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A Question for Condi
April 8, 2004
By Allan Wood

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify before the 9/11 Commission - on national television and under oath - today, Thursday, April 8. Many of the questions will likely focus on the apparent contradictions between what she has said since September 11, 2001 and the public testimony given recently by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.

Rice should also be asked about what she did on the morning of 9/11. Under its agreement with the White House, in order to have Rice testify the Commission is forbidden to ask any administration official to testify in any future public hearings. So if any of the Commission members want any White House official to speak to the country about what happened on 9/11, he or she better ask those questions today.

Here is one of mine:

We do not know if George W. Bush knew of the first crash upon his arrival at the Emma Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, shortly before 9:00 am on September 11. Some reports say he was informed while in his motorcade. We do know that when he got to the school, he was told there was a urgent phone call from Rice. (Bush's actions that day are outlined in detail in "An Interesting Day," an article I co-wrote with Paul Thompson, the man behind the "Complete 9/11 Timeline.")

From "An Interesting Day":

Booker principal Gwen Tose-Rigell was waiting for Bush outside the school. "The limousine stops and the president comes out. He walks toward me. I'm standing there in a lineup; there are about five people. He walks over and says he has to make a phone call, and he'll be right back." From a room with secure communications, Rice updated Bush on the situation. As National Security Advisor, Rice had to have had as much information as anyone. By the time she spoke to Bush, she must have known that three planes had been hijacked and that the country was under attack.

We know very little about the conversation - only that Rice later claimed, "(Bush) said, what a terrible, it sounds like a terrible accident. Keep me informed." One reporter noted: "Bush did not appear preoccupied (after the phone call) . There was no sign that Rice had just told (him) about the first attack (on the World Trade Center)." Tose-Rigell was then summoned to a room to talk with Bush: "He said a commercial plane has hit the World Trade Center, and we're going to go ahead and go on, we're going on to do the reading thing anyway."

One local reporter notes that at this point, "He could and arguably should have left Emma E. Booker Elementary School immediately, gotten onto Air Force One and left Sarasota without a moment's delay ... But he didn't." The only possible excuse is that Bush was completely clueless as to what was happening. Sure enough, at a press conference on the evening of 9/11, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked by a reporter, "And then this morning, when Andy Card told him about the first accident, was Andy Card or Condi Rice or any of those aware of the hijackings? What did they know when they - " Fleischer cut in and replied, "No, at that point they were not." So supposedly, 15 minutes after the first crash, none of Bush's aides, not even Rice back in Washington, DC, knew a thing about the hijackings that had been reported to NORAD 20 minutes earlier? This simply is not plausible.

Fleischer was lying. By the time of the first crash - 8:46 am - the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the National Military Command Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Secret Service and Canada's Strategic Command all knew that three commercial airplanes had been hijacked. They all knew that one had been flown deliberately into the World Trade Center, a second was wildly off course and also heading toward Manhattan and a third had abruptly turned around over Ohio and was flying back toward Washington, DC.

And despite the administration's claims in the weeks after the attacks that there had been no warnings whatsoever, in the two months before 9/11, there were actually dozens of warnings of impending terrorist attacks against the US, including:

  • Summer 2001: US intelligence received warnings of multiple hijackings from Afghanistan, Argentina, Britain, Cayman Islands, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco and Russia. The Russian warning came directly from President Vladimir Putin.

  • July 5, 2001: Richard Clarke, in a meeting with officials from a dozen federal agencies, specifically mentioned al-Qaeda and stated: "Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon."

  • July 20-22, 2001: Acting on specific warnings that al-Qaeda might attempt to assassinate Bush and other leaders at the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, the government surrounds the summit with anti-aircraft guns, keeps fighter jets in the air and closes off local airspace. The reports are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier; other leaders stay on a luxury ship.

  • August 6, 2001: Bush received a classified intelligence briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." It focused on the possibility of multiple hijackings and terrorist attacks inside the US. Bush broke off work early that day and spent most of his time fishing. Indeed, Bush and Dick Cheney were both on vacation for almost the entire month of August.

  • September 6, 2001: Gary Hart, who co-chaired the US Commission on National Security, met with Rice "after the president was in Crawford and being briefed by CIA officials on the possible use of aircraft against American targets. [I told her], 'Get going on homeland security, you don't have all the time in the world.'"

  • September 10, 2001: A group of top Pentagon officials may have received "a particularly urgent warning" the night before the attacks. According to Newsweek, they cancelled their travel plans for the next morning.

When Condoleezza Rice heard of the first hijacked plane - Boston air traffic controllers were treating it as a hijacking as early as 8:13 a.m. - 33 minutes before it crashed - how could she not have known that this was probably the attack she had been repeatedly warned about?

So what did Rice tell Bush? From the scraps that have been reported, it looks like she told him the first crash was merely an accident and he should go ahead with his photo-op. I want to know why the Commander-in-Chief was allowed to conduct a 20-minute reading session with a group of second-graders while the country was in the midst of a horrific terrorist attack.

The reports we have been told make absolutely no sense. In fact, there really is no "official story" of what happened on 9/11, because all of the accounts flatly contradict each other. And no one in the mainstream media has yet seen fit to demand a coherent explanation. Perhaps the Commission can start that search with its questioning of Condoleezza Rice today.

Allan Wood posts as "redsock" at DU and is a member of 9/11 Citizens Watch. He is the author of "Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox" and he writes the blog "Joy of Sox."

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