THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary

Internal Transcript August 6, 2002

JUN . 7 2003
INTERVIEW OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR CONDOLEEZZA RICE BY TERRY MORAN OF ABC Vice President's Ceremonial Office National Commission on erronstAttacks

4:56 P.M. EDT

Q September llth, the President is in Florida, the Secretary of State is in South America. As the National Security Advisor, what was your day shaping up like? DR. RICE: My day was shaping up as a fairly normal day. I got up that morning, I went into the office, I had done my intelligence briefing and I was standing at the desk getting ready to go down to my senior staff meeting, and my executive assistant came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And- I thought, well, that's a terrible accident. And in my own mind it was probably a twin-engine plane of some kind. And I called the President in Florida and told him, and he had exactly the same response. So I told my executive assistant, well, let me know what happens. And I went downstairs to start my senior staff meeting. And a few minutes in, I got a note that said that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center, and I thought, well, this is a terrorist attack. Q A general question: On that morning, how would you describe the mood of the American people when it came to the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States? DR. RICE: That morning when Americans woke up I believe they knew that the threat of terrorism was there, but associated it with terrorism abroad. Americans knew that there had been a bombing of an American ship, the Cole. They knew that the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya had been bombed. Terrorism had been a part of the American experience, of course.


And then, of course, we had the domestic terrorist incident in Oklahoma City. It had all been a part of our experience, but probably until that morning, on September llth, no one associated terrorism with the kind of dramatic, mass casualty event that we experienced. Q If you'd thought that first plane that-hit the first tower was an accident, why did you call the President? DR. RICE: Because if the President of the United States is out of the White House and something bad has happened in the United States, it's important for him to know. Frankly, we tell him those sorts of things so that he isn't told first by the press that a plane has hit the World Trade Center. But it was kind of normal procedure. And what was different about that moment was that nobody could be certain, there seemed to be some confusion about what kind of plane it was. And I remember someone saying -and I don't actually remember who now saying, it's an awfully big fire for a small plane. And in retrospect, that was a tip. Q And did you have any hunch at that point that it might be terrorism? DR. RICE: It just didn't come to mind immediately that it might be terrorism. We knew a lot about al Qaeda. We knew that al Qaeda really coveted an attack against American interests, maybe even against the United States. We had gone through a summer in which we had heightened states of aLert abroad for our embassies and for our forces, because we were getting a lot of chatter in terrorist channels. But most of it was pointing all of it was pointing abroad, that there was going to be some kind of attack abroad. And the human mind doesn't always put two and two together very quickly, and so, no, in that first attack, it didn't come together for me. When the second plane hit, though, it came together very, very quickly. Q So you called the President after the first plane hit the first tower, told him what had happened. What did he say? DR. RICE: He said, what a terrible -it sounds like a terrible accident; keep me informed. And he went then off to begin his event in -- the education event that he had going on in Florida. And I wejit down and went on to my staff meeting. I know that it was Andy Card who told him that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center, and I believe he said something like, America is under attack. And there's a picture that I


will never forget of the President's face when he was told that. The remarkable thing is he finished reading to these thirdgraders, and then left and got ready to try and come back. Q That picture is etched in American memory now. You know him so well, you know that face so well. What do you see in him at that moment? DR. RICE: At that moment, I saw a sense of horror, really, could this be. And I suspect that right after that moment, his mind had to have been racing to think about what to do. But he's an amazingly disciplined person and he clearly made a decision that he was going to stop, finish this, and then I talked later to Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education, who was with him, and Rod said that the President said to him, I've got to go back to Washington. You're going to have to carry this event. And then he left. And it wasn't until later that the Secretary of Education knew what had happened. The President was—that calm. Q plane. Let me go back to how you found out about the second You went to the Situation Room.

DR. RICE: I went to my staff meeting, which is held in the conference room within the Situation Room. And I was going around asking each of my senior directors to report on their part of the world, something we do every day. And I was about three people in when the executive assistant came in, handed me a note that said a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. And senior staff members have said that I stopped in midsentence and said, I have to go. Because I knew that this was a terrorist attack. And then I went into the Situation Room proper, which is off the conference room, and I began to try to gather the national security principals. Colin Powell was in Peru. I first thought he was in Colombia, and that concerned me and worried me, given the fact of terrorism that has been a problem in Colombia. I then tried to find George Tenet; I wanted to find my own counterterrorism person, Dick Clark. I was trying to find Don Rumsfeld. And in that moment, when I was trying to make all those phone calls, it seems to me like it's a very short period of time until I turned around and saw on television .that a plane had hit the Pentagon. In retrospect, I now know that some period of time actually elapsed while I was doing that, but the human brain sort of shortens that period of time.


Q And during that period of time, did you get a chance to talk to the President again? DR. RICE: As I was trying to find all the principals, the Secret Service came and said, you have to leave now for the bunker. The Vice President is already there. There may be a ^plane headed for the White House. There are a lot of planes that are in the air that are not responding properly. And I stopped and I made a phone call to the President, and the President now had left the event in Florida. He'd gone to the airport. He said, I'm coming back. I said, Mr. President, you may not want to do that. My Defense -one of my Defense people had whispered in my ear, he can't come back here. And I said, you may not want to do that, Mr. President, because Washington is under attack. We don't know where the next attack is coming. I then left the Situation Room to go to the bunker. And when I got to the bunker, the President was talking to the Vice President on the phone and the Vice President was "saying the same thing, you can't come back here. I suspect the President really, really wanted to come back, and he was telling everybody he was going to come back, but we ^?new it would have been the wrong thing to do.


And he started back, right?

DR. RICE: He ended up deciding that he shouldn't come back, and he went, of course, first to Louisiana, and then to Offutt Air Force Base, which is where we were able to have the first video contact with him. But there was no doubt that having him land at Andrews Air Force Base would have been a very bad thing. Q Why? Why didn't the President come Washington, and take charge of the government? home, back to

DR. RICE: At that moment, you have to worry about the continuity of the United States government. It's very clear that Washington was under attack. It's very clear that they were going for symbols of power and for the .seats of power. And to bring the President back and to put him in the same building with the Vice President would have been foolhardy, frankly, because decapitation then of the U.S. government is quite easy. The President has to be protected at that moment. We spent a small -- a large fortune during the period of the Cold War


putting together all kinds of plans and all kinds of vehicles so that the President would not be endangered in a time like that. To have him come back into the White House at that moment would have been really irresponsible. Q So you're told then that you have got to get out of your office and down into the bunker. Who's there when you get there? DR. RICE: When I left the Situation Room and got to the bunker, the Vice President was there; several other people were there, including Norm Mineta, the Transportation Secretary who was trying to ground all of these aircraft. And the work at that moment was to try and get some read on how many planes were still in the air, how many were responding properly, which ones were not responding properly. I also came into the room and my old nuclear war training as a Soviet specialist kicked in, and I thought I have to get someone to get a cable out to posts around the world telling that that the United States government is still functioning, because all that they could see on televisions around the world were planes going into the Pentagon, and you weren't getting any word out of the White House. So I first asked Rich Armitage at the State Department to make sure- that posts knew that America was still functioning. Q At what point during the course of these attacks did you think, Osama bin taden? DR. RICE: It was not immediately that I thought Osama bin Laden. I did think just in a flash, al Qaeda, just by conditioning, because we knew al Qaeda. But it receded rather quickly because there was so much to do and so much to worry about, and it wasn't the sort of thing that you — you weren't going to try to make a case right at that moment. " It was dealing with the consequences. But it was not long -- it was a little bit later in the day at the NSC meeting that George Tenet said, we think it's al Qaeda, it smells like al Qaeda, it walks like al Qaeda, it quacks like al Qaeda, it's probably al Qaeda. Q Back to the bunker. Describe that. We've seen this bunker portrayed in Hollywood movies and such and such -- what is it like down there, what does it look like?


DR. RICE: Well, it's just a conference room, you know, with other things there. And it's -- the conference room is a place where you can talk and watch TV and all of those things. I remember being struck by the fact that somebody had gone to the trouble of finding food for us, at some moment during that time. Somebody was trying to attend to our needs. But the Q Were you hungry?

DR. RICE: I don't remember being hungry, but I think I ate. Why not, it was there. But the really important thing about that scene was that it was not panicked. Everybody sat and did their work. There were a lot of support people around, from military officers who are detailed over to the White House to help, and everybody went about doing their jobs, despite the shock that we'd just been through.Q As people around the country watched those events unfold, one of the emotions that people felt_was fear. Were you afraid at all that morning? DR. RICE: I didn't have time to be afraid. I didn't think about my own safety at that moment, although maybe it was in the back of my mind, because I stopped on the way to the bunker to call-my aunt and uncle in Birmingham and to say, I'm all right and you should tell everybody I'm all right, because I knew that they would see these pictures on television and the Rays and Rices are a pretty close-knit clan, and I was worried about them. _ Q And when you saw the towers come down, did you take a moment and gasp or shed a tear at the sheer scale of this attack? DR. RICE: I just remember seeing the horror of it, and it just collapses and there's all of this dust and smoke and people running. And I -yes, the horror of it registered. But I didn't really have time to react to it. We were still trying to deal with the consequences. We were still, by this time, trying to get ready for the President to make a statement to the nation. You just have to keep plowing through. Q At one point that morning, the President gave an order to the Combat Air Patrol pilots giving them permission to shoot down U.S. commercial airliners. How did that decision come about, and how did you take on board the gravity of that decision?


DR. RICE: The President did give the order to shoot down a civilian plane if it was not responding properly. And it was authority through channels by Secretary Rumsfeld, and the Vice President passed the request, the President said yes. And it had almost immediate consequence, because when the plane went down in Pennsylvania, Flight 93, there was a time when we didn't know whether it had gone down by the hand of an American pilot. And it turned out to be difficult to find out because a lot was going on at the Pentagon by now, and we were trying to ask the question, did an American pilot report engagement with a civilian aircraft. And for what seemed like an endless period of time, we couldn't get an answer to that question. And so, for those horrible minutes, you thought that maybe this plane had been shot down. When we learned later that it had not been shot down, but that it had been driven into the ground by the passengers, rather than let it fly_ into another building,- it was quite a shock. And I just remember thinking what an awesome feat these people had engaged in. And you- wonder at that time, could you ever have mustered the courage that the people on Flight 93 mustered. Q But for a time _ there was a real order the President had given had resulted of this U.S. commercial plane. It didn't way, but how did that affect you in your pause at all? possibility that ±he in the shooting down turn out to be that conscience? Did you _

DR. RICE: That possibility was really horrible. I think the reason that we kept asking -and I know the Vice President kept asking, too -- we were there together and we kept saying, did an American pilot engage a civilian aircraft. You must know if an American pilot engaged a civilian aircraft; they would have reported back. Did they? And I think that was the only time that the kind of desperation to know was associated with the enormity of getting that answer, that maybe an American pilot had brought down a civilian aircraft. At 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, from Offutt Air Force Base, the President convenes this video conference National Security meeting. This is really the first war Cabinet meeting. What was the mood__ among the principals who were prepared to respond to this attack? Q


DR. RICE: The mood among the principals was already pretty businesslike. People had been going about doing their jobs all day. Tenet had been getting the assessment. Rumsfeld had probably had the most difficult day of many of us, frankly, because there was a time when he went out to help the injured and the victims, and then came back to his office, so he was operating in a sense from a war scene. I marvel at his focus that day. And we sat down, and the President said, first of all, let me tell you that whoever did this to us, we're going to get them. George, you get ready. Don, you get ready. And then he said, and I'll be J3ack tonight. I'm coming back tonight. And he said it in a way that it was pretty clear that there -was no arguing with him this time. He made up his mind that he was going to come back. He was very concerned -- the President was very concerned about questions like the banking system, what did this mean, how long was it going to be before we could start to show some normalcy, were the victims getting everything they needed in New York. There was a kind of consequence management part of this that really -- we didn't focus all that much initially—on what we were going to do in response. It was, we will respond; let's try and get a better assessment of the situation. It was later that night after the President's speech to the nation that we really began to hand out assignments for the next day, to begin to. think about response. — Q And when the President did get home that night, and you saw him for the first time, this man that you know so well, and saw him for the first time with this burden that had descended on him, what did you see, what did you think? DR. RICE: I saw somebody who had in his mind I think decided that it was just time to get after it. He knew that it's his favorite phrase, let's get after it. And he had clearly in his mind that the most important thing that he could do that night was to reassure the country, but to also make clear that we had a hard course ahead, but we were going to win. And he was so resolute and so clear and -not without emotion, but not overly emotional either when I first saw him, that it was quite remarkable.


Q To what do you attribute that? This was a relatively untested President, who in the face of this crisis and this attack, had this demeanor. Where did he get that? DR. RICE: It was the George W. Bush that I had come to know over the last several years, somebody who, when things get a little -- get difficult, gets tougher, gets more resilient, feels that he, himself, has to make others around him comfortable and ready -to go. I mean, he sort of takes it on himself to bring up the morale of others around him. And there was some of that that night, too, with the National Security team, pulling the team together. It wasn't at all a surprise to me that he could do it, but anybody in that circumstance could have failed to do it and not been blamed for being resilient and resolute. I wasn't surprised, but I'm still pretty awed by it. Q Although, in retrospect, people do look back at some of his first comments and are struck by their informality , that we'll get the folks who did this, and some see hesitancy in that. Speaking to the nation is one of the key roles the President has at a moment like— that. How did you go about preparing him for that? DR. RICE: The President's address that night was put together really rather quickly. He had asked Karen Hughes and me and Mike Gerson, his speechwriter , and others to work on a draft for him to see when he came back -to the White House. And there were a couple of policy decisions that had to be made how global would it sound. And the President was from the very beginning pretty clear that this shouldn't sound as if it had just happened to us, it should acknowledge that this was a big attack on values. He also -- we clearly decided that we were going to have to worry about the issue of sanctuary. And that was probably the most important policy decision that night that in the first real statement about what we had ahead of us, that we would say that it was the terrorists and those who harbored them. You could have just said, we will get the terrorists. But by saying, those who harbor them, the doctrine, as people came to talk about it, was now clear and it meant Afghanistan and it meant the Taliban, and I think the fact that he said it in that first statement sent a chilling message to a lot of countries that harbored terrorists.



Did you get any sleep that night?

DR. RICE: I got very little sleep that night. I stayed at the White House that night. We, in fact, had a false alarm later in the evening when, at about 11:30 p.m. that night, after the National Security principals had met, I was sitting in my office with Steve Hadley, the Deputy National Security Advisor, and Andy Card, Chief of Staff, and the Secret Service came in. and said, you have to go back to the bunker, there's another plane headed for the White House. And so we headed off to the bunker, and that was a kind of surreal scene because the President was in his running shorts, and Mrs. Bush was in her bathrobe. And we got there and we thought, what's going on here. And everybody sort of milled around for a while. And then the President said, I'm going to bed. And he headed off, and we all sort of headed off down the hallway behind him. It was a very strange little scene. I was asked to stay here that night because Service didn't really think I ought to go home. I spent the night in the White House; I didn't sleep very much. I got up the next morning and got gcdng. Q A couple final- questions. When you finally did get some sleep, and since then, have you ever lain awake at night and thought, did we do everything we could? Could we have seen this coming and done more to stop it? DR. RICE: You would not be human -if you didn't ask that question over and over and over again. I really do believe that we did what we could. That given that we're human beings, given the experiences that we had, have had, given the information that we had, we acted in the way that we thought best for the country. I don't believe that anything that could have been done in those months running up to September llth would have forestalled this attack. There's every reason to believe that it had been planned at least a year, two years before. There's every reason to believe that this was an organization that was decentralized enough to have had pulled it off, even if some of the people had been apprehended. It's also the case that this is an organization that had a base in Afghanistan that we've now been able to take down. But, frankly, it would have been very hard to take that base down" in the way that we did before September llth. So, of course, you ask that question. But this administration, and I believe


everybody who dealt with al Qaeda before us did what we could to try and protect the American people. We now know more about our vulnerabilities. We now know how they used our openness and our generosity to attack us. And so we're responding to that world, which is a thoroughly transformed world from where we were on September 10th. Q Last question: When you look back on that day and your role right at the center of it, is there a moment or an image, something not necessarily grand or historic, that evokes its -- the awesomeness of that day and the significance of it for you? DR. RICE: The image that probably for me evokes the awesomeness of that day is the President giving that address to the nation. I'm a student of international history, and American Presidents responding to crises. And the address to the nation is, for me, always the defining moment. John F. Kennedy's address to the nation on the Cuban missile crisis, I will never forget. George H. W. Bush's address to -the-American people at the time of the Gulf War. Those are defining moments for a presidency, and defining moments for the President. ~ This one was, in many ways, unlike any one that I am old enough to have seen because it was addressing an existential threat to the United States. It was addressing an attack on American territory, something that for several generations of Americans _had been thought to be unthinkable. And so, in that^_ sense, it felt that this presidency had entered into a different realm, the realm of the Roosevelt presidency for World War II, or maybe even the Lincoln presidency for the Civil War. And that night, I do remember thinking that that moment when the President addressed the nation would mark a crack in time for the United States and the way that we thought about ourselves. Q Thank you. END 5:23 P.M. EDT