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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 April, 2004, 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK
Extracts: Rice's opening statement
US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice
Rice: There was no respite in fight against al-Qaeda
Extracts from the opening statement of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to the US commission investigating the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The terrorist threat to our nation did not emerge on September 11, 2001. Long before that day, radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilised world...

The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient... Tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on a war footing.

After President Bush was elected, we were briefed by the Clinton administration on many national security issues... This briefing lasted for about an hour, and it reviewed the Clinton administration's counter-terrorism approach and the various counter-terrorism activities then under way...

Because of these briefings, and because we had watched the rise of al-Qaeda over many years, we understood that the network posed a serious threat to the United States. We wanted to ensure that there was no respite in the fight against al-Qaeda.

On an operational level, therefore, we decided immediately to continue to pursue the Clinton administration's covert action authority and other efforts to fight the network.

No more swatting flies

At the beginning of the administration, President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of central intelligence [DCI] almost every day in the Oval Office... From January 20th through September 10th, the president received at these daily meetings more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaeda... I also met and spoke regularly with the DCI [CIA director George Tenet] about al-Qaeda and terrorism.

Of course, we did have other responsibilities. President Bush had set a broad foreign policy agenda... [But] President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaeda one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies.

This new strategy was... the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration - not Russia, not missile defence, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaeda...

Integrating our counterterrorism and regional strategies was the most difficult part...

America's al-Qaeda policy wasn't working because our Afghanistan policy wasn't working, and our Afghanistan policy wasn't working because our Pakistan policy wasn't working...

Vague threats

The threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. Almost all of the reports focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. In fact, the information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorist operations overseas.

Most often, though, the threat reporting was frustratingly vague. Let me read you some of the actual chatter that was picked up in that spring and summer.

'Unbelievable news coming in weeks,' said one.

'Big event - there will be a very, very, very, very big uproar.'

'There will be attacks in the near future.'

Troubling, yes. But they don't tell us when; they don't tell us where; they don't tell us who; and they don't tell us how.

Throughout the period of heightened threat information, we worked hard on multiple fronts to detect, protect against and disrupt any terrorist plans or operations that might lead to an attack...

Yet, as your hearings have shown, there was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States - something made very difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Sweeping changes

So the attacks came. A band of vicious terrorists tried to decapitate our government, destroy our financial system and break the spirit of America. And as an officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the sorrow and the anger that I felt, nor will I forget the courage and resilience of the American people, nor the leadership of the president that day.

Now we have an opportunity and an obligation to move forward together...

September 11th [has] made possible sweeping changes in the ways we protect our homeland... in a way that is consistent with protecting America's cherished civil liberties and with preserving our character as a free and open society. But the president recognises that our work is far from complete...

We are at war, and our security as a nation depends on winning that war...

Global menace

After the September 11th attacks, our nation faced hard choices. We could fight a narrow war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, or we could fight a broad war against a global menace. We could seek a narrow victory, or we could work for a lasting peace and a better world.

President Bush has chosen the bolder course...

Because we acted in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will never again use weapons of mass destruction against his people or his neighbours, and we have convinced Libya to give up all its weapons of mass destruction-related programs and materials...

This work is hard and it is dangerous, yet it is worthy of our effort and sacrifice.



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