ANNOUNCER: From our studios in New York, Bill
Moyers and David Brancaccio.
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW.
Colin Powell made big news twice this week. He announced
that he is
stepping down as Secretary of State. Then, he pointed world attention
at Iran — the one with an "n" next to Iraq — saying it may be
developing a missile system to deliver a nuclear bomb. Quote:
"I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been
actively working on delivery systems. You don't have a weapon until you
put it in something that can deliver a weapon."
Frightening, to be sure. But is it true? The world may
have a hard time
believing him. It's been just 21 months since that same Colin Powell
told the world almost the same thing about Iraq.
Remember when our Secretary of State went before the United Nations
Security Council to make the case for using force against Iraq?
POWELL: The gravity of this moment is matched by
the gravity of
the threat that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to the world.
Let me now turn to those deadly weapons programs and describe why they
are real and present dangers to the region and the world."
But those claims eventually proved wrong. Colin Powell
had put his
personal prestige and the power of his office into a pitch that led
America and the world into a war based on bad information.
MOYERS: It's called credibility: the quality of
and trusted. Once you cry wolf and it turns out you were only
pretending, will anyone take you seriously next time if you say there
is a wolf in the woods? That's why surveys and polls show America's
credibility in the world has plummeted, including in those Muslim
nations whose support is critical to the fight against terrorism.
And it's why the President's nomination this week of
as Colin Powell's successor has some experts in Washington and foreign
capitals shaking their heads in disbelief. Producer Peter Meryash and I
took a look at Dr. Rice's record on two very critical points of
MOYERS: Recall that in the days and weeks after
9/11, a shocked
and grieving people began to ask what government officials had known
and when they had known it. In May 2002, at a White House press
conference, the President's National Security Adviser tried to quiet
RICE: I don't think anybody could have predicted
people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center,
take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to
use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.
MOYERS: But Condoleezza Rice was wrong.
Had she looked, she could have found in the files of the
community that the attack she deemed unimaginable had, in fact, been
Twelve times in the seven years before 9/11, the CIA
reported that hijackers might use airplanes as weapons.
Furthermore, just 3 days after Rice was sworn in, she
received a memo
written by this man, Richard Clarke. Clarke, who managed
counter-terrorism policy on President Clinton's National Security
Council, was kept on the job by President Bush.
LEHMAN: 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
25th, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation
of anything that needs to be done about them.
MOYERS: But that's not the whole story. In the
memo, Clarke had declared an "urgent need" that the "principals," the
heads of the CIA, FBI, State and Defense Departments, meet to be
briefed on the al Qaeda threat.
That meeting didn't happen until more than 7 months
later, one week before 9/11.
But Clarke had also attached to his memo a plan of
action to "roll back" Bin Laden.
RICE: We were not presented with a plan.
KERREY: Well, that's not true. It is not…
RICE: We were not presented, we were not
presented… we were presented with the…
KERREY: I've heard you say that, Dr. Clarke. If
that 25 January 2001 memo was declassified, I don't believe…
RICE: The fact is that what we were presented on
January the 25th was a set of ideas…
RICE: …and a paper, most of which was about
what the Clinton administration had done.
MOYERS: To this day, the White House has refused
Clarke's memo. Rice had effectively demoted him, downgraded his office,
and informed him he was no longer needed at the meetings of the
Even as the White House took no action, America's
electronic eyes and
ears picked up new threats all over the world. By April, the "chatter,"
as the spies call it, was ominous.
On June 25th, 2001, Richard Clarke warned Rice that "six
intelligence reports showed al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending
Three days later, on June 28th, the CIA informed Clarke
that Osama bin
Ladin "… will launch a significant terrorist attack…in the coming
weeks…" inflicting "…mass casualties against U.S. facilities or
Clarke told Rice al Qaeda planning "…had reached a
CIA director George Tenet later testified, "the system
was blinking red."
Then, on August 6th, 2001, President Bush, while
vacationing at his
ranch in Crawford, Texas, received a stark warning in his daily
intelligence brief, known as a PDB.
BEN-VENISTE: There was nothing reassuring, was
there, in that PDB?
RICE: Certainly not.
MOYERS: Two CIA analysts involved in drafting the
PDB told the
9/11 Commission they wanted to make clear that the threat of a bin
Ladin attack in the United States was current and serious.
BEN-VENISTE: The President was in Crawford,
Texas, at the time he received the PDB. You were not with him, correct?
RICE: That's correct. I was not at Crawford, but
and I were in contact, and I might have even been, though I can't
remember, with him by video link during that time. The President was
told this is historical information. I'm told he was told this is
historical information. And there was nothing actionable in this.
MOYERS: But what Rice dismissed as "historical
in fact far more than that. It was part of an unfolding pattern of
terrorist activity leading to 9/11.
BEN-VENISTE: Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the
August 6th 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 PDB…
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.
RICE: Given that you asked me whether or not it
warned of attacks…
BEN-VENISTE: I asked you what the title was.
RICE: What the August 6th PDB said, and perhaps I
should read it to you…
BEN-VENISTE: We would be happy to have it
declassified in full at this time, including its title.
MOYERS: Two days after Rice's testimony and after
Commission's most heated showdown with the Bush administration over
access to classified information, the PDB that had been delivered to
the President in Texas was released.
It had indeed informed the President that, quote: "bin
Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington."
It had told the President that FBI information, quote,
patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with
preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent
surveillance of federal buildings in New York."
And it had informed the President of reports that quote:
"a group of bin Ladin supporters are in the U.S. planning attacks."
But the President stayed at his Texas ranch for 23 more
National Security Adviser did not convene a cabinet-level meeting to
discuss the urgent warnings.
ROEMER: Not once do the principals ever sit down.
You, in your
job description as the National Security Adviser, the Secretary of
State, the Secretary of Defense, the President of the United States and
meet solely on terrorism to discuss, in the spring and the summer, when
these threats are coming in, when you've known since the transition
that al Qaeda cells are in the United States, when, as the PDB said on
August 6th, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack the United States."
RICE: The PDB does not say the United States is
going to be
attacked. It says bin Laden would like to attack the United States. I
don't think you, frankly, had to have that report to know that bin
Laden would like to attack the United States. The threat reporting… the
ROEMER: So why aren't you doing something about
that earlier than August 6th, then?
MOYERS: It all added up to a pattern of
ineptness. But despite
her missteps leading up to 9/11, Rice was kept in charge of the
national security team and would play a key role as the administration
prepared its case for war against Iraq.
Time and again, top officials told the American public
that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
CHENEY [8/26/02]: Simply stated, there is no
doubt that Saddam
Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he
is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and
MOYERS: Rice had a particularly dire warning.
RICE [9/8/02]: The problem here is that there
will always be
some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But
we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
MOYERS: A crucial part of the administration's
case was the
accusation that Iraq had acquired aluminum tubes needed to build
BUSH [10/7/02]: Iraq has attempted to purchase
aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which
are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
MOYERS: This was the closest the administration
ever came to a
smoking gun, probably the most significant evidence presented in the
lead-up to war.
It was leaked to the NEW YORK TIMES which
quoted government officials saying "it was the intelligence agencies'
unanimous view" that the tubes "are used to make…centrifuges" that will
enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
The paper quoted one senior but un-named official as
saying, "the best
technical experts and nuclear scientists…supported [that] assessment."
Vice President Dick Cheney hailed the tubes as
that Saddam has "…once again set up and reconstituted his program…" to
build a nuclear weapon.
And Condoleezza Rice? She said the tubes "…are only
really suited for nuclear weapons programs."
The President drove the message home in his State of the
BUSH [1/28/03]: Our intelligence sources tell us
that he has
attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear
MOYERS: But in fact, the government's foremost
nuclear experts at the Department of Energy disputed the White House
After their technical analysis, the best experts on the
concluded the tubes were "poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges"
needed to make nuclear weapons and as a result they found "unpersuasive
the arguments that they are intended for that purpose."
And just last month, it was revealed that long before
the war started, Condoleezza Rice had known about the dispute.
The NEW YORK TIMES broke the story and Rice was asked
about it on ABC News.
RICE [on THIS WEEK]: At the time, I knew that
there was a
dispute. I actually didn't really know the nature of the dispute. We
learned that, I learned that later.
THIELMANN: It is incredible to me that the
Security Adviser would not at least satisfy herself in understanding
the broad dimensions of a very vigorous dispute inside the U.S.
government on the most important evidence behind an allegation about
the most important category of weapons of mass destruction.
MOYERS: Greg Thielmann spent 25 years in the
before retiring in mid-2002. As a member of the State Department's
Bureau of Intelligence and Research, he led a team of analysts
examining the secret intelligence on Iraq leading up to the war.
I asked him about Rice's assertion that she didn't know
the nature of the internal intelligence debate over the aluminum tubes:
THIELMANN: If you don't understand the details of
this at least
in broad outline, what issues do you understand with regard to
justifying a war against Iraq? This was the mother of all intelligence
disagreements for this subject. And so she was either irresponsible in
not acquainting herself with those broad outlines of the dispute. Or
else she's not telling the truth.
MOYERS: After her nomination this week, the
cited experts who believe Rice is "one of the weakest National Security
Advisers in recent history…" in doing what she was supposed to do
"…managing interagency conflicts."
She is also one of the most partisan.
In the recent campaign, in a rare use of a National
for partisan purposes, President Bush sent Rice to critical
battleground states from Michigan and Washington to Ohio and Florida.
RICE [10/25/04]: When people ask whether Iraq is
a part of the
war on terror, well, of course. Not only did Saddam support terrorists,
not only was he a weapons of mass destruction threat and all those
things. But he was a tremendous barrier to change in the Middle East.
MOYERS: And, after one of Rice's campaign-style
before the election, the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE reported she "did not
deviate from the misleading contentions" put forth by the Bush-Cheney
ticket and that she sought, once again, "to make the non-existent link
between 9/11 and the Iraq war."
Her credibility and competence
aside, Condoleezza Rice has never wavered in her loyalty to George W.
Bush, and this week he rewarded that loyalty by naming her Secretary of
State, the highest post in his cabinet.