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April 1, 2004

Condi's Contradictions


by Paul Sperry

"He needs to get his story straight," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says of her whistleblowing former aide Richard Clarke.

Oh, he does?

Rice's contradictory statements about what the White House knew or didn't know, did or didn't do, before 9-11 are legion. And much of what she's told the media is at odds with not just Clarke's sworn testimony, but also that of CIA Director George Tenet and other officials.

In his testimony before the 9-11 Commission last week, Tenet said, "In August 2001, we warned about (Osama) bin Laden's desire to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. homeland." (Emphasis added.) He was referring to a key briefing the CIA gave President Bush one month before the 9-11 attacks.

Yet the two-page briefing, which the White House still refuses to turn over to the commission, was described by Rice in a May 16, 2002, White House press conference as merely an "analytical report."

"On Aug. 6, the president received a presidential daily briefing, which was not a warning briefing but an analytical report," Rice told reporters. "I want to reiterate: It's not a warning."

She also claimed "there was nothing really new here," even though we now know from CIA sources the briefing puts "UBL (Usama bin Laden)" and "hijacking" together for the first time.

Despite all her misrepresentations, we're still supposed to just take her word for what's in that Exhibit A classified document – and apparently so are the commissioners. When they questioned her in the White House on Feb. 7, none of them had the classified document or even a summary of it in front of them, and only three had ever laid eyes on any part of it. When Rice finally raises her right hand under the klieg lights later this month, they still won't have the actual document to check her word against.

Here's some more Rice-a-Roni baloney: In that same news conference, she suggested Bush ordered up the special briefing on al-Qaida. Not so, says the CIA. The idea came from Langley.

Now turn to Rice's recent article in the Washington Post, which she penned to control political fallout from Clarke's book.

In it, she maintains that from Day One, she and Bush were all over al-Qaida, and had even planned to "eliminate" the terror group.

"Once in office, we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to 'eliminate' the al-Qaida network," she said on March 22.

Hardly, says Clarke. That was his plan, proposed during the transition, and he swears Rice wanted nothing to do with it until seven months later and only after he and Tenet began warning her of an alarming spike in al-Qaida threats. And even then, she was cool to his ambitious goal of eliminating al-Qaida. In fact, he says she had the language, "eliminate al-Qaida," stripped out of a presidential security directive Clarke helped draft. Only after the 9-11 attacks was the word "eliminate" added back into the directive.

Rice also claims her anti-terror plan included military action against Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. "Our plan called for military options to attack al-Qaida and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets – taking the fight to the enemy where he lived," she wrote in the Post.

But that's more phony Rice-a-Roni. Even Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage couldn't go along with that. Asked about it last week, Armitage testified there were no such military plans before 9-11. And the commission found no Pentagon preparations for Afghan strikes before 9-11.

Defense "Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld did not order the preparation of any new military plans against either al-Qaida or the Taliban before 9-11," states a staff report released by the commission.

The biggest whopper of all, and the one that frosts 9-11 families the most, is Rice's claim after the attacks that no one could have imagined terrorists using planes as missiles to hit buildings.

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that ... they would try to use an airplane as a missile," she said at the May 2002 press conference.

The 9-11 report released by Congress seven months later listed no less than 12 pieces of intelligence to show she was all wet – from the al-Qaida plot uncovered in 1995 to crash a plane into CIA headquarters to another plot uncovered in August 2001 to crash a plane into the U.S. embassy in Nairobi.

But 9-11 intelligence isn't the only thing Rice has fibbed about. Recall how she made public claims about Iraq intelligence she knew to be false. For example, she said it was news to her that the CIA had doubts about Bush's uranium charge before he made it in his State of the Union speech.

But that was before it was revealed her office got two CIA memos, and even a call from Tenet, trying to back the White House off the bogus nuke allegation, which we now know was based on forged documents.

Rice also misrepresented the contents of classified information regarding the alleged Iraqi nuclear threat. Before part of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was declassified, she claimed there were no doubts in the intelligence community about the conclusion Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

In fact, the State Department's intelligence arm strenuously objected to the allegation, and its objection is noted in the first paragraph of the NIE's key judgments.

This should give 9-11 commissioners who haven't seen the controversial Aug. 6 CIA briefing great pause – and even more cause to subpoena it.

Dr. Rice, as she's called, is held up as a respected scholar who would never engage in sleazy politics. She's also cute as a button, with that demure little smile and all. Who could think ill of her?

But darling little Condoleezza is actually kinda sleazy. Hopefully the 9-11 commission can steam some truth out of her now that she'll be giving answers under penalty of perjury.

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Sperry, formerly Washington bureau chief of Investors Business Daily, is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003).

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