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Condoleezza Rice’s Credibility Problems

[ Condoleezza Rice's claims about issues pertaining to the Administration's alleged attention to the al Qaeda threat prior to 9/11 have not only contradicted chief counterterrorism official Richard Clarke’s claims, but also Vice President Cheney's, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's, Acting President G.W. Bush's, and even her own previous statements. A public that cares about truth should see this as indicative of a wider pattern of very serious lies. The two articles below originally appeared together on the truthout.org website. –doclalor ]

In Rush to Defend White House, Rice Trips Over Own Words

The Washington Post, 26 March 2004

by Walter Picus & Dana Milbank

  Washington — This week's testimony and media blitz by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke has returned unwanted attention to his former boss, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

  The refusal by President Bush's top security aide to testify publicly before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks elicited rebukes by commission members as they held open hearings this week. Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor Bush named to be chairman of the commission, said: “I think this administration shot itself in the foot by not letting her testify in public.”

  At the same time, some of Rice's rebuttals of Clarke's broadside against Bush, which she delivered in a flurry of media interviews and statements rather than in testimony, contradicted other administration officials and her own previous statements.

  Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage contradicted Rice's claim that the White House had a strategy before Sept. 11 for military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The CIA contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist threats. And Rice's assertion this week that Bush had told her on Sept. 16, 2001, that “Iraq is to the side” appeared to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.

  Rice, in turn, has contradicted Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Clarke was “out of the loop” and his intimation that Clarke had been demoted. Rice has also given various conflicting accounts. She criticized Clarke for being the architect of failed Clinton administration policies, but also said she had retained Clarke so the Bush administration could continue to pursue Clinton's terrorism policies.

  National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack defended many of Rice's assertions, saying that she had been more consistent than Clarke.

  Rice so far has refused to provide testimony under oath to the commission that could possibly resolve the contradictions. Wednesday night, she told reporters, “I would like nothing better in a sense than to be able to go up and do this, but I have a responsibility to maintain what is a long-standing constitutional separation between the executive and the legislative branch.”

  The White House, reacting to the public relations difficulties caused by the refusal to allow Rice's testimony, asked the commission Thursday to give Rice another opportunity to speak privately with panel members to address “mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice's statements and positions.”

  Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste disclosed this week that Rice had asked, in her private meetings with the commission, to revise a statement she made publicly that “I don't think anybody could have predicted that those people could have taken an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center … that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” Rice told the commission that she had misspoken; the commission has received information that prior to Sept. 11, U.S. intelligence agencies, and Clarke, had talked about terrorists using airplanes as missiles.

  In an op-ed essay Monday in the Washington Post, Rice wrote that “through the spring and summer of 2001, the national security team developed a strategy to eliminate” al Qaeda that included “sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime” including the use of ground forces.

  But Armitage, testifying this week as the White House representative, said the military part was not in the plan before Sept. 11. “I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11,” he said. McCormack said Rice's statement was accurate because the team had discussed including orders for such military plans to be drawn up.

  In the same article, Rice belittled Clarke's proposals by writing: “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.” Rice asserted that while Clarke and others provided ideas, “No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.” That same day, she said most of Clarke's ideas “had been already tried or rejected in the Clinton administration.”

  But in her interview with NBC two days later, Rice appeared to take a different view of Clarke's proposals. “He sent us a set of ideas that would perhaps help to roll back al Qaeda over a three- to five-year period; we acted on those ideas very quickly. And what's very interesting is that … Dick Clarke now says that we ignored his ideas, or we didn't follow them up.”

  Asked about this apparent discrepancy, McCormack pointed a reporter to a Clarke background briefing in 2002 in which the then-White House aide was defending the president's efforts in fighting terrorism.


Condoleezza Rice's Credibility Gap
The Center for American Progress, 26 March 2004

A point-by-point analysis of how one of America's top national security officials has a severe problem with the truth.

  Pre-9/11 Intelligence

CLAIM: “I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 5/16/02

FACT: On August 6, 2001, the President personally “received a one-and-a-half page briefing advising him that Osama bin Laden was capable of a major strike against the US, and that the plot could include the hijacking of an American airplane.” In July 2001, the Administration was also told that terrorists had explored using airplanes as missiles. [Source: NBC, 9/10/02; LA Times, 9/27/01]CLAIM: In May 2002, Rice held a press conference to defend the Administration from new revelations that the President had been explicitly warned about an al Qaeda threat to airlines in August 2001. She “suggested that Bush had requested the briefing because of his keen concern about elevated terrorist threat levels that summer.” [Source: Washington Post, 3/25/04]

FACT: According to the CIA, the briefing “was not requested by President Bush.” As commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste disclosed, “the CIA informed the panel that the author of the briefing does not recall such a request from Bush and that the idea to compile the briefing came from within the CIA.” [Source: Washington Post, 3/25/04]CLAIM: “In June and July when the threat spikes were so high — we were at battle stations.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: “Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's 'Strategic Plan' from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism 'the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area.'” Meanwhile, the Bush Administration decided to terminate “a highly classified program to monitor Al Qaeda suspects in the United States.” [Source: Washington Post, 3/22/04; Newsweek, 3/21/04]CLAIM: “The fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: President Bush and Vice President Cheney's counterterrorism task force, which was created in May, never convened one single meeting. The President himself admitted that “I didn't feel the sense of urgency” about terrorism before 9/11. [Source: Washington Post, 1/20/02; Bob Woodward's “Bush at War”]CLAIM: “Our [pre-9/11 NSPD] 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.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: 9/11 Commissioner Gorelick: “There is nothing in the NSPD that came out that we could find that had an invasion plan, a military plan.” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage: “Right.” Gorelick: “Is it true, as Dr. Rice said, 'Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership'?” Armitage: “No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11.” [Source: 9/11 Commission testimony, 3/24/04]

Condi Rice on Pre-9/11 Counterterrorism Funding

CLAIM: “The president increased counterterrorism funding several-fold” before 9/11. – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/24/04

FACT: According to internal government documents, the first full Bush budget for FY2003 “did not endorse F.B.I. requests for $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, 200 intelligence analysts and 54 additional translators” and “proposed a $65 million cut for the program that gives state and local counterterrorism grants.” Newsweek noted the Administration “vetoed a request to divert $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism.” [Source: New York Times, 2/28/04; Newsweek, 5/27/02]

Richard Clarke's Concerns

CLAIM: “Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked “urgent” asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says “principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat.” No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11. [Source: CBS 60 Minutes, 3/24/04; White House Press Release, 3/21/04CLAIM: “No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: “On January 25th, 2001, Clarke forwarded his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 Delenda plan to the new national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.” – 9/11 Commission staff report, 3/24/04

Response to 9/11

CLAIM: “The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: “In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks.” [Source: Washington Post, 3/22/04]

9/11 and Iraq Invasion Plans

   CLAIM: “Not a single National Security Council principal at that meeting recommended to the president going after Iraq. The president thought about it. The next day he told me Iraq is to the side.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: According to the Washington Post, “six days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush signed a 2-and-a-half-page document marked 'TOP SECRET'” that “directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.” This is corroborated by a CBS News, which reported on 9/4/02 that five hours after the 9/11 attacks, “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq.” [Source: Washington Post, 1/12/03. CBS News, 9/4/02]

Iraq and WMD

CLAIM: “It's not as if anybody believes that Saddam Hussein was without weapons of mass destruction.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/18/04

FACT: The Bush Administration's top weapons inspector David Kay “resigned his post in January, saying he did not believe banned stockpiles existed before the invasion” and has urged the Bush Administration to “come clean” about misleading America about the WMD threat. [Source: Chicago Tribune, 3/24/04; UK Guardian, 3/3/04]

9/11-al Qaeda-Iraq Link

CLAIM: “The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.” – National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: If this is true, then why did the President and Vice President repeatedly claim Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11? President Bush sent a letter to Congress on 3/19/03 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against “nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11.” Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on 9/14/03 that “It is not surprising that people make that connection” between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said “we don't know” if there is a connection. [Source: BBC, 9/14/03]

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