[Our guest blogger, Peter Rundlet, was a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission.]
Most of the world has now seen the infamous picture of President Bush tending to his ranch on August 6, 2001, the day he received the ultra-classified Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) that included a report entitled “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US.” And most Americans have also heard of the so-called “Phoenix Memo” that an FBI agent in Phoenix sent to FBI headquarters on July 10, 2001, which advised of the “possibility of a coordinated effort” by bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools.
As a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, I became very familiar with both the PDB and the Phoenix Memo, as well as the tragic consequences of the failure to detect and stop the plot. A mixture of shock, anger, and sadness overcame me when I read about revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book about a special surprise visit that George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black made to Condi Rice, also on July 10, 2001:
They went over top-secret intelligence pointing to an impending attack and “sounded the loudest warning” to the White House of a likely attack on the U.S. by Bin Laden.
Woodward writes that Rice was polite, but, “They felt the brushoff.”
If true, it is shocking that the administration failed to heed such an overwhelming alert from the two officials in the best position to know. Many, many questions need to be asked and answered about this revelation — questions that the 9/11 Commission would have asked, had the Commission been told about this significant meeting. Suspiciously, the Commissioners and the staff investigating the administration’s actions prior to 9/11 were never informed of the meeting. As Commissioner Jamie Gorelick pointed out, “We didn’t know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.”
The Commission interviewed Condoleezza Rice privately and during public testimony; it interviewed George Tenet three times privately and during public testimony; and Cofer Black was also interviewed privately and publicly. All of them were obligated to tell the truth. Apparently, none of them described this meeting, the purpose of which clearly was central to the Commission’s investigation. Moreover, document requests to both the White House and to the CIA should have revealed the fact that this meeting took place. Now, more than two years after the release of the Commission’s report, we learn of this meeting from Bob Woodward.
Was it covered up? It is hard to come to a different conclusion. If one could suspend disbelief to accept that all three officials forgot about the meeting when they were interviewed, then one possibility is that the memory of one of them was later jogged by notes or documents that describe the meeting. If such documents exist, the 9/11 Commission should have seen them. According to Woodward’s book, Cofer Black exonerates them all this way: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.” The notion that both the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry that investigated the intelligence prior to 9/11 did not want to know about such essential information is simply absurd. At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot.
— Peter Rundlet