New York Times reporter Philip Shenon’s new book — The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation — paints a damning portrait of Condoleezza Rice. Shenon argues that Rice was “uninterested in actually advising the President,” but was instead more concerned with being his “closest confidante — specifically on foreign policy — and to simply translate his words into action.”
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald prints an extract from Shenon’s book which provides further details about Rice’s incompetence. “Emails from the National Security Council’s counter-terrorism director, Richard Clarke, showed that he had bombarded Rice with messages about terrorist threats” before 9/11, Shenon writes. Some examples:
“Bin Ladin Public Profile May Presage Attack” (May 3)
“Terrorist Groups Said Co-operating on US Hostage Plot” (May 23)
“Bin Ladin’s Networks’ Plans Advancing” (May 26)
“Bin Ladin Attacks May Be Imminent” (June 23)
“Bin Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” (June 25)
“Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks” (June 30)
“Planning for Bin Ladin Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” (July 2)
But 9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow was not interested in pursuing criticisms against Rice. Zelikow — who had worked closely with Rice on the Bush transition team in 2000 and 2001 — “made it clear to the team’s investigators that Clarke should not be believed, that his testimony would be suspect.”
When 9/11 Commission historian Warren Bass uncovered a smoking gun email from Clarke to Rice written on September 4, 2001, which asked, “Are we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?,” Zelikow reverted to defending Condi.
Months later, Bass threatened to resign over what Shenon calls Zelikow’s repeated “attempts at interference”:
“I cannot do this,” Bass declared… “Zelikow is making me crazy.”
He was outraged by Zelikow and the White House; Bass felt the White House was trying to sabotage his work by its efforts to limit his ability to see certain documents from the NSC files and take useful notes from them. … Bass made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political – intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism.
The former weapons inspector in Iraq — David Kay — passed word to the 9/11 Commission that he believed Rice was the “worst national security adviser” in the history of the job.
UPDATE: This post has been corrected to note that Bass’ resignation threat came “months” after discovering the Sept. 4 memo.