9/11: For The Record
By Condoleezza Rice March 22, 2004
The al Qaeda terrorist network posed a threat to the United States for almost a decade before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Throughout that period -- during the eight years of the Clinton administration and the first eight months of the Bush administration prior to Sept. 11 -- the U.S. government worked hard to counter the al Qaeda threat.
During the transition,
President-elect Bush's national security team
was briefed on the Clinton administration's efforts to deal with al
Qaeda. The seriousness of the threat was well understood by the
president and his national security principals. In response
request for a presidential initiative, the counterterrorism team, which
we had held over from the Clinton administration, suggested several
ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been
adopted. No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new
adopted several of these ideas. We committed more funding to
counterterrorism and intelligence efforts. We increased efforts
after al Qaeda's finances. We increased American support for
anti-terror activities in Uzbekistan.
We pushed hard to arm the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle so we could target terrorists with greater precision. But the Predator was designed to conduct surveillance, not carry weapons. Arming it presented many technical challenges and required extensive testing. Military and intelligence officials agreed that the armed Predator was simply not ready for deployment before the fall of 2001. In any case, the Predator was not a silver bullet that could have destroyed al Qaeda or stopped Sept. 11.
also considered a modest spring 2001 increase in funding for the
Northern Alliance. At that time, the Northern Alliance was
going to sweep across Afghanistan and dispose of al Qaeda. It had
battered by defeat and held less than 10 percent of the country. Only
the addition of American air power, with U.S. special forces and
intelligence officers on the ground, allowed the Northern Alliance its
historic military advances in late 2001. We folded this
idea into our
broader strategy of arming tribes throughout Afghanistan to defeat the
Let us be clear. Even their most ardent advocates did not contend that these ideas, even taken together, would have destroyed al Qaeda. We judged that the collection of ideas presented to us were insufficient for the strategy President Bush sought. The president wanted more than a laundry list of ideas simply to contain al Qaeda or "roll back" the threat. Once in office, we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to "eliminate" the al Qaeda network. The president wanted more than occasional, retaliatory cruise missile strikes. He told me he was "tired of swatting flies."
Through the spring and summer of 2001, the national security team developed a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda -- which was expected to take years. Our strategy marshaled all elements of national power to take down the network, not just respond to individual attacks with law enforcement measures. Our plan called for military options to attack al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets -- taking the fight to the enemy where he lived. It focused on the crucial link between al Qaeda and the Taliban. We would attempt to compel the Taliban to stop giving al Qaeda sanctuary -- and if it refused, we would have sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime. The strategy focused on the key role of Pakistan in this effort and the need to get Pakistan to drop its support of the Taliban. This became the first major foreign-policy strategy document of the Bush administration -- not Iraq, not the ABM Treaty, but eliminating al Qaeda.
Before Sept. 11, we closely monitored threats to our nation. President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of the CIA every day -- meetings that I attended. And I personally met with George Tenet regularly and frequently reviewed aspects of the counterterror effort.
Through the summer increasing intelligence "chatter" focused almost exclusively on potential attacks overseas. Nonetheless, we asked for any indication of domestic threats and directed our counterterrorism team to coordinate with domestic agencies to adopt protective measures. The FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration alerted airlines, airports and local authorities, warning of potential attacks on Americans.
Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free U.S.-held terrorists. The FAA even issued a warning to airlines and aviation security personnel that "the potential for a terrorist operation, such as an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States, remains a concern."
We now know that the real threat
been in the United States since at least 1999. The plot to
York and Washington had been hatching for nearly two years.
to the FBI, by June 2001 16 of the 19 hijackers were already
if we had known exactly where Osama bin Laden was, and the armed
Predator had been available to strike him, the Sept. 11 hijackers
almost certainly would have carried out their plan. So, too, if
Northern Alliance had somehow managed to topple the Taliban, the Sept.
11 hijackers were here in America -- not in Afghanistan.
Bush has acted swiftly to unify and streamline our efforts to secure
the American homeland. He has transformed the FBI into an
dedicated to catching terrorists and preventing future attacks.
president and Congress, through the USA Patriot Act, have broken down
the legal and bureaucratic walls that prior to Sept. 11 hampered
intelligence and law enforcement agencies from collecting and sharing
vital threat information. Those who now argue for rolling
Patriot Act's changes invite us to forget the important lesson we
learned on Sept. 11.
In the immediate aftermath of the
attacks, the president, like all Americans, wanted to know who was
responsible. It would have been irresponsible not to ask a
about all possible links, including to Iraq -- a nation that had
supported terrorism and had tried to kill a former president.
advised that there was no evidence that Iraq was responsible for Sept.
11, the president told his National Security Council on Sept. 17 that
Iraq was not on the agenda and that the initial U.S. response to Sept.
11 would be to target al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Because of President Bush's vision and leadership, our nation is safer. We have won battles in the war on terror, but the war is far from over. However long it takes, this great nation will prevail.
The writer is the national security adviser.