updated 4/9/2004 11:41:42 AM ET 2004-04-09T15:41:42

Guests: Richard Ben-Veniste, Pat Buchanan, James Thompson, Steve Malzberg, Roland Martin

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Good evening.  There was no smoking gun. 

However, there may a smoldering memo.  Our fifth and fourth stories on the COUNTDOWN tonight:  The testimony of National Security Advisor Dr.  Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 commission.  In particular, a memo, which a National Security Commission source says it is taking hard look at declassifying and making public.  It is the president‘s daily briefing for August 6, 2001.  And according to Dr. Rice, it was entitled “Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States.”  After weeks of wrangling and in the wakes of the explosive testimony of her former colleague, Richard Clarke, Dr. Rice testified for about three hours, this morning.  Unexpectedly, perhaps, she did not contradict nor refute Clarke in almost any significant area.  And, despite its timing and its title, she testified that that August 6 PDB, President‘s Daily Briefing, could not be judged by its cover. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  Let me ask you a general matter beyond the fact that this memorandum provided information not speculative, but based on intelligence information, that bin Laden had threatened to attack the United States and specifically Washington, D.C.  There was nothing reassuring, was there, in that PDB? 

DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR:  Certainly not.  There was nothing reassuring, but I can now also tell you that there was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C. There was nothing in this memo as to time, place, how, or where.  This was not a threat report to the president or a threat report to me. 

The specific threat reporting was about external threats, about the Persian Gulf, about Israel, about, perhaps the Genoa events, and so the light was shining abroad. 

We were continuing to do what the Clinton administration had been doing under all the same authorities that were operating.  George Tenet was continuing to try to disrupt al-Qaeda.  The—we were continuing the diplomatic efforts.  But, we did want to take the time to get in place a policy that was more strategic toward al-Qaeda, more robust. 

We had a structural problem in the United States, and that structural problem was that we did not share domestic and foreign intelligence in a way to make a product for policy makers, for good reasons:  For legal reason, for cultural reasons—a product that depart—that people could depend upon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Dr. Rice‘s discussion of the August 6 memo was provoked by a question from commission member of Richard Ben-Veniste, also a partner in the international law firm of Mayor, Brown, Rowe and Maw, LLD.  He joins us from Washington. 

Mr. Ben-Veniste, thank you once again for your time. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the August 6 PDB, I‘d like to understand why you placed such emphasis on it today and what you thought of Dr. Rice‘s assessment of it. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, the August 6 PDB had been much discussed.  It was classified, yet selective portions have been referred to.  Dr. Rice has characterized that had as a historical reference.  And it would appear, from those of us who had the opportunity to either review it directly or review its substance, that did it update other threat reports, for example the report that a potential hijacking of planes to free the blind sheikh in 1998 would be attempted by al-Qaeda, and bring it up to the summer of 2001 where there were indications of al-Qaeda sleeper cells, of bin Laden‘s repeated statements that he wanted to attack the United States homeland, particularly Washington, D.C., and the information relating to the FBI‘s efforts to track al-Qaeda operatives in the United States.  So, the other information relating to activities that were consistent with planned or potential hijackings of airplanes in the United States really brought it up to the summer of 2001.  So, the question was, along with the title, which was rather provocative...

OLBERMANN:  Indeed. 

BEN-VENISTE:  “Bin Laden determined to attack in the United States”—the question then was posed:  What did the president do after having received this briefing? 

OLBERMANN:  That kind of leads into the point about where was the threat?  Several times in her testimony, Dr. Rice said, in essence, that at no time did the government get threat reporting, as in al-Qaeda is going to attack New York or al-Qaeda is going to attack in September.  Is not the larger point here, relative to the other witnesses, that if there had been such specific threat reporting, that you could find any three people off any street corner in this country and they would have known what to do?  That it was and remains the government‘s job to be able to extrapolate?  To be able to take vague warnings and find out more about what the threat really is? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, that‘s exactly the point, Keith.  Of course they didn‘t have specific information that they then shoved in a drawer somewhere, but they had a lot of information about al-Qaeda‘s intentions.  During the summer of 2001, we had intelligence information reflecting the fact that two al-Qaeda operatives were in the United States—had entered the United States.  We also knew that Moussaoui, who had Jihadist connections in Europe, had tried to learn how to fly a commercial airliner. 

You know, you put these things together, together with Moussaoui‘s

inability to explain where he got the money that was in his bank account;

what he was doing in the United States; what he was thinking of with no

background, trying to steer an airplane and learn the avionics of a

commercial jet, and then—you know, there were things, and let me make a

reference to a 1999 report by the National Intelligence Council.  And this

is only one of more than a dozen reports that were out there, reflecting the potential for using planes as weapons. 

“Suicide bomber belonging to al-Qaeda‘s martyrdom battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of CIA, or the White House.”

I mean, these things had been game—had been thought about.  And today, Dr. Rice at least amended her prior statement which was, “No one could have envisioned the use of air airplanes as weapons.”

OLBERMANN:  Which leads us then into the point about what was the strategy in terms of defending the country.  One of Dr. Rice‘s answers struck with me, and I guess not well.  She said essentially, “Nothing looked like anything was going to happen inside the United States.  The light was shining abroad.” 

But in January of 2001, the terrorism commission co-chaired by Warren Rudman and Gary Hart said there would be—would be a terrorist attack in the U.S.  within, at the most, a few years.  Couldn‘t somebody in government, this administration or the last one or both of them, your commission, perhaps, come before the public and say, “we were mistaken, we were looking at the dynamite factories instead of the lit fuses.  We didn‘t see what was right in front of us?”

BEN-VENISTE:  No, we were looking at the white van, perhaps, using the analogy to the sniper who wreaked so much havoc. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

BEN-VENISTE:  Clearly, Richard Clarke testified, and others were of

the view, that it was entirely possible for the attack, which was supposed

to be spectacular, to occur within the United States.  After all, we know

that by 2001, we knew that the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the

bombing, was sponsored by al-Qaeda.  We knew that in the millennium, late

2000, there was an al-Qaeda sponsored attempt to blow up Los Angeles

International Airport.  We rolled up two other operations during the

millennium threat, one in Brooklyn and one in Boston.  We knew there were

sleeper cell in the United States.  In fact, the PDB made reference to the

fact that there were many al-Qaeda operatives in the United States and they

were behaving in a way that was consistent with the possibility of

hijacking aircraft, and that was the August 6 PDB

OLBERMANN:  Final question, the idea that a house divided cannot stand.  Repeatedly Dr. Rice talked about impediments and obstacles—legal obstacles that would deep left hand of the CIA from knowing what the right hand of the FBI was doing on counter-terror. 

I didn‘t hear any commissioners saying, “Yeah Dr. Rice, but when John Deutsch was the head of the CIA, he had representatives of the FBI who were stationed permanently in the CIA counter-terrorist center at CIA headquarters in Langley and said, ‘we have to share this information.‘” Dr.  Rice left the impression that the bureaucracy was impregnable.  Was she not called on it for some reason? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, I only had 12 minutes.  And I think it was not easy to get all my questions answered, frankly.  But, with respect to the endemic problems with respect to CIA, FBI, it‘s quite true, those were problems.  But the only way to have solved those problems, it seem to us, is with leadership.  Someone had to bang heads together to get the FBI to talk to the CIA, the CIA to talk to the FBI.  We weren‘t really dealing with issues that precluded rolling up the two individuals who were here or sharing the Moussaoui information.  The problem was this information fell into cul-de-sacs, had it be been properly used, effectively used, maybe, just maybe we could have intervened in a way that would have rolled up these plotters. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Ben-Veniste, the member of the bipartisan special commission investigating 9/11.  Thank you again for your time, sir. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  After watching Dr. Rice‘s testimony at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, the president, according to the White House, phoned her from his pickup truck to tell her she did a quote, “great job.”  He then gave a tour of the ranch to some visiting fishermen. 

Others watched.  No groups with more interest than the families of those Americans who were slaughtered 31 months ago next Sunday, and the families who died in theory fighting terror in Iraq.  Watching the testimony with some of them was our correspondent, Roger O‘Neil. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROGER O‘NEIL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He lost a Marine son this week, ambushed by insurgents in Iraq. 

KIRK MORRIS, MARINE SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  It‘s just a lot of pain, a lot of sadness. 

O‘NEIL:  She lost the love of her life on 9/11, ambushed by terrorists in America. 

KRISTIN WILD, LOST PARTNER IN 9/11 ATTACK:  I haven‘t heard from him since he left the house that morning. 

O‘NEIL:  Kirk Morris and Kristin Wild linked by tragedy, but not of like minds.  She listened today and wasn‘t satisfied.  He didn‘t, but is satisfied the Bush administration is not lying about 9/11 or Iraq. 

RICE:  There was no silver bullet that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. 

O‘NEIL:  As she once searched for Michael, who worked on the 92nd floor of One World Trade Center:

WILD:  Most of the numbers, you can‘t even get through on, so now I‘m just left with trying to do the leg work myself, going to all the hospitals. 

O‘NEIL:  Wilde is now searching for the “why.”  And she did not hear an acceptable answer from Condoleezza Rice.  Why the government didn‘t act on all the warning signs it had about a possible attack?

WILD:  I really didn‘t hear a lot of answers. 

O‘NEIL:  The question haunts her, who seems to want more than anything else, a simple, your government didn‘t do enough apology.

WILD:  It‘s about admitting you did something wrong and there‘s something more you could do going forward.  Because, I don‘t think if you learned from your—if you‘re not learning from your mistakes, that‘s an issue. 

O‘NEIL:  The father of the Marine on the other hand, whose pain is just as deep, worries all the second-guessing is aiding the enemy. 

MORRIS:  I understand that this democracy works on politics—you know, everything is political.  But, there are times when you have to look at the greater picture and the large picture of it, and say this is not good. 

O‘NEIL (on camera):  Around the country today, Rice‘s testimony didn‘t seem to change minds, as much as it did solidify opinions. 

(voice-over):  From Portland, clearly not Bush country, this:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it is about time.  I think that they‘ve been hiding behind controlling what‘s said...

O‘NEIL:  But from Memphis:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe what my government does is the right thing, so I don‘t question it. 

O‘NEIL:  And in Florida, at a Tampa fire house, a more reflective viewpoint:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And she just got done saying, “sometime it takes catastrophic events to change things to make things better.”  Unfortunately, it seems like this is one of those things that happened. 

O‘NEIL:  Families who have lost so much, like the rest of the nation, searching for the truth. 

Roger O‘Neil, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Condoleezza Rice on the record, our fifth story.  And we continue with the 9/11 Commission in our fourth story, tonight.  It may have been a bipartisan group, but its consequences are inevitably political.  Pat Buchanan on that part of the story ahead. 

Then later, horrifying images of hostages in Iraq:  Does the kidnapping of foreign missionaries and journalists mark the start of a new military tactic based on an old political one? 

But first, COUNTDOWN‘s “Opening Number,” five figures that shaped this day‘s news.  Tonight‘s theme the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States. 

Eighty:  The number full time employees of the commission, including contractors and detailees. 

They‘ve conducted over 1,100 interviews, in 10 different countries. 

Poured over two point three million pages of documents. 

And spent a budget of $15 million.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Coming up here on COUNTDOWN:  They anticipated political fireworks on the Hill today, it seems that they barely got the heat of a strong sunlamp.  The politics of 9/11 with Pat Buchanan.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Continuing with the COUNTDOWN and continuing with our coverage of the testimony given to the 9/11 Commission this morning by National Security Advisor Rice.  Our fourth story:  The politics of it.  It is a subjective judgment, but it sure seem like the anticipated powder keg never really went off.  I‘m joined by MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan for some assessments. 

Pat, good evening.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC “BUCHANAN AND PRESS”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There were moments of conflict. 

BUCHANAN:  You‘re exactly right.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  There were moments of spin, conflict, certainly, but unless the August 6 memo turns out to be some ignored intelligence or a Billy Mitchell kind of prediction, this does not seem to be very political at all.  Why not?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think Condi Rice did exactly what I thought she would do, Keith, which was go in there, not get in a fight with Clarke, but lay out as powerful a case as she would for the president.  She knew she‘s going to be on the defensive, and she was on that memo, especially title.  But, when you look beyond the title, this is a list of things al-Qaeda has done and the president had asked for the list, apparently.  So I agree with you.  I think when you come down to it, it‘s, are you rooting for the Patriots or are you rooting for the Panthers?  And people said, “Condi Rice did a great job to support the president.”  And others say, “Ben-Veniste did a great job taking her on” who are anti-the president, so I don‘t think much changed. 

OLBERMANN:  About Richard Clarke, there seemed to be few disagreements.  People on both sides of the—of that fence that you just described, seem to feel that they‘re—that you know, they‘re expecting essentially a he-said, she-said.  we didn‘t get that.  Was that strategic?  Was that—is that going to result in a kind of neutralizing of the effect of Richard Clarke‘s testimony of two weeks ago? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it is.  Even Clarke himself recently has said, “it‘s a difference not of fact, but of emphasis,” and I think Condi Rice—you know, says things stronger on the president‘s behalf certainly than Clarke does.  But, there‘s no—I didn‘t see any absolute clash of testimony of fact.  Also, you got to remember, Clarke went up there and apologized because if anybody failed here, he certainly failed.  He had the franchise under Clinton for seven-an-a-half years and for about eight months under the president.  And if Clarke didn‘t get it to the president, and Tenet didn‘t get it to the president, and Freeh didn‘t get it to the president from the FBI, it is hard for me to see how you lay this on the president‘s doorstep. 

OLBERMANN:  Not to make light of the topic or the testimony, but do you suppose, and again we‘re talking from a political point of view here, that Bob Kerry‘s questioning of Condi Rice today, might have been a little more credible if he had been able to remember Dr. Rice‘s name and had not kept, as did he on at least four or five occasions, had not kept calling her, Dr. Clarke. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Keith, look, if you and I did that on a talk show Keith, we could have a laugh about it.  But look, this is a serious matter and the whole country, all they major networks, I understand, and our networks and the others, and there he was misstating her name and nobody remembers the questions he asked.  That‘s all they‘re going to remember.  He was utterly ineffectual and my guess is he‘s having a tough night, tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll call you Tom Braden for the rest of the interview, how about that?

Another kind of politically—that‘s an old CNN joke. 

BUCHANAN:  They call me Pat Robertson in airports. 

OLBERMANN:  How exciting for you.  That‘s another old CNN reference from 20 years ago. 

Another kind of politically deflating thing:  She was not asked about the speech that she was supposed to have given on September 11 itself, at Johns Hopkins, in which, from what the “Washington Post” has of that speech, what people have seen it say, she was going to emphasize missile defense over counter-terrorism which at minimum, the timing of it is just appalling, whether or not the judgment is appalling is something else.  But, did it surprise you that it did not come up somewhere in those three hours this morning? 

BUCHANAN:  Not too much because the democrats were going after really hard stuff.  I mean, they‘re going after the president; they‘re going after 9/11 something serious.  And the very fact that she spoke about missile defense, that 9/11 speech about missile defense was in the middle of a missile defense debate, and what you would have gotten Keith, if you‘d asked her about that, is a very strong statement in support of missile defense, how the north Koreans got—may have nuclear weapons and the Iranians, they have missiles and the Israelis who are afflicted with terror almost every week, have the strongest missile defense in the world, it is a first priority—that‘s what you would have heard, a tremendous defense there, and it wouldn‘t have served the purpose of the opponents of the president who wanted to get other questions at Miss Rice. 

OLBERMANN:  Final thing, big picture.  Not just about her or Clarke or Colin or Albright or anybody.  I‘m sitting there thinking throughout the hearing, in the 10 years before 9/11, where was our guy who would read one of these thousand of memos and say, “holy crap, do something?”

BUCHANAN:  You know, there are these individuals in the bureaucracy who are authentic heroes of the government service who get that—frankly, the people that—I mean, you almost had them in that woman out there, I guess, Colleen Rowley and the folks in Arizona who saw things and said, “Hey, wait a minute,” and tried to drive it through the bureaucracy.  And when you get somebody like that, unfortunately Keith, it‘s usually in a Clancy novel or something like that, and it is all too rare, but anybody who would have done this, quite frankly, if they‘d averted 9/11, they wouldn‘t have been a big a hero as they ought to have been.  I mean if they captured a couple of these guys and aborted that plot, we might never have known their names. 

OLBERMANN:  As we don‘t...

BUCHANAN:  But you‘re right, these are the folks who are the true heroes. 

OLBERMANN:  We don‘t know much about the stopping of the millennium process, there‘s no statue for that customs agent. 

MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, as always sir, many thanks. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  There are two other 9/11 stories, tonight.  After hearing Dr. Rice in the morning, the commission spent three or four hours in closed private sessions, this afternoon, with former President Clinton.  The point of a closed private session is that it‘s closed and private, so details are unavailable, but a commission spokesman says Clinton was, quote, “forthcoming and responsive.”  And Clinton‘s spokesperson says, “The meeting was very constructive.”

And another 9/11 story, not about the investigation, but rather about the day itself.  The self-same Richard Clarke has told “ABC News” that after the attacks, the government and both the so-called “Armageddon Program,” in which as Clarke put it, “Every federal agency was ordered to activate an alternate headquarters outside of Washington and staff it.”  It was the same system designed in the event of nuclear war to keep the government running.  It explains the president‘s return trip to Washington via Nebraska in early 2002.  The “Washington Post” had reported the invoking of the COG Plans that day, Continuity of Government, and it noted startlingly that the program had continued, that government officials, 100 of them at a time, were living for 90 day stretches in underground facilities.  And that congress had never been told about that. 

Coming up next, the much-needed comic relief, the news that‘s about as useful as a skateboarding dog, and as funny.  “Oddball,” next.

Then later:  Why killing the rabbit is all fine and well in a cartoon, but if you whack the Easter Bunny in real life, the kids don‘t see it quite so funny.  That story still ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN, and with more bad news and the offing from Iraq.  Perhaps it‘s more needed than usual tonight, as we offer you the breather that is the day‘s news of the stupid and the incoherent.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

The “Oddball” department has a different set of journalistic standards.  We don‘t know where this tape comes from or when.  It‘s just a dog, not just riding on a skateboard, but getting on it himself with eminent rationing of resources.  All this courtesy of the bounty of odd video that is the Internet.  Please take a few moments to enjoy. 

OK, that‘s enough dog. 

(GROWLING)

With a boulder on my shoulder, feeling kind of older.  Ron Dickman of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, seems to have this rock in the middle of his house.  The ingredients were apparently, always there.  He lives in Colorado, his house is next to a big mountain and he‘s not insured for this kind of stuff.  His time came at 1:30 Tuesday morning when an eight-ton bolder came down the mountainside, but a 10 foot by seven foot hole in the side of his home and then motored past his bedroom and came to rest in the living room atop the recliner. 

Unimportant fun over with, now.  In a moment we have to rejoin the COUNTDOWN on our No. 3 story tonight:  The guerrilla tactics of the Iraqi insurgents meeting an old political staple of the Middle East, kidnapping people from coalition countries and holding them hostage.

Then later, which of these nine justices will you be talking about tomorrow?

But first, COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: Clare Smith of Wales.  Ms. Smith had never used Finish dishwasher detergent tablets until the other day.  She put the gold ball into her machine and thought nothing of it until she saw the commercial on the old telly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  I‘ll tell you what I find remarkable.  One word that hasn‘t been mentioned once today, yet we‘ve talked about structural changes to the FBI and the CIA and cooperation.  And Congress, the Congress has to change the structure of the FBI.  The Congress has to appropriate funds to fight terrorism.  Where was the Congress? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  9/11 commissioner James Thompson earlier today questioning the responsibility of Congress regarding the events of September 11.  President Bush and Vice President Cheney still have to testify before the commission, but they will do so in private.  Former President Clinton testified privately this afternoon in front of the commission.  And the commission has until July 26 to publish its report. 

I‘m now joined by one of the 9/11 commissioners, former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson. 

Governor, thank you for being with us. 

Based on what you heard today, did the U.S. government, with the information it had on hand in the beginning of September 2001 know enough to prevent the attacks of September 11? 

THOMPSON:  No. 

And no witness, not Dr. Rice, not Mr. Clarke, no witness has testified that we could have prevented 9/11.  As sad and tragic as that is, we have not heard any evidence that it could have been prevented. 

NORVILLE:  And yet we have heard evidence that there was enough information that it has become kind of a cliche now—they talk about connecting the dots—that certainly would have led one to look more closely at the domestic aviation system in America, specifically this August 6 PDB that we have heard so much about today makes reference to preparations being made for domestic hijacking. 

THOMPSON:  Well, there‘s no question about that.  And my hope is that the White House will agree with the commission and declassify the August 6 PDB, so the American people can make a judgment on whether it contains warnings or it contains evidence of historical facts. 

But the plain fact is that the dots end at some time.  Did some people in the FBI know that people were taking pilot training lessons?  Did some people know that there were sleepers cells in the United States?  Yes.  But nobody knew, as Dr. Rice testified today, when an attack would take place, whether an attack would take place, how an attack would take place, and where an attack would take place. 

There were more than 4,000 flights in the air that day and we are talking about four flights that were taken over by hijackers.  Nobody knew what day that would happen and nobody knew where it would happen and nobody knew the airlines involved. 

NORVILLE:  Granted.

But you made a very important point when you were questioning Dr.  Rice.  You said, had that information all been channeled into something called Intelink, it is conceivable that some of those pieces could have been put together in perhaps not a complete puzzle, but a section that would have at least given folks some ideas on where to start looking. 

THOMPSON:  Well, look, there‘s no doubt we had a failure of the system. 

For years and years and years, the FBI has been a law enforcement organization which doesn‘t share its information with other agencies.  The CIA has been a foreign intelligence operation which doesn‘t share its information with other agencies.  Director Mueller of the FBI is changing that now.  Congress has to do their part.  The CIA has to do their part.  But none of that could have prevented September 11 in the view of every witness who has testified before us. 

NORVILLE:  Understood.  You also spoke at great length and quite vigorously with Dr. Rice about the failure of the Bush administration to act in retaliation for the bombing of the USS Cole.  And were you satisfied with her answer, the response to why didn‘t the administration respond?  And she said, they didn‘t want to go tit-for-tat, that al Qaeda was waiting for a response and therefore it was best not to make one.  Did that make sense to you?

THOMPSON:  Well, the whole question of the Cole doesn‘t make sense to me.  And I suspect it doesn‘t make sense to the rest of the commission, but they can speak for themselves. 

The Clinton administration, which was in office when the Cole was attacked, did not respond.  The Bush administration came into office after the attack on the Cole.  So you can understand, I suppose, on one level their failure to respond.  And I asked this question...

NORVILLE:  Yes, there was also the election going on, too. 

THOMPSON:  Well, yes, but the Cole was attacked before the election.  And there was a long, drawn-out process two months after the election.  And I‘m not faulting President Clinton for not responding to the Cole attack.  Maybe he didn‘t have enough information on who was liable and maybe there was no good answer to respond without going to war and sending a platoon of troops to Afghanistan.

And I asked Condoleezza Rice what would happen if for example three months after the Bush administration took office another attack had been made on another Navy destroyer, would they have responded?  And she said, we would have preferred a strategic response.  Well, the answer I wanted to hear and I suspect a lot of people wanted to hear was, we would have gone into Afghanistan and blown them up. 

Blowing up a destroyer of the Navy is an act of war.  But that didn‘t happen on the Bush administration watch.  A second destroyer wasn‘t blown up.  And we eventually went into Afghanistan after 9/11. 

NORVILLE:  Yes, but she also said that doing that, going in and retaliating for the Cole attack, would have emboldened al Qaeda.  And I wonder if that was something that no one wanted to do because at that point in this young administration there was no plan to deal with it?

THOMPSON:  Well, that is a legitimate argument, because you have got to look at how you would have gone after al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. 

If you were just going to lob a missile over and the missile didn‘t work—and the odds were great that a missile wouldn‘t work—or if you were going to blow up training camps or take down some mud huts in Afghanistan someplace, then Osama bin Laden could have stood there and said, the United States, that great, powerful nation, hasn‘t touched me and gained more adherents.  That was the risk. 

And that was perhaps what weighed in the mind of the Clinton administration.  But at some point, if continuous acts of war are levied against the United States, you have to respond militarily in some fashion.  And the Bush administration did that when the act of war against the twin trade towers and our flights on September 11, you know, took place. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

Finally, I want to talk about the political nature of this process.  I have known you for many years.  I know public service is something that has been a big part of your professional adult life. 

THOMPSON:  Right. 

NORVILLE:  And yet I know there are those who look at this process and say, it is the Democrats vs. the Republicans.  What can you say to allay fears to those people who are concerned that, whatever the final report issued on July 26 is, that it is going to be hugely partisan and leave us stuck on first base? 

THOMPSON:  Three things, I think. 

First, all of us on the commission, Democrat and Republican, understand our place in history and there‘s no way in the world we are going to leave ourselves open to the charge of being a partisan body.  Secondly, in the more than a year that we have been in business, we have never had a partisan vote.  And, thirdly, I believe our report on July 26 will be unanimous.  And if it is unanimous from five Democrats and five Republicans, it can‘t be partisan. 

NORVILLE:  Governor Thompson, I hope you will be back often to talk about the process more.  It‘s good to see you again. 

THOMPSON:  Thank you.  Be happy to.  OK.

NORVILLE:  Thank you, sir.

When we come back, we are going to ask a very controversial question.  Is the September 11 Commission too little too late?  Is looking backwards simply a waste of time or is it the right thing no do? 

Stay with us. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Some people think the entire September 11 Commission is a complete and total waste of time and money.  Are they right? 

We will discuss it coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  A lot of people all over America are divided over whether these 9/11 hearings are even worth having. 

And my next guests are tuned into the pulse of the nation.  They also have differing views on the 9/11 hearings.  Roland Martin is a nationally syndicated columnist and a frequent commentator on National Public Radio.  And he‘s a believer in the hearings.  But Steve Malzberg of “The Buzz” on WABC Radio in New York City thinks these hearings have become so politicized, that they are a complete waste of time. 

Gentlemen, good evening.  Thanks for being with us. 

STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  My pleasure.

ROLAND MARTIN, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  How are you, Deborah?

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  I‘m great, thank you. 

MARTIN:  Good.

NORVILLE:  And I‘m glad you are here to talk about this because you guys hear from folks on your respective radio programs. 

And, Steve, I‘m surprised to hear you say you think this is an exercise in futility.  Why?

MALZBERG:  Well, I think that, despite the best intentions of people like Governor Thompson in the previous segment, who promised that you that they realize their place in history and the final report will not be a partisan piece of work, I think, if you closed your eyes today and listened to the questions and the tone that the various commissioners took with Condoleezza Rice, you could tell very easily who the Republicans on the commission were and who the Democrats were, especially the confrontations with a couple in particular.  Senator Kerrey and Mr. Ben-Veniste.  They were very hostile, in my view, towards Condoleezza Rice. 

And, furthermore, hey, by the way, President Clinton testified today.  I laugh because this is all about and has become, especially in the media, as evidenced by the—I‘m sorry to say, with all due respect—the four women who lost their husbands on 9/11 who went around mostly on MSNBC today and bashed Condoleezza Rice and bashed Bush and Cheney and the prospect of them testifying in the future, that they couldn‘t do it alone, one had to be there for the other, Bush was too dumb to talk. 

You know what?  It has turned into “let‘s get Bush, let‘s get Bush,”

despite the fact there were eight years of the Clinton administration

ignoring

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:   Oh, come on now. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Hold on.  We have got a rule on the DEBORAH NORVILLE show. 

We don‘t yell and we don‘t shout. 

So, Steve, we‘ve got volume control, so you don‘t have to raise your voice.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG:  It‘s emotion, yes.

NORVILLE:  I understand the emotion.  But don‘t you believe that, despite the partisan nature of the questions, information came out that we wouldn‘t know had those questions not been asked in this forum, specifically this August 6 memo?  We wouldn‘t know these things.

MALZBERG:  Yes, absolutely.  Absolutely.

Do you know about a report called Terror 2000 which released—and it wasn‘t released.  It was done in 1994 and the State Department didn‘t want it released because it talked about terrorists using plains to crash into buildings like the Pentagon or, in 1995, the Philippines told the FBI that in Ramzi Yousef‘s apartment that they uncovered there, they uncovered information about al Qaeda using planes to crash into buildings like the Pentagon. 

NORVILLE:  We all know that there was plenty of information out there well in advance of September 11. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  That is part of the job of this commission. 

But we have another guest on here.  And I want to make sure that Roland gets a chance to come in. 

You think that not only is this a good idea, but it is actually cathartic for people. 

MARTIN:  Well, is absolutely is. 

It is a healing process for Richard Clarke to stand up and first to say that we apologize for what took place.  What we must understand is, in this country, we hate to stand up and be accountable and take responsibility when something bad happens.  Everybody is blaming somebody else. 

Look, Deborah, there are two political parties in this country.  That‘s it.  So of course this is going to be a partisan discussion.  The question is, we must examine what took place, why did it take place, and how do we fix it; 3,000 people died.  That should be the issue, not a question of, is Bush being bashed or should we talk about eight years of Clinton?  They question is, do we fix this?  That‘s the real debate.  So forget this whole deal of Republican and Democrat nonsense. 

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG:  How do you turn down Osama bin Laden, as Bill Clinton admitted he did, from Sudan after he had already perpetrated acts of terror against the U.S.?

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG:  But wait a minute.  I thought there was no interrupting.

NORVILLE:  But don‘t you think, Steve, that if we are having this discussion, that that is a healthy thing?  You have already shared a number of facts that frankly I have heard before, but I haven‘t focused on lately because I have been looking at the commission‘s testimony. 

But the fact that this is out there, that we are discussing it, that your listeners on your radio station are having a chance to hear even more information, you don‘t think that a useful thing? 

MALZBERG:  I think Condoleezza Rice did a wonderful job today, a masterful job today, despite the attacks upon her before and during and after her testimony today.

(CROSSTALK)

MALZBERG:  But the mainstream media is only going to put forth those

that are anti-Condoleezza Rice, as “HARDBALL” did right afterwards, with

four women bashing

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Oh, stop it.  Oh, come on.

NORVILLE:  Hold on, guys.  You are shouting. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  You are shouting.  We‘re not going to do that here.

Roland, do you think that anything good is going to come out of this?  OK, fine, it is a cathartic process, having the testimony, hearing these questions asked and answered.

But, on July 27, when there‘s a commission report for people to look at, are folks going to be satisfied that this was, as you believe it is right now, worth it? 

MARTIN:  We are not going to be satisfied with simply a report.  We are going to be satisfied when the initiatives that they place in that report are implemented. 

What we should be asking is, why do we have an FBI and a CIA who refuses to talk to one another, the turf battles?  That is the value of this public discussion is because now we can hold members of Congress, we can presidential candidates accountable for saying, if you get elected, are you going to make sure these agencies are talking to one another, so these things don‘t fall through the crack?

What your other guest, what Steve is upset about is that the criticism is being pointed at Bush.  If this was reversed and there was a Democrat in the White House, you would have the same level of anger at an administration. 

MALZBERG:  Absolutely not.

And, by the way, the agencies are talking to each other. 

MARTIN:  Oh, stop it.  Come on.

MALZBERG:  Excuse me.  The agencies are talking to each other now. 

That has been rectified by this president.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  No, it hasn‘t been completely

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  It hasn‘t been completely, but it‘s been addressed with the Patriot Act.  And one of the things that that act does do is allow these agencies to communicate in a way that they were prohibited before. 

Finally, Steve, on your radio show, are you going to be hammering Congress to make some of the changes that our other guest has said needs to be done and Jim Thompson referred to in the earlier break? 

MALZBERG:  Well, let‘s see what the report says.  But the changes, I think there are plenty of changes that are addressed in the Patriot Act, as Condi Rice said today, that have us on the right track.  I think if you are offered the king of all terrorists on a silver platter, one change should be that you take him. 

NORVILLE:  Well, I think everybody would agree with that. 

Roland Martin, I thank you for being with us. 

MARTIN:  Thank you. 

NORVILLE:  Steve Malzberg from WABC Radio, thanks to you as well.

When we come back, Condoleezza Rice was talking in Washington, D.C., but the entire planet was watching.  And now they‘re talking.  We will hear some of that reaction.  Plus, we will hear from you, your thoughts on Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony, shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Millions of people in the United States were glued to their televisions today to watch and listen to Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony before the 9/11 Commission.  But her three hours before the commission was also being broadcast to millions more around the world. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  President Bush‘s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has insisted there was no silver bullet that could have prevented the attacks of September 11. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  That‘s the BBC.  But Arab television‘s Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera also broadcast Dr. Rice‘s testimony, as did a number of other countries around the globe.  It is the top story on most international newspapers, including France‘s “Le Monde.”

And all day long, MSNBC has been asking for your input into our “Question of the Day.”  Did Condoleezza Rice make her case?  Thousands of you e-mailed in.  And 46 percent of you said, yes, she did, Condoleezza Rice made her case.  But 54 percent said, no, don‘t think so. 

Roosevelt Myles from White Plains, New York, writes: “Dr. Rice did not make the case.  If anything, she‘s raised more questions about this administration and exactly what they were or were not doing.”  He says, “I think it‘s clear that this administration‘s first order of business was to invade Iraq.”

“I think it was disgraceful the way the commission wants to point fingers and place blame,” says Kathy Clary of California, “on the White House for terrorist acts.”  She says, “I think Dr. Rice did a brilliant job.”

C. Malisiak from Delaware, Ohio, says: “Condi Rice was very good at stonewalling and filibustering.  We did learn the administration was content to have no plan for dealing with terrorism, rather than follow the plan of the previous administration.”

Darla, who is Phoenix, writes in, saying: “I think it was very clear that she handled herself well and had a good grasp on facts and plans.  I don‘t think the vague warnings were enough to launch a complete change in the way things were done.  The changes should have been made decades ago.”

We love to hear from you, so keep those e-mails coming.  Our address is Question@MSNBC.com.  Well, that‘s for the question.  But my address is NORVILLE@MSNBC.com.  And you just saw the address up there.

When we come back, terrorists inside Iraq now have a new target, foreign civilians who are there simply trying to help.  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Some alarming developments in Iraq. 

The violence in that country is now taking a very frightening turn.  Insurgents appear to be focusing on civilian targets.  Today, three Japanese citizens were taken hostage and the kidnappers are threatening to burn them alive, all this on the heels of last week, when four U.S.  security contractors were killed and mutilated in Fallujah. 

Tomorrow, the security question.  I‘ll be joined by men who have been working in Iraq as hired guns protecting civilian targets.  They‘ll give us their dramatic firsthand account of what it‘s like being in the danger zone in Iraq.

That‘s DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.  We‘ll see you tomorrow.  Thanks for watching.

“SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” is next.

END   

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