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Office of the Press Secretary

Internal Transcript

ncwc i v c.u


. 7 2003

National Commissionon Terrorist Attacks

AJSd OStjO^fc:

August 2, 2002


The Roosevelt Room

2:32 P.M. EDT

Q Well, let's start with the day. The first airplane

strikes. What the first you saw, the first you heard?



first that I heard was when my executive

assistant came into the office to say that a plane had hit World Trade Center. I thought, what a terrible accident that is. And I called the President, who was in Florida for an education event. And I said, Mr. President, a plane has hit the World Trade Center. And he said, what a terrible accident. And I think we thought that maybe a twin engine plane of some-kind, a

small plane.

I then went to my staff meeting, my senior staff meeting -downstairs in the Situation Room. And my executive assistant handed me a note ancT said, a^second plane had hit the World Trade Center. And I thought, my God, this is a terrorist attack.

Q You knew.


I knew.

I knew right away. Because one plane,

perhaps an accident -- and a horrible accident and foreseeable accident, but an accident. The second plane I had no doubt. And I think we had all known that there might be at some point in time an attempt against the United States, perhaps that's in the back of your mind at a time like that.

Q When you heard about the second plane, and you were

convinced in your own mind it was terrorists, whose name did you

put on that?


It wasn't very long before I thought al Qaeda,

because we had gone through a fairly extensive review of policy


CIA Director had in February talked about the threat of al Qaeda

toward al Qaeda. I think George Tenet had, in February


to the United States.

And the fact that it was big and


spectacular said to me this is probably al Qaeda. But that was the least of my concerns at that moment.

Because shortly after the second plane hit the World Trade Center, I went into the Situation Room, the Situation Center to try and find the National Security Council principals, to bring

talk about what had happened. And it's

them to a meeting or to

amazing the things that race through your mind at a time like


Colin Powell I knew was in Latin America. And my first

thought was, is he in Colombia?

So trying

Well, no, I think he's in Peru.

to find Secretary Powell. And then I tried to find

Secretary Rumsfeld. And I couldn't raise him. And all of a sudden I looked behind me and a plane had hit the Pentagon. And it was not long after that that the Secret Service came and said, you have to go to the bunker; the Vice President rs already there, there may be something headed for the White House.

Q How did you get there?

DR. RICE: I hardly remember getting there.

It was one

moment to stop and talk to the President again and to say that Washington was under attack and so he should probably not come

We were beginning to talk about the fact that if he landed

at Andrews Air Force Base, would that just make Air Force One a big target.

We, or course, in that particular point didn't know how many planes were headed for various destinations and various symbols of American power. I remember wandering along, or being pushed along, in fact, in the corridors, stopping briefing just when I got into the PEOC to call my family/ my aunt and uncle in Alabama, and say, I'm fine, you have to tell everybody that I'm fine. They started a kind of phone tree to let my relatives know that everything was okay.


But then settling into trying to deal with the enormity of

the thing that

that moment.

And in the first few hours I think

was on everybody's mind was how many more planes are coming.

Q When you made the call to the President on your way to

PEOC, do you recall that conversations?


RICE: I do recall the conversation. It was brief,

because I was being pushed to get off the phone and get out of the West Wing.

Q They were hurrying you off the phone with the —

President? DR. RICE: They were hurrying me off the phone with the

President. And I just said

-- we said, Mr. President, that may not be wise. My defense director, the person who does defense affairs for me, was

he said, I'm coming back.



standing next to me and he whispered, tell him that it may not be wise to come back here because Washington is under attack.

And so I did that and I said, sir, we'll be in touch.

then I got off to

the PEOC.


Q Just a point of information. Do you know where he was?

Was he in the motorcade, or was he on the airplane at that point? Because these events happened pretty quickly.

DR. RICE: They happened pretty quickly. I believe that he was already at the air strip, airport, ready to get back on Air

And I think that he had every intention at -

Force One in Florida. that moment of trying

to get back here.

to take yourself back to the moment that that big

vault door is opened and you're whisked into the PEOC. What do

you see?

Q Try


I saw several people there.

The first person —

that I went to, of course, was the Vice Pres-ident, who


already there. And I said, I think there are a_ f ew things we need to do. and I remember spotting Norm Mineta, the Secretary of Transportation, and realizing all of a sudden that we were going to have to start grounding aircraft around the entire

country. And there are thousands of aircraft flying at that moment.

So Norm was sitting there checking tail numbers. And you had the Vice President trying to write them down on a yellow legal pad. but I went immediately from the central room in which we were operating to a little side room, to make a couple of phone calls. I asked my deputy, Steve Hadley, to call Deputy Secretary of State Armitage, to get out a cable to posts around the world, to diplomatic posts around the world that said: the United States government is still functioning; the United States has not been decapitated.

My old nuclear war training is that you want everybody to know that you're up and functioning when something like that happens. I was told that Secretary Rumsfeld had changed the defense condition and that American forces were going on alert around the world. And so one of the first phone calls in which I participated was with President Putin of Russia, who knew that our forces were going on alert and, therefore, stood down the Russian forces that were on major exercises. And it was a lot of trying to check-off boxes that at that point are extremely important to preventing any further crisis from taking place.

Q You're an expert, a long expert in Russian affairs, you

speak Russian. Did you speak Russian to President Putin?



Usually when you are doing such things you

work through a translator. But I heard him in Russian, and I


knew exactly what he was saying. He was saying that he understood that American forces were on alert. The first thing he said is, this is a horrible thing and I should call President Bush.

I explained that President Bush was not in Washington. But he then said, we are going to stand -down our forces. And for an old Soviet specialist like me, who had spent a lot of time worrying about spirals of alert -- we would alert, they would

-- was a quite remarkable statement by the President of Russia, that

he recognized our common interest at this particular moment in time.

then alert and pretty soon we would be in a state of war


Q What did that mean to you?


It meant a lot.

I found it quite emotional at

that moment, because it meant that the United States and Russia were, indeed, on a different path. The President had, prior to

this, back in July at Ljubljana, when President Putin met President TBush for the first time -- the President had said, you know, we're not enemies anymore, we have common security problems and we're "going to develop a different kind of relationship.

And here on the worst day that any American could imagine, that new relationship is being vivified.



You're inside the PEOC and there's another airplane, (A f\t 93 is

wondered whether the PEOC was going to survive that morning.

DR. RICE: You hardly think about the survival of yourself or the building in which you're standing at a moment like that. The confusion about what planes were flying and what planes needed to be grounded, and trying to find what tail numbers were not responding appropriately to instructions from air controllers to get to the nearest possible airport -- that's what's on your mind, and so you don't think we may personally be in danger here, at that moment in time.

But one of the more awful moments that entire day was when we heard that that plane had crashed. And an order, of course, had been given that if a plane did not respond properly to instruction and to the fighters that were sent up to intercept planes, that it should be shot down. And there was that horrible time when we wondered if Flight 93 had, indeed, been shot down by an American pilot.

Q On the orders of the President?



And it was hard for a few moments to verify

that it, indeed, had crashed, not been shot down. was one of the really awful moments of that period.

I think that


Q When word

came that Flight 93 had

gone down, it is

quite possible that those people gave their lives for you.

-- probable. They gave their lives because Americans are like that just countless acts of heroism that we saw on 9/11 that really do speak to the best character of this country. And this is a great act of heroism. They were not going to allow another plane to go into a building in New York or Washington. And, indeed, they gave their lives for their country more dramatically than most.

in fact, I think it's


It's entirely possible

It's also true that clearly the al Qaeda, the terrorists

were trying to take out as many symbols of government as they


the Pentagon, perhaps the Capitol, perhaps the White


That in and of itself, if all of those had gone down, it

would have been an even greater shock to this country. And these people saved us not only physically, but they saved us psychologically and symbolically in a very important way, too.

Q Let me ask you about one more thing in the PEOC.


said the Vice President was writing down tail numbers? The Vice President of the United States was writing down the tail numbers ~

of airplanes that were not responding?

DR. RICE: Yes. You-had the .Vice President of the United States, the National Security Advisor and the Transportation Secretary trying to make sense of this. At a time like that, like what we experienced, you do what you have to do. And right then there were several important things that had to be j3one. We had to make sure that the rest of the world knew we were functioning. We had to make sure that planes were getting grounded and that more planes were not being used as missiles against various places in the United States. We had to be sure that there were fighters up to protect the American homeland.

And the Vice President was doing his part and we were all

doing our part.

else who can do this job. That's not like the Vice President.

He was just in there doing what had to be done.

You don't ask at that time, is there somebody

Q There were multiple planes that couldn't be accounted

for. And, in addition to that, there were warnings that there was a plane headed to Camp David, another plane headed to the President's ranch in Texas, explosions on the National Mall,

explosions at the State Department.


Q What was that like in there?



Well, you learn when you go through as many

crisis simulations as people like me -- I taught national


security policy, I worked at the Pentagon, I've been on the National Security Council staff before and you go through crisis simulations. And the one thing they always say is, first reports are always wrong.

And perhaps just

a little bit

in the back of your mind

is a

little skepticism that that report might be wrong. And you try

to react in any case, but you try not to overreact.

And what was

remarkable about the PEOC that day is that it was a calm environment; you didn't have people running around, throwing paper and yelling. You had a very experienced group of people who were going about their jobs as best they could and doing what needed to get done.

But I remember no sense of panic or being overwhelmed by the moment. There were quite emotional times. And as I've said many times, the sense that Flight 93 might have gone down by America's own hand was very difficult to deal with. But there was no sense of panic.

Q You asked at that time, did-we shoot it down?


I asked, did we shoot it down?

And we couldn't

initially get a clear answer from the Pentagon. They were pretty busy, too and they were dealing, of course, with their own crisis, given that the Pentagon, itself, had been hit.

But we eventually, after asking for several minutes -- you must know, because a fighter would have reported that they engaged; have any fighters reported that they engaged? -- we learned that no fighters were reporting engagement with a civilian aircraft. And at that point, it became clear that something else had happened, that the plane had been driven into the ground by some other means.

Q You were watching the World Trade Center on television

monitors in the PEOC?

DR. RICE: The television monitors were on in the

background. But

-- eye, but you're very busy doing a lot of other things.

again, you see it out of the corner of your

Q You saw the towers come down?


Q In the PEOC, on television?


I did see the towers come down.




Someone said to me, "Look at that!"

I remember that, "Look at that!"

I just remember a cloud of dust and smoke, and that moment.

And I looked up,

and I saw just the horror of

Q And the feeling in your gut?



That we'd lost a lot of Americans.

And that

eventually we would get these people.

Q You felt the anger rising in you?


I felt the anger.

Of course I felt the anger.

You couldn't help but feel anger at that moment.

But you have to keep it under control.

You, at a time like

try to do

that, have to keep the emotions under control and just

what you need to do to make sure that you're dealing with all the requirements of avoiding an even bigger crisis.

Q Let me leap forward now quickly, because we're down in

-- the question, because I don't know the answer. "At some point, within hours of the attack, a decision was made that we weren't, going to go after just these terrorists, we were going to go after all terrorists, and all nations that harbored them. Where did that idea come from?

DR. RICE: We had a National Security Council meeting as soon as the President was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. And on that teleconference, the President -- videoconference the President said, The people who got us, we're going to get

terms of time. Much later that evening

well, let me ask you

them. This is an~act

of war, and he said to Rumsfeld and to .

Tenet, you better get ready, because we're going to get them.

He also recognized right away that-it was global, that this

people were not just

could, have been London or Paris; that these

after us, they were after" freedom and after our values. And that, in and of itself, made it pretty clear from the very beginning that this was not going to be responding to what happened in New York and Washington. This was going to be a bigger challenge, of fighting global terrorism.

We had done a lot of work on terrorism, on how these people

were supporting themselves. We knew that Afghanistan was the center of their operations, and we knew that they were being harbored in a number of places. And so the line that appears


the President's statement from the Oval that night, that says not

just the terrorists, but those who harbor them, came out of what had been a pretty intensive discussion, over several months, about how to really deal with international terrorism.

You couldn't just carve terrorists out one by one. You had to destroy their sanctuary. A terrorist that hijacks a country in the way that al Qaeda hijacked Afghanistan has the -advantages of territoriality, places to train, places to run financial operations, places to hide. And knowing that we also had to after the Taliban, and then later anyone who harbored terrorists, was pretty deeply ingrained in this national security team, and particularly in this President.


Q In that first teleconference, was that the first time

that the President heard al Qaeda attached to this?


That was the first time.


-- George Tenet And he said,

was just asked, Who do you think did this to us?

Sir, I believe it's al Qaeda. We're doing the assessment, but it

looks like, it feels like, it smells like al Qaeda.

The President had heard of al Qaeda. We'd been tracking them and looking at them. Several times he'd said, when presented with evidence that al Qaeda might strike here, might strike there -- mostly overseas, by the way; almost all of the information was that al Qaeda was preparing to strike-American interests overseas, as they had done before.

But as he heard that information, the President said, you

know, I'm tired

eliminate these guys. That he had done in the spring.

knew al Qaeda, and we all knew what we were going to iave to do.

of swatting at flies.

I need a strategy to

So he

Q By the next morning, there was evidence. What was


-- know this group. And we were getting reports on chatter about what had happened.

But we were also putting together a picture of people that had a certain modus operand!. And once we had that, and we knew, we were ready to put forward an ultimatum to those who were harboring them, the Taliban, which was their sponsor.

DR. RICE: Well, again, you

it wasn't as if we didn't

Q Leaping ahead, the speech at the National Cathedral.

When the President finished that speech, there was perfect silence. What were you thinking?

DR. RICE: That service was so important to the country, and to me personally. Earlier that day, in the Cabinet Room, the President had held a Cabinet meeting. And he had gotten a little choked up when he talked about what he was about to do in going to this national service.

And I remember Colin Powell turning to him and just saying, you know, try not to use emotional words.

Q Try not to choke up, Mr. President, when you make this


DR. RICE: Try not to use emotional words


he said, I

find it helpful not to use emotional words. But of course, the President had to use emotional words. And it was remarkable, his clarity and his steadiness. And it was a bit of a metaphor for


the way he would then lead the country, with a kind of steadiness and clarity that I think came through at that moment.

Q Was it a turning point?

It was a turning point for many people that I've

talked to in the administration,"friends that I've talked to who


watched that service.

I'll tell you what the turning point for me personally was.

I was very sad going into that service.

We had gone down

Massachusetts Avenue in the motorcade, and it felt like a funeral

procession. And on the street, there was a man holding a sign that said, "God Bless America; We Will Not Be Terrorized." And it was a very emotional moment.

And we went up Massachusetts Avenue, and there were church bells tolling. And we got to the cathedral, we went into the cathedral, and it was very, very sad.

are we not

And I looked at the program, and I thought, Why

singing the national anthem at the end of this service? And we were singing instead the Battle Hymn of the Republic. And as we stood to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, you could feel the entire congregation -- and I could certainly feel myself -- stiffen, the kind of spine. And this deep sadness was being

replaced -by resolve.

And the lines in the Battle Hymn of the Republic are so stirring that I think it really was transforming. And by the end of this service, I think we all felt that we still had mourning to do for our countrymen who had been lost, but that we also had a new purpose -- in not just avenging what had happened to them, but making certain that the world was eventually going to be safe from this kind of attack ever again.

Q Let me leap ahead to Sunday morning. You've had the

meetings at Camp David. The President wakes up Sunday morning,

he sees you, and what does he say?


I saw him Sunday morning at Camp David, and

actually, he said, I want

think I know what I'm going to do.

to talk to you a little bit later.


And it was when we

got back here to the White House, and we

got off the helicopter, and he said, I want you to come with me. And we went up to his office in the Residence, and he said, I

know what I want to do.

He had listened to his advisors at Camp David. He had asked

-- divergences about what to do. People had addressed the problem from different angles and from different perspectives. And in very, very rapid, almost staccato fashion, he said, I want to

them what they thought

it wasn't as if there were wide


issue an ultimatum to the Taliban that tells them, give up the al

Qaeda now or face their fate.

airpower; this has got to have, as we came to call it, boots on the ground to show that America is really serious. And he went through piece after piece after piece.

I want

to use more than just

And I can remember writing, and I was writing very fast,

trying to keep up.

And he said, And I want

to meet with my

national security team tomorrow morning and tell them what we're

going to do.

Q And as you were writing, you thought what?


As I was writing, I thought, We know what we're

going to do.

We've got a plan, we've got a strategy, and now

it's going to be up

to us to make this work.

Q By God, he's going to do it


By God, he's going to do it.

His resolve was so

clear. And the sense that this was not just going to be-a:

pinprick or an effort to avenge this one event, but that he was going to take on these terrorists in a major way, and that this was going to be a global war on terrorism that would be a war for against all those who hated freedoms. It was very clear; it

clear in his eyes, it was clear in his voice, and it's been clear to everybody ever since.



2:57 P.M. EOT