WASHINGTON – Former CIA director George Tenet told the 9-11 Commission that he had warned of an imminent threat from al-Qaida in a July 2001 meeting with Condoleezza Rice, adding that he believed Rice took the warning seriously, according to a transcript of the interview and the recollection of a commissioner who was there.
Tenet’s statements to the commission in January 2004 confirm the outlines of an event in a new book by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward that has been disputed by some Bush administration officials. But the testimony also is at odds with Woodward’s depiction of Tenet and former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black as being frustrated that “they were not getting through to Rice” after the July 10, 2001, meeting.
Rice angrily rejected those assertions Monday, saying that it was “incomprehensible” that she would have ignored such explicit intelligence from senior CIA officials and that she had received no warning at the meeting about an attack within the United States.
Rice acknowledged that the White House was receiving a “steady stream of quite alarmist reports of potential attacks” during that period, but said the targets were assumed to be in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel and Jordan.
“What I am quite certain of, however, is that I would remember if I was told – as this account apparently says – that there was about to be an attack in the United States,” Rice said. “The idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible.”
The meeting has become the focus of a fierce and often confusing round of finger-pointing involving Rice, the White House and the 9-11 Commission, all of whom dispatched staffers to the National Archives and other locations Monday in attempts to sort out what had occurred.
Neither Black nor Tenet has made any public comments about the assertions in Woodward’s book. Woodward declined Monday to comment in detail, saying only that he stood by his reporting.