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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 00:48 GMT
Day Two: 9/11 commission extracts
Extracts from the second day of testimony given by senior US politicians to the commission investigating the 11 September 2001 attacks on America.


Richard Clarke, former White House security expert:

I welcome this as a forum where I can apologise to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11.

Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you... For that failure, I would ask... for your understanding and forgiveness...

Fighting terrorism in general and al-Qaeda in particular were extraordinarily high priorities [for the Clinton presidency] - equal in importance to the Middle East peace process...

Richard Clarke
The trouble is when you act on threats before they happen, people think you are nuts

I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terror an important issue, but not an urgent one.

I continued to say it was an urgent problem, but it was not treated in that way...

After the attack on the USS Cole, I suggested we bomb Taleban infrastructure. Whether or not it would it would succeed in killing Osama Bin Laden was not the issue.

The response in the Bush administration was that it was inappropriate for me to be asking for a principles meeting.

[They] took the issue of al-Qaeda as part of a cluster of policy issues, including nuclear proliferation in South Asia.

If the administration doesn't believe its national co-ordinator when he says there is an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job...

President Bush was told dozens of times that there was an urgent threat... On one of those occasions he asked for a strategy.

[National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice relayed the president's request. I said we had this strategy ready. She said she would look into it.

Her looking into it didn't change the pace [of progress]...

I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terror an important issue, but not an urgent one
[On policy] I dealt directly with the national security adviser in the Clinton administration. But I was told policy development in terms of terrorism was best done with the deputy NSA in this administration...

I hope this commission can change the way we act on threats... before they happen. The trouble is when you act on threats before they happen, people think you are nuts...

By invading Iraq, the US president has greatly undermined the war on terrorism...

The Saudi Arabian government did not co-operate with us prior to 9/11 - indeed not until the bombings in Riyadh.

In the days following 9/11, we were making lots of decisions... Someone brought to that group a proposal that we authorise a request from the Saudi embassy [for some Saudi nationals to be evacuated from the US].

There were even Saudi nationals in the US who were part of the Bin Laden family - a very large family.

The request came to me - I refused to approve it. I suggested it went to the FBI - they check the names on the list and approve it.

The FBI then approved... the flight.


George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency

The principal method [for communicating intelligence to President Clinton] was the daily briefing, through the National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger...

George Tenet
The terrorist is a smart operational animal
George Tenet

In periods of high threat... we met with [President Clinton] directly.

The principal difference [with the Bush administration] was that I would see the president every day for the daily briefing. This president wanted face-to-face contact... It would get your adrenalin flowing early in the morning...

Bin Laden and al-Qaeda became an agenda early with the NSA and president...

I don't believe there was [any predictable intelligence against Osama Bin Laden] in 2001.

Decapitating one person - even Osama Bin Laden - would not have stopped the [11 September] plot. The plotline was already off and running... The plot was well on its way.

There were several complicating factors [behind why a strike was called off]... Was Osama Bin Laden in the camp or not?... And you might have wiped out half the royal family of the United Arab Emirates in the process...

The most important systemic lesson from all this, is that for a period in the '90s, we raced from threat to threat.

But... the country was not systemically protected, because there was not a system in place saying: "You gotta go back and do this and this and this".

The data was not specific enough to let us conclude the attacks would take place in the US... only that there was a threat to US interests, particularly in the Middle East.


Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state

True justice will only come when terrorism ends...

I don't think we had the imagination required to envisage such an attack [as that of 11 September 2001]. We didn't have a homeland security tsar - unfortunately we've always looked overseas [when assessing the terrorist threat]...

Richard Armitage testifies to the commission on Wednesday
We didn't have the imagination to envisage such an attack
Richard Armitage
Even if you're on the right track, you can still get run over. There were a lot of complex issues, and we thought we were trying to get round all of them and not pieces of them...

[On trying to hit al-Qaeda before the attacks of 11 September] Getting arms to the Northern Alliance [in Afghanistan] wasn't difficult - but it was making sure we wouldn't be embarrassed. Not easy. The fact is, it's difficult. It's not like falling off a log...

I was frustrated in office by the time it takes to fashion a policy. I think we need fewer meetings, not more...

Nobody has been satisfied with [Saudi Arabia's co-operation]. Occasionally there's real trouble in it - severe differences of agreement... We had a lot of problems until May 12 [2003, when 34 people died in a series of bombings in Riyadh] when the scales fell from their eyes...

When we came into the administration, I found a State Department that had been neglected for 12 years - in terms of management, budget, and almost everything else...

[After 11 September 2001] there was no question in our mind that Afghanistan was where we had to go... but I don't think it was unreasonable to speculate on how much interaction al-Qaeda might have had with Iraq.

[Asked whether Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld advocated an attack on Iraq in the days after 11 September] I don't have that separate knowledge. We've had debates about... when and how to strike Iraq, but in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 everyone fell into line [on the need to attack Afghanistan].


Samuel "Sandy" Berger, national security adviser in the Clinton administration

Samuel
This country was not ready to invade Afghanistan before 9/11
Sandy Berger
We gave the CIA every inch of authorisation that it asked for [to kill Osama Bin Laden].

If there was any confusion down the ranks, it was never communicated to me nor to the president and if any additional authority had been requested I am convinced it would have been given immediately...

There could not have been any doubt about what President Clinton's intent was after he fired 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Bin Laden in August 1998. I assure you, they were not delivering an arrest warrant. The intent was to kill Bin Laden.

The only way to kill Bin Laden would have been to invade Afghanistan... I do not believe - before 11 September - that either US citizens or the world community would have supported the Afghanistan invasion...

I wanted to conveyed the message of urgency to [Condoleezza Rice]... The number one issue you are going to be dealing with is terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular...

[There was] no intelligence which drew our attention to [planes being used as missiles] as [being] any more likely than truck bombs.



WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Ian Pannell
"The commission's verdict will be important for the president's prospects"



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