15 questions for Condoleezza Rice

Posted in United States | 08-Apr-04 | Author: Peter Bergen and Scott Armstro| Source: International Herald Tribune

For the Sept. 11 Commission

On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's national security adviser, is scheduled to testify under oath before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Two people with expertise in terrorism and national security were invited to suggest questions for Rice.

By Peter Bergen

1. A search of all your public statements and writings reveals that you apparently mentioned Osama bin Laden only once and never mentioned Al Qaeda at all as a threat to the United States before Sept. 11. Why?

2. Both Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War" and Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" show that shortly after Sept. 11 there was considerable focus by the Bush cabinet on the possibility that Iraq was the perpetrator of the attacks. Why was Iraq considered a suspect when there was no evidence that it was involved in any act of anti-American terrorism for a decade - other than a failed attempt to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in 1993 - while there was overwhelming evidence that it was the Al Qaeda network that attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, tried to blow up Los Angeles International Airport in 1999, blew up American embassies in Africa in 1998 and attacked the destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000? After all, the cabinet did not discuss the possibility that the attacks were the work of Iran, Libya or Syria, all countries that have a history of terrorism directed at Americans.

3. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, has said that of the 100 or so meetings held by cabinet-level officials before Sept. 11 only one was about terrorism. Is this true? If so, was this emblematic of the Bush administration's posture on terrorism?

4. The Bush administration's position, and your own, has been that it would not have been possible to conceive that planes might be used as missiles against the United States. Yet during the 1996 Olympics, countermeasures were taken for just that eventuality. How do you reconcile this discrepancy?

5. According to the interrogations of detainees held as suspected Al Qaeda operatives, the lack of response to the attack on the destroyer Cole made the group feel that it could act with impunity. Early in your administration Al Qaeda was identified as the principal suspect in that attack. In addition, Osama bin Laden released videotapes in January and June of 2001 more or less taking credit for his role in it. Why was there no response of any kind from your administration to the Cole attack, an act of war against the United States that killed 17 sailors and nearly sank one of the most advanced destroyers in the American fleet?

6. On Aug. 6, 2001, President Bush was briefed that members of Al Qaeda might plan to hijack a plane in order to secure the release of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a spiritual leader of Al Qaeda jailed in the United States. Given what you now know of the importance of Sheik Rahman to Al Qaeda - as well as the fact that two of his sons played key roles in the group - how would you now characterize this piece of intelligence?

7. Why did you have no plan in place on Sept. 11 to immediately attack Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies? The United States government had repeatedly put the Taliban on notice that they would be held responsible for any attacks by Al Qaeda. By delaying the military response for a month, the Taliban and Al Qaeda had time to disperse, regroup and fight another day.

8. When you came into office, some two dozen members of Al Qaeda, including several senior commanders of the group, had already been indicted. What plans did you have to bring these men to justice?

9. Why has there been no public apology or resignation by any Bush administration official over the most catastrophic intelligence and national security failure of the past five decades?

Peter Bergen is a fellow of the New America Foundation, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of "Holy War Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."

By Scott Armstrong

1. In his statement on March 24 to the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, said, "In August 1996, bin Laden, in collaboration with radical Muslim clerics associated with his group, issued a religious edict or fatwa in which he proclaimed a 'declaration of war,' authorizing attacks against Western military targets on the Arabian Peninsula."

Two years ago, the joint Congressional committee looking into pre-Sept. 11 intelligence made reference to the participation of Saudi clerics - salifi - in the preparation of additional fatwas issued by Osama bin Laden in 1998 in which he "declared war" against Americans. What's more, the director of the National Security Agency reportedly told a closed session of that committee that on Sept. 10, 2001, his agency intercepted messages by the Sept. 11 hijackers. The messages, which went untranslated until Sept. 12, were reportedly not to Osama bin Laden but to Saudi clerics.

Who, then, planned and executed the Sept. 11 attack beyond Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants? What have the intelligence agencies of the United States and other countries suggested were the reasons, motivations and objectives of these other groups? What has the United States government learned about the participation before and after Sept. 11 by these Saudi clerics? What has been done to halt their support of bin Laden and bring them to justice? What has been done to compel the Saudi government to take action against these forces?

2. Looking back on Sept. 11, were your priorities appropriate for the threat based on what you knew? Did you take the necessary precautions given your perception of the threat at the time? Press reports indicate that before Sept. 11, you believed that the use of ballistic missiles against the United States was our most pressing national security vulnerability. What precautions were taken to ensure that Al Qaeda militants in Kashmir did not provoke a ballistic missile exchange between India and Pakistan?

3. Why was Iraq viewed by the president - and others - as a likely, if not the most likely, perpetrator of Sept. 11?

4. What was the accumulated evidence on Sept. 11 that Iraq was a direct and imminent threat to the United States? How much reliance did our government put on human sources, Iraqi defectors and former Iraqi officials for this intelligence? In retrospect, do you consider these sources to have been credible?

5. The stated purpose of invading Afghanistan was to remove the Taliban and deprive Al Qaeda of its primary sanctuary. There appears to be no evidence that Iraq, before Sept. 11, was a sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Yet Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Yemen and several North African countries have served as havens for them and other anti-American terrorist groups. What steps did we take before or after Sept. 11 to deprive terrorists of these havens? Why do we not have more troops in Afghanistan today to thwart the continued and escalating attacks from the Taliban and Al Qaeda?

6. J. Cofer Black, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, told Congress last week: "Iraq is currently serving as a focal point for foreign jihadist fighters, who are united in a common goal with former regime elements, criminals and more established foreign terrorist organization members to conduct attacks against coalition and Iraqi civilian targets. These jihadists view Iraq as a new training ground to build their extremist credentials and hone the skills of the terrorist."

Has the United States invasion of Iraq played into the hands of anti-American Islamic extremists and made Iraq a breeding ground for terrorism? Leading up to the invasion, what was your plan to avoid an escalation of terrorism from within Iraq?

Scott Armstrong is founder of the National Security Archive and director of the Information Trust.