001--before the 9/11 attack--decided to do two things to respond to the threat of terrorism: "One, to vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all the lethal covert action finds which we have now made public, to some extent; the second thing the administration decided to do was to initiate a process . ...''
In other words, what Clarke was saying in 2002 to members of the press was that the Bush administration's response to the war on terror was much more aggressive than it was under the Clinton years.
Now he is singing an entirely different tune. This is a man who lacks credibility. ... he has a grudge of some sort against the Bush administration. If he was unable to develop a more robust response during the Clinton years, he would only be able to blame himself. ... How could the Bush administration be to blame in 8 months for the previous administration's failure over 8 years to truly declare war on al-Qaida?
The National Security Archive
See also: Kos's diary today: Politics ahead of national security: The 9-11 Commission writes a report detailing security lapses in the runup to 9-11.