Rashomon at the White House


It was old hat, implied Condoleezza Rice ? sorry Doctor Rice ? in her testimony this week before a panel investigating the 9/11 attacks, describing warnings of an Al-Qaeda attack in the U.S. in the now famous August 6, 2001, presidential daily brief. Now the White House has declassified the brief, and the struggle is on to interpret whether the administration was asleep ? the good doctor snoring loudest.

While the brief does open with several paragraphs confirming it was, partly, what Rice somewhat flippantly referred to as a ?historical? account (as if a past aspiration could never be transformed into present action), it does close with two damning passages:

Nevertheless, F.B.I. information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

The F.B.I. is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the U.S. that it considers bin Laden-related. C.I.A. and the F.B.I. are investigating a call to our embassy in the U.A.E. in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives.

The word ?recent?, the reference to a call in the U.A.E. in May 2001 warning of a planned attack, and the fact that the F.B.I. was conducting 70 full field investigations, suggest at the very least that the administration should have been more alert in prompting the bureaucracy ? a bureaucracy that Rice herself admitted could often act as an impediment. Nor does the document corroborate Rice?s statement this week that the administration did not know where an attack might occur. It very clearly is a warning of an attack in the United States.

How did the National Security Council react to this? N.S.C. spokesman Sean McCormack said: ?Since there was no threat reporting, no new action was required.?

However, even a cursory reading of the presidential brief shows that riposte to be absolute nonsense.