updated 4/9/2004 11:44:00 AM ET 2004-04-09T15:44:00

Guests: Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

On the hot seat.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I don‘t remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about. 

ANNOUNCER:  The president‘s national security adviser, called to task for what the administration did and didn‘t do to stop al Qaeda in its mission to stop the United States. 

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

ANNOUNCER:  Did Condoleezza Rice make her case, or did she raise new questions about what the president knew and when he knew it? 

TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  bin Laden determined to attack the United States. 

BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  Patterns of suspicious activity in the United States were consistent with the preparation for hijacking. 

ANNOUNCER:  The widows of 9/11, their tireless campaign to find out why their husbands died paved the way for the 9/11 hearings. 

RICE:  We owe it to those that we lost and to their loved ones. 

ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, two of the Jersey girls on why Rice‘s testimony has left them disappointed and angry.

Plus, commission member James Thompson.  Did his panel get all the answers it was hoping for?

JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  I don‘t believe in beating dead horses, but there‘s a bunch of lame ones running around here today.

ANNOUNCER:  And a look at how today‘s showdown on Capitol Hill played from coast-to-coast and from right to left. 

From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST:  And good evening, everybody. 

History today on Capitol Hill as National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified publicly and under oath before the 9/11 commission. 

For weeks the Bush administration has resisted pleas for Rice to testify in the open, arguing executive privilege, that allowing a presidential adviser to testify before such a committee would set a precedent. 

After former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke, however, leveled criticism at the administration for not paying enough attention to al Qaeda before 9/11, the pressure intensified to get Rice in public to testify.  And it came from members of the commission, Republicans in Congress and relatives of those killed on September 11. 

Late last week a photo emerged of presidential chief of staff Admiral William Leahy testifying in public before an independent commission then investigating the Pearl Harbor attacks of 1945, proving that public testimony from Condoleezza Rice would not be setting a precedent. 

Ultimately, the administration gave the go-ahead to testify under oath, and several times during today‘s questioning, things got contentious as commission members pressed Dr. Rice about what the Bush administration knew before the September 11 attacks. 

The bottom line: could those attacks have been prevented? 

Tonight for the next hour, an in-depth look at Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony to the commission and the reaction to her testimony.  We start off this evening with a portion of Rice‘s opening statement. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICE:  Many of the families of the victims are here today, and I want to thank them for their contributions to this commission‘s work. 

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 civilized world. 

The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983.  The hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of al Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  The attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996.  The east Africa bombings of 1998.  The attack on the USS Cole in 2000. 

These and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans.  The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. 

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 developed over the spring and summer of 2001 and was approved by the president‘s senior national security officials on September 4.  It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush administration, not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al Qaeda. 

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 in 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. 

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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  Condoleezza Rice testified for nearly three hours, and she was grilled by some members of the commission, including Richard Ben-Veniste, one of the things he asked Rice about was a PDB, a presidential daily briefing that President Bush received August 6, 2001, five weeks before the September 11 attacks. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  You acknowledged to us in your interview of February 7, 2004, that Richard Clarke told you that al Qaeda cells were in the United States.  Did you tell the president at any time prior to August 6 of the existence of al Qaeda cells in the United States?

RICE:  First, let me just make certain...

BEN-VENISTE:  If you could just answer that question because I only have a very limited. 

RICE:  I understand, commissioner, but it‘s important...

BEN-VENISTE:  Did you tell the president...

RICE:  It‘s important that I also address—it‘s also important, commissioner, that I address the other issues that you have raised, so I will do it quickly.  But if you‘ll just...

BEN-VENISTE:  My only question to you is whether you told the president. 

RICE:  I understand, commissioner, but I will—If you‘ll just give me a moment I will address fully the questions that you‘ve asked. 

First of all, yes, the August 6 PDB was in response to questions of the president.  In that sense he asked that this be done.  It was not a particular threat report. 

And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al Qaeda‘s operations. 

Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum, I remember it as being only a line or two, that there were al Qaeda cells in the United States. 

Now, the question is what did we need to do about that?  And I also understood that that was what the FBI was doing.  That the FBI was pursuing these al Qaeda cells.  I believe in the August 6 memorandum it says that there were 70 full field investigations under way of these cells.  And so, there was no recommendation that we do something about this.  The FBI was pursuing it. 

I really don‘t remember, commissioner, whether I discussed this with the president. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you. 

RICE:  I remember very well that the president was aware that there were issues inside the United States.  He talked to people about this.  But I don‘t remember the al Qaeda cells as being something that we were told we needed to do something about. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Isn‘t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country?  And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB. 

RICE:  I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”  It did not warn of attacks inside the United States.  It was historical information based on old reporting.  There was no new threat information and it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NORVILLE:  Now other commissioners offered a more sympathetic line of questioning for Dr. Rice.  John Lehman asked Rice about what information she had before 9/11. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  During the short or long transition, were you told before the summer that there were functioning al Qaeda cells in the United States?

RICE:  In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on January 25 he mentions sleeper cells.  There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them, and the FBI was pursuing them.  And usually when things come to me it‘s because I‘m supposed to do something about it, and there was no indication that the FBI was not adequately pursuing the sleeper cells. 

LEHMAN:  Were you told that there were numerous young Arab males in flight training, had taken flight training, were in flight training?

RICE:  I was not.  And I‘m not sure that that was known at the center. 

LEHMAN:  Were you told that the U.S. marshal program had been changed to drop any U.S. marshals on domestic flights?

RICE:  I was not told that. 

LEHMAN:  Were you told that the red team in FAA, the red teams for 10 years, had reported their hard data that the U.S. airport security system never got higher than 20 percent effective and was usually down around 10 percent for 10 straight years?

RICE:  To the best of my recollection, I was not told that. 

LEHMAN:  Were you aware that INS had been lobbying for years to get the airlines to drop the transit without visa loophole that enabled terrorists and illegals to simply buy a ticket through the transit without visa waiver and pay the airlines extra money and come in?

RICE:  I learned about that after September 11. 

LEHMAN:  Were you aware that the INS had quietly, internally halved its internal security budget?

RICE:  I was not made aware of that.  I don‘t remember being made aware of that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NORVILLE:  And former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey took Rice to task for a phrase that she quoted several times during her testimony. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERREY:  You‘ve used a phrase a number of times, and I‘m hoping that my question will disabuse you of using it in the future.  You said the president was tired of swatting flies.  Can you tell me one example where the president swatted a fly when it came to al Qaeda prior to 9/11?

RICE:  I think what the president was speaking to was...

KERREY:  What fly had he swatted?

RICE:  Well, the disruptions abroad was what he was really focusing on, when the CIA would go after al Qaeda, go after this guy...

KERREY:  Dr. Rice didn‘t—we only swatted a fly once, on the 20th of August, 1998.  We didn‘t swat any flies afterwards.  How the hell could he be tired?

RICE:  We swatted at—I think he felt that what the agency was doing was going individual terrorists here and there, and that‘s what he meant by swatting flies.  It was simply a figure of speech. 

KERREY:  Well, I think it‘s an unfortunate figure of speech, because I think, especially after the attack on the Cole in the 12th of August—

October 2000 it would not have been swatting a fly.  It would not have been -- We did not wait—need to wait to get a strategic plan. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NORVILLE:  And one compelling question today: did former counterterrorism aide Richard Clarke‘s concerns about al Qaeda before September 11 ever reach President Bush?

This is the exchange that Clarke had about that issue two weeks ago when he testified before the commission.  And then Dr. Rice‘s response today to Clarke‘s claims. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROEMER:  January 25, we have seen a memo that you have written to Dr.  Rice urgently asking for a principles review of al Qaeda.  Do you get a response to this urgent request for a principles meeting on these, and how does this affect your time frame for dealing with these important issues?

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER:  I did get a response.  The response was that in the Bush administration I should and my committee, counterterrorism group should report to the deputies committee, which is a subcabinet level committee and not to the principles. 

And that therefore it was inappropriate for me to be asking for a principles meeting.  Instead, it would be a deputies meeting. 

RICE:  Dick Clarke, let me step back for a second...

ROEMER:  I would appreciate if you would be very precise here.  I can get to some more issues.

RICE:  All he needed to do was to say, “I need time to brief the president on something.” 

ROEMER:  I think he did say that.  Dr. Rice, in a private interview to us he said he asked to brief the president. 

RICE:  Well, I have to say—I have to say, Mr. Roemer, to my recollection...

ROEMER:  You say he didn‘t?

RICE:  He never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism. 

He did brief the president later on cyber security in July.  But he, to my recollection, never asked.

And my senior directors have an open door to come and say, “I think the president needs to do this.  I think the president needs to do that.  He needs to make this phone call, he needs to hear this briefing.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NORVILLE:  And coming up next, reaction to what Condoleezza Rice said from two 9/11 widows who were there in Washington in person as she testified. 

At one point Rice went over to some of the relatives, telling one of them that she was sorry for their lost, but Rice never apologized for 9/11 publicly.  How do they feel about that?  Their thoughts, when we return. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERREY:  Here‘s the problem that a lot of people are having with this July 5 meeting.  You and Andy Card meet with Dick Clarke in the morning, you say.  You have a meeting.  He meets in the afternoon July 5. 

As Kristen Breitweiser, who is a part of the families group, testified at the joint committee, she brings very painful testimony, I must say.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

NORVILLE:  Those words from 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey today as National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified before the commission.  It provides ample evidence of the impact one determined group of 9/11 widows has had on these historic hearings into the events of September 11. 

They‘ve been dubbed the Jersey girls, and their pressure on the administration was instrumental in getting Condoleezza Rice to testify.  All of them lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attacks and today, they were there, front and center, as Condi Rice testified before the commission. 

Tonight, Kristen Breitweiser and Patty Casazza join me to talk about what they heard and what it meant to them. 

Ladies, I know it has been a very long day for you.  Thanks for staying up with us this evening. 

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW:  Thanks for having us.

PATTY CASAZZA, 9/11 WIDOW:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  I know that ever since September 11 you have been trying to make sense of what happened in the lower part of Manhattan.  Did you hear anything today that makes what went on September 11, 2001, more sense now?  Are there still questions?

CASAZZA:  We have a whole questions that are still not answered.  We understand that we were protecting our troops abroad from the threat of al Qaeda attacks from the heightened alert that we were in the spring and summer of 2001.  But that didn‘t—that didn‘t help us here on the homeland. 

And I didn‘t learn anything new from Condi Rice as to what she was doing about the threat.  And the August 6 PDB certainly stated that Osama bin Laden was all set to do an attack on the homeland here in the United States. 

With that information, I don‘t know how you wouldn‘t have, you know, put up a better defense.  On the morning of 9/11, so we were left basically defenseless.  It was an hour and a half after the first plane was declared hijacked before we even sent up fighter jets to thwart the errant planes. 

NORVILLE:  You know, that August 6 memo, that presidential daily briefing, has become sort of the smoking gun in today‘s testimony.  There was so much back and forth about it. 

And there was one segment when it really got rancorous between Condoleezza Rice and Richard Ben-Veniste.  Even as we‘ve learned the names of these briefings are highly classified.

Let‘s play that and then I want to get your reaction to something that was said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

BEN-VENISTE:  Isn‘t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country?  And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB. 

RICE:  I believe the title was “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”  Now, the...

BEN-VENISTE:  Thank you. 

RICE:  No, Mr. Ben-Veniste, you...

BEN-VENISTE:  I will get into the...

RICE:  I would like to finish my point here. 

BEN-VENISTE:  I didn‘t know there was a point.  I asked you what the title was. 

RICE:  You said me whether or not it warned of attacks. 

BEN-VENISTE:  I asked you what the title was.

RICE:  You said did it not warn of attacks?  It did not warn of attacks inside the United States.  It was historical information, based on old reporting.  There was no new threat information, and it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NORVILLE:  And yet, in fact, as the testimony continued we learned that, indeed, that August 6 presidential daily briefing did say that preparations were being made by al Qaeda that were consistent with hijackings in the United States. 

Ms. Breitweiser, was there total truth and honesty, in your opinion?

BREITWEISER:  You know, honestly, I think that one of the things that was most disheartening today was the failure of Ms. Rice to even have any kind of second doubts, self-doubt. 

You know, this commission is charged with investigating these attacks so that they can make recommendations, so that they can fix the problems.  And if no one is willing to come forward and say, “Gee, maybe that was a mistake” or “maybe this could have been done better,” where is the commission supposed to go with that?  They need something to work with.

And I think my understanding, and it‘s a limited understanding at this point of the day, is that President Clinton went before the commission, and he was very forthcoming.  He, you know, he did raise some doubt that he might have missed something in his administration. 

And I think that that enables the commission to have something to work with, which for the families is what we want.  We want to know that we‘re safer here today. 

I would have liked Dr. Rice to be a little bit more forthcoming, to give the commission something to work with, so that they can put out recommendations that can be acted upon. 

NORVILLE:  Was there something else that you wanted to hear?  And at one point Bob Kerrey mentioned the “M” word, the word “mistake.” 

I don‘t know that anyone expected Condoleezza Rice to issue an apology, but I suspect there was an expectation, at least among some family members, that the euphemistic “mistakes were made” might have been uttered at some point during the testimony. 

Were you disappointed that you did not hear that?

BREITWEISER:  No, undoubtedly.  Look, if you don‘t feel in your heart that you need to apologize, then certainly, you don‘t want a disingenuous apology. 

I thought what Mr. Clarke did was in earnest, and I thought it was very forthcoming.  But I would have hoped that Ms. Rice would have put forward something that this commission would have worked from. 

Obviously, there were failures; there were mistakes.  Three thousand people were killed. 

You look at the facts surrounding 9/11, leading up to 9/11, on the day of 9/11.  More lives should have been saved.  And, really, she spent the day just saying that, “No, I didn‘t do anything wrong.  No one asked me to do this.  How would I know?” 

NORVILLE:  One of the things she said and this was said something that was said so many times that the sound bite bell started going off in my mind. 

Patty Casazza, she kept saying over and over again, we had a structural problem in the United States.  We had a structural problem vis-a-vis the communications between this intelligence agency over here, the CIA and the domestic branch over here, the FBI.

Absent what happened September 11, can you envision a way the national security adviser and others could have been aware that this communications gap existed?

CASAZZA:  Certainly.  The historical—is replete with instances where the FBI and the CIA were not communicating properly.  And it was almost expected from the two intelligence agencies that they would continue to behave in that manner. 

My question to Dr. Rice would have been so she expected the intel agencies to do their job, but apparently she didn‘t do any follow-up work on her own.  And with that kind of historical record of the two agencies not working together, I think she was remiss in her duties in not following up with that. 

NORVILLE:  What I‘m trying to figure out is was Condoleezza              Rice the intersection through which all of this information passed?

We know that in July there was a warning that flight schools were being used by some foreign students to learn how to fly planes by people who didn‘t seem to be particularly aviation minded. 

We know in the—in the August 6 memo that there was this active effort, they believe, to put—to commit some sort of a hijacking in the domestic United States. 

And then less than a week later, August 15, the Moussaoui case became public. 

All of that went through Condoleezza Rice‘s office.  Yes or no?

BREITWEISER:  We don‘t know the answer to that.  And certainly, that is undeniable, that that information was out there. 

And really, the biggest question that the families have is why wasn‘t the public better informed?  Why weren‘t the pilots told in the summer of 2001 that these Middle Eastern men were being trained in flight schools and that they were capable of commandeering planes?  Pilots in the summer of 2001 thought that they were indispensable.  They didn‘t fight a hijacking.  Had they known better, perhaps the scenario would have been different. 

Why wasn‘t the public told?  My husband was in building two.  He thought when he witnessed the carnage in building one that it was an accident.  Much like the president, he said it was some bad pilot, much like Donald Rumsfeld.  He remained at his desk for a full hour. 

NORVILLE:  And yet George Tenet ran from the breakfast meeting he was at and said...

BREITWEISER:  And cited Moussaoui.

NORVILLE:  Moussaoui. 

BREITWEISER:  That‘s right.  Which tells you that the information was, in fact, flowing from the FBI to the CIA.  But apparently it wasn‘t getting to the places that it needs to go if Ms. Rice is being truthful in her statement.

And we need to find out where that breakdown occurred, because apparently it is not fixed two and a half years later.  And unless she‘s willing to come forward and give an idea as to where she thought it could break down we‘re at a serious disadvantage. 

NORVILLE:  Well, I know that the law enforcement people will take their positions in front of the panel next week.  You‘ll see former Attorney General Janet Reno, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Louis Freeh from the FBI, Robert Mueller from the FBI.  Maybe there will be more answers there.

But quick question, Dr. Rice said that she—her greatest concern is that we will unlearn the lessons of 9/11.  Do you think that‘s possible?

BREITWEISER:  No. 

CASAZZA:  No. 

BREITWEISER:  You know what?  We still have planes flying overhead.  We still go over bridges and through tunnels.  We still shop in shopping malls.  We eat food.  We will never unlearn the lessons. 

For the families, we have to look into the eyes of our children.  We can‘t as a nation unlearn the lessons of 9/11, because that would mean that we lost the will of the nation to make this nation safer from terrorism. 

NORVILLE:  And that‘s a perfect note to leave this section on.  Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazz, I know it‘s been a heck of a day for both of you.  Thanks for ending it with us. 

BREITWEISER:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  Best to all of you and your families.

BREITWEISER:  Thank you.

NORVILLE:  When we come back we will now hear from one of the commissioners who sits on the 9/11 panel.  He joins me with his impression of Condoleezza Rice‘s testimony. 

Plus later on, what‘s next for the panel? 

(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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